Title Reviewed:
A Fragile Capital: Identity and the Early Years of Columbus, Ohio

Author Reviewed:
Charles C. Cole, Jr.

Robert W. McCormick


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 243-244

Article Type:
Book Review

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A Fragile Capital: Identity and the Early Years of Columbus, Ohio. By Charles C. Cole, Jr. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2001. Pp. xi, 292. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00.)

A Fragile Capital offers a broad description of the origins and forty years of development of the capital city of Ohio. In addition, it describes the process of creating a new city to serve as the capital of the state. Unlike most local historians, Charles C. Cole, Jr., does not just follow a chronological description of the happenings in Columbus from 1812 until 1850. Rather, the book is organized by topic, including business, politics, education, religion, the arts, transportation, and the press. This arrangement opens the possibility of penetrating the background in depth, which the author accomplishes.

Cole relies on primary sources such as letters, diaries, legal documents, and newspapers, rather than depending, as so many local historians do, on folklore and other informal sources. While the use of primary sources tends to emphasize white male leaders, the author has also worked to uncover evidence about the role of women and the antislavery efforts in political activity.

Change is the theme of the capital city's first four decades. The impact of the improvement in highways and railroad building and their effect upon the mobility of the people of central Ohio is explored. Cole analyzes the increase in writing and publishing and illustrates that cultural opportunities in Columbus expanded during this period, by mid-century attracting internationally known performers such as Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

The number of Columbus residents who were abolitionists was very small, but Cole conducts distinctive research in this area, offering a detailed analysis of the antislavery issue's influence on politics in Columbus and the state of Ohio.

Indiana readers will note many similarities between the pioneer period in their own state and that of their Ohio neighbor: both were settled by westward migration on the Ohio River; both established early capitals in the southern part of their territory; and later both chose a more central location for their state's capital city. Cole's use of the term "fragile capital" reflects the political compromises required to create a new city for the state capital and the turbulent changes in the pioneer period that threatened its permanence.

This book should be attractive to the general public as well as professional historians. Teachers and librarians seeking a reference on early nineteenth-century life in what was then considered "the west" will appreciate Cole's in-depth descriptions of specific areas as well as his more general discussions. Cole's work reflects an extended period of research and will be appreciated by lay readers as much as by professional historians.

ROBERT W. McCORMICK, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, pursues research in agricultural, military, Ohio, and local history. With his wife, Virginia E. McCormick, he coauthored New Englanders on the Ohio Frontier: The Migration and Settlement of Worthington, Ohio (1998).

Published by theĀ Indiana University Department of History.