Abstract: Commercial Republicanism: Merchant Thought on the Relationship between Business and Government in the Late Nineteenth-Century United States

Cory Davis


In this paper I analyze the outlines of a particular vision of the relationship of business and government developed by the nineteenth-century merchants who created the National Board of Trade (NBOT), the first major national association of organized businessmen in the United States. This vision, what I refer to as commercial republicanism, sought to create a clearly defined responsibility for merchants in guiding the economic policies at all levels of government in pursuit of an idealized unity of interests following the Civil War. In doing so, merchants argued for a contrast between "responsible capital" and the rapaciousness of monopolistic businessmen and offered the NBOT as a representative body well-designed to work responsibly with government in developing commercial legislation that would combat sectional and economic factionalism and lead the country to prosperity.