John Disturnell. Disturnell’s American and European Railway and Steamship Guide, Giving the Arrangements on All the Great Lines of Travel through the United States and Canada, Across the Atlantic Ocean, and Throughout Central Europe. New York: J. Disturnell; for Sale by Booksellers and Periodical Agents in the United States and Canada, 1851. p. 10.
In achieving political independence in 1783 the United States entered into fierce economic competition with what the Declaration of Independence had called the “powers of the earth”: Britain and the other European colonial empires. To compete in a highly uncertain global economy dominated by those empires, business authors marketed the mercantile skills and commercial information needed to empower American merchants to trade more effectively around the globe. Even the fiercest nationalists among them were willing to curb their pride and emulate British authors whose imperial nation stood at the center of the global economy — and of economic knowledge production.
Promoters of American business grew increasingly proud of the country’s transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural prowess, yoking private enterprise to national pride. They elevated the United States by placing it in competition mainly with Britain and France; the rest of the world was setting and backdrop for the global economy, but not a protagonist. Enough business authors focused on a vast density of infrastructural improvements within the United States, trumpeting an interconnected United States while barely bothering to connect the country to the wider world.
If many business authors were nationalist, others were more readily globalist in their economic notions. They eagerly sought to connect the United States’ burgeoning transportation and communications infrastructure to Britain’s and Europe’s. In fact, these steamship lines and telegraph links extending across the Atlantic Ocean extended even farther, enabling the United States to tie into the global-scale networks that most notably the British empire was rapidly spinning across the globe.
In 1858 Britain and the United States attempted to lay the first transatlantic telegraph cable. This attempt may have lasted only three weeks, but it nevertheless reflected ever increasing cooperation between the two imperial nations. American business authors sought to elevate themselves onto the same plane as Britain by trumpeting the unique power of Anglo-Saxonism thought to be shared by Britons and Americans. It was Anglo-Saxon ingenuity and enterprise which supposedly explained British and American economic success. There was no expectation of global interconnection or cultural commensurability to emerge from global trade, only the leverage of white Anglo-Saxonism upon a wider world deemed irredeemably inferior.
More idealistic American promoters celebrated the power of global trade as a transformative force. From the vantage of San Francisco mushrooming on the Pacific coast, American business authors envisioned a future in which global trade would somehow spread freedom and democracy throughout an Asia taken to be despotic. Parts and portions of the world once associated with peril were optimistically reframed into a world characterized by ubiquitous opportunity — with the United States perfectly positioned as a bridge between the Atlantic World and the Pacific World.
The ultimate American achievement was completion of a transcontinental railroad in 1855. Not the famous one across North America which would be completed to great fanfare in 1869, but an earlier transcontinental railroad completed across Central America: Panama. Really for the first time, American railroad engineers managed to transform foreign space far beyond the confines of the United States, and to do so in the wake of failed undertakings by the French.
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Joshua Montefiore. The American Trader’s Compendium: Containing the Laws, Customs, and Regulations of the United States, Relative to Commerce. Philadelphia: Samuel R. Fishers, Jun., 1811.Montefiore compiled as much commercial knowledge as he could into one book, to empower American merchants to trade more effectively around the globe — with “passports” for ships.
Michael Walsh. A New System of Mercantile Arithmetic; Adapted to the Commerce of the United States, in its Domestic and Foreign Relations.... Newburyport: E. Little and Co.; C. Norris and Co., Printers, 1816.Walsh’s “mercantile arithmetic” book was replete with examples of American commerce abroad as well as at home; here were the countries comprising the United States’ world in the 1810s.
James Riley. An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, in the Month of August, 1815. Hartford: Published by the author, 1817.Riley’s world of trade was the Atlantic world, and it was one fraught with tremendous peril, including the risk of being shipwrecked and then held in captivity.
Archibald Robbins. A Journal Comprising an Account of the Loss of the Brig Commerce, of Hartford, (Con.) James Riley, Master, upon the Western Coast of Africa, August 28th, 1815.... Hartford: Silas Andrus; New-York: Stereotyped by C. Starr, 1818.Robbins wrote of the same disaster as Riley but from the perspective of an ordinary sailor; his captivity was longer and even more harrowing than Riley’s; here is his theory of “Africa.”
George Armroyd. A Connected View of the Whole Internal Navigation of the United States; Natural and Artificial, Present and Prospective.... Philadelphia: Published by the Author; Printed by Lydia R. Bailey, 1830.Armroyd focused on a vast density of infrastructural improvements within the United States, yet barely connected the country to the wider world; an exception was his military tally.
J. R. McCulloch. A Dictionary, Practical, Theoretical, and Historical, of Commerce and Commercial Navigation. Philadelphia: A. Hart; Printed by T.K. and P.G. Collins, 1851.Americans were very willing to borrow economic knowledge from British authors whose imperial nation stood at the center of the global economy — and of knowledge production.
John Disturnell. Disturnell’s American and European Railway and Steamship Guide, Giving the Arrangements on All the Great Lines of Travel through the United States and Canada, Across the Atlantic Ocean, and Throughout Central Europe. New York: J. Disturnell; for Sale by Booksellers and Periodical Agents in the United States and Canada, 1851.Disturnell emphatically connected the United States’ burgeoning transportation and communication infrastructure to Britain’s and Europe’s, taken to be the world’s central place.
William A. Scott. Trade and Letters: Their Journeyings Round the World. New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1856.From the vantage of San Francisco mushrooming on the Pacific coast, Scott celebrated the “commercial spirit of the age” as a liberalizing force on the verge of transforming Asia.
David A. Wells. The Year-Book of Agriculture; or The Annual of Agricultural Progress and Discovery, For 1855 and 1856. Philadelphia: Childs and Peterson, 1856.Wedding the progress of science to the improvement of agriculture, Wells saw the United States as a leading global nation in competition especially with Britain and France.
Ephraim G. Squier. The States of Central America; their Geography, Topography, Climate, Population, Resources, Productions, Commerce, Political Organization, Aborigines, etc., etc.... London: Sampson Low, Son, and Co.; New York: Harper and Brothers, 1858.Squier joined many other writers of the 1850s in stressing not any cultural mutuality arising from global commerce, but principally the influence of white Anglo-Saxonism upon the world.
J. Leander Bishop. A History of American Manufactures from 1608-1860: Exhibiting the Origin and Growth of the Principal Mechanic Arts and Manufactures.... Philadelphia: E. Young and Co.; London: Sampson Low, Son and Co., 1864.Bishop envisioned a future of economic independence for a United States behind Britain in manufacturing prowess, but blessed with similar Anglo-Saxon enterprise and ingenuity.
Fessenden N. Otis. Isthmus of Panama: History of the Panama Railroad: and of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. New York: Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1867.Writing as a company booster, Otis recorded the milestone of American railroad engineers managing to transform a foreign space far beyond the United States: Panama.