From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia

By Peter Wallenstein | Go to book overview

3
THE ACCOMMODATION OF THE PUBLIC

LUTHER ROLL, prosperous owner of a carriage shop in Augusta, suffered considerable damage to his property and his business in the 1850s when a railroad and two roads were constructed adjacent to his shop. When he sought $24,000 in damages from the city council for authorizing such destructive improvements, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the city was not liable for consequential damages: "If the Legislature think proper to award damages under such circumstances, let them say so; otherwise, the parties who suffer are without remedy -- the Legislature considering that the interests of individuals must give way to the accommodation of the public."1

Lingering images to the contrary, antebellum Americans did not worship at the altar of laissez-faire. Although they opposed government-sponsored actions that damaged them, they sought to use public authority for a broad range of their own purposes. Public authority gave them leverage, far beyond their individual means, to effect improvements in society and the economy. Those improvements entailed costs as well as benefits, but men possessing both political power and economic resources had reason to feel confident that they could control the process and deflect the costs. If Luther Roll's interests could "give way to the accommodation of the public," however, perhaps anyone's could.


Unlimited Power

In the early republic, Americans employed public authority as an increasingly powerful tool to enhance their liberty and their property. By facilitating migration and the acquisition of land, governments promoted the individual independence that landownership brought. Governments contributed further to citizens' economic well-being by sponsoring transportation improvements that increased the value of that land. As early as 1806, the federal government promoted the National Road west from Maryland. New York embarked in 1817 on construction of the Erie Canal, which became a model of public enterprise in large-scale transportation facilities. Georgia began a similar venture in 1836, when the legislature authorized construction of a state-owned railroad, the Western and Atlantic.2

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From Slave South to New South: Public Policy in Nineteenth-Century Georgia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Maps, Figures, and Tables ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Society And Politics 7
  • 2 - State Power And Tax-Free Finance 23
  • 3 - The Accommodation Of The Public 32
  • 4 - Tax Upon The Time And Labor Of Our Citizens 40
  • 5 - Creating A New Revenue System 49
  • 6 - What Disposition Shall Be Made Of The Money? 61
  • 7 - Great Objects Of The State's Charity 74
  • 8 - Depriving A Whole Race 86
  • 9 - Rich Man's War 99
  • 10 - Rich Man's Fight 110
  • 11 - Confederate Context 121
  • 12 - Power And Policy 131
  • 13 - Freed Men And Citizens 140
  • 14 - All The Children Of The State 152
  • 15 - Higher Education For A New South 160
  • 16 - Railroads, Debt, And Reconstruction 170
  • 17 - A Tax Base Without Slaves 183
  • 18 - Conscripts, Convicts, And Good Roads 196
  • Epilogue: From Eighteenth Century To Twentieth 208
  • Essay On Primary Sources 215
  • Notes 219
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 273
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