According to McCoy, who focuses primarily on the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and especially James Madison, 18th century political economy developed in two different directions regarding commercial growth: the Ben Franklin/ Rousseau skepticism of all commerce and the Hamilton/ Barnard Mandeville embrace of the market and human selfishness. Most American political economists were somewhere in the middle, and McCoy explores their thought regarding this middle path. Apparently, at this time there were three different ways they thought American could develop:
- as a primitive or Spartan economy, with self-sufficient agriculture and no commerce or luxuries
- as a mid-level economy, with widespread property ownership, sophisticated agriculture, household manufacturing, and just enough trade to exchange American raw produce for refine European goods
- as a mature economy, with a balance of commercial agriculture, large-scale manufacturing, class hierarchy, and both internal and external commerce.
While this book doesn't prove in any way that the entire Revolutionary generation espoused this project to annihilate time through space and thus preserve a Republican culture, and it only vaguely defines political economy, it does, perhaps, provide a rationale for westward expansion and imperialism in the name of preserving American republican ideals. That the Revolutionary generation thought America was exceptional in its perfect economic state right when slavery was expanding and the nation was displacing Native Americans is indicative of the contradictions at the heart of American culture.