Synopses & Reviews
In 1776 the United States government started out on a shoestring and quickly went bankrupt fighting its War of Independence against Britain. At the war's end, the national government owed tremendous sums to foreign creditors and its own citizens. But lacking the power to tax, it had no means to repay them. The Founders and Finance
is the first book to tell the story of how foreign-born financial specialists--immigrants--solved the fiscal crisis and set the United States on a path to long-term economic success.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas K. McCraw analyzes the skills and worldliness of Alexander Hamilton (from the Danish Virgin Islands), Albert Gallatin (from the Republic of Geneva), and other immigrant founders who guided the nation to prosperity. Their expertise with liquid capital far exceeded that of native-born plantation owners Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, who well understood the management of land and slaves but had only a vague knowledge of financial instruments--currencies, stocks, and bonds. The very rootlessness of America's immigrant leaders gave them a better understanding of money, credit, and banks, and the way each could be made to serve the public good.
The remarkable financial innovations designed by Hamilton, Gallatin, and other immigrants enabled the United States to control its debts, to pay for the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and--barely--to fight the War of 1812, which preserved the nation's hard-won independence from Britain.
"A Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard Business School emeritus professor, McCraw sheds light on personalities and policies in this overview of the development of early American finance. The newly independent United States 'had long been bankrupt'; both the fledgling national government and the states were in hock for the War of Independence. According to McCraw (Prophets of Regulation), brilliant immigrants, such as Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, lacked the parochial vision common to their peers, who saw the basis of wealth mostly in land. With at least 50 'coinages and currencies... in circulation' in 1789, banking was in turmoil. The main economic resource for the federal government was tariffs on imports, mostly from Britain. Hamilton's decisive advocacy of a national bank and assumption of state war debts laid the basis for economic expansion and cemented the dominance of federal power. McCraw then turns to Gallatin's ascendency in Congress, where in 1796 he denounced the growth in the national debt and decried high military spending. Starting with the still-resonant contrast between the 'big government' Hamilton and 'small government' Gallatin, McCraw's wealth of historical data should interest any lay historian, particularly when he presents the many 'what if's.' (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In 1776 the U.S. owed huge sums to foreign creditors and its own citizens but, lacking the power to tax, had no means to repay them. This is the first book to tell the story of how foreign-born financial specialists--the immigrant founders Hamilton and Gallatin--solved the fiscal crisis and set the nation on a path to long-term economic prosperity.
A Financial Advisor Best Book of 2013
A Bloomberg News Favorite Book of 2013
About the Author
Thomas K. McCraw was Straus Professor of Business History Emeritus at Harvard Business School and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History.
Harvard Business School