Friday, April 17, 2009

The Market Revolution

I’ve begun reading Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. The Marxist terminology makes me a little nervous, and the book is extremely dense and, I think, assumes a general working knowledge of the period – probably not the place to start if you have no background. But that said, the book is superb. Sellers’s research is prodigious, his insights both startling and then, in retrospect, perfectly logical when you go back and follow his train of thought. He writes well enough, if a bit abstractly, that he keeps you riveted: a slow-motion page-turner.

As a brief excerpt, I offer the following, which features some statistics that are both surprising and depressing when you consider our modern-day monstrosity:
Excluding Congress and the military, the entire government establishment at Washington, from President to doorkeeper, numbered only 153 people at the beginning of Jefferson’s administration and would increase to only 352 by 1829. In 1815 the President paid out of his own pocket the single secretary who assisted him; the Attorney General had neither clerk nor office; the Supreme Court convened for two months a year in a Capitol Hill boarding house; and during the summer only the clerks and bureau chiefs remained in the muggy capital to keep the wheels of state slowly turning.


  1. The wheels of state still turn slowly, but somehow it takes a whole lot more people to make them turn. Nice quote!

    Andrew @ Civil War Navy


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