Unexpected Lessons: The Political Economy of the Franchise in Colonial Virginia

31 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2014 Last revised: 12 May 2015

See all articles by Elena Nikolova

Elena Nikolova

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI); University College London - School of Slavonic and East European Studies; IOS Regensburg

Date Written: May 11, 2015

Abstract

This paper studies the evolution of the suffrage in colonial Virginia from the early seventeenth century until the American Revolution, using econometric analysis of a unique data set on the number and types of franchise restrictions imposed on colonial voters, along with detailed historical evidence. We find that Virginia's representative institutions were very liberal for most of the seventeenth century, when colonial agriculture depended on English workers, but deteriorated quickly once planters were able to replace white workers with slaves in the early 1700s. Our explanation builds on the idea that by credibly constraining the power of elites, liberal representative institutions were an effective way to attract white immigrant labour. We show that our findings are not due to alternative explanations identified in the literature, such as inequality or the threat of revolution.

Keywords: Democracy, Institutions, Suffrage, Inequality, Colonialism, Virginia

JEL Classification: D02, N31, N41, P16

Suggested Citation

Nikolova, Elena, Unexpected Lessons: The Political Economy of the Franchise in Colonial Virginia (May 11, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2474069 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2474069

Elena Nikolova (Contact Author)

Central European Labour Studies Institute (CELSI) ( email )

Zvolensk√° 29
Bratislava, 82109
Slovakia

University College London - School of Slavonic and East European Studies ( email )

Malet Street
London WC1E 7HU
United Kingdom

IOS Regensburg ( email )

Landshuter Str. 4
Regensburg, 93047
Germany

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