From the beginning, the nation’s commander-in-chief and its capitalists have been uneasy partners in the American enterprise. But for a few decades, it was nothing short of love.
Andrew Jackson earned popular acclaim and enraged business magnates by crushing the Bank of the United States and quashing federal spending on roads and canals. But Brands argues that the Civil War radically changed the relationship between government and business. When J.P. Morgan received a draft notice, he hired a substitute to serve in his place, and spent the war doing a swift trade in commodities like rifles; nearly all of the fortunes that dominated the next four decades, from Carnegie to Vanderbilt, would either begin or soar during the Civil War.
In American Colossus, Brands chronicles an age when the railroads led the nation west and began the Indian Wars; meanwhile, even further west, capitalists would save the military the trouble of toppling the native government of an obscure set of islands called Hawaii. By the Spanish-American War in 1898, business and military interests were so inextricably entwined that ambassador and merchant alike could agree: it had, indeed, been a “splendid little war”.
H.W. Brands is a professor of history and government at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of twenty-two books, including Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, T.R.: The Last Romantic, and The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for biography for The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.
DVD 2010-11-04: H.W. Brands
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