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Grassroots Leviathan

Agricultural Reform and the Rural North in the Slaveholding Republic

How a massive agricultural reform movement led by northern farmers before the Civil War recast Americans' relationships to market forces and the state.

Recipient of The Center for Civil War Research's 2021 Wiley-Silver Book Prize, Winner of the Theodore Saloutos Memorial Award by the Agricultural History Society

In this sweeping look at rural society from the American Revolution to the Civil War, Ariel Ron argues that agricultural history is 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. Ron shows that farming dominated the lives of most Americans through almost the entire nineteenth century and traces how middle-class farmers in the "Greater Northeast" built a movement of semipublic agricultural societies, fairs, and periodicals that fundamentally recast Americans' relationship to market forces and the state.

About the Author

Ariel Ron is the Glenn M. Linden Associate Professor of the U.S. Civil War Era at Southern Methodist University.

Reviews

"Ariel Ron's engagingly written Grassroots Leviathan is an agricultural, political, economic, and intellectual history that is also informed by soil science, chemistry, education, and legal studies."

"In recovering the stakes of antebellum agricultural society, Grassroots Leviathan upends conventional wisdom about urban-rural divides in U.S. society and revives a remarkable political economic formation in which popular, democratic developmentalism successfully won out over reactionary, vested interests."

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

"Who could have thought there was so much new to say about the sectional crisis and the Civil War? By viewing the period through the eyes of northern farmers, Ariel Ron provides a fresh perspective on both the origins of the conflict and the policies pursued once the Republicans were in power."

- Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Yale University, coeditor of Corporations and American Democracy

"Ariel Ron unearths one of mid-nineteenth-century America's most important and least understood social movements—and along the way, almost as a happy accident of the harvest, develops a powerful materialist interpretation of the origins of the Civil War. Rooted in deep scholarship and rich with creative insight, this is an uncommonly illuminating book."

- Matthew Karp, Princeton University, author of This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy

9781421439327 : grassroots-leviathan-ron
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324 Pages
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