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BOOK REVIEWS285 The Money Machines: The Breakdown and Reform of Governmental and Party Finance in the North, 1860-1920. By C. K. Yearley. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1970. Pp. xvii, 377. $12.00.) Serious students of the remarkable transformations in American life which took place in the half-century following the Civil War need to read this book. It sheds needed light on a critical and recondite aspect of those transformations, namely (1) changes in the legal tax structure, especially by state and local governments in the industrializing northeastern quarter of the country, (2) the parallel, extralegal or illegal revenue -raising devices of political party organizations, and (3) the connections between the two, in terms of social class, economic interest, and conflicting values. Professor Yearley shows that the "middle class," the small but growing group of urban and rural property-owners, was hardest hit by the prevailing general property tax, felt threatened by the propertyless and often immigrant poor on the one hand and the emerging plutocracy on the other, floundered for decades through a maze of gradually changing theory and practice on taxation, and finally (after 1900) supported and adopted, as ways of financing government, taxes on corporations and individual incomes which had been efficiently if often illegally practiced by the machine politicians whom the middle class abhorred. These conclusions, and many others to which one cannot do justice in tin's space, rest on a broad and solid foundation of primary sources. A few criticisms are required. Although the author recognizes that the changes in governmental finance which he discusses were "unsensational ," one wonders if he had to treat them so undramatically. A mass of detail sometimes obscures the author's main points and the narrative sequence which might link them more clearly. The connection between the two fiscal structures, a thesis stressed by the author, is more asserted than proved until the closing pages. More rigorous copy-editing , especially to weed out a number of syntactical ambiguities, would have made for easier reading of a tough subject. But the book's virtues greatly outweigh these minor flaws. Yearley's impressive objectivity leads him away from the trap into which so many historians of the post-bellum period have fallen: their identification with the moral values and mental processes of middle-class reformers from the Liberal Republicans through the progressives, and their consequent acceptance of those reformers' ideas and attitudes as basically valid. He refuses to moralize when he discusses the extralegal, sometimes criminal (by the values and statutes of the time) financial devices of political-party organizations. Instead the overriding question concerning public finance was "whose money morality . . . was to prevail?" (p. xvii). He observes that governmental financial structures broke down in the late nineteenth century, and were reorganized in the early twentieth in a manner peculiar to "pluralism" rather than "mass" democracy, whereby nobody got everything he wanted, but most got something. He 286civil war history sees that "a total victory for reform might have proven as great a political disaster for Americans as a total victory for powerful elements of business" (p. 272). As it happened, he says in a powerful and accurate conclusion, the crucial questions of what governments were to pay for, and how they were to do it, were resolved by men who "enshrined in the basic institutions of the land, for better and for worse, middle-class definitions of democracy, efficiency, and stability" (p. 279). The ramifications of this book into the history of the United States in the post-Civil War years are exceptionally numerous. W. T. K. Nugent Indiana University, Bloomington ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 285-286
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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