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Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon

Northern Christians and Market Capitalism, 1815-1860

What did Protestants in America think about capitalism when capitalism was first something to be thought about? The Bible told antebellum Christians that they could not serve both God and mammon, but in the midst of the market revolution most of them simultaneously held on to their faith while working furiously to make a place for themselves in a changing economic landscape. In Friends of the Unrighteous Mammom, Stewart Davenport explores this paradoxical partnership of transcendent religious values and earthly, pragmatic objectives, ultimately concluding that religious and ethical commitments, rather than political or social forces, shaped responses to market capitalism in the northern states in the antebellum period.

Drawing on diverse primary sources, Davenport identifies three distinct Christian responses to market capitalism: assurance from clerical economists who believed in the righteousness of economic development; opposition from contrarians who resisted the changes around them; and adaptation by the pastoral moralists who modified their faith to meet the ethical challenges of the changing economy. Delving into the minds of antebellum Christians as they considered themselves, their God, and their developing American economy, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon is an ambitious intellectual history of an important development in American religious and economic life.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008

History: American History

Religion: American Religions, Religion and Society


“An important contribution to a much-neglected but very important subject. No other author has set out to do what Davenport accomplishes, which is a systematic study of how key representatives of America’s rising tide of religion attempted a theoretical understanding of, and practical response to, America’s rising tide of commerce.”

Mark Noll, University of Notre Dame

“Stewart Davenport conscientiously and insightfully re-creates the world of the nineteenth-century political economists, who taught that the principles of international trade manifested, like the laws of biology and physics, the intelligent design of a Divine Creator.”

Daniel Walker Howe, author of What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, and Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus at Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus at UCLA

Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon is an illuminating and original examination of religious thought about political economy in nineteenth-century America, and thereby of deep and enduring conflicts within market societies.”

Emma Rothschild, Harvard University

“Scholars have endlessly written about antebellum Protestant thinking about slavery. Now, finally, Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon turns a spotlight on a new, crucial question:  how did antebellum Protestants parse capitalism?  For anyone who seeks to understand the political economy of the antebellum era—or, indeed, the complex entanglement of Christianity and capitalism today—this book is critical. I, for one, am very grateful to Stewart Davenport for having written it.”

Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School

"Stewart Davenport tackles the paradox of America’s exuberant spirituality and what he sees as its “gross materialism.” That such a paradox should exist in the Christian is easy to understand once one considers that the Christian ethic itself emerged in the first instance within a pre-industrial, pre-capitalist age. Coming to grips with the temptations and opportunities afforded by a free and prosperous economy would call for some thought. . . [an] excellent survey."

Fr. Robert A. Sirico | First Things

"Davenport’s study recognizes the significance of the interface between economics and the wider culture, in this case religion....Davenport concentrates on the intellectual interaction between economics and religion rather than sociological and institutional boundaries. And he engages in a sustained analysis. This makes the book significant."

Donald E. Frey |

"Stewart Davenport offers a detailed and engaging intellectual history of the reception, defense, resistance, and adaptation to political economy at the dawn of the market revolution in the United States. With remarkable clarity he explicates the so-called ’Adam Smith problem’ and what was at stake for highly religious Americans in coming to terms with how self-interest and sympathy for others could be reconciled....This book is an outstanding contribution to American intellectual and religious history."

James Hudnut-Beumler | American Historical Review

"This book accomplishes well what it sets out to achieve. The research is carefully executed, the prose clear and engaging, and the structure . . . easy to follow. . . . [It] should be of wide interest to scholars of antebellum history, religion, and moral phiosophy."

Candy Gunther Brown | Journal of American History

"Davenport’s superb Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon . . . is primarily an explanation of the attempt by Northern ministers to offer guidance for their students, congregants, and neighbors—and the still-young nation—all caught in the vortex of modern capitalism."

Kenneth J. Startup | Evangelical Studies Bulletin

"An outstanding contribution to the history of American intellectual life in the nineteenth century. On the critical question of the relationship between economic ideas and religion, he casts his lot with historians of the period who see theological commitments as independently interesting and of complicated genesis."

KevinSchmiesing | Journal of Markets and Morality

"Davenport provides a sensible introduction to important themes in ante-bellum Protestant thought; his book may prove useful to a new generation of scholars..."

Ecclesiastical History

"Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon, by Stewart Davenport, is a well-written, persuasively argued classification of the economic views of select religious elites....[It] accomplishes well what it sets out to achieve. The research is carefully executed, the prose clear and engaging, and the structure and micro-organization easy to follow."

Journal of American History

Table of Contents


Introduction: Self and Society in an American Modernity

I           “ASSURED”—THE CLERICAL ECONOMISTS                      
1          Originally Sinful: “Das Adam Smith Problem” and the “Dismal Science”
2          People and Project
3          Motivations
4          Moral Problems, Scientific Solutions
5          Utilitarian Conclusions—Moral Man, Moral Economy

6          The Inconsistently Virtuous Economy                                                    7          The Problem of the Poor 

8          Stephen Colwell
9          Orestes Brownson Before 1840
10        Orestes Brownson After 1840
11        Some Comparisons and Preliminary Conclusions
12        Paradox, People, and Project
13        Boundaries, Balance, and Faculty Psychology
14        Of Competition and Liberalism, Luxury and Speculation
15        Divine Retribution and “Das Adam Smith Problem” Revisited
Conclusion: Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon

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