In the early Republic, trading became a staple of the American economy, which affected American relations with other countries in drastic ways.
American merchants “brought home products from Canton, China, and ports in the Indian Ocean, including teas, coffee, chinaware, spices, and silks, before shipping them on to Europe . . . .” Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 623. America imported goods from Europe only to export them to “the West Indies, South America, and elsewhere.” Id. However, perhaps most surprisingly, between 1795 and 1805, “American trade with India was greater than that of all the European nations combined.” Id. citing Ted Widmer, Ark of the Liberties: America and the World (New York, 2008), 66.
Much of this trading arose out of the fact that America had not transformed into a purely industrial, manufacturing economy as much of Europe had during this time period. Rather, many Americans maintained their farming and picked up trading and other practices to make virtually all Americans participants in a massive national and international economic system. See Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 627. These changes had domestic political implications, with the Republicans satisfied with the economic system and the Federalists believing it was an underachieving system. Id.
The Republicans wanted to raise America’s status in the world, rather than solely focus on the state of the economy like the Federalists. Id. at 629. The Republicans wanted to create a system that prevented war from occurring and would also make America a recognized force to be reckoned with on the international stage. Id.
Republicans ultimately took actions that surprised other countries’ officials. For example, the Republicans replaced diplomatic missions with consuls who handled international trade. A Russian official commented that Americans were “singular,” and wanted “commercial ties without political ties,” which was widely considered an impossibility at the time. Id. at 632 citing Irving Brant, James Madison: The President, 1809-1812 (Indianapolis, 1956), 69.
These actions by the early Americans were largely intended to distinguish America as a player on the international stage. Perhaps out of a desire to show the world that America was not England and certainly was its own country who had its own policies, the Republicans underwent this course of action, much to the chagrin of the English and to some other government officials.
The Americans were eager to distinguish themselves and to build an economy that was sustainable. The ongoing war between Napoleonic France and England partially allowed America to use its resources to build its trade routes and grow its economy.
Some may look to these events as some of the earliest examples of American exceptionalism, which would perhaps be a keen observation. These early years of the Republic would ultimately set the stage for the War of 1812, but for the time being, Americans would have been content knowing that the economy was growing, trade was blossoming, and they were building the new country.