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Mathew Carey : biography

January 28, 1760 - September 16, 1839

Mathew Carey (January 28, 1760 – September 16, 1839) was an Irish-born American publisher and economist who lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Early life and education

Carey was born in Dublin into a middle-class family in 1760. He entered the bookselling and printing business in 1775, and when still only seventeen published a pamphlet criticizing dueling. This publication was quickly followed by another work criticizing the severity of the Irish penal code; as a result, the authorities threatened him with prosecution. He moved to Paris in 1781, where he met the American Benjamin Franklin. He was the ambassador representing the American Revolutionary forces, who achieved independence that year. Franklin took Carey on to work in his printing office.

Carey worked for Franklin for a year before returning to Ireland, where he edited two Irish nationalist newspapers, The Freeman's Journal and The Volunteer's Journal.Davidson, Cathy N., Ed. Reading in America: Literature and Social History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1989, p. 159. To avoid imprisonment and prosecution by the British, Carey emigrated to the newly independent United States in September 1784.Davidson, Cathy N., p. 159.


  • 1943, Publishers Weekly created the Carey-Thomas Award for creative publishing, naming it in honor of Mathew Carey and Isaiah Thomas.


Upon arriving in America, Carey quickly developed political connections in the developing country. One of his most important supporters was John Adams, still a leading figure of the Federalist Party at the time. Carey’s passionate support for the establishment of an American Navy contributed significantly to his alliance with the Federalists upon his arrival.

Throughout his political career in America, Carey supported the development and maintenance of American naval strength, even after joining Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans in 1796. Carey’s political realignment occurred shortly before the American ratification of the Jay Treaty, primarily intended to ensure peace with Britain, while distancing America from France.

Carey’s strong support of American naval power and his “early political activities in Ireland had developed in part, by the American navy’s decision to carry the war [the American Revolution] into the home waters of Great Britain. John Paul Jones’ victory over HMS Drake off Belfast in June 1778, unleashed a torrent of pro-American sentiment.” His publishing in America channeled his energy toward productive political objectives. His published works are credited with swaying public opinion toward the establishment of a powerful American navy.

Carey’s book, Naval History of the United States, was meant to influence the public. Its conspicuous omission of naval activity during the American Quasi-War with France showed his political intentions. It helped direct political energy against the British, with which the US was at war at the time of the book’s publication on May 6, 1813.

Focus on the British, known around the world for their naval power, made an influential case for extending the reach of the American navy. Along with his publication of Naval History, Carey wrote, Olive Branch, published in 1814. He tried to eliminate competition between the two American political parties to create unity during the War of 1812. To many people, these efforts, and his early relationship with Franklin, made him the logical choice as Franklin's political successor. Scholars believe that he contributed significantly by his books and publications to the establishment of the United States Whig Party.


  • Carter, Edward C. "Mathew Carey, Advocate of American Naval Power." The American Neptune, XXVI (1966).
  • Clark, Thomas. Naval History of the United States. Philadelphia:Mathew Carey, 1814.
  • Carter, Michael S. "Under the Benign Sun of Toleration: Mathew Carey, the Douai Bible, and Catholic Print Culture, 1789-1791," Journal of the Early Republic, Fall 2007.

Career in America

Upon Carey's arrival in Philadelphia, the Marquis de Lafayette gave him $400 to establish himself. Carey used this money to set up a new publishing business and a book shop. He established:

  • The Pennsylvania Herald,
  • Columbian Magazine, and
  • The American Museum.

He was unable to achieve a profit with any of these ventures. Carey printed the first American version of the Douay-Rheims Bible, popularly known as the Carey Bible, which was the first Roman Catholic version of the Bible printed in the United States. He also printed numerous editions of the King James version. His firm evolved from M. Carey & Son (1817-1821) to M. Carey & Sons (1821-1824), and then to Carey & Lea (1824).

He frequently wrote on various social topics, including events during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, which was a crisis for the city. He provided political commentary in his essays and reported on debates in the state legislature. He was a founding member of the American Sunday-School Society.

In 1825, Carey retired, leaving his business to his son, Henry C. Carey. Before that, his son-in-law Isaac Lea had joined him in the business. Lea and Henry Carey made the business successful and, under their direction, for a time it was one of the most prominent publishers in the country. The business published such works as:

  • The Encyclopedia Americana, and
  • A dictionary of German lexicon.

After the death of Henry Carey, Lea took on a new partner. They changed the business name to "Lea and Blanchard." Later Lea took on his brothers, and they changed the name to "Lea Brothers and Company."

Marriage and family

Carey married. He and his wife had a daughter, Frances Anne Carey (1799–1873), who married Isaac Lea. The young man joined his publishing firm and became a partner. After Carey's death, Lea took on brothers as partners.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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