The New Nation: A History of the United States during the Confederation, 1781-1789

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

7
The New Nation in a World of Empires

FOR ALL the enthusiasm with which Americans worked at improving the new nation, they did not, and could not, forget that they were still as much a part of the world as they had been as colonists. They had freed themselves from the British Empire but they still had to live in a world dominated by empires. Laws of trade and navigation covered most of the world they knew with an intricate network of monopoly restrictions on both shipping and goods. The export of the produce of farm, forest, and sea, and the import of manufactured goods was a vital part of American life. Hence, the legal definition of the place of the new nation in relation to the old ones was of the utmost importance.

While Americans were a part of the British Empire its acts of trade and navigation had both hindered and helped them. Many now greeted freedom from restrictions with joy as did the Massachusetts Centinel. It said that Americans should be grateful "to the supreme ruler of the universe by whose beneficence our commerce is freed from those shackles it used to be cramped with, and bids fair to extend to every part of the globe, without passing through the medium of England, that rotten island, absorbed in debt, and crumbling fast to annihilation."1

More than delight in freedom from economic shackles was involved in such statements. A large segment of American society had learned to hate Britain. Before 1775 the propaganda of the revolutionary leaders had dinned the fear of British tyranny into Americans. During the war itself propaganda made much of British "atrocities." Some of it was true and some not, but American leaders spread such stories in the army and among the civilian

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1
31 JULY 1784.

-154-

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