Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Ronald Hoffman


This dissertation examines the ways that moneyed Philadelphians invented corporate power in America during the first four decades of the federal republic, specifically focusing on business corporations, such as canal companies and banks, and on a public corporation, Philadelphia's municipal government. Through evidence from company and municipal records and publications, the private papers and correspondence of corporate officers, newspapers, pamphlets, and legislative acts and proceedings, this study identifies the people and the technological and financial processes that contributed to the establishment and entrenchment of corporate economic and political power.;From the 1790s to the 1830s, Philadelphia-area residents demanded cheaper transportation, a better water supply, and more adequate credit facilities and financial institutions. The technical, legal, and monetary requirements of corporations that administered these projects served to increase their leverage in political and economic relations with other individuals and groups, allowing the few who controlled those institutions to exert power over space in unprecedented ways. The men who dominated those corporations justified this increased influence by successfully casting their own interests as being synonymous with those of the public at large. In addition, by the 1810s, a small group of Philadelphians recognized the centrality of transportation and banking to economic growth and coupled them to the corporate form to establish a forum at once withdrawn from public input yet able to exert power in public politics: the meeting-rooms of corporations run by men with close business and family ties.;Most significantly, this study argues that the creation of such a domain held serious consequences for the legacy of the American Revolution. Philadelphia corporations provided broader political and economic independence for more people than before the Revolution; indeed, these companies grew because of the great demand for their services and the freedoms they fostered. However, as corporate associates consolidated their hold over institutions they gained increasing command over what direction growth could take and how its rewards would be distributed. These phenomena contributed greatly to the transformation of America from a gentry-dominated society in the eighteenth century to the corporate-dominated one of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.



© The Author