The market's virtue: Law and political economy in Jeffersonian Virginia: Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties, 1740–1830
The Market's Virtue presents a micro-social history of a small but diverse region of the tobacco coast from English settlement to the cusp of Jacksonian democracy. The study reconstructs the material sources of social authority in the Potomac piedmont through scores of quantitative samples drawn from county records. From these samples the study discerns the institutional dynamics of state power within particular communities, their relationships to systems of production, exchange, and capitalization, and their adaptive capacities in responding to changes in those systems. The narrative sorts these samples into three chronological periods: settlement to the imperial crisis, Revolution to Jeffersonian ascendancy, and embargo to Virginia's 1829 constitutional convention. The study uses this materialist foundation and chronological frame to shape a series of companion chapters which draw primarily from discursive sources to portray the iconography of the market and labor, the culture of debt, the demarcation of the polity by land ownership, election culture and party formation, and religious practices. From will-writers' bequest practices to baptismal revivals in country churches to corporate-capitalization schemes to partisan newspaper wars: The Market's Virtue aims for a complete history of a small geographic region's development from tobacco squirearchy to the epicenter of American grain production and archetype of the Jeffersonian yeoman arcadia to the dilapidated backwater of an emerging western, cotton economy.
This study's methodological integration of material and textual sources develops a revisionist project with that historiographical artifice William Novak has called "the myth of the great transformation": the intrinsic affinity between liberal market values and individualistic social models, the tension between natural-rights ideologies of property and the egalitarian commitments of consensual polities, and the inexorable process by which capitalist systems of production create class identities. This project presents the rise of democratic liberalism not as the triumph of an ideological tradition, nor as the battlefield for an epic confrontation between capital and labor or manufacturers and agrarians, but rather as the product of organic social processes: as a stage in particular communities' efforts to define and enforce their members' relative obligations and privileges in a way that rendered coherent the perpetual dialectic between social structures and values.
0509: Economic history