Year of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Campus Access Only

Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Kyle G. Volk

Commitee Members

Jeff Wiltse, Anya Jabour, Robert Saldin, Ariel Ron


Political Development, Political Economy, Postbellum, Taxation, Tobacco, USDA


University of Montana


“Tobacco Politics and the Reconstruction of American Governance, 1862-1933” illuminates the political dynamics that ushered American tobacco from existential uncertainty in the Civil War era to global economic dominance in the early twentieth century. I argue that developments in overlooked sectors of business and government produced defining elements of turn-of-the-century political economy, from the industrialization of agriculture to the popularization of cigarettes. These sectors included federal taxation, a product of the Civil War that dramatically redefined tobacco’s legal order; foreign trade, the terms of which were set by international syndicates of tobacco buyers and municipal boards of trade; and agricultural tobacco science, which owed its priorities to the rapidly expanding Southern fertilizer industry and newly formed United States Department of Agriculture. In underscoring the politics of governance underlying American tobacco’s turn-of-the-century dominance, my dissertation unsettles longstanding narratives of the Gilded Age: that rural economies were increasingly irrelevant; that the federal state remained aloof to laissez-faire capitalism; and that corporations alone, including the American Tobacco Company, dictated the contours of economic change. This project exposes both new spaces where politics happened and new modes of governance in the political economy. Each of these developments came at great cost to tobacco growers who had no voice in the institutions reconstructing tobacco. The tax system hobbled growers—especially newly emancipated African-Americans and smallholding whites—by outlawing tobacco culture for purposes other than capital accumulation, not least household subsistence. The ruling logics of international trade and agricultural science rationalized agrarian indebtedness, justified low prices, and intensified labor discipline on thousands of small farms. In outlining these exclusions, I reveal the ways nineteenth-century political and economic development coincided with—and even created—rural poverty.

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