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Response to Sklar

  • Steven Hahn (a1)


Near the end of his important and challenging essay, Martin J. Sklar briefly considers an alternative path of development to the corporate-liberal reorganization that he identifies with the era between the 1890s and 1916. “A statist resolution might have taken hold,” Sklar writes,

had the American capitalist class, or its corporate sector, been less developed in its market powers and proficiencies and hence more dependent on the state for its wealth and power; had the liberal republican tradition of the supremacy of society over the state (the sovereignty of the people) been weaker; had the working class been less imbued with that republican ideology, less developed, and hence more inclined to statist rather than associative-constitutional ideas and principles; had the corporate sector of the capitalist class sought and found alliance with a statist-oriented sector of the working class or a statist-oriented petty bourgeoisie, especially in the farm and rural population; had the corporate sector of the capitalist class sought and found alliance with civilian or military professionals, technicians, administrators, and managers—or a “managerial class”—looking to the state as a base of power. (p. 210)



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1. Over the past decade or so, American history college survey textbooks have shifted their emphasis from political and economic to social and cultural history, yet by and large have adhered to the framework of political and economic modernization established by their predecessors. None, to my knowledge, has either challenged this framework or confronted the question of periodization explicitly. See, for example, two of the most innovative and influential, Norton, Mary Beth, Katzman, David, Escott, Paul et al. , A People and a Nation: A History of the United States (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1982); and Nash, Gary B., Jeffrey, Julie Roy, Howe, John R. et al. , The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1986).

2. Published by Cambridge University Press in 1988.

3. Although most historians believe that capitalism established an early and firm foothold, the case for an extended transition has been made by a number of scholars, most of whom share Sklar's concerns. See, for example, Hahn, Steven and Prude, Jonathan, eds., The Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Transformation: Essays in the Social History of Rural America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985); Merrill, Michael, “‘Cash is Good to Eat’: Self-Sufficiency and Exchange in the Rural Economy of the United States,” Radical History Review 3 (1977): 4271; Clark, Christopher, The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780–1860 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990); Ashworth, John, ‘Agrarians’ and ‘Aristocrats’: Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837–1846 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Wilentiz, Sean, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press 1984); Prude, Jonathan, The Coming of Industrial Order: Town and Factory Life in Rural Massachusetts, 1810–1860 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983); Genovese, Eugene D., The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South (New York: Vintage, 1965); Fields, Barbara J., Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland in the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985); and Hahn, Steven, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983).

4. The best known statement is, of course, Moore, Barrington Jr, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966).

5. See Genovese, Eugene D., The World the Slaveholders Made: Two Essays in Interpretation (New York: Vintage, 1969), pp. 118244; Thomas, Emory M., The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1971), pp. 5899; and Luraghi, Raimondo, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation South (New York: Franklin Watts, 1978).

6. Historians tend to see the perpetuation of slavery as the logical alternative to the rather swift emancipation process unleashed by the Civil War. But it is worth noting that slavery was abolished gradually in much of the Western Hemisphere (including the northern United States) and that Lincoln's initial vision of emancipation was one that would have extended until the end of the 19th century and involved colonization of liberated slaves. And had such a plan been implemented, it would have required direct federal support for repressive labor relations. As for the western states and territories, Howard Lamar has examined a variety of forced labor systems stretching from Alaska to California, Utah, and New Mexico, and has noted that a bill abolishing debt peonage passed Congress on the same day as the first Military Reconstruction Act (March 2, 1867). See Lamar, “From Bondage to Contract: Ethnic Labor in the American West,” in Hahn and Prude, eds., Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Transformation, pp. 293–324. Also see Barrington Moore's interesting and suggestive comments in Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, pp. 132–55.

7. I have attempted to develop some of these points in “Class and State in Postemancipation Societies: Southern Planters in Comparative Perspective,” American Historical Review 95 (February 1990): 75–98; and “Emancipation and the Development of Capitalist Agriculture: The South in Comparative Perspective,” in What Made the South Different? ed. Gispen, Kees (Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1990).

8. See McGerr, Michael, The Decline of Popular Politics: The North, 1865–1928 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Weinstein, James, The Corporate Ideal in the Liberal State, 1900–1918 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), pp. 92116; Piven, Frances Fox & Cloward, Richard A., Why Americans Don't Vote (New York: Pantheon, 1988); and MacLean, Nancy, “Behind the Mask of Chivalry: Gender, Race, and Class in the Making of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's in Georgia” (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1989).

9. For a critique of the historiography embracing the German Sonderweg, see Blackburn, David and Eley, Geoff, The Peculiarities of German History: Bourgeois Society and Politics in Nineteenth Century Germany (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).


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