Bonds of War

How Civil War Financial Agents Sold the World on the Union

By David K. Thomson

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 halftones, 4 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6661-7
    Published: April 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6660-0
    Published: April 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6662-4
    Published: February 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6258-7
    Published: February 2022

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Awards & distinctions

2023 Wiley-Silver Prize, Center for Civil War Research

Honorable Mention, 2023 Civil War and Reconstruction Book Award, Organization of American Historians

How does one package and sell confidence in the stability of a nation riven by civil strife? This was the question that loomed before the Philadelphia financial house of Jay Cooke & Company, entrusted by the US government with an unprecedented sale of bonds to finance the Union war effort in the early days of the American Civil War. How the government and its agents marketed these bonds revealed a version of the war the public was willing to buy and buy into, based not just in the full faith and credit of the United States but also in the success of its armies and its long-term vision for open markets. From Maine to California, and in foreign halls of power and economic influence, thousands of agents were deployed to sell a clear message: Union victory was unleashing the American economy itself.

This fascinating work of financial and political history during the Civil War era shows how the marketing and sale of bonds crossed the Atlantic to Europe and beyond, helping ensure foreign countries’ vested interest in the Union’s success. Indeed, David K. Thomson demonstrates how Europe, and ultimately all corners of the globe, grew deeply interdependent on American finance during, and in the immediate aftermath of, the American Civil War. 

About the Author

David K. Thomson is assistant professor of history at Sacred Heart University.
For more information about David K. Thomson, visit the Author Page.


"Bonds of War remind[s] us that the Civil War energized the nation’s transformation from a modest and decentralized economic actor into the global juggernaut of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. . . . Impressive research . . . Thomson also offers a fascinating snapshot of the European trade in American bonds."—New York Review of Books

"A fascinating foray into the world of Civil War finance and the beginnings of modern America's financial markets."—HistoryNet

"Thomson weaves a compelling thread of the bonds representing a democratization of a war effort, in contrast to past wars being funded by financial elites."—Emerging Civil War

"A carefully researched, well written, and deeply persuasive book. . . . By centering securities, Thomson reveals how Civil War debt played a crucial role in shaping the modern financial landscape."—H-CivWar

“By providing a comprehensive and detailed look at how the United States raised enough money to finance a lengthy four-year military struggle, Thomson offers a much-needed perspective on the origins of modern finance as well as a case study of how military and political fortunes have intimate ties to financial riches.”—Journal of American History

"This book is deeply researched, nuanced in its arguments, and original in its conception. It is destined to become an essential source on both Civil War finance and the development of American financial markets more broadly."—Sharon Ann Murphy, Providence College