The antebellum period saw the United States develop from peripheral to core capitalism through the growth of the manufacturing sector. Any country that seeks to escape peripheralization must create core activities that push it onto the world economy as a capitalist. During such development, the government provides guidance through economic policies and regulations that strengthen local products against the foreign.
As capitalism grew in America, the political class was divided into two major ideologies: the Jacksonian and Jeffersonian vs. the Whigs and Federalists ideals. Jacksonians advocated for little government regulation and intervention while the Whigs used government to promote business, advocating for prominent limitations. Jackson’s Democrat Party won the election in 18281, opening a way to the capitalist’s ideals that sought to limit government interference with the markets. Jacksonian policies spurred opposing ideals that led to the rise of the Whigs Party that was against Andrew Jackson’s leadership.2 The Whigs Party embraced many conflicting ideologies that created its instability. Although the government shaped capitalism development during the antebellum period, the Jacksonians better represented capitalist ideals by limiting the government’s role in business than the Whigs in the early republic.
While some external forces shaped antebellum capitalism, government policies played a significant role in capitalist society development. The economic growth and prosperity of the first decade under the Constitution resulted from external factors. Jefferson emphasized agriculture and farm production to elevate the country’s international standing.3 During his reign, Jefferson created basic policies that governed private property, money, contracts, corporations, and limited freedom of businesspeople. Under his leadership, the 1785 Land Ordinance was created as a commercial land system that enabled anybody with money to purchase and own land.4
Capitalism was supported by the unity of the states tied together under the Constitution, which was a product of the government. The integration of the states became the beginning of the market and capitalist revolution in America. The National Congress reaffirmed the Land Ordinance and created other policies that fueled capitalist ideals. For example, Hamilton suggested consolidation of state debts into one national debt pool to ease the pressure on state accounts and suggested at par settlement of debts.5 He suggested the creation of a bank of the United States, known as BUS, that would hold federal money.
Jeffersonians and Jacksonians represented capitalist ideals better than the Federalists and Whigs in the early republic by limiting the government’s role in the markets. Jacksonians sought to redirect economic policy from a few wealthy individuals to the common American and increase democracy in the nation. On the contrary, the Whigs opposed this perspective and supported government control over the business. The Jacksonian capitalists’ ideals focused on equality among white males in office holding and voting requirements, fair representation, elimination of class biases, and economic independence. Although Jacksonians ignored racism and overlooked the rights of non-white citizens, their support for economic independence created true capitalism for the United States.
Andrew Jackson was keen to eliminate or lower class biases that pushed most Americans into poverty and denied them rights accorded to other citizens. The Jackson era saw youngsters leave the farms to work in New York City for cash wages, where class differences were lost.6 These young people sought to utilize their hard-earned money as they wished because they were no longer under their guardian employers or parents. Workers of similar ranks in the port cities and in the farms strictly belonged to the least respected low class. Most importantly, Jackson wanted to eradicate class biases from the government through office rotation and granting equal rights to all white males regardless of their property ownership status. The Jacksonian democracy reduced the effect of class biases in America, allowing every citizen to seek prosperity on a fair ground.
Jackson represented capitalism by giving all white males equal voting rights and allowing them to hold office even if they did not own any property. Jackson argued that most white males could occupy public offices and perform their duties well. Therefore, upon his election, he replaced most government workers with his supporters, a practice that was called the spoils system. Although the Constitution granted the power to property owners, such as manufacturers, planters, and merchants, it left out the majority of the people who did not own property. Jackson’s Democrat Party sought to distribute power to the artisans, small farmers, and others who did not own property by granting them voting rights and allowing them to hold office.7 This political power facilitated the economic growth of the less wealthy and influential individuals.
Jefferson strengthened capitalism by creating policies that established the infrastructure required for a trade. While these policies were seen as increasing the government’s role in business, internal improvements policies helped to move goods from one place to another. Capitalism would be crippled without a supportive infrastructural system. Therefore, Jeffersonians’ emphasis on internal improvements represented a capitalist’s need for growth and development.8 As more people moved inland to cultivate fertile vacant land, the need for movement of their products increased. During the 1820s and 1830s, the construction of transport infrastructure increased to carry products to the markets. As such, internal improvements were not a government interference with the economy but facilitation of free and democratic trade.
Economic independence and the spread of commerce by the Jacksonians and Jeffersonians represented the capitalist spirit during the antebellum era. Notably, expansion of commerce was at the expense of Indians and Hispanics who occupied fertile land but failed to cultivate it. Interior settlements pushed these natives out of their land to pave the way for white settlers. The spread of commerce created unexpected business avenues, such as private steamboat rides that facilitated movement before the government provided internal improvements.9 In addition, the increase in farm produce led to the establishment of the manufacturing industry to add value to the raw materials. Further, the manufacturing industry became a core capitalist activity that placed America on the international level. Without high-paid labor in the manufacturing sector, America would have remained at the peripheral of capitalism. Therefore, economic independence and commerce spread created ideas that placed the nation at the core of capitalism.
In conclusion, the government played a major role in shaping antebellum capitalism, but Jeffersonians and Jacksonians represented capitalist ideals better than the Federalist and Whigs. Jefferson emphasized agriculture and farm production, created basic policies that governed private property, money, contracts, corporations, limited freedom of businesspeople, and created the 1785 Land Ordinance. The integration of the states became the beginning of the market and capitalist revolution in America. Andrew Jackson was keen to eliminate or lower class biases, giving all white males equal voting rights and allowing them to hold office even if they did not own any property. He supported economic independence and commerce spread, creating ideas that placed the nation at the core capitalism level.
Larson, John Lauritz. The Market Revolution in America: Liberty, Ambition, and the Eclipse of the Common Good. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Professor’s Name. “A Revolution in Favor of Government.” Lecture, University Name, Location, 2021.
- John Lauritz Larson, The Market Revolution in America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 55.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 177.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 99-100.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 100.
- Professor’s Name. “A Revolution in Favor of Government.” (lecture, University Name, Location, 2021).
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 126.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 139.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 125.
- Larson. The Market Revolution in America, 39.