Erasmus Peshine Smith

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Erasmus Peshine Smith

Erasmus Peshine Smith (2 March 1814 – 21 October 1882) was one of the leading American economists of the 19th century. His ideas about industrial development and protectionism helped shape the economic history of Japan, as previously that of Friedrich List in Germany. As an international law specialist, he also played a key role in ending coolie wage slavery.

Career overview

Peshine Smith was born in Rochester, New York, the son of Erasmus Darwin Smith and Elizabeth Peshine. He attended Harvard Law School and went on to practice law in Rochester, where he was also a mathematics professor at the local university. At the same time he wrote for The Democrat (a Whig newspaper) and the Washington Intelligencer. Peshine Smith married Anna Elizabeth Beatty on September 22, 1836 in Rochester. The couple had five children. He moved to New York to work for the law firm of William Seward, the future minister, and helped establish the Republican Party (1854). That same year, he was appointed to a senior position in the Education Administration of the State of New York. He also worked at the Court of Appeal. During the American Civil War he became Immigration Commissioner in Washington (1864) and afterwards Examiner of Claims (1870).

As a journalist, Peshine Smith coined the word 'telegram'.[1]

In Japan

Seward, once Peshine Smith's classmate, remained a close friend through his life. After the end of his term as Secretary of State, Seward made a trip around the world that took him to Japan. He learned that the government was on the verge of breaking with the English-style free trade policy. According to Seward, Peshine Smith was the right man to guide the Japanese in taking over what was then called the American system. He recommended him to the new Foreign Minister Hamilton Fish, and with the approval of President Ulysses Grant, he was appointed International Law Adviser to the Japanese Foreign Ministry. Peshine Smith thus became the first foreigner to be employed by the Japanese government (1871-76). He gained a lot of influence and sometimes attended cabinet sessions in samurai clothes, including the accompanying swords. He also had access to Emperor Meiji.

He helped reform-minded finance minister Toshimichi Okubo – who participated in the Iwakura mission – with industrial policy. Protective trade tariffs and a Ministry of the Interior with an Industrial Promotion Board (kangyōryō) were introduced. He advised his successor Okuma Shigenobu on the establishment of a central bank. The First National Bank of Japan opened its doors on August 1, 1873 after the Hamiltonian model. He had a monopoly on the issuance of the newly created currency, the yen. A third component of the economic strategy consisted in the implementation of "internal improvements", public infrastructure works. This period of the Meiji Restoration is known as the start of Japan's rapid economic growth.

In addition, Peshine Smith left his mark by ending the lucrative British coolie trade. On his advice, in July 1872, the Japanese government seized a Portuguese ship, the Maria Luz, which was transporting 231 Chinese coolies to Peru and anchored in Yokohama.[2] Captain Heriero was charged with assault and deprivation of liberty of the Chinese. Throughout the proceedings, which resulted in a conviction, Peshine Smith edited the legal documents. This did not end the matter, as the captain demanded the return of his cargo (who had opted to return to China) and the Peruvian government already made war threats. After the intervention of the American consul, the case was submitted for arbitration to the Russian Tsar Alexander II, who ruled in Japan's favor in 1875. This heralded the end for the British coolie trade.

In 1876, Peshine Smith's mandate in Japan came to an end. He returned to the US, but his influence was still there. Through his collaborator Edward House, The Tokio Times published seventeen anonymous pieces featuring Peshine Smith's intellectual legacy, "Notes on Political Economy Designed for the Japanese Readers".


Economically, Peshine Smith was a student of Henry Charles Carey, who argued against the prevailing free trade doctrine that successful economic development departed from protectionism. They carried on an extensive correspondence and parts of Carey's main work, Principles of Social Science (1858-60), can be traced back to the ideas of Peshine Smith. He had previously published a book himself, A Manual of Political Economy (1853). It was a frontal attack on economics as "dismal science," the gloomy science as practiced by Thomas Malthus. The book was reprinted several times, most notably in 1974, with an introduction by Michael Hudson.[3]

See also



  1. The Albany Evening Journal, April 6, 1852.
  2. Crawford, Suzanne Jones (1984). "The Maria Luz Affair". The Historian. XLVI (4): 583–96. JSTOR 24445479.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Peshine Smith, E. (1974). Hudson, Michael (ed.). A Manual of Political Economy. New York: Garland.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Bernard, L.L.; Bernard, Jessie (1943). Origins of American Sociology. New York: Thomas Y. Cowell Company.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Courcelle-Seneuil, Jean-Gustave (1853). "Manuel d'Économie Politique, par M. Peshine Smith". Journal des Économistes. XXXVIII: 236–48.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dorfman, Joseph (1947). The Economic Mind in American Civilization. 2. London: George G. Harrap and Co.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hudson, Michael (2010). America's Protectionist Takeoff, 1815-1914: The Neglected American School of Political Economy. Dresden: Islet.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Huston, James L. (1983). "A Political Response to Industrialism: The Republican Embrace of Protectionist Labor Doctrines". The Journal of American History. LXX (1): 35–57. doi:10.2307/1890520.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Peshine, John Henry Hobart (1916). The Peshine Family in Europe and in America. Santa Bárbara, Cal.: F. Morley.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links