Lessons in This Unit
Connections to the Curriculum
Economic development in the United States after the Revolutionary War.
Main Ideas of the Unit
the United States found itself closed out of the markets it had relied
rule and constrained by the mercantilist policies of the other European
nations. Direct trade with China, from which the American colonies
had been barred,
held the promise of great wealth.
The potential for making large profits in
the China trade (which Americans recognized upon witnessing the lucrative
English trade with the East Indies
and China) is evidenced by the willingness of American merchants to
make a long and
difficult journey in order to participate in the China market. Trade
with the East Indies and China created America’s first millionaires
and brought needed capital to other businessmen whose investments helped
to develop the
young United States.
To pay for the tea which Americans most wanted from China, merchants
had to find commodia ties the Chinese wanted to buy. Silver was always
in demand in because China did not have large domestic supply and silver
was the country’s standard monetary metal. Silver, particularly minted
Mexican dollars, became a mainstay of the American-China trade while Americans
sought other commodities to replace it.
U.S. trade with China made up only a
small part of total American foreign trade in the 19th century, but the
idea of China as a great potential market
captured the American imagination in the late 18th century and the idea remains
As the supply and demand for different commodities in the China trade
changed over time, American merchants responded by developing different trading
routes and strategies. The western coast of North America gained importance
as a source of furs and provisions. Travel through the Pacific made seemingly
away and insignificant places like Hawaii and the Philippines important to
the United States as vital spots for provisioning and repairing ships. These
affected U.S. policy in the Pacific in the 19th and 20th centuries.
China had a different view of American and European enthusiasm for developing
international trade, interpreting these trade relations as an unnecessary
and unwelcome interference in China’s cultural and economic life.