Final Public Oral Exam: Andrew David Edwards

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
January 18, 2018 - 1:00pm

Money and the American Revolution: Changing Concepts of Money and Wealth, 1765-1786


Sean Wilentz, adviser
Jeremy Adelman
Hendrik Hartog
Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago
Christine Desan, Harvard School of Law


This dissertation explores the transformation of American money in British North America from 1765 to 1786. It demonstrates how war, revolution, and empire altered basic economic institutions in British North America, and reordered American life. In doing so, it makes contributions to the history of the American Revolution, the history of money, and the history of capitalism. First, it shows that the American Revolution was a response to perceived threats to an American political economy based on what contemporaries described as money as a measure, rather than as a measure and an equivalent. It argues that British taxes and administrative imperial measures threatened the institutions that had allowed American colonists to build propertied rather than pecuniary wealth, and the war was a direct result of these threats. Second, it contends that in neglecting the conceptual history of money, historians have missed a pivotal moment in the development of the core institution of western capitalism—the decisive shift toward money as an equivalent. Finally, it suggests that the transformation in elite American concepts of money during the American Revolution and their embrace of money as an equivalent—defined as gold and silver—was largely responsible for the institutions and attitudes that historians have identified with the American transition to capitalism. In terms of money and finance, Great Britain won the American Revolution. In the Early National period, American elites attempted to graft a British system of money and finance they had rejected as colonists onto their system based on money as a measure and transformed the institutional basis of American money and wealth.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.