Abstract: Building the "Business Congress": Local Commercial Organizations and the Origin of the National Board of Trade, 1840-1868

Cory Davis


The National Board of Trade, a national association of local commercial organizations formed in 1868, was the product of a movement toward commercial nationalism that began in the antebellum period. Created during the expansion of American productive capacities in the antebellum era, local boards of trade and chambers of commerce contributed significantly to the expansion and coordination of commerce at the local and regional level. The larger questions of continental development and Western expansion proved largely beyond the capacity of local groups and sporadic commercial conventions, and efforts to influence economic policy were undone by political partisanship and sectional rivalries. The Civil War, both by the removal of economic obstructionists from Congress and by promoting the developmental politics of the Republican Party into political ascendancy, allowed an opening and justification for closer cooperation between commercial groups in attempting to influence policy. The creation of the National Board of Trade was an attempt by the merchant class to harness this collective power to promote their vision for a national, integrated commercial economy.