Capitalistic Visions, Complicated Realities: Entrepreneurs, Consumers, and Commercial Culture in the Early Republic

AHA Session 239
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Kim M. Gruenwald, Kent State University
Kim M. Gruenwald, Kent State University

Session Abstract

The early republic was a heady period that witnesses the rise of market forces and an emerging commercial culture. Entrepreneurs, stockjobbers, and “men on the make” promoted grandiose schemes which promised minimal risks, maximum profits and a better future for everyone. Yet schemes necessarily relied upon the active support, if not tacit acceptance, or large groups of ordinary people. Working class farmers and artisans, foreign consumers, Native Americans, even slaves, wielded considerable agency as consumers and customers. Thomas H. Cox’s paper “Middle Men in the Middle Kingdom: American Traders, Hong Merchants, and Qing Officials in China during the First Opium War, 1839-1842,” examines attempts by American merchants to collaborate with Hong merchants and Chinese officials in creating a Tea and opium based trading empire during the First Opium War. Songho Ha's paper “Encountering the ‘Other’ through Banking and Finance” discusses Albert Gallatin's bank policies and their implications for small planters and slaves in the Deep South. David Nichols's paper looks at the interrelationship between commerce, economic diversification, and creeping dispossession in the 19th-century Native South. "Robert E. Wright’s paper “Selling Slavery: Conflating Profits with Prosperity in the Early Republic” rounds out the panel with a discussion of the ways that abolitionists and proslavery forces invoked, and in many cases failed to invoke, economic arguments in early debates over slavery. Together, each of these paper reveals the way what different social groups reconfigured elite economic visions to meet their own social and cultural needs.

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