Whatever opinions we might have about free trade or protectionism, let’s leave the nation’s founders out of it. An Op-Ed claiming that the “Founding Fathers knew that ‘trade with all parts of the world’ is good” relies on the kind of historical reductionism that is politically fashionable but factually misleading.
It is true that one of the grievances cited in the Declaration of Independence was restrictions on trade. After the outbreak of war in the spring of 1775, for example, the British retaliated by clamping down on colonial commerce by blockading ports and seizing American ships. It is incorrect, however, to suggest that the revolutionaries of 1776 were aspiring free marketers who turned against a mercantilist king and set the nation on a path to a free-trade future. One of the first pieces of legislation passed by the first U.S. Congress in 1789 was a tariff.
By all means, let’s read up on the declaration and the Constitution. But let’s not superimpose our own economic, political and social assumptions on a different time. We can learn more from the complexity of the challenges faced by our predecessors than from neatly told stories.
Jennifer Moon, Ph.D., Early American History, Bellingham