Michael Caires

  • Fellowship year:2013-2014
  • University: University of Virginia
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: United States
  • Dissertation Title: The Greenback Union: Creating the American Monetary Union in the Civil War and Reconstruction.
  • My dissertation explores the history of the U.S. government's power over money and banking during the American Civil War, and how that power reshaped the political economy of nineteenth century America. The rapid spread of greenbacks and nationally chartered banks during the war displaced the heterogeneous and confusing morass of local currencies of the Antebellum era. The rise of this new regime of government currency, I argue, represented an important shift in the history of the American state, as Americans from all walks of life increasingly looked to the federal government to bring order into their lives and communities.

    In this project, I explore both the origins and consequences of this shift. I argue that the financial challenges of the war years exposed the limitations of the existing de-centralized system of state banks and created a political consensus to unify the nation's currency through a combination of greenbacks and national banks. Once created, I detail how this new role for the government created a host of unintended consequences for the postwar period, enlarging the federal state, realigning national politics, and pointing the country toward the tensions of the Gilded Age.