A Paradox of Secessionism: The Political Economy of Slave Enforcement and the Union

  • Phillip W. Magness
Part of the Studies in Public Choice book series (SIPC, volume 35)


Drawing upon insights from public choice political economy and an examination of historical records, this paper posits an explanation for the causes of secession by the original seven members of the Confederacy in 1860–1861. Secession is examined as a Hirschman exit, intended primarily to shore up and secure the waning federal subsidies and enforcement expenditures that had been afforded to plantation slavery in previous decades. Fears over the impending decline of these subsidies and protections explain the decision to withdraw from the Union, even though slavery itself was, legally, “much more secure in the Union than out of it,” to quote Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens. The premises of secession are most evident in southern declarations complaining of the non-enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, the instigation of slave insurrections, and the decline of southern political clout. These emphases suggest the perceived threat to slavery was more readily realized in its legal enforcement than in the oft-emphasized territorial question.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berry CollegeMount BerryUSA

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