the Articles of Confederation: Think Tank for the Economic Development Agenda of the Federalist “Tribe”


A Brief Road Map to Provide Structure for the Reader

In this section, I conflate the shift to a federal, democratic, emerging industrial/agricultural capitalist policy system with the rise of and governance of the Federalist Tribe.

First, of all, as shall be made amply clear below, the Federalist Party was never a mass-based political party in the modern sense. If anything it was a composite of political-economic elites who governed the initial years of the Early Republic–operating within a loose ideological policy consensus in an embryonic democracy with substantial remnants of a colonial deference political culture still evident. It governed in these early years without systemic organized political opposition, although as we have seen anti-Federalist, and Populist  sentiments existed, and anomic policy and political counter pressure was definitely noticed by most in the Federalist Tribe. Noticed is the wrong word. Judging by the descriptive terms and the Federalist reaction to anomic Populist activities, they took it seriously and saw it as a significant threat. The Federalist reaction to anti-Federalists on the other hand, if the Bill of Rights is any indication, was more flexible and accommodative.

In my mind, the Articles of Confederation period (1775-1788) was a transitory era with a series of distinctive state-level policy systems, each of which coped in its own way with huge economic, geographic. historical, demographic differences while confronting  serious, but somewhat mysterious dynamics that unleashed disruptive political change. As the world’s first federal democracy, housed in the remote wilderness of North America there was n evident road map they could follow. Judging by the nick-names they gave themselves in their political debate, and the references they often employed, the Roman Republic was likely seen as their best role model. The debate was often conducted in blog-like essays written by prominent individuals who adopted a pseudonym–usually a Roman name–as was also done in the constitutional debate that produced the Federalist Papers.

The former “motherland”, Britain was still a very real threat to America’s physical existence, and reactions to it often polarized economic and political debate. In 1783, fragility and vulnerability of the new Republic in a hostile world was an element that elites shared. In that atmosphere, the Federalist Tribe instead of dramatically “going where no man had gone before”, preferred to keep in mind the power of the former motherland, and the value of learning from it what they could–not the least because their economic and political institutions were transplanted from Britain and still meaningfully tied to it. This proved to be a major fault line, as both the anti-Federalist and Populist sentiments saw the Revolution  as Independence and preferred to make a break and carve out their own path into the wilderness. Their version of a “democratic economy” was decidedly different from that the Federalists envisioned. The policy systems they preferred scared the hell out of the Federalists–for the most part. The Populists in the Federalism mindset constituted an existentialist threat–that is one major reason why Populists were introduced so early in our module series. That each approached ED differently meant the pushing and shoving between Federalists and Populists really matters to our history.

This module attempts to summarize several of the salient ED policy positions and perspectives that constituted what I believe is the core of the Federalist Tribe’s ED-relevant consensus and which underscored their future political and policy agenda when they came into governance in 1789. That policy consensus was forged, tenuously I might add, in the Bunsen Burner experimentation that occurred in the Thirteen States during the Articles of Confederation. Given that the opposition to that consensus had not crystallized to the point that it could stop implementation of the Federalist consensus during Washington, and Adams, administrations, the Federalist in Washington’s first administration (1789-1792) gave implementation of that consensus the “old college try”. The initial policy and economic infrastructure associated with nation/state-building institutionalization was the Federalist’s highest priority. ED, tied so closely to policy systems undergoing state-building institutionalization meant that state-level ED was even more seriously disrupted. The installation of an economic infrastructure so essential to the preservation of national independence and citizen prosperity, always carried along for the ride the future course of American ED. ED policy-making, attempted by Washington and Hamilton especially, put American ED (as I always put it) “in the crosshairs” of policy-making. And as I always remind the reader, twigs are bent, and scars, even if forgotten or healed over, shape the unconscious heritage that somehow carries over into the profession/policy area’s DNA.

States at time of Louisiana Purchase

So let’s start at the beginning, the loose Federalist consensus developed both in debate–there was considerable debate not dissimilar from the debate that confronted the issues involved in the proposed 1787 new constitution, aka the Federalist Papers. That economic debate started long before, in 1783 formally, but really as early as 1774 if we are to trust our Philadelphia case studies. The centrality of what we label as capitalist MED, and the centrality of a major MED strategy, developmental transportation infrastructure, was evident after 1770, if our George Washington case study has merit. The Federalist consensus, and the agenda that followed, heavily prioritized MED, and I might add had a little known “CD” element as well. During the Early Republic, constant change, economic growth and political modernization/democratization was grossly uneven–hugely disruptive, and oft-times discontinuous among geographic regions/states, and ,as the nation expanded new states only added to the diversity.

What was realized at the time the Federalist consensus was emerging was that the new United States held within its disputed borders, at least two, almost opposing, economic bases. Even though agriculture was by far the dominant economic base of the entire nation, the nature and configuration of that agricultural economic base resulted in almost two distinct approaches into the economic future. Household farming/homestead versus plantations, semi-agricultural factories worked by slaves, not freeholders as in the other. Both produced distinctive urban forms and configurations, adding yet another element that separated the two economic bases. Most significant was the radically different nature of their immigration and population flows, which led to regions separated not only by their economic base, but by their political cultures. Colonial American immigration and migration had produced, what I label as America’s First Big Sort.

A byproduct in that Big Sort was that one economic base was significantly more open to the ways/experiments of the new industrializing capitalism, and the other profoundly skeptical, if not oppositional if confronted in the wrong way. The Federalist consensus was always fragile and loose so that it could accommodate these seemingly inherent fissures so to maintain an outward unity during the War of Independence, and a more defensive unity upon achieving that independence. In any case reconciling that “Two Regions” dynamic into the Federalist consensus was an especially critical element–and as it turned out, arguably the chief reason the Federalist consensus wore so thin, so quickly during Washington’s administrations. The other reason which screamed out from our past modules on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Robert Morris was that nation/state-building institutionalization polarized politics and policy-making, attacking head-on several major fault lines in American society and politics. A national government with significant economic institutionalization was a challenge to state sovereignty, and a capitalist finance/currency/debt system tilted to commercial trade, cities, and industrial start-ups rather than homestead/household hinterland agriculture really stirred up the bees’ nest. The Federalist fragile elite consensus ruptured under that twin assault within five years in power. More on that in future modules.

In this module, we will place our DTIS in a larger context, introduce the Federalist thought concerning manufacturing, foreign trade/export, slavery as a workforce, and then spend some time understanding “Two Regions” as an economic/political reality and how the different parties were able to conceptualize it so that a national government could be formed, while both distinctive economic bases were free to advance their own preferred economic base. In the next module after this, we will focus on a major element in the Federalist consensus: crossing the Appalachians and settlement of the Central borderlands and Midwestern “Northwest Territory”. Not only was that a major harbinger for our future foreign policy, but it vividly gave new expression to Populist governance, but laid the framework for how the Two Regions could expand into the wilderness and set up their distinctive economic bases.

The Articles Bunsen Burner Forged an ED Consensus that became the Economic Development Agenda of a Federalist Tribe/Party

Ever Wonder What a Bunsen Burner Looks Like?

The closed, affluent, revolutionary war leadership, and associated economic elites that dominated agenda-making during these very critical years frame what was to become the core ED agenda of the Federalist Tribe once it was elected to office under the new Constitution in 1789. That agenda was forged–much too strong a word–or fabricated in the five or so years following the 1783 Peace of Paris. That agenda was “loose”, and was never codified into a formal written platform by anybody. It may well be an “artificial” consensus of a series of ideas and institutional experiments that were conducted within the decentralized confines of each state’s policy system. The Articles capital moved around, ending up in New York City–where Washington would take his oath of office in 1789, but as a national government it was so weak its deliberative bodies moved around mid-Atlantic states in no particular pattern.

It was to the states, and the business and political leaders of this revolutionary war generation that we look to uncover whatever ED agenda items they advocated. Several were adopted by a state or two during the Articles, and, it was in these early years that the earliest forms of a commercial banking system, what would be the prototype for the First National Bank of Secretary of Treasury Hamilton, were discussed and created.

Discussion, as one might expect, was wide-ranging, but without apology I have culled several planks that are especially central to our economic development history. Besides the banking/finance/fiscal and currency nexus (which shall be dealt with in its own topic section below), that list includes manufacturing, agriculture, slavery, DTIS, free trade and port cities and tariffs. A surprising, to me at least, finding was these topics frequently overlapped, and not infrequently wandered into how to coordinate and manage what, even in 1783, was perceived as two distinctive regional economies: a solidly agricultural South (with slavery a common subject of discussion)  and a more heterogeneous northern economy of trade, finance, trade, small household agriculture, and amazingly manufacturing–with an early Pennsylvania experiment in factories. What to do with two different regional economic bases invited some thought. That there was little debate in favor of one over the other was remarkable in itself, but almost all who were concerned with this issue developed a consensus that was based on what today we would call the comparative advantage of each region should determine its future economic base. I have labeled this issue the “two regions consensus”. It is the aggregate of these individual items that I attribute the grandiose label of “forged ED consensus” that Washington packed into his policy luggage when he formed a new government in 1789.

That agenda dominated Washington’s first administration, and depending upon the individual agenda item permeated into state, and where relevant local policy agendas as well. As discussed previously, several items in the agenda, banking and finance is the one we concentrate on, proved very divisive, but was arguably among the most fundamental nation/institution-building priority during the decade; it diffused to state agendas and by the end of the decade a national/state commercial banking system, rudimentary to be sure by today’s standards, was in place.

Since it is hard to conceive of any effective ED approach in an emerging capitalist economy without a commercial and governmental banking, fiscal, and finance/tax system (including federal mint and currency) in place, the gradual installation of this set of institutions tempered the application of most any other ED strategy and program, and thrust it into the background. We shall see later, for example, how this affected our ED “innovation” plank, and absent any effective finance and lending system Washington’s canal/river system DTIS strategy at times barely survived and then “satisficed” compromising its original network in favor of a more limited by at least profitable one. Washington, as President, still keeping a watchful eye over his pet project, obviously had other matters on his mind–including as we shall also see in a later module, a city-building of his next pet project: the national capital in his carefully chosen location.

In any event, the first plank in that consensus which I address will be manufacturing.

Hugh Williamson, buried in Trinity Church New York City

Manufactures” is how they referred to it in the 1780’s, and it is surprisingly pervasive–and was never seriously debated but rather accepted, for different reasons of course, as both inevitable and in its own way desirable.

Little known, the Articles of Confederation early in 1776 adopted a resolution proposing the formation of societies for the promotion of manufactures in all the colonies. This followed up on a “circullar letter’ written by Benjamin Franklin on May 1, 1743, which he called for the establishment of a “American Philosophical Society” who purpose was to promote “useful knowledge among the British Plantations in America. Specifically included in these useful knowledges were “new mechanical inventions for saving labour, as mills and carriages, and for raising and conveying water … all new arts, trades, and manufactures that may be proposed or thought of”. The American Philosophical Society was formed, and it established its own standing committee on “American Improvements” [99] Stuart Bruchey, pp. 106-7), a committee which continued in operation for decades to follow.

The promotion of manufactures, oddly enough, received a boost from reaction to the 1765 Stamp Act which generated a desire to replace imported British manufactures with American manufacturers. Immediately after that period, several Massachusetts towns offered “premiums” (I am not sure specifically what that meant) to encourage the growth of raw materials and their manufacture. The New York Society for the Promotion of the Arts, Agriculture, and Economy (a state-charted corporation (which followed from Franklin’s advocacy) also offered premiums, established a spinning school, and conducted a bi-weekly market for the sale of New York manufactures. To complete the loop, in response to the 1776 Articles resolution, the American Society of Arts and Sciences was established in Boston (May 1780) by John Adams and others to promote and encourage “improvements in agriculture, arts,, manufacturers and commerce[99] Stuart Bruchey, pp. 106-7.

Advocacy of manufactures gathered further momentum during the 1780’s expressed in the formation of workingman’s, mechanics, tradesmen, as well as manufacturing entrepreneurial associations, starting in New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Providence–as well as those reported earlier in our Philadelphia case studies. In 1788, the Boston Association of Tradesmen and Manufactures advocated (in the atmosphere generated by ratification of the new Constitution) that a “plan could be adopted throughout the confederation for the exchange of the produce and manufactures of each state, we conceive it would cement a general union” [99] Bruchey, p. 108. In February, 1789, about six weeks before he took the oath as President of the new Republic (and six months before he nominated Hamilton as Secretary of Treasury), Washington wrote to Jefferson “that the greatest and most important objects of internal concern which occupy the public mind are manufactures and inland navigation[99] Bruchey, p. 108


To some degree that was inevitable once we acknowledge the closed, affluent elites that we formulating this agenda. Ninety percent of America was in little way represented or included into the comment. It turns out even elites whose fortunes and politics rested on agriculture in rural areas diddled with manufactures. Most prominent was Hugh Williamson, an Articles Congressman, a scholar, a physician who now represented North Carolina and would shortly become a signatory to the new U.S. Constitution and U.S. Congressman. To him, manufacturing was a panacea, the threat of which would compel Great Britain to reduce her trade belligerence, facilitate our foreign trade, provide the machinery for DTIS and transportation, and the taxing of British manufacturing imports could both protect our own domestic manufactures and contribute to the government’s treasury. Williamson wrote under the pen name of “Sylvius”, and he simply asserted there was no special reason why agriculture and manufacturing could not coexist to mutual satisfaction. He also opened the door to the “two regions consensus”, and tossed in urbanization for good measure:

The citizens of the East should set the first example of manufactures. Producing little fit for exportation, they cannot pay for their imports. But their climate is against the heat of the South [which] allows year round work for whites. They are free of domestic slavery, which is unfriendly to manufactures, but they live close to one another in contiguous small towns which are the proper nurseries of manufactures. More over they are naturally industrious and tractable. As manufacturing towns increase, provisions [food] may become scarce in the East, through the South’s fertile soil will always supply sufficient foodstuffs as well as raw materials … [in addition a] 5 percent [tariff] could pay off the war debt [12] the Letters of Sylvius, American Museum, Vol II (August, 1787), pp. 117-120, p. 129 as cited in Joseph Dorfman, the Economic Mind in American Civilization 1606-1865, Volume One (the Viking Press, 1946), pp. 151-2.

Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, carried much of the debate on manufacture as that was where the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and the Useful Arts was located–who said Think Tanks were a twentieth century fabrication! The society was privately established in Philadelphia in 1787 by a goodly number of the city’s political and economic elite, including several future Pennsylvania governors and multiple future political leaders.  The Secretary (equivalent to Executive Director] of the Society, William Barton had earlier (1786) published an influential commentary sexily entitled “the True Interest of the United States and Particularly of Pennsylvania Considered” in which he outlines the compelling need to foster manufactures in the United States. He too asserts through manufacturing is compatible with agriculture and essential in preserving America’s independence or as he phrases it “the precarious operations of the foreign nations”. To ensure the success of American manufacturing he advocated “prohibitions, bounties [tax and government cash incentives] and duties … until our rapid increase of population reduces wages to a level to meet English manufactures … The country abounds with naval stores and shipbuilding and [to encourage its growth]  we should impose extraordinary duties on commodities imported from foreign countries in vessels built on owned abroad” [14] William Barton,the True Interest of the United States and Particularly of Pennsylvania Considered” quoted in Dorfman, p. 153. Barton, a correspondent with Washington, among other achievements and a considerable number of economic publications and awards, would design the first Great Seal of the United States, which was imprinted on our initial currency.

Trench Coxe

A principal founder of the Pennsylvania Society, Tench Coxe carried the case for manufacturing to another level entirely. Writing under a pseudonym “A Pennsylvanian”, the experienced, educated, well-connected, but-semi-wealthy businessman was at the time a delegate to the Annapolis Convention and a Pennsylvania representative to the Articles Congress. A few years later, as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Hamilton, he co-authored Hamilton’s famous 1791 “Report to Manufactures”. Well-published his comments echoed those reported previously (Williamson, Barton) in asserting that the U.S. should develop a balanced economy (agriculture and manufacturing were symbiotic), belief that the South should stress agriculture and North manufacturing as the most profitable for each, a tariff on manufacturing imports, support for fisheries not dissimilar to one a cluster proponent would advocate but he stressed the need for a stronger national government to regulate commerce between the states–even to the extent of vetoing individual state actions harmful to the whole.

But it was his co-leadership of a truly remarkable public (State of Pennsylvania) /private (the Society) experiment/project: a textile factory structured around community development principles of providing employment (above “minimum wage” levels) to distressed women in need (1787-8). [We shall discover in a future module, for better or worse, politically-correct or not, the initial factory workforce, in nearly every nation that possessed, one was women and children–for reasons that were not exploitative, if sexist]. The Society set up a committee funded by special member subscription to which 800 contributed, to jump-start and partially finance the project. Governed by a twelve members, the Manufacturing Committee first unsuccessfully attempted to steal the design of the English Arkwright water-powered factory, but then established a hybrid “putting out”/factory assembly in which between 200 and 300 needy women spun flax in their homes, which were assembled at a factory (9th and Market St) that included four jennies with 40 to 80 spindles and 26 handlooms. It didn’t go well. Insensitive to wages and other costs, and friction caused between the women at home and the competing jennies at the factory, the factory was burned in a fire of suspicious origin, with total loss of inventory and equipment. The committee quickly–and the larger Society eventually were bankrupted in 1801–although Coxe attempted unsuccessfully to revive it in 1804. [13] and Dorfman, p. 256. BTW the first successful importation of the English factory (also effectively stolen), by Slater in Rhode Island, occurred between 1791-4 and will be described in a future module.

Foreign Trade (not Free) Takes Some Interesting Turns– In the 1780”s (and long after) in a global environment saturated with wars (and “peaceful” privateers), embargoes and boycotts, trade was pockmarked by outright tariffs and restrictive legislation no matter the nation involved. The topic in the Articles’ debate was not free trade, but “open trade”, i.e. reciprocal access to foreign markets. It is logical (we were almost totally dependent on imports, and if we had agglomerations/clusters at the time they were export finance, marine shipping/ports, fishing, and shipbuilding), but to me interesting that open trade was among the most discussed, and the least debated. England was the country central to most debate comments about open trade. This will later prove critical to understanding what will later become a fault line in Early Republic partisan debate: economic trade with Great Britain. In 1983, war might be over, but Britain was no friend.

a “pensive” Benjamin Rush

I uncovered no real opposition among these influential elites to open trade. Having uncovered no real elite opposition to open trade, one curiously sees comments dismissing one: that it caused what today we would describe as inequality–“luxury”, they called it then. It appears in the eyes at least some others (presumably non-elites) trade was seen as a haven of proto-neo-liberals. Benjamin Rush, a scientist, physician (former Surgeon General for the Revolutionary Army), member of the Sons of Liberty, consultant to Paine in “Common Sense”, an accomplished graduate of several prominent universities (including Edinburgh and College of New Jersey-Princeton), college faculty member, elected in 1788 to be a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Rush, a latter strong advocate for Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election against Federalist John Adams, called attention that “although commerce [trade] produces luxury should it be restricted in a rising republic?”. Rush rejected that position [55] quoted in Dorfman,p. 146, and included in Rush’s classic work” Essays: Literary, Moral and Philosophical (1806).

Trade was easily seen as the lifeblood for the American economy, and totally essential to its future growth and prosperity. If open trade was not contested, the interesting feature was why it was advocated–open trade was a segue way to solving other critical issues and promoting several other ED strategies. There were so many twists and turns I have selected only a couple to describe. Madison strongly endorsed open, i.e.  “perfect freedom of trade“, as essential to American independence, but believed a precondition to open trade was America’s retirement of Revolutionary War debt-and as a precursor to his future War of 1812, he wrote in 1786 to Richard Henry Lee that “So long as other nations impose disabilities on American ships and seamen, we must either retaliate in kind … or renounce our just profits and hopes of achieving real independence” [11] Dorfman, p.246 and included in Madison’s Writings, Volume II, pp. 150-51 and p. 156-7.

A number of southern commentators focused on open trade with Spain, and their reference point was the Mississippi River (which was Spanish at the time), including Madison, Monroe and a fellow named Washington complained that “Eastern (by which they meant northern) merchants “in the interest of a free liberal system of trade” were also willing to let Spain close the Mississippi to navigation (Kentucky at the time was part of Virginia)–to which several commentators such as Gouverneur Morris of NY and Rufus King of Massachusetts declared that settlement of those western lands “would be at the expense of the East” as “the settlers beyond the Appalachians could never be attached to the Union“. Monroe replied that the Easterners desired to “keep the weight of population eastward … to appreciate the vacant lands of Massachusetts and New York (the Northwest Territories] [22] Dorfman, pp. 247-8. Apparently, even then open trade contained overtones of regional protectionism–and open trade if not universally open carried over into what we describe as DTIS and future western settlement. In the Articles period, DTIS had already assumed aspects of regional competitiveness. Which, of course, is a great segue way to DTIS itself.

General and Governor Alexander C. Martin of North Carolina

Development Transportation Infrastructure Strategy–Suffice it to say, it is during this Article’s debate that the events of the first two modules (Washington’s Patowmack Canal and the Steamboat race between Virginia and Pennsylvania occurred). Virginia and Philadelphia were not alone in DTIS and western settlement, however; the Governor of North Carolina, for example, Alexander C. Martin, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and future U.S. Senator (April 1784) addressed his legislature with his plea that state be aware of the importance of that issue and strategy: “If our rivers be made more navigable and roads opened, industrious planters can have their goods carried more conveniently … [allowing] more merchants of opulence [shades of Rush] to settle in the state, and open new Part IIIresources of industry among our inhabitants … with labor being fully compensated as their “wealth would increase [i.e. prosperity] and in proportion also the state’s revenue[33], Dorfman, p. 249. I think I read something like that in this morning’s newspaper in reference to the Amazon second HQ.

Washington, as we know, took a different twist–arguing that it was best Spain restricted Mississippi navigation until DTIS opened up the west to American settlement. Otherwise he argued open navigation was premature because what would really bind the area and its inhabitants was economic interest fostered by open access through rivers/canals to Atlantic coastal ports. But in the 1780’s it was those Virginia hotheads such as Jefferson and especially Madison (who we hall soon discover would in two or three short years, become the Early Republic’s first Speaker of the all-powerful House of Representatives). Madison, writing to Jefferson in 1784 (previous to Washington’s Patowmack Canal) detailed a much more elaborate plan (which will be adopted by Washington).

Observing that Virginia lacked a major port city the like of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Charleston, Virginia needed to create one. “Virginia should restrict her foreign trade to two ports, and so achieve that commercial empire in Maryland and Virginia promised by the advocates of the canal policy before the Revolutionary War [which, of course, included Washington]. Otherwise we shall continue on the old plan of British monopoly [his love of England is so evident] and diffusive credit“. Lamenting the existing trade disadvantaged Virginia and preferenced in particular Philadelphia, Madison advocated Norfolk and the little Potomac port of Alexandria as his preferenced locations [77] Dorfman, pp. 248-9. In what would prove typical of the Virginia legislature, they endorsed his “two port policy” and immediately stalemated on which two ports. Washington, deep in his Patowmack venture wasted little time in that debate–he purchased considerable property around and about Alexandria, the village at the headwaters of the Potomac. His later idea, which he kept to himself, was to build his own city, which BTW would be the nation’s capital, which using Alexandria, Athens/Piraeus-like, would become Virginia’s port.

As to a theme ” to what degree the national government need be involved in S&L economic development” was simply not specifically addressed in the Article’s debate. The presumption was a state-centered confederation of states, so there is really no serious debate as to how much we need a national government in order to pursue effective economic development.  Washington quickly realized his three-state DTIS project (each on one side of the Potomac plus Pennsylvania) was going nowhere, and it needed coordination by a national government–and some money wouldn’t hurt either–if it was to survive and prosper. And BTW as we know, he sincerely believed that unless we seized economic and political site control over the nation’s interior using a DTIS strategy, some foreign power would enter into the vacuum. That was the trigger for the set of meetings that eventually led to the Constitutional Convention and the Constitution. Washington’s bold and creative use of an S&L ED strategy, refereed and subsidized by a stronger federal government was would eventually open a door to federal involvement in S&L ED, and begin a tradition that continues to the present. Interstate commerce was an item, but the more typical concern was a uniform set of definitions/regulations and capping the natural tendency of each state to compete with the others. Sorry! Washington, in our two opening modules, was the principal source of disruption on that matter. The steamboat patent debacle associated with Washington’s DTIS strategy beclouded his DTIS initiative, and submersed it in a low priority effort to bring order to a Thirteen State patent non-system.

Slavery–and the Two Regions Consensus: 

It is not possible to arbitrarily separate slavery from the discussion on the two different regional agricultural economic bases, nor from the formation of our fragile Federalist Two Regions consensus. Said and done, because of slavery American agriculture was perceived as radically split between plantation and homestead agriculture. Both regions developed large-scale singly-owned landed estates in their hinterland, owned and managed by wealthy elites. These large-scale operations differed on two dimensions: their workforce, and the type of crops (non-foodstuff consumable versus non-foodstuff commercial) they raised. Had Virginia and South Carolina adapted their plantations along the style of Pennsylvania’s Quaker (and Upstate New York Dutch) large-scale “manors” tilled by renters and day-laborer that produced foodstuffs, it is quite conceivable our history would have wandered off in a different direction than the ill-fated one it took.

Charles Pinckney

Textbooks leave one with the impression that slavery as a moral issue erupted dramatically with the appearance of abolitionist activism in the very early 1830’s,.My research easily demonstrates slavery was seen by many in the course of the Articles ED debate as a moral stain on America. New England housed a disproportionate share of morality-driven anti-slavery statements, but Philadelphia also had its share as well. Defenders of slavery were few and far between, as shall be discussed shortly. What is equally clear, however, is that compared to our contemporary 2018 commentary, the intensity of 1780 moral outrage was considerably more subdued, and slavery was not at all a first-rank priority in the Articles debate. Slavery, although increasingly in disfavor, was commonplace throughout the world, and legal (in some form) in most societies and countries–not the rarity it is today. The slave trade was still legal, and perhaps not unsurprisingly in that context, slavery was infused with the notions of property.

Property–and the legal defense of property and contract–we have previously mentioned was a cornerstone underlying Federalist “credit” /capitalism. That confounded and made murky the various solutions proposed to remove the moral stain, and to deal with the economic institution of slavery. The idea that slavery could be simply outlawed had little appeal to existing slaveholders–for obvious reasons–but many of the larger slaveholders were open to the gradual reduction of slavery, and reforms such as manumitting, i.e. freeing slaves upon death of the “owner” were discussed and proposed. The 1787 Constitution included a section terminating the importation of slaves after 1820, but did not touch the more sensitive issue of terminating or curtailing the domestic slave trade. The only confirmed, albeit vociferous advocate for slavery, came from South Carolina (Charles Pinckney). In 1788 he married the daughter of a leading South Carolina slave trader. In the Constitutional debate he introduced a “Fugitive Slave” Clause–which although contested, was also included in the Constitution, and served as the basis for much of the infamous Dred Scott decision. He also was the chief negotiator with the French in Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase–and Jefferson’s South Carolina campaign manager in the 1800 Presidential election. He is not  to be confused with another wing of the Pinckney family (first cousin, once removed), whose two brothers, both Federalists and close associates of Washington. Indeed one, Thomas was John Adams’ Vice-President.

1763 Map after Peace Treaty that ended the French-Indian War

None of the solutions referenced in the dialogues of the 1780’s would be regarded as anything but pure racism today. Return to Africa, ban of importation of new slaves (even though it was acknowledged even then that slave organic birth rates were sufficiently high so that importation was increasingly unnecessary), and the most common view that slavery as an economic institution was failing and that given time, slavery would render itself too unprofitable to expand, or even survive. The crops associated with slave plantations (tobacco, rice and indigo) were by 1780’s mature and constrained by climate, soils, topography, Native Americans and territories held by surrounding European powers. Cotton, while grown was not the boom gazelle crop it came to be. As we shall discover in subsequent themes, cotton was not to explode as an agricultural gazelle until after the cotton gin (1794-6) diffused into the Piedmont districts of Georgia, South and North Carolina. The real rise of the “cotton belt” did not begin until after 1815, when Alabama was first settled in numbers. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase was still two decades or so in the future during the Articles debate, and the Mississippi River, Spanish-controlled, was perceived as an opportunity for European powers to establish de factor control over what was territories still unsettled by Americans. Slavery’s period of greatest growth and expansion was during the 19th century, and in the 1780’s was simply not anticipated by most, if any, Federalists.

Nevertheless, slavery, first with Native Americans, then African-Americans by the 1780’s had a one-hundred year plus institutional heritage, which owed its origins to the types of crops raised, and the decision to export commercial “cash” plantation crops into the larger global economy rather than consume them domestically, and send the remainder abroad. Pennsylvania, little noticed did the latter. Pennsylvania’s manors produced crops to eat in the hinterland and in Philadelphia and East Coast. It sent its surplus abroad (as did Upstate New York). Nash rightly credits this tilt in their agricultural economic bases (sending surplus consumable crops for export) as being responsible for the varying port agglomerations that such consumable crop export fostered–and for the differential rates of population growth each northern port city experienced. The South, with the exception of rice, produced non-foodstuffs for export and commercial sale in global markets (tobacco and indigo–and some linen/cotton). The southern yeoman homestead farmer, Jefferson’s bulwark, grew most of the southern foodstuffs–with tobacco etc as an additional cash crop. Both regions as part of their economic bases developed homestead agriculture. The key difference between the Two Regions was between elite-owned agriculture.

Boston could not halt its decline relative to Philadelphia and New York, for the latter two ports, especially Philadelphia, were the shipping points for prospering agricultural hinterlands that expanded rapidly after the Peace of Paris (1763). Boston remained the commercial center for a relatively unproductive interior [unable to consistently produce surplus consumable crops] whose excess population, unable to extract a living from the thin coastline New England soils, drifted off to the forests and rocky coastlines of New Hampshire and Maine. By the end of the colonial period, the people of Massachusetts could not even feed themselves. From 1768 to 1772 the Bay Colony was a net importer of bread and flour, wheat, corn, beef and pork. … New York and Philadelphia, on the other hand were becoming not only the breadbaskets for colonies to the north, but also for England and Southern Europe, where crippling droughts created an unprecedented demand for grains from the Middle Atlantic region from 1764 onward. .. New York was able to export almost 30 percent of its own food requirements … and Pennsylvania more than half [99] Gary B. Nash, the Urban Crucible: the Northern Seaports and the Origins of the American Revolution (Harvard University Press, 1979, 1986), pp. 202-3.

Non-foodstuff crops tended to, and soon became exclusively dominated by a slave workforce–perceived as the only workforce that would work in harsh climates/topography and be commercially competitive on the volatile global market. We shall explore this matter in some detail in our future “South as a Region” modules. Slavery was on the decline during the Articles period, in the Tidewater for certain. Tobacco as an export cash crop had matured, and was no longer an agricultural gazelle. Tidewater plantations were in trouble; Jefferson’s proverbial lack of funds, attributed to his spending habits, is probably more attributable to declining revenues garnered from his tobacco exports, declining to the point they could not support his various tastes. His was not an uncommon problem among Tidewater elites. Washington, had recognized this problem decades earlier, and switched his Mount Vernon crop reliance from tobacco to wheat–in 1764. The power of slavery as a southern institution, however, did not lead him to adjust the character of his workforce. Therein lies the clue as to how slavery was accommodated in the Articles debate.

Slaves, of course, were found throughout the North in colonial times. Primarily household slaves by definition were elite-owned. Slaves  (and indentured labor) as an northern urban workforce after 176 proved non-competitive with free, usually cheap immigrant labor. Why? Early manufacturing was too volatile, booms and busts in the two decades following 1763, meant that both slaves and indentured labor had to be retained–and provided for–in busts that lasted for years. Free immigrant labor could be discharged and accordingly proved more “flexible” as a workforce. “By 1768 importations [of slaves and indentured] had virtually ceased in Philadelphia and Boston, and the town meeting of the latter city was instructing its [Articles] representatives to advocate total abolition on the slave trade. In Philadelphia the number of slaves feel by half from 1767 to 1775, and the proportion of unfree laboring males dropped from about 60 to 35 percent[99] Gary b. Nash, the Urban Crucible, p.206. It was the shift from unfree urban northern labor to free that led to the development of the infamous “artisan” workforce that we described in the Philadelphia/Pennsylvania case study modules. In the North, then, slavery at this key time in the Articles debate, was seen in the North as well, as being on the way out.

George Mason

In 1785, it is very likely that Washington, Jefferson and George Mason were among the top-five slave owners in Virginia. Each was a powerhouse in the 1780’s Federalist dialogue concerning reform of the Articles of Confederation. On slavery the views of both Washington and Jefferson are known; both were morally concerned about its existence, and Washington freed his slaves upon death. Correspondence between Washington and Robert Morris reveals the depth of Washington’s ill-feeling toward slavery (“There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of slavery, and his proposal (gradual reduction) on how to remove it from America. But in this module George Mason is the more interesting.

Gunston Hall–George Mason’s Plantation Home

Easily Virginia’s second largest slaveholder, Mason stridently hated slavery. In 1765 he wrote: [Slavery is a] slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentlemen here is born a petty tyrant … and in such an infernal school are to be educated our future Legislators & Rules”. A supporter of the War of Independence, Mason led the Virginia delegation to the 1787 Constitutional Convention. In a number of speeches and blogs he strongly advocated a restriction on the importation of slaves be included in the new Constitution–as we shall see, it was–but in the end he refused to sign the Constitution document.

Still at the Constitutional Convention he unequivocally stated his position on slavery: “every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. [Slaves] bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As Nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this [one]. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects. providence punishes national sins by national calamities. At his death in 1792, he did not manumit his slaves. Mason, attributed as the undisputed leader of the Anti-Federalists, would not sign the Constitution without its inclusion of a Bill of Rights, similar to one he wrote for Virginia in 1774. He is known therefore, as the “Father of the American Bill of Rights”, and it was his unswerving commitment that led to the amendment of the 1787 Constitution and its rapid passage of ten amendments. That his “Declaration of the Rights of Man” excluded slaves speaks for itself. Clear and unequivocal Mason’s intense dislike, hatred of slavery as an institution did not extend to his plantation or slaves–and it too speaks for itself. Manumission, which his immediate neighbor George Washington practiced, was not utilized.[99]

A final mention concerning the position of James Madison (a slave-owner) on slavery, after all many feel that he was the single most important influence on its construction and approval is expressed in a presentation before the  Constitutional Convention: “we have seen the mere distinction of colour made in the most enlightened period of time a ground for the most impressive domination  ever exercised by man over man“. Later he wrote: “The magnitude of this evil [slavery] among us is so deeply felt and so universally acknowledged that no merit could be greater than devising a satisfactory means of ending it“. He too never free his slaves upon death.

This is a Cotton Plant

Conflicted, arguably hypocritical, definitely unwilling to break with slavery in their lifetime the Tidewater Virginia Federalist delegation was no passionate defender of slavery–and to a delegate asserted slavery was a stain on the national character (James Madison), supporting both the three-fifths section and a section that terminated importation of slaves into the United States after 1820. What is equally clear, however, and will be discussed in considerable detail in later modules, is the Tidewater aristocracy radically changed its position on slavery in the period, after 1800, when a succession of Virginia Tidewater aristocrats were elected to the Presidency–and were the leaders of a new political tribe, the Democrat-Republicans. That transformational shift occurred, I believe because the cotton gin, and the rise of the cotton belt, along with the Louisiana Purchase changed everything. Slavery caught a second wind as an economic institution, and a new ethnic group aspired to the become a plantation owner as their path into the American Dream. No longer dying, the southern plantation got a new lease on its life, and became an opportunity for Tidewater plantations to right size, and still to provide opportunity for their second sons (and daughters) to start new plantations in newly settled territories. The sale of Tidewater slaves to new cotton plantation entrepreneurs, and their forced relocation into the Cotton Belt was a welcome relief to the pocketbooks of the Tidewater aristocracy–but all that is after 1805-1815.

What is the reader to make of all this?

In very short order after 1800,, the Federalist “Party” collapsed, replaced by an equally non-mass-based non-political party, the Democrat-Republicans led by Jefferson. The collapse of the Federalists and rise of Democrat-Republicans was evidenced also at the state and major cities, to a lesser degree in small towns. In this relatively short interlude, the federal government led by Virginia Tidewater presidents and congressional majorities played a serious, but not altogether neutral, role in state and local ED. DTIS and nation/state/city-building in hap-hazard manner continued to disrupt what remained of the previous colonial policy system/economy, mobilizing new populations, elites and groupings in the process. That too abruptly changed after the War of 1812 (in 1815). The so-called Era of Good Feelings, led by a new Virginia Tidewater President that followed witnessed a low participation, less intense policy-making environment which over time reignited an intense political and policy reaction that by 1824 had polarized national as well as state and local politics. One might hint this was the first time that “Red and Blue” polarization seriously disrupted nearly all policy systems. What followed was a rather intense period of political conflict and change personified by Andrew Jackson from which around the 1840 presidential election resulted in first true mass-based political parties and the first “substantive” democratic two-party party alignment (Jacksonian Democrat and National Republican/Whigs). That too incrementally collapsed after 1850 and off we drifted to the Civil War–and the end of our Early Republic. It was a brave new world after 1870, which bore little resemblance to the Early Republic Era.

The policy system existing while Washington pressed for his DTIS strategy and his Patowmack Canal simply did not correspond to anything the contemporary reader could relate to. Things dramatically changed in the election of 1800, at all levels of American government–toward replacing a colonial deference society with democratic participation by new groupings who previously had not entered into policy debate and policy formulation. It was in this period that ED’s First Paradigm, described in the previous module mini-series crystallized. It did not help that throughout the Early Republic America witnessed a constant inflow of new immigrants (low by historical standards, but still impactful), and a series of massive migrations into the nation’s interior.  During these years the nation, divided into two economies each with their distinctive policy systems began in seriousness.