Farm, Shop, Landing

Martin Bruegel
Farm, Shop, Landing: The Rise of a Market Society in the Hudson Valley, 1780-1860

For Bruegel, the market society happened when “Commercial transactions...moved from a physical setting to an abstract, intangible sphere where prices mattered more than people and relationships.” (2) This description seems completely in keeping with the consensus that has emerged from the “transition” debates. It’s Bruegel’s extensive use of individual accounts, to an almost microhistorical level, that sets this book apart. Bruegel says he’s going to describe the “social and economic processes that underlay the movement from an understanding of the world rooted in concrete and particular experiences to general abstractions.” (3-4) While he rarely has an opportunity to present “before” and “after” views of an individual’s changing orientation, I think he successfully shows a changing understanding of relationships and social realities in the Hudson River Valley.

The non-market, neighborhood relations that dominated Hudson Valley culture in the late eighteenth century, Bruegel says, was based on the subsistence basis of the agricultural economy. Risk of starvation was real, and to mitigate that risk, farmers chose the safest route. “Rather than adapting to the environment’s average productivity,” for example, “their experience taught them to prepare for bad years.” (16) “Safety nets...created a community.” (21) Even when they traded, “the apparent utility of the traded good or service neither structured nor exhausted the meaning of the exchange. Participation was what mattered.” (reminds me of a letter from LBH to HGH, 15) As a result of the precariousness of rural life, Bruegel suggests the emphasis on self-sufficiency of farm households (vs. communities) is misplaced. “It is impossible to think about them separately,” he says, “because it was precisely the constant exchange of labor and tools that conditioned the family’s subsistence and held the neighborhood together.” (21)

Bruegel says the shift towards a commercial orientation was gradual and was marked by “the coexistence of nonmarket and market rationality in the rural economy” for much of the early nineteenth century. (62) “In practice,” he says, “farmers straddled two worlds that historians and ethnologists have often tended to construe as incompatible.” (42) “Commercial exchange,” Bruegel suggests, was both a “part of the farm families‘ strategy to achieve a competence,” and occurred in a market dominated by “personal relations: these bonds actually predicated trade on the Hudson.” (42-3) “Trust lowered transaction costs,” and this “privileged bond...helped diminish the farmer’s prejudice against the conniving merchant,” or indeed, any outsider. (42, 59) But even though the majority of extralocal trading was done by only the most prosperous farmers, “in a world of insecurity, where risk reduction guided the behavior of farm families, the establishment of dependable and durable credit and debt connections lay in the interest of both merchant and farmer;” especially those of humbler means. Their participation in the markets at the Hudson landings created a two tier system, in which the seller could choose either the local or the “New York price.” As a result, “over long periods of time, prices of locally produced goods in the neighborhood trading center remained constant and unresponsive to metropolitan fluctuations.” (59)

Bruegel seems to suggest that this situation would have persisted, if external social forces had not changed the game. “Political interventions in favor of deregulated internal commerce,” he says “show that there was nothing natural about the rise of a market society.” (66) Following Horwitz, Bruegel says “it was the law’s aim to do away with the favored client status that liberal theory construed as collusion,” but that locals at the landing valued as the relationships that tied commerce to community. (67) But the biggest factor was clearly the growth of New York City, and its markets. Demand for hay and dairy products rose. Soil exhaustion and better transportation helped push farmers into hay and livestock. By 1852 the president of the state Ag. Society was able to claim that “farming is no longer that uncertain, profitless work, which it once was.” (97) One Kinderhook resident noted “About 1790 this land was sold for $1 an acre: now it brings $75 or $80.” (95) Farm productivity “growth relied on the intensification of well-known work practices,” introduction of cast-iron plows, and increasing use of wage labor throughout the season. “The extension of employment length distinguished a new labor force from the neighbors who still helped each other during the crest of harvest work.” (112)

These new workers, Bruegel suggests, lived separately from the farmers, and bought food and supplies at the local market, for cash. This is interesting, if true -- I had always envisioned early farm wage-workers as young, single men, who lived with the farm family. Maybe this varied by region. Bruegel also suggests the shift to dairying improved the status of women. He cites an 1820 book called
Dialogues on Domestic and Rural Economy and the Fashionable Follies of the World, by Hannah Barnard, which seems to complicate the traditional view of separate gender spheres. “The agricultural family, in Barnard’s depiction, was a collective in which men and women joined their forces and talents.” (115) Bruegel cites several other contemporary local sources to suggest that Harriet Martineau and other European observes were wrong to conclude that American women had no place in the outdoor work of the farm.

Growth of manufacturing, Bruegel says, followed national events: the Embargo and the War of 1812. It quickly became “more fashionable and dress in fabricks of our rapidly increasing manufactories,” as Sterling Goodenow observed in 1822. (in
A Brief Topographical and Statistical Manual of the State of New York, 150)But in spite of this, “As late as 1837, Kinderhook grocers J. and P. Bain still carried ‘Home-Made Woolen Cloths, also low prices Broad Cloths.” (148) Based on his sources, Bruegel concludes that rural consumption had not become “rural the 1840s. Rather, the dissemination of everyday articles projects the image of a world whose demands remained moderate...the quest for necessities, not luxuries, propelled the consumer behavior of the majority of rural dwellers,” Bruegel says. (161-2)

The Market Revolution, grand narrative style

Sellers, Charles Grier
The Market Revolution : Jacksonian America, 1815-1846

“History’s most revolutionary force, the capitalist market, was wresting the future from history’s most conservative force, the land.” (4)

I can deal with the slight determinism Sellers brings into this from Marx. The thing I really object to is the theology. The “centuries [of] peasant animism” sound remarkably like Carolyn Merchant, whose
Ecological Revolutions is the first volume cited in Sellers bibliographical essay (429). “Protestantism’s antipodal heresies” of antinomianism and arminianism are never clearly shown to be a cause or and effect. (30) Sellers simply says “The Awakening had an ultimately profound political effect by undermining deference,” without really explaining the sources of the Awakening. (31) Sellers wavers between a sort of determinist conspiracy theory where “Lawyers were the shock troops of capitalism” and a religious drama, where “Edwards’s revolutionary New Light, as finally modulated to the stresses of capitalist accommodation by Finney’s genius, nerved Americans for the personal transformation required by a competitive market.” (47, 235) Neither is satisfying, but along the way there’s plenty of interesting information I can look into further.

The Jeffersonians aren’t heroes in Sellers’ story. In 1802 Treasury Secretary Albert Gallatin “convinced Congress to allocate land revenues from the new state of Ohio for a National Road connecting it with the Potomac via southwestern Pennsylvania, where his own investments were concentrated.” (62) The “Fourteenth Congress, convening in prosperous peace in December 1815, was filled with enterprise-minded lawyers” who took credit for “saving the republic from the military ineptitude of penny-pinching, old-fogy Republicanism.” (70) The transition from the Jefferson to the Madison (?) Republicans, and then to the younger generation (Quincy Adams, etc.) is interesting and probably has some insights and story ideas in it. Monroe “falling thousands of dollars in debt to the [Second] Bank’s chief promotor, John Jacob Astor, who regularly subsidized his habit of living beyond his means,” is also interesting. (80) But “The Adamses epitomized both the fruits and human costs of the self-repressive effort exacted by capitalist transformation. The sublimation of psychic energy that fueled the country’s astonishing surge of production also generated the emotional intensity that John Quincy Adams displaced onto his beloved republic.” (95) I agree Adams was nuts, but seriously, what do these sentences mean? I think the story flows much more smoothly where Sellers describes events like “the dramatic reversal of Republican tradition” where, in President Madison’s words, Republicans were “reconciled to certain measures and arrangements which may be as proper now as they were premature or suspicious when urged by champions of Federalism.” (101) Sellers has a keen sense of irony: this is a beautiful explanation of the role of parties in American politics.

In another ironic passage, Sellers describes Senator John Taylor (“of Caroline”) and his 1814
Inquiry into the Principles and Policy of the United States. Taylor’s analysis of “capitalist exploitation of American agricultural labor” anticipates Marx, Sellers suggests. But it’s also absurd. “This doomed aristocrat, elaborating the labor theory of value while slave labor supplied his every want,” Sellers says, “epitomized the contradictions of the capitalist transformation.” (120) Well, maybe not, unless we throw away Genovese and the whole idea that the South wasn’t really capitalist in the Marxist sense of the word. But Sellers is right; there is a huge irony here. This is the tension I always notice when reading Foner: is it possible for a group as off-the-charts wrong as Southern Congressmen were, to articulate a valid indictment of Northern wage-based industry? And if not, is part of the tragedy of the antebellum period the fact that there was no one in a credible position to say what needed to be said about the way capitalist institutions were developing? Is that the lesson of American politics in this period: that both sides are so compromised that there is never any pure ground to stand on, so you make your choice of the lesser evil? Did people at the time “get” this? “Rotation in office” becomes the “spoils system” under Jackson -- was anyone surprised?

Sellers says “it is not surprising that the state banks, most having suspended specie payments during the war, were reluctant to resume redeeming their notes in gold or silver coin on demand. With speicie payments suspended, new banks could open on no other capital than stock loans and a little borrowed specie, and then force their notes into circulation by lending freely. Established banks could earn dividends of 12 to 20 percent by extending loans and note issues far beyond their specie reserves. The resulting uncontrolled inflation threatened sound growth,” but of course seemed like a good idea at the time, to each person who took the notes or loans from their eager local banker. (133) The question Sellers doesn’t really address is, how is it these banks were
allowed to do this? There’s more going on than just an old fashioned culture (in which Jefferson cosigns his friend Nicholas’ loan and loses his fortune. 138) that doesn’t understand what’s happening...isn’t there? Time to read some books on banking history.

In 1818, “with Henry Clay as its well-rewarded supervising attorney, the [new] national Bank [began] ruthlessly stripping its western debtors of their property. Most of Cincinnati fell into its hands.” (138) As a result, “General William Henry Harrison, popular hero of Tippecanoe, bank director, and longtime grandee, was hard run for the state senate by an upstart radical lawyer and hero of the city’s working class.” (165) Sellers doesn’t give a name, but it sounds like an interesting story. As does the idea that image politics began in 1828, when “Farmers and workers were baffled as well as threatened by the abstraction and complexity of the interests and issues that engaged calculating elites,” and as a result “Jackson’s charisma froze voters into a pattern of party identifications favoring his entourage.” (297) Were the issues that difficult? Were the people that dim? Who, then, was the audience for “self-taught mechanic/intellectual” William M. Gouge’s 1833
Short History of Paper Money and Banking?

So, when Jackson vetoed the Bank recharter, was he leading or following? The rhetoric was right on target: “The rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes...Many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress.” (325) But if the “Bank War was the acid test of American democracy,” how is it no one in Jackson’s administration understood what throwing control back to unregulated state banks was going to do to the money supply? (321) It’s hard to see how anyone believed that without some other controls, the result would be a return to metallic “real” money. So either part of the story is missing, or people weren’t honest. “Legislatures chartered over two hundred new banks in three years, pushing the total over six hundred. As the money supply (bank notes, deposits, and circulating specie [he forgets credit notes, which functioned as cash]) swelled from $172 million in 1834 to $276 million in 1836, prices shot up 50%.” Thomas Hart Benton complained “I did not join in putting down the Bank of the United States, to put up a wilderness of local banks...I did not join in putting down the paper currency of a national bank, to put up a national paper currency of a thousand local banks.” (344) What had he expected?

The Specie Circular was overturned by Congress in December 1836 by Whigs and “Conservative Democrats,” and “Jackson’s last official act was a pocket veto sustaining his hard-money policy against the bipartisan dismay of politicians.” Jackson came to Washington as a result of the Panic of 1819, and left after setting off the Panic of 1837. “Economic disaster and multiplying immigrants--from 38,914 in 1838 to 104,565 in 1842--soon brought plebeian nativism to a boil” and launched America on its irrevocable path toward urban industrial capitalism. Really? The US census in 1840 totaled 17,069,453. The 1842 tsunami of immigration amounted to less than one percent of the total population. Even if the immigrants had all arrived in and remained in New York City (they didn’t), they would have made up only about 25% of the city’s population. A little more engagement with nuts and bolts, and a little less psychodynamics, would have made this a more readable and persuasive book.

But they didn’t ask me. In 1992, the
Journal of the Early Republic invited a panel to participate in a Symposium on Market Revolution. (Somehow, the Journal managed to not invite a number of social historians who had been working on the market revolution for decades. But many of these historians had a chance to be heard in Stokes and Conway’s 1996 book) Kicking off was Richard Ellis, a former student of Sellers’ who said that although the book did “not pay the careful attention to detail” that people had come to expect from Sellers, his comprehensiveness [and]...aggressive presentation of meaningful and provocative generalizations...will act as a catalyst for numerous doctoral dissertations.” (447) Mary Blewett hints that social historians have already moved well beyond Sellers’ and says they will be frustrated and disappointed by his synthesis. (454) Joel Silbey subtly suggests that Sellers is simply following a line of argument “so well explored and synthesized previously by Harry Watson (who, in his blurb, called the book a “brilliant achievement... Combining vast scholarship with vivid, trenchant prose). (455) In his turn, Watson reminds readers that resistance to the market transition has been discussed in the terms Sellers uses by Henretta, Clark, Kulikoff, etc.

In his defense, Sellers admits that the “theologisms” are daunting, but says that’s the way it has to be. He reiterates his belief that “the Protestant tension between antinomianism and arminianism was the central tension in early American life.” (473) Religion is important and “demands the special attention of historians because through it, as through politics, the largest numbers of people most visibly register their reactions to their circumstances.” (476) This is probably my biggest issue with Sellers approach. Politics is an imperfect mirror of regular people’s ideas about life and society, because they most often are choosing from a set menu (between the giant douche or the turd sandwich, to put it in South Park terminology). But
at least there are no institutional barriers to political participation. Regular people are at least theoretically eligible to play. This is not the case with religion. The whole point of the religious game is control from above. Even where the message is individual, internal salvation through grace, the medium is still an elite white guy in the pulpit, who the “lay” people are indoctrinated to believe and follow. “Nothing could be more liberating for American historians,” Sellers says, “than recognizing our own embeddedness in the liberal ideology we should be subjecting to critical analysis.” (475) I agree, but the same goes for Sellers’ own embeddedness in theology.

Consequences of the Market Revolution

Melvyn Stokes and Stephen Conway
The Market Revolution in America: Social, Political, and Religious Expressions, 1800-1880

This book is primarily a series of essays responding to Sellers’
Market Revolution. The most interesting essay, from my perspective is Christopher Clark’s. Professor Clark is front and center, the first chapter and the the only contributor who “addresses the paradigm itself,” according to Sellers in his response. There’s also an interesting essay by Eric Foner, that revisits the ground he covered 25 years earlier in Free Soil.

In his introduction, Stokes mentions an 1816 Senate report “pointed out that a ton of goods could be brought from Europe for roughly nine dollars, while the same amount would pay for shipment over only thirty miles by land.” (2) Stokes also reminds us that “in the eight decades between Revolution and Civil War, government at all levels interfered constantly and with major consequences in American economic life.” (5) Both of these points are worth remembering. In addition to the books I’m planning to read, Stokes highlights Watson’s
Liberty and Power; Benson, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy; Formisano, The Birth of Mass Political Parties; Shade, Banks or No Banks; and Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (although this may be covered adequately by his later What Hath God Wrought, which is on my list).

Clark’s response to Sellers begins on an interesting note, with a subtle challenge to the “kind of overall synthesis that once seemed to provide clear interpretive frameworks for professional scholars and the public.” (23) This is especially interesting to me, both because I’m interested in the different ways we write history for professionals and for the public, and because that was my strongest reaction to Sellers’ book as well. After reading dozens of detailed, primary-source rich new social histories,
Market Revolution’s broad brushstrokes and Sellers’ claim to be writing the new master narrative that would overturn and replace its predecessors seemed both old-fashioned and (gotta say it) arrogant. It seems to me that in light of the twin challenges of post-modernism and the intricate webs of causality, self-awareness, and complexity found by Clark and others, it’s extremely difficult to argue for the type of straight-ahead, mono-causal approach typical of master narratives. Difficult to attribute all change to one cause, but even more difficult to refute someone else’s findings, given the universe of possible sources and stories the past holds.

But back to the text. Clark first summarizes the consensus built by himself and others, “over a generation of scholarship in several fields, particularly in the rural history of the American north,” (and remarkably, somehow absent from both Sellers book and the first round of professional response -- cf. the 1992
Journal of the Early Republic Symposium) and suggests that these findings complicate the “set of binary comparisons between conditions before and after the market revolution” presented by Sellers and most mainstream historians. (24, 28) Clark’s argument is “not that these things did not happen...but rather that they are in many ways a selective, mutually reinforcing collection of observations that direct attention away from a much richer tapestry of circumstances.” (28) “When markets and market values come to be seen as penetrating American society,” Clark continues, “we start to lose a sense of the intricate processes entailed in bringing this about. The market then becomes an abstract, catch-all explanation, resistant to detailed examination.” (29) It’s a little ironic that this should be the case for Sellers, who shares with Clark an interest in the ways many Americans resisted this growing capitalist hegemony. How much more is it a danger for pro-capitalist historians like Appleby and Rothenberg?

Freed from a strict requirement to exhaustively back up every claim, Clark takes the opportunity to extend his position a little beyond its former (published) boundaries. He says “
Market is too often conflated with capitalism,” but although he may sympathize with Merrill’s argument, Clark doesn’t repeat it. Instead, he draws a distinction between “adaptation to dependence on markets” and the “shift in social relations” brought about by wage labor and the “commercial and institutional relationships that handled finance, production, and distribution on a larger and larger scale.” (30) The institutional relationships he’s referring to include “an increasing tendency for those with economic power to make use of legal principles and court judgments that could shield their interests from public scrutiny or interference.” (35) This is substantially the Horwitz argument, modified by Tomlins (Law, Labor, and Ideology in the Early American Republic, which I should read).

The picture Clark wants to leave us with is of a change that’s infinitely more varied and complicated than the words “market revolution” would imply. Religious revivalism, credit panics and depressions, cultural distrust of peddlers and salesmen, and a stubborn persistence of “moral economy” all suggest that “the process of market development was more interrupted and less unidirectional than we are often inclined to conceive of it.” (31) And that “Acceptance of the notion that the market was morally neutral was...[and is] uneven and contested.” (32)

I think the most interesting idea in the chapter (and in the book, actually) is Clark’s extension of the idea that “legal judgments tended to place decisions about property rights beyond the risk of legislative interference,” to the suggestion that “‘Privacy’ was not so much a politically neutral social consequence of a market economy, as a carefully evolved, necessary condition of its continuation in a democratic context.” (37)

“The conventional historical interpretation of the effects of the market revolution” that Sellers represents, Clark says, is rooted in a “mythology [that] was a product of the ideological hegemony of the beneficiaries and supporters of American capitalism.” (38) In other words, the capitalists hijacked the American identity myth. “Individualism, inventiveness, mobility, freedom, and entrepreneurialism were not the conditions under which most nineteenth-century people lived.” So the fact that they emerged at this time as the embodiment of Americanism needs to be explained. It
could be progressive, optimistic, positive thinking. Or it could have other motives. Or a combination of motives and responses, in some type of ongoing conversation that extends to the present. Damn! I’m going to have to read postmodernism after all...

Clark 1991

Subtitle: "Opening up the Rural History of the Early American Northeast."

In his introduction, Clark says "These [prototypical capitalist] farmers were of little interest, except to local and agricultural historians." (280) This is an interesting comment, coming from a social historian. Suggests that not everyone is equally interesting -- that in order to be worthy of study, data has to support analysis: show how something important changed over time, etc. This could be interpreted simply as the "why should I care test," or it could be construed to imply an ideological litmus test, if you were looking for a fight.

Clark argues for a synthesis of Kulikoff's "market" and "social" points of view, in which "the former's quantitative ecvidence is incorporated into the latter's broader perspective." (281) This whole attempt at integrating data with interpretive structure is interesting -- it's a microcosm of the problem facing the history profession today. An example of this tension between evidence and theory is Clark's observation that "the rural Northeast provides an unusual phenomenon in the Wallerstein world-system: a periphery that turned itself into a core. Explaining how this happened will have important theoretical implications," not least because it will test the amenability of systems theory to data.

Henretta's Mentalité

In this essay, which stands as one of the three (with Clark 1979 and Merrill) founding documents of the new social history's approach to the market revolution, Henretta objects to Lemon's characterization (in The Best Poor Man's Country) of "settlers [as] individualists, enterprising men and women intent upon the pursuit of material advantage at the expese of communal and non-economic goals." (4) Henretta says the "data presented by Lemon do not support this description of the inhabitants' 'orientation.'" Says instead, that peopel settled in ethnic and religious clusters, suggesting the "importance of communal values [and] identity."

Henretta says early American communities showed "correlation among age, wealth, status, and power...indicat[ing] the profound importance of age as a basic principle of social differentiation." (7) He goes on to say that "geographical movement...helped to maintain social stability in long-settled agricultural towns. One-third of all adult males in Goshen, connecticut, in 1750 were without land; but two decades later a majority of these men had left the town and 70 percent of those who remained had obtained property through marriage, inheritance, or the savings from their labor. A new landless group of unmarried sons, wage laborers, and tenant farmers had appeared in Goshen by 1771, again encompassing one-third of adult males." (ref. J. T. Main and Danhof, 9) But another way of looking at this, is that families held the land (and wealth?). How many of these landless young men were members of land-owning families? Similarly, Henretta seems to underestimate migration as a family strategy, and the ability of the essential family bond to remain unchanged over great distances and successive moves. The Ranney history suggests this very strongly.

Henretta quotes Neil McNall (
Genesee Valley) that "on no frontier was there an easy avenue to land ownership for the farmer of limited means." (10) He disparages Hofstadter's "Myth of the Happy Yeoman," and respects Bidwell's logic and level-headedness. "The revolution in agriculture, as well as the breaking down of the self-sufficient village life, awaited the growth of a [large, urban] non-agricultural population," he quotes. (Bidwell, Rural Economy, 16) Until there was a stable, safe, accessible market, farmers produced for themselves and near neighbors. McNall apparently talks (in Ch. 4) about the ability of "bankers, speculators, and merchants [to] use their political and economic power th set the terms of exchange" and gain "unearned" profits -- this probably bears looking into, especially because he's talking about upstate NY.

Henretta makes the leap into culture by suggesting that social-economic realities "inhibited the emergence of individualism" on the frontier. (26) And even after the settlers became successful, "young adults of thriving farm communities," who stood to inherit land and a profitable way of life, "were not forced to confront the difficult problems of occupational choice and psychological identity as were those from depressed and overcrowded rural environments or growing cities." (30) That may be a stretch, but clearly the problems (including identity crises) faced by rural kids were probably different from those of their urban cousins.

Rothenberg's economic history

Winifred Barr Rothenberg
From Market-Places to a Market Economy

First thing to note: WBR is a professor of economics at Tufts University. Second, this book is substantially a compilation of a series of articles that appeared in
Agricultural History and (mostly in) The Journal of Economic History. Some of Rothenberg’s opinions about the “moral economy” model appear in a review of Hahn and Prude’s Countryside in the Dec. 1987 Reviews in American History, titled “Bound Prometheus.”

Through extensive primary research and mathematical modeling, Rothenberg came to the conclusion that the “capitalist transition” began around 1750, and was substantially underway in rural Massachusetts by 1800. While she performs a little sleight of hand navigating between a tight, economist’s definition of capital and markets, and the expansive, politically loaded language used in the historians’ debate, Rothenberg uncovers some really valuable data which helps advance our understanding of events, wherever we stand on the “social vs. market” historiographical spectrum.

Economically, Rothenberg rests her evaluation of whether markets are operating on a combination of two related ideas. “Synchronicity
and convergence in the behavior of prices,” she says, “is an acknowledged diagnostic of the role of market forces in their determination.” (xiv) As transportation and communication improvements allow farmers to participate in distant markets and to use price cues from those markets as guides in their local exchange relationships, Rothenberg says “markets embedded within and constrained by values antithetical to them within the culture” evolved into “the ‘disembedded‘ market whose values penetrated and reinvented that culture.” (3)

Rothenberg is drawing on and commenting on a long lineage of sociological, economic, and cultural critique, in a way that seems unnecessary and overly polemical. She borrows the word “disembedded” from Karl Polanyi, with all its political baggage. The idea that price synchronicity defines a market economy is Braudel’s, while the concept of convergence Rothenberg adds to it comes from Alfred Marshall. (20-1) As she’s pulling these two ideas together, Rothenberg considers and rejects Marc Bloch’s suggestion that a market exists when people don’t simply buy and sell, but “
live by buying and selling.” (20) How would you measure that? she asks.

I’m less interested in the general question of when “market-place economies” become “market economies,” than with how the market expanded into rural Massachusetts. The breakdown of Puritan strictures against usury seems to be a part of this change, as Rothenberg suggests. But if this is caused by the introduction of “the fundamental assumption of modernity...that the social unit of society is not the group, the guild, the tribe, or the city, but the person,” how did that work? (quoting Daniel Bell,
The Cultural Conditions of Capitalism, which maybe I should look at for an answer. 15) It’s all well and good to observe that “the market (for better or worse) objectifies some of the culture’s most cherished values,” but Rothenberg wants to say it also created these values, without resorting to cultural or intellectual history or mentalités. This is important, because if we can agree on the values (“the sovereignty of the individual,” 16), we can then turn to examining what happened and asking if events and actions were consistent with these ideals? Did “market” ideas matter? Did they direct change? Or did they just serve as rhetorical cover for other processes and other goals?

Rothenberg finds some great material! Here’s George Washington to Arthur Young, Dec. 5 1791: “The aim of farmers in this country is, not to make the most from the land, which is or has been cheap, but the most from labour, which is dear: the consequence of which has been, much of the ground has been scratched over, and none cultivated or improved as it ought to have been.” (25) Throughout the book, Rothenberg shows that farmers’ actions can be understood as economic decisions (and often sophisticated and reasonable ones) reflecting more knowledge and understanding of their environment and options than they are normally credited with having. This is extremely helpful, even if I don’t go as far as she does in rejecting the influence of other sources of information and values on farmers’ decisions.

The moral economy model, as Rothenberg sees it, involves four basic features. Its members, being risk averse (because the whole point of the moral economy is the extremely tenuous nature of their existence) prefer “minimizing expected losses over maximizing expected gains.” (29) Individualism is “subordinated to community norms,” and “The two institutional pillars of the market system--the rule of contract and private property--are conspicuously absent” (quoting Platteau regarding third world villages, which I think raises a question about the relevance of these kinds of atemporal sociological comparisons. 29). There may, she says, be a “two-tier system in which exchanges
within the village...are insulated from exchanges with the outside world...The ‘prices’ at which goods exchange within the village are mere ‘cultural constructs,’” Rothenberg concludes, as if prices arrived at by “market outcomes” were not.

“Indexes of individuation” are linked to the 1740-45 religious upheavals of the Great Awakening, Rothenberg says, because both are caused by “the
breakdown of community solidarity [that] in turn can be traced to rapid population growth.” (38) It is nice to see an appraisal that doesn’t treat religious motivations as free-standing, causeless causes. Similarly, she not only lists the many difficulties of studying persistence (for example, varied and changing town dimensions that make it difficult to compare two towns or to compare the same town in different time periods), she also asks the important question, “what in fact does persistence measure?” (40) Is it a measure of community harmony? Or of the expense and difficulty of leaving?

“The capacity to produce surpluses,” Rothenberg says, “is often treated as so necessary a condition to trade that the moral economists infer the absence of marketing solely from calculations that the local resource base would have been insufficient to produce surpluses.” (46) This is the “principal misconception in the historical literature on markets,” because it implies that households and communities evolve from self-sufficiency to market involvement, which in many cases (like the cobbler’s bare-foot children) is untrue. Based on her data, Rothenberg argues “that ‘time’s arrow’ may very well have gone
from marketing to self-sufficiency” in rural Massachusetts. (49)

Rothenberg’s specific arguments about market activity and productivity gains in Massachusetts seem reasonable, for the most part. She spends several pages relating hog slaughter weights to corn prices, before admitting that “Corn is not in fact the basic feed of hogs.” (106) But through most of it, I didn’t feel that she was going off the tracks (as far as I could follow the argument, with an undergrad Ag. Economics background). But I also didn’t feel particularly compelled to abandon a “social” perspective that could accept this data and integrate it with other, non-market factors Rothenberg believes she is refuting.

“Local markets relayed the shocks [of the national and world economies] as changing relative prices,” Rothenberg says, “and resilient farmers responded by shifting from grains to hay, from hay to dairying, and finally from agriculture to commerce and industry.” (113) The interesting thing is, the increases in agricultural productivity and the diversification of rural capital investment that made these changes possible seem to date from the years between the end of the Revolution and Jefferson’s election. This doesn’t necessarily contradict Appleby’s claim that the Jeffersonians were pro-commerce, but it suggests they were riding a wave not of their own making.

“Central to such a [rural capital] transformation must have been the development of an effective mechanism for increasing the liquidity of the regional economy,” so that the gains farmers were accumulating were free to move within (and to leave) the local agricultural economy. I think my upstate NY data suggests that one may have led to the other. The requirements for this change, Rothenberg says, are “institutional elements” allowing “credit instruments [to] become more fully negotiable,” an “increasing size and widening geographic spread of individual credit networks,” and sufficient “liquidity of financial instruments and therefore the propensity of rural wealthholders to substitute them for physical assets.” (114) I think this is exactly the role played by my miller/storekeepers in the 1840s. Ironic that the Duns reporters considered one of them a complete deadbeat. Does that suggest the Duns guys were a little conservative? Their clients were urban creditors, after all. I wonder if anyone has written about this?

Rothenberg’s discussion of negotiability picks up right where Horwitz left off, so it’s lucky I read them back to back. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to accept both Rothenberg’s conclusions on when and how credit and negotiable notes penetrated rural markets, and Horwitz’s suggestion that legal changes were producing a “capitalist” political/economic regime in the Merrill sense (for the benefit of the rich). In fact, Rothenberg’s data shows “The very rich appear to have been borrowing in order to lend, using their underwrite their borrowing while at the same time shifting the composition of their assets out of farming and into commercial paper. The very rich were coming into the capital market on both sides. And they alone were emerging as net creditors.” (143) In other words, a widening of the gap between the wealthy and their neighbors preceded the industrial transformation normally blamed for it.

The final chapter, on productivity, is surprising because Rothenberg finds evidence that “Massachusetts farmers were moving away from cereals to specialize in advance of significant western competition;” in fact “by 1801.” (221) This would seem to support the view that demand from what Bidwell (1921) calls a “home market” may have driven productivity growth, but may have begun much earlier than previously supposed. The earlier beginning of significant demand, increases in productivity, and the resulting returns to rural farmers could have financed the New England industrial revolution, just as Rothenberg suggests. Additionally, rural demand for “outside” goods may have been encouraged by the increased reach of storekeepers and peddlers into previously remote hinterlands. The Revolution seems like the second major mobility-enhancing event in the eighteenth century; the Seven Year War may have been the real beginning. And the story of Shays’s Rebellion is enhanced (but not completely rewritten, since Richards has already improved on Szatmary’s account) if an increasing upland/lowland disparity of farm prosperity adds to the other social and financial factors already cited as causes of that conflict.

Anti-Capitalist Origins

Michael Merrill
“The Anti-Capitalist Origins of the United States”

Adam Smith, Merrill says, was an anti-capitalist who “sharply condemned the ‘mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor should be, the rulers of mankind.’” (465) The point, of course, is that this argument (and the whole question of the “capitalist transition”) revolves around how you define “capitalism.”

Merrill says the word was not used much in the 18th century, and when it was used he says it carried connotations of “court capitalism,” the process by which political hangers-on enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of society. “Capitalism,” for Merrill, means a
political-economic organization of society by and for the benefit of “capitalists.” In this sense, he says, “the American Revolution did more to retard than to hasten capitalism’s triumph in the New World [by] bringing to power a self-conscious class of small property holders who would resist dispossession and proletarianization for more than a century.” (466)

Historians, Merrill says, “universally equate ‘capitalism’ with what eighteenth-century political economists called ‘commercial society,’ and take for granted that the expansion of the latter automatically entailed the triumph of the former.” (468) “This shift in emphasis is not inconsequential,” Merrill says. (471) The real question might be, was it self-conscious and deliberate? Because, as
he points out in 1995, equating a market economy with capitalism means that being anti-capitalist is the same as being against commerce -- which everyone realizes is absurd.

But back to the market revolution. Merrill says “if the
Wealth of Nations had a single theme, it was that the monied interest was not the same as the public interest.” (475) The cast of characters remains the same, but Merrill sees their motivations slightly differently. “Many of the former colonists,” he says, “were set to sweep away the monopolies, duties, prohibitions, and restraints that both the Declaration of Independence and The Wealth of Nations had complained of so bitterly.” (480) Hamilton tried to build a “capitalist” economy that emulated Great Britain “not so much because he admired its economic and political institutions but because he feared its political might.” (486) This is an interesting point, because it provides Hamilton with a patriotic benefit-of-the-doubt, where other historians have been quick to condemn him.

In his letters to Robert Morris, Hamilton complained “as early as the winter of 1779-1780 [before Jefferson published his
Notes on the State of Virginia] that ‘a great part of our internal commerce is carried on by barter,’ which he thought ‘inconvenient, partial, confined, [and] destructive of both commerce and industry.’ Most awkwardly, it also interfered with the ability of the government to raise an adequate revenue,” which is the main point. “The farmers have the game in their hands,” Hamilton warned. (487) “Hamilton’s funding system created an artificial interest--a class of monied men whose wealth and income was due to public largess and not to their own industry,” Merrill says, noting that this group “would ever more work to secure legislation that benefited themselves at the expense of the public.” (490) This is true, and tragic. But, following the logic of Merrill’s story, this is not why Hamilton did it. He did it to locate economic power in a group that was dependent on government, in the hopes that he and his successors would be able to control the economy through them. No one could imagine, of course, how large the economy (and thus the power of this dependent group) would grow in the nineteenth century.

The Democratic-Republican agrarian alternative, which favored discriminating between the holders of the debt (to avoid enriching speculators by assumption), retiring it quickly, reducing taxes, and limiting banking and joint-stock corporations, seems very reasonable in retrospect. Extensive, rather than intensive, development became more feasible after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. The question is, did the Jeffersonians have a viable economic plan before the “revolution of 1800,” or were they arguing in a more “moral economy” direction? And how did this effect our subsequent understanding of what happened in both political and economic history?

1994 Panel Discussion

Clark, C., D. Vickers, et al. (1994). "The Transition to Capitalism in America: A Panel Discussion." The History Teacher 27(3): 263-288.

This is another in a series of what seem to be central texts in the evolution of the “market revolution.” Probably seems like incredibly old news to those who participated, so I should probably keep my mouth shut about it until I have a better sense of how it turned out.

Christopher Clark mentions in his introduction that most interpretations “stress the class and other conflicts that helped structure politics in the Jacksonian period and after.” (266) I wonder, looking at it put this way, if there’s a periodization issue? When we look at “transitions” in different regions, do we assume (like Turner) that they recapitulate a similar process? Or on the other hand, are we tied to these national political eras like the Jacksonian, and do we miss similarities between regions at different times and long, slow developments?

Daniel Vickers proposes we look at “a period in which: 1) commerce spread gradually and mattered vitally to everyone it touched but did not dominate everywhere; 2) business interests were acquiring increasing influence over the state but had not captured it entirely; 3) the rules of custom and law were changing to facilitate the expropriation of small producers, although the process of expropriation was far from complete; and 4) wage labor was growing in importance but rarely became the sole support of any family.” (268) Seems like we ought to call this “the long, slow, irregular transition to a capitalist market economy”

My initial reactions:

  1. 1. In what context did commerce matter? I like the idea that trade was often supplemental to “competence,” but it seems like women’s relatively quick abandonment of household textile manufacture is based on a very clear (and very smart) understanding that their time and energy is better spent doing other things. So it’s not just about buying little trinkets and luxuries. It’s about what’s best for the family (over the limited, contingent terrain they can see from where they stand).
  2. 2. What are business interests? Would it be useful for part of this period to say that people (white men) exercised influence in their roles as businessmen -- rather than through some other leadership role they may have used earlier (political, social, religious, wealthy-gentleman)? Don’t “business interests” really take off with (and as a result of) the widespread creation of (personalized, immortal) chartered corporations?
  3. 3. Why and how did laws and customs change to favor big producers? Doesn’t seem like it was an accident. So how was it done? (But that said, it’s true that boom and bust business cycles tend to drive smaller people out of businesses, which allows the big guys who can weather the recession to buy assets cheap, gain market share, etc. So it’s not ALL an evil plot by the rich to expropriate the poor...)
  4. 4. I really like a comment Clark makes in the wrap-up, about “the likelihood that wage work was often not an imposition, but demanded by men and women seeking to loosen the constraints imposed on them by family labor, servanthood or apprenticeship.” (280) This seems like a reasonable recognition that there are a lot of things worse than working for wages.

I do agree with Vickers that the “ambivalent sense of the opportunities and dangers that nascent capitalism presented” is really interesting. (268) How did people perceive these changes? Where were they getting their information? On what were they basing their opinions and subsequent actions?

Stephen Aron’s focus on frontier land and the role of speculators is interesting partly because it highlights the way historians have made speculators the bad guys of the west (like merchants are the bad guys of the northeast?). “Unrestrained acquisitiveness,” he says, on the part of both “backcountry men” and “better-capitalized gentlemen...interfered with the homestead ethic, undermined the potency of agrarian radicalism, and ultimately eroded the sphere of economic life that existed apart from market relations.” I’m not sure if I buy this, but the “favoritism” shown by the government to its friends when distributing land throughout the history of the frontier seems like a legitimate provocation for a “radical agrarian critique of market relations,” if that’s the way they actually saw the situation. Or did they see it as corrupt government intrusion into business, in a way we no longer do?

Nancy Grey Osterud observes that the division of labor between men and women meant that in some places, women preceded men into the market economy, while in others they trailed behind. So attitudes would have been different from place to place. It’s interesting that in women’s diaries she examined, “it is difficult to distinguish an occasion of shared labor from a social visit.” But I’m not sure this proves that “men adopted market paradigms” more readily than women, while women “maintained a mode of conceiving of cooperative labor that was modeled on kin relationships.” (276) Maybe this isn’t a (hard-wired) different response, but a difference in the
timing of a response, based on differing experiences?

Michael Merrill continues to fascinate me with his claim that the debate is “marred by insufficient attention to questions of power.” (277) “Other historians,” he admits, “use the term [capitalism] differently--to refer to a system of production based, supposedly exclusively, on private enterprise, freedom, and individual initiative. This usage obscures the fact that commerce does not have to be organized to benefit only the few...A commercial system run by or in the interests of farmers, mechanics and laborers deserves to be called something else.” (278)

Merrill offers a concrete measure this time, to support his differentiation between “capitalist” and “democratic” market economies. “The higher the return to capital,” he says, “the more powerful the capitalists.
Or, the greater the share of the national income accruing to capital rather than labor (property rather than work) the more powerful the capitalists. (This ration might be called the ‘productivity of capital.’) Conversely, the higher the real wage...the more powerful the wage earners.” (279) This is interesting, but is the power he mentions a cause or an effect? And what about technology? A higher-tech industrial base would seem to increase capital productivity (think semi-conductors vs. bricks), but buried in that conclusion are a lot of assumptions about intellectual property, who benefits from invention, etc. There are a million qualifications that need to be made, but somehow I still sympathize with the idea that you can tell something about a society from looking at the wealth and income curves. Not to mention Merrill’s conclusion: “Securing higher wages is not a diversion from the revolution. It is the revolution.” (279)

Clark concludes that “the dichotomy between ‘market’ and ‘social’ approaches” is old news, and can safely be abandoned. (282) In it’s place then, what? I think one unresolved question relates to the differentiation of public and private spheres. Both in terms of family vs. market orientation, and also with respect to private enterprise and government involvement. I think a lot of what I’m seeing, when I look at the documents I’m uncovering, can be understood as people working out not only economic, but social and political approaches to living in a rapidly modernizing world.


Appleby, J. O. (2001). "The Vexed Story of Capitalism Told by American Historians." Journal of the Early Republic 21(1): 1-18.

Definitions, again. Appleby defines capitalism as “a system that depends upon private property and the relatively free use of it in economic endeavors.” (1) This is a fairly open definition, of the type that Merrill objects to. Against this, Appleby contrasts the classical (Smithian) and Marxian definitions. “Smith discerned a benign law of unintended consequences [through which] the invisible hand of the market guided self-interested and competitive participants” to the good of society, while “For Marx, capitalists represented not only new men, but new men who shared common political goals” at odds with the interests of the majority. (8) “Neither theorist,” she says, “showed much interest in the meaning market participants gave to their activities.” (9) A more insightful approach, she suggests, would build on the questions posed by Max Weber, using a concept of culture developed by Franz Boas. (9, 15)

The historiography Appleby provides is especially useful to me. Beginning with Charles Beard, who she says “separated the economy of commercial agriculture--the capitalism of the many--from the investments of bankers and merchants--the capitalism of the few.” (2) This is a division that is still being attempted by people like Merrill, and it seems to me with good reason. One type of “capitalism” didn’t necessarily imply the other, and changing attitudes towards these different activities done by different people in different places are probably at the heart of this “transition to capitalism.” The “marked tendency of industrial capitalism to concentrate wealth and convert that wealth into political power” needs to be unpacked. (3) What elements of capitalism are responsible for this? Are they always the same ones? Do business cycles favor the rich in some times and places; while law, government policy, or even popular support help people aggregate large fortunes in others?

Progressives, Appleby says, had a “hard-wired...anticapitalist bias.” (3) Their attack was answered by Consensus Historians like Robert Brown, David Potter, Daniel Boorstin and Louis Hartz, who “rediscovered Alexis de Tocqueville’s
Democracy in America and turned the ‘tyranny of the majority’ into the most compelling and disturbing truth of their day” -- which after all it was, since all around them black, female, and other members of the majority began to challenge the status quo. But when social historians of the ‘60s and ‘70s began looking for these other voices, they “followed the Beardians in depicting capitalism as an exogenous force, thrust into the lives of unwary folk by profit-maximizing outsiders.” (4) Where their predecessors had looked at industrial labor, these “neo-Progressives” focused on “the green and pleasant countryside where tradition-bound yeoman fought to repel the relentless intrusion of the market.” (she cites Kulikoff 1989 here, although she doesn’t quote him. Apparently he stands out as the spokesman for this point of view. 5)

This is about the point where I’m beginning to have some doubts. I’ll have to read all these books and articles, I suppose, to determine whether she’s doing their authors justice here. But I do see an element of truth in things I’ve read so far, that capitalism can appear “less a historical development than a malevolent conspiracy perpetrated by outsiders.” (5) Appleby says Morton Horowitz’s
The Transformation of American Law is another book in the “promoter-resister mode,” but again I wonder if this characterization doesn’t unnecessarily limit the discussion. “The judges who transformed American law, Horowitz asserted, were responding to an elite whose entrepreneurial goals ran athwart the conservative sentiments of the bulk of the population.” (6) If this is the case (even some of the time), this is exactly the type of situation that Appleby’s continuing use of the words “capitalist” and “anti-capitalist” obscures.

Not that there aren’t anti-capitalists out there. Tony Freyer and Charles Sellers might fit that bill. Appleby lumps them with Michael Merrill, saying they create producer/capitalist and rural/urban binaries. She quotes Sellers saying “every popular cultural or political movement in the early republic arose originally against the market.” Given the “depth and breadth of antipathy to the market in Sellers account,” it’s hard to see how the Jacksonians lost. (7)

Appleby suggests that more sophisticated economic ideas might improve historians’ thinking. Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter, she notes made “the brilliant observation that capitalism involved a ceaseless process of ‘creative destruction.” (10) It’s an interesting idea, but for a historian wouldn’t the important questions be: whose stuff is destroyed? Whose stuff replaces it? And how do the people involved and society at large feel about this?

The postmodernists, following Horkheimer and Adorno, “defined consumption as escapist buying and commodified leisure, both substitutes for authentic experience.” (10) I think Appleby is dead-on in characterizing this as elite snobbery, especially when applied to the past. While it may be true that some contemporary first-worlders have “borrowed tastes and manufactured needs,” I agree that “Depictions of consumers as victims...leave readers with ‘an uncritical nostalgia toward a precapitalist past’” (quoting Lisa Tiersten 1993. 11).

Appleby boils the problem down to “three deficiencies in our historiography: construing as exogenous a cultural transformation that changed from within; limiting the appeal of a free enterprise economy to the lure of profit-maximizing; and interpreting discrete historical developments as parts of an inexorable process.” (14) The new economy (I’m going to stop calling it capitalism, even though Appleby continues) “resonated with those who changes” that would “expand their scope of action and satisfy desires” (13) And clearly historians are wrong when they imply the proponents or adversaries of change had any idea “what would be the consequences of their decisions.” I’m not sure that means all the new economy’s “opponents suffered from association with fixed hierarchies and inherited status.” But in a really interesting aside, Appleby suggests “the attraction of youth to change, particularly changes that brought them early autonomy, has rarely been studied as a force against traditional...practices” (18).

I think Appleby makes a good case for looking at economic change in America as a “succession of novelties compelling unrehearsed responses” (16) I agree that re-embedding this change in a broader context of social and cultural change offers a “recovery of meaning [which] promises access to motives and, through motives, actions” (17). I’d go one step further, I think, and stop using the deceptive and politically loaded term capitalism.

So what is this capitalism, anyway?

Merrill, M. (1995). "Putting "Capitalism" in Its Place: A Review of Recent Literature." The William and Mary Quarterly 52(2): 315-326.

Merrill begins with Hartz, Hofstadter, and Schlesinger Jr., revisionists who he says “rejected the Progressive emphasis on the important role a transition to capitalism played in American history.” (315) For these revisionists, he says, the American colonists arrived as full-fledged capitalists, ready to participate in the market economy.

The error in this thinking, Merrill says, is in equating the market economy with capitalism, and people’s willingness (or eagerness) to participate in it with an embrace of capitalism. This is an error in definition, he suggests, that has been continued by historians like Appleby and Kulikoff (interestingly, from opposite political directions). When James Henretta describes “a sophisticated, indigenous capital market distinguished by the number and complexity of financial instruments in circulation,” Merrill doesn’t disagree that’s what was happening. But he suggests it might be something other than what we normally define as capitalism. (319)

Why does the definition matter? And why is it important for me?

Well, Kulikoff, for example, builds his story around a group of immigrants who “migrated to North America in an attempt to stay a step ahead of what Marx called ‘primitive accumulation,’ or the appropriation by capitalists of the ‘means of production’ (especially land) of small producers--in effect, to escape capitalism.” (322) These immigrants became yeoman farmers, but they were still “embedded in capitalist world markets,” so the result was inevitable.

Another problem is that equating capitalism with markets
creates periodization: we “see the prosperity that followed the Revolution as a sign of an emergent, radically new, capitalist order rather than as the expansion of a dynamic, profoundly anticapitalist, and democratic older order” which Merrill believes it to be. (323) This is important for me, because the guys I’m researching seem to have a foot in both camps. They’re merchants, but they’re not necessarily the protocapitalists they ought to be if the distinction between capitalism and non- or anti-capitalism is viewed through the regular lens.

Merrill doesn’t propose an exact definition to replace the broad, sloppy one he opposes. But it clearly has a political element. People “did not ask whether there should be a market; they asked who would control it and which social class would reap the lion’s share of its benefits.” (324) Of course, this is what they’re still asking; that’s the point. “To equate capitalism with any market economy,” Merrill says, discredits opposition. Any critique is “fundamentally wrongheaded and says, in effect, that...the only acceptable alternative to capitalism is a society without markets.” (325)

So it seems like it would be a good idea, rather than doing a history that says “these guys were sort-of precapitalist, and these other guys were sort-of capitalist,” to try to describe what they actually did and said, and see if they felt they were allies or adversaries. There are still fights and lawsuits -- tons of them, in fact. But the players didn’t seem to be fitting into their roles the way they were supposed to. Maybe the way to go about this is to try to figure out what groups these people thought they fit into, and why.

see also

Henretta 1998:

1994 Panel Discussion:

Roots of Rural Capitalism

Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism,1990

Christopher Clark’s account of the transition from a “subsistence-surplus” economy to “rural capitalism” in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts is built around his observation that it was not an ideological shift that prompted this change, but “the search for livelihoods and security” (318). The story revolves around five elements: “Demography, land shortage, the ‘market,’ household strategies, [and] capital accumulation [which] came together, taking different forms at different periods” and places. The result was a slow, uneven change; and changes in the meaning and significance of relationships and activities, in places where the basic organization of society didn’t change.

Widespread freehold property ownership and the lack of an exportable staple “cash” crop, after the “blast” and soil exhaustion killed off the wheat, prevented the growth of a strong New England elite. Shire towns like Northampton that had been influential in the eighteenth century under the “River Gods” lost their status as “central places,” while households and local communities became the cores of social and economic life. The household economy expected a lot from women and children, and Clark seems to suggest that women may have led the shift toward a cash economy by producing for the market so they could buy textiles rather than spin and weave homespun cloth. Whether or not the women made this decision consciously and by themselves, Clark’s stress on the importance of household strategies in this transition makes sense.

“It is no longer acceptable,” Clark says, “to portray rural people simply as passive victims of ‘the extension of the market’ that ‘broke down family-based household structures’” (323). And while rural people were certainly not omniscient, and unintended consequences happened everywhere, Clark argues there was fairly widespread awareness that “a clash between two ethics” was taking place (324). This clash was felt especially during economic downturns, like the one preceding Shays’s Rebellion in 1786. Against the standard interpretation’s emphasis on individualism and the profit motive, Clark insists “Family and household concerns indeed played a central role in capitalist development; perhaps it was only after family security had been achieved that thoughts of profits and individual interests could develop in the minds of members of the successful middle classes” (326). In a sense, the success of the household strategy helped create this middle class and enabled the next phase of capitalist development.

Historiographically, Clark attributes the standard view that urban markets and transportation improvements led to rural capitalism to historians like Richard Hofstadter (
The Age of Reform, 1955, ch. 1), D.C. North (“Location Theory and Regional Economic Growth” 1955), and George Rogers Taylor (The Transportation Revolution, 1951). More recently, objections have been raised by Winifred B. Rothenberg (1979-88), and James A. Henretta (“Families and Farms: Mentalité in Pre-Industrial America” 1978) and Michael Merrill (“Cash is Good to Eat: Self-Sufficiency and Exchange in the Rural Economy of the United States” 1977); and by Clark himself (1979). In this book, Clark suggests “a synthesis between ‘market’ and ‘social’ interpretations, based on the observation that ‘markets’ are not determinant but are created in and derived from social circumstances” (See also Allan Kulikoff, 1989, and Gregory Nobles, 1988. 13)

Along the way, he makes several observations that are very interesting for my purposes. “The diffused economic power of rural households and their commitment to independence,” he says, “posed a potential problem for ministers and political leaders seeking to impose a concept of authority in the countryside” (23). This is especially interesting in light of Ashfield events I’m researching. The distinction between household and personal independence is also suggestive. “The methods [households] adopted were not individualistic but rested on cooperation and a division of labor. ‘Independence’ required ‘interdependence’ within households and between them” (24). Nor did independence imply self-sufficiency (27). “By 1800, households spent as much as 25 percent of their disposable incomes on goods obtained outside their localities” (28). Of course, “disposable” is the operative word here: these goods were luxuries, just as “products exported beyond the Valley were necessities extra to the requirements of local households or by-products of their production.” Market exchange was happening very early in the story, but it was not relied upon for household livelihood.

Clark quotes European travelers in 1787, remarking on the “large variety of exchanges which would not be done in Europe other than with a considerable quantity of money” (33) Cash, he says, “implies abstraction - a social distance” different from the “complex webs [and] networks of obligation” created by local exchange. These webs and networks are exactly what I’m running into as I read the letters of upstate New York merchant-millers trying to create a cash economy. Are they unique, or is there an intermediate story waiting to be told about how these guys tried to adapt the “local” economic model of trust, relationships, and complex webs of exchange and credit, to the wider commercial world?

In his discussion of the elites and debt, Clark says New England lacked a landed gentry because there was no staple crop and no slavery. But there was also the issue of the River Gods being on the “wrong” side during the Revolution. And the debt crisis that leads to Shays’s “regulation” has a lot to do with “rural resources...being overwhelmed by the speed with which repayment of debts was sought” (45). This begs the question, how did the social climate change so dramatically, that Bostonians felt they could demand immediate payment on rural debts that had accumulated over long periods? What force could bring the word “embarrassed” so quickly into common usage as a synonym for indebted?

Clark shows that rural people understood what was happening to them. “‘We are sencable...that a great debt is justly brought upon us by the war,’ declared the town of Greenwich in 1786, ‘and we are as willing to pay our shares towards itt as we are to injoy our shars in independancy and constatutional priviledges in the Commonwealth.’ If only ‘prudant mesuers were taken and a moderate quantety of medium to circulate so that our property might sel for the real value,’ the petition concluded, ‘we mite in proper time pay said debt’” (47). This is a great passage -- worth the price of the book all by itself!

It’s interesting how patronage mimics “the local exchange ethic,” and that “rural support for federalism [occurred] among farmers concerned to maintain a distance from the market” (ref. James Banner,
To the Hartford Convention, 1969. 52). “The image of merchants as lazy” deserves a little more exploration (163). There seems to be an undercurrent of social commentary going on throughout this period that Clark only dips into occasionally. Maybe it would distract from the main line of the economic story; but maybe it would expand and explain the hints at rural concerns about western migration and elite social-control efforts that crop up throughout.

Clark says “The ‘local’ ethic valued the longer-term reciprocity between dealers embedded in a network of social connections; morality lay in accepting obligations and discharging them over time. The ‘market’ ethic emphasized quick payment and assumed a formal equality between individual dealers at the point of exchange; morality lay in the quick discharge of obligation” (196) But the seeming equality of market exchange hides an imbalance: the merchant is assumed to be the exclusive provider of “goods,” while the “consumer” no longer exchanges household products, but pays in cash. Household products are no longer good enough. Furthermore, the inequality in the “local” ethic implied by the “formal equality” of the market was mitigated by the long-term nature of the relationships: over time, everything balances and everyone is morally equal.

The piousness associated with the temperance movement seems to have infected economic relations through credit. Ironically, “the temperance movement had at first been an elite attempt to maintain social control” (209). Does the explicit association of prompt payment and creditworthiness with good character by Tappan’s Mercantile Agency (later R.G. Duns) happen at a time when elites feared that religious controls were losing their teeth? Did “this tightening of discipline...of credit reporting [to] insert the tighter rules of long-distance exchange into the local economy” betray a more basic effort on the part of town elites to extend their influence back into the countryside they once ruled as squires and River Gods? (220)

I need to pay attention to the economic measures Clark uses. The money supply (221), bankruptcies and debt suits hold a lot of information, although I wonder if they don’t push the focus a little too far to the downside? I find myself wondering what conditions were like and how people reacted to them, when the economy was growing. If long-distance commerce was a new system being tried out in these communities, how did people feel about it when it was working well? Similarly, when William Stoddard implemented his one-price policy in 1856, was this a symbolic gesture of his superiority in the exchange transaction? (223) Was there ever really that much multi-pricing? Wouldn’t keeping a variety of prices for different customers have been extremely difficult to manage, over any reasonable breadth of customers and time? The single (market-based) price is really a merchant’s declaration that no individual transaction or customer is important enough to go to the trouble of bargaining. It’s a way of saying “I don’t care who you are, take it or leave it.”

Clark’s narrative suggests 1837 is under-appreciated as a catalyst of this shift in the economic system. The financial panic “led to a significant shakeout and restructuring of rural industry...Merchants and traders,” who were more diversified than their proto-industrialist cousins and had wider credit networks, “had a disproportionate share in bailing out artisans and mill owners” (245). As a result, “the prominence of merchants and traders in acquiring the capital and credit...gave them an unprecedented degree of influence...they supplanted the artisans” (247). In a sense, though, doesn’t the existence of a boom-and-bust cycle always tend to concentrate wealth and power? In the absence of any other social controls...and that’s the issue and the key question. Where were the social controls? How were they deactivated?

Clark provides some answers: investment in production rather than infrastructure (269), immigration and rural outmigration, and interlocking corporate directorates (271). Does he overstate the case when he says the Northampton savings bank took from the poor to give to the rich? (271) They pooled their depositors’ funds and invested them in local business ventures -- wouldn’t this have been seen by the depositors as a wise fiduciary decision? Was there any model for a more progressive approach at this time?

The final sequence of Clark’s story is especially interesting, where rhetoric and reality completely diverge. On one hand, “public speakers and editorial writers...continued to celebrate the republican simplicity and virtue of ‘yeoman freeholders’” (276). On the other, court decisions showed “the social structure of a diversified rural economy no longer left room for assumptions that private and public interests would coincide” (reminiscent of Steinberg in
Nature Incorporated, published a year later. 310) What accounts for this disconnect? How does it come about that the “public interest” becomes synonymous with private profits at precisely this time and place, while the rural yeoman simultaneously becomes a creature of nostalgic myth? There’s something really big happening here, that The Roots of Rural Capitalism points at. It’s not in the scope of this book, but it’s out there, on the path Clark’s traveling, right over the next hill...

Capitalism? Really?

Joyce Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s, 1984.

Appleby begins this series of (Phelps) lectures with an anecdote about an 1865 attempt to create a Cambridge University lectureship in American studies. It was defeated, she says, because the dons feared the republicanism undergraduates might spread among the general public, at a time when British republicanism in the form of the Reform League looked particularly unsettling to the ruling class. Richard Cobden remarked that no “Oxford of Cambridge undergraduate...could have pointed out Chicago on a map even though it was a city that indirectly fed a million Englishmen.” (1)

Appleby shares with Cobden a sense of the importance of economic facts that was probably lacking among educated Englishmen in 1865. She argues in these lectures that both the facts of economic change and the revolutionary changes in economic thinking pioneered by Adam Smith were more legitimately the property of Jeffersonian Republicans than of Hamiltonian Federalists. In spite of a tradition that would cast Jefferson as an anti-capitalist agrarian, Appleby says the real division was between a party that looked forward (with Smith and Jefferson) to progress based on natural, rational self-interest, and a backward-looking “classical” republicanism (she doesn’t mention Adams, but this seems to fit him like a glove) that believed a “virtuous” (in the old sense of politically-disinterested) elite was needed to balance the power of the interested democratic majority. This classical republicanism, she implies, was based on a no-longer-valid zero-growth (and therefore zero-sum) economy. Suspect in Europe, this Hobbesian/Malthusian vision was completely invalid in the U.S., where the frontier “stood Ricardo’s iron law of rents and wages on its head.” (99)

An interesting element of Appleby’s argument is that she’s talking about intellectual history, not economic determinism. While she acknowledges the influence of material changes, she’s really interested in the “Ideas [that] joined a group of established elite reformers to a network of political interlopers,” resulting in the Jeffersonian revolution of 1800. Appleby doesn’t completely sustain this point, I think; especially in the sense that she doesn’t identify the chicken and the egg. But it’s her characterization of the Federalists as upholders of the mainstream tradition that’s most interesting. The Federalists, she says, “never lost their posture of protecting known truths about civil society. They knew that it was their opponents who were treading unfamiliar paths and they appealed to history and common sense to prove them wild visionaries.” (6) Their problem, of course, was that something was really happening that changed the game and their opponents had a better grasp of it. But that may be more because they were
conservatives than because they were elitists. A function of nostalgia rather than ideology.

“Classical theory,” Appleby says, “emphasized that civil society was fragile...that there were two orders of men -- the talented few and the ordinary many -- ...[and] a properly balanced constitution would balance the powers of these two groups.” (9) Colonial America, she says, experienced “pervasive Anglicization.” (10) While she admits there was a “large bulge in the center of the social pyramid,” Appleby suggests that the economic security, “stability and well-being of the great majority of colonists permitted resistance to turn into rebellion and ...revolution.” (13) A desperate, violent, starving mob, she implies, would have pushed the middle class toward the British.

Appleby makes an interesting observation about our use of words whose meanings have changed over time. Liberty, she says, had three “intellectual contexts,” and the one we’re most familiar with today (“liberty as personal freedom”) was the one American colonists would have been least focused on -- at least until 1776. “Before the Revolution,” she says, “liberty more often referred to a corporate body’s right of self-determination.” (16) This distinction seems to blur the difference between individual versus group rights on the one hand, and political versus economic concerns on the other. But maybe that’s part of the ongoing issue with these ideas: that we’re never that clear about how these various ideas about individual rights and group responsibilities ought to play together.

One of the things that distinguishes the “liberal conception” of liberty, Appleby says, is its a-historic nature. Rather than looking for examples in classical cultures, “Hobbes and Locke...reasoned from an imaginary account of man in the state of nature to an abstract definition of liberty.” (19) But this system-building impulse (of the empirical enlightenment? the scientific revolution?) wasn’t universally shared. Most people stuck to the old ideas of corporate liberty, so that “Only when it became clear that their interpretation of the imperial crisis was not shared in the mother country did colonial rebels shift ground from the historic rights of English subjects to the abstract rights of all men.” (22) But ultimately it was economic change, in the form of “freedom from the fear of dearth,” that enabled this change of attitude to become widespread.” (29)

I think I need to compare Appleby’s idea about this change to accounts of Americans in England and British support for the American cause. But she moves quickly on in the next chapter, to discuss the intellectual development symbolized by Adam Smith’s
Wealth of Nations. “The actual round of economic activities in early modern England was not at all suggestive of uniformities,” she admits. But “Despite its evident diversity, the newly extended commercial system nonetheless suggested order to those who observed and analyzed it.” (30) But did the urge to systematize and depersonalize “economic laws” really originate with Smith and Ricardo’s observations of British commerce, or with a zeitgeist that influenced intellectuals across a wide range of disciplines to seek global, scientific (and ironically non-empirical, a-priori) regularity in the face of increasingly diverse and often confusing data?

The new economic system (I almost want to say ideology) had a couple of hurdles it needed to get over: social beliefs formed by observation and classical tradition. For example, “Self-interest could only be accounted socially benign,” Appleby says, “if it could be demonstrated that all this incessant striving after private ends did not lead to chaos,” but in fact to social optimization. (33) Other standards of value and motivations for action had to be ignored or subordinated to those reflected by the only measurable quantity, money. “
Homo faber, man the doer, took precedence in these writings over man the believer, man the contemplator, even man the sinner.” (35) There’s an interesting passage in Martin Bruegel’s Farm, Shop, Landing, which I’ve just started reading, where New York courts begin trying to enforce a uniform, impersonal “market” by banning preferential, relationship-based practices that had been the hallmarks of the older, physical market place (more on that in a couple of days).

Again, as I’m reading this, I’m wondering if it isn’t the explosive growth of the mercantile sector at this moment in history that allows for this reductive sleight of hand? If there wasn’t
so much to see in the world of commerce, would all the things left out of economic thinking have been more obvious? Similarly, in the New Republic, are we seeing an increase in agricultural productivity based on expansion into fertile western lands and reduced population growth, and attributing these changes to a new rural capitalism, just because we know what happens later?

Appleby mentions Jefferson’s preference for wheat over tobacco in
Notes on the State of Virginia, as a “benign conception of an economy of food production [that] was to have far-reaching ideological implications.” (42) I have a lot of trouble seeing Jefferson as someone with a clear vision of agricultural realities, but he was clearly the founder of a powerful agrarian, free labor ideology. But Jefferson’s agrarian vision (or at least the vision attributed to him) may hide more than it reveals. Albert Gallatin’s protest of the 1800 Bankruptcy Act may be more instructive. Appleby says Gallatin believed it favored merchants, when in fact “the same man [was] frequently a farmer and a merchant, and perhaps a manufacturer.” (43) Appleby quotes Louis Hacker’s complaint that American historians writing after the period of the robber barons always had an “anticapitalist bias.” (45) But Jefferson’s belief that wheat was a better crop than tobacco was based on the special case of early-cultivation bumper crops on an expanding frontier. And on the particular ways tobacco was cultivated in the south (slavery). The point is, we’re not talking about anything remotely resembling universal economic laws. We’re always talking about special cases.

Somehow, though, we’ve developed the idea that economic theories, which all developed in particular historic moments, represent some type of higher platonic reality. An expanding economy clearly leads to optimistic, laissez faire conclusions about opportunity, protection, and social responsibility that become the assumptions of the next round of theories. This seems so obvious that I’m a little embarrassed to be putting so much stress on it. But it doesn’t seem to be carried into the histories. We still say “the first capitalists were farmers and landlords,” as if we can recognize some universal definition of “capitalists” that applies equally to eighteenth-century farmers and twenty-first century investment bankers. (46) Appleby says Jackson Turner Main examined the issues dividing legislators, and then “worked back to the constituencies...and discovered that American voters were either localists or cosmopolitans,” depending on where they lived. (47) Main seems at least to complicate the economic issues by addressing locations and ultimately the sources of people’s money. (48) Maybe this type of approach allows economic events to influence historical change without letting economic theory determine it.

Appleby touches briefly on class, mentioning that the British Attorney General warned Thomas Cooper to “Continue if you please to publish your reply to Mr. Burke in an octavo form, so as to confine it probably to the class of readers who may consider it cooly: so soon as it is published cheaply for dissemination among the populace, it will be my duty to prosecute.” (Cooper probably deserves study. 60) British and American conservatives find themselves side by side in Appleby’s conclusion. Alexander Hamilton called “the belief that commerce might regulate itself a ‘wild speculative paradox,’ but Adam Smith’s invisible hand was warmly clasped by the Republicans.” (88) Thomas Cooper’s 1800
Political Essays encapsulate the libertarian creed Appleby says Jeffersonians endorsed. “Prohibit nothing,” Cooper said, “but protect no speculation.” (89) It’s ironic that the history of capitalism in America becomes mostly a story about businessmen and politicians preaching the first injunction while continually breaking the second.

Nature's Metropolis

William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, 1991

Synopsis: The basic thrust of most of Cronon’s writing is that nature and humanity (ecology and economy, country and city) are are not merely two sides of the same coin, but are parts of a whole that has been obscured and hidden by both market and anti-market (romantic) forces.
Nature’s Metropolis uses the history of Chicago to illustrate this point. Beginning and ending with his personal story of a childhood journey from New England to Wisconsin that took him through the city, Cronon concludes “We fool ourselves if we think we can choose between [country and city], for the green lake and the orange cloud are creatures of the same landscape.” (385) The text is a series of increasingly fine-grained illustrations of this point.

Cronon uses several interpretive frames to explore Chicago’s history, and points out some of their limitations. Frederick Jackson Turner’s idea that the frontier “recapitulated the social evolution of human civilization” and provided the “source of American energy, individualism, and political democracy” (31) fails to account for the rapid, booster-driven growth of Chicago as an urban center. Turner did not give enough credit, Cronon says, to the market as an agent of both rural and urban change. “Urban-rural commerce,” he says, “was the motor of frontier change, a fact that the boosters understood better than Turner.” (48) Of course, Turner
had to ignore the role of capital, precisely because it undermined his evolutionary, democratic vision of the frontier and America.

Similarly, Cronon uses Johann Heinrich von Thünen’s “Isolated State” theory and more recent “central place theory” to complicate and partially correct Turner’s perspective. Von Thünen’s idealized economy creates a series of concentric rings based primarily on transportation cost. While acknowledging the heavy qualification necessary to apply this model in the real world, Cronon says it fits Chicago to a certain degree. Certainly, by focusing attention of rail transport (which not only lowered costs but more importantly eliminated risk and smoothed seasonality), the model explains some of the features of Chicago’s western “hinterland.” But, as Cronon says, both theories are “profoundly static and ahistorical.” Worse, like Turner, they are untrue: “Far from being a gradual, bottom-up process...nearly the opposite was true. The highest-ranking regional metropolis consolidated its role at a very early date, and promoted the communities in its hinterland as much as they promoted it.” (282) Since the west is the result of symbiotic, simultaneous growth of city and country, neither can claim historic precedence as a basis of moral or social superiority. The arguments of Jefferson and Jackson don’t apply -- at least not in the straightforward ways their proponents hoped they would.

Throughout the book, Cronon uses an idea of “‘first nature’ (original, prehuman nature) and ‘second nature’ (the artificial nature that people erect atop first nature)” that he attributes to Hegel and Marx. (xiv) Cronon’s use of this distinction is complicated by his recognition of the complexity surrounding the term “nature,” (“traced most subtly,” he says, “in the work of Raymond Williams.”) so he keeps it on a relatively allusive level. In several places, he conflates these ideas with the commonplace sense of a way of thinking becoming “second nature” -- and this connection seems to make sense and work.

As readers familiar with Cronon would expect, he is always quick to point out ecological and historical backgrounds all too often elided by others. The Western Frontier was not “free” as Turner said, Cronon reminds. It was taken in conquest from the previous residents. Nor was it pristine: western prairies were the product of Indian burning and hunting practices (as demonstrated by the incursion of oak and hemlock on ranches and homesteads once whites suppressed fire). Similarly, Cronon regularly begins descriptions of regions like Wisconsin timberlands or western rangelands with surveys of their ecological histories going back to the ice age. This nod to “big history” not only helps reinforce the ecological sensibility underpinning his argument, it serves as an antidote to the alienation Cronon says is produced by separating economic production from consumption.

Chicago, says Cronon, cannot attribute its rapid growth in the last third of the nineteenth century to being a central place. It is a central place now (of a much smaller hinterland than it possessed in its heyday), but it grew as a gateway. Beginning with a typically Crononesque description of the many ways Chicago stood at the boundaries of ecosystems, continental watersheds, glacial termini, rural and urban society, railroad “trunk and fan,” (90) and “natural and cultural landscapes,” (25) Chicago grew by bridging the gap between the east (primarily New York) and the west (all the way to the Rockies). In Chicago, eastern capital met western raw materials and consumers. Railroads, finance, and information gave Chicago temporary, “second natural” advantages. Boosterism, the Civil War, and momentum added to Chicago’s lead; which the city held until newer technologies, population changes, and the problems of success ended its predominance.

Along the way, Cronon tells fascinating and compelling stories about the standardization of time (74-8), the growth of organization and capitalism in the railroads (80), the abstraction of commodities into currency (116), the conversion food to industry (246-56), and the creation of the familiar consumer world (338-40). Each successive story highlights the market’s increasing (and ironic) tendency to “obscure the connections between Chicago’s trade and its earthly roots. (264) “The geography of capital,” Cronon says, “produced a landscape of obscured connections.” (340) But he doesn’t really explain the process behind this progressive attenuation of producers from consumers, so it’s unclear whether it is unique to Chicago, or a symptom of a more universal alienation.

I think
Nature’s Metropolis proves its case with only occasional reservations. Perhaps Cronon de-emphasizes the temporary nature of Chicago’s advantages to some degree. The Civil War trade (which allowed Chicago to pull ahead of Cincinnati in meat packing) and the closing of New Orleans (which devastated rival St. Louis) may have been given less credit than they are due, for Chicago’s rapid rise to preeminence. Agrarian resistance is mentioned primarily in the context of the Granger Laws, with a few suggestive references to Chicago-published papers like the Prairie Farmer. And once or twice, Cronon seems to reach too far into an allusive moralizing, such as when he describes the Chicago Board of Trade as “boxes within boxes within boxes, all mediating between the commodified world inside and the physical world outside.” (146) The most important feature of Nature’s Metropolis is Cronon’s story of the actual historical rural and urban development of the middle west (rather than an abstract or theorized rural and urban world) as a single, interdependent process. While earlier Eastern settlement may have followed a different path, the growth of the middle west as a single unit is crucially important; especially when evaluating the politics and cultural construction of rural/urban relations in the Populist and Progressive eras.

Critics: The reviews were remarkably mixed, for a book that won the Bancroft Prize. Cronon is accused of being pompous, pushing the “green line” too far, and writing a “misanthropic” book. I’m more sympathetic to some of the comments about balance (yeah, it didn’t seem to me like the deaths of the bison herds and the growth of Armour and Swift were as inextricably linked as he said. And yeah, I was bored by the White City) than the complaints about self-reference. I didn’t feel particularly condescended to, as some of the critics apparently did.

References: Too extensive to cover here. Some that jumped out (in the order they appeared in endnotes):

Richard White,
Empires, Indians, and Republics

Harriet Martineau, Society in America

Patricia Limerick,
Legacy of Conquest

Leo Marx,
The Machine in the Garden

Rebecca and Edward Burlend,
A Truer Picture of Emigration

The Prairie Farmer

Harold D. Woodman, “Chicago Businessmen and the ‘Granger Laws’”

George Blackburn and Sherman L. Ricards, “A Demographic History of the West”

Margaret Walsh,
The Rise of the Midwestern Meatpacking Industry

Roots of Rural Capitalism

Christopher Clark, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780-1860 Ithaca: Cornell Press, 1990.

“Between the 1780s and the 1860s the New England countryside underwent a profound social and economic transformation. From an economy dominated by independent farmers, it became part of a broader national market and an outpost of industrial capitalism.” (8)

But what does independence mean? Is it subsistence farming, with the goal of 100% self-sufficiency? Trade with locals, based on negotiated values rather than “market” prices corresponding to those in faraway cities? A sense of not being “dependent” on wage-based employment, afforded by land-ownership and local reciprocity? When “the distribution of wealth and the social patterns of access to the instruments of capitalistic economic power became increasingly unequal,” (17) what was happening? Were the “river gods” making themselves aristocrats, keeping the money and power in the family? Were the Boston Associates coming into the Valley, creating a mill city at Holyoke? Were these developments inevitable, and did they have to proceed to the specific ends they arrived at? Lots of questions remain unanswered.

If “Farmers traveled more to exchange produce” and “Prices...increasingly converged with each other and with those in distant markets,” (59) why were the farmers looking outside and producing for the cash market? Too many sons and not enough land? Taxes from Boston (which led to debt, foreclosures, Shays’ Rebellion)? And what about the Workingmen’s movement? Rev. Samuel C. Allen ran for governor in the 1830s, partly on a platform opposing agricultural mortgages held by corporations, “bringing the yeomanry...into a state of dependency and peril.” (205) This probably warrants a closer look...