SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CAUSES OF THE COMMERCIAL PROSPERITY OF THE UNITED STATES
SOME CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CAUSES OF THE COMMERCIAL PROSPERITY OF THE UNITED STATES.
The Americans destined by nature to be a great maritime people–the Extent of their
coasts–Depth their ports–Size of their rivers–The commercial superiority of the
Anglo-Americans less attributable, however, to physical circumstances than to moral
and intellectual causes–Reason for this opinion–Future of the Anglo-Americans as a
commercial nation–The dissolution of the Union would not check the maritime vigor
of the states–Reason for this–Anglo-Americans will naturally supply the wants of the
inhabitants of South America–They will become, like the English, the commercial
agents of a great portion of the world.
THE coast of the United States, from the Bay of Fundy to the Sabine River in the Gulf of
Mexico is more than two thousand miles in extent. These shores form an unbroken line
and are all subject to the same government. No nation in the world possesses vaster,
deeper, or more secure ports for commerce than the Americans.
The inhabitants of the United States constitute a great civilized people, which fortune has
placed in the midst of an uncultivated country, at a distance of three thousand miles from
the central point of civilization. America consequently stands in daily need of Europe.
The Americans will no doubt ultimately succeed in producing or manufacturing at home
most of the articles that they require; but the two continents can never be independent of
each other, so numerous are the natural ties between their wants, their ideas, their habits,
and their manners.
The Union has peculiar commodities which have now become necessary to us, as they
cannot be cultivated or can be raised only at an enormous expense upon the soil of
Europe. The Americans consume only a small portion of this product, and they are
willing to sell us the rest. Europe is, therefore, the market of America, as America is the
market of Europe; and maritime commerce is no less necessary to enable the inhabitants
of the United States to transport their raw materials to the ports of Europe than it is to
enable us to supply them with our manufactured products. The United States must
therefore either furnish much business to other maritime nations, even if they should
themselves renounce commerce, as the Spaniards of Mexico have hitherto done, or they
must become one of the foremost maritime powers of the globe.
The Anglo-Americans have always displayed a decided taste for the sea. The Declaration
of Independence, by breaking the commercial bonds that united them to England, gave a
fresh and powerful stimulus to their maritime genius. Ever since that time the shipping of
the Union has increased almost as rapidly as the number of its inhabitants. The
Americans themselves now transport to their own shores nine-tenths of the European
produce which they consume.91 And they also bring three-quarters of the. exports of the
New World to the European consumer.92 The ships of the United States fill the docks of
Havre and of Liverpool, while the number of English and French vessels at New York is
Thus not only does the American merchant brave competition on his own ground, but he
even successfully supports that of foreign nations in their own ports. This is readily
explained by the fact that the vessels of the United States cross the seas at a cheaper rate.
As long as the mercantile shipping of the United States preserves this superiority, it will
not only retain what it has acquired, but will constantly increase in prosperity.
It is difficult to say for what reason the Americans can navigate at a lower rate than other
nations; one is at first led to attribute this superiority to the physical advantages that
nature gives them; but it is not so. The American vessels cost almost as much to build as
our own; 94 they are not better built, and they generally last a shorter time. The pay of the
American sailor is higher than the pay on board European ships, as is proved by the great
number of Europeans who are to be found in the merchant vessels of the United States.
How does it happen, then, that the Americans sail their vessels at a cheaper rate than we
can ours? I am of the opinion that the true cause of their superiority must not be sought
for in physical advantages, but that it is wholly attributable to moral and intellectual
The following comparison will illustrate my meaning. During the campaigns of the
Revolution the French introduced a new system of tactics into the art of war, which
perplexed the oldest generals and very nearly destroyed the most ancient monarchies of
Europe. They first undertook to makeshift without a number of things that had always
been held to be indispensable in warfare; they required novel exertions of their troops
which no civilized nations had ever thought of; they achieved great actions in an
incredibly short time and risked human life without hesitation to obtain the object in
view. The French had less money and fewer men than their enemies; their resources were
infinitely inferior; nevertheless, they were constantly victorious until their adversaries
chose to imitate their example.
The Americans have introduced a similar system into commerce: they do for cheapness
what the French did for conquest. The European sailor navigates with prudence; he sets
sail only when the weather is favorable; if an unforeseen accident befalls him, he puts
into port; at night he furls a portion of his canvas; and when the whitening billows
intimate the vicinity of land, he checks his course and takes an observation of the sun.
The American neglects these precautions and braves these dangers. He weighs anchor
before the tempest is over; by night and by day he spreads his sails to the wind; such
damage as his vessel may have sustained from the storm, he repairs as he goes along; and
when he at last approaches the end of his voyage, he darts onward to the shore as if he
already descried a port. The Americans are often shipwrecked, but no trader crosses the
seas so rapidly. And as they perform the same distance in a shorter time, they can
perform it at a cheaper rate.
The European navigator touches at different ports in the course of a long voyage; he loses
precious time in making the harbor or in waiting for a favorable wind to leave it, and he
pays daily dues to be allowed to remain there. The American starts from Boston to
purchase tea in China; he arrives at Canton, stays there a few days, and then returns. In
less than two years he has sailed as far as the entire circumference of the globe and has
seen land but once. It is true that during a voyage of eight or ten months he has drunk
brackish water and lived on salt meat; that he has been in a continual contest with the sea,
with the disease, and with weariness; but upon his return, he can sell a pound of his tea for a
halfpenny less than the English merchant, and his purpose is accomplished.
I cannot better explain my meaning than by saying that the Americans show a sort of
heroism in their manner of trading. The European merchant will always find it difficult to
imitate his American competitor, who, in adopting the system that I have just described,
does not follow calculation, but an impulse of his nature.
The inhabitants of the United States experience all the wants and all the desires that result
from an advanced civilization; and as they are not surrounded, as in Europe, by a
community skillfully organized to satisfy them, they are often obliged to procure for
themselves the various articles that education and habit have rendered necessaries. In
America it sometimes happens that the same person tills his field, builds his dwelling,
fashions his tools, makes his shoes, and weaves the coarse stuff of which his clothes are
composed. This is prejudicial to the excellence of the work, but it powerfully contributes
to awaken the intelligence of the workman. Nothing tends to materialize man and to
deprive his work of the faintest trace of mind more than the extreme division of labor. In
a country like America, where men devoted to special occupations are rare, a long
apprenticeship cannot be required from anyone who embraces a profession. The
Americans, therefore, change their means of gaining a livelihood very readily, and they
suit their occupations to the exigencies of the moment. Men are to be met with who have
successively been lawyers, farmers, merchants, ministers of the Gospel, and physicians.
If the American is less perfect in each craft than the European, at least there is scarcely
any trade with which he is utterly unacquainted. His capacity is more general, and the
circle of his intelligence is greater.
|Academic Level||College (1-2 years: Freshmen, Sophomore)|
|Subject Area||International Relations|
|Number of Pages||2 Page(s)/550 words|