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When the people of British North America threw off their colonial bonds, they sought more than freedom from bad government: most of the founding generation also desired the freedom to create and enjoy good, popular, responsive government. This book traces the central issue on which early Americans pinned their hopes for positive government actioninternal improvement.
The nation's early republican governments undertook a wide range of internal improvement projects meant to assure Americans' security, prosperity, and enlightenmentfrom the building of roads, canals, and bridges to the establishment of universities and libraries. But competitive struggles eventually undermined the interstate and interregional cooperation required, and the public soured on the internal improvement movement. Jacksonian politicians seized this opportunity to promote a more libertarian political philosophy in place of activist, positive republicanism. By the 1850s, the United States had turned toward a laissez-faire system of policy that, ironically, guaranteed more freedom for capitalists and entrepreneurs than ever envisioned in the founders' revolutionary republicanism.
|Publisher:||The University of North Carolina Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.90(d)|
What People are Saying About This
Larson has given us a masterful monograph that embraces a far wider range of serious questions than its seemingly technical subject might imply. Scholars of the early republic will remain in his debt for many years to come.H-Net Book Review
Indispensable reading for students interested in internal improvements, antebellum politics, and, more broadly, the evolution of republicanism and its transition to democracy in the United States. . . . A fine piece of scholarship.North Carolina Historical Review
Larson tells this important story well.Journal of American History
An original reexamination of a major issue in nineteenth-century American history, based on primary sources and written with lucidity and verve. Larson confirms the centrality of internal improvements to both the politics and the economic development of the United States. His findings explode the myth that a 'market revolution' was foisted upon a reluctant public.Daniel Walker Howe, Oxford University
[An] engaging, gracefully written, and provocative study of internal improvement in antebellum America.Journal of the Early Republic
Larson has crafted a detailed study of one of the most enduring issues of early American politics, federal involvement in internal improvements. . . . A work necessary to the understanding of early America.Southern Historian
[Larson] deftly expands the story of the rise of capitalism against the background of the political imbroglios that made such a portentous change possible.American Historical Review
Internal Improvement is the single most important contribution to our understanding of antebellum American political economy in the last generation. Larson's history of public works 'brings the state back in,' or, perhaps more accurately, enables us to see more clearly how the development of democratic politics led to the disappearance of the state, thus clearing the way for new concentrations of irresponsible private power. Improvement-minded Americans crowded the political trough, clamoring for an equalization and escalation of benefits that preempted and discredited long-term planning. Larson's lucid account of improvement politics is necessary reading for all students of the periodor for anyone interested in the history of American democracy.Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia
Larson has produced a well-researched history of national public works initiatives from 1788 to 1850.Choice
Larson's long-awaited study of the crusade for internal improvement in the early American republic makes a major contribution to our understanding of the values that shaped the founders' bold experiment in republican governance. Elegantly crafted and well written, it tells its story with energy and verve. . . . Particularly notable is his reconstruction of state-level developments and his critique of the widely accepted notion that government funded internal improvements lacked a broad base of popular support.Richard R. John, University of Illinois at Chicago