[APUSH Essay] Free As Air


All that is solid melts into air.

— Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels[1]

Let trade be as free as air.

— Pelatiah Webster[2]

Americans, wrote Tocqueville, had “annihilated space and time.”

— Eric Foner[3]

§1 — Introduction

When did things really get started? What does it even mean to get started? What started the motor of history? What turned the key to start the historical engine? History didn’t “really” start until modernity exploded onto the scene, because, until modernity, nothing had changed, there was no difference, no new events to record. In other words, before modernity, everything was on a continuous line, it was only upon the emergence of modernity that one could begin to see the exponential curves — and with modernity, everything is an exponential curve. In a certain sense, modernity is the same thing as the acceleration of technological advancement and its effect on the economy. Thus, modernity emerged with the Industrial Revolution,[4] but modernity popped up in different places at different times. Thus, out of all the events that happened within the United States of America between 1776 and 1848, the Market Revolution[5] was the most important event because it was the explosive catalyst for the change of the economy, society, law, politics, and the average American’s view of reality itself.

§2 — Main Argument

Eric Foner, author of Give Me Liberty!, explains that “American technology had hardly changed during the colonial era.”[6] On the level of acceleration and velocity, “manufacturing continued to be done by hand!”[7] In this sense, the production processes of colonial America had neither a high velocity nor acceleration. But, the Market Revolution did exactly what needed to be done: “To be sure, the market revolution represented an acceleration of developments already under way in the colonial era [emphasis added].”[8] But what happened that caused the developments to come about? In five words: modernity arrived on the scene. New ways of transportation, places to transport to, and the creation of transportation routes that ease the process, such as canals and railroads. Transportation was revolutionized on the level of costs, methods, speeds, and abilities. Then new technology such as the telegraph was created leading to a revolution in communication again on the level of costs, methods, speeds, and abilities. Ultimately, the innovations of just the very beginning of the Market Revolution already had clear effects on the American economy in that the newly innovated technology “made it far easier for economic enterprises to sell their products.”[9] This caused the velocity of commodity circulation to increase to an unseen degree.[10] The speed of production too increased drastically. Henretta et al. explain that improved die-forging machines allowed a single worker to be able to “make three hundred ax heads a day — versus twelve using the traditional method.”[11] Accelerating the velocity of circulation and production only increased the amount of interaction between actors within society, which led to a market-based spontaneous order called catallaxy.[12]

With profit as its fundamental end, society was completely restructured on an unprecedented level. Marx and Engels, in 1848, wrote, “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”[13] To achieve more profit, Americans need new and cheaper labor, and young women fit the bill, literally. The Boston Manufacturing Company, for example, employed “thousands of young women from farm families to work in its textile factories.”[14] This employment of women also created a new culture among those women employed at the textile mills. “[M]ill girls,” as they were called, gained a “larger, firmer idea of womanhood” that taught them “to go out of themselves and enter into the lives of others.”[15]

The legal aspect of society too changed in that “American law increasingly supported the efforts of entrepreneurs to participate in the market revolution, while shielding them from interference by local governments and liability for some of the less desirable results of economic growth.”[16] In a certain sense, because of American society’s teleological transformation into having profit as its end, the law too underwent a metamorphosis and became nothing less than a complement to market processes. Because market dynamics led to more interactions and thus potential conflicts between actors, legal practices had an incentive to defend this market order, and they did. Foner explains, “Local judges, meanwhile, held businessmen blameless for property damage done by factory construction … Numerous court decisions also affirmed employers’ full authority over the workplace.”[17]

On the metaphysical level, the Market Revolution, firstly, changed Americans’ understanding of perception itself. Perception became nothing less than a tool for economizing. Objects became perceived as things to be sold to achieve a profit, or things to be used to achieve a profit. Perception was no longer an end in itself, but the means to the end of accruing monetary profit. Foner describes how Abraham Lincoln’s family was “self-sufficient” before the Market Revolution in that they lived off the land and weren’t dependent on markets for survival.[18] The Market Revolution changed this. Instead of perception being focused on accruing food through hunting and farming, perception became focused on accruing food through money and markets. Thus, it was the very pressures of markets that caused conscious perception to take a new shape through teleological metamorphosis.[19] The importance of this phenomenological metamorphosis is unparalleled.[20] Following Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics put forward in his magnum opus, Critique of Pure Reason, the Market Revolution is then the most important event because it changed how Americans perceived space and time, i.e., reality itself.[21]

Secondly, the Market Revolution changed Americans’ perception of time itself. As urbanization continued, more and more Americans had their perception of time fundamentally changed. Foner explains that it was the movement from artisans being paid based on their price to workers being paid through a wage that fundamentally changed how Americans viewed time itself: “In the nineteenth century, pay increasingly became a ‘wage,’ paid according to an hourly or daily rate … [this] made Americans more conscious of arranging their lives according to ‘clock time.’”[22] This change continues to this very day with workers but has expanded even more to students and child-rearing. Furthermore, because space exists in time,[23] the American people had their perception of reality changed even further.

Thirdly, the Market Revolution changed how Americans view space itself. The Market Revolution “shattered traditional spatial and social boundaries and made moving from place to place and status to status common features of American life.”[24] As Americans’ perception of physical and abstract movement changed, their perception of what they were moving in changed too. The creation of new infrastructure and innovations in transportation and movement-centered technology allowed Americans to move wherever they like at speeds never before seen. Distance, and therefore space, was seen in a completely different sense. The group of intellectuals that called themselves the Transcendentalists, who surely took after Kant, recognized that with individualism being on the rise, how space was viewed would fundamentally change. Instead of viewing space and the accumulation of space from the perspective of a collective such as a family for example, but rather from the perspective of an individual, the perception of space becomes fundamentally different in that it becomes more “open,” more free, more vast, and it is exactly this perception of space that caused American politics to become a vector toward individualism. Foner explains, “A sense of spatial openness, of the constant opportunity to pick up and move when the pursuit of happiness seemed to demand it, became more and more a central component of American freedom.”[25] Again, it was specifically the Market Revolution that engendered this change, as Foner explains, “The restless, competitive world of the market revolution strongly encouraged the identification of American freedom with the absence of restraints on self-directed individuals seeking economic advancement and personal development.”[26]

§3 — Conclusion

In conclusion, it was the Market Revolution that fundamentally changed the United States of America on all levels. On the level of the economy, the velocity of the processes of production, circulation, and consumption increased to an unseen degree. The structures and roles of society changed due to the increase in consumer demand. The increase in consumer demand led the demand for labor to increase and this caused women to be employed, fundamentally changing the social status and perspective. What could be said to be the Market Revolution’s most important change it engendered was the massive change in how Americans viewed reality itself. The view of perception, time, and space were all so greatly affected that space and time (and therefore perception as well) were said to be annihilated. Lastly, because of the Market Revolution’s emphasis on the mobility of individual market actors, American politics were taken on a vector toward individualism, fundamentally changing how American politics were to be looked at forever. With the effects still being seen today, if not more so now than they were then, the Market Revolution was surely the greatest event that took place in the United States of America between the years 1776 and 1848.


[1]: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. Samuel Moore (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 16.

[2]: Pelatiah Webster, Political essays on the nature and operation of money, public finances, and other subjects: published during the American war, and continued up to the present year, 1791 (Evans Early American Imprint Collection Text Creation Partnership, 1791), 24.

[3]: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, 5 th ed (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), 328.

[4]: Though, the Renaissance arguably was the first emergence of modernity

[5]: Market Revolution is capitalized in this paper, unlike in Give Me Liberty!, only because it is seen, contextually, as the Market Revolution of the United States of America

[6]: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, 5 th ed (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), 327.

[7]: Ibid.

[8]: Ibid.

[9]: Ibid., 328.

[10]: Because the circuit of capital, as Marx correctly understands it, is M → C → M’ which is to say money purchases commodity and the commodity is then used as a tool or material in production to then accrue money with surplus value (profit) — money is entailed in this acceleration of commodity circulation. This is also noted by Webster on page 15 of Political essays on the nature and operation of money, public, finances, and other subjects.

[11]: James A. Henretta, David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil, America’s History, 6th ed. (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008), 278.

[12]: Catallaxy is just a social order that spontaneously emerges out of the interactions and exchanges that occur between actors in a market. For more on the term catallaxy, see F. A. Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit.

[13]: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. Samuel Moore (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969), 16.

[14]: James A. Henretta, David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil, America’s History, 6th ed. (New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008), 276.

[15]: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, 5th ed (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), 342.

[16]: Ibid., 346.

[17]: Ibid., 347.

[18]: Ibid., 328.

[19]: The teleology of something is what something has as its end. For example, the teleology of a capitalist is to accrue profit, whereas the teleology of a worker is to produce a commodity. A classic example is that the teleology of a toaster is to toast bread, i.e., making toast.

[20]: Phenomenology is the study of conscious, perceptual experience., the structures of consciousness and perception themselves.

[21]: In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant, with his transcendental idealist metaphysics, recognizes that space and time are pure intuitions that are the conditions of possibility of all experience. Our mind has two fundamental pure intuitions, i.e., intuitions which are not of perceptual experience. Rather, these two pure intuitions, time and space, are the necessary conditions for the possibility of (sensible) perception and therefore of perceptual (sense) experience. For Kant, our mind represents all that is external to us as objects in space, and then internally orders ourselves in time.

[22]: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, 5th ed (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), 341–342.

[23]: Space exists in time: e.g., one object (a demarcated part of space) after another.

[24]: Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty!: An American History, 5th ed (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017), 349.

[25]: Ibid., 348.

[26]: Ibid., 349.


Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty!: An American History. 5th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2017.

Greenspan, Anna. “Capitalism’s Transcendental Time Machine.” Ph.D. thesis. University of Warwick, 2000.

Hayek, F. A. The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. Edited by W. W. Bartley, III. London: Routledge, 1988.

Henretta, James A., David Brody, and Lynn Dumenil. America’s History. 6th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Marcus Weigelt. New York: Penguin Group Inc., 2007.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Translated by Samuel Moore. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Manifesto.pdf.

Webster, Pelatiah. Political essays on the nature and operation of money, public finances, and other subjects: published during the American war, and continued up to the present year, 1791. Evans Early American Imprint Collection Text Creation Partnership, 1791. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N18480.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext.



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