Building the Empire State
Political Economy in the Early Republic
Brian Phillips Murphy
Narrated by Douglas R. Pratt
Approximately 10.5 hours
Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press
Building the Empire State examines the origins of American capitalism by tracing how and why business corporations were first introduced into the economy of the early republic. Brian Phillips Murphy follows the collaborations between political leaders and a group of unelected political entrepreneurs, including Robert R. Livingston and Alexander Hamilton, who persuaded legislative powers to grant monopolies corporate status in order to finance and manage civic institutions. Murphy shows how American capitalism grew out of the convergence of political and economic interests, wherein political culture was shaped by business strategies and institutions as much as the reverse.
Focusing on the state of New York, a onetime mercantile colony that became home to the first American banks, utilities, canals, and transportation infrastructure projects, Building the Empire State surveys the changing institutional ecology during the first five decades following the American Revolution. Through sustained attention to the Manhattan Company, the steamboat monopoly, the Erie Canal, and the New York & Erie Railroad, Murphy traces the ways entrepreneurs marshaled political and financial capital to sway legislators to support their private plans and interests. By playing a central role in the creation and regulation of institutions that facilitated private commercial transactions, New York State's political officials created formal and informal precedents for the political economy throughout the northeastern United States and toward the expanding westward frontier. The political, economic, and legal consequences organizing the marketplace in this way continue to be felt in the vast influence and privileged position held by corporations in the present day.
Brian Phillips Murphy teaches history at Baruch College.
“In Building the Empire State, Brian Murphy deftly revisits the founding of New York State, in the process revising our understanding of how the political economy of the early republic operated in practice. Rather than a strict separation between the public obligations of the state and the private interests of for-profit corporations, Murphy finds a much more integrated, reciprocal relationship that organically emerged from the experiences of the late colonial and Revolutionary periods. His fresh approach and sophisticated argument make a significant contribution to several fields, including political history, business history, and the history of capitalism more broadly.”
—Sharon Murphy, Providence College
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