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  • Sentimental PoliceStruggles for "Sound Policy and Economy" Amidst the Torpor of Philanthropy in Mathew Carey's Philadelphia
  • S. D. Kimmel

The Gospel is the most economical police on earth.

Home Missionary Society, 1839

Wealth is attended with power, by which bargains and proceedings contrary to universal righteousness are supported; and hence oppression, carried on with worldly policy and order, clothes itself with the name of justice and becomes like a seed of discord in the soul.

John Woolman, A Plea for the Poor, 1793

Like Benjamin Franklin, Mathew Carey dedicated himself to philanthropic work after he retired from a profitable career in publishing.1 Franklin had [End Page 164] employed Carey in 1780 at his press in Passy, France, during Carey's first political exile from Ireland. Fleeing British political imprisonment in Ireland for the last time in 1784, Carey, a Roman Catholic, made the transatlantic journey to settle in Philadelphia, and by the 1820s had established his wealth and independence as the largest and most successful publisher in the early United States. Upon retirement, like the colonial Quaker philanthropist John Woolman before him, Carey devoted his talents as a publicist to advocating the cause of the poor. Between 1828 and his death in 1839, Carey decried the lack of public spirit and philanthropy among the wealthy of Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, and sought to arouse, in his words, "the sleeping charity and benevolence of thousands of wealthy persons, possessed of ample means to dispel the gloom of destitute families, dry up the tears of widows and orphans, and rescue their fellow beings from the depths of despair." Although Carey feared censure for emphasizing the "destitution" or "torpor" of public spirit in Philadelphia, he committed himself to "full and free exposure" of the decay of charitable societies and their lack of support among the city's wealthy citizens, believing that concealment of such realities would undermine the character of a democratic republican political economy.2 [End Page 165]

Through his advocacy for the poor, Carey exposed to his contemporaries a fundamental problem of power at the core of the early nineteenth century's developing liberal system of police. This problem of police was not new to the nineteenth century, as evidenced by John Woolman's eloquent words written in the 1760s, which criticized the ways wealth united with power, "carried on with worldly policy and order" and "clothed . . . with the name of justice," could undergird oppression. In 1837 when Carey in his own Plea for the Poor noted "the miserable clamour about the idleness of the poor, of which the direct and dire effects are . . . to harden the hearts of the rich, and to debar the poor of the succour to which their sufferings furnish so fair a claim," he gave expression to a "seed of discord in [his] soul" that had been nurtured to maturity by witnessing the ways oppression had refined its capacities to conceal itself behind the names of justice and sound policy during the 1820s and 1830s. Carey's work to expose operations of power concealed behind the cloak of sound policy provides the pivotal frame for this article, which seeks to clarify the strategic significance of practices of democratic republican and liberal republican political economy that diverged early in the nineteenth century. By exploring the connection between Carey's critique of what he termed the "new school of political economists" and his analysis of the failures of public spirit and philanthropy, this article makes visible the constitution of a liberal regime of police that would later become naturalized as the "invisible [End Page 166] hand" of the market. Through Carey's critique, we can begin to understand how the coercive force of today's dominant ideology of free-market economics came to be concealed behind, and thus protected from criticism by, the totem force of a hand whose police powers remain largely beyond public supervision.3

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Figure 1.

Portrait of Mathew Carey, by John Neagle. Courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia.

Before the middle of the nineteenth century, when the development of professionalized urban forces of uniformed men considerably narrowed the meaning of police to the work...


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