Michael T. Caires
Office Hours: 2-3PM, T-TH
Office: Nau 153
Email: mcaires (at) virginia.edu
Fields & Specialties19th Century U.S.,Civil War and Reconstruction, History of Capitalism and Political Economy
Ph.D. History, University of Virginia, 2014.
M.A. History, San Francisco State University, 2007.
B.A. History and Political Science, San Francisco State University, 2005.
I am interested in the intersections between the history of the American Civil War and the History of American Capitalism. I am currently at work on a book about the growth of the federal government’s power over money and banks during the war and Reconstruction, entitled The Greenback Union: The Transformation of Money, Capitalism, and the State in the American Civil War.
“The Greenback Union,” explores the unprecedented growth of federal power over money and banking during the Civil War Era. The introduction of greenbacks and national banks during the war years created a dramatic shift from a country with a heterogeneous supply of banknotes to a unified nation of greenbacks during the 1860s.
My project goes well beyond the war years to show how this new departure grew out of the failure of the market and state governments to provide a reliable paper currency in antebellum era. A distrust of the market and local governments to harness the power of money led to a new political consensus during the war that favored a new national currency, and more importantly, a greater role for the national government in economic life. This expanded authority had a host of unintended consequences for the postwar period, enlarging the federal state, realigning national politics, and pointing the country toward the political economy of the Gilded Age.
In short, the “Greenback Union” is my attempt to use the history of money as means of exploring the borderlands between political, legal, and economic histories.
“Tightening the Grip: The Problem of the Gold Room in the Civil War North.” Panel: Finance and the American Civil War, Business History Conference, Miami, FL, June 2015.