As cotton production shifted toward the southwestern states during the first half of the nineteenth century, New Orleans became increasingly important to the South's plantation economy. Handling the city's wide-ranging commerce was a globally oriented business community that represented a qualitatively unique form of wealth accumulation - merchant capital - that was based on the extraction of profit from exchange processes. However, like the slave-based mode of production with which they were allied, New Orleans merchants faced growing pressures during the antebellum era. Their complacent failure to improve the port's infrastructure or invest in manufacturing left them vulnerable to competition from the fast-developing industrial economy of the North, weaknesses that were fatally exposed during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Changes to regional and national economic structures after the Union victory prevented New Orleans from recovering its commercial dominance, and the former first-rank American city quickly devolved into a notorious site of political corruption and endemic poverty.
Scott P. Marler is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Memphis, where he teaches courses in US, Southern, and Atlantic World history. A former editor at the Journal of Southern History, his work was a finalist for the Allen Nevins Dissertation Prize of the Economic History Association, and he has also won awards from the St George Tucker Society and the Louisiana Historical Association.
Introduction: merchants of the cotton South in the age of capital; Part I. The Antebellum Era: 1. Merchants and bankers in the 'great emporium of the South'; 2. New Orleans merchants and the failure of industrial development; 3. Rural merchants on the cotton frontier of antebellum Louisiana; Part II. The Civil War: 4. From secession to the fall of New Orleans, 1860-2; 5. Bankers and merchants in occupied Louisiana - the Butler regime; Part III. Reconstruction: 6. New Orleans merchants and the political economy of reconstruction; 7. The economic decline of postbellum New Orleans; 8. Rural merchants and the reconstruction of Louisiana agriculture; 9. Epilogue: merchant capital and economic development in the postbellum South.