The European recession and the Native American conflict

Marco del Angel, Gregory D. Hess, Mark Wiedenmeier 08 May 2022

The European recession has often forced Europeans to immigrate to the United States in search of better economic opportunities. This column examines its impact on the conflict with Native Americans in the western United States in the late 19th century. The authors see that the recession in Europe has significantly increased the likelihood of clashes between U.S. troops and Native American tribes. Since they were often evicted from their lands and moved to lower lands and rainfed areas, European immigration to the American West probably had a long-term negative impact on the economic conditions of Native Americans.

European immigration to the United States has been considered a significant contributor to the development of the US economy over the past 250 years. European recessions often force Europeans to migrate across the Atlantic Ocean and to the United States in search of better economic opportunities (Sequeira et al. 2017). Many European immigrants settled in the western United States, especially in the 1870s, when trans-continental railways, such as the North and Central Pacific, reduced travel costs to the western United States and California. Missing railroads, migrants had to cross the Rocky using horses and wagons. The journey was often dangerous due to the rugged terrain and it could take months for the settlers to complete their journey before reaching their final destination. With the construction of the intercontinental railway, settlers could move west in a few weeks.

We contribute to the literature of economic shocks and conflicts by examining the effects of the European recession on the Native American conflict in the western United States from 1869 to late 1890s (Baji and Blatman 2014, Miguel et al. 2004, Basel and Parsons 2008), Fisman and Miguel. 2008). Our study also follows from the well-known work of Acemoglu et al. (2001) which emphasizes the role of organization in economic development. In the case of Native Americans, the westward movement of European immigrants led to the defeat and displacement of Indigenous peoples and established various institutions in the United States that dramatically changed the course of development in the West and throughout the country. Our research contributes to the literature that examines the connection between immigration and conflict (Salehian 2008, Fairon and Lightin 2011).

Our empirical analysis uses recession dates for England as a tool for European immigration to the United States to solve an intermittent variable problem. Burns and Mitchell (1947) date the recession in the United Kingdom using various macroeconomic series in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Our results show that immigration, when interacted with by rail miles, significantly increases the likelihood of a Native American conflict – that is, a conflict between the U.S. military and a Native American tribe – three, six, nine, 12 and 15 months after onset. A European recession. The time delay probably reflects how long it took for Europeans to decide whether to relocate to the western United States and then actually move. Empirical analysis also shows the importance of railways for the growing Native American conflict. Rail access combined with recessionary immigration increased the probability of Native American conflict by about 46% from 1869 to 1890.

In Figure 1 below, a typical deviation increase in rail mileage increases the probability of collision by 0.07, or 7 percentage points. Figure 2 shows that an increase in the standard deviation of the immigration flow increases the probability of collision by 0.35 or 35 percentage points.

Figure 1 Average marginal effect of rail miles per capita

Figure 2 Average marginal effect of immigration flow

In the case of other control variables of the empirical specification, we find that higher commodity prices significantly increase the likelihood of a Native American conflict. Our analysis also suggests that neither the discovery of gold and silver mines nor the size of the U.S. military had a significant impact on the likelihood of a Native American conflict.

Overall, our results show that European immigration had some serious negative consequences for Native American tribes. The European recession was an external factor that significantly increased the likelihood of a Native American conflict. Repeatedly, Native Americans were driven from their lands and often relocated to areas with degraded lands and rainfall. For example, European immigration to the American West probably has a long-term negative impact on the economic conditions of Native Americans.

References

Acemoglu, D, S Johnson, and J Robinson (2001), “Colonial Sources of Comparative Development: An Experimental Investigation”, American Economic Review 91 (5): 1369-1401.

Bazzi, S and C Blattman (2014), “Economic shocks and conflicts”, American Economic Journal 6: 1-38.

Basel, T. and T. Parsons (2008), “Incidents of Civil War: Theory and Evidence”, NBER Working Paper No. 14585.

Burns, A. and W. Mitchell (1947), Business cycle measurements, New York: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Del Angel, M and G Hess, and M Weidenmier (2022), “The European Recession and the Native American Conflict”, NBER Working Paper No. w29812.

Fearon, J and D Laitin (2009), “Children of the Earth, Immigrants, and the Civil War”, World development 39: 199-211.

Fisman, R. and M. Edward (2008), “Does Conflict Create Poverty or Its Contrast?”, VoxEU.org, 29 November.

Miguel, E. S. Satyanath, and E. Sergeant (2004), “The economic shock and the civil war”, Journal of Political Economy 112 (4): 725-753.

Salehian, I (2008), “The Outliers of the Civil War: Refugees as a Source of International Conflict”, American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 787-801.

Sequeira, S, N Nunn, and N Qian (2017), “The immigrants who made America”, VoxEU.org, 17 May.

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