A Brief History of the US Economy (1653)

The American economy had to be built, as they say, from the ground up. Those immigrants who were not willing to work hard – or work with their hands as well as their heads – seldom did well in the New World. In the beginning there were simply no farms, no houses or factories. Whatever was needed had to be made by the settlers themselves. The tremendous ingenuity and inventiveness of Americans can be traced to this time.

The colonists were left to build their own communities and their own economy. People lived primarily on small farms and were self-sufficient.

Early colonial prosperity was resulted from trapping and trading in furs. Fishing was a primary source of wealth in Massachusetts.

Industry developed as the colonies grew. A variety of specialized sawmills and gristmills appeared. Colonies established shipyards to build fishing fleets and trading vessels. They also built small iron forges. By the 18th century regional pattern of development had become clear: the New England colonies relied on ship-building and sailing to generate wealth; plantations (many used slave labour) in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas grew tobacco, rice and indigo; and the middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware cultivated general crops. Except for slaves, standards of living were generally high.

The US Constitution, adopted in 1787 established that the entire nation – stretching then from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi Valley – was a unified or "common" market. The Constitution provided that the federal government could regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the states, establish uniform bankruptcy laws, create money and regulate its value, fix standards of weights and measures and establish post offices and roads. The last-mentioned clause was an early recognition of the importance of "intellectual property", a matter that would assume great importance in trade negotiations in the late 20th century.


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