Topic Framing Questions|
||How did the various people living in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century respond to the emergence of a national market economy?||
||Charles Sellers, excerpts from "Land and Market," Ch. 1 of The Market Revolution, 1991|
One of the few secondary sources in the toolbox, this reading can serve as an introduction to the entire seminar. It describes the America of 1815, on the eve of a postwar boom that would "ignite a generation of conflict over the republic's destiny." Conflict between east and west, rural and urban, Native- and Euro-American, even farmer and wife, that resulted as "history's most revolutionary force, the capitalist market, was wresting the American future from history's most conservative force, the land." In the first part Sellers describes a series of interactions between humans and the land, beginning with the subsistence economy of Native Americans. They were supplanted by Euro-American farmers who, in bringing their own ways to the hinterlands, created an "intermediate subsistence culture." In time that culture fell prey to the market in part because wheat and cotton booms made it profitable for inland farmers to grow and transport surplus crops to market and in part because the subsistence farming culture eventually ran out of the cheap land it needed to replicate itself from one generation to the next. 15 pages.
||Hezekiah Niles, excerpts from "Great National Interests," Niles' Register, October 21, 1826|
According to Sellers, the market revolution replaced the "use values" of subsistence economics with the "commodity values" of commercial exchange. In this piece we see just what "commodity values" are. A Baltimore magazine editor, Hezekiah Niles was one of the most influential journalists of the 1820s and 30s. Niles' Weekly Register was the New York Times of his era. While the forces pulling the nation apart were gathering strength, Niles, who saw himself as a contributor to nation building, looked for ways to "avoid the coming storm." For him the chief engine of unity was a vigorous national economy. "Great National Interests" is essentially a booster's cheer for both government-sponsored internal improvements and the market economy they fueledcanals in New York, coal mines in Pennsylvania, textiles mills throughout New England, etc. Niles is almost breathless with astonishment at what the young nation, only fifty years from independence, has achieved, and he wants his readers to be astonished, too: "A bleaching establishment was lately made at Belleville. The house is of hewn stone, 263-feet long and three stories high!" In the energy of Niles's writing we can sense the energy that drove westward expansion. He chides the slaveholding states of Virginia and Maryland for their backwardness but proudly reports the amount of American cotton that flows from the fields of the South to the mills of the North. Could be used with students. 8 pages.
||Elias Boudinot, "An Address to the Whites," Philadelphia, May 26, 1826|
Charles Sellers calls Native Americans "people of the land par excellence," and much of the argument about their place in the expanding American nation revolved around their perception and use of the land. Even though Indians exploited natural resources, they saw the land and the animals and plants it supported as a complex, unified living entity that no human could own or fully control. Whites, on the other hand, typically viewed the natural world as a commodity that was not only meant to be exploited but also bought, sold, owned, and in general ordered through manmade systems of law and government. Elias Boudinot's "Address to the Whites" and Lewis Cass's "Removal of the Indians," which follows, explore, among other topics, the Indians' place in the relationship between westward expansion and the market economy.
Elias Boudinot was born Gallegina Watie in the Cherokee nation in 1802. (He was better known as Buck Watie.) He was educated in mission schools, including the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions school in Cornwall, Connecticut. That experience led him to adopt the name of one of the school's benefactors, Elias Boudinot. In 1826 the General Council of the Cherokee Nation sent him on a tour to raise money for a school and for printing equipment. During that tour he delivered his "Address to the Whites." His success propelled him into the editorship of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by American Indians. In "An Address to the Whites" Boudinot asserts that the efforts to "civilize" the Cherokee are succeeding. Like a good fundraiser he argues that with additional help, i.e., money, they will achieve their goal. Implicit in the concept of civilizing the Indians was their inclusion in the market economy. Boudinot addresses that issue early in his speech and then goes on to discuss civilizing in broader terms and in the process makes a case for placing Indians under federal rather than state control. Should you choose this text, we recommend that you also select Lewis Cass's "Removal of the Indians," for a comparison of the two will generate much profitable discussion. Could be used with students. 7 pages.
||Lewis Cass, excerpts from "Removal of the Indians," North American Review, January, 1830|
In 1828 the Cherokees in Georgia adopted a constitution and claimed sovereign jurisdiction over their territories. The state of Georgia sued them, claiming that they were subject to the state's laws. Georgia lost in the Supreme Court, but Andrew Jackson, who believed that the Indians should be brought into the market economy, refused to enforce the ruling. Lewis Cass, the governor of the Michigan Territory from 1813 to 1831, was considered an expert on Indians. In this selection he supports Georgia's position, opposing the view expressed by Boudinot. To a large extent Cass's argument depends upon his view of the land and its use. He sees it purely in market terms, as a commodity, whose exploitation is divinely sanctioned. In the possession of the Indians it is "doomed to perpetual unproductiveness." Like Boudinot he addresses the problems that arise when whites and Indians live in close proximity. As long as Indians control territory that adjoins civilization, he contends, they will continue to decline "in numbers, morals, and happiness." Hence, for economic, legal, and religious reasonsindeed, for their own goodthey should be sent west to a land "where they and their descendents can be secure in the enjoyment of every privilege which they may be capable of estimating and enjoying." Could be used with students. 8 pages.
||James Glover Baldwin, excerpts from The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi: A Series of Sketches, 1854|
Reading Baldwin's Flush Times, you may be tempted to think that the Indians were smart to put thousands of miles between themselves and white society. In what often sounds like social criticism written by W. C. Fields, Baldwin satirically critiques life in the raw frontier settlements that sprang up in the wake of the Indians' removal. His prose may be inflated with pomposity and gaudy with Latin and learned allusions, but it can cut with a Twain-like edge: "the village boasted a population of . . . single gentlemen . . . who . . . laid projects for the future, to be worked out for their own profit upon the safe plans of some other person's risk." Lewis Cass contended that white settlement would bring civilization to Indian lands, thereby rescuing them from aboriginal unproductiveness. Baldwin tells us just what that civilization and the market economy that accompanied it were like. He shows us Niles's exuberant economy close up, with all its entrepreneurial wheeling and dealing. Baldwin's fulminations convey the frontier's corruption and violence, but they also capture its undeniable vitality and democracy. His is an unscrupulous world bristling with opportunity. Could be used with students. 6 pages.
||George Fitzhugh, Sociology for the South; or, The Failure of Free Society, 1854|
Ch. 5: "Negro Slavery"
Lewis Cass believed that racial characteristics prevented the Indians' successful integration into the market economy. However, the racial characteristics of Africans brought to this country as slaves offered no such impediments; at least that is what George Fitzhugh argues in his Sociology. A defense of slavery and the South, Sociology is something more as well. Fitzhugh defends slavery on the grounds that it "christianizes, protects, supports and civilizes" those under its sway, whom he characterizes as childlike, improvident, wild, and vulnerable. But not wicked or inhuman, and that's important. He further contends that "slavery [in the South] relieves [the slave] from a far more cruel slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity." Up to this point Fitzhugh is a fairly typical apologist for slavery, but in the end he announces that "this peculiar question of negro slavery [is] of very little importance." Slavery and the South in general provide him a base from which to critique America's emerging market economy, indeed to critique progress and modernity themselves. While defending slavery, Fitzhugh argues for the welfare of the soul, for moral and intellectual improvement. Approximately 5 1/4 pages.
||Henry David Thoreau, excerpts from "Economy," Ch. 1 of Walden, 1854|
Fitzhugh would agree with Thoreau's claim that the market enslaves us all and robs us of our divinity. But while Fitzhugh believes it is the slaves' destiny to do society's menial work, Thoreau wishes that all of us could spend our time "better than digging in the dirt." And he means both literal and metaphorical dirt. Just as Fitzhugh's Sociology is more than a defense of slavery, Thoreau's Walden is more than a critique of the market economy. He wrote it while his countrymen were busy leveling forests, building railroads, sailing clipper ships, and chasing Indiansin effect, while they were building the world Niles describes. Thoreau takes the measure of these endeavors by asking why we are doing them and what kind of life they produce. Walden is, finally, a meditation on the relationship between means and ends and an inquiry into the good life. Could be used with students. 24 pages.
||Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852|
Ch. 1: "In Which the Reader Is Introduced to a Man of Humanity"
The market economy commodifies virtually everything, and Stowe begins Uncle Tom's Cabin with an extreme example of commodification. Mr. Shelby, a Kentucky planter, sits across a dining room table from Mr. Haley, a slave trader, negotiating a sale that will rescue his plantation from debt. Haley wants to buy the pious, hardworking, trustworthy Tom and, to sweeten the deal, the engaging boy Harry and perhaps his comely mother Eliza. Shelby resists, but he "speculated largely and quite loosely . . . and his notes to a large amount had come into the hands of Haley," who now has the advantage on him. Eliza overhears their conversation and takes her anguish over the possible sale of her son to her mistress Shelby's wife, who assures her that Harry will not be sold. Stowe dramatizes the tension in slavery that Fitzhugh overlooks. Could be used with students. 9 pages.
Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
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