“Luck’s Republic: Lotteries, Class, and Finance in Early America”
My dissertation, tentatively titled Luck’s Republic: Lotteries, Class, and Finance in Early America, charts the development of lotteries from the colonial period through the Civil War, and argues that they played an underappreciated role in the United States’ transition to financial capitalism. I argue that during the colonial period, lotteries were authorized and undertaken to raise money for visible sites of public good or charity, and that in the Early Republic they were a useful stop-gap between the egalitarian impetus unleashed by the Revolution, and the fiscal constraints states found themselves in after the adoption of the Constitution. During the antebellum period, lotteries fell into disfavor in the north, yet proliferated in southern and western states. I argue that the sectional nature of the antebellum economy generated the conditions necessary for lotteries to become a big business, and that professional lottery men established a truly national market by selling tickets to working-class northerners from lotteries established in the South and West. My project straddles the line between economic history and cultural histories of capitalism, and asks what it means that the United States’ first big business essentially profited from commodifying hope.