Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

PART III
WESTWARD EXPANSION AND THE RISE OF A NATIONAL ECONOMY, 1816-1860

CHAPTER XVI
THE PERIOD IN GENERAL AND THE WORLD BACKGROUND
Nineteenth-century Tendencies. With the end of the long and exhausting Napoleonic wars the western world thankfully saw the return of peace. Although the century that followed brought frequent wars, they were for the most part brief and the ripple of their effects, if in some ways spread over a large area, was less convulsive in consequences. A hundred years passed by before the whole western world was again drawn into a struggle that permeated and greatly altered the economic life of all civilization.In other fields of social life this century was destined to witness changes which, if slower, were in the long run more revolutionary in effect and of greater significance to mankind than any wars. With the brief perspective we possess today it is not easy to pass judgment but it now appears that the nineteenth century will stand out prominently as among the most remarkable that the world had ever seen for the extent of the changes that occurred. Among those that make the century so significant in world history--perhaps the greatest of them all, though we must remember that each reacted upon the others so that no one change was really independent--was that taking place in the economic life of the times. It is particularly important for our purposes, therefore, to know the significant world developments of this period, as a background to an understanding of the economic history of the United States.If we were to list the great developments of the nineteenth century that were of special significance in shaping the economic history of the world during this period, we might enumerate them as follows:
1. The progress in science and the application of this knowledge in industry through invention. From the purely economic point of view this was the most important development of the century, especially so since it underlay most of the other changes. The introduction of new sources of

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