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

By Merrill Jensen | Go to book overview

PART THREE
The Pattern of American Economy

THE DETERMINING forces in the history of the United States after the Revolution were many: both personal and impersonal, idealistic and selfish. But the overshadowing fact lying back of political and personal forces was the stress and change in the pattern of economic relationships. The nature of the economy and its problems were disputed then, and have been ever since. The "economic interpretation" of the period long precedes the appearance of a noted book on that subject in the twentieth century. During the Confederation there was endless reiteration of the idea that a more powerful central government would solve the country's economic problems. During the struggle over the ratification of the Constitution of 1787, its supporters insisted with unvarying monotony that if the new constitution were not adopted, economic chaos would follow. Their opponents, on the other hand, insisted with equal monotony that the times were not difficult and that the argument of chaos to follow was political in purpose.

The population of the newborn nation was predominantly agrarian: more than ninety per cent of the people lived on farms and thereby made their living. The ultimate prosperity of America was in large measure the prosperity of its farmers, which was in turn dependent in great measure on the export of farm produce to Europe and the West Indies. Those farmers who did not produce for export were self-sufficing to a large extent, so that it mattered little whether ships left harbors but it was important what kind of taxes were laid. Their thinking was the unvoiced kind of those who are rooted in the soil and who work with their hands. Thus while they were "America" in terms of its population and its produce, their needs, wants, and problems seldom found their way into the

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