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As cotton production shifted toward the southwestern states during the first half of the nineteenth century, New Orleans became increasingly important to the South's plantation economy. Handling the city's wide-ranging commerce was a globally oriented business community that represented a qualitatively unique form of wealth accumulation – merchant capital – that was based on the extraction of profit from exchange processes. However, like the slave-based mode of production with which they were allied, New Orleans merchants faced growing pressures during the antebellum era. Their complacent failure to improve the port's infrastructure or invest in manufacturing left them vulnerable to competition from the fast-developing industrial economy of the North, weaknesses that were fatally exposed during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Changes to regional and national economic structures after the Union victory prevented New Orleans from recovering its commercial dominance, and the former first-rank American city quickly devolved into a notorious site of political corruption and endemic poverty.Read more
- Despite its widely acknowledged pivotal role in the nineteenth-century US and Atlantic economies, this is the first scholarly history entirely devoted to the business community of New Orleans
- Contributes to Southern history more broadly by tracing the deleterious long-term consequences of merchants' wealth and investment patterns under a slave-based production system, as well as after emancipation
- Southern historians typically focus on one narrow period: either before, during, or after the Civil War - by contrast, this ambitious study describes and analyzes the city's nineteenth-century experience as a whole
Reviews & endorsements
"The Merchants' Capital is one of the most impressive contributions to the literature on the political economy of the nineteenth-century South to have appeared in some time. This broadly conceived and well-researched study of the Crescent City's business community is at once rigorously argued and elegantly written. Marler's long-awaited book is a worthy successor to classics such as Harold D. Woodman's King Cotton and his Retainers and Roger L. Ransom and Richard Sutch's One Kind of Freedom."
Peter A. Coclanis, Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel HillSee more reviews
"Tracing the history of New Orleans and its merchant class from the days of the slave-based Cotton Kingdom through the Civil War and Reconstruction, Scott Marler offers a new perspective on economic development - and lack thereof - in the Southern economy. He places the city's history firmly in the setting of the international cotton trade, but shows how local factors, including the merchants' own short-sightedness, contributed to the long-term decline of New Orleans as a mercantile center. A valuable contribution to Southern history."
Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University
"We've waited a long time for an in-depth history of the antebellum South’s most powerful and dynamic business community. There have been dissertations and articles about New Orleans merchants, and more specialized studies of banking in the Crescent City, but not until Scott Marler's prodigiously researched book has there appeared a full-scale treatment of the subject. Well written and shrewdly insightful, The Merchants' Capital will become a well-thumbed history of a vital subject."
Lawrence N. Powell, Professor Emeritus of History, Tulane University
"Scott Marler combines deep research with conceptual acuity in an impressive analysis of the Deep South's stunted political economy across the nineteenth century. Shining a much-needed searchlight on the businessmen of New Orleans and its hinterland, The Merchants' Capital explains why New Orleans did not take off like many other North American cities but rather declined into the 'city that care forgot'."
Adam Rothman, Georgetown University
"The Merchants' Capital tells the riveting story of New Orleans' precipitous economic and political decline during and after the Civil War, from the nerve center of the Cotton Kingdom to a backwater notorious for corruption and poverty. Scott Marler provocatively sets this narrative in a larger context of global economic change. All students of slavery and the South should read this book."
Gavin Wright, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History, Stanford University
"This splendid book offers a meticulous historical study of merchant capitalism in … New Orleans, a unique port city in the South … This wonderful study contributes to both southern history and business history and should be required reading in undergraduate and graduate courses."
Elena V. Shabliy, Southern Historian
"Prodigiously researched and elegantly argued, The Merchants' Capital deserves a wide readership."
Richard Follett, The Journal of Southern History
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- Date Published: April 2013
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9780521897648
- length: 327 pages
- dimensions: 236 x 158 x 22 mm
- weight: 0.59kg
- contains: 7 b/w illus. 14 tables
Table of Contents
Introduction: merchants of the cotton South in the age of capital
Part I. The Antebellum Era:
1. Merchants and bankers in the 'great emporium of the South'
2. New Orleans merchants and the failure of industrial development
3. Rural merchants on the cotton frontier of antebellum Louisiana
Part II. The Civil War:
4. From secession to the fall of New Orleans, 1860–2
5. Bankers and merchants in occupied Louisiana - the Butler regime
Part III. Reconstruction:
6. New Orleans merchants and the political economy of reconstruction
7. The economic decline of postbellum New Orleans
8. Rural merchants and the reconstruction of Louisiana agriculture
9. Epilogue: merchant capital and economic development in the postbellum South.
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