Date of Award

Spring 2023

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jessica M Lepler

Second Advisor

Lucy E Salyer

Third Advisor

Michael S Leese


This dissertation traces the history of the Subtreasury System, which preceded the Federal Reserve as the United States’ fiscal management system. Rather than relying on private banks, the government opted to store its money in federally owned and managed vaults called “subtreasuries.” By tracing the history of this overlooked institution, this project shows how the government used the Subtreasury to consolidate and display its economic power throughout the nineteenth century. My dissertation is the first to center monetary storage and control over financial spaces in the story of American state building during this crucial period. When the government chose to keep its money in its own vaults, it argued that it was economically powerful and responsible. But while the Subtreasury wielded immense power and successfully fulfilled its duties, it was chaotic in practice. By emphasizing the Subtreasury’s mixture of capacity and clumsiness, “The Clumsy Leviathan” reveals that inefficiency and effectiveness were not mutually exclusive aspects of American state power throughout the nineteenth century.