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So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalismby James R. Fichter
Synopses & Reviews
In a work of sweep and ambition, James Fichter explores how American trade proved pivotal to the evolution of capitalism in the United States and helped to shape the course of the British Empire.
Before the American Revolution, colonial merchants were part of a trading network that spanned the globe. After 1783, U.S. merchants began trading in the East Indies independently, creating a new class of investor-capitalists and the first generation of American millionaires. Such wealth was startling in a country where, a generation earlier, the most prosperous Americans had been Southern planters. This mercantile elite brought its experience and affluence to other sectors of the economy, helping to concentrate capital and create wealth, and paving the way for the modern business corporation.
Conducted on free trade principles, American trade in Asia was so extensive that it undermined the monopoly of the British East India Company and forced Britain to open its own free trade to Asia. The United States and the British Empire thus converged around shared, Anglo-American free-trade ideals and financial capitalism in Asia. American traders also provided a vital link to the Atlantic world for Dutch Java and French Mauritius, and were at the vanguard of Western contact with Polynesia and the Pacific Northwest.
Based on an impressive array of sources from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States, this pathbreaking book revolutionizes our understanding of the early American economy in a global context and the relationship between the young nation and its former colonial master.
Book News Annotation:
Fichter (history, Lingnan University Hong Kong) has sifted through innumerable primary sources for this treatment of the growth of American merchant shipping to the East Indies at the turn of the nineteenth century. He begins, appropriately, with the Boston Tea Party, putting it in a global perspective. After the Revolution, he shows how American entrepreneurs took advantage of the wars between France and Britain to fill in the gaps in trade with the Far East. American and British merchants, safely out of range of both countries, even worked together to circumnavigate monopoly laws, especially in the importation of opium into China. Up until the defeat of Napoleon, American merchants had the opportunity to amass unheard of wealth operating in a free trade environment without competition from European companies. Fichter argues that the infusion of millions from trade helped to spur the industrialization of the United States. While he acknowledges the faults of free trade, Fichter states that it was neither good nor bad in itself and that, in the case of the formation of a capitalist United States, its impact cannot be overstressed. Annotation ©2010 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Honorable Mention, 2011 Ralph Gomory Prize, Business History Conference
2009 Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize, Harvard University Press
About the Author
James R. Fichter is Assistant Professor of History, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.
Lingnan University, Hong Kong
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