Abstract: The Origins of the Military-Industrial Complex: The Federal Government, Diplomacy, and the Origins of American Industry, 1790-1840

Lindsey Schakenbach


This paper seeks to answer the question, ''is government intervention in business a good or bad thing?'' by analyzing the development of the New England arms and textile industries in the early republican United States. While much work on industrialization has focused on the social implications wrought by economic transformations, changing labor systems, individual entrepreneurship, the rise of the modern business firm, and freedom from government regulation, a strong federal government was in fact essential for generating economic growth in the decades following the nation's founding. When we examine the development of industry in the context of federal patronage and expanding U.S. geopolitical dominance in the Americas, we see the ways in which government intervention in manufacturing was intricately connected to U.S. war-making capacity and economic independence. This paper draws on consular and congressional papers, federal armory records, and textile accounts to connect the large themes of political economy—war, trade, state power—with the small scale sites of technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the machine shops and mills along New England waterways. These connections shed new light on state-sponsored industrial development in the United States and in the process diminish notions of American exceptionalism as a free-enterprise nation.