Our Prosperity




When the first settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth came ashore they each faced the enormous task of building a profitable colony. The settlers shared the profits equally among themselves as well as with the investors according to the provisions in their mutual agreements.  This arrangement shackled incentive, resulting in less and less production by fewer and fewer industrious individuals.

Plymouth Governor William Bradford’s record of their situation summed up the shared experience of the two colonies when he wrote, "For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort." 1

Both colonies had to abandon the communal system in order to survive. They each established the private ownership of land and eliminated the common storehouse allowing the owners to keep what they produced for their own use. This change bred new life into the colonies as their residents now possessed unlimited opportunity. Governor Bradford’s cheerful account describes the effect, which again, characterized both colonies noting, “This was very successful. It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction.” 2

The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Boston and the surrounding area, settled in 1630, avoided the difficulties of Jamestown and Plymouth, due in large measure to the advantage of greater numbers and sufficient supplies, having arrived with nearly 1,000 settlers on a small fleet of ships. In addition, their elevated view of work, believing that man serves God by diligently and faithfully working in his specific calling, helped to maintain the needed discipline, The world has come to identify this view as the Puritan work ethic, a trait that would become an integral part of the American character.


The success of Jamestown, Plymouth and Boston encouraged the founding of the remaining thirteen colonies over the next one hundred years, the last of them being Georgia settled in 1733.  Out of the rich resources of each, a vibrant colonial economy driven by the principal of private property and the widely applied work ethic took root.  While agriculture, being essential for the livelihood of most families formed the foundation of the economy, manufacturing and trade quickly grew in importance, spurred on by the harvesting of lumber, ship building, fishing and whaling, a frontier fur trade, iron and leather works and a very active textile industry. As production flourished, trade between colonies grew to include trans-Atlantic trade with England, Europe and the West Indies providing additional outlets and increased income.

The driving success of the colonies soon collided with the dominant economic view in England known as mercantilism.  For the colonists this meant that England viewed them first and foremost as a supplier of raw materials for the manufacturing of finished goods in England which would in turn be purchased by the colonists, thus fulfilling their ultimate role as a revenue source for the mother country.  The refusal by the colonists to accept this subservience, led England to seek to impose it through Parliamentary regulation. This, in turn, led to the war for independence in 1776 permanently removing English dominance and interference.

In that same year a Scottish philosopher Adam Smith published his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations detailing the principles of an economic system that would eventually replace mercantilism. The principles included the private ownership of property and a free market place returning earned profits regulated only by the supply and demand for goods along with competition among producers.  The newly formed United States of America, with its guarantees of freedom and accustomed to the workings and benefits of private ownership had already positioned itself as the leading model of Adam Smith’s free enterprise system.  The nation would achieve a shared prosperity on a scale unequaled in human history.


In 1783, following the defeat of England in the war of independence the noted pamphleteer of the time Thomas Paine wrote of the coming American peace and its promise, “She is now descending to the scenes of quiet and domestic life. Not beneath the cypress shade of disappointment but to enjoy in her own land, and under her own vine, the sweet of her labors, and the reward of her toil.” 3

Through this open door of freedom passed the pent up hopes and dreams of a determined people.  Having overcome all obstacles to secure this opportunity they would now display before all the world the bountiful prosperity earned through individual enterprise, free from artificial constraints and controls.

The 1800’s in America produced successive bursts of innovation that transformed transportation, agriculture, industry and communications enabling the nation to grow and its citizens to improve their daily lives.  The Erie Canal completed in 1825, along with subsequent canals throughout the Northwest and Midwest not only opened these areas to settlement but connected them to the commercial center of New York.  The invention of the steamboat in 1807 did the same for the agricultural south and the port of New Orleans.  The superbly crafted and sleek clipper ships built in New England during the 1840’s and 1850’s reduced travel time from New York to San Francisco to three months, half the six months it took by land. These dynamic changes accompanied another extraordinary feat, the completion of a system of railroads connecting New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The system eventually breached the Appalachian Mountains and spread across the open frontier culminating in 1869 with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad from Chicago to San Francisco.

Industrial advances improved productivity in agriculture and manufacturing.  The appearance of John Deere’s steel plow in 1837 and Cyrus McCormick’s grain reaper in 1847 increased, by six times, the land harvested by hand.  Workers no longer needed on the farm began working in the factories and mills experiencing growth due to such inventions as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and Isaac Singers sewing machine. 

Improvements in communications raced to keep pace as the nation stretched west.  Due to the risk-taking bravery of a group of young pony express riders’ reducing mail delivery  3 from Missouri to San Francisco to ten days.  The invention of the telegraph by Samuel F. B. Morris in 1837 replaced the pony express in 1861.  In 1858 the ability for high speed communication spread across the Atlantic Ocean after completion of the first transatlantic cable due to the efforts and backing of Cyrus Field. This communication frenzy reached its peak in 1876 with the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell.

The entire era of innovative creativity, spanning the 1800’s, reflected one whose mind so teemed with ideas as to make him the foremost inventor. Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1879 alone earned him this designation, his remaining 1,092 patented inventions not withstanding. 

The enterprising American sprang from an intrepid spirit which would not yield to the challenging struggles and sorrows of a wilderness nor to the shackles of a distant tyrant.  This attitude, under girded by a Godly faith, became the source of abundant prosperity and freedom.  Individual inventors and entrepreneurs alike, in creating wealth through initiative and hard work, blessed an entire nation with new opportunities, a higher standard of living and a desire to freely share with others. 

© Majesty Publications


1.  William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, rendered into Modern English by Harold Paget, 1909, and republished under title, Bradford's History of the Plymouth Settlement, 1608-1650, (San Antonio, Tx.: Mantle Ministries, 1988), P. 115
2. Ibid
3. The Times That Try Men’s Souls Are Over! Thomas Paine, quoted by Henry Steele Commager and Richard B. Morris editors. The Spirit of Seventy-Six: The Story of The American Revolution as Told by Its Participants. Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 1967, P. 1294