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The American System’s Idea and Clay’s Debate

The economy and governance of the United States are based on ultimate documentation and strategies created in the past centuries and still provide the citizens with profound guidance. One of the brightest examples of such bills is the Debate of the American System, created by Henry Clay in 1832 (United States Senate [U.S. Senate], 2020). The congressional document describes the economic program that includes managing money, lands, and trading to improve the United States’ internal development (U.S. Senate, 2020). This essay aims to discuss the American System’s idea, analyze how the national market and economy should operate, and explore the role of mechanization and communication in Clay’s framework.

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The first half of the nineteenth century, the time of the Debate’s creation, is marked by the period of developing nationalism in the United States. The young nation craved to become stronger and grow into a significant player in the world economic arena. However, implications like the lack of proper internal governance, national debt, and unstable market stood in the way of America’s future well-being (Cheng, 2019). Clay’s Debate of the American System shaped the country’s willingness to grow a strong economy and offered multiple approaches for institutions like government, logistics, banking, and trading.

The idea of the program was dedicated to achieving rapid internal economic development. Indeed, the American System included updated tariffs for foreign traders to protect American industries from the inside (U.S. Senate, 2020). Moreover, Clay offered a national bank to foster commerce and increase subsidies to improve the country’s transport channels (U.S. Senate, 2020). The approaches he offered needed to be implemented on the legislative and governmental levels to increase access to markets and make trade more attractive for the citizens. Clay believed that if the United States’ economy makes internal markets more active, the country’s economic self-sufficiency would be the outcome (McNaylor, 2016). Moreover, the demand for better communication and logistics for trading would lead the nation to technological development.

Clay viewed the country’s economy as a mechanism that had to work from the inside and be as self-supportive as possible. He believed that the United States’ independence could be projected into its ability to have a strong internal economy based on its natural resources and the citizens’ perception of the American nation (McNaylor, 2016). The System’s idea was to build a market based on the improvement of three parts: banking, tariffs, and transport. A manufacturer could get the national bank’s support for trading, be protected from foreign producers by the high tariffs established for the latter, and spread the product by National Road as transporting channel. Such a marketing mechanism could lead the overall economy to grow due to the strong internal competition in different industries and logistical improvement rapidly.

The development of manufacturing technologies also appeared due to the increasing demand for production. Mechanization became a profound solution for producing goods in higher volume as the demand increased due to the possibility to trade in multiple regions (Cheng, 2019). Moreover, fabrication standards were established for the products, and building or producing mechanisms helped increase the facilities’ performance. Communication played a valuable role in the American System implementation because it became crucial for the regions to stay connected (Cheng, 2019). It led the government to force the building of National Road and fund the telegraphing systems development.

Clay’s Debate of the American System revealed the importance of applying multiple strategies to build a strong internal economy. His nationalistic idea of rapid development through motivating citizens to create products and markets helped the United States create powerful connections and competition in most of the country’s markets. The System became a valuable document that still has authority among economists and impacts the decisions of the modern United States Senate.


Cheng, J. (2019). Federalism and the rise of the corporate economy in the nineteenth-century United States. In States, Intergovernmental Relations, and Market Development (pp. 63-111). Macmillan, New York.

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McNaylor, M. (2016). Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman. Military Review, 96(5), 140.

United States Senate. (2020). Henry Clay: In defence of the American System.

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