The Framers of the Constitution incorporated commercial powers in the document including granting Congress the power to tax and borrow in order to support the general welfare and common defense as well as the power to regulate interstate commerce. Over time, interpretations of these federal commercial powers have changed.
The Origins of Our Commercial Republic
The American Founders set out to establish a modern, liberal, commercial republic. Their political theory derived primarily from Enlightenment theories of social contract and natural rights, which stressed the value of economic progress. But their idea of a commercial republic did not abandon ancient concepts of republicanism, which emphasized the need for virtuous self-sacrifice for the common or public good. They believed that a free economy would promote the moral character needed for republican self-government, and that if people were going to govern themselves politically, they had to govern themselves in their families, churches, local communities and economic markets.
The Early Commercial Republic, 1789-1815
After the Constitution was ratified, a new government was elected and took office in 1789. The administration of President George Washington adopted many economic policies that helped to develop the new nation. Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury, proposed a program of federal economic promotion.
The Commercial Republic Before the Civil War, 1815-1860
Between the War of 1812 and the Civil War, the federal government largely retreated from a program of national economic development, while the states stepped into the role of economic promotion, particularly in the banking and internal improvement fields.
The Civil War and the Industrial Revolution
When eleven slave states seceded in 1860-61, they left the federal government in the hands of the new Republican Party. The Republicans were dedicated above all to ending slavery and preserving the Union, but many of them also advocated a revival of the Federalist and Whig system of national mercantilism, which sought to have the federal government shape economic development.
Commerce and the Progressive Era
The twentieth century saw the rise of a widespread but not very clearly defined group of reformers known as the progressives. The basic belief that united them was that the industrialized, urbanized United States of the nineteenth century had outgrown its eighteenth-century Constitution.
The New Deal
The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 resulted in the New Deal he proposed, a fundamental shift in the American political economy and a new conception of the relationship between the government and the governed.
The Great Society and Beyond
In this lesson, students will examine the role of civic and economic liberties historically. They will look at these in the light of the Supreme Court Case, Citizens United v. FEC (2010). The students will conclude this lesson by comparing and contrasting the opinions of Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.