The guild of economic historians sets no rigid qualifications for membership within its ranks; it welcomes and, indeed, must draw extensively upon the contributions offered by students and scholars of the most diverse interests and talents. It asks of its fellows only that they remember the main objective of their association: to promote a clearer understanding of how man's struggle for material existence has been carried on through time. By this standard the economic historian's claim to journeyman's or master's status will be judged. In this book on American economic history, the authors have consistently followed the precepts of honest craftsmanship. They have subordinated all other considerations to the main task of describing and analyzing the changes that have occurred in the wealth-getting and wealth-using activities of the American people. Only incidentally has attention been given to the influence of our economic development upon allied fields of legal, political, intellectual, or general social history--matters which, while of great interest, should not be considered in detail in an introduction to economic history.
In its entirety, American economic development has been exceedingly complex, extending roughly over three centuries and encompassing the lives of millions of persons with economic activities subdivided into dozens of major occupations, hundreds of specialized branches, and thousands of enterprises. The manifold changes in these various phases of American life have been so uniquely conditioned that only specialized study can give an adequate explanation of their evolution. For this reason it is doubtful if any one person can ever treat with authority all the topics that should be included in a survey book in American Economic History. A really adequate treatment must draw upon the knowledge of scholars who have worked intensively in particular areas. Such is the plan followed in this volume. Each author has been chosen because of his special competence in the field about which he has written. Each chapter represents the balanced judgment of a person who has made a careful monographic study of his subject and who is therefore intimately acquainted with its details.
A wealth of material necessitates careful choice of subject matter for an introductory text on American economic history. It is impractical to include anything more than those topics that give the beginning student a knowledge and understanding of the major trends in the evolution of our economic institutions. Emphasis has therefore been placed . . .