“Deeper Roots: Historical Causal Inference and the Political Legacy of Slavery,” Eric Schickler, UC Berkeley

Event time: 
Friday, February 7, 2020 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (PROS77 ), A002 See map
77 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 


Abstract: The legacies of slavery have shaped nearly all aspects of American politics. But how these legacies should be understood, measured, and disentangled from closely connected but conceptually distinct processes has long been the subject of disagreement. Acharya, Blackwell, and Sen’s Deep Roots: How Slavery Shapes Southern Politics deploys sophisticated methods of causal inference to attempt to precisely identify the legacy that slavery has had on white southerners’ racial attitudes. A key to their identification strategy is the assumption – supported by a series of quantitative tests – that attitudes towards slavery and racial attitudes more generally were unrelated to the level of enslavement within the south prior to the secession crisis. Acharya et al argue that it was only with the critical juncture of the Civil War and Reconstruction that southern white racial attitudes became connected to the pervasiveness of slavery. We reconsider the evidence for this antebellum “homogeneity in racial attitudes” claim, replicating and extending the analyses in Deep Roots and bringing to bear additional evidence that more directly measures variation in racial attitudes between high- and low-enslavement regions of the South. We find that well-before the Civil War, the county-level pervasiveness of slavery was a systematically strong predictor of voting on slavery, secession, and the rights extended to free persons of color. Our findings provide empirical validation for claims that are widespread in the historical literature but which have not received sustained statistical inquiry. They underscore the connection that existed between slavery and revealed commitments to white supremacy: maintaining a system of chattel slavery required pervasive violence and coercion, which slaveholders achieved through the systematic promotion of institutions and ideologies that reified “racial” distinctions and justified whites’ subordination of black Americans, enslaved and free. These patterns of institutionalized oppression gave rise to the geographically-rooted attitudinal and behavioral patterns that have endured since the 19th century. Our findings also have implications for the use of design-based approaches when assignment to treatment is the product of a complex historical process.

Eric Schickler is Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of three books which have won the Richard F. Fenno, Jr. Prize for the best book on legislative politics: Disjointed Pluralism: Institutional Innovation and the Development of the U.S. Congress (2001), Filibuster: Obstruction and Lawmaking in the United States Senate (2006, with Gregory Wawro), and Investigating the President: Congressional Checks on Presidential Power (2016, with Douglas Kriner; also winner of the Richard E. Neustadt Prize for the best book on executive politics). His book, Racial Realignment: The Transformation of American Liberalism, 1932-1965, was the winner of the Woodrow Wilson Prize for the best book on government, politics or international affairs published in 2016, and is co-winner of the J. David Greenstone Prize for the best book in history and politics from the previous two calendar years. He is also the co-author of Partisan Hearts and Minds, which was published in 2002.

This workshop series is sponsored by the ISPS Center for the Study of American Politics and The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale with support from the Edward J. and Dorothy Clarke Kempf Fund.

Open to: