Economic Foreign Policy of the United States

By Benjamin H. Williams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
SHIPPING POLICIES

Brief Sketch of the History of the American Merchant Marine. Before the Revolution, the colonists along the rugged New England coast had already won for themselves a place upon the sea. The comparatively lower cost of timber which favored colonial shipbuilding and the initiative of a new people had combined to insure for them success in ocean commerce. The Revolutionary War played havoc with American merchant vessels, but on the conclusion of peace the seaboard population turned to the reconstruction of their shipping. Progress was slow at first but great impetus was given to the movement by the European wars following 1793. For over half a century from that time the United States ranked as a leading maritime power. American influence on the sea reached its climax in the years from 1846 to 1860, when the graceful clipper became the swiftest of cargo vessels. The Civil War marked the beginning of a long, dull period in the shipping circles of this country. During that conflict American ships aggregating about 1,000,000 tons were transferred to foreign registry, and many others were destroyed. The energies of the nation were for the time turned from commerce to war. Following the Civil War, the people of the United States found an outlet for their energies in the development of a vast internal empire and until 1914 they were for the most part content to see their ocean-borne commerce carried in foreign bottoms. The World War created an imperative need for ships. Congress provided for the erection of shipyards. Steel and wooden vessels were turned out with unprecedented speed and the United States government became the owner of a huge merchant fleet. Since the war, severe competition for the carriage of goods has reduced ocean freight rates. Many of the vessels owned by the United States government have been laid up and statistics of American shipping employed in foreign trade show a marked decline in tonnage.

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