The years leading up to the Civil War were a time of immense economic growth, however, some Americans worried that the booming industrial and commercial expansion came at the price of American values such as honesty, hard work and dedication to the common good.
"Paradoxes of Prosperity: Wealth-seeking Versus Christian Values in Pre-Civil War America," by Lorman A. Ratner, Paula T. Kaufman and Dwight L. Teeter Jr. (UI Press) seeks to explore the social tensions between morality and monetary prosperity.
Ratner, a professor of history, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center of Multicultural Studies at the University of Tennessee, died in 2007 while working on the book. His wife, Paula T. Kaufman, university librarian and dean of libraries at the UI, helped complete and fact check the book along with Teeter, Ratner's co-author and a colleague at the University of Tennessee.
Kaufman reflected on why it was an important project for her husband: "He was a scholar of 19th-century American cultural history, concentrating on the first 50 years of the century. ... It was while reading what many Americans of the time read in their newspapers that Larry became intrigued with another problem: the stresses that prosperity put on morality."
"There was a paradox between the two," Kaufman said. "As the market economy flourished, its values conflicted with values imbued in the republic and in Christianity."
Kaufman explained that the co-authors focused on the 1850s because it was during that decade that the mass media sprang to life. "Thanks to printing press improvements, the spread of the telegraph and the expansion of railroads, both reporting and distribution of news was greatly accelerated," Kaufman said. "Larry hoped that his readers would have new perspectives on how Americans of the immediate pre-Civil War era confronted this paradox and that they would understand that the force of the mass media did not begin in the 20th century.
The authors draw on the nationwide sentiments through leading mass media, including popular newspapers of the time, such as the New York Herald and New York Tribune; best-selling and industry magazines; novels by popular female authors, including Harriet Beecher Stowe and Maria Cummins; and by male novelists such as George Lippard, Timothy Shay Arthur, George Foster; and historians and travel writers.
The struggle between money and morals - and how to have both - did not end in the 1850s, but discussion of it at this crucial time in America in history is important, according to the authors.