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Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth

Coal, Politics, and Economy in Antebellum America

Sean Patrick Adams

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Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

In 1796, famed engineer and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe toured the coal fields outside Richmond, Virginia, declaring enthusiastically, "Such a mine of Wealth exists, I believe, nowhere else!" With its abundant and accessible deposits, growing industries, and network of rivers and ports, Virginia stood poised to serve as the center of the young nation's coal trade. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Virginia's leadership in the American coal industry had completely unraveled while Pennsylvania, at first slow to…

Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title

In 1796, famed engineer and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe toured the coal fields outside Richmond, Virginia, declaring enthusiastically, "Such a mine of Wealth exists, I believe, nowhere else!" With its abundant and accessible deposits, growing industries, and network of rivers and ports, Virginia stood poised to serve as the center of the young nation's coal trade. By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, Virginia's leadership in the American coal industry had completely unraveled while Pennsylvania, at first slow to exploit its vast reserves of anthracite and bituminous coal, had become the country's leading producer.

Sean Patrick Adams compares the political economies of coal in Virginia and Pennsylvania from the late eighteenth century through the Civil War, examining the divergent paths these two states took in developing their ample coal reserves during a critical period of American industrialization. In both cases, Adams finds, state economic policies played a major role. Virginia's failure to exploit the rich coal fields in the western part of the state can be traced to the legislature's overriding concern to protect and promote the interests of the agrarian, slaveholding elite of eastern Virginia. Pennsylvania's more factious legislature enthusiastically embraced a policy of economic growth that resulted in the construction of an extensive transportation network, a statewide geological survey, and support for private investment in its coal fields.

Using coal as a barometer of economic change, Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth addresses longstanding questions about North-South economic divergence and the role of state government in American industrial development, providing new insights for both political and economic historians of nineteenth-century America.

Reviews

Reviews

For anyone interested in state policies, paths of economic development, and antebellum political economy, this study is necessary reading.

Adams's innovative study has opened up a new arena for investigation and, judging from the richness of his analysis, one with great potential.

Adams makes good use of the available primary and secondary sources in support of his thesis.

Historians of many fields will want to take note.

Explaining the troubled present is not Adam's objective, but his book provides a powerful tool for doing just that.

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Book Details

Table of Contents

List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
Series Editor's Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Political Economy of Coal
1. The Intersection of Politics and Geology: America's First Coal Trade
2. The

List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
Series Editor's Foreword
Acknowledgments
Introduction: The Political Economy of Coal
1. The Intersection of Politics and Geology: America's First Coal Trade
2. The Commonwealth's Fuel: The Rise of Pennsylvania Anthracite
3. Trunk and Branch: State Internal Improvement Networks and the Coal Trade
4. "Hidden Treasures" and Nasty Politics: Antebellum Geological Surveys in Pennsylvania and Virginia
5. Miners without Souls: Corporations and Coal in Pennsylvania and Virginia
6. Three Separate Paths: The Impact of the Civil War
Epilogue: Capture and Confusion
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
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Sean Patrick Adams

Sean Patrick Adams is an associate professor of history at the University of Florida and author of Old Dominion, Industrial Commonwealth: Coal, Politics, and Economy in Antebellum America, published by Johns Hopkins.