Faith in Markets: Christian Business Enterprise in America, 1800-1850
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Faith in Markets: Christian Business Enterprise in America, 1800-1850, answers the question of how theologically conservative Protestants approached business in the expanding market economy of the early national period. Recent Supreme Court cases (such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) have cast light on an important and controversial intersection of capitalism and religion in the United States: the Christian Business Enterprise (CBE). Three CBEs of the early nineteenth century form the core of my study: George Rapp & Associates (the Harmony Society of Western Pennsylvania/Southern Indiana), the Pioneer Stage Coach Line (upstate New York), and Harper & Brothers (New York City). These proprietors embraced the most influential strains of Christianity in early America: Pietism, Calvinism, and Arminianism while attempting to create an ethical marketplace. Their efforts produced three distinct visions of a moral economy in the early national period: Christian communal capitalism, Christian reform capitalism, and Christian virtue capitalism. Faith in Markets challenges the prevailing notion in the historiography that concludes CBEs were the product of twentieth century Bible Belt Protestants reacting to the New Deal, World War II, or the Cold War. Instead, Christian Business Enterprise has a deeper history, that dates back to the earliest decades of the American republic. Melding the new history of capitalism with the revived field of American religious history, Faith in Markets demonstrates how individuals’ religiously motivated choices shaped market activity, as well as the market itself. The Methodist Harper brothers, for instance, rose to prominence as the most powerful publishers of the nineteenth century, dramatically shaping American culture with their middle class Victorian literary products, all while serving as a model of trustworthy business in an age of anonymous market exchange. Ultimately, whether reforming the market by successfully limiting the workweek to six days, presenting an alternate vision for republican industry and community, or fostering middle class Victorian values, the key figures in Faith in Markets illustrates how Christian Business Enterprises indelibly shaped antebellum American culture.