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David Thomson, Global South Fellow at Tulane University

David Thomson

Global South Fellowship 2021

David K. Thomson is an assistant professor of history at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. A scholar of the history of capitalism in the long Civil War era, Thomson’s first book entitled Bonds of War: How Civil War Financial Agents Sold the World on the Union is forthcoming with the University of North Carolina Press in April 2022. Thomson’s work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the Boston Globe Sunday magazine. Thomson’s work has received financial support from institutions including Harvard Business School, The Huntington Library, The Library Company of Philadelphia, New York Public Library, The Rothschild Archive London, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


In antebellum America, northern and southern states leveraged the increasing importance of canals, railroads, and cotton as a commodity to pursue economic growth. Because of many states aversion to taxation, state financial entities underwrote debt in a variety of forms. By 1830, state indebtedness rose to $26.4 million and by 1840 it reached more than $170 million. But then it came crashing down. Overextended states could no longer make their interest payments to creditors and refusal to do things like raise sufficient taxes only served to complicate matters, troubling investors domestically and abroad. Eight US states and one future state repudiated their debts. I am interested in reconstructing the role and activities of United States state debt defaults in the 1840s and the 1870s. During both periods of time, numerous states in the North and South defaulted leading to widespread national and international ramifications. While many of these defaulting states attempted to right their respective fiscal ships, several doubled down on their repudiation much to the horror of international owners of the debt. The Civil War era (1837-1873) marks a significant demarcation from early Republic finance and the emergence of the United States as the world’s largest economy. When examining elements such as state debt default during this time period one develops a greater understanding not only of the integration of global capital markets in the latter half of the nineteenth century but its ramifications on conversations in the 21st century over debt from the municipal to the federal level.