Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Market Revolution: Moving towards an Industrial Economy

As I was going through my files for my unit on the New Republic, I found this handy little lesson on the changes from the colonial economy to an early industrial economy. Economics is not my strong suit, but it is important for students to understand broad strokes in the economy and see how the United States moved from a primarily agricultural nation to the one we are today. The lesson described below is the first step.

What I like about this classroom activity is its simplicity and that it gives students the opportunity to literally manipulate data. I have been continually surprised by how well the very low-tech technique of changing the format of information away from 81/2 X 11 sheets of paper onto small cards works. I suppose one could turn it into some kind of app, but I suspect that for today's youth, they might find index cards novel and the ipad...well, less so. Or maybe I'm just making excuses for my old lesson plans.

I'm pretty sure I got the idea for this lesson after reading Charles Seller's The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 in grad school. But I also might have gotten some of it from one of my colleagues, or adapted it from another lesson plan.

So here is the main activity of the lesson:

(Ideally you would need some sort of introduction.) I'm constantly haranguing my student teachers that all good lessons should have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is just the middle.)

Copy the chart below onto cardstock. You will need one for each group or pair of students. Small groups or pairs are best. Cut up all the cards and stick each set (mix 'em up) in an envelope.

Have the students first find the cards that say "Colonial Economy" and "Market Economy" and put those at the top. Then have them sort all the cards into one pile for colonial, one for market. They will find it easiest if they FIRST find pairs (e.g. find both national wealth cards). Do one or two with them as an example if you like. This should work well with middle or high school students.  You can eliminate some of the cards if you have less time.

Here's the first page of the chart (you can click here for a google doc version that has BOTH pages):

Then, depending on timing, you can either go over it as a class, or check their pairs and columns as they work. You can have them either write up a paragraph summarizing the main difference, using a few specific examples. Or ask them to write ONE good sentence that makes an overall generalization. You could also have students transferring them to an organizer like this one as an activity before writing any of the above ideas. Alternatively, you can have a brief discussion about the effects on individuals, families and communities (e.g. values, lifestyles, customs, daily life).

I like to conclude by reminding students about the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson. Do the changes in the economy seem more Hamiltonian or Jeffersonian? And then you can refer to Jefferson's famous comments about manufacturing vs. agriculture from his Notes on the State of Virginia. 

"Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people...."

"Dependance begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."

You can find the complete text here.

Other resources:

  • If you haven't already found them, you should check out John Green's Crash Courses on YouTube. They move pretty fast: there is A LOT of content crammed into videos of 10-15 minutes in length. Because of that, they are probably more suitable to high school level, but you can show parts of them and that would work for middle schoolers. His YouTube video below on the Market Revolution could be used as an intro or conclusion to this lesson. In the 8th minute, Green goes on to explain the connection of the market revolution to other historical trends, such as westward expansion, manifest destiny, immigration, women's work and the "dehuminization" that occurs as a result of industrialization. He concludes with an interesting point about Herman Melville's famous story, "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," which would be an interesting tie-in to literature. But you could also just show the first 8 minutes of this video, if you wanted to keep your lesson more focused on the market economy. (However, you could also include your lesson with a really interesting philosophical discussion of the implications of industrialization.)


  1. Thanks for this. Exactly what I was looking for to use tomorrow in my AP US class.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I hope it worked out well with your students.