Class Power and the Origins of the US State

James Parisot, University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley

This project asks the question: to what extent was the US federal government created as a capitalist state? To answer this question, this research paper draws from a vast array of primary sources including personal letters, official government records, unofficial notes, and newspapers articles, to develop a new narrative on the formation of the US state. It especially highlights a new reading of the records of debates over the ratification of the new state. Overall, it shows that the US was created as a state that would provide a space for the emerging capitalist elite to consolidate and institutionalize their power. At the same time, the framers of the Constitution constructed an image of the state, enshrined in the Constitution, that presented their power as universal: as if all social classes would benefit equally. But image and reality differed. The rising capitalist class would benefit most of all. That being said, my argument also documents that the US in the late 1780s was not a purely capitalist society. The state that was built would open some space for less capitalistically incorporated social classes, including some artisans and yeoman farmers, to have limited representation. But it was a state that, overall, structurally supported capitalist class power while incorporating other social classes.

See extended abstract

 Presented in Session 151. Powers of Class and Business