Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Was the Hand of Management Visible in Ante-Bellum Plantations? an Examination of Chandler's Hypothesis

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Was the Hand of Management Visible in Ante-Bellum Plantations? an Examination of Chandler's Hypothesis

Article excerpt

"...the southern plantation, although it required some subdivision of labor and some coordination of the activities of the workforce, had little impact on the evolution of management of modern business enterprise" (Chandler, 1977, p. 66).

"...the antebellum plantation.. .was a site of early development of industrial discipline... plantation management has passed the other two tests for inclusion in the history of management - the existence of a sophisticated set of managerial practices and a significant group of managers described as such at the time" (Cooke, 2003, p. 1913).


These two introductory quotes illustrate the two competing hypotheses about the relevance of plantation management for the history of management practice. On the one hand, in his exemplary work, The Visible Hand, Chandler (1977) narrated the evolution of American business management hypothesizing that managerial complexity began with the growing industrial use of the steam engine, which increased productivity in the American post-Civil War economy. Following the claims in the works of Marxist historians James Burnham (1942) and Harry Braverman (1974), but clearly on different ideological grounds, Alfred Chandler (1977) negated the managerial complexity of plantation management.

Cooke (2003), on the other hand, took issue with Chandler's view hypothesizing that plantation work in the ante-bellum South did involve management principles that could be likened to those of classical and scientific management. Specifically, Cook (2003, p. 1895) criticized the fact that "... a review of histories of management shows ante-bellum slavery excluded from managerial modernity as pre-capitalist, unsophisticated in practice, and without non-owner managers identified as such." Moreover, we find Cooke's (2003) arguments compelling, although more historical data and investigation are certainly warranted to adequately address and further contribute to this important debate (Hayek, Novicevic, Humphreys, & Jones, 2009).

In this article we assess Chandler's (1977) hypothesis positing the lack of sophistication in management of plantation work against Cooke's (2003) alternative proposition conceiving considerable sophistication within plantation management. In our test of these two competing hypotheses, we use archival data collected from ante-bellum planters; letters published by Ulrich B. Phillips (1918), one of the most influential economic historians of his time according to Chandler (1984).

First, we describe Chandler's (1977) premise of the lack of managerial complexity in plantation management, as outlined in his book 77ze Visible Hand. Next, we test this supposition alongside Cooke's (2003) more unconventional hypothesis using a framework that combines Fayol's principles of classical management and Taylor's principles of scientific management. In conclusion, we discuss implications for the study of management history.

Chandler's Hypothesis about Plantation Management

The Visible Hand is clearly a seminal work of management history (McGraw, 2008). Specifically, John (1997) stated, "Few areas of historical inquiry have been so decisively shaped by the work of a single scholar." The Visible Hand provided a historiographical analysis of the "changing processes of production and distribution in the United States and the ways in which they have been managed" (Chandler, 1977, p. 1). A major finding of this analysis was that with the establishment/creation of large scale businesses, the invisible hand of market coordination was substituted for the visible hand of administrative coordination during late 19th and early 20th centuries. "As modern business enterprise acquired functions hitherto carried out by the market, it became the most powerful institution in the American economy and its managers the most influential group of economic decision makers" (Chandler, 1977, p. 1). A hierarchy of middle and top managers managed individual units of multi-divisional modern enterprises by monitoring and coordinating their activities and resource allocation. …

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