Jennifer Goloboy is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary in St. Paul, MN. She has a PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University, and has published articles on merchants and the early American middle class. Her book, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era, will be published by University of Georgia Press on October 10.
As the new history of capitalism reminds us of the immense wealth that traveled through antebellum cotton ports, an old analytical problem remains—why didn’t Southern merchants invest in their communities, in the manner of the Boston Associates? Historians have traditionally explained that this lack of investment was caused by Southern culture: the Southern commitment to slavery, shared by its mercantile class, mandated a conservative approach to economic investment and a fear of change. For example, Scott P. Marler’s recent book on merchants in New Orleans claimed that “in the context of the slave society in which they were deeply implicated, their peculiar market culture discouraged the investments necessary for the city to modernize its economic base,” such as manufacturing and railroad-building.