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The Emergence of Capitalism in Early America$
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Christopher W. Calvo

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780813066332

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813066332.001.0001

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Laissez-Faire in the American Tradition

Laissez-Faire in the American Tradition

Chapter:
(p.27) 2 Laissez-Faire in the American Tradition
Source:
The Emergence of Capitalism in Early America
Author(s):

Christopher W. Calvo

Publisher:
University Press of Florida
DOI:10.5744/florida/9780813066332.003.0002

This chapter discusses liberal economic thought in the Southern and Northeastern discourses. Regional historical contexts account for the internal and trans-Atlantic divisions within antebellum liberal political economy. Southern free traders like John Calhoun and Thomas Cooper tied their brand of laissez-faire to a politically and economically inspired states’ rights and agrarian defense of slavery. In theoretically significant ways, Southerners divorced their version of free trade from Northeastern and British liberalism. Divisions widened as slavery was raised to the fore of domestic politics, and made permanent when British laissez-faire grew attached to industrialization. Northeastern free traders like Francis Wayland and John McVickar pursued a style of laissez-faire that comported with the Smithian tradition by focusing on the moral and theological benefits of free trade universalism. Northeastern liberals largely ignored the economic benefits of free markets. And the mid-century secular turn in economics, especially in British thought, completed the breach between American and European expressions of intellectual capitalism.

Keywords:   Laissez-faire, Slavery, States’ rights, Adam Smith, Moral philosophy, John Calhoun, Thomas Cooper, Francis Wayland, John McVickar

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