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An Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of Henry Thornton's Christian Faith on the Existence and Content of His Economic Writings


  • Neil T. Skaggs


Since the reintroduction of Henry Thornton's Enquiry into the Nature and Effects of the Paper Credit of Great Britain (1802) by Friedrich Hayek in 1939, Thornton has been regarded as one of the world's premier monetary theorists. In his own time, Thornton was better known for joining with William Wilberforce to assemble the “Clapham sect.” This group of evangelical Christians pressed the cause of Christ in all manner of venues, most prominently in seeking to end the slave trade and in working to repatriate freed slaves to Africa. Thornton served on numerous committees working on these and other projects, gave profusely from his own income to support these causes, and wrote far more on Christian subjects than on economics. Yet, in a time when political economy and religion mixed rather easily, Thornton's Paper Credit appears to be not a work in moral philosophy or Smithian political economy but a technical treatise on monetary theory and policy. Is it possible that such a devout believer, living in an era when political economy and religion so easily intertwined, would not seek to advance his religious agenda along with his economic agenda? This article concludes that it was indeed possible; the Paper Credit itself contains no religious arguments whatsoever, and Thornton's policy prescriptions make sense on narrow economic grounds. However, Thornton's work on economics is connected to his faith in one important way: Thornton was a “doer,” not just a “hearer,” and a doer of the Gospel could not avoid lending his expertise to his country in the dark days of the Napoleonic wars. Thus Thornton appears as a disinterested economist whose motivation to serve came from his devotion to Christ.

Suggested Citation

  • Neil T. Skaggs, 2008. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Effects of Henry Thornton's Christian Faith on the Existence and Content of His Economic Writings," History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, vol. 40(5), pages 168-188, Supplemen.
  • Handle: RePEc:hop:hopeec:v:40:y:2008:i:5:p:168-188

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