Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Not Surprising, Part Deux

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 22, 2013

Recently Michael Rodgers reminded me of this post from 2011, in which I pointed out the very tight correlation (beyond -0.9, for y’all stats wonks) between the order in which the states that formed the Confederacy seceded, and both the proportion of slaves and the proportion of slaveholders in their total population. It’s based on a table compiled by David C. Hanson of Virginia Western Community College, and came to my attention via Donald R. Shaffer’s Civil War Emancipation blog. It makes a fundamental point but, in tabular format, the point may not be obvious to all. At the time, Shaffer wrote that “Hanson makes a definite connection between the concentration of slaves and slaveholders in a particular southern states and when it seceded from the Union in 1860-61, and whether it seceded at all. Certainly, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence connecting slavery and Civil War causation, but this table also makes a compelling statistical case.”

It’s more than a “definite connection.” Hanson’s simple data set reveals that for the eleven states that actually seceded, the proportion of free persons owning slaves was an excellent predictor of the order in which they seceded, beginning with South Carolina (highest proportion of slaves and slaveholders) and ending with Tennessee (low proportions of both). The percentage of slaves as part of the state’s overall population was equally reliable as a predictor. In short, each percentage is a nearly perfect predictor of where each state falls in the order of secession. The states with the largest proportions of slaves and slave-holders seceded earliest.

Anyway, back to data presentation: here’s Hanson’s data shown in two simple bar charts. There is absolutely a clear pattern in both cases; if slaves and slaveholding were not connected to the timing of each state’s secession, the tall and short columns would be randomly scattered. They’re not.





8 Responses

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  1. Jimmy Dick said, on December 22, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    I do not think we are done with this information. As we know, slaveowners only made up the small amount of people, but those living on the same lands or those who used those slaves made up a much bigger percentage of the population. Therefore a graph with those numbers would be interesting.

    Also, the issue of representation should be part of a graph. Who had the ability to vote in each state? What was the percentage of voters who were slaveowners? What was the percentage who were using those slaves? I say this because we know from research that secession was ramrodded through and that large segments of the seceding state’s population opposed secession. The lack of representation was a major issue and is one that has been an issue throughout US History.

    In fact, the lack of representation still exists today. The way it played a role in the Civil War’s beginning should be a very loud warning to us today about the dangers of disenfranchisement.

    • Andy Hall said, on December 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      You’re entirely correct that this doesn’t express the pervasiveness of slavery or its beneficiaries very well. I did try and get at that question here (which, I’m happy to say, is one of the most-frequently-accessed posts I’ve done), in a narrative way, but it’s a lot more difficult to distill down to hard numbers.

      Agree entirely on the issue of creeping disenfranchisement. Garry Trudeau had something to say about that today, even.

  2. Michael Rodgers said, on December 22, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Here’s the data as a scatterplot with a linear trendline based on x = % slave population and y = # days after Lincoln’s election that the state declared secession. Based on days instead of order, it’s still an r = -0.845 and r^2 = 71.3%.

    In the figure, I reversed the x-axis so South Carolina starts us off in the bottom left. The trendline slope of -4.6 means that, on average, for each increase of 1% slave population, a state declares secession 4.6 days sooner. Said another way, for each decrease of 1% slave population, a state declares secession 4.6 days later, on average.

    I drew some lines to show the different groupings, and Texas is really the only strange one, seceding much earlier than one would guess from the data alone.

    This data and these figures tell the story better than the graphics at the civil war trust. I don’t like their nearly contradictory definitions of states’ rights, and I don’t like their presenting their categories as if they are non-interacting.

  3. Foxessa said, on December 23, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Who could even stand for any public office in many parts of the secessionist south depended on property — either slaves and land or an equivalent of money in the bank. As we all know, as plantation agriculture ran on credit, money in the bank wasn’t what most of those had who held office on state and federal levels. This was the same for voting. It was an elite oligarchy, which is the same elite who made secession and the war.

    Possession of slaves mediated everything in the south. The more deeply and widely one studies these matters the more it’s as though one has fallen down the Wonderland rabbit hole. Yet, as bizarre as it is, it covered huge territory, and was always starved for more.

    So much of it hung on through Jim Crow up to the Civil Rights era — and we sure are seeing new twists and turns on it now — and not only in the south.

  4. Michael Rodgers said, on December 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    The best graphic to understand why representatives from the slave states began declaring secession on behalf of their states and in anticipation of a slavery-based CSA is this one.

  5. Bob Nelson said, on February 3, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Not just the number of slaves, Andy, but the value of all those slaves. I have recently finished three books on the economics of secession — “Economic Aspects of Southern Sectionalism” (Robert Russel 1924), “Calculating the Value of the Union” (James Huston 2003) and “Modernizing a Slave Economy” (John Majewski 2009). The value of all those slaves in 1860 is variously reported as being between $3 and $4 billion. Huston argues that the war was not fought between slave states and free states nor between agrarian states and industrialized states. It was fought, he says, between rich states and poor states. And guess what? The Southern states were the rich states.

    The value of slaves in 1860 exceeded the value of all railroads and manufacturing concerns in the North. When you add in the value of plantation land, farms, farm implements, railroads, manufacturing, canals and more, the total worth of the South was something on the order of $16 billion. He argues (most persuasively I might add) that the South wanted direct trade with Europe. Only a small minority of Southerners wanted free trade. Most endorsed a tariff of around 20%. But, this money would go to the South, not the Union as a whole, to be used for harbor and river improvements, railroads, canals, manufacturing and Southern banks. Southerners were sick and tired of having to borrow money from banks in Philadelphia, Boston and New York at what they considered to be exorbitant rates to finance next year’s cotton crop.

    I have argued on other groups over the years that secession and the war were based on economics. And, frankly, my opinions have usually been dismissed as some sort of lunacy. But as Jerry Maguire put it in 1996, “Show me the money!” Southern leaders were convinced that they didn’t need the North. They could “set up for themselves.”

    • Brooks D. Simpson said, on August 12, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      I think the point could be better expressed if you called it “the economics of slavery.” Even then, while the southern desire to protect its economic interests makes plenty of sense, the recently recycled argument that the North went to war for economic reasons remains a rather flimsy one.

      • Bob Nelson said, on August 12, 2014 at 9:22 pm

        The “economics of secession” and the “economics of slavery” are one in the same. And nowhere did I hint or suggest that the North went to war for economic reasons.

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