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Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia

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Studies in Early American Economy and Society from the Library Company of Philadelphia

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Buying into the World of Goods

Early Consumers in Backcountry Virginia

Ann Smart Martin

How did people living on the early American frontier discover and then become a part of the market economy? How do their purchases and their choices revise our understanding of the market revolution and the emerging consumer ethos? Ann Smart Martin provides answers to these questions by examining the texture of trade on the edge of the upper Shenandoah Valley between 1760 and 1810. Reconstructing the world of one country merchant, John Hook, Martin reveals how the acquisition of consumer goods created and validated a set of ideas about taste, fashion, and lifestyle in a particular place at a particular time. Her analysis of Hook's account ledger illuminates the everyday wants, transactions, and tensions recorded within and brings some of Hook's customers to life: a planter looking for just the right clock, a farmer in search of nails, a young woman and her friends out shopping on their own, and a slave woman choosing a looking glass. This innovative approach melds fascinating narratives with sophisticated analysis of material culture to distill large abstract social and economic systems into intimate triangulations among merchants, customers, and objects. Martin finds that objects not only reflect culture, they are the means to create it.

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The Fragile Fabric of Union

Cotton, Federal Politics, and the Global Origins of the Civil War

Brian Schoen

In this fresh study Brian Schoen views the Deep South and its cotton industry from a global perspective, revisiting old assumptions and providing new insights into the region, the political history of the United States, and the causes of the Civil War. Schoen takes a unique and broad approach. Rather than seeing the Deep South and its planters as isolated from larger intellectual, economic, and political developments, he places the region firmly within them. In doing so, he demonstrates that the region’s prominence within the modern world—and not its opposition to it—indelibly shaped Southern history. The place of “King Cotton” in the sectional thinking and budding nationalism of the Lower South seems obvious enough, but Schoen reexamines the ever-shifting landscape of international trade from the 1780s through the eve of the Civil War. He argues that the Southern cotton trade was essential to the European economy, seemingly worth any price for Europeans to protect and maintain, and something to defend aggressively in the halls of Congress. This powerful association gave the Deep South the confidence to ultimately secede from the Union. By integrating the history of the region with global events, Schoen reveals how white farmers, planters, and merchants created a “Cotton South,” preserved its profitability for many years, and ensured its dominance in the international raw cotton markets. The story he tells reveals the opportunities and costs of cotton production for the Lower South and the United States.

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Governed by a Spirit of Opposition

The Origins of American Political Practice in Colonial Philadelphia

Jessica Choppin Roney

During the colonial era, ordinary Philadelphians played an unusually active role in political life. Because the city lacked a strong central government, private individuals working in civic associations of their own making shouldered broad responsibility for education, poverty relief, church governance, fire protection, and even taxation and military defense. These organizations dramatically expanded the opportunities for white men—rich and poor alike—to shape policies that immediately affected their communities and their own lives. In Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, Jessica Choppin Roney explains how allowing people from all walks of life to participate in political activities amplified citizen access and democratic governance. Merchants, shopkeepers, carpenters, brewers, shoemakers, and silversmiths served as churchwardens, street commissioners, constables, and Overseers of the Poor. They volunteered to fight fires, organized relief for the needy, contributed money toward the care of the sick, took up arms in defense of the community, raised capital for local lending, and even interjected themselves in Indian diplomacy. Ultimately, Roney suggests, popular participation in charity, schools, the militia, and informal banks empowered people in this critically important colonial city to overthrow the existing government in 1776 and re-envision the parameters of democratic participation. Governed by a Spirit of Opposition argues that the American Revolution did not occasion the birth of commonplace political activity or of an American culture of voluntary association. Rather, the Revolution built upon a long history of civic engagement and a complicated relationship between the practice of majority-rule and exclusionary policy-making on the part of appointed and self-selected constituencies.

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Investing in Life

Insurance in Antebellum America

Sharon Ann Murphy

Investing in Life considers the creation and expansion of the American life insurance industry from its early origins in the 1810s through the 1860s and examines how its growth paralleled and influenced the emergence of the middle class. Using the economic instability of the period as her backdrop, Sharon Ann Murphy also analyzes changing roles for women; the attempts to adapt slavery to an urban, industrialized setting; the rise of statistical thinking; and efforts to regulate the business environment. Her research directly challenges the conclusions of previous scholars who have dismissed the importance of the earliest industry innovators while exaggerating clerical opposition to life insurance. Murphy examines insurance as both a business and a social phenomenon. She looks at how insurance companies positioned themselves within the marketplace, calculated risks associated with disease, intemperance, occupational hazard, and war, and battled fraud, murder, and suicide. She also discusses the role of consumers—their reasons for purchasing life insurance, their perceptions of the industry, and how their desires and demands shaped the ultimate product.

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Manufacturing Revolution

The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry

Lawrence A. Peskin

"While much has been written about the industrial revolution," writes Lawrence Peskin, "we rarely read about industrial revolutionaries." This absence, he explains, reflects the preoccupation of both classical and Marxist economics with impersonal forces rather than with individuals. In Manufacturing Revolution Peskin deviates from both dominant paradigms by closely examining the words and deeds of individual Americans who made things in their own shops, who met in small groups to promote industrialization, and who, on the local level, strove for economic independence. In speeches, petitions, books, newspaper articles, club meetings, and coffee–house conversations, they fervently discussed the need for large-scale American manufacturing a half-century before the Boston Associates built their first factory. Peskin shows how these economic pioneers launched a discourse that continued for decades, linking industrialization to the cause of independence and guiding the new nation along the path of economic ambition. Based upon extensive research in both manuscript and printed sources from the period between 1760 and 1830, this book will be of interest to historians of the early republic and economic historians as well as to students of technology, business, and industry.

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Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom

Slavery in the Antebellum Upper South

Calvin Schermerhorn

Once a sleepy plantation society, the region from the Chesapeake Bay to coastal North Carolina modernized and diversified its economy in the years before the Civil War. Central to this industrializing process was slave labor. Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom tells the story of how slaves seized opportunities in these conditions to protect their family members from the auction block. Calvin Schermerhorn argues that the African American family provided the key to economic growth in the antebellum Chesapeake. To maximize profits in the burgeoning regional industries, slaveholders needed to employ or hire out a healthy supply of strong slaves, which tended to scatter family members. From each generation, they also selected the young, fit, and fertile for sale or removal to the cotton South. Conscious of this pattern, the enslaved were sometimes able to negotiate mutually beneficial labor terms—to save their families despite that new economy. Moving focus away from the traditional master-slave relationship in a staple-crop setting, Schermerhorn demonstrates through extensive primary research that the slaves in the upper South were integral to the development of the region’s modern political economy, whose architects embraced invention and ingenuity even while deploying slaves to shoulder the burdens of its construction, production, and maintenance. Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom proposes a new way of understanding the role of American slaves in the antebellum marketplace. Rather than work against it, as one might suppose, enslaved people engaged with the market somewhat as did free Americans. Slaves focused their energy and attention, however, not on making money, as slaveholders increasingly did, but on keeping their kin out of the human coffles of the slave trade.

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Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth

Coal, Politics, and Economy in Antebellum America

Sean Patrick Adams

In 1796, famed engineer and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe toured the coal fields outside Richmond, Virginia, declaring enthusiastically, "Such a mine of Wealth exists, I believe, nowhere else!" With its abundant and accessible deposits, growing industries, and network of rivers and ports, Virginia stood poised to serve as the center of the young nation's coal trade. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Virginia's leadership in the American coal industry had completely unraveled while Pennsylvania, at first slow to exploit its vast reserves of anthracite and bituminous coal, had become the country's leading producer. Sean Patrick Adams compares the political economies of coal in Virginia and Pennsylvania from the late eighteenth century through the Civil War, examining the divergent paths these two states took in developing their ample coal reserves during a critical period of American industrialization. In both cases, Adams finds, state economic policies played a major role. Virginia's failure to exploit the rich coal fields in the western part of the state can be traced to the legislature's overriding concern to protect and promote the interests of the agrarian, slaveholding elite of eastern Virginia. Pennsylvania's more factious legislature enthusiastically embraced a policy of economic growth that resulted in the construction of an extensive transportation network, a statewide geological survey, and support for private investment in its coal fields. Using coal as a barometer of economic change, Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth addresses longstanding questions about North-South economic divergence and the role of state government in American industrial development, providing new insights for both political and economic historians of nineteenth-century America.

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