The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

14
The Demand for Government Aid: The Merchants and the Artisans

BY WINNING their independence, Americans freed themselves from the British laws which had furnished the framework of colonial economy. Many of them believed that they might shape their future destiny by passing laws affecting the economic life of the new nation. But others believed that economic life should develop naturally. Many a colonial had anticipated Adam Smith's ideas and his Wealth of Nations soon made its way to the United States where it was bought and read and where parts of it were printed in newspapers.1 People who accepted its views believed that governments should not meddle with economic life and particularly with trade. They could accept the statement in the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1784 that government should do no more than protect trade. "Most of the statutes or acts, edicts, arrets and placarts of parliaments, princes and states, for regulating, directing or restraining of trade, have, we think, been either political blunders, or jobs obtained by artful men for private advantage, under pretence of public good."2 Such ideas were common enough to convince some Europeans that Americans were determined to break down the whole European system of trade and navigation acts. David Hartley, who had engaged in long and fruitless negotiations for a commercial treaty with John Adams and Franklin, was convinced that this was so. He

____________________
1
New Haven Gazette, 13, 20, 27 July, 2 Nov. 1786; General Knox to Rivington, 10 Aug. 1783, Knox Papers, MHS, thanking Rivington for a copy which he had long wanted.
2
17 Nov. 1784. The remarks were thought to be those of Franklin.

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