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Securing the Commonwealth Debt, Speculation, and Writing in the Making of Early America by Jennifer J. Baker

Securing the Commonwealth Debt, Speculation, and Writing in the Making of Early America


Securing the Commonwealth Debt, Speculation, and Writing in the Making of Early America by Jennifer J. Baker

Securing the Commonwealth examines how eighteenth-century American writers understood the highly speculative financial times in which they lived. Spanning a century of cultural and literary life, this study shows how the era's literature commonly depicted an American ethos of risk taking and borrowing as the peculiar product of New World daring and the exigencies of revolution and nation building. Some of the century's most important writers, including Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown, and Judith Sargent Murray, believed that economic and social commonwealth-and one's commitment to that commonwealth-might be grounded in indebtedness and financial insecurity. These writers believed a cash-poor colony or nation could not only advance itself through borrowing but also gain reputability each time it successfully paid off a loan. Equally important, they believed that debt could promote communality: precarious public credit structures could exact popular commitment; intricate financial networks could bind individuals to others and to their government; and indebtedness itself could evoke sympathy for the suffering of others. Close readings of their literary works reveal how these writers imagined that public life might be shaped by economic experience, and how they understood the public life of literature itself. Insecure times strengthened their conviction that writing could be publicly serviceable, persuading readers to invest in their government, in their fellow Americans, and in the idea of America itself.


A thought-provoking gem of a book... All historians and literary critics with an interest in eighteenth-century economic culture will want to read it. -- Toby L. Ditz * William and Mary Quarterly * Baker's argument is instructive and well founded. -- Jonathan M. Chu * Journal of American History * Baker has written an incisive, provocative, sparkling book. * American Antiquarian Society * Baker brings a fresh and critical eye to works already well-known to specialists but probably unfamiliar to historians in general. * Journal of Interdisciplinary History * Astute and surprisingly lively volume... Highly recommended. * Choice * A historically astute study of the complex relations between economic culture and literary history in early America. -- Philip Gould * Journal of the Early Republic * This is a work that attempts to break new ground. The topic is important but difficult and should be of great interest to historians, economists, and literary critics. -- Max M. Edling * New England Quarterly * An incisive new study... Baker conceptualizes her readings in pathbreaking ways. * American Literature * Both a primer educating one into the financial thinking of early Anglo-America and a testament to the energy and creativity with which successive generations of provincials imagined commerce as a process of mediation. * Early American Literature * Securing the Commonwealth, with its insightful account... offers a cogent and eye-opening narrative of a long-overlooked dimension. -- Edward Larkin * Modern Intellectual History * This book's virtue lies in its willingness not to belabor a point, as well as its extremely graceful way of offering correctives to existing readings... To finish an academic monograph wanting to read more is surely a good-and rare-thing. -- Jody Greene * American Historical Review * In her elegant analysis of writings by Cotton Mather, Benjamin Franklin, Royall Tyler, Charles Brockden Brown and Judith Sargent Murray, Jennifer Baker homes in on a mode of thinking in eighteenth-century America about debt, credit, speculation and paper money that is quite surprising. -- Peter Knight * Journal of American Studies *

About the Author

Jennifer J. Baker is an assistant professor of English at New York University.

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Book Info

Publication date

19th December 2007


Jennifer J. Baker

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Johns Hopkins University Press


232 pages


Literary studies: general



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