The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789

By John Fiske | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
DRIFTING TOWARD ANARCHY

AT the close of the eighteenth century the barbarous superstitions of the Middle Ages concerning trade between nations still flourished with scarcely diminished vitality. The epoch-making work of Adam Smith had been published in the same year in which the United States declared their independence. The one was the great scientific event, as the other was the great political event of the age; but of neither the one nor the other were the scope and purport fathomed at the time. Among the foremost statesmen, those who, like Shelburne and Gallatin, understood the principles of the "Wealth of Nations " were few indeed. The simple principle that when two parties trade both must be gainers, or one would soon stop trading, was generally lost sight of; and most commercial legislation proceeded upon the theory that in trade, as in gambling or betting, what the one party gains the other must lose. Hence towns, districts, and nations surrounded themselves with walls of legislative restrictions intended to keep out the monster Trade, or to admit him only on strictest proof that he could do no harm. On this barbarous theory, the use of a colony consisted in its being a customer which you could compel to trade with yourself, while you could prevent it from trading with anybody else; and having secured this point, you could cunningly arrange things by legislation so as to throw all the loss upon this enforced customer, and keep all the gain to yourself. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries all the commercial legislation of the great colonizing states was based upon this theory of the use of a colony. For effectiveness, it shared to some

Barbarous superstitions about trade

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The Critical Period of American History, 1783-1789
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Preface to the First Edition viii
  • Contents xi
  • Notes on the Illustrations. xxi
  • Chapter I Results of Yorktown 1
  • Chapter II - The Thirteen Commonwealths 50
  • Chapter III - The League of Friendship 92
  • Chapter IV - Drifting Toward Anarchy 139
  • Chapter V - Germs of National Sovereignty 203
  • Chapter VI - The Federal Convention 249
  • Chapter VII - Crowning the Work 327
  • Bibliographical Note 377
  • Members of the Federal Convention 383
  • Presidents of the Continental Congress 386
  • Index 387
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