American Cities in the Growth of the Nation

American Cities in the Growth of the Nation

American Cities in the Growth of the Nation

American Cities in the Growth of the Nation

Excerpt

IN 1800 the United States was primarily a nation of farmers. Yet even then her few urban centers were well-springs of American civilization. The federal government listed as cities only communities with 8,000 inhabitants or more; of these cities, only five had as many as 10,000. Each was a seaport. Philadelphia, it is true, lay on the Delaware river in Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, Maryland, on an arm of Chesapeake Bay, but ocean-going vessels docked at their wharves and seaborne commerce nourished both cities. Boston on Massachusetts Bay was the principal port of all New England. Charleston, South Carolina, possessing the only safe anchorage along the four-hundred-and-fifty-mile stretch of coast between Norfolk, Virginia, and Savannah, Georgia, dominated the trade of the Southern states. New York, with the finest natural harbor in North America, outdistanced all the others both in value of imports and in population, but before 1815 her lead was not undisputed.

The United States in 1783 had won political independence; but political independence, Americans soon learned, did not automatically bring economic and cultural independence of Great Britain and of Europe. Conscious vigorous striving for the 'completion of independence' began about 1820; reliance upon European capital endured much longer. While America's troubles of the post-Revolutionary era were those any country endures after a long, bitterly fought war, the new nation nevertheless faced peculiarly difficult economic adjustments. Excluded from the privileges they had enjoyed as colonies under the British commercial system, shut off from trade with the British West Indies, and denied opportunity to sell American-built ships to British merchants, the states were forced to establish a new commercial pattern. They had to find new markets for American produce and new means of paying for imports from abroad. To the solution of these problems the seaports were the key. From the ports went the foodstuffs and materials which Americans could exchange for articles they could not produce themselves. Distribution of imports within the states depended largely . . .

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