Journal of American History


Information, Markets, and Corruption: Transcontinental Railroads in the Gilded Age

Americans have feared corruption since the birth of the Republic, but all corruption is not the same. It has a history, and the history of modern corporate corruption, back in the news because of scandals at Enron and other corporations, begins in the Gilded Age. The ability to manipulate and corrupt public information in order to ensure private profit was a marker of the first modern American corporations, the transcontinental railroads. Such corruption, Richard White argues, was central to their operation. It made their promoters wealthy, it defrauded investors and wasted capital, and it helped bankrupt railroads and foster unsustainable development. Corruption was not just a sideshow or a political issue in the Gilded Age. It was critical to how the developing economy worked. (pp. 19–43) Read online >

“Something Cloudy in Their Looks”: The Origins of the Yamasee War Reconsidered

Locations of southeastern Indian nations on the eve of the Yamasee War, 1715 (with the eventual state boundaries).
Map by William L. Ramsey and W. L. Ramsey Jr.

In 1715 virtually every Indian nation in the North American Southeast attacked the British colony of South Carolina. The Yamasee War, as the event has come to be known, nearly destroyed the colony and profoundly changed the entire region. William L. Ramsey explores the factors that brought so many Indian nations together and takes issue with traditional explanations that emphasize trader misconduct as a cause of war. Instead, Ramsey argues that what strained Carolina’s economic and diplomatic relations with many southeastern Indian trade partners and allies was the colony’s deepening involvement in the broader Atlantic economy. (pp. 44–75) Read online >

Rethinking the Coming of the Civil War: A Counterfactual Exercise

In this 1844 cartoon, the battling roosters are the presidential candidates Henry Clay and James K. Polk. With Polk injured, Clay appears headed for victory while Daniel Webster (far left), Martin Van Buren (center), and Andrew Jackson (second from right), among others, watch from ringside.
Courtesy Library of Congress

By conducting a counterfactual exercise, Gary J. Kornblith seeks to shed new light on long-standing scholarly debates about the causes of the Civil War. What might have happened, he asks, had Henry Clay rather than James K. Polk won the presidential election of 1844? Grounding his speculations in both classic and current historiography, Kornblith asserts that the most likely outcomes would have been no annexation of Texas, no war with Mexico, no Mexican cession, no overturning of the second party system, no Civil War, and the persistence of American slavery into the twentieth century. Such a counterfactual exercise can usefully reinstill a sense of historical contingency and human agency. (pp. 76–105) Read online >

American Indians and Land Monopolies in the Gilded Age

Coleman Cole was chief of the Choctaw nation from 1874 to 1878. Elected on the Full Blood or Shaki (buzzard) party ticket, he opposed the 
sale of tribal assets and worked to prevent intermarried whites from claiming tribal resources.
Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society.

During the Gilded Age, monopolization of land was a concern not only in the United States but also among the Civilized Tribes of the Indian Territory, where it provoked a similar ideological discourse. Rather than acknowledge shared concerns and values, however, both Indians and non-Indians differentiated their political dilemmas and economic cultures. A comparable focus on cultural distinctiveness has limited historians’ vision, Alexandra Harmon contends, preventing them from seeing underlying correspondences and connections between Indian and non-Indian intellectual history. By juxtaposing the U.S. and Indian debates about land allocation, Harmon exposes the irony in Congress’s 1887 decision to require the wholesale redistribution of Indian property—a measure unthinkable in U.S. society. (pp. 105–33) Read online >

Special Essay

Diaspora and Comparison: The Global Irish as a Case Study

Economic Pressure (1936), by the Irish artist Seán Keating, captures the bleak finality of farewell and departure, a central motif in modern Irish culture. In the Aran Islands, off Ireland’s Atlantic coast, a gaunt, immobile old man (center) stands bereft between two worlds—the barren land where he grew up and the world of promise where the younger man, pictured embracing a female relative, is headed.
Courtesy Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork, Ireland.

How do immigration and ethnicity fit into the recent efforts of American historians to write transnational history? Surveying studies of Irish immigration, Kevin Kenny evaluates current scholarly efforts to put migration in global context. Diasporic approaches examine the movement of people, capital, and ideas across national and regional boundaries, and they highlight reciprocal interactions and a common sensibility in a globally scattered population. But the concept of diaspora obscures the emergence in countries of settlement of nationally specific ethnicities that differentiate an ostensibly unitary people, be they Irish, Italian, or African. Understanding American immigration and ethnicity in global context thus requires a powerful and flexible framework of inquiry that combines both cross-national comparison and diasporic history. (pp. 134–162) Read online >

Exhibition Reviews

The collection of memorabilia gathered by the country music artist Marty Stuart dominates one entrance to “Treasures Untold: Unique Collections from Devoted Fans” at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. An accompanying video of Stuart discussing his own experience as a collector helps to frame and validate the historical work undertaken by fans. Photograph by Timothy Hursley. Architects: Tuck-Hinton Architects.
Image courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
  • “The Rankins of Cherry Hill: Struggling with the Loss of Their World,” by Susan P. Schoelwer (pp. 163–72) Read online >
  • “An American Vision: Henry Francis du Pont’s Winterthur Museum,” by Dennis K. McDaniel (pp. 173–75) Read online >
  • “To Sustain the Union: Central Illinois in the Civil War,” by Trevor Jones (pp. 176–78) Read online >
  • “Just over the Line: Chester County and the Underground Railroad,” by T. Stephen Whitman (pp. 179–81) Read online >
  • “Facing Southwest: The Houses of John Gaw Meem,” by Jeff Sanders (pp. 182–85) Read online >
  • “On Track: Transit and the American City,” by Janet Davidson (pp. 186–88) Read online >
  • Virtual Vietnam Archive, by Patrick Hagopian (pp. 189–90) Read online >
  • “Loss and Renewal: Transforming Tragic Sites,” by Rebecca E. Deen (pp. 191–92) Read online >
  • “Treasures Untold: Unique Collections from Devoted Fans,” by Diane Pecknold (pp. 193–95) Read online >
  • “Sunrise in His Pocket: The Life, Legend, and Legacy of Davy Crockett,” by Joseph G. Dawson III (pp. 196–98) Read online >

Book Reviews

June 2003, Vol. 90 No. 1

Alphabetical by the last name of the book's first author or editor.


Web site Reviews

Web site reviews are available without a subscription.

Letters to the Editor


Recent Scholarship

“Recent Scholarship” is available online, Read online >

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On the cover:

These “fullblood” Indians, known as Snakes, spent time in the Muskogee city jail in 1901 for rebelling against the congressionally mandated allotment of Creek nation lands. From Ronnie Williams, “Pictorial Essay on the Dawes Commission,” reprinted from Chronicles of Oklahoma, Summer 1975. Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society. See Alexandra Harmon, “American Indians and Land Monopolies in the Gilded Age,” p. 106.

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