Early American Trade with China

Trade Routes & Trading Strategies

Economics of the China Trade

Contrasting Views of Trade

Life on a Merchant Ship


Putting the China Trade in Context

This activity ties early U.S. international trade to political events at home and abroad. The Napoleonic wars provided the opportunity to move goods between Asia and Europe and between European countries through the United States. After the war, U.S. imports and exports returned to levels comparable to 1800. The War of 1812 caused a major drop in imports and reexports which rebounded to pre-war levels later in the decade.

This activity might best work as a teacher-directed class discussion.

Distribute the handouts on “Imports,” “Exports,” and “Value of Imports and Exports” and have available a set of overhead transparencies of the graphs.

Using an overhead of the “Import” graph, elicit student answers to the questions on the student handout.

Do the same for the “Export” graph.

Have the students plot the figures for the China trade on their worksheets and ask the following question:


  • How would you characterize the trade with China compared with the total import and export trade of the United States during this period?

Have the students answer the questions on the worksheet “Total Value of U.S. Imports and Exports.”

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