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9781421439334
9781421439327
English
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9.00 Inches (US)
6.00 Inches (US)
$59.95 USD, £44.50 GBP
v2.1 Reference

Grassroots Leviathan

Agricultural Reform and the Rural North in the Slaveholding Republic

The United States was an overwhelmingly rural society before the Civil War and for some time afterward. There were cities and factories, of course, especially in the northern seaboard states. In 1860, Manhattan's population was nearing a million. Brooklyn, which had been farmland at the time of the American Revolution, was itself home to 250,000. New England's mill towns were already well known, and Chicago's growth elicited awe. But these were exceptions. In the same year, 80% of Americans lived in rural places of 2,500 inhabitants or less. While 59% of the labor force worked in agriculture, only 15% worked in manufacturing. As the newspaperman Jesse Buel put it at the time, agriculture remained "the great business of civilized life."

In this sweeping look at rural society from the American Revolution to the Civil War, Ariel Ron argues that agricultural history is absolutely central to understanding the nation's formative period. Upending the myth that the Civil War pitted an industrial North against an agrarian South, Grassroots Leviathan traces the rise of a powerful agricultural reform movement spurred by northern farmers. Showing that farming dominated the lives of the majority of Americans, in the North and the South, through almost the entire nineteenth century, Ron traces how middle-class farmers in the "Greater Northeast" built a movement of semi-public agricultural societies, fairs, and periodicals that, together, fundamentally recast the relationship of rural people to market forces and governing structures.

By the 1850s, Ron writes, this massive movement boasted over a thousand organizations and the influence to have Congress publish annual agricultural reports in editions that rivaled sales of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the era's runaway bestseller. As northern farmers became increasingly organized, they pressed new demands on the federal government that inevitably challenged the entrenched prerogatives of southern slaveholders. Ideologically and organizationally, agricultural reform conditioned the emergence of the Republican Party and the North's break with the slaveholding republic. The movement culminated in the creation of the US Department of Agriculture and the land-grant university system. These agencies reconfigured the nature and purpose of the American state at the same time as they came to revolutionize farming in the United States and the world over.

Looking at farmers as serious independent agents in the making, unmaking, and remaking of the American republic, Grassroots Leviathan offers an original take on the causes of the Civil War, the rise of federal power, and American economic ascent during the nineteenth century.

About the Author

Ariel Ron is the Glenn M. Linden Assistant Professor of the US Civil War Era at Southern Methodist University.

Endorsements

"A stunningly original, stimulating, and important analysis of the antebellum agricultural reform movement as it played a major role in rural culture, sectional antagonism, and the development of the nineteenth-century state. Meticulously researched, well written, and historiographically grounded, Grassroots Leviathan offers a critical corrective to the scholarly focus on urbanization and industrialization as the key phenomena marking the drift into modernity. A bold and significant work of scholarship."

- Tamara Plakins Thornton, State University of New York, Buffalo, author of Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life

"Grassroots Leviathan is a remarkable piece of scholarship. Offering an original take on the origins of the Civil War, one that focuses on the emergence of an agricultural reform movement and its political ramifications, Ron grounds his account in a sophisticated understanding of the political economy of northern farming practices. Ron juggles half a dozen different balls here, and it is a tribute to his analytical acumen and expository skills that readers are able to follow his performance without missing a beat. This is, among other things, a thoroughly enjoyable read. An important book."

- James Oakes, author of The Scorpion's Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War

"This is an important book—the best one I've ever read on agricultural reform. It's also the best book I've seen on the relationship of farmers to national politics and state formation in the nineteenth century, and a refreshing intervention in the suddenly lively literature on state formation in the mid-nineteenth-century United States."

- Reeve Huston, Duke University, author of Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York

"Grassroots Leviathan will be the leading history of the antebellum American state for many years to come. Carefully researched and eloquently written, this book is a remarkable achievement that cements Ron's status as one of the leading political historians of his generation."

- Gautham Rao, American University, author of National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State

"Ariel Ron brings fresh and much-needed attention to the agricultural north, illuminating the essential role agricultural improvement played in nineteenth-century America. Deeply researched and well-argued, Grassroots Leviathan is rich with insight for both economists and historians."

- Caitlin Rosenthal, University of California–Berkeley, author of Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management

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