The William Nelson Cromwell Foundation offers an annual prize of $5,000 for the best article in American legal history published by an early career scholar. Articles published in the field of American legal history, broadly conceived, will be considered. There is a preference for articles in the colonial and early National periods. Articles published in the Law and History Review are eligible for the Surrency Prize and will not be considered for the Cromwell Article Prize.
2018 recipient: Noam Maggor, “To Coddle and Caress These Great Capitalists: Eastern Money, Frontier Populism, and the Politics of Market-Making in the American West,” American Historical Review 122 (February 2017): 55-84.
Committee citation: In our deliberations, committee members were struck by the originality and ambition of Maggor’s argument. Maggor recovers an overlooked history of state constitution-making in the Gilded Age, connecting late nineteenth-century legal and political development in the American West to the transformation of the United States into a modern industrial nation, the expansion of finance capitalism, and the integration of multiple peripheries into the world economy. While many scholars have viewed the consolidation of a national market after the Civil War as inevitable, interpreting the growth of American government as a reaction to a largely apolitical process of industrialization, Maggor casts American political development as “fully constitutive of economic change.” Exploring contingent and contested deliberations over water rights, labor protections, and the power of the state to regulate corporations, Maggor reveals how market integration fanned ongoing struggles over the distribution of material resources, the transparency and legibility of local markets to outside investors, and the geography of the marketplace (whether the Western states would serve the larger economy primarily as a source of raw materials or could become economic centers in their own right).
Maggor’s richly textured story describes how financiers from major East Coast cities went west after the Civil War in search of investment opportunities, transforming the economies and landscapes of the frontier. As money flowed from New York and Boston to Colorado, the Dakotas, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, western settlers in the 1870s and 1880s lobbied for statehood, splintering power away from the federal government even as a national market was emerging. Unlike the top-down institution-building that marked developing economies elsewhere in the world, the drafting of state constitutions in the American West brought together settlers of vastly different social and economic standing, from farmers and miners to lawyers and small businessmen, who would attempt to establish democratic controls over the market. Rejecting federal-style constitutions that laid out basic principles and left policy details to the legislature, western delegates engaged in robust debate about whether to “prioritize actual settlers over investors, . . . democratic processes over financial imperatives and relative regional autonomy over the prerogatives of a national market.” Maggor paints a fascinating portrait of the legal consciousness of the delegates, whose dynamic experiences as migrants and settlers led them to privilege pragmatism over formalism and conditions on the ground over abstract ideas. Delegates proposed innovative water rights regimes, corporate regulatory schemes, and labor protections that departed from established practice back east and worked around anti-regulatory Supreme Court precedent. And when corporate representatives warned that the proposals would inhibit outside investment, the delegates compromised in ways that varied from state to state. Maggor labels the resulting constitutional patchwork “a complex new geography” that was “not a clear triumph for any particular interest,” but instead “bore the mark of the divides and disagreements that had surfaced during the writing process.”
The committee was very impressed with how Maggor brings together major issues in legal, political, and economic history, connecting a series of scholarly literatures in, as one committee member said, “a startling and excellent way.” Maggor’s account of multiple state constitutional conventions is deeply researched, and his keen eye for detail captures lives and experiences in ways that show how individual agency can matter even in stories of structural transformation. With elegant writing and an engaging narrative style, Maggor makes a big and original contribution to multiple fields and will spark important new conversations in the legal history of economic development, regulation, and populist constitutionalism. We all believe that Maggor’s article is a true achievement that deserves recognition by the Cromwell Foundation.
The members of this year's Cromwell article prize subcommittee were: H. Tomas Gomez-Arostegui (Lewis and Clark) and Erika Pani (Colegio de México).
Congratulations to Professor Maggor!