Front Page Titles (by Subject) Republican Farmer-Citizens and Free Trade - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2
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Republican Farmer-Citizens and Free Trade - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1979, vol. 2, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Republican Farmer-Citizens and Free Trade
“Benjamin Franklin's Vision of a Republican Political Economy for America.” William and Mary Quarterly 35 (October 1978): 605–628.
At the base of eighteenth-century republican political theory in America lay a deep appreciation of the critical interdependence between polity, economy, and society. Republican revolutionaries argued that the success of a fundamental change in the structure of governance depended on the underlying moral quality of economic and social relationships among the citizens. This conviction led republican theorists to speculate on the compatibility between the ancient, civic values they celebrated in criticizing British politics and the economic realities of expanding commerce and emergent industrialism. What issued from their speculation was a rejection of the British political economy that supported and furthered their rejection of British monarchical government.
Benjamin Franklin stood in the forefront among those who criticized British commercial life. Convinced that manufacturing was founded on a base of laboring poor, Franklin concluded that republican virtue could not be secured in a commonwealth that promoted industry to the detriment of agrarian life. Franklin shared the common republican view that civic virtue was based on a citizenry whose economic interests were tied to real property, preferably land. Thus, landless citizens, particularly if they were also poor, raised one of the major threats to any republican experiment in governance.
Franklin's view of England confirmed his analysis. British land policy had reared a generation whose economic interests were ever more closely allied with manufacturing. The growing, urban populations empowered the leaders of manufacturing with political leverage that they used at Court to secure special privileges. The virtuous state was the inevitable victim of these new lobbyists. England was dangerously corrupt largely because it was: bereft of virgin land; slowly undermining the political status of the landowning farmer; and dedicated to mercantilist policies of economic development.
Franklin's criticisms of English commercial life led to his formulation of a truly republican vision of the virtuous economy. At the heart of the economy stood the enfranchised farmer, but the ideal economic commonwealth was far from hermetic. Franklin embraced the concept of free trade and openly promoted commercial life. Growth in commerce, however, took place within the fundamentally agrarian society. Franklin proposed that western lands be made available for poor immigrants, and he urged governments to use western lands to empty their cities of the poor. He believed that the landowning farmers would produce far more goods than they could consume, and the surplus would provide a basis for trade with foreign markets. Free trade, in turn, would assure the annual clearing of American surpluses, and the resulting growth in commerce would rebound to the benefit of the true basis of republican polity, the farmer-citizen.
The twin pillars of Franklin's vision—western expansion and free trade—stood as the guarantors of a virtuous political economy, a necessary element to success in republican governance. This approach to the relationship between polity, economy, and society became central to the Jeffersonians, and laid the foundation for the republicans' efforts to accommodate nineteenth-century industrialization with the political theory of the revolutionary generation.