2008 Ohio Academy of History Outstanding Publication Award Winner
“Highly recommended … well written and expertly researched.”—Choice
“In this deeply researched, richly detailed case study of the origins of corporate power in the new nation’s ‘first city,’ Andrew M. Schocket deftly unravels an enigma that has plagued historians and observers of the early republic since Alexis de Tocqueville disembarked in Philadelphia in 1831.”—The Journal of American History
“This intelligent book considers a central issue of the early American republic and U.S. history: why was political democratization coeval with the consolidation of economic power by a relatively small group of elites?”—American Historical Review
“Carefully researched and well-written. The refreshing tone of this entertaining and insightful book cannot be overstated. It should surely find a place on reading lists of business historians and students of entrepreneurship for years to come.”—Journal of Economic History
“Political and economic history at its best; a well-written, lively, thoughtful and thought provoking work.”–Pennsylvania History
“Schocket’s approach to corporations and their consequences is both innovative and powerful… Schocket’s book thus stands as an important contribution to our understanding of class and power in the early republic.”–H-SHEAR
During its first heady decades, the United States promised to become a fully democratic society with unprecedented liberty and opportunity. Yet, as political rights spread, a rising elite gained control over the sources of prosperity by means of the institution that has since come to symbolize capitalist America—the corporation. From the 1780s through the 1820s, members of Philadelphia’s privileged class formed corporations in order to consolidate their capital and political influence. By controlling regional transportation networks as well as banks and the municipal water supply, they exploited the ambitions of local farmers, artisans, and entrepreneurs who depended upon corporate services. Meanwhile, corporate insiders managed to insulate their decision making not only from the public but even from the majority of their own stockholders. In short, in this leading commercial city with a reputation for innovation, a corporate aristocracy created a new form of power.