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Free trade and protectionist doctrines have long had ambiguous relationships to bilateral trade deals, known throughout the nineteenth century as “reciprocity” arrangements. Henry C. Carey, “the Ajax of Protection” in the nineteenth-century United States, embodies the ambiguity from one side of the controversy. Carey’s early adulthood in the mid- to late 1820s was a time when the forerunners of the Whig Party pursued reciprocity at least partly as a means of fostering protection. In the 1830s, Carey, too, endorsed reciprocity—because he stood for free trade and believed reciprocity would promote it. In the 1840s and 1850s Carey changed his mind, decided that protection was the real “road to perfect freedom of trade,” and for that reason opposed reciprocity with Canada. In the 1870s he remained a protectionist but reconciled his doctrine with reciprocity. This article attempts to explain the changes in the disposition toward reciprocity of America’s foremost protectionist thinker from the Second Party System to the generation after the Civil War.

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