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The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American… (2001)

by Sven Beckert

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1031219,932 (3.67)2
This book, first published in 2001, is a comprehensive history of the most powerful group in the nineteenth-century United States: New York City's economic elite. This small and diverse group of Americans accumulated unprecedented economic, social, and political power, and decisively put their mark on the age. Professor Beckert explores how capital-owning New Yorkers overcame their distinct antebellum identities to forge dense social networks, create powerful social institutions, and articulate an increasingly coherent view of the world and their place within it. Actively engaging in a rapidly changing economic, social, and political environment, these merchants, industrialists, bankers, and professionals metamorphosed into a social class. In the process, these upper-class New Yorkers put their stamp on the major political conflicts of the day - ranging from the Civil War to municipal elections. Employing the methods of social history, The Monied Metropolis explores the big issues of nineteenth-century social change.… (more)
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I read this book as a group project at my job since the people covered in this book are the types who are represented in many of our archive's older manuscript collections. The author uses the word "bourgeoisie" and is very repetitive in general. I also think Beckert could've been better at showing rather than telling about the social changes in 19th century New York City. Nevertheless, it does offer some interesting insight into "the story of the consolidation of a self-concision upper class in New York City in the second half of the nineteenth century." (Beckert, 2).

The main theme of the book is the conflict between the established merchant class and the nouveau-riche industrialists. The conflict also manifests itself in those who are sympathetic to slaveholders in the South because it provides them financial gain (generally the merchants) and those who are anti-slavery, mainly because it threatens to compete with their own sources of labor, but also for moral and religious reasons (typically the industrialists). Even during the Civil War there were elites who favored ending the war swiftly and going easy on the slaveowners.

New York City grows massively in population during this time as well as in wealth. And the new bourgeoisie find ways to consolidate that wealth into a handful of families that intermarry akin to medieval aristocrats. The elite unite to quash labor movements and increasingly use their strength to squash political organizing of the poor out of fear that the working class will be radicalized. The elite even take on the roles of government, such as building castle-like armories and training as National Guard units to prevent proletarian uprising.

It's hard not to read this book and not come away with the impression that the 19th-century New York City elite were pretty awful people. Even in a charitable act such the Christmas Feeding at Madison Square Garden, the rich would gather in the stands to watch as lines of poor people processed through to receive gifts of food, adding an extra layer of humiliation to their plight. In addition to acting against labor, the NYC elite also consolidated around antisemitism, anti-Black prejudice, and anti-immigrant sentiment. By the end of the century they were using terms such as "businessman," "capitalist," and "taxpayer." Their legacy has many echoes in the present day.

Favorite Passages:
"Mystifying the laws of the market into laws of nature allowed upper class New Yorkers to account for their own exalted position." - 281 ( )
  Othemts | Jun 19, 2020 |
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This book, first published in 2001, is a comprehensive history of the most powerful group in the nineteenth-century United States: New York City's economic elite. This small and diverse group of Americans accumulated unprecedented economic, social, and political power, and decisively put their mark on the age. Professor Beckert explores how capital-owning New Yorkers overcame their distinct antebellum identities to forge dense social networks, create powerful social institutions, and articulate an increasingly coherent view of the world and their place within it. Actively engaging in a rapidly changing economic, social, and political environment, these merchants, industrialists, bankers, and professionals metamorphosed into a social class. In the process, these upper-class New Yorkers put their stamp on the major political conflicts of the day - ranging from the Civil War to municipal elections. Employing the methods of social history, The Monied Metropolis explores the big issues of nineteenth-century social change.

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