In George Washington’s First Annual Message to Congress, he looked beyond the largely then-agricultural states and expressed his aspiration that the United States would be self-sufficient for its agricultural, manufacturing, and military needs. At the time, this was a Federalist-backed belief, so that the United States could become a rival to the powers of Europe.
But it planted the seeds for the transformation of America. Then-Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton took Washington’s message to heart, drawing up the Report on the Subject of Manufactures on December 5, 1791. In his report, Hamilton recognized that the building of the American powerhouse economy would take “three or four decades,” but he sketched out the basic economic keys to enabling the transformation to occur. For example, Hamilton explained the necessity of establishing banks, a national mint, and a uniform, paper currency.
These actions by Hamilton and Washington planted the seeds for the United States to take full advantage of the Industrial Revolution’s seismic changes, which of course would place the United States among the leading nations in the world. Considering what was to come in the next three to four decades, and the two centuries since then, Hamilton and Washington have shown their wisdom and vision for the country.
Looking more broadly at American history, it is difficult to identify a more pivotal moment in setting the trajectory for the country. The gravity of policy decisions seldom have the long term consequences that the early decisions of the first presidents had. One could speculate that the Americans’ preparedness for the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II was bolstered by Washington’s and Hamilton’s idea to transition the economy from a largely agricultural society to a manufacturing, military-focused society.
Regardless, it does not require speculation to conclude that we are certainly the beneficiaries of their wisdom.