Guest Post: Stephen Campbell, “Reimagining the Second Bank of the United States in Early American History”

Stephen W. Campbell earned a doctorate in history from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2013. A lecturer at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Campbell is the author of articles that have appeared in American Nineteenth Century History, Ohio Valley History, Perspectives on History, and History News Network. He has recently completed a book manuscript entitled Banking on the Press: Newspapers, Financial Institutions, and the Post Office in Jacksonian America, 1828-1834.

Cadwalder Family Papers, Box 98, Folder 24, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. [Click for full-size]

Unexpected “ah-hah!” moments make long hours of historical research worthwhile. A few months ago I was perusing a letter from an edited volume of Henry Clay’s correspondence when my eyes began to drift over to an adjoining page. A letter, dated August 17, 1830, showed the great senator and orator instructing his Washington agent, Philip Fendall, to send one of his slaves, Lotty, back to Kentucky. Clay wanted Lotty “to have the means to bring herself home…but if she wants money for that purpose I will thank you to apply to Mr. R[ichard] Smith to advance her the necessary sum.” Nothing in the footnotes or index shed light on this enigmatic Smith (an exceedingly common name both then and now), but I had come across this name several times before. This was almost certainly the cashier of the Washington branch of the Second Bank of the United States (BUS), the nation’s de facto central bank. A few weeks later, Clay again penned Fendall: “There are persons frequently bringing slaves from the district [of Columbia] to this State, some of whom might perhaps undertake to conduct [Lotty] to Maysville, Louisville, Lexington, or some other point from which I could receive her.”[1] Continue reading

My Favorite Books from 2016; or, a Christmas Book List for Your Early American History Nerd Friends

2016 sucked in a lot of ways. Future historians will likely give lots of attention to this year and its events, and not with a positive assessment. But while we cope with this new reality, we at least can console ourselves with the fact that it was an excellent year in historical scholarship, especially in the field of early America. This post is a sequel to my Christmas Book List I posted last year, and may very well become an annual tradition. Below you’ll find some of my favorite books from the past twelve months.

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Just a few of my favorite books from the past year.

However, I should quickly add, these were far from the only excellent volumes to be released. (Like I said: it was a very strong year.) These books reflect my own interests and background. I hope others will share their favorite books, whether mentioned or not, in the comments. Continue reading

Review: Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire

This review is cross-posted from Ben Park’s own blog, “Professor Park’s Blog: Musings of a Professor of American Politics, Culture, and Religion.”

Matthew Karp, This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

This isn’t your grandparents’ antebellum South. A generation ago it was common for historians to talk about the “regressing” southern states in the decades preceding Civil War. The advent of democracy, the spread of enlightenment, and the triumph of free labor left slaveholders reeling and the slave institution crumbling. Secession, this narrative emphasized, was the last-ditch effort of a flailing boxer on the ropes. But scholarship from the past couple decades have put that myth to rest. Michael O’Brien demonstrated that southerners were intellectuals who contemplated the most sophisticated issues of modernity. Edward Baptist showed how the slave institution increased in strength as the financial staple in America’s capitalistic order. Walter Johnson and Sven Beckert displayed how slaveholders were at the forefront of an increasingly global economy. These and many other works all point to the same crucial revision: slaveholding southerners were “modern,” and their ideas and actions cannot be merely dismissed as remnants of an antiquated age. Continue reading

The Mormon National Convention, 1844

Given that we just witnessed the Democrat and Republican national conventions a few weeks ago, I thought I’d draw from a current research project and take a look back at an earlier moment in the development of presidential politics. And if you think Donald Trump’s convention was quixotic, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

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Sutcliffe Maudsley, “Lt. General Joseph Smith In Nauvoo Legion Uniform,” gouache on paper.

Whatever your feelings concerning Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founder, you have to admit the guy was confident. The first decade of his church’s existence was mired in societal and political problems, and the final year of his life was spent trying to find novel and, to some, outlandish solutions. One of his most audacious proposals was his own candidacy for the United States presidency in 1844.

Smith’s presidential run mostly strikes modern readers as amusing. Though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had already drawn around thirty thousand converts since its founding in 1830, a majority of them were located on the banks of the Mississippi River in an Illinois town called Nauvoo. They could hardly manipulate the politics within their own state, let alone those of the nation. How then could the controversial leader of this marginalized sect have such delusions of grandeur? Continue reading

Kicking off the 2016-2017 Season

snoopyIf you haven’t noticed, the blog has been a bit, well, quiet lately. We promise that wasn’t all a hiccup! Well, most of it, anyway. About halfway through the summer we realized our productivity was lagging so we decided to call it a summer sabbatical—we are academics, after all.

Anyway, I’m pleased to say that, as the Fall Semester is about to commence for many of us, The Junto is ready to kick off another great year. We have posts scheduled nearly every day for the foreseeable future, and I swear some of them will probably be good. We’re gonna attack the season like the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors, though we hope our ending won’t be so anti-climactic.

We do have some exciting things in store as the blog transitions into its next phase. Stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you can check out our new Contribute page to find out more about how to write a guest post for us.

As always, we appreciate any and all feedback. We truly appreciate all our faithful readers—we now have over four thousand subscribers to the blog, and even more casual visitors—and feel this is one of many digital centers for the early American history community. Or, ahem, #VastEarlyAmerica.

What Happened to the “Democratic” in the “Age of Democratic Revolutions”?

PalmerThis past semester I taught a course on “18th Century Atlantic Revolutions: America, France, and Haiti,” which included both undergraduate and graduate students. (I wrote about the assigned readings at my personal blog.) I’d like to highlight a central theme that I emphasized throughout the course as a way to discuss historiographical and pedagogical questions.

To give my grad students a sense of the field’s starting point, I had them read R. R. Palmer’s classic 2-volume The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800 (1959, 1964; 2014), recently combined and re-published by Princeton University Press. Advancing through the semester and reading much more recent books, the dated nature of Palmer’s book is readily apparent. Most obvious is its avoidance of Haiti. (At an AHA panel on the Age of Revolutions last January, Nathaniel Perl-Rosenthal mention that it’s basically an academic ritual to mention this whenever discussing Age of Democratic Revolution.) Palmer also focuses on high-end (and male-centric) intellectual history, ignores economic interests and intersections, and only engages the nations whose revolutions “succeeded.” This last point is obviously problematic, of course, given what happens in France after their Revolution. But as Janet Polasky’s recent book shows, a more comprehensive view can be gleaned through looking at revolutionary moments that did not have successful outcomes. Like any book published over a half-century ago, even a classic book like Palmer’s, there are plenty of holes to acknowledge. Continue reading

Call for Papers: 2016-17 Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History

The following link comes from the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy’s announcement. I was privileged to be a postdoc fellow with the Kinder Institute for the last two years and attended most of these MRSEAH meetings. They are phenomenal. Bonus: you get to hang out with our own Ken Owen!

Kinder LogoThe Kinder Institute is currently inviting submissions for presenters at the 2016-17 meetings of the Missouri Regional Seminar on Early American History (MRSEAH), which will be held on October 7, 2016, and April 21, 2017, in Columbia, MO, and on November 4, 2016, and February 17, 2017, in St. Louis. We welcome work on all aspects of early American history, broadly defined to extend throughout the Americas geographically and forward in time through the 19th century, and we are especially eager for submissions relating to political development, political thought, constitutionalism, and democratization. All MRSEAH submissions will also automatically be considered for the Kinder Institute’s Friday History Colloquium Series, held on campus during the academic year. Please visit the link below for complete instructions on submitting a proposal to present at the MRSEAH. Continue reading