Abstract: Wealth against Wealth: Responses of New York City Elites to the Commercial Reorganization of Manhattan in the Early Nineteenth Century

Clifton Hood


The population and economy of New York City expanded enormously between 1800 and 1860. By 1860, New York was the largest city in North America and the third largest in the North Atlantic urban system. This sudden transformation drastically altered the lives of New York City elites. It greatly expanded the size and increased the wealth of that elite, it provided infusions of fresh blood, and it blurred the elite's boundaries with other social groups. And, with the entry of crude outsiders like John Jacob Astor who accumulated huge fortunes, this transformation also put a new premium in elite society on materialism generally and especially on success in business enterprises. My paper explores the efforts of city elites (broadly defined) to come to terms with the impacts that these changes had on the organization of their worlds. Engaging the sociological theory of E. Digby Baltzel and others, I examine some people, like James Ferguson De Peyster, who internalized the new values; others, like Cornelius Rapelye Suydam, who tried to balance them with the old; and still others, like H.P. Scoles and William Barclay Parsons, who asserted their credentials by withdrawing from the crass world of business into polite society. This paper is part of a larger project on the cultural and social history of New York's upper class.