Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The American colonies were intertwined in the British economic system which was balanced in favor of English manufactures providing goods from the raw materials obtained from the colonies. As taxes were imposed on items that hurt the colonies financially, they turned to temporary economic independence from Britain as a bargaining tool. It began to be seen that the colonies and Britain were not perfectly joined as originally thought as many “began to reconsider the British system and their place within it.” The idea was to go back to the way things were once reason was seen and the taxes lifted by the Crown. Yet, as the Mother Country did not learn from previous actions they continued to put the colonies in a situation where manufacturing was looking to be more permanently temporary. Thoughts of total economic and cultural independence were not in the original thoughts of most colonists as they were perfectly happy in the British economic system. As the threat of an altercation between the Mother Country and her American offspring increased, plans for economic self-sufficiency were put into place with no thought of the long-term effects. Many of these failed but the attempt was loudly seen as a strong move to complete independence. The colonies were not taking any of Britain’s actions lying down.
Once political independence was achieved, the citizens of the new country found themselves without a stable economy and a need to establish a foundation quickly as continued use of British products made them slaves of the Empire in a different form. One problem that plagued all the states of the new union was the lack of expertise in creating the right manufacturing environment where none existed before. With superb marketing skills, many experts were enticed over the Atlantic to help build the economic foundation of America. This proved to be more difficult that many had imagined as foreign goods were still desired and an imbalance between the states on dealing the matter existed. The states still saw themselves as separate colonies governed uniquely instead of as one entity. It would take collaboration and Congress to step up to try and rectify this. It would happen but at a cost in which no state was completely satisfied. Each state would fight for its own voice and right to govern. This would continue to be a struggle through the end of the Civil War.
Manufacturers struggled to find their place in American society as did the merchants who had to deliver desired products at reasonable prices and still make a profit. Societies that could be seen as precursors to the unions were formed to help protect American laborers and fight against foreign imports. Though they would die in time, these societies helps shape the early American economy. Even the rural farming families struggled to fit in as they were both manufacturers and merchants. This spilled over into the cultural realm as society was being defined in ways that were vastly different than in Britain. The desire for more equality while struggling with inborn status views was found reflected in membership of manufacturing societies where many only had the rich as members and all had no women.
The cultural independence came originally through being separated from Britain for so long and being largely ignored. As the taxes began to be impressed upon them, they “began to recognize and defended the considerable autonomy that they had gained.” Independence culturally had been developing all along. The taxes just exposed it. The more Britain looked at America and the colonists’ reactions the more they saw danger as “to British eyes, a land of so many independent common men and so many chattel slaves seemed doubly strange and threatening to proper order.” Cultural independence did not happen when political and economic independence occurred. It had occurred long before. It took the steps toward economic and political freedom for anyone to fully notice how different culturally the Mother Country was from her child. The British and the Americans were totally different culturally while fooling themselves that they were one and the same.
The efforts of America to be politically, economically, and culturally independent from Britain was similar to that of a wildebeest born who has to quickly find its footing before the predators swoop down. It finds itself falling time and again but grows stronger with each effort. Eventually it takes off running and outdistances its mother. This was the development of American independence.
Peskin, Lawrence J, Manufacturing Revolution: The Intellectual Origins of Early American Industry (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 2003).
Taylor, Alan, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Penguin, 2001).