Industrial Manifest Destiny? American Manufacturers and Territorial Expansion, 1838–50

Friday, January 5, 2018: 8:50 AM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Lindsay Schakenbach Regele, Miami University Ohio
“Come and talk about guns” was, as Congressman Gouverneur Kemble remembered fondly, what Secretary of War Joel Roberts Poinsett often used to say to him.[1] It was the late 1830s and the United States had recently become an international leader in firearms production. As military men, Kemble and Poinsett appreciated weapons advancements; during his two terms as a U.S. representative from New York, Kemble solicited Poinsett’s patronage of various weapon experiments. But it wasn’t just guns that were important. Among the achievements of his time in the War Department, Poinsett would count the fact that the army was supplied regularly with clothing of domestic manufacture.

Industrialization and militarization were anathema to many of the nation’s first policymakers, but by the middle of the nineteenth century, both were inextricably bound up with manifest destiny as key components of American civilization. This paper uses War Department papers and manufacturers’ records to explore how one of the main tenets of nineteenth-century American civilization – manifest destiny – transformed industrialization from a questionable economic activity to a key aspect of American society. Indeed, the “destiny” of American civilization depended on manufacturers who could produce weapons and clothing. Before railroads connected continental territory and became some of the nation’s first big businesses, the American arms and textile industries clothed and armed soldiers and settlers, receiving international recognition in the process. As the United States expanded and consolidated its land claims throughout the 1840s, warfare along its southern and western borders generated business opportunities for manufacturers in the East, who in turn made possible the competition that gave rise to the dominant civilization on the North American continent.

[1] Gouveneur Kemble, September 10, 1840, Folder 7, Box 15, Joel Roberts Poinsett Papers (0512), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.