E. Peshine Smith
American System Economist
Employed by the Meiji Government 1871-1876
The ideas of the world’s foremost economist, Henry C. Carey, became magnified for the Japanese leadership when his friend, Erasmus Peshine Smith (1814-1882), the author of A Manual of Political Economy, arrived in Tokyo prior to the departure of the Iwakura Embassy.
Smith had practiced law in Rochester, New York and taught mathematics at the University of Rochester. He also wrote editorials for the local Democrat (a Whig newspaper), was editor of the Washington Intelligencer and coined the word “telegram.” In 1852, he became Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of New York, and then Reporter for the Court of Appeals. During the Civil War he was assigned Commissioner of Immigration in Washington in 1864, and was then appointed by Secretary of State William H. Seward, his former classmate from Harvard Law School, to become Examiner of Claims for that agency. His knowledge of international law became an invaluable asset to the U.S. government. In 1871, when Mori asked Secretary of State Hamilton Fish to recommend an American who could serve as an adviser to Japan on international law, it was E. Peshine Smith who immediately came to mind. Consequently, with the approval of President Ulysses S. Grant, Smith became the first foreigner to be employed as a Japanese government official from 1871 to 1876, serving as a special adviser to Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He also consulted on economic matters with Ōkuma and Ōkubo, attended Cabinet meetings, and occasionally met with the Emperor.
E. Peshine Smith completely reorganized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and intervened to lead a legal fight for Japan that would be a watershed action that ultimately ended the British Empire’s direction of the heinous trafficking in human flesh known as the “coolie trade.”
The ‘science of Progress and Hope’ prevailed in Japan in 1873 when, with the advice of E. Peshine Smith, Ōkubo Toshimichi established the Ministry of Home Affairs and within that the Industrial Promotion Board (kangyōryō). On August 1, 1873, the doors of the newly founded First National Bank of Japan opened its doors for business headed by Ōkuma Shigenobu. Those measures were modeled on Alexander Hamilton’s First National Bank of the United States that had allowed the advancement and industrialization of America – what became known as the American System. Japan now had the vehicle by which to develop, and the Asian banking monopoly controlled principally by Britain’s opium-dominated Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was seriously threatened.
After leaving his post in the Japanese government and departing from the nation, a series of essays, believed to have been authored by E. Peshine Smith, appeared in The Tokio Times in 1877. For the first time since its initial publication, those essays – “Notes on Political Economy Designed Chiefly for Japanese Readers” – have been made available on this website. An introduction to this work, with a proof of “Why Those Essays Were Written by E. Peshine Smith,” is also available.
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