Current Issue Article Abstracts
Winter 2020, Vol. 40.4
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This article is a rumination on the genre of the runaway slave advertisement concentrating for the most part on New York in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries. In it I consider such topics as slave hairstyles, damage to slave bodies and how freedom was negotiated as slavery ended.
As the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson gained invaluable cabinet experience, which he used as a model for his own administration. Jefferson forged his own set of cabinet policies and crafted a physical environment to avoid the conflict and pitfalls that plagued his predecessors’ presidencies. This article demonstrates the cabinet’s central role in the ongoing evolution of the executive branch from George Washington to Jefferson and the importance of customs and norms in Early Republic political culture.
The Panic of 1819
Introduction: The Panic of 1819 by Any Other Name
Jessica M. Lepler
Although the Panic of 1819, the first nationwide economic catastrophe in U.S. history, was geographically, chronologically, and socially wide-reaching, the event has been largely overlooked by historians. In the twentieth century, there was only one monograph published on the subject. The recent boom in the history of capitalism has cultivated new interest in and publication on the panic. Inspired by a roundtable at the 2019 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic commemorating the panic’s bicentennial, the historians writing for this forum offer a dozen new ways of thinking about the hard times of the 1810s and 1820s. Inclusive and expansive, the forum’s brief essays explode previous assumptions about the subject’s people, places, periodization, and political economy. Above all, they demonstrate that the Panic of 1819 was no mere panic; the nearly decade-long hard times were not a singular, sudden, or senseless response by frightened people to the results of benign policies or neutral market forces. This essay, as an introduction to the forum, reviews the historiography of the panic and, with the goal of encouraging still more research into the topic, argues for the renaming of this event.
The Mississippi Stock contributed to the Panic of 1819 in Alabama by fueling speculation, funneling investment, inflating land prices, and swelling land debt. Centering the stock shows how the state’s economic crisis arose from a convergence of settler-colonial ideology and state-sponsored finance. Like the Panic it inflamed, the Mississippi Stock emerged from the interplay between public policy and private interests.
The economic boom following the War of 1812 facilitated rapid settlement westward but the Panic of 1819 exposed the fragility of expansion built upon government credit. American settlers forced by debt to relinquish hundreds of thousands of acres back to the federal government flooded Washington with petitions for relief. The rhetoric of those petitions and the speeches of politicians reveal a people developing a western sectional identity even as they forged ties of dependency on the federal government.
Panic, State Power, and Chickasaw Dispossession
Historians of the early republic all too often overlook how Indigenous peoples figured in the nation’s political economy. The artificial isolation of Native history from accounts of fiscal policy and economic development is all the more glaring in President Andrew Jackson’s era: In scholarship, survey courses, and textbooks, Jackson’s infamous Bank War and his protracted Indian Wars, especially Indian removal, appear as discrete units. By tracing the interwoven histories of federal fiscal policy, state banking, and Chickasaw dispossession, this essay examines the critical role of governments in claiming Indigenous homelands and engineering the speculative markets that spun out from the treaty process. It situates the Panic of 1819 – along with the later Panic of 1837 – as crises rooted in the characteristically extensive expansion of a settler economy.
The use of enslaved people as collateral for mortgages exposed them to the larger unpredictability of (what modern economists term) the business cycle. When debtors failed to repay their loans, creditors claimed the collateral and any other valuable property that would fulfill the contract. As the unwitting pawns used to resolve these debtor–creditor disputes, enslaved people found themselves at the center of lawsuits in which courts decided on the ability of creditors to seize bondspeople and sell them away from their family, friends, and homes to satisfy financial claims. While the transformation of slaves into abstract financial assets had been slowly ongoing for decades, the severe dislocation of the Panic of 1819 accelerated this process.
Archibald DeBow Murphey is a perfect avatar for the boom-and-bust experience after the War of 1812, as well as the modernization of Southern political economy in the wake of the Panic of 1819. Financially ruined by a commercial depression that lingered interminably in his home state of North Carolina, Murphey projected his personal interests (and anxieties) onto the general welfare of the white community by proposing that state support for banking and infrastructure projects replace individual initiative and debt as the driving force behind local economic development. After forfeiting his plantation and slaves—and therefore his reputation—to bankruptcy, Murphey’s dishonor fueled a new progressive agenda for the Old South founded on slave capitalism, white populism and state power, all of which emerged in North Carolina during the great depression of the long 1820s.
Sickness and Stagnation: The Interplay of Disease and Markets in 1819
Julia P. R. Mansfield
Outbreaks of yellow fever magnified the financial and social impact of the Panic of 1819. Sweeping through major Atlantic and Gulf ports, yellow fever disrupted normal circulation of people, money, and goods through commercial nodes. Economic hardship in 1819 may have added to its force by trapping some people in infected cities. Drawing examples from New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Mobile, this article shows that yellow fever fed into and fed off of economic distress in 1819.
This brief microhistory of the Philadelphia Magdalen Asylum's changing labor regime before and during the Panic of 1819 illustrates broader transformations in economies of gendered labor. When the panic disrupted demand for household workers, the white, US-born women of the Asylum produced commodities for consumer markets and obtained training for feminizing professions. By contrast, wage-earning black and immigrant women were excluded from the Asylum and directed instead to external institutions that were designed by its officers to rebuild the domestic labor market in ways that would advantage the employer class. The racial stratification of gendered wage labor persisted throughout the century. Just when service emerged as a capitalized sector, intimate labor was represented as "non-market activity"--a characterization challenged by those who performed it.
The Moralization of Poverty in the Panic of 1819
Andrew H. Browning
The Panic of 1819, reinforced by the simultaneous spread of the Second Great Awakening, transformed American attitudes towards charity. As the "hard times" began, politicians, editors, and the clergy spoke of the need for all to help one another in a crisis that afflicted many who were both "prudent" and "industrious." However, under the pressures of unprecedented financial collapse and wide-spread unemployment, both political and religious leaders began blaming financial failures on the victims' own laziness or extravagance. Instead of financial assistance, the poor were given lectures on the importance of virtue and religion. Soon, a long-established tradition of community support for the poor gave way to a new but also long-lasting habit of blaming poverty on low moral standards and weak character, an attitude that persisted through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Many Panics of 1819
Scott Reynolds Nelson
The Panic of 1819 grew out of a trade war between the United States and Great Britain that sharply curtailed U.S. exports to plantations in the British Caribbean. Wheat farmers who provisioned the Caribbean were hit hardest and their failure to repay debts led to a cascade of bank failures. The resulting panic exacerbated North-South tensions and altered United States’ exports, contributing to the emergence of cotton as the nation’s primary export crop.
The Symmetry of 1819 in American History
Scott A. Sandage
How might the Panic of 1819 help us recut, rethink, and rewrite the history of capitalism, slavery, and freedom? The economic and political turns of 1819–1820 not only break the past of the United States equally but they draw attention to profoundly important facts. Slavery lasted well into “this half” of the story, and capitalism was well underway during “that half.” Planting a foot in both halves, we could recast our field: no longer “early,” but rather the period when there and then turned decisively toward here and now.
Why Is the Sky Falling?
John Lauritz Larson
For historians, common sense suggests an economy is the sum total of exchanges carried out by myriad actors in a certain place and time, together with their intersection with business and government institutions. For theoretical economists, an economy looks more like a thought experiment, an imaginary artifact, the behaviors, tendencies, and moods of which can be mapped, explained, and (with luck) predicted. Both answers are true, but the profound differences between them have joined historians and economists in a contentious tradition of misperceiving their respective enterprises.
Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution by John Gilbert McCurdy (review)
Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776–1848 by Lindsay Schakenbach Regele (review)
Andrew J. B. Fagal
North Carolina’s Revolutionary Founders ed. by Jeff Broadwater and Troy L. Kickler (review)
“The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon by Mary V. Thompson (review)
Simon P. Newman
Murder in the Shenandoah: Making Law Sovereign in Revolutionary Virginia by Jessica K. Lowe (review)
Everyday Crimes: Social Violence and Civil Rights in Early America by Kelly A. Ryan (review)
Catherine L. Evans
The Underground Railroad and the Geography of Violence in Ante-bellum America by Robert H. Churchill (review)
Our Suffering Brethren: Foreign Captivity and Nationalism in the Early United States by David J. Dzurec III. (review)
Nicholas P. Wood
The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume 5: US Popular Print Culture to 1860 ed. by Ronald J. Zboray and Mary Saracino Zboray (review)
They Will Have Their Game: Sporting Culture and the Making of the Early American Republic by Kenneth Cohen (review)