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Paul Gilje, ed., "Special Issue on Capitalism in the Early Republic" _Journal of the Early Republic_ 16 (Summer 1996): 159-308. Essays by Paul Gilje, Jeanne Boydston, Douglas R. Egerton, Christopher Clark, Jonathan Prude, Richard Stott, Cathy Matson, and Gordon S. Wood. Reviewed by James A. Henretta University of Maryland, College Park email@example.com The introductory essay and the seven articles in this volume have three things in common. First, they all focus on the "early republic," the period roughly from 1776 to 1830. Second, they agree that this period was a crucial time in the transition to a full-fledged capitalist society in the United States. As Paul A. Gilje, who served as the issue-editor, puts it in his historiographical overview entitled "The Rise of Capitalism," the American Revolution "released the individual to act for his own benefit" by transforming "the social landscape from a world that emphasized hierarchy and communal goals, to a world marked by equality and individualism. . . ." (173, 178). Third, to one degree or another, these essays are REVIEWS of the sources or the existing secondary literature rather than "original" essays based on primary documents--a characteristic that complicates the task of a reviewer. To write a commentary on a set of commentaries is to be twice removed from the actual historical events and runs the danger of focusing more on the authors and their interpretative preferences than on the topic supposedly under investigation. As commentaries, the essays are rather diverse in approach. That by Cathy D. Matson, "Capitalizing Hope: Economic Thought and the Early National Economy" is primarily a SURVEY of economic thinking during the early republic on four topics: land, commerce, credit and banking, internal improvements and manufactures. In each case Matson is careful to identify differences among the economic thinkers of the early nineteenth century and to identify issues that would benefit from greater research. But her treatment is so comprehensive and fair-minded that it fails to take a distinct interpretive stance. Jonathan Prude offers a somewhat more purposeful REFLECTION on "Capitalism, Industrialization, and the Factory in Post-Revolutionary America." Drawing on the extant secondary literature, Prude emphasizes the importance of organization (in the form of the "division of labor") rather than technology in expanding the production of inexpensive manufactures. But his major point is that centralized production in large factories, such as the Lowell mills, was the exception in the early American republic. Most goods were fabricated in small mills or workshops and, equally important, often by traditional rather than by mechanized means. There were very few industries, Prude reminds us, in which raw materials were turned into finished products in a single mechanized factory; far more often factory fabrication was part of a multi-stage productive process that included traditional methods. Thus, the first textile mills simply produced machine- wound thread or yarn, which was then turned into cloth by outworking handloom weavers. If these pieces by Matson and Prude can be described as a SURVEY and a REFLECTION, that by Christopher Clark is best characterized as an INTERPRETIVE SYNTHESIS of the literature on "Rural America and the Transition to Capitalism." Like all good syntheses, Clark's essay approaches the topic in a broad manner (which allows him to review the literature on agrarian capitalism in the four different farming regions of New England, the mid-Atlantic, the South and the transAppalachian west) and yet seeks a unifying argument or interpretation. He begins by defining capitalism not as the existence of a single set of practices or institutions, but as the conjuncture of three factors: a Weberian "spirit" of accumulation and rational calculation that results in investment for future profit; an economic system in which markets play a prominent role; and the existence of "free" waged labor--a market in labor power. Using these criteria, Clark analyzes the American rural experience in the early republic. He concludes that agrarian capitalism developed ONLY in English-speaking eastern regions of the mid-Atlantic states and particularly Pennsylvania, where large landowners employed indentured servants and smallholding tenant "inmates" to produce commercial crops. It did not appear in the South because of the dominant position of slavery, a pre-capitalist labor system (more on this later). Nor was it characteristic of New England. There, poorer yeoman families did not become tenant farmers or agricultural proletarians but coped with declining farm size and profitability by diverting the labor of their women and children to capitalist-run outwork industries; both in New England and in the mid-Atlantic states, more prosperous farm families maintained their economic independence by using the labor of wives and daughters to produce cheese and butter for market sale. Nor, according to Clark, did agrarian capitalism develop in the newly settled Midwest. In that region entrepreneurial farmers and traders quickly entered the market economy in order to pay for migration expenses, land, and consumer goods, but used their surplus profits not to purchase more land and labor (as was the case among Southern plantation owners) but to invest in the transportation infrastructure and in commercial and manufacturing activities--thus following the path of economic development of the northeastern states: a commercial market economy with capitalist industrial and banking sectors and a yeoman agricultural base. Clark's interpretation provides a framework within which to consider the four other essays, which are best described as ARGUMENTS and which, interestingly, have in common the theme of WORK. The rise of capitalism has often been linked to changes in work patterns and work discipline, perhaps most notably in the writings of E.P. Thompson, whose view of work was far from sanguine. It was "neither poverty nor disease," Thompson declared in _The Making of the English Working Class_, "but work itself which casts the blackest shadow over the years of the Industrial Revolution" (p.464). The authors in this issue of the JER offer a decidedly more optimistic valuation of work under the conditions of early capitalism, seeing labor, even waged labor, not as a degrading condition for common men and women but as an empowering experience both for individuals and their society. Indeed, in "Markets Without a Market Revolution: Southern Planters and Capitalism," Douglas R. Egerton argues that the absence of a "fluid free labor force" in the antebellum South hobbled economic development and meant that the region failed to develop a capitalist society. "Those who would characterize antebellum slavery as capitalism," he writes, "have shown us markets, but no [market] revolution, profits but no regional prosperity, and capital, but no capitalists" (p. 221). Egerton's arguments will probably not convince the many scholars who see southern planters as agrarian capitalists; for, while his essay is well-crafted and well-argued, it rehearses and refines existing arguments and evidence and does not include new types of documentary material or introduce a dramatically different perspective on this much-discussed topic. For our purposes, it is important to note that Egerton's assessment of the precapitalist mentality of plantation-owning southern elite agrees with that of Clark. As Clark points out, citing James B. Oakes, _Slavery and Freedom: An Interpretation of the Old South_ (New York, 1990), at mid-century southern planters were unwilling to consider proposals for emancipation because they did not view their slave property as a fungible asset exchangeable in the marketplace. This non-capitalist patrician mentality, Egerton suggests, diffused downward in the social scale, inhibiting the development among southern yeomen of the "acquisitive, entrepreneurial instincts of northern farmers," their "compulsive pursuit of wealth" through work (p. 218). This emphasis on work, both as a category of historical evidence and as a positive experience, informs Richard Stott's examination of "Artisans and Capitalist Development." Stott begins by taking issue with those historians who have portrayed capitalism "as having a strongly adverse effect on craftsmen" (p. 258) and who have placed "artisan republicanism" at the center of their consciousness. It was the work experience, not political ideology or union activity, that formed the heart of artisan's life, argues Stott, pointing out that the majority of American craft workers lived in relatively isolated rural villages or small market towns and not in major urban areas. And this experience was not the tragedy depicted by those historians who tell the story as "the decline of the artisan." Stott grants that some artisans lost their livelihoods because of changes in the organization and technology of production during the industrial revolution, but he argues that their fate was far from typical. Many skilled trades (such as that of plasterer) persisted without change; and important new crafts-- plumbers and machinists, for example--provided thousands of skilled jobs. Moreover, in many technologically advanced industries, such as textiles, printing, and furniture making, expert artisans continued to produce specialty goods for an upper-class market even as power-driven machines took over the production of inexpensive goods for consumption by the masses. Nor should the surge of journeymen protests in the 20s or 30s be taken as evidence of a decline in working condition or artisan welfare. The small pre-industrial shop, Stott suggests, was often an oppressive working environment and one that, because of its family-based structure, inhibited protests by apprentices and journeymen. As these controls decayed with the rise of larger-scale capitalist enterprises, novice artisans had greater opportunities to form associations and express their discontent. "Historians investigating workers in the early twentieth century such as Lizabeth Cohen [_Making A New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939_ [New York, 1990])," Stott concludes, "have shown how fruitful it can be to examine the ways in industrialization empowered employees. A similar emphasis for the early nineteenth century should prove fruitful" (p.270). In fact, Jeanne Boydston's essay, "The Woman Who Wasn't There: Women's Market Labor and the Transition to Capitalism in the United States," attempts this very task. Drawing on many of the works cited by Clark as well as on her own research, Boydston argues that women constituted a newly important and even assertive presence in the American economy after 1790, producing and selling farm goods such as butter and cheese, laboring in outwork industries and small mills, and working in a variety of urban artisan crafts. This activity, Boydston hypothesizes, gave many women a greater sense of competence: "political crisis and economic transition contained possibilities for an enlarged sense of effectuality--that same sense of purpose and means that informed women's movement into voluntary reform in the early republic" (p. 197). But female assertiveness as workers produced conflicts both within families, where men claimed economic primacy, and in society, where women were not expected to play a public role -- either in politics or production. Men won this struggle, Boydston explains, by stigmatizing working women as potential prostitutes and excluding them from parades and other ritual celebrations, associating masculinity with trade and commerce, and creating the historical illusion of a market economy in which women were not present. Many upper class and middling women internalized this view of the world, "withdrawing from bonds of familiarity" with working women and eventually embracing the ideology of "elaborate female domesticity" (pp. 202, 204) As Boydston concludes: "Republican political economy was figured in the aggressive presence of men and the emphatic absence of women" (p. 205). Even as work and the capitalist transition empowered women, men used traditional cultural norms to confine them to a separate -- and inferior -- sphere. If men successfully invoked ancient marks of status to repel the advance of assertive women, gentlemen failed to stem the tide of democracy by maintaining as a cultural ideal what Gordon S. Wood in his essay, "The Enemy is Us: Democratic Capitalism in the Early Republic," calls "the two-thousand-year-old prejudice against manual labor" (p. 300). Repeating a theme developed in various essays and _The Radicalism of the American Revolution_ (New York, 1992), Wood argues that "laboring men" of all levels of wealth overthrew the hegemony of the genteel classes, and established productive labor -- work -- as a cultural ideal and, thanks to new evangelical religious teachings, as a moral imperative. As Wood concludes, "For good or evil, American capitalism was created by American democracy" (p. 307). Given this quasi-populist interpretation of the rise of American capitalism, it is a little surprising that Wood reacts so negatively to the thought-provoking interpretation of the American Revolution advanced by Michael Merrill, for Merrill also emphasizes the historical roles played by ordinary men and women. In "The Anticapitalist Origins of the United States" (_Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center_, 13 [Fall, 1990], 465-97), Merrill maintains that Revolution was "a profoundly anticapitalist enterprise." Merrill reaches this conclusion (an "astonishing claim" according to Wood) by adding what I believe is a necessary political component to Clark's definition of capitalism. According to Merrill, capitalism is "a market economy ruled by, or in the interest of capitalists," that is, one in which the owners of capital exercise substantial control over the political as well as the productive system. Armed with this definition, Merrill examines the options open to political leaders in the agricultural-based commercial economy of the early republic. There were two available roads of development, two "political economies." One set of policies, favored by Alexander Hamilton and the Federalist Party, would use the power of the national state to assist "monied men," merchants and financiers, to pursue a "capitalist" path of domestic commercial development through, for example, the chartering of the First Bank of the United States. State governments and other political leaders pursued the public good by spreading economic favors more broadly. Such policies, advocated by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the Democratic-Republican Party, favored three groups of "producers," export-oriented planters, yeoman farmers, and artisans, embodying what Merrill calls an "agrarian" model of commercial society. The "true Policy of a Republic," argued ninety Virginians who wanted land "in moderate Quantities, by Way of Head Rights," consisted in laws that assisted "the Poor and Needy to raise their Families to be reputable and useful Members of Society" (Quoted in Ruth Bogin, "Petitioning and the New Moral Economy of Post Revolutionary America," _William and Mary Quarterly_, 45 , p. 405). Because these small producers dominated the American economy and, to a considerable degree, the American polity during the post-revolutionary era, Merrill suggests that these years witnessed "the expansion of a dynamic, profoundly anticapitalist, and democratic old order" (quoted by Wood, p. 299; see also Merrill, "Putting 'Capitalism' in Its Place. A Review of Recent Literature," _William and Mary Quarterly_, 52 (April 1995), 315-326). Wood takes issue with Merrill's thesis for two reasons. First, he wants to continue an old ideological argument with advocates of the so-called "moral economy" interpretation of the early American farm economy, some of whom, like Merrill, incorporate Marxian principles and perspectives into their accounts. As a sometime participant in that debate, I recognize the urge to do battle in behalf of long-held positions but think it more useful at this point to move the debate on to new ground. And that is what Merrill's piece attempts, provoking Wood to advance a second, and more fruitful, empirically-based critique. Merrill is mistaken, Wood claims, in identifying the "capitalist" path to development with Hamiltonian policies and Federalist merchants. Rather, Wood argues that "burgeoning capitalist economy of the early republic" was primarily the work of "the Republicans and all the commercially minded artisans and farmers who were striving to get ahead" (p. 304), especially "budding-master- manufacturers" and entrepreneurs from middling backgrounds who founded state-chartered banks. As Wood concludes: "It was these banks' selling shares in bank stock and issuing of hundreds of thousands of dollars of paper money that supplied much of the capital that fueled the economy of the early republic" (p. 306) If Wood is right (and Matson's discussion of credit and banking on pp. 283-85 lends some support to his argument), these men essentially subverted from within Merrill's "agrarian" model of commercial development, through their acquisitiveness, work, and political influence propelling the United States along a "capitalist" path to economic development. Beginning this review with the discussion of a useful SURVEY a interesting REFLECTION and a valuable SYNTHESIS, we have ended with a set of provocative ARGUMENTS about work and a fresh debate over MODELS of American economic development. Even the most demanding reader could not ask for more in a journal-issue of 150 pages. The editors as well as the authors deserve our thanks. Copyright 1997 by H-Net, all rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational use if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact H-Net@H-Net.MSU.EDU.