Uniting the Nation
Complete 2-3 page paper. Each paper should include at least 4 paragraphs, including an introduction, a body with at least 2 fully developed paragraphs, and a conclusion.
The question for this exercise is: What factors account for the tremendous growth in the American economy between 1790 and 1860? Consider changes in communications, changes in transportation, and changes in agricultural production. Relate the most significant impact of one or more of these factors and how they helped transform the American economy as it approached the eve of the Civil War.
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In the years between 1790 and 1850, the United States struggled to assert its political and economic power in the world arena, even though steady growth had begun to transform the outlooks and ideals cherished by the American people. In 1789, George Washington took oath as president; the US was still a mostly rural agricultural society. The United States was grappling with the massive economic voids left by the American Revolution that had lasted from 1775 to 1783. The U.S. citizens were still pondering on what model to follow in building their country. The next 25 years would usher in an era of affluence which would wield substantial influence domestic politics, and eventually lead the country back into war with Great Britain (Tindall & Shi, n.d.).
Small scale, independent family owned farms dominated New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, as cities such as New York and Philadelphia thrived into large, crucial trading nerve centers. A greater proportion of the southern population lived on farms compared to the Northern population. Although the Constitution banned slavery from 1808, the date came and went. African slaves became integral in the economy of the South, seemingly indispensable, especially as forced cultivators of cash crops; tobacco, rice, and cotton (Aboukhadijeh, 2016). Southern plantation owners then the produce sold at home and abroad for large profits margins. A majority of southern whites owned no slaves, but the whole economy and society of the states of the South were profoundly affected by the institution of slavery.
When George Washington took office, he appointed Alexander Hamilton a prominent New York lawyer as the Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton was tasked in the reconstruction of the national economy was to fix the ailing economy. Hamilton was critical in turning the agrarian U.S. into the modern commercial society we now know. The Congress put the country strengthened the state’s financial footing in 1789 by passing a series of import tariffs that would create a constant stream of revenue and protect homegrown goods from the unhealthy foreign competition (Tindall & Shi, n.d.). Hamilton also put forward comprehensive more radical financial strategies to further spur the national economy.
Hamilton managed to sway the Congress into agreeing to pay $11 million in foreign debts and to repay all wartime investment certificates. This suggestion was hotly debated by the Southern States who had paid back most of the dues. Hamilton also proposed the establishment of the Bank of the United States. The bank, which would be backed by both public and private stockholders, faced stiff opposition from Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The Congress eventually passed the law to the chagrin of the Democrats opposition. The bank was opened in 1791.
Outside politics, the economic life of average U.S. citizens began steadily transform during the 1800s. Pioneers expanded westward in search of new land, by 1810s over 600,000 settlers had settled west of the Appalachian Mountains. Since many west US citizens were looking for land and economic opportunity, their ventures inward often brought them into hostilities with Indian nations determined to resist the United States’ western encroachment. The Indian Wars would rage on intermittently for the next decades, but by 1794 the pacification had been relatively achieved (Meyer, 2016).
Technological advances in mechanical machines further increased the output capabilities of America. Inventions such as John Deere’s steel plow, Cyrus McCormick (1830) Mechanical mower/reaper Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin amongst other helped to revolutionize the production industry transforming it into the mass production juggernauts we know today (Meyer, 2016). The decade leading up to 1860 saw 28,000 patents compared to 306 in the decade ending in 1800.
The influx of European immigrants especially Germans and the Irish who took a firm anti-slavery stance further fermented the need to align the economy with the new realities. The earlier settlers in America feared that the new arrivals would outvote them and thus set out to harassment and intimidation. Eventually, the immigrants’ numbers would prevail. This era saw the enactment a wave of reforms; from working conditions, railway, road and waterway transportation and communication (Aboukhadijeh, 2016). Foreign financing also began to be felt in American businesses by 1860. However the gap between the Northern and Southern states deepened with the economic thriving of the north. Soon it would degenerate into a full-scale war that would eventually see America emerge stronger, more united and economically potent.
Tindall, George Brown & Shi, David E. (2012). America: A Narrative History (9th ed.)
Meyer, D. (2016). The Roots of American Industrialization, 1790-1860. Economic History Association Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://eh.net/encyclopedia/the-roots-of-american-industrialization-1790-1860/
Aboukhadijeh, F. (2016). Chapter 14: Forging the National Economy, 1790-1860. Study Notes. Retrieved from https://www.apstudynotes.org/us-history/outlines/chapter-14-forging-the-national-economy-1790-1860/