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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXIV. Economists

§ 9. New Topics: Labor, Land, Money, Free Trade

The second and third quarters of the nineteenth century were marked by two significant facts. The industrial transition in the East, together with the immigration to the West and South, brought into the forefront of political discussion four economic problems. These were the labour question, the land question, the money question, and the free trade controversy. Each of these gave rise to a vast pamphlet literature. The other important fact is the emergence of some interest in political economy as a science and the institution of college chairs devoted to the subject.

Taking up first the general economic discussion, two prominent names deserve attention. The Rev. John McVickar (1787–1868) occupied from 1817 at Columbia College the chair of philosophy, to the title of which there was added shortly thereafter that of political economy. Having already made a contribution to the banking system in New York under the pseudonym of Junius, he published, in 1825, his Outlines of Political Economy, followed a decade later by his First Lessons in Political Economy (1835). The Outlines were a reprint of McCulloch’s article in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but McVickar added what is described on the title page as Notes Explanatory and Critical and a Summary of the Science. Thomas Cooper (1759–1840) was president of South Carolina College at Columbia, and from 1824 professor of chemistry and political economy. Having previously (1823) written Two Tracts on the Proposed Alteration of the Tariff, he published in 1826 his Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy, which ran through several editions and which devoted some attention to the views of the socialists in New York. Cooper followed this by a Manual of Political Economy (1834). Neither McVickar nor Cooper departed materially from the position of the nascent political economy in England. A keener writer was the Southern editor, J. N. Cardozo, whose Notes on Political Economy (1826) disclosed opposition to the Ricardian law of rent, but whose book culminated in a defence of free trade. The only other contribution of the decade was the Outline of Political Economy (1828) by William Jennison.

The next decade showed more activity. Beginning with the fugitive writings of William Beach Lawrence, Two Lectures on Political Economy (1832), W. H. Hale’s Useful Knowledge for the Producers of Wealth (1833), and An Essay on the Principles of Political Economy Designed as a Manual for Practical Men by an American (1837), we come to more formal works: S. P. Newman’s Elements of Political Economy (1835); President Francis Wayland’s Elements of Political Economy (1837); and Theodore Sedgwick’s Public and Private Economy, in three parts (1836–39). Professor H. Vethake, of the University of Pennsylvania, who had published several Introductory Lectures on Political Economy in 1831 and 1833, now issued his Principles of Political Economy (1838), containing the substance of the courses given since 1822. Professor George Tucker, of the University of Virginia, published in 1837 The Laws of Wages, Profits, and Rent Investigated and followed this by The Theory of Money and Banks Investigated (1839). Worthy of notice also is the work by the engineer Charles Ellet, Jr., An Essay on the Laws of Trade in Reference to the Works of Internal Improvement (1839).

The only book of this period which manifested any originality was John Rae’s Statement of New Principles on the Subject of Political Economy (Boston, 1834). Rae, a Canadian, took issue with the prevalent English school in two points. He made a distinct contribution to the theory of capital and he laid a more solid foundation for the defence of the protective system. Rae is the only American writer of this period who attracted the notice of John Stuart Mill and whose contributions have received much attention in recent times.

During the forties the interest in political economy seemed to slacken. Only four books are to be recorded. Professor A. Potter’s Political Economy, Its Objects, Uses and Principles (1840), which was largely an adaptation of Poulett Scrope; the Notes on Political Economy (1844) by “a Southern planter” (N. A. Ware); E. C. Seaman’s Essays on the Progress of Nations in Productive Industry, Civilization, and Wealth (1846); and Calvin Colton’s Public Economy for the United States (1848). Much the same is true of the fifties, with the appearance of G. Opdyke’s A Treatise on Political Economy (1851); Professor Francis Bowen’s The Principles of Political Economy (1856); and Professor John Bascom’s Political Economy (1859). Most of these were textbooks exerting comparatively little influence outside the colleges. More widely read were the Elements of Political Economy (1865) by Professor A. L. Perry, of Williams College, which ran through many editions, and The Science of Wealth; a Manual of Political Economy (1866) by Professor Amasa Walker, of Amherst. Less important were E. Lawton’s Lectures on Science, Politics, Morals, and Society (1862) and President J. T. Champlin’s Lessons on Political Economy (1868).