Tench Coxe

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Tench Coxe

American political economist and businessman Tench Coxe (1755-1824) vigorously defended the development of a balanced national economy in which agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce would all contribute to the general prosperity of the country.

Tench Coxe was born in Philadelphia on May 22, 1755. His father, a respected merchant, was active in local politics. At the age of 16 Tench entered the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) to study law. He was more interested in business than law, however, and when he came of age, he became a partner in his father's firm.

Coxe faced a dilemma during the American Revolution, as did many other established merchants. When the British invaded Philadelphia, he decided to remain neutral rather than declare his support for the Colonies. Some of his critics have claimed that Coxe was actually a royalist sympathizer and that he joined Gen. William Howe's army against the patriots. Considering his later career, however, this seems doubtful. More likely, the decision was based on economic rather than political motives. After the British withdrew from Philadelphia, his name was listed among those persons accused of treason. But the charges were dropped when no one appeared against him.

Following the Treaty of Paris (1783), Coxe turned his attentions to economic and social problems facing the new nation. In addition to serving on several local committees which attempted to restore order to both state and interstate commercial relations, he was a delegate to the Annapolis Convention (1786) and served briefly in the Continental Congress (1788). He also worked for banking reforms and served as secretary for an organization that promoted the abolition of slavery and relief for free Negroes held in bondage unlawfully.

Coxe began to consider national politics seriously after 1787. Although not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he worked enthusiastically for the adoption of the Constitution. He believed the new government would create a sound basis for establishing a national economy and would facilitate orderly economic growth. In 1790 he was appointed assistant to the treasurer, Alexander Hamilton. He supported assumption of state debts, full payment of the national debt, and creation of a national bank. His most influential contributions were made in Hamilton's Report on Manufactures. In 1792 he became commissioner of revenue. Although Coxe split with the Federalist party, he remained active in the government until 1797, when he was removed from office by John Adams. Having supported Thomas Jefferson in the election of 1800, he was appointed purveyor of public supplies and held this position until 1812.

Coxe played an important role in the development of American manufacturing. Called by some the father of the American cotton industry, he urged large-scale cultivation of cotton and in 1786 unsuccessfully attempted to import copies of Richard Arkwright's cotton-processing machinery. He died in Philadephia in 1824.

Further Reading

Harold Hutcheson, Tench Coxe: A Study in American Economic Development (1938), is a thorough study of Coxe's economic philosophy. For Coxe's views on cotton production see George S. White, Memoir of Samuel Slater: The Father of American Manufactures (1836).

Additional Sources

Cooke, Jacob Ernest, Tench Coxe and the early Republic, Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina Press, 1978. □

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