Imágenes de páginas

lower than the second, and likely soon to become the first, the second or first place, it must be remembered, in a changed world, and in a scale of magnitudes hardly comparable with those of 1776. We have advanced to the front among competitors who were themselves all rapidly advancing. But, with improved facilities for intercourse, the economic ties between countries have been vastly multiplied and strengthened, and to hold a leading position in commerce now implies a direct connection with the progress of others and with their material well-being, immeasurably closer than has ever existed before. Every fresh conquest over nature made by us belongs to the family of nations also, and every loss suffered by us is also their loss. Infinite mutually dependent interests unite us with Europe and with the very antipodes. Every pulsation in the financial system is felt alike on each side of the Atlantic. A crisis in London has its instant counterpart here, and the great revulsions which periodically sweep over the commercial world may begin, almost as chance may dictate, in New York or in Vienna.

The value of the triumphs of material development achieved by the United States is not to be underrated. They represent but one side of human progress, but their influence on interests of a higher order is immediate and powerful. The world cannot yet dispense with the stimulus which the search for wealth gives to erery science and art, nor forego the support which the increase of wealth gives to some of the pursuits and institutions which most elevate and ennoble civilized life. Doubtless Carlyle is right when he says that “America's battle is yet to fight. .... Their quantity of cotton, dollars, industry, and resources I believe to be almost unspeakable; but I can by no means worship the like of these.” But these have been one of the great factors in producing whatever of progress and hope the world has gained in our age. If not to be worshipped, they are still not to be despised, for from them comes, as must be admitted, much that is itself worshipful. Even our merely material growth may then fairly be a subject of pride, so long as we remember that it is itself only the means for higher ends.

Standing in this relation to the general advance in wealth which the world has made, it might have been thought in advance that the United States would be prompt in investigating the laws which govern all economic progress. The philosopher who could have foreseen in 1776 the amazing career of the weak and scantily peopled Colonies which then took their place as an independent power, might easily have been persuaded that the new science then having its birth and treating of “the nature and causes of the wealth of nations," would be taken up by this people with especial animation and success. “ Here,” he might have said, “is the beginning of an inquiry into the nature and causes of that which will chiefly occupy the new nation. Others in their maturity or decadence may prosecute this inquiry in the hope of discovering the means of escape from impending evil; this people will pursue it with the enthusiasm of strengthening youth. Success in this investigation and a wise application of its results will account for the splendid triumphs in the acquisition of material wealth, which are to distinguish the first century of independent national life." How far the imagined anticipations of our philosopher have been verified, and the reason for their failure so far as they may be found to have failed, is the object of the review on which we now enter.

The condition in which the breaking out of our Revolution found the study of economic science in this country is well exemplified by the writings of Franklin. Of all our public men of that period he was the one whom we should perhaps most naturally expect to find dealing with this class of subjects, and, if not profoundly investigating the causes of phenomena, at least deriving from observation and reflection sound and consistent rules for practical guidance. His activity in the political discussions of more than half a century, and his natural fondness for every inquiry respecting material well-being, seem to mark him out as the American who must deal with political economy if any one did, and the one who could rise to the level of the national thought in economic speculation, if he did not soar much beyond it. Franklin wrote upon topics of this class from his twenty-third year, and probably wrote as well in his twenty-third year as he ever did. The questions of currency then raised in every Colony by the VOL. CXXII. - NO. 250.


paper issues of the colonial governments. he had occasion to treat of at several different times. But the support which he gave to issues of that kind rests on no well-defined systematic body of opinions; indeed, his discussion of the continental currency, in some of his letters, raises questions as to his clearness of perception in morals as well as in political econqmy. He is quoted with admiration by writers of the protectionist school, and he might equally well be quoted by their opponents. He was in fact a man of expedients rather than principles, often sagacious in dealing with immediately practical questions, but satisfied with the crudest speculations as to the operation of causes in any degree remote. His economic writiņgs were edited for Mr. Sparks's collection of his works by the late Judge Phillips, himself an economist of no mean capacity ; and the annotations of the editor afford ample evidence that he found it no easy task to present with respectful comment and due admiration the mass of ill-digested reasoning placed in his hands. That Franklin read much of the writings of others on questions of political economy is not to be. inferred from his works. Smith’s - Wealth of Nations” is cited in a paper on the increase of wages in Europe likely to be caused by the American Revolution, written shortly after 1780, when Franklin was abroad; but the citation is made to settle a fact, and not to further the discussion or elucidation of a principle. . Of Franklin then it must be said, that lie not only did not advance the growth of economic science, but that he seems not even to have mastered it as it was already dereloped ; and little more can be said for any of our public men or writers. during the period of Franklin's activity. We find no one well versed in economic theory and entering upon speculative inquiries of real value until we come to Alexander Hamilton. That great man, whose remarkable career was finished at the point when most men are just ready for action, was a reader and inquirer in political economy in his twentieth year. In his twenty-fifth year, in such leisure as the camp of the Revolution afforded, he matured a scheme for a Bank of the United States, and became a correspondent of Morris on that subject. And, finally, at the age of thirty-four, he produced,

as Secretary of the Treasury, his great reports on the Public Credit, on a National Bank, and on Manufactures, the most powerful and comprehensive discussion of the national finances ever made under our government, and the subject, it may be remembered, of one of Mr. Webster's noblest periods. Those reports bear the evidence throughout of much reading and reflection upon the experience of nations, and of careful meditation on the speculations and theories of previous writers. Examination of the report on Manufactures, in particular, will show that in some parts of it, in his selection of topics and even in the order in which they are marshalled, Hamilton was influenced by his familiarity with Adam Smith. The writings of the French economists were probably known to him at this time, as they certainly were a few years later, and some of the doctrines of this school, as well as Smith's concessions to them, received from him a successful refutation. Both the knowledge of economic questions and the power of dealing with them exhibited by Hamilton in these discussions warrant us in setting him down as a writer who, under other conditions and freed from the pressure of public business, might have been expected to make some positive contribution to the development of economic theory. But his few crowded years left him little opportunity for such pursuits, and it would now be hard to say that he left any impression on the thought of the world, by his dealing with this subject. His reports have continued to be the arsenal from which the advocates of special measures have again and again drawn forth weapons now well worn; but systematic political economy cannot be said to owe to him any recognized principle, any discovery in method, or indeed any influence save the stimulus which his example must always afford to the student of financial history.

If Hamilton did not permanently influence the economic thought of the world, there is certainly no other statesman of that period for whom such a distinction can be claimed., Among Hamilton's great contemporaries none followed the discussions of the new science with more interest than Jefferson and Madison ; but neither of these statesmen was comparable to Hamilton in his mastery of the subject. Jefferson had that fondness for it which he had for all philosophical speculation, kept himself informed as to all new publications abroad, was instrumental in bringing some of these before the American public, and corresponded with some of the leading French economists of his day ; but in his own discussions of economic questions it is difficult to find any firm ground of logical principle, and impossible to find any addition to what had been previously ascertained and better comprehended by others. Madison, with interests less diffuse than Jefferson's, had a much firmer hold upon this subject. He appears to have followed its current literature with close attention, and to have reflected upon principles and to have applied them, with great although not uniform force, in his reasoning upon public questions. It is interesting to find Madison — and, indeed, Jefferson also — giving in an early adhesion to the doctrines of Malthus on population, and defending them by arguments from the experience of the United States. But Madison could make as little pretension as Jefferson to having added any results of original investigation to the work of others. His merit was not as an economist, but as a statesman who conscientiously prepared himself for the duties of public life by following this necessary branch of a statesman's studies. Of the other public men of this early period of our history we need mention only Robert Morris and Gallatin; and of these eminent practical financiers the latter only has any claim to notice in connection with scientific theory. The memorial drawn up by him and presented to Congress, in 1832, from the Philadelphia Convention in favor of tariff reform, is a full and strong statement of the arguments against protection, and exhibits familiarity with the results of theoretical discussion, as well as with the practical side of the question ; but the complete oblivion which now covers the document shows how narrow and temporary is the influence to be credited to it. His pamphlet on “ The Currency and Banking System” is also a comprehensive and sound discussion of these topics, but has ceased to be much referred to, except for historical purposes.

of the great men of the next generation, Mr. Calhoun was doubtless well qualified by nature for this field of investigation, and displayed a strong inclination to enter upon it; but, unhappily, every mental power and every pursuit at last became

« AnteriorContinuar »