A House Dividing...
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-SHEAR@h-net.msu.edu (December, 2001)
John Majewski. _A House Dividing: Economic Development in
Pennsylvania and Virginia before the Civil War_. Studies in
Economic History and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2000. xx + 214 pp. Tables, maps, notes, bibliography and index.
$49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-521-59023-X.
Reviewed for H-SHEAR by Donna J. Rilling ,
Department of History, State University of New York, Stony Brook
In this concisely and well written work, Majewski compares
Pennsylvania and Virginia to elucidate the "roots of regional
divergence" that divided the United States economically and thence
politically by the mid-nineteenth century (p. 2). The author
focuses principally on internal improvements--e.g., turnpikes, toll
bridges, canals, railroads--to test how each state approached the
problem of building links to markets and facilitating transportation
across each region. On the state level, Majewski offers a close
read of the political exigencies behind legislative funding (or
denial of funding) for internal improvement corporations and banks.
Coming down to the local level for Cumberland County, Pennsylvania
and Albemarle County, Virginia, Majewski connects transportation and
banking projects with the investors who funded them. He justifies
the choice of these particular counties by noting their similar
geography and distance from market. At the start of the 1800s,
Cumberland supported grain farms that "vaguely resembled"
Albemarle's tobacco, wheat and livestock mix (p. 4).
Mountains proved obstacles for both areas in attempts to link
western producers with eastern markets, and manufacturers with farm
and plantation households. Majewski maintains that the similarities
of these counties places slavery--the critical difference between
the two areas--and its impact on economic development in sharp
The author focuses on economic issues between 1800 and 1850. He
offers greater chronological scope, however, to demonstrate that
paths charted early on in Pennsylvania's and Virginia's past
affected the success of nineteenth-century internal improvement
strategies. Hence the title, he explains, which acknowledges the
long and dynamic process of economic change.