Henry Charles Carey 101: Discover His Economics Ideas
Zatrun Published at March 12, 2023

Henry Charles Carey was an American economist born on December 15, 1793, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of the leading economists of the 19th century American School and served as the chief economic advisor to Abraham Lincoln. If you want to learn more about Henry Charles Carey, you can check out this article of

Carey is well-known for his book “Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Commercial (1851)”, which compares the “English System” of laissez-faire capitalism with the American System’s use of protective tariffs and government intervention in agriculture, manufacturing, and nationalist sufficiency.

Who is Henry Charles Carey?

Henry Charles Carey was a prominent economist of the American School in the 19th century and served as the primary economic advisor to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. Carey’s father, Mathew Carey (1760-1839), was an economist, political reformer, editor, and publisher born in Dublin, Ireland. He founded a publishing company in Philadelphia in 1784 with the help of Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette.

Henry Charles Carey took over his father’s publishing company in 1825 and the Carey & Lea company became a leader in the United States. In 1835, Carey became a co-founder of the famous Franklin Fire Insurance Company in Philadelphia. He resigned in 1838 and published his four-volume work (1837-1840) “The Principles of Political Economy,” which became the standard representation of American economic thought and was translated into Italian and Swedish, dominating the U.S. economic system until 1973.

Henry Charles Carey was a proponent of the idea of tax protection and government intervention in agriculture, industry, and commerce to promote the growth of these sectors under the Lincoln administration. He believed that this approach, which he called the American System in contrast to the laissez-faire capitalist system of free trade in Europe, would encourage the country’s economic growth and independence.

Carey also believed in the balanced development of industry and agriculture and stressed that the country should have the capacity to produce everything it needs. Carey is one of the leading representatives of the American School and is still a subject of debate on how the country’s economic policies and decisions should be made.

“The Principles of Social Science”

Carey’s first major political economy work was a compilation of many small books covering topics such as wages, the credit system, interest, slavery, and copyright, published before and after. In 1858-1859, he brought the results of his life’s work together in a three-volume work entitled “The Principles of Social Science.”

The Principles book is a comprehensive and mature explanation of Henry Charles Carey’s views. Carey aimed to show that economic laws are a natural system independent of human wills and that the well-being of the whole society, especially the working class, is spontaneously increased. Carey built his economics on the Colbert system, which protected industry and supported agriculture through roads.

“The Way to Outdo England Without Fighting Her”

In March 1865, Henry Charles Carey published a series of letters to Speaker of the House Rep. Schuyler Colfax entitled “The Way to Outdo England Without Fighting Her.” In these letters, Carey suggested continuing Abraham Lincoln’s Greenbacks policy, which aimed to free the U.S. economy from British capitalists. He also proposed increasing the reserve ratios of private banks to 50%.

Additionally, he recommended that the reserve ratios of private banks be raised to 50%. Quoting from Carey’s work, it is evident that his suggestions were ignored, as the Long Depression of 1873-1896 resulted in financial panics due to the National Banking System’s inability to provide the necessary amount of money to society.

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