Title Reviewed:
An Economic History of the United States; American Economic History

Author Reviewed:
Gilbert C. Fite; Jim E. Reese; Donald L. Kemmerer; C. Clyde Jones

Donald F. Carmony


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 413-414

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

An Economic History of the United States. By Gilbert C. Fite and Jim E. Reese. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1959. Pp. ix, 714. Illustrations, maps, charts, tables, bibliography, index. $6.75.)

American Economic History. By Donald L. Kemmerer and C. Clyde Jones. (New York: McGraw-Hill Co., Inc., 1959. Pp. xvi, 680. Illustrations, maps, charts, tables, bibliography, index. $7.75.)

The two books listed above merit careful consideration by teachers and students of general American history and especially by individuals interested in American economic history. Although written for use as textbooks in economic history, these volumes view American history in a broad perspective. Professors Fite and Reese even bury one of the "sacred cows" of many economists—that self-seeking "economic man" often found in Chapter I of textbooks in economics—when in their Preface they say: "Economic factors, however, are not the only important or motivating forces in human life. Economic wants are strong, but men are also moved by religion, politics, morals, ethics, and other influences." Professors Kemmerer and Jones are not so explicit as their colleagues, Fite and Reese, have been on this point, but the approach and content of their book suggest substantial agreement.

Both volumes place emphasis on how and why American economic life has developed as it has. Their authors wisely proceed upon the thesis that such knowledge is a necessary prerequisite to any significant and meaningful understanding of present-day economic life and institutions. Unfortunately this thesis has been largely ignored, or even rejected, by many economists, but this fact does not alter its validity or essential wisdom. The overall chronological organization of these books is similar. In each instance, the colonial era, the period from the American Revolution to the Civil War, the years from the Civil War to World War I, and the years since 1914 are appropriately treated as basic units. Within these four periods somewhat traditional emphasis is given agriculture, manufacturing, labor, and transportation. In addition, considerable emphasis is also given domestic and foreign trade, capital formation and expansion, banking, public finance, and governmental regulation of the economy. These volumes stress mercantilism as a basic economic and political philosophy of the eighteenth century, and the comments about the difficulties and limitations arising from regulatory efforts of governments in pursuance thereof seem to have more than accidental overtones regarding the governmental regulation of economic life which has developed since the late nineteenth century. The productivity of the American economy and the steady rise in personal income and wealth are stressed in these histories as remarkable achievements. Perhaps, however, both accounts inadequately indicate that many Americans still live at a low economic level for one reason or another. Another item which also seems to be underemphasized is the increasing complexity of American economic life and the growing interdependence of its segments. The authors have perhaps also given inadequate attention to the impact of this complexity and interdependence upon the relation between government and business as well as upon the questions of the proper nature, role, and end of government itself.

Each volume has numerous useful maps, charts, tables, and graphs, as well as a selected bibliography. On the whole, both books are interestingly and well written. Historians and economists will disagree with estimates and "facts" at certain points, with occasional conclusions, and sometimes with the emphasis or approach. But even so, these volumes nonetheless are significant achievements within the limitations of existing information and scholarship.

Indiana University Donald F. Carmony

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.