A Cosmopolitan Community: Hanseatic Merchants in the German-American Atlantic of the Nineteenth Century

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Johns Hopkins University
This thesis examines the experience of a group of long-distance, wholesale merchants from the Hanseatic city-republic of Bremen who dominated American-German trade during the nineteenth century. It places their history in the context of the emergence of bourgeois conservatism, and of the dialectical tension between modernization and tradition that characterized this transnational political current. As members of a trans-Atlantic community, Hanseats mediated in their ideas and practices the influences of German home-town traditions, of an Anglo-American critique of liberalism and democracy, and of the Hamiltonian idea of improvement that inspired United States conservatives. American Whigs, in their cooperation with Hanseats, are cast in a new light as promoters of international improvement, and as driven by ideas and concerns that represented a transnational bourgeois response to the French Revolution that rejected democracy but embraced technology in an attempt to make capitalism safe for Protestant Christian traditions. While unique at the time, democratic suffrage in the United States did not create an exceptional ideological landscape. From Hanseats’ vantage point, the Second Party System appeared as a specifically American variant of a familiar political division between elite politics and mob rule, allowing them to adopt ideas and emulate practices that they found in America. This dissertation is based on extensive family and business correspondence, newspapers, and parliamentary, diplomatic, and court records from multiple archives in Baltimore, Bremen, and New York. It combines family and gender history, the history of political ideas and institutions, and political economy in a transnational approach to ii social history that reconstructs the life-world of historical actors in all its facets and relates it to their political and economic activities. This work comes to the conclusion that the history of modern conservatism presents an irony. Conservatives pursued policies intended to safeguard traditional values and practices from the challenges of capitalism and democracy. These policies, in turn, contributed to the consolidation of an industrial-capitalist world economy and of the power of nation-states, both of which undermined the very values and practices conservatives hoped to preserve.