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  • In Union There Is Strength: Philadelphia in the Age of Urban Consolidation by Andrew Heath
  • Mary P. Ryan (bio)
In Union There Is Strength: Philadelphia in the Age of Urban Consolidation. By Andrew Heath. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2019. Pp. 296. Cloth, $49.95.)

A detailed and nuanced study of the city of Philadelphia during the Civil War era, In Union There Is Strength draws direct connections between local politics and nation building. In seven deeply researched chapters, Andrew Heath narrates the period between the 1840s and the 1870s on two fronts, the urban and the national, and concludes that the "entangled projects" of "economic development, territorial conquest, and civil war transformed a divided republic into a nation state" (5, 4). The multiple connections Heath draws between urban, sectional, and national history, although sometimes strained and anticipated many years ago by Robin Einhorn,1 are powerfully suggestive and should command the attention of all scholars of the Civil War era.

The discreet subject matter of In Union There Is Strength is "urban consolidation," which Heath defines in two ways. The first definition is simple enough: it refers to the act of the municipality of Philadelphia, dated 1854, that annexed over a hundred outlying square miles to the central city. Heath attributes more elaborate meanings to what he terms small-c consolidation, defined as "the tightening of affective or associational ties: as any process that brought individuals or communities into closer communion" (5). This second meaning of consolidation drives much of Heath's account of the antebellum period and challenges Sam Bass Warner's classic depiction of antebellum Philadelphia as "the private city," where individual interests came to triumph over the public good.2 Heath demonstrates how both the civic leaders he classifies as "bourgeois" and the radical champions [End Page 120] of workingmen forged bonds of solidarity that transcended individualism, creating something akin to class consciousness.

The major spokesmen for consolidation were the editors of newspapers, especially Morton McMichael of the North American, affiliated first with the Whigs and later the Republican Party. Heath relies on reform writings, like those of George Lippard, author of the sensationalist novel The Quaker City: or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1845), to document the ethic of solidarity among the workingmen who resided in the industrial suburbs during the disorder of the 1840s. As the book proceeds more deeply into the Civil War era, bourgeois boosters carry much of Heath's argument forward. Heath backs up his primary documents with a resourceful use of secondary sources. His account of the spatial and material underpinning of urban expansion is especially illuminating. Chapters 3 and 4 ground the concept of consolidation in the conversion of the annexed territory into residential lots, the beautification of the central district, and the extension of streetcar lines. Consolidation enlarged and solidified the political power of the developers of city suburban property, from real estate speculators to the construction trades to private corporations, including railways (a coalition that sociologists label the urban growth coalition). Heath calls this consolidated territory "a suburban frontier" whose expansion was likened to "manifest destiny" (156).

The association between urban annexation and the Civil War was material as well as metaphorical, forged, for example, by financiers like Jay Cooke, who invested in improving the central district of Philadelphia at the same time that he managed the Union debt as it grew more than fourfold to $2.6 billion. The links between urban politics and nation building were also cast in iron when the municipality of Philadelphia supplied the initial capital for constructing the Pennsylvania Railroad. That private corporation, poised to become the largest in the world, faced the postwar period looking west, not south, and even beyond, toward the markets of Asia. As told by Andrew Heath, the history of Philadelphia between the 1840s and the 1870s is a story of the unification of the North and the West into one nationally, even internationally, integrated economy.

The trajectory of urban political economy was clear by war's end; in Heath's account it seemed to displace slavery and the American South from the center of the national narrative. The Philadelphia bourgeoisie were never very...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2159-9807
Print ISSN
2154-4727
Pages
pp. 120-122
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-02
Open Access
No
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