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Over the River and Through the Woods. John L. Larson, History. Frontier Economy , Transportation , and the Prospects of Madison, Indiana. I. What Came Naturally II. The Urge to Improve III. The Market Revolution. I. What Came Naturally. A. Original landscapes

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John L. Larson, History




and the

Prospects of Madison, Indiana

i what came naturally
I. What Came Naturally

A. Original landscapes

B. Primitive export and import

a original landscapes
A. Original landscapes

By all accounts, a dense forest

  • Ancient beech-maple forests
  • Less underbrush than now
  • Much of it wet
impediments to travel
Impediments to travel =
  • Poor visibility
  • Mud
  • Fallen timber
  • Creeks/gullies
b primitive export and import
B. Primitive export and import
  • Rafting downstream = primary way out . . .

. . .often all the way to

New Orleans

followed by arduous return
followed by arduous return
  • About 1000 miles on foot . . .
  • . . . twice that by keel boat
  • Natchez “down under”

Weeks on the road—little gain to show

natural waterways dictate terms
Natural waterways dictate terms
  • Settlers clung to

navigable streams

  • Commerce centered

on water

  • Poorly drained interior

less desirable

ii urge to improve
II. Urge to Improve

A. In whose interest?

B. Available technology

C. Links with statecraft

a in whose interest
A. In whose interest?
  • Country merchants
  • Land speculators
  • Boosters, hucksters, persons of ambition
  • NOT subsistence farmers
b available technologies
B. Available technologies

Madison waterfront in 1846

Steamboats: cheap, private, flexible, effective








-Erie 1825

-Ohio >1827

-Indiana >1836

Still 3 miles per hour


Railroads: experimental until 1850

Mohawk & Hudson

M&I’s #1 

B&O Lafayette 1837

M&I’s Reuben Wells 1868 

Look out! 23 mph and gaining


Special Madison feature:

the 400 foot Inclined Plane


c links with statecraft
C. Links with statecraft
  • Politicians offer developmental vision
    • Jennings, Ray, Noble = “state makers”
    • Pin private fortunes to public policy
  • Values of land and produce at stake
    • Production alone make land profitable
    • Markets alone make produce profitable
    • Land values raise tax revenue, not rate
  • Mammoth internal improvement

program 1836

iii market revolution
III. Market Revolution

A. Specialization and diversification

B. Cash overcomes barter/exchange

C. Rise and fall of local advantages

D. Market forces take command

E. Who runs this “free” country?

a specialization diversification
A. Specialization & diversification
  • Market outlets  cash crops  cash purchases
  • Mills and processors spring up
  • Merchants carry better range of goods
    • store credit = local money
  • Local manufacturers thrive
b cash overcomes barter
B. Cash overcomes barter
  • Money (or credit) circulates more freely
    • inherently fungible
    • converts distance into price
  • Cash price subverts

face-to-face exchange

    • impersonal
    • transactions stripped of relationship
  • Material life improves
    • lots of stuff
    • cheaper stuff
    • happy consumers
c rise and fall of local advantages
C. Rise and fall of local advantages

Madison’s advantage: Ohio River steamboats

-disadvantage? 400’ bluff

-overcome with deep cut

-open up Indianapolis?

Over time, Indianapolis grew self-sustaining

-Cincinnati, Wabash R. proved better outlets

-Madison scrambles to stay in the game

individual merchants manufacturers
Individual merchants & manufacturers:
  • enjoy early advantages of cheap transport

(exact timing is local and varies greatly)

  • they expand scale and scope of operations
  • often invest in internal improvements . . .
  • removing barriers to distant competitors . . .
  • who swoop in to kill local vendors! (Oops)
d market forces take control
D. Market forces take control
  • Maturing markets yield price stabilization
    • New York price of corn is what matters
    • Farmers become price takers
    • Rural merchants enmeshed in credits
  • Externalities invade local economies
    • Foreign wars, famines, disasters
    • Commercial panics, bank failures
  • Handlers get control of the float
e who runs this free country
E. Who runs this “free” country?

Bryan campaign 1896 

Granger print 1870s 