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The Greatest Nation of the Earth

The Greatest Nation of the Earth

Republican Economic Policies during the Civil War

Heather Cox Richardson

ISBN 9780674362130

Publication date: 06/01/1997

While fighting a war for the Union, the Republican party attempted to construct the world’s most powerful and most socially advanced nation. Rejecting the common assumption that wartime domestic legislation was a series of piecemeal reactions to wartime necessities, Heather Cox Richardson argues that party members systematically engineered pathbreaking laws to promote their distinctive theory of political economy.

Republicans were a dynamic, progressive party, the author shows, that championed a specific type of economic growth. They floated billions of dollars in bonds, developed a national currency and banking system, imposed income taxes and high tariffs, passed homestead legislation, launched the Union Pacific railroad, and eventually called for the end of slavery. Their aim was to encourage the economic success of individual Americans and to create a millennium for American farmers, laborers, and small capitalists.

However, Richardson demonstrates, while Republicans were trying to construct a nation of prosperous individuals, they were laying the foundation for rapid industrial expansion, corporate corruption, and popular protest. They created a newly active national government that they determined to use only to promote unregulated economic development. Unwittingly, they ushered in the Gilded Age.


  • This is a welcome and well-written study. It is political rather than economic history, charting the evolution of particular measures without resort to models or econometrics. The outline of the story is familiar. During the Civil War Congress launched politics of lasting importance: a government guaranteed inconvertible currency, a high tariff with protection, the National Banking, Pacific Railroad, and Homestead Acts. This book takes up each topic in turn…and analyses their often complex legislative history… The principal sources are the Congressional Globe, Executive Documents, Miscellaneous Documents, and congressional reports, but they are buttressed by wide knowledge of other contemporary printed and manuscript records. A very useful historiographical essay is included in the bibliography. In all, this is a model monograph on a significant subject.

    —William Brock, American Studies in Europe


  • Heather Cox Richardson is Associate Professor of American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Book Details

  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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