Printer Friendly

A House Dividing: Economic Development in Pennsylvania and Virginia Before the Civil War.

By John Majewski. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xvii, 214. Cloth, $50.00.)

John Majewski's interesting and well-argued book expands on his prize-winning dissertation, providing a compelling narrative of how a Northern and a Southern state diverged economically in the antebellum period. The book compares local economic institutions and developmental corporations in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and Albemarle County, Virginia, especially transportation networks and banks, as well as state-level economic development in the Old Dominion and the Keystone State.

Majewski finds that local economic institutions in early antebellum Virginia and Pennsylvania were similar in many ways. Banks and transportation projects were largely funded locally, and both Pennsylvanians and Virginians eschewed quick gains through stock dividends--which often were not forthcoming anyway--for a long-term strategy based on rising land values, market development, and a general notion of the common weal. He finds, however, that the coming of the railroad changed the situation. Local interests were unable to plan or find adequate funding for a well-integrated railroad system. In Pennsylvania, a group of Philadelphia financiers and entrepreneurs ensured that a coherent system was created through substantial capital investment and coordinated planning. In contrast, Virginia continued to rely heavily on local interests for such projects and a unified urban elite did not step forward to provide the necessary capital, centralized control, and political will to create and fund a master vision.

Ultimately, the author believes that the Virginia and Pennsylvania economies diverged because of Virginia's "failure to develop a large commercial city" from which the leadership and capital for projects could be drawn (3). He buttresses his argument with explicit comparisons of Philadelphia and Richmond, the two state's largest cities. Virginia's failure to develop a dominant city was caused by a series of factors, including a poorly integrated transportation system, the lack of a diverse and developed manufacturing base, and intracity and intraregional rivalries. According to Majewski, slavery played a significant role in Virginia's stunted development. He focuses on the lack of a local market periphery upon which Richmond entrepreneurs could have built a solid and diverse manufacturing base. Interestingly, he does not see the presence of slavery as a direct deterrent to industrialization, noting Richmond's flourishing tobacco factories that hired and owned thousands of enslaved workers. It was Virginia's thinly settled hinterland with its considerable slave population that failed to spark demand for consumer goods and thus create indigenous and varied industries.

Majewski thankfully discards tired dichotomies of "capitalist" and "anti-capitalist" when characterizing the two states' economies, and he likewise eschews the "Market Revolution" model used by many recent studies. Instead, he sidesteps such theoretical models and looks at the actual economic realities of his Pennsylvania and Virginia examples. He uses the term "economic development" in his subtitle, but it is through "market development" that he truly measures the differences between Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Majewski carefully considers several possible challenges to his study. He addresses the problem of comparing two states (and, in particular, two cities) whose economies appear to have diverged much earlier than the late antebellum period. Also, he recognizes that there were many different models of urban development in antebellum America. One might argue, for instance, that Lowell makes a more interesting parallel to Richmond than Philadelphia. Lowell and Richmond were very similar in the size of their populations (twenty-sixth and twenty-fifth respectively among American cities in 1860), and both had a very focused and strong manufacturing sector (tenth and thirteenth in value of product in 1860). Neither city was dependent on a local hinterland to sell their manufacturing output. One imagines, however, that Majewski would rightly point out that Lowell could afford such specialization because of the presence of Boston, while Richmond served as the closest thing that Virginia had to a dominant entrepot. He also points to a trend in the recent historiography of industrialization that emphasizes the importance of smaller scale, diversified industries in the overall economy at the expense of the more-studied industrial giants.

Some may also question Majewski's idea that Virginia "failed" to develop a major city. The state's focus on grain and tobacco production and milling, it could be argued, was simply the hand the Old Dominion was dealt from the colonial period onward. Moreover, such an economy seemed to suit the social order that Virginia's elite wished to maintain. If the value of slaves and land continued to rise, the interests of the Virginians who most counted politically were served. Majewski simply points to the constant drumbeat of economic boosters in Virginia in support of urban and market development. At least for those in favor of the market, the Virginia economy failed to deliver the goods. But was that the majority sentiment in the state?

For a study that is rooted in the day-to-day realities that shaped different economies, it is also somewhat surprising that Majewski's book does not explore one of the most-important economic systems that tied Virginia to its market periphery and to the rest of the South--the slave trade. The expenditures and profits made by white Virginians in this flourishing economic activity surely had an effect on the state's market development. It would have been interesting to read an analysis of this trade and its effect on the many sides of the economic equation that Majewski describes.

Despite these reservations, this book provides a cogent and readable case for North-South economic divergence in the years before the Civil War.
Library of Virginia
COPYRIGHT 2002 Kent State University Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kimball, Greg
Publication:Civil War History
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Previous Article:Chaplain to the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South.
Next Article:Ashe County's Civil War: Community and Society in the Appalachian South.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters