Ohio History Journal

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Book Reviews

Book Reviews


Ohio Canal Era: A Case Study of Govern-

ment and the Economy, 1820-1861. By HARRY

N. SCHEIBER. (Athens: Ohio University Press,

1969. xviii + 430p.; maps, tables, appendices,

bibliography, and index. $10.00.)


This book is a study in political, economic,

and ideological history, focused at the state

level, for the period 1820 to 1861. The author

assumes and demonstrates: (1) that in the

area of transportation the state government

occasionally implemented policy aims by

"outright public enterprise"; (2) that these

projects, especially in the case of the Ohio

canal, made vital contributions to, and inno-

vations in, the pre-Civil War economic devel-

opment of the United States; and (3) that

some of these developments were continued

and became part of post-Civil War govern-

mental policy toward private enterprise in

Ohio and other states. These continuities

included the underwriting of western railroad

securities by eastern investment banks; the

influencing of private banking policy by the

deposit of capital funds in local banks; the

utilization of private contractors and their

labor force for public works; the emergence

of a new private business elite in the West;

the employment of log-rolling in relation to

private railway regulation; and the temporary

weakening of liberal and theoretical opposi-

tion to monopoly.

These considerations attest to the exis-

tence, as the Ohio canal era opened, of the

doctrine of the activist state and to a "com-

monwealth concept," that possessed the qual-

ities of state planning. Consequently, the two

dominating canal commissioners during the

first eight construction and operating years,

1825-1833, Cleveland and Cincinnati busi-

nessmen Alfred Kelley and Micajah T. Wil-

liams, gave to their work a proprietary sense

of dedication that transcended petty local-

ism. They maintained efficiency, competence,

and profit-making for the state enterprise.

They also had a sense of responsibility for

the national welfare. For a time these quali-

ties prevailed, and Ohio's high credit rating

was retained, enabling the state to build the

entire canal system as originally planned.

After the retirement of Kelley and Wil-

liams, evil days fell upon the project as local

egalitarianism ("me-tooism") contributed to

stretching the canal money too thinly,

debauched the administration, and resulted

in the necessity to lower rates and permit

competition. Deficits and disillusionment fol-

lowed as debts mounted and transference of

funds from other accounts, including the

school fund, were required to save the canals

from bankruptcy. In the confusion railroads

began operation, on a private corporation

basis, with legislative and public approval.

Never before has such a ransacking of

all the sources, primary and secondary, been

performed. The footnoting, annotations, sta-

tistics, tables, maps, appendices and, above

all, the bibliographical essay are magnificent.

Regional changes, trade shifts, price and land

value developments are all statistically han-

dled. As the canal became a financial failure,

the problem of indirect benefits is splendidly

handled, but not settled--because it cannot be.

One might regret the lack of consideration

of the ability of unballasted, poorly ironed,

wood-fueled, accident-prone railroads meet-

ing Ohio's transportation needs better than

the canals. But all that this would accomplish

would be to underline the author's basic

theme of the decline of the commonwealth

concept in the field of transportation.




Toledo University




Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of

1936-1937. By SIDNEY FINE. (Ann Arbor: Uni-

versity of Michigan Press, 1969. ix+448p.;

illustrations, bibliographical note, and index.


No single event in the labor upheaval of the

1930's--perhaps in all of American labor his-

tory--was more decisive than the General

Motors sit-down strike of 1936-37. All the

gathering forces of the union revolution came

to focus on this great industrial conflict: