Date of Graduation
The characterization of antebellum America as egalitarian by foreign observers and historians alike served as the starting point for this historical investigation. Specifically, the research concentrated on the twelve counties which bordered the Ohio River between 1840 and 1860 with the hope of ascertaining the degree of social and economic democracy existing in the region. Predominantly an agricultural people, the presence of the City of Wheeling in Ohio County afforded the researcher an opportunity to examine similar issues in both an urban and rural environment. In order to develop a socioeconomic profile on the region's inhabitants, quantitative sources were employed. Drawing primarily from the unpublished manuscript census returns for 1840, 1850, and 1860, the initial phase of the study focused on building a data base for the heads of households in each county. Data contained in the returns, including name, nativity, age, occupation, acreage (unimproved and improved), slaves, value of real estate, value of personal property, number of family members in the households, number of non-family members at the residence, and post office addresses, were entered on a computer disk for each county. This data base allows the investigator to recreate the antebellum social class structure as well as to make some determination regarding whether economic variables, such as land ownership and distribution of wealth, validate or negate the egalitarian appraisals offered by others about the pre-Civil period. From the quantitative analysis of the hinterland along the Ohio River and the City of Wheeling, a class structure emerges which provides little evidence of a rapidly expanding social and economic democracy. Indeed, it was a region marked by a slight decrease in the percentage of land owners, social stratification, concentration of wealth, and the emergence of both rural and urban elites in the political arena. From the study of the people along the Ohio River, it was apparent that the premise of egalitarianism was based on impressions rather than empirical data. Therefore, the use of quantitative sources has significant value in further refining our view of the antebellum period.
Simmons, Robert Harold, "Wheeling and the hinterland: An egalitarian society?" (1990). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 9773.