|Author(s):||Malone, Laurence J.|
|Reviewer(s):||Wallis, John Joseph|
Published by EH.NET (October 1998)
Laurence J. Malone, Opening the West: Federal Internal Improvements Before
1860. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998, xvi + 155 pp.
$59.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-313-30671-0.
Reviewed for EH.NET by John Wallis, Department of Economics,
University of Maryland.
In principle, I’ve got to love this book. Malone finds a little known
Congressional report that details federal expenditures on roads, canals,
rivers, harbors, aids to navigation, and federal support for state
transportation projects. The “Statement of the Appropriations and Expenditures
f or Public buildings, Rivers and Harbors, Forts, Arsenals,
Armories, and other Public Works from 1789 to 1882, Serial Set 1992,”
47th Congress, 1st Session, 1882 is a treasure trove of information.
Malone mines it to examine the patterns of federal expenditures for internal
improvements. The results are illuminating.
Malone goes after big game: Carter Goodrich. In Government Promotion of
American Canals and Railroads, Goodrich argues that state governments
dominated investment in transportation improvements in the early nineteenth
century, investing over $300 million in railroads and canals.1 On the basis of
Charles Holt’s study of nineteenth-century state governments,
Malone concludes that state governments only spent $85 million from 1820 to
Carter Goodrich is the biggest fish in the pond when it comes to early
nineteenth century transportation investment,. An error of this magnitude on
his part would raise serious questions about our understanding of early
nineteenth century development.
Malone develops his theme and evidence in a series of chapters that present and
analyze the federal data; look specifically at federal policies in Iowa,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Arkansas; and conclude with a detailed
study of three counties.
So much for principle, where does this leave us in practice? On page 42,
Malone compares federal and state expenditures in several regions of the
country. He draws his state data from Holt. The South Atlantic region, which
includes Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina in this table, has exactly
zero expenditures between 1820 and 1829, zero between 1830 and 1839, and less
than $50,000 between 1840 and 1849, and between 1850 and 1859. The state of
Maryland would be surprised to find that its investments in the Chesapeake and
Ohio canal and the Baltimore Ohio railroad, which totaled over $10 million
before 1840 did not make it into Malone’s calculations. The state of Virginia
would be surprised to learn that its very active Board of Public Works which
made substantial investments through this entire period were likewise ignored.
Malone’s hypothesis is based on the assumption that Holt’s data capture all
state government activity, when Holt doesn’t.
There is a good deal of corollary evidence to suggest that Goodrich’s
$300 million figure is in the right ballpark for state investment, with local
governments spending another $125 million. Malone shows that the federal
government spent $54 million on internal improvements, but about
$37 million of this
was for coastal and river navigation and harbors. No one has ever disputed
that the federal government played an important role in this area. In short,
the main thrust of Malone’s hypothesis is not supported by the data.
Malone does do a convincing job
of demonstrating that the federal government played an important role in
making basic road investments in the territorial period in each state. This is
an important contribution.
However, it tells us little or nothing about the relative importance of federal
and state investments, since territories are, by definition,
geographic areas without state governments under the direct administration of
the federal government. One might have found the argument more convincing if
there were some comparisons of federal road construction before statehood and
state construction after statehood.
I liked this book and will refer to it as a good source on federal internal
improvement spending. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend that we accept Malone’s
revisions of Carter Goodrich.
John Wallis Department of Economics University of Maryland
Malone is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Economics at Hartwick
Wallis is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland, who
works on state a nd local public finance in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Recent publications include “Railroads and Property Taxes,” with Jac Heckelman,
in Explorations in Economic History, Jan.
1997, and “The Political Economy of New Deal Spending Revisited, Again:
With and Without Nevada,” also in Explorations, March 1998.
1. Carter Goodrich, Government Promotion of Canals and Railroads,
1860-1890 (New York: 1960).
2. Charles Holt, The Role of State Governments in the Nineteenth Century
American Economy, 1820-
1902 (New York, 1977).
|Subject(s):||Transport and Distribution, Energy, and Other Services|
|Geographic Area(s):||North America|
|Time Period(s):||19th Century|