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Outline of the development of the internal commerce of the United States 1789-1900   By: (1884-1961)

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An Outline of the Development


Internal Commerce of the United States

1789 1900


Thesis presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Ph.D.



[1] In this paper, which is a brief abstract of a work to be published later, an attempt is made to outline the history of the development of the internal commerce of the United States after the formation of the Union in 1789. The term "internal commerce," though in its fullest signification embracing every purchase, sale, and exchange of commodities between the individuals of a country together with the business of transmitting intelligence and of transporting persons and things from place to place, is here used primarily as applying to the interchanges of commodities among the various sections of the United States carried on over interior lines of transportation the rivers, highways, canals, lakes and railroads.


1789 1830

At the beginning of the national era the internal commerce of the United States gave small promise of the tremendous development it was to undergo during the ensuing century. There was as yet too little differentiation of occupation to give rise to a large interstate trade in native products, and the proximity of the greater part of the population to the seacoast made it cheaper and more convenient to carry on the small interstate trade that did exist by means of small sailing vessels plying along the coast. Practically all the internal trade was devoted to bringing the surplus agricultural produce of the interior to the seaport towns where it was exchanged for imported wares that could not be produced by the inhabitants of the inland region.

As is usual in a new country, the settlers who had first pushed into the interior had founded their new homes close to the rivers, and these natural highways had always been and still were the most important means of transportation to and from the seacoast. At the mouths of the larger streams flowing into the Atlantic Ocean were to be found large and wealthy cities, where enterprising men were laying the foundations of large fortunes in a rapidly growing trade in the agricultural and forest products floated down from the interior.

Living close along the ocean where numerous excellent harbors and long stretches of sheltered water gave ample facilities for the little inter colonial trade that existed, and where rivers afforded natural means of transportation from the interior to towns on the coast, the people of early colonial days had not found it necessary to give much time to the construction of roads. The gradual inland movement of the population had finally compelled them, however, to give some attention to the means of land transportation and many rude earth roads were built to replace the old Indian trails. These roads were unspeakably poor, sloughs of mire during the thaws of winter and spring and thick with dust in the summer, but bad as they were they carried considerable traffic and their use was constantly growing. Inland towns were beginning to grow up at the focusing points of the country roads, and the owners of general stores at such places derived large profits out of their position as middlemen between the farmers of the interior and the merchants at the nearest seaports. Three great roads had been built into the western country, one up the Mohawk Valley into western New York, and two across the Alleghany Mountains, the Pennsylvania Road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, and the Wilderness Road over which the early settlers of Kentucky had threaded their way up the Shenandoah Valley and through Cumberland Gap to the southern banks of the Ohio River.

The transportation facilities of the times were, however, entirely inadequate to the needs of the country, and the lack of better means of getting products to market was a serious impediment to internal development... Continue reading book >>

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