This article uses the development of the Raleigh and Gaston Rail Road in North Carolina as a case study to examine the relationship between elite family networks and the developing institutions of state government in the antebellum United States. The Cameron family of North Carolina and their involvement with the Raleigh and Gaston Rail Road offers a particularly dramatic example of the relationship between government and elites’ familial business and political networks. The men in the Cameron family network were all advocates in state government for internal improvements to advance the state’s economic prospects. Their advocacy, however, leveraged the states’ considerable economic resources to stabilize their own familial networks, which could not manage individual members’ problems with debt. In the process, these men implicated state government in the vagaries of their family’s economic fortunes. Because of these dynamics, corporations like the Raleigh and Gaston became, in essence, too big to fail. Moreover, like the Camerons, some elite families made government part of their family networks, just as blood relatives were. This move allowed them to see the interests of their vast family networks as something more than self-interested and self-serving: their families’ interests became the public good. Throughout the antebellum period, these practices became entrenched in the developing institutions of federal and state government, where they gained institutional purchase and legitimacy. This article argues that it was familial networks, not just individual men, who used and, ultimately, shaped government authority.


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pp. 349-372
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