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  • The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Volume 11, Issue 2
  • April 2012, pp. 151-189

Boodle over the Border: Embezzlement and the Crisis of International Mobility, 1880–1890

  • Katherine Unterman (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 16 April 2012

Roughly 2,000 American fugitives fled to Canada in the 1880s—mostly clerks, cashiers, and bank tellers charged with embezzlement. This article argues that these “boodlers,” as they were popularly called, were symptomatic of a late-nineteenth-century crisis of mobility. Embezzlement was a function of new kinds of mobility: migration to cities, the rise of an upwardly mobile middle class, the fungibility of greenbacks, and the growth of international transportation networks. The boodlers were some of the earliest white-collar criminals. By focusing on their unexplored story, this article contributes to the growing literature that presents the clerk as an important figure in nineteenth-century labor history. Still, the boodlers also had a more unexpected impact on the evolution of the United States' international borders, both in the popular imagination and in actual surveillance and law enforcement techniques. Through the figure of the boodler, this article examines the links between the growth of capitalism and the development of the United States–Canada border in the late nineteenth century.

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Stephen Mihm , A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States (Cambridge, MA, 2007), 92

Lawrence Friedman , “Crimes of Mobility,” Stanford Law Review 43 (Feb. 1991): 637–58

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Richard J. Soderlund , “‘Intended as a Terror to the Idle and Profligate’: Embezzlement and the Origins of Policing in the Yorkshire Worsted Industry, c. 1750–1777,” Journal of Social History 31 (Spring 1998): 647–69

Brian P. Luskey , On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in Nineteenth-Century America (New York, 2010)

Michael Zakim , “The Business Clerk as Social Revolutionary; or, a Labor History of the Nonproducing Classes,” Journal of the Early Republic 26 (Winter 2006): 563603

Stephen Mihm , “Clerks, Classes, and Conflicts,” Journal of the Early Republic 26 (Winter 2006): 605–15, esp. 613–14

Pablo Piccato , City of Suspects: Crime and the Police in Mexico City, 1900–1931 (Durham, 2001)

Irwin Unger , The Greenback Era: A Social and Political History of American Finance, 1865–1879 (Princeton, 1964)

Hugh G. J. Aitken , American Capital and Canadian Resources (Cambridge, MA, 1961)

Margaret Beattie Bogue , “To Save the Fish: Canada, the United States, the Great Lakes, and the Joint Commission of 1892,” Journal of American History 79 (Mar. 1993): 1429–55

Charles Stacey , “Fenianism and Rise of National Feeling in Canada at the Time of Confederation,” Canadian Historical Review 12 (Sept. 1931): 238–61

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The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
  • ISSN: 1537-7814
  • EISSN: 1943-3557
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-gilded-age-and-progressive-era
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