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Capitalism Takes Command

The Social Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America

Capitalism Takes Command

The Social Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America

Most scholarship on nineteenth-century America’s transformation into a market society has focused on consumption, romanticized visions of workers, and analysis of firms and factories. Building on but moving past these studies, Capitalism Takes Command presents a history of family farming, general incorporation laws, mortgage payments, inheritance practices, office systems, and risk management—an inventory of the means by which capitalism became America’s new revolutionary tradition.

This multidisciplinary collection of essays argues not only that capitalism reached far beyond the purview of the economy, but also that the revolution was not confined to the destruction of an agrarian past. As business ceaselessly revised its own practices, a new demographic of private bankers, insurance brokers, investors in securities, and start-up manufacturers, among many others, assumed center stage, displacing older elites and forms of property. Explaining how capital became an “ism” and how business became a political philosophy, Capitalism Takes Command brings the economy back into American social and cultural history.

368 pages | 10 halftones, 4 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Economics and Business: Economics--History

History: American History


“Rarely has a collection of essays from a dozen scholars created a whole greater than the sum of its parts, but Capitalism Takes Command conveys with detail, coherence, and sophistication the changes in the American economy in the nineteenth century under the multiple imperatives of capitalism.”

Joyce Appleby, University of California, Los Angeles

“The history of capitalism has attracted growing numbers of scholars, and this volume makes it clear why. By turns provocative, enlightening, and brilliant, the essays collected here capture capitalism’s twinned powers of creation and destruction. Essential reading for anyone interested in the future of the field.”

Stephen Mihm, University of Georgia

"This exemplary collection of essays provides the most finely tuned and precise renderings we have in the literature of a burgeoning culture of capitalism that created new economic practices, instruments, and institutions and shaped the ways in which Americans perceived and made meaning of the epic social and cultural transformations unfolding around them. Capitalism Takes Command is required reading for specialists in nineteenth-century American history, economists, and students of American culture."

Brian Luskey, West Virginia University

“An interesting history that will benefit academic and research audiences.”


“By shedding light on neglected topics in the study of American capitalism, this essay collection deeply enriches our understanding of the process through which the United States became a capitalist nation.”


 “Readers see how the institutions of the market were themselves being created over time and given new powers and meanings. An insightful afterword by Jean-Christophe Agnew positions the book in the larger debates and historiography.”

The Historian

Table of Contents

Editors’ Acknowledgments
Introduction An American Revolutionary Tradition
Michael Zakim and Gary J. Kornblith

1 The Agrarian Context of American Capitalist Development
Christopher Clark

2 The Mortgage Worked the Hardest: The Fate of Landed Independence in Nineteenth-Century America
Jonathan Levy

3 Toxic Debt, Liar Loans, Collateralized and Securitized Human Beings, and the Panic of 1837
Edward E. Baptist

4 Inheriting Property and Debt: From Family Security to Corporate Accumulation
Elizabeth Blackmar

5 Slave Breeding and Free Love: An Antebellum Argument over Slavery, Capitalism, and Personhood
Amy Dru Stanley

6 Capitalism and the Rise of the Corporation Nation
Robert E. Wright

7 Capitalist Aesthetics: Americans Look at the London and Liverpool Docks
Tamara Plakins Thornton

8 William Leggett and the Melodrama of the Market
Jeffrey Sklansky

9 Producing Capitalism: The Clerk at Work
Michael Zakim

10 Soulless Monsters and Iron Horses: The Civil War, Institutional Change, and American Capitalism
Sean Patrick Adams

Afterword Anonymous History
Jean-Christophe Agnew


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