Andrew Jackson may have been celebrated as the “hero of New Orleans,” but the primary responsibility for the American victory at New Orleans during the Battle of New Orleans (1815) lay with American-made artillery, which was a product of northern manufacturing and innovation. The important role that the artillery played during the battle foreshadowed the growing role that infrastructure, innovation, and manufacturing would play in the emergence of the Northern economy.
Following the War of 1812, many Americans recognized the need for a better transportation system. Farmers who lived in the interior wanted to get their crops to local, national, and international markets as quickly as possible. Urban merchants, including those who traded with farmers, also wanted to facilitate commerce efficiently.
But the issue of constructing a national transportation infrastructure raised the political question of whether private enterprises, state governments, or the federal government should take the lead on such initiatives. While John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and ultimately the Democratic and Whig parties debated the issue, the burden for constructing most internal improvements fell upon corporations and local or state governments, the overwhelming majority of which were located in the North.
The three most significant initiatives on behalf of internal improvements in the United States during the first half of the 19th century can be placed into three categories: turnpikes, canals, and railroads.
EXAMPLEUnder this model, New York chartered turnpike companies that constructed 4,000 miles of road by 1820.
However, turnpike travel was slow. Stagecoaches averaged between six and eight miles per hour. While turnpike and road travel could suffice over short distances, the transportation of goods via turnpikes could not compete with transportation on river boats or canal barges over long distances.
Canals were more expensive to build than turnpikes, so public funding was essential for raising sufficient capital. While Congress debated over whether it was constitutional for the federal government to be involved in such an endeavor, most canals were built entirely by state governments.
EXAMPLEThe Erie Canal, a 363-mile artificial waterway that connected the Hudson River — and thus New York City and the Atlantic seaboard — to the Great Lakes, cost the state of New York $7.1 million before it was completed in 1825. However, that cost was paid off within nine years, from the tolls that the canal collected.
The Erie Canal opened upstate New York and the Great Lakes region to commerce from New York City. The canal also stimulated agriculture, manufacturing, and population growth in upstate New York, as well as provided an avenue for many Americans to migrate westward. Between 1820 and 1850, Rochester, New York grew in population from 1,502 to 35,403 people; Syracuse from 1,814 to 22,271 people; and Buffalo from 2,095 to 42,261 people.
Railroad construction proceeded more quickly in the United States because of the availability of land. Railway construction in Europe required spending a lot of time and money acquiring rights-of-way. In contrast, American railways often received free land grants from the states and, later on, from the federal government. Fuel was also inexpensive in the United States.
Railroad construction also proceeded more quickly in the United States because of the demand. Railroads offered a new mode of transportation that fascinated citizens, buoying their optimistic view of the possibilities of technological progress, which included faster travel times and travel across longer distances. A trip that once took three weeks by stagecoach could be accomplished in four days by train. Railroads could also transport freight over long distances more efficiently, which reduced shipping and storage costs.
Similar to canals, railroad construction facilitated population growth and the development of other economic sectors along their routes. Railroads promoted settlement along their routes, and railroad hubs became important urban centers. Railroads also stimulated the mining, processing, and importing of iron and steel; created industries devoted to the manufacture of rails, locomotives, and cars; and created new jobs such as engineers, firemen, brakemen, conductors, and mechanics.
Better transportation helped facilitate the movement of people from the countryside to cities or factory towns. Such trends, which coincided with the rise of capitalism in the United States, significantly altered traditional modes of production. Alongside the production of cotton and woolen cloth, which formed the backbone of the industrialization of the northeastern United States, other crafts increasingly became mechanized and centralized in factories during the first half of the 19th century.
Many of these advances in northern manufacturing would not have been possible without the principle of interchangeable parts, credited to inventor Eli Whitney.
Prior to his death in 1825, Whitney succeeded in applying the principle of interchangeable parts while fulfilling a contract to supply muskets to the federal government. Whitney's goal was to create parts that would be interchangeable to the point that a soldier in the field could take two damaged muskets and reassemble them into a single musket that fired.
A number of individuals quickly applied Whitney’s principle, which transformed manufacturing methods throughout the North, to create consumer goods for Americans.
EXAMPLEEli Terry of Connecticut perfected the mass-production of inexpensive clocks, also known as "Connecticut clocks." Observers at the time noted that many rural homesteads might not have chairs or other furnishings, but "there was sure to be a Connecticut clock."
Other innovators applied the principles of interchangeable parts and mass production to farming implements, which increased agricultural production in northwestern states such as Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
EXAMPLEIn 1831, Cyrus McCormick made his first mechanical reaper, which accelerated the process of harvesting wheat and other grains.
In 1837, John Deere of Illinois created a plow made of steel rather than of wood, which eased a farmer's burden during the spring planting season.
In addition to creating a variety of goods to consume, the emergence of northern manufacturing created more specialized jobs that could be less skilled and less well paid. As a result, the experiences of many northern works underwent significant changes. While artisans and craftsmen were able to control the pace of their labor and the order in which things were done, factory work required employees to report at certain times and, as was often the case, work all day.
Such trends provided the conditions in which profound social divisions could emerge, particularly between economic elites and factory workers. But the expansion of transportation infrastructure, inventions, and manufacturing also contributed to the creation of an ideology through which many northerners could understand such divisions and hope to transcend them. Such an ideology also allowed the North to distinguish itself from the South.
When observing the emergence of an agricultural and manufacturing economy across the northern states, certain Americans expressed the hope that individuals could transcend social divisions by improving themselves through hard work, self-discipline, education, and innovation. Such ideals provided the foundations for free labor ideology.
Advocates of free labor ideology and improvement were everywhere in the North. Northern politicians, particularly Whigs, expressed the importance of self-improvement through education and hard work. Capitalists and manufacturers believed that recent transportation innovations, such as railroads and new inventions, improved production and consumption practices throughout the region. Similarly, northern farmers believed they were improving upon nature by cultivating and harvesting its resources, turning them into commodities.
Free labor ideology also contained a harsh critique of the South. When they looked at the South, northern free labor ideologues saw a backward economic system that degraded slaves, provided no opportunities for poor white laborers, and privileged an elite, idle planter class. For these reasons, free labor ideologues saw slavery as a threat to the continued modernization and improvement of the United States.
The most significant threat that slavery posed to improvement and free labor ideology was the question of whether it would expand into western territories. Advocates of free labor believed that the expansion of slavery would destroy the republic. However, such fears stemmed primarily from their concern toward what slavery would do to white laborers. They believed that the expansion of slavery would allow slaveholders access to more land, thus depriving free laborers an opportunity to achieve economic independence. They also worried that increased reliance on slave labor would decrease wages for free laborers. Ultimately, the advocates of free labor argued that slavery corrupted the very principles of improvement, manufacturing, and development that the northern economy was founded upon.
Free labor ideology provided the means to explain the North’s economic progress in transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural production. It also provided northerners the ability to distinguish themselves from the South. The majority of white northerners were not advocates of racial equality. Rather, free labor ideology provided them the ability to criticize slavery and oppose the institution’s expansion for fear that it would undermine what was, in their eyes, a superior economic system.
This tutorial curated and/or authored by Matthew Pearce, Ph.D
Source: Map of major roadways in the United States, 1825, PD, http://bit.ly/2jWHIPj, Map of canals in the United States, 1825, PD, http://bit.ly/2jWMPz9, View of Erie Canal, 1839, PD http://bit.ly/23guY4T, Derived from Openstax tutorial 9.1 http://bit.ly/2j42tKM and 9.4 http://bit.ly/2jhboGg. Some sections edited or removed for brevity., Derived from Openstax tutorial 9.2 http://bit.ly/2jyxViD Some sections edited or removed for brevity., Derived from Openstax tutorial 9.3 http://bit.ly/2jh6OaW Some sections edited or removed for brevity.