Nancy Spannaus Addresses the AHA Society
Oct. 2, 2022—An important new video is now featured on AmericanSystemNow’s You Tube channel. In an approximate 40-minute presentation, Nancy Spannaus elaborates on the key concepts and the implementation of Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 Report on the Subject of Manufactures, highlighting often-overlooked features of this critical document. The speech was given remotely to the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society on September 22. A lively question and answer period follows her talk.
To view the video, click here.
Spannaus, author of Hamilton Versus Wall Street: The Core Principles of the American System of Economics, argues that Hamilton’s Manufactures report is one of the most significant State Documents to come out of the United States. It is a tour de force, ranging from a theoretical discourse on the real source of wealth, to specifications of measures the new country should take to ensure the thriving of key industries. Its ideas shaped not only the history of the United States, but also that of many other countries.
Yet, most historians have paid little attention to this report, on the excuse that it wasn’t adopted by the Congress as such.
Each of the three parts of Spannaus’ presentation emphasize little-known, or even shocking, aspects of Hamilton’s paper. In the first part, which sketched the major concepts of the report, she begins with the fact that the Report on Manufactures starts with an attack on Adam Smith! In his Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that the United States government should not act to promote manufactures, but rather rely on importing its finished goods from Great Britain. Hamilton devastates this argument and asserts, to the contrary, that every nation should have the productive capacity to provide its own essentials.
Spannaus also stresses another little-noted aspect of Hamilton’s argument for manufactures: his assertion that one of its major benefits was to “cherish and stimulate the activity of the human mind.”
In the second part, Spannaus follows the implementation of Hamilton’s pro-manufacturing ideas in the United States up through the Lincoln period. While many claim the Report had little impact, she shows the opposite. Beyond what Hamilton himself achieved (including enacting all the tariff proposals he outlined), his ideas were picked up by a faction of the Democratic-Republican Party that fought for them with occasional success all the way to the Lincoln Administration, where they were largely put into practice. There is a direct continuity from Mathew Carey, to Henry C. Carey, and to Lincoln himself, which can be seen in Lincoln’s achievements, she asserts. Those fully justify the conclusion of economist Richard Sylla, who wrote in his Hamilton, An Illustrated Biography: “The state which Hamilton planned and imagined, Abraham Lincoln completed and confirmed.”
In the final section on international influence, Spannaus quickly traces the spread of the Report’s ideas through Russia, Germany, and Japan. Indeed, by 1807, it had already been translated into Russian! The application of Hamilton’s ideas in those three nations, as well as the United States, in fact led to all four nations surpassing imperial Great Britain in the signature parameter of industrial might, steel production, by the end of the 19th Century.
Spannaus’ presentation represents only the highlights of her 2019 book, Hamilton Versus Wall Street, which she strongly encouraged participants to read and review. She is also available for other lectures on the subject, either by Zoom or in person within the greater Washington, D.C. area.