Front Page Titles (by Subject) Price on Moral and Civil Liberty - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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Price on Moral and Civil Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
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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Price on Moral and Civil Liberty
“A Question of Human Freedom: Richard Price.” In Liberty and Empire: British Radical Solution to the American Problem, 1774–1776. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1978, pp. 90–102.
By championing liberty, Richard Price (1723–1791) endeared himself to the American Revolutionaries as well as British and Continental radicals for freedom. His American friends included Benjamin Franklin and John Winthrop. In England, he associated with Joseph Priestley, Adam Smith, and the Earl of Shelburne. Among the radical “Honest Whigs” his fellow devotees of freedom included James Burgh, John Horne Tooke, and Joseph Jeffries. An “apostle of liberty,” and son of a dissenting minister, Price functioned as an English moral and political philosopher to glorify God and improve humanity’s lot by stressing the lifegiving qualities of human liberty. (It was his sermon on the liberating currents of the early French Revolution that provoked Burke’s conservative denunciation in Reflections on the Revolution in France.)
Price’s moral philosophy of “rational intuitionism,” and moral liberty laid the foundations for his ideas on civil liberty. Reacting against British empiricism, he maintained that moral truths are knowable through the intuition of self-evident ideas. Man can make moral judgments by reason, not sensation. As a free moral agent, man is not subject to deterministic forces. By grounding his moral philosophy on God’s law he created a more religious basis for political ideas. Thus, the religious dimensions of Price’s moral and political ideas were more congenial to Americans than the “cold, impersonal deism which infuses the Declaration of Independence.”
The American Revolutionary generation inherited a legacy of religious dissent and suspicion of authoritarian government which found congenial support in Price’s writings, particularly his Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty (1776). The Observations sold over 60,000 copies just weeks after its publication, and went through forty editions during its first two years. Price’s Observations “approaches the American crises from three distinct vantage points— the critical issue of human liberty which pervades the whole imperial crisis,  the wisdom of a British policy which seeks to settle the matter by force of arms, and  an alarming calculation of the national debt followed by estimates of how much the war will threaten the government’s fiscal stability.”
In Part I of the Observations Price engages in political analysis of Britain’s imperial crisis with the American colonials from the moral framework of the supremacy of liberty. Man’s liberty is of four kinds: (1) physical liberty (or man’s freedom to be morally responsible for his actions), (2) moral liberty (the freedom to act according to one’s reasoning about right and wrong), (3) religious liberty (the freedom to follow one’s conscience in doing God’s will), and (4) civil liberty. Civil liberty, which forms the major theme of Part I of Price’s Observations, is conceived of “as the freedom of people to govern themselves under laws made with their assent and intended for the general welfare.” Since the liberty of individuals is the chief reason for having government at all, the freedom of a people is more sacred than the authority of governments to maintain law and order. A free state is allowed (contrary to British imperial practice in America) to govern by the consent of its members’ will.
Part II of the Observations criticizes the British imperial policy that would violate the fundamental morality of liberty by subjugating the American colonials against their will in a “just war.” Price pointed out that Americans were fighting England over the very principles of liberty in whose name Englishmen themselves had opposed King Charles I in the seventeenth century. Furthermore, Price weighed how slim were the chances for a British military success against colonials who were fighting on their own ground for their homes and families.
In Part III of the Observations Price shocked England by his accurate calculations of the ruinous national debt and how a war against America would cripple England’s financial health.
Price’s Observations thus skillfully interwove his moral philosophy of liberty with a sharp analysis of the American crisis in philosophical, military, and economic terms. For Price the Anglo-American crisis centered on human freedom. He demonstrated that imperialism subjugated people and abridged their freedom. His Observations handed down a legacy of anti-imperialism and love of civil liberties.