The American Road to Capitalism
This chapter challenges the notion that North America was capitalist from the beginnings of English colonial settlement in the seventeenth century. While English colonialism in the seventeenth and eighteenth century was fuelled by the dynamics of capitalism, the inability to establish a social monopoly of land led to the establishment of two distinctive non-capitalist forms in colonial North America—independent household (“peasant”) production in the North and plantation slavery in the South, bound together and with England through the activities of sea-board merchants. The unintended consequences of the American Revolution transformed Northern agriculture into petty-capitalist farming through the establishment of a competitive market for land, while preserving and reviving Southern plantation slavery. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the expansion of Northern petty-capitalist agriculture provided a growing “home market” for industrially produced capital and consumer goods. The expansion of plantation slavery after c. 1844 would have gravely restricted this home market. The contradictions between the expanded reproduction of plantation slavery and Northern capitalist agriculture and manufacturing set the stage for the political conflicts that culminated in the US Civil War.