The Coming of Age of Political Economy, 1815-1825

By Gary F. Langer | Go to book overview
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Free Trade

In the whole range of inquiry in political economy, perhaps there is not a single proposition better established, or one that has obtained a more universal sanction from its enlightened cultivators in almost every country, than the liberal doctrine, that the most active, general, and profitable employments are given to the industry and capital of every people, by allowing to their direction and application the most perfect freedom compatible with the security of property.

C. R. Princep, 18211

There was a growing movement throughout the period 1815-1825 in support of a freer international trade and the abolition of legal restrictions that still impeded a free internal trade. The economists, needless to say, were at the intellectual head of it. There were several landmarks within this movement and public spectacles involving controversies over free trade in which political economists and the authority of the science played significant roles. The most obvious of these, from the point of view of the public, surrounded the corn trade. Whether the trade in corn should be free or protected raised strong feelings because corn was both the principal item of subsistence for the great mass of the population and the chief source of income of the landed classes. Almost as controversial and almost as evident were reforms undertaken in the last part of the period in regard to the nation's system of commercial law, or the "commercial system," as it was called. Free trade was also raised in the national debates over the causes of and remedies to distress in agriculture and manufacturing in 1819-1823. The economists urged free trade as part of a package of solutions to the crisis.


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