Path dependency

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Path Dependency

Path dependency describes the tendency for prior decisions in diverse settings to influence the result of future decisions, even when better alternatives exist. The reliance emerges because it is perceived as a more comfortable option rather than forging a new, costly path. Furthermore, it demonstrates that past decisions can have long-term effects and opinions on contemporary political policy. Slavery in America originated as early as 1619, with African Americans being the principal victims of forced labor in the nation's economic foundation. However, the practice was banned following a discussion sparked by the 1861–1865 civil war (Patterson, 2005). Although millions of slaves were freed, the slavery legacy continuously affected the history of America. Also, the laws and acts that abolished slavery contributed to the development of segregation in the country portraying path dependency in politics.


Slaves mostly worked in the production of rice, tobacco, and cotton on the southern coast. During the revolutionary war, the northern coast passed abolitionist laws and formed a movement to abolish slavery. The northern states had not heavily invested in plantation limiting their need for slaves. Also, free labor was readily available in different industries. On the other hand, slavery in the southern states increased due to a rapid growth of the cotton industry. Exhaustion of land used to grow tobacco posed a significant threat to the southern economy but later changed after the increased production of cotton. The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney amplified dependence of the south on slave trade due to the large-scale production of cotton (Patterson, 2005).

Restrictive Codes

Restrictive codes controlled how the slaves lived, and how their owners sought to make them entirely dependent. Learning to read and write was prohibited among slaves limiting their mental capability against their masters. However, the postwar era saw the revolution lead to the gradual abolishment of slavery mostly in the north (Patterson, 2005). Consequently, movements to end slavery gained strength and raised awareness on the negatives of slavery building the much-needed support. Northerners against slavery began helping southern slaves to escape to the north through the Underground Railroad practice. The success of the method increased tension among the southerners.

Tension and Civil War

Tension increased after anti-slavery Republican Party member, Abraham Lincoln, was elected president. He sought to stop the extension of slavery into new states and territories, but his policy was met by defiance from the southern politicians. The southern states believed that the Free states in the north would turn against them. As a result, some states rebelled and formed the Confederate States of America leading to the civil war (Patterson, 2005). Amendments that abolished slavery gave slaves the right to be citizens and vote in elections. Nevertheless, the provisions were ignored resulting in more restrictive codes for the blacks who had limited economic and political powers. Reconstruction after the civil war became hard for African Americans due to the rise of racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan that aimed to restore white supremacy leading to the introduction of segregation (Patterson, 2005).


The civil war worsened the situation for blacks after southern representatives introduced black codes which limited their rights and lead to isolation from the whites (Schneider, 2007). Before the civil war, the separation between blacks and whites was not required since a large number of blacks were slaves. However, the separation was evident in theaters, schools, and other public places. In 1866, Congress was adamant in changing the laws hence stopped the initiative of reforming the south. Most of the laws in the south were repealed in 1868 after the Republicans persuaded the southern legislatures to let the blacks be free members of society (Schneider, 2007). Things changed for the worse after the Democratic Parties got their power back over the south, ending the reconstruction era. Reinstating discriminatory laws became a regular occurrence resulting in segregation. Additionally, the rights to vote and hold political offices were relinquished for the blacks. Expensive poll taxes and literacy tests were introduced to ensure that blacks did not exercise their right to vote. Most blacks were illiterate since teaching them was illegal. Democrats seized the opportunity to create new laws that segregated blacks from public facilities and schools (Patterson, 2005).

Violence and Jim Crow Laws

Blacks became the particular targets of the law in various states where segregation was amplified to higher levels. Segregated booths were introduced in Oklahoma while in Georgia marriage between white couples could not be performed by a black minister (Patterson, 2005). Violence against blacks and some whites who were against the oppression became rampant as different terrorist groups murdered thousands. Furthermore, a system of laws and customs popularly referred to as the Jim Crow raised the bar higher on discrimination and racial segregation through the 1960s (Schneider, 2007). The stipulated laws denied African Americans all social forms of respect as well as civil rights. Additionally, discrimination was evident in housing and jobs allocated to blacks. Various legal suits and boycotts hastened the process of desegregation, but despite their success, African Americans still faced unequal chances. Nearly a century later in 1960, civil rights movements started resisting the racism that had risen during the slavery period. Consequently, significant political and social positive gains for African Americans were experienced since the Reconstruction. The Black Power Movement, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act defined the end of the Jim Crow laws (Patterson, 2005).


To sum up, the civil rights movements made some Americans realize that racism could be a common threat. For instance, military base segregation was prohibited under the administration of Roosevelt. Although slavery and segregation were abolished, their effects still influence contemporary society. The level of income is unequal among African Americans and whites, especially in states where the population of slaves was high. As a result, some black families still live below the poverty level. Also, the education gap between African Americans and whites has continued to increase. Moreover, in politics, only a limited number of African Americans act as representatives in the government. Path dependence has dramatically influenced political attitudes relating to slavery as change is quite slow. Political and social beliefs in the modern world are as a consequence of ideas passed down to various generations through churches and schools or directly from parents. As a result, decisions made in the contemporary world are affected by those made in the past; hence, suppressing the level of development needed. Although the American government has strived to bring equality among its citizens, it has not created better laws to deal with issues about racism. Nonetheless, the abolishment of slavery in the past has led to some positive political attitudes in the contemporary world, including the election of Barack Obama, an African American, as president in 2008.


Patterson, M. (2005). Slavery in America. Huntington Beach, CA : Teacher Created Materials.

Schneider, D., & Schneider, C. J. (2007). Slavery in America. New York: Facts On File.

May 02, 2023

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