Henry Charles Carey (1793-1879) was an American writer on economics who rejected the key ideas of the British classical economists. Instead of their free-trade policy, he advocated a policy of tariff protection.
Henry Charles Carey was born on Dec. 15, 1793, in Philadelphia, where his father was a leading bookseller and publisher. Largely self-taught, Henry left school at age 12 and while still a teenager joined his father's firm as a partner. After his early retirement from the publishing business in the 1830s, he devoted himself to his investments, to writing, and to public affairs.
A leader of the Pennsylvania protectionists, he supported their cause with a veritable flood of publications. Carey associated himself with the Republican party when it was established in the 1850s; the highly protectionist plank in the party platform of 1860 reflected his influence. His reputation spread, and Washington administrators, from President Lincoln on down, sought his advice on many occasions. It was frequently suggested that Carey make himself available for high public office, but he invariably refused. When he died in Philadelphia on Oct. 13, 1879, he was mourned as a national leader.
Reflecting the American Environment
Carey's fame rests on the books he published from 1835 to 1872. They reflected the influence of his father in their anti-British sentiment and espousal of protectionism. Their content ranged over the then barely divided fields of sociology and economics, with occasional glimpses of the order of the universe, which in Carey's opinion was ruled by the same laws that controlled social relationships.
Carey's ideas on economics were more optimistic than those of the classical economists. Compared with them, he laid greater stress on harmony than on potential conflict between economic groups. This reflected the American environment, where economic opportunities were plentiful and where class divisions were less rigidly drawn than in Europe. Like other American economists of the time, Carey rejected Thomas Malthus's view of the population relentlessly pressing against food resources. He had no use for David Ricardo's theory of rent, according to which the rental income of the more favorably situated landowners, who enjoyed low cost, would increase as less suitable land was taken into cultivation. On the basis of the American experience, Carey pointed out, the historical movement did not proceed from the most fertile lands to less fertile ones but in the reverse order. Carey directed his most pronounced criticism to the free-trade implications of Adam Smith's and Ricardo's doctrines, which in his opinion would perpetuate British economic power and stifle the economic development of the United States.
Carey saw his efforts rewarded by the tariff legislation of the United States. Abroad, and especially on the Continent, where the free-trade doctrine was less firmly established than in Britain, his works found many readers. His influence on academic economics was noticeable mainly at the University of Pennsylvania.
Further Reading on Henry Charles Carey
Carey's writings make 13 substantial books and about 6,000 pages of pamphlet and newspaper material; included are Principles of Political Economy (3 vols., 1837-1840) and Principles of Social Science (3 vols., 1858-1860). Arnold W. Green, Henry Charles Carey (1951), contains a list of his writings, a biography, and an appraisal of his contributions to social science. A. D. H. Kaplan, Henry Charles Carey (1931), discusses his economics. David Kaser, Messrs. Carey & Lea of Philadelphia: A Study in the History of the Booktrade (1957), treats Carey as a publisher.
Additional Biography Sources
Kaplan, A. D. H. (Abraham David Hannath), Henry Charles Carey, a study in American economic thought, New York: AMS Press, 1982, 1931.