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What should serve as money, who should control its creation and circulation, and according to what rules? For more than two hundred years, the “money question” shaped American social thought, becoming a central subject of political debate and class conflict. Sovereign of the Market reveals how and why this happened. Jeffrey Sklansky’s wide-ranging study comprises three chronological parts devoted to major episodes in the career of the money question. First, the fight over the innovation of paper money in colonial New England. Second, the battle over the development of commercial banking in the new United States. And third, the struggle over the national banking system and the international gold standard in the late nineteenth century. Each section explores a broader problem of power that framed each conflict in successive phases of capitalist development: circulation, representation, and association. The three parts also encompass intellectual biographies of opposing reformers for each period, shedding new light on the connections between economic thought and other aspects of early American culture. The result is a fascinating, insightful, and deeply considered contribution to the history of capitalism.
Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party was the first party built on opposition to slavery to win on the national stage—but its victory was rooted in the earlier efforts of under-appreciated antislavery third parties. Liberty Power tells the story of how abolitionist activists built the most transformative third-party movement in American history and effectively reshaped political structures in the decades leading up to the Civil War. As Corey M. Brooks explains, abolitionist trailblazers who organized first the Liberty Party and later the more moderate Free Soil Party confronted formidable opposition from a two-party system expressly constructed to suppress disputes over slavery. Identifying the Whigs and Democrats as the mainstays of the southern Slave Power’s national supremacy, savvy abolitionists insisted that only a party independent of slaveholder influence could wrest the federal government from its grip. A series of shrewd electoral, lobbying, and legislative tactics enabled these antislavery third parties to wield influence far beyond their numbers. In the process, these parties transformed the national political debate and laid the groundwork for the success of the Republican Party and the end of American slavery.
Alexis de Tocqueville famously said that Americans were "forever forming associations" and saw in this evidence of a new democratic sociability--though that seemed to be at odds with the distinctively American drive for individuality. Yet Kevin Butterfield sees these phenomena as tightly related: in joining groups, early Americans recognized not only the rights and responsibilities of citizenship but the efficacy of the law. A group, Butterfield says, isn't merely the people who join it; it's the mechanisms and conventions that allow it to function and, where necessary, to regulate itself and its members. Tocqueville, then, was wrong to see associations as the training grounds of democracy, where people learned to honor one another's voices and perspectives--rather, they were the training grounds for increasingly formal and legalistic relations among people. They were where Americans learned to treat one another impersonally.
In the wake of the American Revolution, if you had asked a citizen whether his fledgling state would survive more than two centuries, the answer would have been far from confident. The problem, as is so often the case, was money. Left millions of dollars of debt by the war, the nascent federal government created a system of taxes on imported goods and installed custom houses at the nation’s ports, which were charged with collecting these fees. Gradually, the houses amassed enough revenue from import merchants to stabilize the new government. But, as the fragile United States was dependent on this same revenue, the merchants at the same time gained outsized influence over the daily affairs of the custom houses. As the United States tried to police this commerce in the early nineteenth century, the merchants’ stranglehold on custom house governance proved to be formidable. In National Duties, Gautham Rao makes the case that the origins of the federal government and the modern American state lie in these conflicts at government custom houses between the American Revolution and the presidency of Andrew Jackson. He argues that the contours of the government emerged from the push-and-pull between these groups, with commercial interests gradually losing power to the administrative state, which only continued to grow and lives on today.

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