The first comprehensive history of nineteenth-century New York City's powerful economic elite.
By 1892, 27% of American millionaires resided in New York City, and the city's dominance as an epicenter for capitalist enterprise was so well established as to seem both natural and inevitable. Yet, as Harvard history professor Beckert demonstrates, New York's ascendance as the nation's most important hub of manufacturing and trade was less an inevitability than the result of a series of deft and determined maneuvers on the part of the city's economic elites (i.e., the aristocracy and the wealthy merchants). Despite having often divergent political and economic interests, the monied classes came, over the course of the second half of the 19th century, to recognize one another as allies in opposition to the lower classes, and consequently worked together to achieve a remarkable consolidation of power, with the result that "not presidents but prominent New York entrepreneurs... came to represent the age." Beckert examines the process through which this consolidation of power occurred, explaining how the responses of the city's most prominent merchants and manufacturers to national conflicts and crises, such as the Civil War and periods of economic depression and labor unrest in the late 1800s, enabled these bourgeois New Yorkers to wield progressively greater influence over the shape of both local and national economic policy. While Beckert's narrative suffers at times from the burden of minute detail, which may deter readers other than economic historians, this is, in general, a deftly told account of the Manhattan bourgeoisie's impressively shrewd negotiation of the ever-shifting terrain of the American political and economic landscape. As such, it yields thought-provoking insights into the ways in which power has been and continues to be acquired and exercised in the U.S. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.