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The Founding Fortunes

The Founding Fortunes

How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America's Revolution

Tom Shachtman

St. Martin's Press

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In The Founding Fortunes, historian Tom Shachtman reveals the ways in which a dozen notable Revolutionaries deeply affected the finances and birth of the new country while making and losing their fortunes.

While history teaches that successful revolutions depend on participation by the common man, the establishment of a stable and independent United States first required wealthy colonials uniting to disrupt the very system that had enriched them, and then funding a very long war. While some fortunes were made during the war at the expense of the poor, many of the wealthy embraced the goal of obtaining for their poorer countrymen an unprecedented equality of opportunity, along with independence.

In addition to nuanced views of the well-known wealthy such as Robert Morris and John Hancock, and of the less wealthy but influential Alexander Hamilton, The Founding Fortunes offers insight into the contributions of those often overlooked by popular history: Henry Laurens, the plantation owner who replaced Hancock as President of Congress; pioneering businessmen William Bingham, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and Stephen Girard; privateer magnate Elias Hasket Derby; and Hamilton’s successors at Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr. and Albert Gallatin.

The Founders dealt with tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the national debt, regional disparities, the census as it affected finances, and how much of what America needs should be manufactured at home in ways that remain startlingly relevant. Revelatory an… More…

In The Founding Fortunes, historian Tom Shachtman reveals the ways in which a dozen notable Revolutionaries deeply affected the finances and birth of the new country while making and losing their fortunes.

While history teaches that successful revolutions depend on participation by the common man, the establishment of a stable and independent United States first required wealthy colonials uniting to disrupt the very system that had enriched them, and then funding a very long war. While some fortunes were made during the war at the expense of the poor, many of the wealthy embraced the goal of obtaining for their poorer countrymen an unprecedented equality of opportunity, along with independence.

In addition to nuanced views of the well-known wealthy such as Robert Morris and John Hancock, and of the less wealthy but influential Alexander Hamilton, The Founding Fortunes offers insight into the contributions of those often overlooked by popular history: Henry Laurens, the plantation owner who replaced Hancock as President of Congress; pioneering businessmen William Bingham, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and Stephen Girard; privateer magnate Elias Hasket Derby; and Hamilton’s successors at Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, Jr. and Albert Gallatin.

The Founders dealt with tariffs, taxes on the wealthy, the national debt, regional disparities, the census as it affected finances, and how much of what America needs should be manufactured at home in ways that remain startlingly relevant. Revelatory and insightful, The Founding Fortunes provides a riveting history of economic patriotism that still resonates today.

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Offensive Acts


At sunset on May 9, 1768, the merchant ship Liberty sailed into Boston Harbor after a voyage from Portugal’s Madeira Islands, with a cargo of the islands’ fortified wine that the ship’s owner, the...

Praise for The Founding Fortunes

Praise for The Founding Fortunes:

“Enlightening history with contemporary parallels.” —Booklist

“Shachtman marshals his evidence efficiently and enlivens his account with bold, direct statements…Colonial history buffs will savor this sharply focused study.” —Publishers Weekly

“An ingenious examination of how money played the central role in the founding of the United States…a provocative argument.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A commendable treatment of pecuniary matters during this country’s embryonic stages...recommended for readers interested in fiscal matters and American economic habits." —Library Journal

Praise for Tom Shachtman:

"The author makes a convincing case that, without France, the United States may never have gained independence."Kirkus Reviews for How the French Saved America

"Shachtman illuminates the impact of French contributions to American military leadership, resources, and engineering knowledge...of interest to American-history enthusiasts and Francophiles alike.”Publishers Weekly for How the French Saved America

"This book deserves a place on the bookshelf of every American history buff." —Jeswald W. Salacuse, author and professor at The Fletcher School for How the French Saved America

“An intriguing survey of science’s influence on the Founders.”—Booklist for Gentleman Scientists and Revolutionaries

“A fascinating and unique look at the history of the founding of the United States."—Library Journal for Gentleman Scientists and Revo… More…

Praise for The Founding Fortunes:

“Enlightening history with contemporary parallels.” —Booklist

“Shachtman marshals his evidence efficiently and enlivens his account with bold, direct statements…Colonial history buffs will savor this sharply focused study.” —Publishers Weekly

“An ingenious examination of how money played the central role in the founding of the United States…a provocative argument.” —Kirkus Reviews

"A commendable treatment of pecuniary matters during this country’s embryonic stages...recommended for readers interested in fiscal matters and American economic habits." —Library Journal

Praise for Tom Shachtman:

"The author makes a convincing case that, without France, the United States may never have gained independence."Kirkus Reviews for How the French Saved America

"Shachtman illuminates the impact of French contributions to American military leadership, resources, and engineering knowledge...of interest to American-history enthusiasts and Francophiles alike.”Publishers Weekly for How the French Saved America

"This book deserves a place on the bookshelf of every American history buff." —Jeswald W. Salacuse, author and professor at The Fletcher School for How the French Saved America

“An intriguing survey of science’s influence on the Founders.”—Booklist for Gentleman Scientists and Revolutionaries

“A fascinating and unique look at the history of the founding of the United States."—Library Journal for Gentleman Scientists and Revolutionaries

“Shachtman is like a maestro, masterfully conducting an orchestra of history, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and journalism together in a harmonious and evocative symphony of all things Amish.”—Christian Science Monitor for Rumspringa, To Be or Not to Be Amish

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Tom Shachtman

TOM SHACHTMAN has written or co-authored more than 35 books, as well as documentaries for ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and BBC, and has taught at New York University and lectured at Harvard, Stanford, Georgia Tech, the Smithsonian, and the Library of Congress. He is a former chairman of The Writers Room in Manhattan, a trustee of the Connecticut Humanities Council, a founding director of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, and an occasional columnist for the Lakeville Journal of Northwest Connecticut.

image of Tom Shachtmano
Anne Day

St. Martin's Press

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