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400 Years Of Freethought
Samuel Porter Putnam
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham
Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version
Philip Pullman, Jacob Grimm
Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson
Jennifer Michael Hecht
The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America
Paul E. Johnson, Sean Wilentz

Roots of the Modern American Empire

Roots of the Modern American Empire - William Appleman Williams “One of the striking problems confronting the modern executive…is created by the way the organization and operation of the corporation destroy the old social and economic ecology without creating a new balance based on a community of association, interest, and mutual responsibility. That was precisely what happened…when consolidated capital from outside the region moved into the Red River Valley and created the huge bonanza grain farms of the 1870s and early 1880s. The approach ultimately failed because its economies of scale proved insufficiently rewarding over a period of time, because it provoked serious political opposition, and because it failed to generate the development of a society (let alone a community).” (xi) This is interesting, because I think Williams is right: once the focus became colonial, rewards were judged based on competing opportunity costs of capital, not the inherent qualities, (success or failure, viability, sustainability, etc.) of the local operation. Williams goes on to cite J. J. Hill as “a corporation leader who did learn from the weaknesses and failure of the bonanza farms, and who applied that lesson for the benefit of his own corporation and for the rest of the people in the region. Hill did not become a utopian, or even a reformer in the usual sense of the term, but he did recognize and act on the necessity of dealing with the needs of the agricultural society in which he operated. He realized that all corporations would go the way of the bonanza farms unless they became more relevant and responsive to the requirements of the rest of society.” Thesis: “The expansionist outlook that was entertained and acted upon by metropolitan American leaders during and after the 1890s was actually a crystallization in industrial form of an outlook that had been developed in agricultural terms by the agrarian majority of the country between 1860 and 1893.”In Williams’ account, the desire to expand agricultural markets pushes what is ultimately American expansionist foreign policy. In the early 19th century, this takes the form of Adam Smith’s “tension and antagonism between the metropolis and the country.” (103) Britain is the metropolis in this case, and the whole US is the “granary and slaughterhouse” that feeds it. As America grows, Williams says the farm sector’s export focus remains a prime mover of expansionism. Although William Jennings Bryan claimed “agriculturalists were as truly businessmen as their metropolitan counterparts,” Williams says he did not convince them he could improve conditions for their business. (404) Williams concludes that both the “agricultural expansionists” and the urban leaders who appropriated their ideas failed to “maintain an operating balance between the expansion of freedom and the expansion of the marketplace” because “the overwhelming majority of farm businessmen shared the more conservative views of the dominant metropolitans. Indeed, they had generated and shaped that outlook. And, for that matter, many of the reformers soon acquiesced or assented.The result was an overpowering imperial consensus that defined freedom in terms of what existed in America; or, in its most liberal form, in terms of what Americans sought for themselves.” (450)In the final lines of his epilogue, Williams cautions radicals: “because we are now just beginning, I suggest that we be very careful about winning when it requires us to become more like what we find so unacceptable. For those kinds of victories can very easily change us into small businessmen promoting a marginal product.” (453)