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Securing the Commonwealth: Debt, Speculation, and Writing in the Making of Early America
     

Securing the Commonwealth: Debt, Speculation, and Writing in the Making of Early America

by Jennifer J. Baker
 

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Securing the Commonwealth examines how eighteenth-century American writers understood the highly speculative financial times in which they lived. Spanning a century of cultural and literary life, this study shows how the era's literature commonly depicted an American ethos of risk taking and borrowing as the peculiar product of New World daring and the

Overview

Securing the Commonwealth examines how eighteenth-century American writers understood the highly speculative financial times in which they lived. Spanning a century of cultural and literary life, this study shows how the era's literature commonly depicted an American ethos of risk taking and borrowing as the peculiar product of New World daring and the exigencies of revolution and nation building.

Some of the century's most important writers, including Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, and Judith Sargent Murray, believed that economic and social commonwealth—and one's commitment to that commonwealth—might be grounded in indebtedness and financial insecurity. These writers believed a cash-poor colony or nation could not only advance itself through borrowing but also gain reputability each time it successfully paid off a loan. Equally important, they believed that debt could promote communality: precarious public credit structures could exact popular commitment; intricate financial networks could bind individuals to others and to their government; and indebtedness itself could evoke sympathy for the suffering of others.

Close readings of their literary works reveal how these writers imagined that public life might be shaped by economic experience, and how they understood the public life of literature itself. Insecure times strengthened their conviction that writing could be publicly serviceable, persuading readers to invest in their government, in their fellow Americans, and in the idea of America itself.

Editorial Reviews

Journal of American Studies - Peter Knight
In her elegant analysis of writings by Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown and Judith Sargent Murray, Jennifer Baker homes in on a mode of thinking in eighteenth-century America about debt, credit, speculation and paper money that is quite surprising.

Choice
Astute and surprisingly lively volume... Highly recommended.

Early American Literature
Both a primer educating one into the financial thinking of early Anglo-America and a testament to the energy and creativity with which successive generations of provincials imagined commerce as a process of mediation.

American Literature
An incisive new study... Baker conceptualizes her readings in pathbreaking ways.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Baker brings a fresh and critical eye to works already well-known to specialists but probably unfamiliar to historians in general.

American Antiquarian Society
Baker has written an incisive, provocative, sparkling book.

William and Mary Quarterly - Toby L. Ditz
A thought-provoking gem of a book... All historians and literary critics with an interest in eighteenth-century economic culture will want to read it.

Journal of American History - Jonathan M. Chu
Baker's argument is instructive and well founded.

Journal of the Early Republic - Philip Gould
A historically astute study of the complex relations between economic culture and literary history in early America.

New England Quarterly - Max M. Edling
This is a work that attempts to break new ground. The topic is important but difficult and should be of great interest to historians, economists, and literary critics.

Modern Intellectual History - Edward Larkin
Securing the Commonwealth, with its insightful account... offers a cogent and eye-opening narrative of a long-overlooked dimension.

American Historical Review - Jody Greene
This book's virtue lies in its willingness not to belabor a point, as well as its extremely graceful way of offering correctives to existing readings... To finish an academic monograph wanting to read more is surely a good—and rare—thing.

William and Mary Quarterly
A thought-provoking gem of a book... All historians and literary critics with an interest in eighteenth-century economic culture will want to read it.

— Toby L. Ditz

Journal of American History
Baker's argument is instructive and well founded.

— Jonathan M. Chu

Journal of the Early Republic
A historically astute study of the complex relations between economic culture and literary history in early America.

— Philip Gould

New England Quarterly
This is a work that attempts to break new ground. The topic is important but difficult and should be of great interest to historians, economists, and literary critics.

— Max M. Edling

Modern Intellectual History
Securing the Commonwealth, with its insightful account... offers a cogent and eye-opening narrative of a long-overlooked dimension.

— Edward Larkin

American Historical Review
This book's virtue lies in its willingness not to belabor a point, as well as its extremely graceful way of offering correctives to existing readings... To finish an academic monograph wanting to read more is surely a good—and rare—thing.

— Jody Greene

Journal of American Studies
In her elegant analysis of writings by Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown and Judith Sargent Murray, Jennifer Baker homes in on a mode of thinking in eighteenth-century America about debt, credit, speculation and paper money that is quite surprising.

— Peter Knight

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801889691
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
12/20/2007
Pages:
232
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

What People are Saying About This

Douglas Anderson

Baker makes a consistently intriguing case for the centrality of financial themes to the varied literary landscape of eighteenth-century America -- drawing poems, autobiography, essays, drama, and prose fiction into a broad, cultural conversation that focuses on the risks and the necessity for 'credit' in both the economic and the imaginative construction of the United States. No other book that I can think of presents eighteenth-century American writing in this stimulating and promising context.

Douglas Anderson, University of Georgia

Jay Fliegelman

The first work to trace the literary and, more broadly, cultural consequences of debt, speculation, and paper money in early America. The debates and metaphorics surrounding these issues made it the center for discussions of value, social contract, moral character, and textual representation. Baker takes this rich node of issues and powerfully demonstrates its centrality to an array of texts. An important book.

Meet the Author

Jennifer J. Baker is an assistant professor of English at New York University.

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