Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Volume 1: Journalist, 1706-1730

By J. A. Leo Lemay
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006 (549 pages, cloth, $39.95.)

The first of seven volumes in honor of the three hundredth birthday of the famous founder,The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Volume I: Journals, 1706-1730, is a highly anticipated work by the dean of Franklin scholars that brings together the major sources in Franklin’s life. A magisterial biography which represents a lifetime of work, the multi-volume study will give enthusiasts, scholars, and students an important and unprecedented resource for understanding Benjamin Franklin’s character and his place in American history. The first volume covers Franklin’s life from his birth in 1706 in Boston to his marriage in 1730 to Deborah Read Rogers. It traces young Franklin’s New England religious, political, and cultural contexts, exploring previously unknown influences on his philosophy and writing and attributing new writings to him. After his arrival in Philadelphia on 1723, made famous in his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin became known at the age of twenty as the “Water American” two years later in London, where he was welcomed by a circle of freethinkers. Upon his return to the colonies, the eminently sociable Franklin organized a group of young friends, the Junto, devoted to self-improvement and philanthropy. He also established his own press and began to write, edit, and publish the Pennsylvania Gazette, which became the most popular American newspaper of its day and the first to consistently feature American news. The Life of Benjamin Franklin is largely chronological, but the subject did so many things that a straightforward chronology, as inclusive as the author presents, would possess all the disjointedness of life. The book therefore treats some subjects topically while arranging the whole chronologically. Most significantly, this life of Franklin differs from previous biographies because it is a literary biography, with more discussions of his writings than any earlier study. Benjamin Franklin was the most important writer of colonial America; the only goal he ever articulated was “to think I might in time come to be a tolerable English Writer of which I was extreamly ambitious.”


Elections in Pennsylvania: A Century of Partisan Conflict in the Keystone State

By Jack M. Treadway
Penn State University Press, 2005 (296 pages, cloth, $55.00).

Elections in Pennsylvania: A Century of Partisan Conflict in the Keystone State is the most comprehensive state election study undertaken to date, providing data and analysis for more than thirteen thousand general elections and more than six thousand primary elections conducted in the Commonwealth between 1900 and 1998. (A postscript examines in less detail the elections of 2000 and 2002.) The author examines all elections for president, governor, U. S. senators and representatives, statewide offices, and members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. The extensive period of time covered allows the author to provide an important historical perspective on electoral trends, distinguishing what are genuinely new developments in electoral dynamics and voting behavior in recent decades from what are continuations of patterns dating to earlier in the century. Elections in Pennsylvania opens with a discussion of the economic, social, and political changes that took place in the Commonwealth during the twentieth century and examines the impact of the Republican statewide political machine during the first decades of the century. The book continues with an analysis of trends in voter registration and turnout, and looks at the incidence of independence among voters and the increasing incidence of split-ticket voting. Chapters also deal with a detailed examination of congressional and state elections, including the percentage of incumbents running for reelection, the incidence of marginal districts, and the percentage of contested elections. Elections in Pennsylvania offers a telling look at the changes of professionalism among state legislators and members of the Commonwealth’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives and summarizes the political backgrounds of members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania who were serving in 1901 and in 1995. A concluding essay offers perspective on a century of partisan conflict and reviews the findings presented throughout the book. The author demonstrates that some trends hailed as significant departures from the past are less significant than many contend. Several of the patterns, he argues, are “simply the past revisited.” Elections in Pennylvania: A Century of Partisan Conflict in the Keystone State is replete with charts, maps, and tables that not only support the author’s contentions, but accurately depict – literally in black and white – the outcome of elections through the years and the reasons for such results.


The First Wall Street: Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, & The Birth of American Finance

By Robert E. Wright
University of Chicago Press, 2005; 210 pages, cloth, $25.00.

When most Americans think of investment and finance, they invariably call to mind Wall Street, home of the New York Stock Exchange and the undisputed epicenter of the fi­nancial services sector in the United States. This was not always the case, however. During the dawn of the Republic, Philadelphia was the center of American finance. The na­tion’s first stock exchange was established in Philadelphia in 1790, and around it the bustling thoroughfare known as Chestnut Street was home to the most powerful financial in­stitutions in the country. Chestnut Street was one of early Philadelphia “tree” streets, straight, broad thoroughfares like Walnut, Pine, and Spruce that ran westward from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River. By 1794, the street lay in the center of the city’s most densely populated and highest rent district. It was home to the State House (now Independence Hall) and three important commercial financial institutions, the Bank of the United States, the Bank of North America, and the Bank of Pennsylvania. Chestnut Street was the place to be – at least until Andrew Jackson came to power in 1829. The rise and fall of Chestnut Street forms the narrative core of this book, but in the broadest terms, The First Wall Street: Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, & The Birth of American Finance is about economic growth, increased real per capita aggregate output. In simpler terms, it is about the creation of wealth and the reasons why a few nations pro­duce more wealth per person than most other countries manage to do. The author contends that Philadelphia blos­somed into the leading financial center during the colonial period because the city was well known for its cultivation of Liberty and freedom. The continent’s most prodigious minds and talented financiers flocked to Philadelphia, and by the eve of the Revolutionary War, the city was the most finan­cially sophisticated center in North America. As the decades passed, Chestnut Street would slowly lose its luster and New York began to lure banks, brokerage houses, and insur­ance firms from Philadelphia, attracting a whole new generation of financiers to lower Manhattan. By the late 1820s, only the powerful Second Bank of the United States upheld Philadelphia’s financial status, but when President Jackson vetoed its charter, he sealed forever the fate of Chestnut Street – and Wall Street. Finely nuanced and elegantly written, The First Wall Street recounts the exciting history of Chestnut Street and its role in the birth of American finance.


These Just In…

A number of new books about Pennsylvania history have been received by Pennsylvania Heritage’s editorial staff, which has not had the opportunity to review them, but wishes to share news of their availability with readers.

A Guide to Using the Published Archives of Pennsylvania, com­piled by Jean S. Morris, published by Jean S. Morris, 2003; 54 pages, paper, $12.50.

Norristown: Then & Now, by Jack Coll and Brian Coll, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2005; 96 pages, paper, $19.95.

Twilight Years of Mr. Lincoln’s Army: Organization and Members of a Pennsylvania GAR Post (Port Carbon, Schuylkill County), by Barbara Bensinger Welch, published by Barbara Bensinger Welch, 2004; 113 pages, paper, $15.00.

Native Americans’ Pennsylvania, by Daniel K. Richter, published by the Pennsylvania Historical Association, 2005; 100 pages, paper, $12.95.

Meadville’s Architectural Heritage, by Anne W. Stewart and Steven B. Utz, published by Arcadia Publishing, 2005; 128 pages, paper, $19.95.

Gateway to the Coalfields: The Upper Grand Section of the Lehigh Canal, by Joan Gilbert, published by the Canal History and Technology Press, 2005; 212 pages, paper, $23.50.

Drifting Back in Ttme: Historical Sketches of Washington and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania, Including the Monongahela River Valley, by J.K. Folmar I, published by the Yohogania Press, 2005; 240 pages, paper, $19.95.

Reconstrncting the Past: Puzzle of a Lost Community (Yellow Hill, Adams County), by Debra Sandoe McCauslin, 2005; 63 pages, paper, $8.00.

Anthracite Lads: A True Story of the Fabled Molly Maguires, by William H. Burke, published by the Erie County Historical Soci­ety, 2005; 286 pages, paper, $16.95.

Doctor Franklin’s Medicine, by Stanley Finger, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006; 384 pages, cloth, $39.95.

Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women, by Thomas H. Pauly, published by the University of Illinois Press, 2005; 385 pages, cloth, $34.95.

Founding Families of Pittsburgh: The Evolution of a Regional Elite, 1760-1910, by Joseph F. Rishel, published by the Umvers1ty. of Pittsburgh Press, 2005; 241 pages, paper, $18.95.