restricted access 1. An Enterprising and Industrious Population
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1 an enterprising and industrious population At the start of the nineteenth century, the United States was a rural, agricultural nation, where the seasons and weather regulated life and work. The vast majority of its 5,300,000 people lived on farms and plantations in the original thirteen states or along rivers such as the Ohio or Mississippi. Less than 10 percent of its population lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, and its cities were small, with Boston having fewer than 25,000 people. America was a poor, preindustrial society, and was undeveloped compared to its European rivals, Britain and France. Steamboats and railroads had yet to be invented. The world usually moved at only a few miles an hour. It took weeks for news of the death of George Washington in December 1799 to reach most parts of the country.1 By time the Civil War began, steamboats, railroads, and canals had tied the nation together. Steamboats moved people and goods quickly and cheaply across the vast interior of the country in days rather than weeks, traveling on thousands of miles of rivers. Railroads linked Missouri with cities such as New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia; travel time between St. Louis and New York was less than three days. In 1860, people were no longer concentrated on the Atlantic seaboard. Half of the population lived west of the Appalachian Mountains, and from east to west the country spanned a continent. New York City had more than one million inhabitants, about the same as the entire state of Missouri. Population growth, territorial expansion, and transportation improvements had allowed the country to become the world’s second greatest industrial power.2 2  chapter one St. Joseph Westport Independence Lexington Boonville Columbia Jefferson City St. Louis M i s s i ssippi Rive r M is s o u r i R i v e r St. Charles Liberty Osage Ri v e r Missouri River 0 30 60 90 120 15 Miles This book details a small part of the story of America’s great antebellum economic transformation. By examining white farm families in Missouri and their economic pursuits, its main goal is to determine the market orientation of that state’s rural residents. It provides a history of commercial development in central Missouri from the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War, focusing on those counties near or adjacent to the Missouri River, which was the region most changed by settlement (fig. 1). Historians, finding various degrees of market participation across the antebellum United States, have debated the timing of its emergence, as well as its acceptance, in the past several decades. Charles Sellers, for instance, argued that capitalism was a malign and amoral force where “competition undermined neighborly cooperation and family equality.” In his interpretation, the market threatened the family farm economy, which promised opportunity and equality. It disrupted traditional ways, reduced the independence of families, and exploited urban workers. Sellers asserted that when capitalism emerged in the antebellum period and brought about drastic change, resistance to it was widespread.3 However, a consensus is emerging that details a commercial and acquisitive society in the early Republic. In this view, the nineteenth-century market economy built upon its foundations from the previous century, developing 1. Map of Missouri © James Harlan, Geography Department, University of Missouri. An Enterprising and Industrious Population  3 further and spreading across the United States. There was no great disruption in the countryside during this period. Most Americans viewed the spread of commercial markets and the opportunity to participate in them favorably. This book’s conclusions are in agreement with these ideas.4 Most Missourians welcomed the opportunity to take part in the market economy. They often produced a surplus for sale to improve their family’s economic position, especially as improved transportation increased the opportunities to do so. These people were commercially minded, rather than outright capitalistic. Indeed, most lacked the necessary financial capital to be capitalists, neatly defined by historian Beatrice Craig as using capital to make money and multiply investments. The transition to capitalism had already begun by the early nineteenth century, and most migrants to Missouri had developed an interest in market participation before they arrived. Families sought out a competency, or comfortable independence, buying fertile land with market access that would best reward their labor. They wanted to own land and pass property on to future generations. A mix of production for their households, as well as markets, preserved family welfare. Increased production...


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