Henry Carter Adams and Fred Manville Taylor Brought the Intellectual Tension Between the Theoretician and the Empiricist to U-M
Henry Carter Adams was born in Iowa in 1851, the son of Reverend Ephrairn and Elizabeth Silvia Ann Adams. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1874, a Master of Arts in 1877, and a Doctor of Laws in 1897 from Iowa College.
When President James Burrell Angell was confirmed as minister to China by the United States Senate, the U-M regents needed to find replacements to teach his courses. Three men were needed and Adams was one of them. In 1880, he was named Lecturer on Political Economy at the University of Michigan, a title he held until 1887 when he became Professor of Political Economy and Finance.
At the time of his initial appointment, economics was seen as a branch of moral philosophy. He came to the discipline through moral philosophy while attempting to follow in his father’s footprints as a clergyman. During his studies, he realized he was more interested in common sense than philosophical abstraction, a sentiment he expressed in his diary. He turned his focus to social problems.
While Adams was a Lecturer at Michigan, he was also teaching courses at Cornell University and Johns Hopkins. His political outspokenness removed both Cornell and Johns Hopkins as possible permanent employers. In U-M, he found an institution living up to its capacity that he wanted to be a permanent part of. Luckily, President Angell was able to look beyond issues that other institutions fixated on and place a greater value on his scholarship and intellectual honesty. By the time of his appointment as Professor of Political Economy and Finance in 1887, he was already well published and had helped found the American Economic Society. The curriculum began to reflect Adam’s interest in empiricism and the pragmatic relations of economic principles to social and financial questions.
When Adams took a leave of absence in 1890, Fred Manville Taylor was temporarily appointed Lecturer on Political Economy to teach his courses. Taylor was born in Michigan in 1855, also to a clergyman. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1876 from Northwestern University. He received a Doctor of Philosophy in 1888.
To keep up with the continuously increasing University enrollment, Taylor was appointed Assistant Professor of Political Economy and Finance in 1892, Junior Professor in 1893, and full Professor in 1904. Marjorie Brazer describes their relationship in “Economics and the World around It,”
It would be hard to find two more dissimilar men to share a thirty-year collegial relationship. Whereas Adams valued the study of political economy for what it could reveal about solutions to social problems, Taylor sought to elucidate the harmony of a logical body of theory and system of analysis. For him the deductive reasoning of the neoclassicists, the Austrian school in particular, lit the path toward economic understanding. Adams found more promise in the historical tool of analysis. In policy terms Taylor was led to support of laissez-faire and the gold standard. Adams was a free trader, who believed in the legitimacy of trade unionism. While Adams put into practice the outcome of his studies through public service in the world of affairs, Taylor saw his mission fulfilled entirely within the walls of academe and never took a leave of absence.
Thus the intellectual tension between the theoretician and the empiricist, the cloistered academician and the worldly public servant, stimulated and enriched the intellectual life of the department, and established an equilibrium between two major streams of the discipline.
The preceding passage is incredibly important as it laid the groundwork for U-M Economics as it is known today, a place that values cooperation and collaboration between disciplines and schools of thought within Economics, and with departments throughout the university.
Find out more about Henry C. Adams and Fred M. Taylor in “Economics and the World around It.”