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Confederate Political Economy: Creating and Managing a Southern Corporatist Nation.

Confederate Political Economy: Creating and Managing a Southern Corporatist Nation. By Michael Brem Bonner. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. ix, 260. $48.00.)

The American South is often viewed as a bastion of states' rights, and protecting states' rights is sometimes offered as a cause of the Civil War. Michael Brem Bonner presents a picture of Confederate political economy that is anything but a depiction of states' rights. Confederate Political Economy clearly describes how the nascent Confederacy had to come to grips with quickly mobilizing an industrial base in an economy that was predominantly agricultural. The concept of the corporatist state, a state in which government and private businesses work to influence each other to further their own ends, ties the story together. Though heavily documented, this study is accessible to anyone interested in Confederate political economy.

The book can be divided into three parts. In the first of these, the author carefully sets out the creation of the central government, making a case that a strong administrative branch and president was foremost in the minds of Southern leadership. By not establishing a supreme court as in the North, Southern leadership further consolidated power in the administration and congress. Without obvious political parties, these two branches could act monolithically. The comparison of the Confederate Constitution to the Federal Constitution from which it emerged is also enlightening.

The second part describes the Confederate government's relationship to private businesses engaged in production for the war effort. Chapters 2 and 3 provide detailed descriptions of the workings of the private Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, the Shelby Iron Company near Birmingham, Alabama, and the state-owned Augusta Powder Works and Selma Foundry. These chapters provide detailed and interesting histories of these important firms. Bonner expertly presents the struggle on the parts of Tredegar and Shelby to maintain their private interests and customers while working with the Confederate government. The unwillingness of these firms to throw themselves completely behind the war effort is surprising. The third part examines how the Confederacy tried to control the railroads and personal mobility.

The concept of what a corporatist nation is becomes somewhat liquid at times. It is made clear that private interests never lose their identity and maintain business interests apart from the government. The reviewer kept hoping for more comparison with Federal policies during the war to help flesh out this concept. A few comparisons with US policies towards businesses during World War II would have helped establish this. How much of the Confederacy's political and economic policies were the result of deliberate planning versus expediency is also not clear. The author, however, clearly acknowledges that the Confederacy was saddled with having to fight a serious war while also trying to set up the institutions of a new nation in a short period of time. In the end, the new Confederate government turned out to be more authoritarian than the states' rights stereotype suggests. Would it have stayed that way had the Confederacy won?

Jon Moen

University of Mississippi

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Title Annotation:THE AMERICAS
Author:Moen, Jon
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2018
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