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Postbellum Protection and Commissioner Wells's Conversion to Free Trade

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  • Stephen Meardon

    (Williams College)

Abstract

A moment of consequence to the postbellum U.S. tariff debate was the 'conversion' of David Ames Wells, Commissioner of the Revenue from 1865- 1870, to free trade. When he began his work Wells was a disciple of the eminent American protectionist Henry C. Carey. By the age of forty, however, he had become America's answer to Britain's Sir Robert Peel: a public figure of tremendous influence, who, having changed his mind on the issue, became the standard-bearer for free trade in both the intellectual and political arenas. Half a century and more in the past, when Wells's name was better remembered in American economic and political history, several stories were told of the causes of his conversion: some attributed it ultimately to the force of ideas, some to interests. My purpose is to demonstrate that the unacknowledged but most important cause was Wells's relationship with Edward Atkinson, and Wells and Atkinson's mutual wish to grant effective protection, or net protection, to cotton manufacturers. The story of Wells's conversion that unfolds in the demonstration is not one that disentangles and assigns weights to the contributions of theory and interests. It shows instead how each determined the other.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Method and Hist of Econ Thought with number 0512001.

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Length: 78 pages
Date of creation: 06 Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpmh:0512001

Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 78
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Web page: http://128.118.178.162

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Keywords: Wells; David Ames; Atkinson; Edward; free trade; revenue commission; effective protection; net protection;

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  1. Douglas A. Irwin & Peter Temin, 2000. "The Antebellum Tariff on Cotton Textiles Revisited," NBER Working Papers 7825, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Michael Perelman, 1995. "Retrospectives: Schumpeter, David Wells, and Creative Destruction," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 189-197, Summer.
  3. repec:cup:jechis:v:61:y:2002:i:03:p:777-798_03 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Douglas A. Irwin, 1989. "Political Economy And Peel'S Repeal Of The Corn Laws," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 1(1), pages 41-59, 03.
  5. Stephen Meardon, 2005. "How TRIPs Got Legs: Copyright, Trade Policy, and the Role of Government in Nineteenth-Century American Economic Thought," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 37(5), pages 145-174, Supplemen.
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