Capital and Culture: William Wilson Corcoran and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America
Goldstein, Mark Laurence
Sicilia, David A.
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Capital and Culture: William Wilson Corcoran and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America explores the fascinating life of one of the nation's earliest and most successful political insiders, financiers, philanthropists, and shapers of the emerging cultural elite. Corcoran helped establish and normalize many important components of modern American culture. He played a key role in stabilizing and merchandizing U.S. financial securities at home and abroad and was responsible for significant developments in public debt war finance. He was also successful as one of the first professional lobbyists in the capital city. Corcoran encouraged and legitimated American landscape painting and probably established the country's first true art gallery. Corcoran's tireless efforts to improve the nation's capital were a remarkable early model of urban development. His dedication to landscaping the emerging National Mall predates such plans for New York's Central Park, which scholars often characterize as the oldest urban park in a major American city. A generation before Carnegie and Rockefeller spent vast sums of money on large donations, Corcoran helped shape American philanthropy. He gave away the majority of his fortune in major gifts to institutions and to needy individuals. Corcoran was among the first philanthropists to expand charity's reach beyond one's immediate community and he established a pattern of national giving across specific areas of interest or need. Corcoran championed a view of national reconciliation and southern repair simultaneously born out of the Civil War. He formulated a patriotic and nationalist view of a united America, but nonetheless developed and supported efforts to rebuild southern institutions destroyed by the conflict. Corcoran's adroit utilization of networks combined the personal and professional in ways that were both a key to his success and ahead of his time. At the seat of American politics and power for more than half a century, Corcoran effectively transcended region and faction. His connections to money and power on the one hand, and to art and cultural leadership on the other, created sophisticated and long-standing networks distinct from traditional kinship groups that Corcoran used to his advantage years before such actions became commonplace.