Friday, April 1, 2022

Booknotes: Bonds of War

New Arrival:
Bonds of War: How Civil War Financial Agents Sold the World on the Union by David K. Thomson (UNC Press, 2022).

While the Confederate experiment clearly failed primarily due to the destruction of its armies on the battlefield, there were numerous contributing factors, a significant one of which was sustained blundering and miscalculation in the area of war finance. On the other side of the equation, the US government handled its own challenging financial strategies with considerable success. I might direct you to Eric Johnson's chapter in Southern Strategies: Why the Confederacy Failed (2021) for a succinct yet highly insightful comparison between Union and Confederate financial policies, one element of which was the US's superior funding instrument balance among paper money issuance, bonds, and taxes.

Going into great detail regarding domestic and foreign bond sales during the Civil War is David Thomson's newly released book Bonds of War: How Civil War Financial Agents Sold the World on the Union. From the description: "How does one package and sell confidence in the stability of a nation riven by civil strife? This was the question that loomed before the Philadelphia financial house of Jay Cooke & Company, entrusted by the US government with an unprecedented sale of bonds to finance the Union war effort in the early days of the American Civil War."

Of course, implicit in successful bond sales is the ability to convince buyers of the long-term financial strength (and hopefully economic growth) of the issuer. As the Civil War dragged on, it clearly became the case that Confederate bond sales would be deemed a poor risk by potential buyers while US bonds would be far more secure investments. More from the description: "How the government and its agents marketed these bonds revealed a version of the war the public was willing to buy and buy into, based not just in the full faith and credit of the United States but also in the success of its armies and its long-term vision for open markets. From Maine to California, and in foreign halls of power and economic influence, thousands of agents were deployed to sell a clear message: Union victory was unleashing the American economy itself."

In showing "how the marketing and sale of bonds crossed the Atlantic to Europe and beyond, helping ensure foreign countries' vested interest in the Union's success," the double meaning of the book's title becomes clear. Bonds of War "demonstrates how Europe, and ultimately all corners of the globe, grew deeply interdependent on American finance during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the American Civil War." Financial aspects of the war have gotten some renewed interest of late (just last month a new Chase bio and a study of Union war financing were released), and this volume looks to be an important contribution to that part of American Civil War (and even world finance) history.

No comments:

Post a Comment

***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.