Financial History Issue 125 (Spring 2018) - Page 29

Map showing the religious diversity of New York City in 1729, which includes houses of worship for Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers, Presbyterians and Jews, among others. in 1837. People increasingly looked to reli- gion for relief, to restore order, to generate prosperity and to help construct stabiliz- ing visions of national identity. After the War of 1812, the pace of immi- gration from Europe accelerated dramati- cally. Individuals accustomed to homoge- neous religious and ethnic environments found themselves in a highly mobile, radi- cally heterogeneous, rapidly expanding world. Innovations in communication and transportation often threw people together without a head or a common purpose, disrupting earlier forms of social organization. The faster and farther news traveled, the more anxious people became. Religious activists worked to stretch canopies of interpersonal sympathy and belief in divine providence over the nation, as Americans embraced religion to construct regional and national identities to meet territorial expansion, population growth and new industries. In New York City, where many of the new immigrants first arrived, evangelicals built new reli- gious institutions to serve the city’s dis- located, often desperately poor residents. Newly-incorporated churches contributed as much to the island’s social organization as did factories and shipping companies, with the founding of religious organiza- tions keeping pace with population growth between 1812 and 1840, and even laying groundwork for the establishment of new neighborhoods. New York also emerged as the center of publishing, not only for evangelical churches and their mission- ary organizations, but also for the reli- giously tinged sentimental literature that flowed through the country in increasing abundance, encouraging sympathy as an expression of Christian humanism. The bonds of sympathy could gloss over hard realities. Mills and factories now produced shoes and textiles for wider dis- tribution, and industry no longer served local communities in ways it once had. People expected commerce to serve the common good, but the meaning of “com- mon good” shifted as sheer productivity became a legitimating standard in the 1810s and 1820s. Arguing that economic growth served progress and the public interest, textile mills and other industries claimed rights to water and land that disadvantaged local residents and small businesses. Backed up by belief in the nat- ural “harmony of interests” that freedom from oppressive regulation would yield, factories claimed exemptions from rules against negligence and nuisance. Most new states were too poor to fund big public works, so their legislatures char- tered corporations to build and operate roads, canals and bridges to transport produce, merchandise and people. Pent- up demand for corporate charters also contributed to commercial growth. Brit- ain had prohibited colonial governments from issuing charters, leaving American businessmen to rely on partnerships that did little to shield investors from liabil- ity, or from dissolution when one of the partners withdrew. Well aware of the legal advantages of incorporation, and also of the superior development of corporate roads, canals and bridges in England, enterprising Americans with capital to invest were eager to establish corporate entities of their own, including banks to fund new industry and infrastructure. Corporate business advanced most aggressively in Philadelphia, where finan- cial corporations became vehicles of political influence. Before the American Revolution, a network of wealthy mer- chant families supported Philadelphia’s strong civic institutions, including Penn- sylvania Hospital, the College of Philadel- phia, the American Philosophical Soci- ety and America’s first public lending library. Determined to hold on to politi- cal influence after independence, these civic leaders faced the challenge of a uni- cameral state legislature more democratic and less dependent on educated elites than any other body of lawmakers in the new republic. With their direct power over government diminished, financiers in Philadelphia joined friends in New York to support Alexander Hamilton’s national bank and to found the Bank of Pennsylvania. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, New York leapt ahead of Philadelphia to become the most powerful commercial entrepôt in the nation. Funded by New York State at the urging of New York City’s wealthy merchants and bankers, the 360- mile passageway from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes brought meat, whiskey and flour to New York City. The canal also transported the wholesale goods arriving at city docks, pouring into the city’s ware- houses and famous auctions — everything from stoneware and iron chains to window blinds and black silk handkerchiefs. With Robert Fulton’s steamboats moving goods up the Hudson to the canal at Albany, www.MoAF.org  |  Spring 2018  |  FINANCIAL HISTORY  27