The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Wells, David Ames
WELLS, David Ames, American political economist: b. Springfield, Mass., 17 June 1828; d. Norwich, Conn., 5 Nov. 1898. He was graduated from Williams College in 1847, and from the Lawrence Scientific School in 1851, but before entering the latter institution had been assistant editor of the Springfield Republican, and was one of the promoters of the invention of a mechanism for folding books and newspapers in connection with the printing press. In 1851 he was appointed assistant professor at the Lawrence Scientific School, and was also lecturer on chemistry and physics at Groton Academy; during this earlier period of his life he published several textbooks on the natural sciences. He first attained reputation as a political economist by an address on “Our Burden and Our Strength,” read before a literary society of Troy in 1864; it discussed the resources of the United States in regard to the nation's debt-paying ability, and attracted the attention of the President, who summoned him to a conference in regard to the national finances. This resulted in the creation of a commission of three for the investigation of questions of taxation and revenue, of which commission Wells was chairman. In this capacity he was the first to collect economic and financial statistics for government use. In 1866 he was appointed to the office of special commissioner of revenue, was instrumental in abolishing the many petty taxes which had been imposed during the war, and originated most of the important forms and methods of internal revenue taxation adopted from 1866 to 1870. In the latter year the office which he held was abolished. He had at first been an advocate of the protectionist policy, but after a visit to Europe and a careful study of the English system, he changed his views, and advocated the system of free trade. In 1876 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress on the Democratic ticket. He published “Our Burden and Our Strength” (1864); “The Creed of the Free Trader” (1875); “Why We Trade and How We Trade” (1878); “The Silver Question or the Dollar of the Fathers vs. the Dollar of the Sons” (1878); “Our Merchant Marine; How it Rose, Increased, became Great, Declined and Decayed” (1882); “A Primer of Tariff Reform” (1884); “Practical Economics” (1885); “Relation of Tariff to Wages” (1888); “Recent Economic Changes” (1898). His writings are notable for their clear and forcible presentation of a vast number of details and statistics.