This essay argues that commerce, and concerns about commerce, played a significant role in driving U.S. elites to define the 1780s as a period of "crisis," shaping both the drive toward constitutional reform and the postconstitutional order. At the outset of independence, American Revolutionaries had grand ambitions for their international trade. They imagined that commerce would be the lifeblood of their new nation's prosperity and security. When the postwar economic situation failed to live up to these great expectations, many Revolutionaries felt that their entire national project was threatened. Commercial crisis provided Americans with a reason to reexamine government under the Articles of Confederation, and then a motive to reform it—a process culminating in the U.S. Constitution and the framing of a new commercial system in the First Federal Congress. Examining the role of trade in the "Critical Period" reveals how the "private" world of commerce intertwined closely with the "public" work of nation-building, contributing more to the dynamics of U.S. political development than historians have at times acknowledged. Reflecting American leaders' theoretical, moral, and practical investment in international trade, the consequences of the commercial crisis of the 1780s are usefully understood as constitutional.