Savannah's Midnight Hour
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Savannah's Midnight Hour

Boosterism, Growth, and Commerce in a Nineteenth-Century American City

Title Details

Pages: 264

Illustrations: 3 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 10/01/2022

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6366-0

List Price: $36.95


Pub Date: 12/15/2019

ISBN: 9-780-8203-5632-7

List Price: $62.95

Savannah's Midnight Hour

Boosterism, Growth, and Commerce in a Nineteenth-Century American City

Savannah’s economic public policy demonstrates both the risks and rewards of aggressive municipal entrepreneurship

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Savannah’s Midnight Hour argues that Savannah’s development is best understood within the larger history of municipal finance, public policy, and judicial readjustment in an urbanizing nation. In providing such context, Lisa Denmark adds constructive complexity to the conventional Old South/New South dichotomous narrative, in which the politics of slavery, secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction dominate the analysis of economic development. Denmark shows us that Savannah’s fiscal experience in the antebellum and postbellum years, while exhibiting some distinctively southern characteristics, also echoes a larger national experience. Her broad account of municipal decision making about improvement investment throughout the nineteenth century offers a more nuanced look at the continuity and change of policies in this pivotal urban setting.

Beginning in the 1820s and continuing into the 1870s, Savannah’s resourceful government leaders acted enthusiastically and aggressively to establish transportation links and to construct a modern infrastructure. Taking the long view of financial risk, the city/municipal government invested in an ever-widening array of projects—canals, railroads, harbor improvement, drainage— because of their potential to stimulate the city’s economy. Denmark examines how this ideology of over-optimistic risk-taking, rooted firmly in the antebellum period, persisted after the Civil War and eventually brought the city to the brink of bankruptcy. The struggle to strike the right balance between using public policy and public money to promote economic development while, at the same time, trying to maintain a sound fiscal footing is a question governments still struggle with today.

A unique analysis of Savannah through the lens of the politics of municipalfinance. Business historians, in particular, will be interested in how Lisa L. Denmark weaves the political with the economic. Denmark explores how an American city, and the boosters and administrators within it, jockeyed for political power during a period of both economic instability and economic promise.

—Business History Review

Savannah’s Midnight Hour shows how southern fiscal mismanagement crossed party lines during Reconstruction, and places Savannah within a national framework of Gilded Age financial irresponsibility as state and local governments defaulted and repudiated their debts. As an allegory for the present, Denmark’s work demonstrates how the debt always comes due.

—Journal of American History

Savannah’s Midnight Houris a welcome addition to nineteenth-century capitalism studies that are centered on debt, and it offers a compelling case study into the financial machinations that defined many American cities in the nineteenth century—and indeed will define them in the
decades to come.

—Journal of Southern History

About the Author/Editor

LISA L. DENMARK is a professor of history at Georgia Southern University.