Financing the State: Silver Coins, Paper Money, and Tax Revenue in Britain's Atlantic Empire and the United States, 17001900

AHA Session 124
North American Conference on British Studies 2
Friday, January 4, 2019: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Water Tower Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Jeffrey Sklansky, University of Illinois at Chicago
Andrew Shankman, Rutgers University at Camden

Session Abstract

Formal panels on political economy appear rarely on the AHA program, yet this subject has steadily gained attention in the fields of Atlantic History and American History. In the last decade, renewed interest in political economy has revitalized studies of fiscal policy, banking systems, and commerce in the British Empire and the United States. The three papers in this panel contribute to this growing body of scholarship. Two of the papers focus on the stuff that helps economies to run: money. The third involves a microbe that threw maritime economies out of gear. In tackling these subjects, the papers link high politics to daily life by discussing the effects of fiscal policies on the marketplace.

As a whole, this panel insists on rooting the study of political economy in the practical and material consequences of economic policy decisions. Each paper describes an example of the fiscal-military state, a state that builds its capacity to wage war by building its capacity to regulate commerce. However, the authors draw their examples from different periods: the colonial era, the Early Republic, and the Gilded Age. Mara Caden offers a study of monetary policy in the British Empire c. 1700 that links the production of silver coinage to the state’s borrowing power. Michael Caires brings insights from social history to the subject of money. His study of paper money in the United States highlights the hopes and fears of ordinary folks who relied upon the federal government to regulate currency. The last paper brings political economy into dialogue with environmental history. Julia Mansfield looks at the relationship between federal tax policy and a mosquito-borne pathogen, yellow fever, that swept through the United States in 1793-1805. As a group, the three papers converge on this question: how did the fiscal needs of the state – either imperial Britain or the United States – affect the daily operation of the marketplace?

This panel is designed to push against strict periodization in the history of North America and to encourage work that pulls together the American Revolution and the Civil War. We hope the chronological scope of this panel will draw a diverse audience and spark conversations among historians of Early Modern Europe, the Early American Republic, and Gilded Age America. We also hope that this group of papers will spark discussion about ways to combine political economy with studies of social history and environmental history

See more of: AHA Sessions