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Postbellum Protection and Commissioner Wells's Conversion to Free Trade

Stephen Meardon ()

Method and Hist of Econ Thought from EconWPA

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.

Keywords: Wells, David Ames; Atkinson, Edward; free trade; revenue commission; effective protection; net protection (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: B1 B31 F13 N71 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hpe, nep-int and nep-pol
Date: 2005-12-06
Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 78
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Journal Article: Postbellum Protection and Commissioner Wells's Conversion to Free Trade (2007) Downloads
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