The American System and the Political Economy of Black Colonization.

Journal of the History of Economic Thought (2014)

26 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2014 Last revised: 5 Aug 2018

See all articles by Phillip Magness

Phillip Magness

American Institute for Economic Research

Date Written: February 3, 2014


This paper examines the neglected interrelationship between the American System school of economic thought and the controversial policy of black colonization abroad, as developed by Henry Clay and his political progeny. By examining Clay's version of colonization as an extension of his political economy, further light is shed upon the complex relationship between slavery and the antebellum American economy. Though best known for its role in the founding of Liberia, Clay's scheme of voluntarily resettling freedmen abroad also reflected his attempt to separate the American System from its early dependence upon slave-produced raw materials - a position he developed politically as well as on theoretical grounds with the assistance of economic pamphleteer Mathew Carey. The American System's interrelationship with the colonization movement is then traced to Clay's most notable political successor Abraham Lincoln. In doing so the study offers a corrective to the role of colonization in the American Civil War literature by re-situating the policy within Lincoln's Clay-infused political economy and treating it as a serious, if ultimately fruitless, extension of his own grappling with the problem of slavery.

Keywords: colonization, American System, Henry Clay, Abraham Lincoln, Mathew Carey, Henry C. Carey

JEL Classification: B12, B31, N41

Suggested Citation

Magness, Phillip, The American System and the Political Economy of Black Colonization. (February 3, 2014). Journal of the History of Economic Thought (2014), Available at SSRN: or

Phillip Magness (Contact Author)

American Institute for Economic Research ( email )

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