Nathan Appleton

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Nathan Appleton

As a leading member of the New England mercantile-manufacturing community, Nathan Appleton (1779-1861) was instrumental in shaping sound in stitutions for trade, production, and banking in the early economy of the United States.

Nathan Appleton was born on Oct. 6, 1779, in New Ipswich, N.H. He attended the common schools and the local academy in preparation for college study. At the age of 15 he was admitted to Dartmouth College but decided instead to enter business. He accompanied his elder brother Samuel to Boston and learned bookkeeping in order to work as a clerk in Samuel's mercantile house. When he reached 21 in 1800, he became a full partner in the business, which continued until 1809. In the following year he joined his brother Eben and another merchant, Daniel P. Parker, in a similar venture, which prospered until it was dissolved in 1813.

That year marked Appleton's first move into manufacturing; he invested a portion of his mercantile earnings in a textile manufacturing concern in Waltham, Mass. His copartners were Francis C. Lowell and Patrick T. Jackson. Appleton soon put more capital into the textile business, including the formation in 1821 of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, which grew into the early industrial town of Lowell, Mass. He and his partners pioneered in developing the production processes, labor system, and distribution methods of the American textile industry. The success of that industry propelled families such as the Appletons, the Lowells, and the Jacksons to positions of great prominence in the New England economic and social world.

Appleton's strong sense of public service led him into a political career during the years in which his business efforts prospered. He was one of two lobbyists chosen by the merchants of Boston to present their views to Congress during the War of 1812, and he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for 6 years between 1815 and 1827. He was elected in 1832 as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving one full term and a portion of another term 10 years later. In his political life he fought strongly for the principles of high protective tariffs and hard currency.

Throughout his lifetime Appleton actively supported the efforts of the new American nation to establish its economic health and independence. He was a frequent contributor to the public debate on economic issues, writing newspaper articles, making speeches, and publishing pamphlets on money and banking, tariffs, and the need for the development of America's manufacturing sector. As a director of the Boston Bank, he worked toward a conservative, stable banking system, always opposing the inflationary and speculative operations of banks in the backcountry. He was a strong nationalist and a firm believer in Hamiltonian policies for the young nation. Appleton was among the influential men who did so much to shape the basic institutions of the United States prior to the Civil War.

Further Reading

The best source on Appleton is Robert C. Winthrop, Memoir of the Hon. Nathan Appleton, LL. D. (1861; repr. 1969), which contains long sections of Appleton's "Sketches of Autobiography." Also helpful is Kenneth Wiggins Porter, The Jacksons and the Lees: Two Generations of Massachusetts Merchants, 1765-1844 (2 vols., 1937).

Additional Sources

Gregory, Frances W., Nathan Appleton, merchant and entrepreneur, 1779-1861, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975. □