Alexander Hamilton's Vision of the American Future:
A Commercial, Urban, Manufacturing Empire
Excerpts from the Treasury Secretary's "Report on Manufactures," 1791
THE SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY, in obedience to the order of the House of Representatives,
of the 15th day of January, 1790, has applied his attention at as early a period as his
other duties would permit, to the subject of Manufactures, and particularly to the means
of promoting such as will tend to render the United States independent on foreign nations,
for military and other essential supplies; and he thereupon respectfully submits the
The expediency of encouraging manufactures in the United States, which was not long since
deemed very questionable, appears at this time to be pretty generally admitted....
There still are, nevertheless, respectable patrons of opinions unfriendly to the
encouragement of manufactures...It has been maintained, that agriculture is not only the
most productive, but the only productive species of industry. The reality of this
suggestion, in either respect, has, however, not been verified by any accurate detail of
facts and calculations; and the general arguments which are adduced to prove it, are
rather subtile and paradoxical, than solid or convincing....
The objections to the pursuit of manufactures in the United States, which next present
themselves to discussion, represent an impracticability of success, arising from three
causes: scarcity of hands, dearness of labor, want of capital....
With regard to scarcity of hands, the fact itself must be applied with no small
qualification to certain parts of the United States. There are large districts which may
be considered as pretty fully peopled; and which, notwithstanding a continual drain for
distant settlements, are thickly interspersed with flourishing and increasing towns....
But there are circumstances...that materially diminish, every where, the effect of a
scarcity of hands. These circumstances are, the great use which can be made of women and
children, on which point a very pregnant and instructive fact has been mentioned the vast
extension given by late improvements to the employment of machines which, substituting the
agency of fire and water, has prodigiously lessened the necessity for manual labor; the
employment of persons ordinarily engaged in other occupations, during the seasons or hours
of leisure, which, besides giving occasion to the exertion of a greater quantity of labor,
by the same number of persons, and thereby increasing the general stock of labor, as has
been elsewhere remarked, may also be taken into the calculation, as a resource for
obviating the scarcity of hands; lastly, the attraction of foreign emigrants....It is not
unworthy of remark, that the objection to the success of manufactures, deduced from the
scarcity of hands, is alike applicable to trade and navigation, and yet these are
perceived to flourish, without any sensible impediment from that cause.
As to the dearness of labor (another of the obstacles alleged), this has relation
principally to two circumstances: one, that which has just been discussed, or the scarcity
of hands; the other, the greatness of profits....It is also evident, that the effect of
the degree of disparity, which does truly exist, is diminished in proportion to the use
which can be made of machinery....
To procure all such machines as are known in any part of Europe, can only require a proper
provision and due pains. The knowledge of several of the most important of them is already
possessed. The preparation of them here is, in most cases, practicable on nearly equal
terms. As far as they depend on water, some superiority of advantages may be claimed, from
the uncommon variety and greater cheapness of situations adapted to millseats, with which
different parts of the United States abound....
The supposed want of capital for the prosecution of manufactures in the United States, is
the most indefinite of the objections....
The introduction of banks, as has been shown on another occasion, has a powerful tendency
to extend the active capital of a country. Experience of the utility of these
institutions, is multiplying them in the United States. It is probable that they will be
established wherever they can exist with advantage; and wherever they can be supported, if
administered with prudence, they will add new energies to all pecuniary operations....
It is a well known fact that there are parts of Europe which have more capital than
profitable domestic objects of employment. Hence, among other proofs, the large loans
continually furnished to foreign States. And it is equally certain, that the capital of
other parts may find more profitable employment in the United States than at home....
It is not impossible, that there may be persons disposed to look, with a jealous eye, on
the introduction of foreign capital, as if it were an instrument to deprive our own
citizens of the profits of our own industry; but, perhaps, there never could be a more
unreasonable jealousy. Instead of being viewed as a rival, it ought to be considered as a
most valuable auxiliary, conducing to put in motion a greater quantity of productive
labor, and a greater portion of useful enterprise, than could exist without it. It is at
least evident, that, in a country situated like the United States, with an infinite fund
of resources yet to be unfolded, every farthing of foreign capital which is laid out in
internal meliorations, and in industrious establishments, of a permanent nature, is a
And, whatever be the objects which originally attract foreign capital, when once
introduced, it may be directed towards any purpose of beneficial exertion which is
desired. And to detain it among us, there can be no expedient so effectual, as to enlarge
the sphere within which it may be usefully employed: though introduced merely with views
to speculations in the funds, it may afterwards be rendered subservient to the interests
of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures....
But, while there are circumstances sufficiently strong to authorize a considerable degree
of reliance on the aid of foreign capital, towards the attainment of the object in view,
it is satisfactory to have good grounds of assurance, that there are domestic resources,
of themselves adequate to it. It happens that there is a species of capital, actually
existing in the United States, which relieves from all inquietude, on the score of want of
capital. This is the funded debt....Public funds answer the purpose of capital, from the
estimation in which they are usually held by moneyed men; and, consequently, from the ease
and dispatch with which they can be turned into money....This operation of public funds as
capital, is too obvious to be denied; but it is objected to the idea of their operating as
an augmentation of the capital of the community, that they serve to occasion the
destruction of some other capital, to an equal amount....
But, though a funded debt is not, in the first instance, an absolute increase of capital,
or an augmentation of real wealth; yet, by serving as a new power in the operations of
industry, it has, within certain bounds, a tendency to increase the real wealth of a
community, in like manner, as money, borrowed by a thrifty farmer, to be laid out in the
improvement of his farm, may, in the end, add to his stock of real riches....
There remains to be noticed an objection to the encouragement of manufactures, of a nature
different from those which question the probability of success. This is derived from its
supposed tendency to give a monopoly of advantages to particular classes, at the expense
of the rest of the community, who, it is affirmed, would be able to procure the requisite
supplies of manufactured articles on better terms from foreigners than from our own
citizens; and who, it is alleged, are reduced to the necessity of paying an enhanced price
for whatever they want, by every measure which obstructs the free competition of foreign
But, though it were true that the immediate and certain effect of regulations controlling
the competition of foreign with domestic fabrics, was an increase of price, it is
universally true that the contrary is the ultimate effect with every successful
manufacture. When a domestic manufacture has attained to perfection, has engaged in the
prosecution of it a competent number of persons, it invariably becomes cheaper. Being free
from the heavy charges which attend the importation of foreign commodities, it can be
afforded, and accordingly seldom ever fails to be sold, cheaper, in process of time, than
was the foreign article for which it is a substitute. The internal competition which takes
place, soon does away every thing like monopoly, and by degrees reduces the price of the
article to the minimum of a reasonable profit on the capital employed. This accords with
the reason of the thing, and with experience....
The objections which are commonly made to the expediency of encouraging, and to the
probability of succeeding in manufacturing pursuits, in the United States, having now been
discussed, the considerations, which have appeared in the course of the discussion,
recommending that species of industry to the patronage of the Government, will be
materially strengthened by a few general, and some particular topics, which have been
naturally reserved for subsequent notice.
There seems to be a moral certainty that the trade of a country, which is both
manufacturing and agricultural, will be more lucrative and prosperous than that of a
country which is merely agricultural....There is always a higher probability of a
favorable balance of trade, in regard to countries in which manufactures, founded on the
basis of a thriving agriculture, flourish, than in regard to those which are confined
wholly, or almost wholly, to agriculture....
Not only the wealth, but the independence and security of a country, appear to be
materially connected with the prosperity of manufactures. Every nation, with a view to
those great objects, ought to endeavor to possess within itself, all the essentials of a
national supply. These comprise the means of subsistence, habitation, clothing, and