An American Political Economy: Industry, Trade, and Finance in the Antebellum Mind Dissertation

(2010). An American Political Economy: Industry, Trade, and Finance in the Antebellum Mind . 10.25148/etd.FI12041904

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Calvo, Christopher W.


  • The purpose of this study is to assess American economic thought during the antebellum period. Antebellum political economy has been largely neglected by historians. They have ignored both the valuable contributions made by America’s first political economists to domestic intellectual culture, as well as the importance of American economic thought in the transatlantic discourse. A dynamic, sophisticated, and complex political economy marks the antebellum era, and when studied in its proper context provides insight into how Americans understood the transformative economic changes they experienced.

    This dissertation draws on an extensive body of primary and secondary literature. Special consideration is given to the more learned articulations of economic thought. However, recognizing the immature state of the science during the period under investigation works of various levels of theoretical erudition are referenced. In their attempts to fashion a distinctly American political economy domestic thinkers entertained a wide range of economic principles. Contrary to conventional wisdom the Americans were not absolutist in their dedication to British orthodoxy. Antebellum political economy manipulated British authorities to suit the immediate concerns of contemporaries, thus spoiling the essence of classical doctrine. This dissertation makes clear that few Americans accepted classical orthodoxy without important qualifications.

    Classical theory was confronted with its most systematic challenge by protectionists. Despite protectionism having shaped the course of American economic development, its theoretical underpinnings have been summarily discounted by historians and economists. Protectionists, however, afforded the quintessential expression of American antebellum political economy. This dissertation intends to rescue the protectionists from historical abandon and reclaim the position of relevance they enjoyed during their own time. The antebellum period also hosted a fiery set of intellectuals determined to upset the emerging free-market order, exhibiting a particular disdain for institutions of finance and the industrial ethos. Conservatives from the North and South aimed to slow America’s march into the modern economy. These elements did not operate on the fringes of intellectual society, rather they represent something central to the American discourse and are illustrative of the difficulty attendant to classifying antebellum thinkers according to traditional notions of economic ideology.

publication date

  • October 20, 2010


  • American political economy
  • Antebellum American economic thought
  • Jacksonian Finance
  • free trade
  • protectionism

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)