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Werner Sombart - Jews Built the USA

August 20, 2023

(left, The distinguished German sociologist Werner Sombart, 1863-1941)

In his book "The Jews & Modern Capitalism," (1911) German sociologist 
Werner Sombart credits Jews for the rise of capitalism 
as the most dynamic force in the modern world.

In the excerpt below, he says Jews built the USA to become the epitome of capitalism: 
"Americanism is the Jewish spirit distilled."

"Nineteen [families] were equipped with plow and scythe, ready to clear the forests and till the soil in order to earn their livelihood as husbandmen...The twentieth family opened a store...Accordingly, it may be said that American economic life was from its very start impregnated with capitalism. And who was responsible for this? The twentieth family in each village. Need we add that this twentieth family was always a Jewish one, which joined a party of settlers or soon sought them out in their homesteads?"

(from The Jews & Modern Capitalism, 1911, pp.35-39)
May 1, 2012
By Werner Sombart

For what we call Americanism is nothing else, if we may say so than the Jewish spirit distilled. But how comes it that American culture is so steeped in Jewishness?

The answer is simple -- through the early and universal admixture of Jewish elements among the first settlers.

We may picture the process of colonizing somewhat after this fashion. A band of determined men and women --  let us say twenty families -- went forth into the wilds to begin their life anew. Nineteen were equipped with ploughs and scythes, ready to clear the forests and till the soil in order to earn their livelihood as husbandmen.

The twentieth family opened a store to provide their companions with such necessaries of life as could not be obtained from the soil, often no doubt hawking them at the very doors.

Soon this twentieth family made it its business to arrange for the distribution of the products which the other nineteen won from the soil. It was they, too, who were most likely in possession of ready cash, and in case of need could therefore be useful to the others by lending them money.

Very often the store had a kind of agricultural loan bank as its adjunct, perhaps also an office for the buying and selling of land. So through the activity of the twentieth family, the farmer in North America was from the first kept in touch with the money and credit system of the Old World.

Hence the whole process of production and exchange was from its inception along modern lines. Town methods made their way at once into even the most distant villages.

Accordingly, it may be said that American economic life was from its very start impregnated with capitalism. And who was responsible for this? The twentieth family in each village. Need we add that this twentieth family was always a Jewish one, which joined a party of settlers or soon sought them out in their homesteads?


Such an outline is the mental picture I have conceived of the economic development of the United States. Subsequent writers dealing with this subject will be able to fill in more ample details; I myself have only come across a few. But these are so similar in character that they can hardly be taken as isolated instances. The conclusion is forced upon us that they are typical.

Nor do I alone hold this view. Governor Pardel of California, for example, remarked in 1905: "He (the Jew) has been the leading financier of thousands of prosperous communities. He has been enterprising and aggressive."

Let me quote some of the illustrations I have met with. In 1785 Abraham Mordecai settled in Alabama. "He established a trading-post two miles west of Line Creek, carrying on an extensive trade with the Indians, and exchanging his goods for pink-root, hickory, nut oil, and peltries of all kinds."

Similarly in Albany: "As early as 1661, when Albany was but a small trading post, a Jewish trader named Asser Levi (or Leevi) became the owner of real estate there."

Chicago has the same story. The first brick house was built by a Jew, Benedict Schubert, who became the first merchant tailor in Chicago, while another Jew, Philip Newburg, was the first to introduce the tobacco business.

pedlar.jpegIn Kentucky, we hear of a Jewish settler as early as 1816. When in that year the Bank of the United States opened a branch in Lexington, Mr. Solomon, who had arrived in 1808, was made cashier. In Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania it is on record that Jewish traders were among the earliest settlers, though nothing is known of their activity.
On the other hand, a great deal is known of Jews in Texas, where they were among the pioneers of capitalism. Thus, for example, Jacob de Cordova "was by far the most extensive land locator in the State until 1856."

The Cordova's Land Agency soon became famous not only in Texas but in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, where the owners of large tracts of Texas land resided. Again, Morris Koppore in 1863 became President of the National Bank of Texas.

Henry Castro was an immigration agent; "between the years 1843-6 Castro introduced into Texas over 5000 immigrants . . . transporting them in 27 ships, chiefly from the Rhenish provinces. . . . He fed his colonists for a year, furnished them with cows, farming implements, seeds, medicine, and in short with everything they needed."
Sometimes branches of one and the same family distributed themselves in different States and were thereby enabled to carry on business most successfully. Perhaps the best instance is the history of the Seligman family. There were eight brothers (the sons of David Seligman, of Bayersdorf, in Bavaria) who started a concern which now has branches in all the most important centers in the States.

Their story began with the arrival in America in the year 1837 of Joseph Seligman. Two other brothers followed in 1839; a third came two years later. The four began business as clothiers in Lancaster, moving shortly after to Selma, Ala.

From here they opened three branches in three other towns. By 1848, two more brothers had arrived from Germany and the six moved North.

JESSE.jpegIn 1850, Jesse Seligman opened a shop in San Francisco -- in the first brick house in that city.

Seven years later a banking business was added to the clothing shop, and in 1862 the house of the Seligman Brothers was established in New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Frankfort.

In the Southern States likewise, the Jew played the part of the trader in the midst of agricultural settlers.

Here also (as in Southern and Central America) we find him quite early as the owner of vast plantations. In South Carolina indeed, "Jew's Land" is synonymous with "Large Plantations."

It was in the South that Moses Lindo became famous as one of the first undertakers in the production of indigo.

These examples must suffice. We believe they tend to illustrate our general statement, which is supported also by the fact that there was a constant stream of Jewish emigration to the United States from their
earliest foundation. It is true that there are no actual figures to show the proportion of the Jewish population to the total body of settlers. But the numerous indications of a general nature that we do find make it pretty
certain that there must always have been a large number of Jews in America.
It must not be forgotten that in the earliest years, the population was thinly scattered and very sparse. New Amsterdam had less than 1000 inhabitants.

That being so, a ship full of Jews who came from Brazil to settle there made a great difference, and in assessing Jewish influence on the whole district we shall have to rate it highly.

Or take another instance. When the first settlement in Georgia was established, forty Jews were among the settlers. The number may seem insignificant, but when we consider the meager population of the colony, Jewish influence must be accounted strong. So, too, in Savannah, where in 1733 there were already twelve Jewish families in what was then a tiny commercial centre.
That America early became the goal of German and Polish Jewish emigrants is well known. Thus we are told: "Among the poorer Jewish families of Posen there was seldom one which in the second quarter of
the 19th century did not have at least one son (and in most cases the ablest and not least enterprising) who sailed away across the ocean to flee from the narrowness and the oppression of his native land."

We are not surprised, therefore, at the comparatively large number of Jewish soldiers (7243 ) who took part in the Civil War, and we should be inclined to say that the estimate which puts the Jewish population of the
United States about the middle of the 19th century at 300,000 (of whom 30,000 lived in New York) was if anything too moderate.

Related - Jews and their Temperament

---Jewish Banking Dynasties Founded The Fed, by Karl Haemers - The Unz Review

Scruples - the game of moral dillemas

Comments for "Werner Sombart - Jews Built the USA"

M said (May 2, 2012):

Henry, this story about Jewish merchants among American farmers is EXACTLY the story of my husband's father, Ed S.
His dad even brought German immigrants to Ripon Wisconsin, to be clients of his store, and he (Ed) married one of the gentile
store workers and moved to Oregon, where they tried to farm, gave up, and opened the only store in town. This store was
successful until the Depression, when the farmers could not pay. Ed fed them anyway, even if they could not pay, and went
bankrupt. He became a traveling salesman. he became poor, rather than successful. Perhaps he was successful in the eyes of God.

God isn't talking, nor the church. If there is a heaven I am sure Ed is there, in spite of the noxious claims of fundamentalists that he could not be saved without accepting Jesus. He accepted Jesus enough to feed the town in the Depression, and to raise his kids in the Christian church.

It is even possible that Ed S's mother was a daughter of the Levi merchant of Albany NY, mentioned in the story. I"m not sure
where she came from, somewhere in the East to Ripon Wisconsin, and her name was Levi

Ed's father (the store owner in Ripon) even founded a synagogue in Appleton Wisconsin. He was one of those ecumenical Jews
who was friends with the local priest and pastor.

Ed's children were not raised Jewish, and did not exhibit capitalistic behavior, and did not get rich, just middle class. He had eight children with Hattie Prill, the gentile he married, but one died in the flu epidemic of 1918. Irmagard S died as a child while her mother was pregnant with my husband, Irvin Richard S. The last child was born on St. Patrick's day, Patty.

These people had lots of hope for America and for their children. I wonder how they would feel now...not so good.

Dan said (May 2, 2012):

Some fascinating American history...

The first group of Jewish settlers of North America arrived at the Dutch colonial town of New Amsterdam in 1654.

The journey of the group of 27 began as immigrants from Spain to Holland, where they were recruited by the Dutch East India Company to set up banking and commerce in the Dutch colony at Brazil. The Dutch however were losing control of Brazil to the Portuguese, so the Jewish bankers were transferred to New Amsterdam.

Shortly the captain of the French ship that brought them filed suit for not having been paid the fare. He won the suit, and the city council asked Governor Peter Stuyvesant to ban Jews from the colony. He wrote a letter to the Hague requesting deportation of the Jewish arrivals and not to permit any more Jews to come to the colony because he already had his hands full with a half dozen schismatic Christian sects who hated each other.

In reply, Stuyvesant was informed that the Company sent the Jews to establish competent international banking and commerce in the Americas, so under no circumstances were they to be deported or interfered with - on the grounds of religious tolerance.

Stuyvesant posted a decree, “No man shall raise or bring forward any question or argument on the subject of religion on pain of being placed on water and bread for three days in the ship's galley and if any difficulty shall arise out of such disputes, the authors shall be arbitrarily punished."

At the time the Jewish bankers were backed only by the Dutch government. By the time the English took over the colony, Jewish bankers occupied the same role under aegis of the British Empire. On a hunch I looked up the date when Oliver Cromwell repealed Edward Ist' banishment of Jewish lenders from England, and found the date was 1657 - three years after the contingent of Jewish traders arrived at the Dutch Colony. The Anglo-Dutch wars ensued, resulting in the transfer of colonial power from the Hague to London.

It is interesting that once the Jewish bankers were operating in London, colonial power shifted from Holland to Great Britain. It may be coincidental, though it makes one wonder who was really running the show in these kingdoms.

I would say money was running the show. Politicians and kings like Cromwell and Charles Ist came and went.

Here's the fascinating trivia part:

The settlement occupied the southern tip of Manhattan island. Beyond the northern boundary was open forest, so an earthen wall was erected to protect against English or Native attack. The Jewish bankers and retailers settled on the street at the wall, called "de Waal Straat". Wall Street.

For the first forty years merchants and traders transacted business there, later dividing into two classes; auctioneers and dealers. The Dutch gave up Manhattan after losing the Third Anglo-Dutch War in 1674.
The wall was leveled in 1699.
In 1792 informal outdoor bonds and securities trading was formalized by the Buttonwood Agreement which laid the foundation for the New York Stock Exchange.

More fascinating trivia - the location of George Washington's first presidential inauguration was on Wall Street!

I can't make this stuff up - I first learned the history from a PBS special in 2008.

Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at