Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines Midwestern development and focuses on the early development of Marion County, Indiana, through the end of the Civil War and examines the ways that the region’s overwhelmingly rural residents adapted to the challenges and successes of the urban growth and market interconnectivity that they sought from the moment of settlement. Starting with initial meetings of the Marion County Commissioners and examining major municipal turning points including the passage of the Mammoth Internal Improvements Bill, the Panic of 1837, the arrival of the first railroad a decade later, and the onset of the Civil War, this work argues that Hoosiers, rather than trying to remain disconnected from external markets as proposed by some historians, immediately pushed for market participation but had difficulty dealing with the unforeseen consequences of their actions. It ultimately demonstrates that Americans had a powerful desire to foster market capitalism in the early republic but lacked the foresight to critically examine the potential for negative externalities.
This dissertation has two goals. First, it reorients the history of the transition to capitalism toward the Old Northwest, a region relatively ignored by historians interested in the onset of the so-called “market revolution” along the eastern seaboard. This timely re-examination of Midwestern economic and social change allies itself with the “New History of Capitalism” and challenges historians to expand their focus beyond the Northeast to engage with the rest of the American experience during the long nineteenth century. Second, it engages a small but growing movement to reorient the history of American Western development east of the Mississippi River. Indianapolis presents historians with a unique opportunity to examine the process of the transition to capitalism in an area that is firmly on the border of East and West during the early nineteenth century. Bridging a gap between these two burgeoning historiographies, this work contributes to studies of American social and economic history, borderlands, regional identity and the environment.
Kelly Stephen Wenig
Wenig, Kelly Stephen, "“Where the west began: Environment, transportation, and capitalism in Marion County, Indiana, 1820-1860”" (2017). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 15641.