Browsing Theses and Dissertations by Subject "Early American Republic"
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Free Market Family: Gender, Capitalism, & the Life of Stephen GirardThis dissertation is a cultural biography of merchant banker Stephen Girard that explores the origins of the mythology as well as the mechanics of capitalism as it functioned on the streets and in the homes of early national Philadelphia. By tracing changes in Stephen Girard's family, both traditional and improvisational, from the 1770s to his death in 1831 and beyond, this project examines how Girard repeatedly capitalized on his family to take commercial risks, reinventing what family meant in a transforming economy. Telling overlapping stories of Girard's family and businesses, including trade networks reaching from Europe, the Caribbean, and China to the United States, I argue that an Atlantic-American culture of capitalism developed at the intersection of the family and the market. Episodes that show the salience and limits of familial bonds in a turbulent economy include Girard's risky commercial strategies during the American Revolution that relied on his brother in Saint-Domingue, and tenuous rationalities of the market and marriage that collided when his wife supposedly went insane. After his public involvement in Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s, Girard learned that institutions could do the work of families. Applying this lesson to the national political economy, Girard refashioned the Bank of the United States into the Bank of Stephen Girard and lent the U.S. Treasury over one million dollars to help fund the War of 1812. Well before his death in 1831, Girard was one of the wealthiest men in the nation. His will altered the shape and flow of Philadelphia, with repercussions for inheritance and corporate law through the twentieth century. By juxtaposing Girard's personal and public lives, this dissertation integrates scholarship on the market economy with that on gender and the family to better understand the expansion of a culture of capitalism in the early American Republic. Under capitalism, people and relationships were fungible in new and important ways. In telling the story of Stephen Girard, this dissertation follows a central, but overlooked, player in the early American and Atlantic economy in order to explain the paradoxical relationship between capitalism and liberty.