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Ronald Hamowy, Scottish Thought and the American Revolution: Adam Ferguson’s Response to Richard Price - David Womersely, Liberty and American Experience in the Eighteenth Century 
Liberty and American Experience in the Eighteenth Century, edited and with an Introduction by David Womersley (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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Scottish Thought and the American Revolution:
When Richard Price’s Observations were originally published at the beginning of February 1776, the colonies had not yet determined to declare independence from Great Britain although time appears to have been on the side of those supporting some declaration of colonial sovereignty. On November 29, 1775, the Continental Congress appointed a Committee of Secret Correspondence1 charged with establishing diplomatic relations and seeking military aid from any of the European nations that might be friendly to the colonies, and on December 11, 1775, King George issued a royal proclamation declaring the American colonies beyond his protection and closing them to all trade and commerce. Of even greater impact was the publication in January 1776 of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, possibly the most effective political polemic ever written, which presented a vigorous argument for colonial independence and was to have a decisive effect on American sentiments. In inspired and electrifying language Paine showed that the cause of the colonists was the cause of all mankind and that nothing was gained from a continued connection to Great Britain.2
Paine’s essay not only sold extensively in the colonies but was also for sale, as were a whole array of American publications, in the London bookshops.3 In addition, there appear to be at least two editions published in Great Britain that year, one in London published by J. Almon and a second in Edinburgh and Stirling sold by Charles Elliot and by William Anderson.4 But even had Paine remained unread in Britain, the wider importance of the events in America would not have been lost on the English radicals, such as Richard Price, who were keenly aware of the broader implications of the colonial struggle. In addition, Paine’s emphasis on man’s rational nature, on the notion of rights, and on political contract, all appealed to the radical Whigs, who saw echoed there their own notions regarding the basis of legitimate government. Price particularly was energized by what he regarded as a holy struggle against oppression and corruption then being staged in America.
Of the various supporters of the American cause in England, Richard Price proved to be one of the most articulate. Indeed, so highly was he regarded by his American contemporaries that in October 1778 the Continental Congress approved a motion that the honorable Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams, Esquires, or any one of them, be directed forthwith to apply to Dr. Price, and inform him, that it is the desire of Congress to consider him as a citizen of the United States; and to receive his assistance in regulating their finances. That if he shall think it expedient to remove, with his family, to America, and afford such assistance, a generous provision shall be made for requiting his services.5
It is indicative of the regard in which he was held by the new nation that he was extended the privileges of citizenship and invited to settle there. Price’s essay in support of the American colonies became for a time the focus on which debate over the colonial cause centered. Its sales in Britain were spectacular, in some ways mirroring the effect created by Paine’s Common Sense in America.
At the time Price published his Observations in 1776, he had already gained a reputation as one of the most ardent defenders of civil and religious liberty and republican values in Great Britain. The son of a Congregationalist minister, Price was born in the parish of Llangeinor in Glamorgan, Wales, in 1723. At the age of seventeen, Price entered Coward’s Academy in Tenter Ailey, Moorfields, where he studied under John Eames, a friend and disciple of Isaac Newton. It was doubtless while a student at the Academy that Price gained his lifelong interest in mathematics and his philosophical rationalism. While Price rejected his father’s harsh Puritanism, he appears quite early in his education to have determined to prepare for the ministry and was ordained a Nonconformist minister in 1744. His church at Newington Green, a center of dissent for a number of years, soon became a magnet for reformers and radicals, among them Mary Wollstonecraft, John Howard, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Adam Smith. Price’s principal philosophical work, A Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals, was published in 1758, and it was this work that resulted in his being awarded a Doctorate of Divinity by Marischal College, Aberdeen, in 1769. Price’s “discourse on the love of our country,” a ringing defense of the revolutionary events in France preached in November 1789, provided the immediate stimulus not only for Burke’s Reflections but for a huge number of responses. In 1791, the year in which he died, Price became a founding member of the Unitarian Society.
The Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of War with America, prepared in the winter of 1775–76, made its appearance on February 8 and became an immediate success. Several thousand copies were sold within a few days of its publication, 60,000 copies by the close of 1776. The work ran into five editions within five weeks and into twelve editions within the year.6 No one interested in the affairs of the Empire was ignorant of its contents. The essay prompted the Council of the City of London to award Price its highest honor, the Freedom of the City, for laying bare “those pure principles of which alone the supreme legislative authority of Great Britain over her colonies can be justly or beneficially maintained.”7 The essay was quickly republished across the Atlantic, with editions appearing in Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia.8 And while its effect on the pro-independence forces was not nearly as great as was that of Paine’s pamphlet, the Observations did contribute to the arsenal at the disposal of those seeking a separation from Great Britain.
Price’s pamphlet was regarded as so significant a challenge both to the government’s position on America and to the arguments put forward by those who accepted the authority of Parliament to tax the colonies that it gave birth to a profusion of responses. The government’s policy was ardently defended by, among others, Josiah Tucker, John Fletcher, and the Methodist John Wesley.9 Dr. John Shebbeare, who was regularly paid by the government to defend its positions and who had previously been pilloried for libel, penned one of the most scurrilous of the replies, while Burke’s response was one of the mildest, calling for conciliation with the rebellious colonies while not repudiating the abhorrent Declaratory Act,10 which had been enacted during the administration of the Marquis of Rockingham with whom Burke was associated.11
One of the most measured of the published rebuttals was that written by Adam Ferguson, the Scottish philosopher and professor of pneumatics and moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Ferguson’s sympathies, like those of many other Scottish men of letters, were with the British government, whose understanding of the constitutional relationship of the American colonies to the authority of Westminster was regarded as consistent with both British tradition and British law.12 Ferguson had earlier shown some sensitivity to the colonial cause and had condemned the Stamp Act as politically inept and foolish. In a letter to John Macpherson, probably written in 1772, he noted that “I think Greenevilles Stamp Act a very unlucky affair for this Countrey. It has brought on a disspute in which this Mother Countrey as it is very properly called has made a very shabby figure, And I am affraid cannot mend the matter.”13 Even as late as the beginning of 1776, Ferguson, while convinced of the legality of the government’s position, expressed concern that Britain would not be able to extricate itself from the impasse it had arrived at with the colonies. These speculations were occasioned by his having received a copy of James Macpherson’s pamphlet “on the Rights of this Countrey against the Claims of America.”14 “I have never had any doubt on any of the rights Established in this Pamphlet,” Ferguson maintained. “The only Question with me was what this Countrey in Wisdom ought to do in the Situation at which the Colonys were Arrived. This Question becomes every Day more complicated & more difficult.”15
It appears that as early as 1772 Ferguson had been approached by the administration to publish his views on the American crisis, doubtless in the expectation that the high reputation in which he was held by educated colonists might work to blunt their increasing hostility toward Britain. As one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, Ferguson was well known and his work highly respected. Indeed, the Scottish Enlightenment, as one historian has noted,
was probably the most potent single tradition in the American Enlightenment. From Hutcheson to Ferguson, including Hume and Adam Smith, came a body of philosophical literature that aroused men from their dogmatic slumbers on both sides of the Atlantic.16
Scottish moral philosophy was decisively established in America through the mediation of John Witherspoon, who arrived in the colonies from Scotland to take up the position of president of Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey) in 1768. Witherspoon, one of the more outspoken Evangelical ministers in the Church of Scotland, brought with him an intimate knowledge of the work of the leading Scottish writers, which he kept current and attempted to impart to his students. Thus, Ferguson’s principal work, Essay on the History of Civil Society, appears among the works comprising Witherspoon’s recommended reading list for his course in political theory.17 A student of Witherspoon’s, James Madison was especially receptive to Ferguson’s writings,18 but Madison was certainly not alone among Americans in having studied Ferguson. Data presented by Lundberg and May indicate that between 1777 and 1813 the Essay appeared in no less than 22 percent of the American library catalogues and booksellers’ lists examined.19 Jefferson had been introduced to the works of the major Scottish thinkers when a student at the College of William and Mary,20 and among the items listed in the catalogue of books sold to the Library of Congress in 1815 was a copy of the Essay.21
In New England the effects of Scottish philosophy in shaping the American Enlightenment were even more profound than in the South. Scottish thought was to prove crucial in temporalizing Calvinist doctrine and replacing it with secular conceptions of history and progress. As one intellectual historian has observed, one can only imagine the effect of sentiments such as these on minds steeped in a Puritan theology that viewed man as entirely dependent on God, whose earthly magistrates we are obligated to obey.22 It was Adam Ferguson who gave this sweeping secularization its best expression: “We speak of art as distinguished from nature,” he wrote,
but art itself is natural to man. He is in some measure the artificer of his own frame, as well as his fortune, and is destined, from the first age of his being, to invent and contrive. . . . If we are asked therefore, Where the state of nature is to be found? we may answer, It is here, and it matters not where we are understood to speak in the island of Great Britain, at the Cape of Good Hope, or the Straits of Magellan. . . . If the palace be unnatural, the cottage is so no less; and the highest refinements of political and moral apprehension, are not more artificial in their kind, than the first operations of sentiment and reason.23
When the first shots were fired at Lexington in April 1775, Ferguson was almost fifty-two years old and had held the chair of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh for eleven years. He was born at Logierait, Perthshire, on the border of the Scottish Highlands, on June 20, 1723, the youngest child of the parish minister. Having received his early education at the parish school and the local grammar school, he was sent to the University of St. Andrews in 1738, where he gained a reputation for classical scholarship. Ferguson took his M.A. degree in 1742 and in the same year entered the Divinity Hall at St. Andrews. Soon thereafter he transferred to Edinburgh University and in 1745, after having completed only three years of the required six-year course of study in theology, he was offered the deputy chaplaincy of the Black Watch Regiment, largely it appears because of his knowledge of Gaelic. In July 1745 he was ordained in the Scottish Kirk and raised to the rank of principal chaplain. He remained with his regiment until 1754, at which time he resigned his commission and quit the clerical profession.
With the help of his friend David Hume, Ferguson was appointed to the post of Keeper of the Advocates Library, Edinburgh, in 1757, having succeeded Hume to that office (and thus providing Ferguson with access to one of the best libraries in Europe). Following the death of the professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and again through the intercession of, among others, David Hume, Ferguson was named to that chair in 1759; five years later, in 1764, he transferred to the chair of pneumatics and moral philosophy, which he held until his retirement in 1785. It was during his tenure as professor of moral philosophy that three of his four most important works were published: the Essay on the History of Civil Society in 1767; the Institutes of Moral Philosophy, a synopsis of his lectures on moral philosophy, in 1769; and the History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic in five volumes in 1783.24
The Essay on the History of Civil Society was early recognized as Ferguson’s most important work. Not only did it go through at least seven editions in the author’s lifetime, but it also appeared in French, German, Swedish, Italian, and Russian translations. The first edition of the Essay was published simultaneously in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, and at least two pirated English-language editions were issued before the end of the century.25 So popular did the Essay prove that despite the ready availability of British editions of the work in America, at least two American editions appeared by 1819.26 Indeed, the Essay proved a remarkable success and gained for Ferguson an international reputation as a man of letters.27
The Essay’s primary purpose is to set forth the social history of mankind. It was this approach to understanding man’s nature, rooted as it was in an empirical study of how man behaves, that has led intellectual historians to credit him with being one of the founders of modern sociology.28 All societies, Ferguson maintained, progressed from “rude” to “polished” nations, most evolving through three clearly distinct stages defined by their primary mode of subsistence—hunting, pastoral and/or agricultural, and commercial, each of which reflected differing notions of property and distinct legal and political institutions. Of the varieties of precommercial society, the most primitive are those based on hunting and fishing, and in these the notion of private property except in its most rudimentary sense is absent. Lacking a concept of property, these communities possess no formal system of subordination and, consequently, no government.29 Such societies Ferguson denominated savage. Most agrarian and pastoral societies, however, are likely to be those in which property has ceased to remain communal and in which private wealth takes the form of agricultural products or of a herd of animals. Although private property will not have yet become institutionalized into a formal system of laws in these communities, it is a principal object of individual and social concern. Societies thus marked by the emergence of personal property Ferguson called barbarian. The transmutation of barbarian societies into modern commercial communities comes about when some members begin applying their skill and labor apart and seek the exclusive possession of goods. At that point “The individual no longer finds among his associates the same inclination to commit every subject to public use, [and] he is seized with concern for his personal fortune; and is alarmed by the cares which every person entertains for himself.”30 With the advent of modern notions of property, the members of the community can now be distinguished one from the other by unequal possessions, which in turn lays the foundation for a permanent subordination of rank and for the emergence of government restrained by law.
Ferguson’s analysis of the stages of social development and their relation to changes in the extent of private property had been adumbrated in slightly altered form by several of his fellow Scotsmen.31 Of all these conjectural accounts, however, Ferguson’s is the most fully elaborated and most convincingly argued. In addition, in his discussions of the various civilized societies, both ancient and modern, the forces at work in shaping their social and political institutions, and the origins and character of despotic regimes,32 Ferguson brought to bear a wealth of observations from a wide range of sources and occasionally showed great insight.
While Ferguson’s political sympathies were decidedly Whiggish, he regarded the American position on taxation as without merit. The notion that England should underwrite the costs of garrisoning an army in North America to protect the colonists while being blocked from taxing the beneficiaries of this policy struck Ferguson as nonsensical. Having received the benefits of subjects, it followed that the colonists were subject to the duties of subjects. It is true that England had profited from its trade with America, but this held equally true of America in its trade with the mother country. Indeed, the laws of nature clearly provided that one body politic could legally submit itself to the authority of and to contribute to the supplies of another as was the case, Ferguson maintained, with the American colonies in its relation with the Parliament of Great Britain.
These conclusions, well known to the authorities, prompted the North administration in 1772 to approach Ferguson with a view to publishing a pamphlet in support of the government’s policies in North America. To this suggestion, Ferguson, in writing to Sir John Macpherson,33 declined, noting that “I could come under no Obligations which I am affraid the Step of your Friendship Suggests would seem to Promise.”34 Ferguson adds that, while he will not write a pamphlet, “I will continue to write you what occurs to me” and noted that he would have no objection to his comments being brought to the attention of Lord Grafton.35
In 1776 Ferguson was again approached, this time by Sir John Dalrymple, who had at first suggested that Ferguson participate in a plan to contribute regularly to a weekly journal defending the government’s policies, but this scheme appears never to have been implemented. However, Dalrymple was successful in gaining for Ferguson a handsome government stipend at the beginning of 1776. Dalrymple argued that Ferguson had been a faithful adherent of administration policy on numerous occasions, especially with regard to the colonies. However, his support, unlike that of so many of his colleagues, had never been acknowledged with some favor or another, and as a consequence, according to Dalrymple, Ferguson had begun to grow somewhat bitter. As a consequence, he was awarded a grant of £200 per annum, conferred on him on January 23, 1776, by the King’s Warrant under the Privy Seal of Scotland.36
The effect of this subsidy appears to have been immediate. Price’s Observations appeared on February 7, and Ferguson quickly began work on a rejoinder to the essay, which he sent to the government to be used as they wished. On behalf of the government, Sir Grey Cooper, who held the post of secretary of the treasury, instructed the publisher William Strahan in Edinburgh to print Ferguson’s essay,37 and it was soon republished by a group of printers in Dublin.38 The pamphlet, which appeared under the title Remarks on a Pamphlet Lately Published by Dr. Price, Intitled Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War With America, etc., In a Letter from a Gentlemen in the Country to a Member of Parliament, sold for one shilling39 and was very well received, being quoted at length in the Critical Review and the Monthly Review, two of the leading magazines of the day. Even Price referred to its author as “one even of the most candid as well as the ablest of my opponents.”40
Ferguson’s attitude toward the colonies appeared to have hardened following publication of his Remarks. Again writing to John Macpherson, on October 27, 1777, Ferguson expressed the hope that British forces “for our own Credit, [would inflict on] that people . . . a sound drubbing.” Once having done so, however, Ferguson supported the removal of British troops from the rebellious colonies inasmuch as their upkeep would be beyond the financial capacities of the colonies to sustain. He writes:
I protest that if we had news to morrow that Howe had beat Washington and Burgoyne Arnold the use I would make of it would be to leave America with contempt. For it looks as if no Calamity would force them to Submission & if it did their Submission is not worth haveing. Their whole resource for any Visi[ble] time to Come will not pay the Army that ke[eps] them in Submission. So I am partial enough to Great Britain to wish them to the bottom of the Sea.41
What occasioned this mean-spiritedness and led Ferguson to such a foolish miscalculation regarding the colonies’ economic capacities is impossible to say. He continued in the same vein three months later when, after outlining a military campaign that he felt would prove sufficient to subdue the rebellion, he noted: “In our Way to this Object the Rebels may be induced to prefer accommodation to the Continuance of Such A War. But Lord have mercy on those who expect any Good in this business without Sufficient Instruments of Terror in one hand & of Moderation and justice in the Other.”42 Having been selected to join the Commission appointed to seek some accommodation with the colonies, Ferguson felt it expedient to moderate his views somewhat prior to setting sail to America in early 1778. He noted in yet another letter to John Macpherson that he hoped the administration would signal to the colonies that they had no intention of invading American liberties and that they supported the establishment of a general parliament for America.43
In the fall of 1777, General John Burgoyne, who had led an invasion force from Canada with the intention of linking up with the British army in New York City, suffered a decisive defeat at Saratoga, and on October 17 Burgoyne and his whole army surrendered to General Horatio Gates. The news of Burgoyne’s defeat caused a sensation across the Atlantic. The French government set in train formal diplomatic efforts to recognize America’s independence, and the British government in an effort to be as conciliatory as possible abruptly reversed its policies. In February the North administration introduced bills in Parliament repealing all acts passed since 1763 of which the colonies complained. At the same time, a commission was struck whose purpose was to enter into negotiations with the Americans to grant to the colonies anything they wished,44 provided they remain loyal to the Crown.
The commissioners were appointed by George III, who personally had little hope that they would prove successful. As its head, the Crown appointed Frederick Howard, fifth Earl of Carlisle, and its membership comprised William Eden (later Lord Auckland), a close friend of Lord North, and George Johnstone, who had been appointed the first governor of West Florida in 1763.45 It was Johnstone, an old friend of Ferguson, who was responsible for inviting Ferguson to accompany the Commission to America.46 Upon arriving at Philadelphia in June, the Commission appointed Ferguson its secretary and immediately attempted to enter into negotiations with several members of Congress.47 These proved a complete failure, nor was the Commission any more successful in prevailing upon Washington to grant Ferguson a passport through the American lines to treat directly with Congress.48 Having been defeated at reaching agreement with the colonies short of recognizing their independence and withdrawing all British troops, the Commission returned home in late 1778. Ferguson continued to occupy himself with Commission business until the spring of the following year, at which point he resumed his chair at the university.49
Despite having spent six months in the colonies, Ferguson’s sentiments regarding the colonial cause had not softened since having written in reply to Price two years earlier. Indeed, if the Manifesto and Proclamation issued by the Conciliation Commission in October 1778, of which Ferguson was one of the authors,50 is any indication, Ferguson’s animus toward the colonists had deepened in the wake of America’s alliance with France, a nation, it was argued, that traditionally opposed freedom of conscience and that held religious toleration, which Englishmen took for granted, in contempt.51 A treaty with France, the Manifesto observed, would convert the existing hostilities between those sharing a common heritage into a world struggle. In light of this, it went on, self-preservation would justify England’s destruction of the colonies.52 Thomas Paine was especially offended by the Manifesto’s claim that France was the “natural enemy” of both England and America and devoted a good part of “The Crisis” no. 6 to criticizing Ferguson for his use of the notion “natural enemies,” which Paine characterized as a meaningless barbarism.53
Richard Price, it need hardly be added, was not moved to alter his views in light of America’s alliance with France although he appears to have shared Ferguson’s aversion to a treaty between a people dedicated to establishing a free society and a nation as closely tied to its feudal past as was France. In early 1778, he had published a new edition of his Observations to which he appended a second essay replying to his numerous critics. This second pamphlet, which first appeared in February 1777 under the title Additional Observations on the Nature and Value of Liberty, was issued with the Observations in January 1778 as Two Tracts on Civil Liberty, to which he added a general introduction and supplement.54 Price’s introductory observations pointed to the need to hasten a resolution of the conflict with the colonies by acceding to their demands, a comment prompted by his belief that an American-French alliance was imminent.55 Indeed, once the alliance was concluded, Price saw even less reason to deny the United States its independence. “France,” he wrote,
has acknowledged the independence of America. Every power in Europe is ready to do it. All real authority is gone; and it cannot be expected that by any nominal authority we can bind them to anything that interferes with their interest. In these circumstances, all hesitation about yielding independence to them seems unreasonable.56
A reading of Price’s Observations and Ferguson’s response naturally raises the question: In which ways did these two writers, who shared so much of the Whig tradition and who were both highly regarded for their political insights by so many colonists, differ from each other in their assessment of the events in America? In this regard it will prove useful to contrast Price and Ferguson with respect to the philosophical differences that bore most decisively on their views of the American crisis.
EPISTEMOLOGY AND ITS RELATION TO ETHICS
While Locke was clearly a major influence in shaping Price’s views, the underlying epistemology that shaped Price’s political philosophy differs markedly. In his A Review of the Principal Questions in Morals, first published in 1758, Price maintains that certain ideas, for example those having to do with identity and causation, are simply not derivable from our sensory experiences but rather are known through rational intuition. Equally, our intellectual perceptions of right and wrong, our notions of moral rightness, follow immediately from our understanding and, once having been intuited, are appealable to nothing more fundamental. Among these immutable and objective truths of which the mind is aware are our duty to God and our sense of justice. And justice, in turn, is the duty to respect property, which includes an individual’s life, limbs, faculties, and goods.57 Alongside this view, Price also asserted that utility and benevolence constituted legitimate criteria for judging the rightness of an act. At the point at which these several principles of morals might conflict, Price asserts, reason will dictate which principle has priority.
It is this epistemological foundation that underlies Price’s discussion of civil liberty in the Observations.58 When Price notes that civil liberty entails that every man act as his own legislator (that is, that each of us participates in some capacity or another in determining the rules that govern us)59 and that no community can rightfully assume authority over a person or his property without adequate representation, he regarded these claims as deductively true. It is, Price would contend, in the nature of free societies that those who live in them have the right to legislate for themselves since as truly free agents their disposition is such that they would legislate correctly.
Ferguson’s approach to ethics varies considerably from that of Price. His Essay, while apparently a work in conjectural sociology, was regarded by Ferguson as primarily an extension of his researches into moral philosophy, the starting point for which he believed was the study of the way man functions, both as an individual and in conjunction with others. He regarded all aprioristic notions of man’s nature as unsatisfactory and maintained that the only adequate method of gaining information about the principles of ethics was by studying man within the context of his history. “Before we can ascertain the rules of morality for mankind,” he wrote, “the history of man’s nature, his dispositions, his specific enjoyments and sufferings, his condition and future prospects, should be known.”60 Indeed, Ferguson insisted, we are as capable of gaining real knowledge about the nature of human beings and the laws governing how they are to be treated as we are about the physical universe.
This, coupled with Ferguson’s belief in the inevitable moral progress of the human species, led him to conclude that it was possible to define the ends toward which man ought to move and, indeed was moving as he approaches a more perfect condition. An empirical investigation of man’s nature would provide the facts from which we are able to determine what his ends are. “Our knowledge of what any nature ought to be,” he observed, “must be derived from our knowledge of its faculties and powers and the attainment to be aimed at must be of the kind which these faculties and powers to fitted to produce.”61
The sharply divergent epistemological presuppositions that shaped the arguments that Price and Ferguson put forward account in part for Ferguson’s criticisms of Price’s notions of liberty, one of whose divisions Price characterizes as our “power of following our own sense of right and wrong.” Ferguson notes that were we to accept this definition, then it follows that any constraint whatever on our behavior constitutes a species of slavery. However, Price is here claiming that we are morally unfree to the extent that we are prevented from complying with our sense of what is right; this formulation, when applied to civil liberty, leads inexorably to the conclusion that to be truly free entails our being able to legislate for ourselves. As one commentator has observed, Ferguson’s response that this interpretation would empower thieves and pickpockets to make their own laws misses the point since what Price is claiming is that it is in the nature of things that in a truly free society all its citizens as morally free agents would act rationally in keeping with rectitude and virtue.62 Further, Ferguson argues that, inasmuch as the great end of government is to secure to each of us our persons and our property by restraining others from invasive acts, it follows that liberty as Price understands the term, that is, the absence of any restraint, is inconsistent with peace and civil society. But, again, Price’s argument has reference to external restraints on truly free agents whose choices would already be restrained by their moral sense.
It is true that Price later concedes that freedom is consistent with “limitations on our licentious actions and insults to our persons, property, and good name,” but, Ferguson argues, Price has recourse to this amendment only after having been shown that his earlier formulation is far too broad. Interestingly, Price’s addendum serves to bring his notion of liberty into line with that offered by Locke and reflects Ferguson’s own conception of personal liberty as not so much a power but the security of our rights.63 Doing what we please, Ferguson argues, is not what liberty is about. Rather, being free to act as we choose, circumscribed by the rights of others and secure in our right to so act, is the defining characteristic of a truly free society. In point of fact this seems to be very close to what Price is suggesting.
Thus it appears that both Price and Ferguson, by completely divergent routes and despite differing epistemological underpinnings, arrive at similar conclusions respecting the nature of liberty. Independent of exactly how rights are defined, both Price and Ferguson agree that a free society is one, in Ferguson’s words, “which secures to us the possession of our rights, while it restrains us from invading the rights of others.”64
Price had defended America in its controversies with the Crown since their inception. Indeed, he regarded the cause of the colonies as the cause of all free Englishmen and saw in colonial resistance to the depredations of the North administration the best hope that freedom would be preserved in Britain. The colonists, Price maintained, in fighting the English battle for liberty, were preserving a future asylum for those seeking freedom.65
The concept of liberty Price puts forward in the Observations, borrows heavily from Locke and differs only in minor particulars.66 While he was prepared to put forward utilitarian arguments in support of certain political ends, Price does not rest his case for freedom on any doctrine of utility but bases it firmly on a foundation of natural rights whose principles are eternally valid. Price divides liberty into four aspects, physical, moral, religious, and civil, all of which reflect some notion of self-direction. Physical liberty entails the power to act as an agent free from physical restraint; moral liberty consists in the power to conduct oneself in accord with one’s sense of right or wrong; religious liberty lies in being able to choose those beliefs and modes of worship that conform to the dictates of one’s conscience; and civil liberty refers to the community’s power to govern itself by laws of its own making.
Price’s understanding of rights is purely Lockean. Rights, he maintains, derive from our nature as human beings and are inalienable. They are to be understood in their negative designation only, prohibiting certain actions on the part of others directed at the rights-holder, that is, one’s right to something entails that others may not intervene should the rights-holder attempt to exercise it. It does not entail that others are positively obligated to help the rights-holder to exercise it. My right to my life denotes that I may do all within my power consistent with the rights of others to keep myself alive (that is, that I am under no obligation not to prevent myself from dying) and that others are prohibited from intervening should I attempt to preserve my life. Thus, when Price writes of religious liberty, that it is the power of acting as we choose with respect to our religious beliefs,67 he notes that, inasmuch as we each possess the same inalienable right to this liberty, no one may use this right in such a way that he encroaches on the equal liberty of others. Price argues that this is self-evidently true since were it not then “there would be a contradiction in the nature of things, and it would be true that every one had a right to enjoy what every one had a right to destroy.”68 However, my right does not imply any positive duty on the part of others that they help save me. The right to one’s life does not connote that one will be free from disease nor that it is incumbent on others to do all they can to prevent one from dying but only that they not actively intervene to kill you. Even under circumstances where two people are confronted with conditions such that one man’s life is contingent on the other’s death, neither may raise his hand against the other under pain of violating this right, despite the fact that both will die. Or, put more simply, my right to something, say my liberty or my life, entails only prohibitions on others and not positive commands.
All civil government, Price maintains, both originates with the people and exists to advance their happiness by securing these rights.69 Those governments that operate on principles at variance with this debase the natural ends of government and enslave their citizens. Free governments, furthermore, are the only kind that are favorable to human improvement. Since the essential function of government is to ensure that we may peaceably enjoy our rights and since this conduces most to our happiness, nations that are administered in conformity with other ends pervert the natural and inherent equality with which God has endowed each of us.
Ferguson’s conception of rights is at sharp variance with that offered by Price. Just as notions of private property evolve as societies develop from the rudest to the most polished, so it is with rights, whose primary function is to secure property and thus ensure our liberty. These rights evolve over time and owe their origin to the inequalities of station and the attempts to curb the abuse of power that arise as societies advance from savagery to civilization. This subordination of rank that marks all societies except the most primitive is, Ferguson writes, natural and salutary. “It is a common observation,” he notes,
that mankind were originally equal. They have indeed by nature equal rights to their preservation, and to the use of their talents; but they are fitted for different stations; and when they are classed by a rule taken from this circumstance, they suffer no injustice on the side of their natural rights. It is obvious, that some mode of subordination is as necessary to men as society itself; and this, not only to attain the ends of government, but to comply with an order established by nature.70
Unlike Price, Ferguson rejects the idea that our rights and the personal liberty that they allow are natural and attach to us by virtue of our humanity, independent of our history. In fact, he argues, they take their specific shape from the totality of events that shape our past and differ in particulars as society evolves. He observes:
Liberty, in one sense, appears to be the portion of polished nations alone. The savage is personally free, because he lives unrestrained, and acts with the members of his tribe on terms of equality. The barbarian is frequently independent from a continuance of the same circumstance, or because he has courage and a sword. But good policy alone can provide for the regular administration of justice, reconstitute a force in the state, which is ready on every occasion to defend the rights of its members.71
The distinction between Price and Ferguson on the issue of rights emerges most clearly in Ferguson’s Remarks where he juxtaposes Price’s appeal to the concept of natural universal rights to the historical obligations and privileges that in law determine the relation of the colonists to Great Britain. “The Doctor is pleased to say,” Ferguson writes, “that the question of right, with all liberal inquirers, ought to be, not what jurisdiction over them, precedents, statutes, and charters give, but what reason and equity, and the rights of humanity give.”72 Ferguson expressed amazement at this approach to politics which he felt could only lead to expressions of private interest and opinion, depriving one of the fixed landmarks provided by precedents, statutes, and charters.
In any case, Ferguson did not regard liberty as dependent on the presence of abstract rights. Rather, the crucial determinant of a free society was the stability of those institutions that guaranteed our ability to enjoy what rights we in fact had. Throughout his writings Ferguson emphasizes the singular importance of the security of property, without which justice and liberty would be impossible. It is the preservation of our property and station that makes society possible and secures to each of us the rights that we have acquired. Indeed, the paramount function of government is to ensure to its citizens this security. “Liberty consists in the security of the citizen against every enemy,” Ferguson maintained in his Principles,
whether foreign or domestic, public or private, from whom, without any provision being made for his defence, he might be exposed to wrong or oppression of any sort: And the first requisite, it should seem, towards obtaining this security, is the existence of an effective government to wield the strength of the community against foreign enemies, and to repress the commission of wrongs at home.73
THE NATURE OF EMPIRE
No distinction between the presuppositions of Price and Ferguson is clearer than on the question of the nature of empire. It seems clear that Ferguson conceives of the Empire covering the home islands and the American colonies as a unitary political structure comprising one people bound together by the same laws, customs, and traditions. He observes that the colonies by virtue of having been part of the British Empire are subject to the sovereignty of the mother country and to its legislature.74 Price, on the other hand, offers a conception of empire that is clearly federative, with each constituent unit independent of the others with regard to its internal affairs and all paying loyalty to the same sovereign. “An empire,” Price maintains,
is a collection of states or communities united by some common bond or tie. If these states have each of them free constitutions of government and, with respect to taxation and internal legislation, are independent of the other states but united by compacts or alliances or subjection to a great council representing the whole, or to one monarch entrusted with the supreme executive power, in these circumstances the empire will be an empire of freemen. If, on the contrary, like the different provinces subject to the Grand Seignior, none of the states possess any independent legislative authority but are all subject to an absolute monarch whose will is law, then is the empire an empire of slaves.75
Ferguson’s notion of the British Empire of the eighteenth century is far more traditional. Having expanded its territory and having originally populated these new areas with its own people who carried with them British law, the Empire constituted nothing more than a geographical extension of the original state whose ultimate political authority remained where it was previously lodged. In fact, the colonies, economic satellites of the mother country, had as their primary function the generation of wealth for Britain. The mere expansion of territory, Ferguson would have maintained, was not sufficient justification for the creation of separate, constituent sovereignties, each independent of the others and reliant on the central authority only on issues touching the whole. The history of mankind, Ferguson contended, reflects this motive to empire, a desire to extend the limits of the existing state and uniting the whole under one central power while severely limiting the degree of self-government in the provinces.
In America’s case especially, justice demanded that the colonies contribute to the upkeep of this centralized empire inasmuch as they were the recipients of the most essential benefits the mother country could extend to them by securing their property from domestic and foreign assault and by providing them with an outlet for their goods.76 Britain’s relation to her colonies was indeed particularly generous77 and it was incumbent on the American colonies to indemnify her for the expenses that the central authority had determined had been incurred on their behalf.
It is interesting that in his Essay Ferguson called attention to the dangers that adhere in too extensive an empire, the effect of which is to deprive us of a stage on which men of political integrity and sagacity can play a role. “When we reason in behalf of our species,” Ferguson writes,
although we may lament the abuses which sometimes arise from independence, and opposition of interest; yet, whilst any degrees of virtue remain with mankind, we cannot wish to croud, under one establishment, numbers of men who may serve to constitute several; or to commit affairs to the conduct of one senate, one legislative or executive power, which, upon a distinct and separate footing, might furnish an exercise of ability, and a theater of glory, to many.78
Despite this caution, however, he remained committed to supporting the conflict with the colonies until Britain was successful in reestablishing its North American empire. At some point following the return of the Carlisle Commission to Plymouth in December 1778, Ferguson penned a memorial regarding American independence in which he maintained that “the danger and the consequences of this separation are so great as to justify every tryal that can be made to prevent it.”79
In any event, the success of the American cause put an end to the empire as Ferguson conceived and transformed its essential nature from one of political dominion to one of economic penetration. It has recently been noted:
British statesmen in the late eighteenth century were sometimes given to musing that a world-wide network of commerce was preferable to an Empire of rule over land and people. Some historians have argued that a “revulsion against colonization,” accentuated by the quarrel that led to the loss of most of Britain’s dominions in North America and coinciding with the rise of industrialization, brought about a shift away from an empire of rule to the pursuit of trade and influence throughout the world. Trade, it has been argued, came to be preferred to dominion.80
STATE OF NATURE AND GOVERNMENT BY CONTRACT
Price, like Locke, holds that political authority derives, and indeed can only derive, from the people. Men have no more a natural obligation to obey their government than they do their neighbor. The obligation to conform to the dictates of the civil magistrate stems solely from the freely extended consent of the person governed, without which one cannot become the subject of another or be constrained by law not of one’s making. As Price argues:
All civil government, as far as it can be denominated free, is the creature of the people. It originates with them. It is conducted under their direction; and has in view nothing but their happiness. All its different forms are no more than so many different modes in which they chuse to direct their affairs, and to secure the quiet enjoyment of their rights. In every free state every man is his own Legislator. All taxes are free gifts for public services. All laws are particular provisions or regulations established by common consent for gaining protection and safety. And all Magistrates are Trustees or Deputies for carrying these regulations into execution.81
Indeed, in one significant area Price goes significantly further than does Locke in leaving greater power in the hands of the people. Locke’s social contract, like those of most other political theorists who invoke the notion, is such that it empowers its signers to determine the form of political authority that will prevail together with its duration and its limits. Once having established the terms of the original social contract, however, those bound by its terms are forever constrained to observe its provisions unless the magistrate violates his obligations. They hold no residual power to change the form of government, having ceded such a right when removing themselves from the state of nature. Price, on the other hand, maintained that ultimate sovereignty over the form and style of government was never surrendered and remained in the keeping of those who were governed throughout. The political sovereignty of the people is continuous and may be exercised as and when they see fit.82
Price’s arguments supporting the colonists’ demands for a change in the civil magistracy are thus even stronger than those that would have been put forward by Locke. Not only had the civil magistrate, in the form of the Royal Court and the various administrations responsible for American policy since the end of the French and Indian War, violated the terms of the original contract whereby the English colonists who settled in the New World were guaranteed their rights, but it was also the case that the American people wished to reorder their political institutions to better reflect their needs and wishes, which they had every right to do. Despite the fact that the history of the relationship between Great Britain and her American colonies was an oppressive and despotic one, the colonists were under no obligation to prove that the British magistracy had breached the contract it had entered into with its subjects to protect their rights. It was sufficient that they wished to replace the political authority of the mother country with one more in keeping with their welfare.
Unlike Price, Ferguson rejected the notion that civil society and government are artifacts, creations of some original contract whereby free and equal beings living independently in some natural state devoid of political authority came together to confer their natural rights and powers on a newly designated sovereign. Committed to approaching the study of man and society scientifically, that is, to describing man as he is actually observed, Ferguson rejected the notion of “man in the state of nature” in the sense of man before the advent of society. “Mankind are to be taken in groupes,” he wrote, “as they have always subsisted.” That society is coeval with man is confirmed by the fact that the individual is the bearer of social dispositions and that regardless of where we find man, we find him gathered together with others.83
Ferguson rejected the social contract theory as a valid account of the origins of government with many of the same arguments earlier offered by Hume.84 The establishment of formal rules enforceable by a permanent political institution emerge, claimed Ferguson, not from the desire to create a stronger social union but rather in response to the abuses that arise from an imperfect distribution of justice. Ferguson held that a system of formal political arrangements did not rest on consent but was gradually shaped to meet the interests of justice with respect to securing private property.85 It is a useless analytical tool, he claimed, to posit the idea of universal consent to what was, in fact, the gradual emergence of formalized rules of action which took their origin in earlier modes of behavior. “What was in one generation a propensity to herd with the species,” Ferguson observed, “becomes, in the ages which follow, a principle of national union. What was originally an alliance for common defence, becomes a concerted plan of political force.”86
Ferguson does, however, make use of the term “state of nature,” but he confines its use to his ethics rather than to his political theory. He regarded a progression toward excellence or perfection as the governing principle of all moral life. Thus, at one and the same time, Ferguson enunciated a law of perfection that offered an explanation both for individual morality and for social progress. For Ferguson, the natural development of the individual and the species toward perfection describes the “state of nature.” Any point that lies along this continuum of development is as much man’s “state of nature” as is any other point.87 In his major work on moral philosophy, Ferguson noted:
The state of nature or the distinctive character of any progressive being is to be taken, not from its description at the outset, or at any subsequent stage of its progress; but from an accumulative view of its movement throughout. The oak is distinguishable from the pine, not merely by its seed leaf; but by every successive aspect of its form; by its foliage in every successive season; by its acorn; by its spreading top; by its lofty growth; and the length of its period. And the state of nature, relative to every tree in the wood, includes all the varieties of form or dimension through which it is known to pass in the course of its nature.88
Despite the fact that both Price and Ferguson were aware of the advantages to be derived from commerce, in the case of neither writer was their support unreserved. While the nature of their fears regarding an unrestrained commercial society were similar, Price was particularly fearful that a substantial increase in luxury might pose a fatal threat to liberty. This is not to suggest that Price advocated an austere and frugal lifestyle as alone compatible with a free and independent nation. He appears to have been aware of the benefits that accrued to Great Britain from its flourishing trade with the American colonies. “This trade,” he maintained,
was not only thus an increasing trade, but it was a trade in which we had no rivals, a trade certain, constant, and uninterrupted, and which, by the shipping employed in it, and the naval stores supplied by it, contributed greatly to the support of that navy which is our chief national strength. Viewed in these lights it was an object unspeakably important. But it will appear still more so if we view it in its connexions and dependencies. It is well known that our trade with Africa and the West-Indies cannot easily subsist without it. And, upon the whole, it is undeniable that it has been one of the main springs of our opulence and splendour and that we have, in a great measure, been indebted to it for our ability to bear a debt so much heavier than that which, fifty years ago, the wisest men thought would necessarily sink us.89
Despite these sentiments, however, Price’s preferences were clear. He saw in a society that devoted itself primarily to commerce and the acquisition of wealth a source of servility and venality that would inevitably lead to corruption and the loss of liberty. With respect to the decline in trade with Britain on the American colonies, Price noted, “Having all the necessaries and chief conveniencies of life within themselves they have no dependence upon [their pre-Revolutionary trade], and the loss of it will do them unspeakable good, by preserving them from the evils of luxury and the temptations of wealth and keeping them in that state of virtuous simplicity which is the greatest happiness.”90 These views are particularly surprising inasmuch as Price was fully aware of the benefits of international trade in encouraging tolerance among diverse communities and in fostering peaceful relations between states, a sentiment raised to a principle of liberal ideology in the following century. “Foreign trade,” he wrote,
has, in some respects, the most useful tendency. By creating an intercourse between distant kingdoms it extends benevolence, removes local prejudices, leads every man to consider himself more as a citizen of the world than of any particular state, and, consequently, checks the excesses of that love of our country which has been applauded as one of the noblest, but which, really, is one of the most destructive principles in human nature. Trade also, by enabling every country to draw from other countries conveniencies and advantages which it cannot find within itself, produces among nations a sense of mutual dependence, and promotes the general improvement.91
Yet, despite Price’s economic sophistication,92 he repeatedly viewed America as exempt from these benefits. Indeed, immediately following the passage just quoted, Price wrote that “There is no part of mankind to which these uses of trade are of less consequence than the American states.”93 And, in a letter to Ezra Stiles written after the war’s conclusion, he observed that “It may be best for the united states that their rage for foreign trade should be checked, and that they should be oblig’d to find all they want within themselves, and to be satisfy’d with the simplicity, health, plenty, vigour, virtue and happiness which they may derive from agriculture and internal colonization.”94 Price appears to have believed that men in an agrarian society, who were under no compulsion to act in their narrow self-interest and whose connections with one’s fellowmen and with the community were deeper, were more likely to defend their rights against domestic and foreign invasion. Price expanded on these views in 1785 when he returned to the subject of American independence.
Better infinitely will it be for them to consist of bodies of plain and honest farmers, than of opulent and splendid merchants. Where in these states do the purest manners prevail? Where do the inhabitants live most on an equality and most at their ease? Is it not in those inland parts where agriculture gives health and plenty, and trade is scarcely known? Where, on the contrary, are the inhabitants most selfish, luxurious, loose, and vicious, and at the same time most unhappy? Is it not along the sea coasts and in the great towns where trade flourishes and merchants abound? So striking is the effect of these different situations on the vigour and happiness of human life, that in the one, population would languish did it receive no aid from emigration, while in the other, it increases to a degree scarcely ever before known.95
Ferguson was far more positive in his assessment of the benefits of commerce than was Price, despite what he regarded as its potential dangers. He was prepared to concede that commercial societies, which he equated with societies based on the principle of private property, would inevitably display an uneven distribution of wealth. But this inequality, he argued, served the function of acting as a spur to industry and an incentive to the labor of the great mass of the population,96 the ultimate effect of which would serve to encourage the production of ever-greater quantities of wealth, thus benefitting all members of the community. “The object of commerce is wealth,” wrote Ferguson, and “in the progress, as well as in the result of commercial arts, mankind are enabled to subsist in growing numbers; learn to ply their resources, and to wield their strength, with superior ease and success.”97
He further argued that active participation in commercial life encouraged men in the exercise of a host of virtues, including industry, sobriety, frugality, justice, even beneficence and friendships.98 Although Ferguson contended that civilization was not invariably accompanied by a high degree of commercial activity, he did insist that the prime motive force for individual and social progress was ambition, “the specific principle of advancement uniformly directed to this end, and not satiated with any given measure of gratification.” And ambition, in turn, he noted, operated no less “in the concerns of mere animal life; in the provision of subsistence, of accommodation, and ornament,” as “in the progress of society, and in the choice of its institutions.”99 Further, and more important, Ferguson saw no conflict between those social arrangements that acted as guarantees of individual liberty and those that encouraged an increase in wealth.100 He contended that the forces that lead to an expansion in population, which Ferguson equated with social wealth, required the successful pursuit of commerce coupled with a vigorous defense of individual rights. “The growth of industry,” he wrote, “the endeavours of men to improve their arts, to extend their commerce, to secure their possessions, and to establish their rights, are the most effectual means to promote population.”101 Indeed, one intellectual historian has observed that one of the chief reasons for the popularity of Ferguson’s Essay among Americans was its unambiguous defense of commercial society over more primitive cultures, despite other social costs that might possibly accompany civilization.102
All this is not to deny that Ferguson dealt extensively with the harmful effects of the increasing division of labor that marked advanced commercial societies. These effects he regarded as possessing the potential of producing a permanent subordination of rank, thus allowing for the rise of despotism.103 “Many mechanical arts,” he wrote,
require no capacity; they succeed best under a total suppression of sentiment and reason; and ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand, or the foot, is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most, where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may, without any great effort of imagination, be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.104
In elaborating the consequences of the division of labor, however, Ferguson did not conclude that it would inevitably prove to be a Trojan horse whose ultimate social effect would invariably be the destruction of a free and virtuous society. Although the division of labor might well place strains upon the social fabric and make possible a permanent subordination of the many by the few, it also facilitates the fullest expression of each individual’s natural abilities and personal excellences and hence serves a particularly valuable moral and social purpose. “With the benefit of commerce . . . [and the division of labor which naturally accompanies it],” Ferguson noted, “every individual is enabled to avail himself, to the utmost, of the peculiar advantage of his place; to work on the peculiar materials with which nature has furnished him; to humour his genius or disposition, and betake himself to the task in which he is peculiarly qualified to proceed.”105
Ferguson’s response to the question of whether the dangers inherent in commercial societies could be averted was unambiguous. So long as the members of the community take an active role in civic affairs, so long as they prevent the division of labor from embracing the more crucial aspects of political and military life,106 it is possible to secure the nation against despotism. In sum, while it is true that commercial societies bring with them the risks of despotism in the form of an overspecialization of function and a permanent system of subordination, a decline into tyranny need not follow. The stifling of public involvement in the affairs of state—either through the throttling of individual capacity consequent on an extensive division of labor or out of an all-consuming concern solely for one’s private wealth—is, in the end, what makes despotism possible. Encourage the populace to actively participate in the civic and military affairs of the nation and tyranny can be averted. Man’s ability to uncover the laws that determine his condition provides him the opportunity to avoid what might otherwise be regarded as that corruption to which all commercial societies might descend.
These differences in their approach to political philosophy persisted in regard to the events in France two decades later. While Price was a fervent champion of the Revolutionary cause, Ferguson was to express grave reservations respecting French attempts to “transform their Monarchy into a Democracy.”107 He could not tolerate the pretensions of French revolutionary ideology108 and was dubious that any of the political tinkering undertaken by the various revolutionary bodies would prove of value in either establishing or maintaining a freer polity. At one point he even refers to the revolutionary forces as “the Antichrist himself in the form of Democracy & Atheism.”109 Ferguson maintained that by abetting the revolutionaries in America the French court had set a dangerous example to its own people.110 The cataclysm in France, he argued, posed a significant threat to the security of Great Britain and to the peace of the continent. Indeed, Ferguson’s particular concern was that Britain would be dragged into what had started as an internal French conflict but would likely become international.111
Price’s views on the Revolution are, of course, well known, primarily because of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, written in response to Price’s comments. The sermon Price gave at the Old Jewry on November 4, 1789, before the Society for Commemorating the Revolution in Great Britain reflected his enormous enthusiasm for what was taking place in France. The nominal purpose of the address, which Price entitled A Discourse on the Love of Our Country, was to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. In doing so Price linked the events of 1688–89 with the American Revolution and the reforms in France in one of the most impassioned speeches delivered during the course of this tempestuous period. “I have lived to see the rights of men better understood than ever,” he said,
and nations panting for liberty, which seemed to have lost the idea of it. I have lived to see thirty millions of people, indignant and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice, their king led in triumph, and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects. After sharing in the benefits of one Revolution, I have been spared to be a witness to two other Revolutions, both glorious. And now, methinks, I see the ardor for liberty catching and spreading, a general amendment beginning in human affairs, the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience.
Be encouraged, all ye friends of freedom and writers in its defence! The times are auspicious. Your labours have not been in vain. Behold kingdoms, admonished by you, starting from sleep, breaking their fetters, and claiming justice from their oppressors! Behold, the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes and warms and illuminates Europe!”112
It is a reflection on the scope of the eighteenth-century Whig tradition that it could encompass two writers whose views were as dissimilar in certain particulars as were those of Price and Ferguson. Yet both were legatees of the Revolutionary Settlement of 1688 and both accepted its ideological premises. Both agreed that a free society was one that recognized the primacy of private property and the critical importance of the rule of law and both identified individual liberty with the rights of citizens to act as they chose, limited only by a modestly intrusive government. Finally, both had original insights into the nature of freedom and despotism that enlightened and informed. In light of this, it is not difficult to see why, despite their differences, the American colonists were receptive to both these thinkers.
[1. ]The Committee can justifiably be regarded as the earliest intelligence-gathering arm of the newly formed United States.
[2. ]“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot in the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted around the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind. . . . We have in our power to begin the world over again. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of men, perhaps as numerous as all Europe contain, are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months. The Reflexion is awful—and in this point of view, How trifling, how ridiculous, do the little, paltry cavellings, of a few weak or interested men appear, when weighed against the business of the world.” Common Sense, in Thomas Paine, Collected Writings, ed. Eric Foner (Library of America; New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1995); 36, 52–53.
[3. ]Colin Bonwick, English Radicals and the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 38–40.
[4. ]Both publications appear in the catalogues of the British Library and the Bodleian. The Edinburgh imprint carries the following statement on its title page: “To shew the real spirit and views of the colonies, or rather of their leaders in rebellion; which cannot fail to rouse the indignation of every Briton, without leaving them from henceforth a single advocate, who is not utterly lost to loyalty, to patriotism, and to common sense.”
[5. ]Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, ed. Worthington C. Ford et al. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1904–37), 12:984–85 (Tuesday, October 6, 1778).
[6. ]Roland Thomas, Richard Price: Philosopher and Apostle of Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924), 74.
[7. ]London’s Roll of Fame, at the Guildhall Library, quoted in Thomas, Richard Price, 76.
[8. ]“Preface,” in Bernard Peach, ed., Richard Price and the Ethical Foundations of the American Revolution (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1979), 9.
[9. ]Josiah Tucker, A Series of Answers to Certain Popular Objections, Against Separating from the Rebellious Colonies, and Discarding Them Entirely (Gloucester: R. Raikes, 1776); John Fletcher, American Patriotism Farther Confronted with Reason, Scripture, and the Constitution (Shrewsbury: J. Eddowes, 1776); John Wesley, Some Observations on Liberty, Occasioned by a Late Tract (London: R. Hawes, 1776).
[10. ]The Act, passed in March 1766, declared that the colonies in America “have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and that the King’s majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.” 6 George III, c. 12; The Statutes at Large, ed. Danby Pickering (Cambridge: J. Bentham, 1767), 27:19–20. So heinous did Price find this Act that he wrote of it, “I defy any one to express slavery in stronger language.” “Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America” in Peach, Ethical Foundations, 82–83 (hereafter cited as “Observations”).
[11. ]John Shebbeare, An Essay on the Origin, Progress and Establishment of Natural Society; in Which the Principles of Government, the Definitions of Physical, Moral, Civil, and Religious Liberty, Contained in Dr. Price’s Observations, etc. Are Fairly Examined and Fully Refuted (London: J. Pew, 1776); Edmund Burke, A Letter from Edmund Burke, Esq., One of the Representatives in Parliament for the City of Bristol, to John Farr and John Harris, Esqrs., Sheriffs in that City, on the Affairs of America (Bristol: William Pine, 1777).
[12. ]Neither Hume nor Smith was in complete agreement with this view. Hume was contemptuous of government policy and urged that the colonies should be allowed their independence, while Smith proposed that the colonies be extended representation in Parliament in proportion to the taxes levied on them. See Dalphy I. Fagerstrom, “Scottish Opinion and the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d series, 11 (April 1954): 259–60.
[13. ]Ferguson to Sir John Macpherson, Edinburgh, 1772 (no. 59), in Vincenzo Merolle, ed., The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, 2 vols. (London: William Pickering, 1995), 1:95.
[14. ]James Macpherson, The Rights of Great Britain Asserted Against the Claims of America; Being an Answer to the Declaration of the General Congress (London: T. Caddell, 1775). Following publication of Price’s Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty in 1776 and beginning with the sixth edition of Macpherson’s pamphlet, the essay was expanded and the following added to its title: To Which Is Now Added a Refutation of Dr. Price’s State of the National Debt.
[15. ]Ferguson to John Home, Edinburgh, January 27, 1776 (no. 83), in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:134.
[16. ]Herbert W. Schneider, A History of American Philosophy, 2d ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), 216. See also the detailed discussion of the favorable reception given eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosophy and epistemology by American intellectuals in Elizabeth Flowers and Murray G. Murphey, A History of Philosophy in America, 2 vols. (New York: Capricorn Books, 1977), 1:203–361. William R. Brock deals with the extensive influence of Scottish thought in the colonies in Scotus Americanus: A Survey of Sources for Links Between Scotland and America in the Eighteenth Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1982), 87–113.
[17. ]Dennis F. Thompson, “The Education of a Founding Father: The Reading List for John Witherspoon’s Course in Political Theory, Taken by James Madison,” Political Theory 4 (1976): 528. See also John Witherspoon, Lectures on Moral Philosophy, ed. Varnum Lansing Collins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1912), 144.
[18. ]Madison’s debt to Scottish-Enlightenment thinking is discussed at some length in Roy Branson, “James Madison and the Scottish Enlightenment,” Journal of the History of Ideas 11 (1979): 235–50.
[19. ]David Lundberg and Henry F. May, “The Enlightened Reader in America,” American Quarterly 28 (1976): 262–93.
[20. ]The basic library list that Jefferson prepared for a friend in 1771 contained works by Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, David Hume, and Henry Home, Lord Kames. Jefferson to Robert Skipwith, August 3, 1771, in Julian Boyd, ed., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 1:78–80. Having studied for two years under William Small at the College of William and Mary, it is inconceivable that Jefferson had not also read and digested Ferguson’s works. One commentator has gone so far as to maintain that Jefferson was so thoroughly immersed in the thought of the Scottish Enlightenment that the Declaration of Independence cannot be properly understood except in terms of Scottish political and moral philosophy. See Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978). While there is no historical warrant whatever for this eccentric conclusion, there is much evidence that Jefferson was familiar with the major Scottish writers.
[21. ]Ferguson, Essay, 2d ed., corr.; London: A. Millar and T. Caddell, 1768. E. Millicent Sowerby, comp., Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, 5 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1952–59), 3:20–21, item 2348.
[22. ]Schneider, American Philosophy, 38.
[23. ]Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed. Fania Oz-Salzberger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 12, 14 (hereafter cited as Essay).
[24. ]Citing the condition of his health, Ferguson resigned his professorship in 1785 at the age of sixty-two, to be succeeded in that position by his one-time student and friend, Dugald Stewart. In lieu of a pension, Ferguson had made arrangements with the university to continue to draw a salary as senior professor of mathematics. The position was, of course, a sinecure, and all lectures in the field were, in fact, to be delivered by a junior professor. During his retirement Ferguson completed his major work in moral philosophy, a revision and expansion of his Institutes entitled Principles of Moral and Political Science which appeared in two volumes in 1792. Ferguson died on February 22, 1816, in his ninety-third year at St. Andrews, Scotland, and is buried in the grounds of the cathedral there. By far the best biographical essay is by Jane B. Fagg, “Biographical Introduction” in Vincenzo Morelle, ed., The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, 1:xx–cxvii. See also the biographical chapter on Ferguson in David Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1965), 41–82.
[25. ]A French edition was published in Paris in 1783 with a second edition appearing in 1796 under the title Essai sur l’histoire de la société civile, translated by Claude Bergier and Alexandre Meunier. A German translation by C. F. Jünger, entitled Versuch über die Geschichte der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, appeared in Leipzig in 1768. In 1790 a Swedish translation by Johan A. Carlbohm was published titled Försök till Historien om borgerligt Samhälle. The work was published in an Italian translation done by P. Antonutti in Venice in 1807 under the title Saggio circa la storia di civile societá. Finally, a Russian translation by Ivan Timkovskii appeared between 1817 and 1819 bearing the title Opyt istorii grazhdanskogo obshchestva, published in Saint Petersburg in three volumes. The two pirated editions carry the imprint “Basil: J. J. Toureisen, 1789” and “Basel, Thurneysen, 1791.”
[26. ]There was a printing of the seventh edition, published in Boston by Hastings, Etheridge and Bliss in 1809, and an eighth edition, published in Philadelphia by A. Finlay in 1819. Charles R. Hildeburn’s bibliography of Pennsylvania imprints lists an edition of the Essay printed in Philadelphia by Robert Bell in 1773—A Century of Printing: The Issues of the Press in Philadelphia, 1685–1784, 2 vols. (New York: Burt Franklin, 1968), 2:164, item 2878, originally published in 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Press of Matlack & Harvey, 1885–86). Hildeburn’s evidence for the existence of this edition is based on an advertising circular issued by Bell in that year, announcing that the Essay “by a living Author of much Estimation whose elegant Performance will greatly delight” would be published by subscription in the fall of 1773 (ibid., 160, item 1857). There appear to be no copies of this edition extant. The editors of the Madison papers, however, maintain that the copy of the Essay obtained for James Madison by William Bradford in 1773 is the 1773 Bell edition (William Bradford to James Madison, January 4, 1775, in William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachel, eds., The Papers of James Madison [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962], 1:133n).
[27. ]Among the many marks of favor the publication of the Essay conferred upon its author was the award of an honorary LL.D. by the University of Edinburgh.
[28. ]See Theodor Buddeberg, “Ferguson als Soziologe,” Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik 123 (1925): 609–12; Werner Sombart, “Die Angänge der Soziologie” in Melchoir Palyi, ed., Hauptprobleme der Soziologie: Erinnerungsgabe für Max Weber, 2 vols. (Munich and Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1923), 1:9; and Harry E. Bames, “Sociology before Comte,” American Journal of Sociology 23 (1917): 234.
[29. ]As Ferguson explains it, “Where no profit attends dominion, one party is as much averse to the trouble of perpetual command, as the other is to the mortification of perpetual submission” (Essay, 83). That the institution of a formal political structure rests upon the prior establishment of a system of private property was a concept common to the Scottish historical school. See, for example, Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael, and P. G. Stein, eds. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 404, and, in a more extensive treatment, in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner, eds., 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 2:709–10 (V.i.b 21).
[30. ]Essay, 95.
[31. ]See Sir John Dalrymple, Essay Towards a General History of Feudal Property in Great Britain (London: A. Millar, 1757); Henry Home, Lord Kames, Historical Law-Tracts, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Millar, London, and A. Kincaid & J. Bell, Edinburgh, 1758) and the second edition of his Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion (Edinburgh: R. Fleming & A. Donaldson, 1758); and, in particular, Adam Smith, in his 1762–63 Lectures on Jurisprudence, 1–394.
[32. ]Ferguson’s discussion of the causes and nature of despotism was regarded as particularly astute. Indeed, Price, among many others, quoted him authoritatively on the subject. Richard Price, “Additional Observations on the Nature and Value of Civil Liberty, and the War with America” (1777) in Ethical Foundations, 161 (hereafter cited as “Additional Observations”).
[33. ]While Macpherson was, at the time, a lower-ranking administrator of the East India Company, he was very well connected and eventually became Governor-General of India.
[34. ]Ferguson to Sir John Macpherson, Edinburgh, 1772 (no. 59), in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:96.
[35. ]“If I had written the best that the occasion requires I should [not] be averse to be mentioned to Grafton as a writer.” Letter to Sir John Macpherson, Edinburgh, 1772 (no. 59), ibid. The Duke of Grafton served as Prime Minister from late 1767 to 1770 and was appointed Privy Seal in the North government.
[36. ]Fagg, “Biographical Introduction” in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:xlix–l.
[37. ]See Letter from Grey Cooper, London, March 23, 1776 (no. 85), ibid., 1:137.
[38. ]Fagg, “Biographical Introduction,” ibid., 1:l. The practice of rewarding authors sympathetic to the government and hiring publishers to place the administration’s point of view before the public was extremely common. See Solomon Lutnick, The American Revolution and the British Press, 1775–1783 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1967), 12–34.
[39. ]It should be pointed out that a professional such as a surgeon or high-level government clerk earned on average no more than £2 per week, and consequently, once bought, pamphlets of this nature were widely circulated from one reader to another and often read aloud in coffeehouses. See Lutnick, British Press, 2.
[40. ]“Additional Observations,” 140.
[41. ]Ferguson to John Macpherson, October 27, 1777 (no. 100) in Ferguson Correspondence, 156.
[42. ]Ferguson to John Macpherson, January 15, 1778 (no. 105), ibid., 162.
[43. ]Ferguson to John Macpherson, February 12, 1778 (no. 108), ibid., 1:166. “My Idea of a General Parliament for America may appear odd,” Ferguson wrote. “What Unite them; should they not rather be keept Separate that we may govern by dividing. I have much to say on that Subject being much impressed with a notion that one great state is much more easily Governed than many Small ones.”
[44. ]The principal exceptions revolved around responsibility for the redemption of colonial paper money and assuming the financial burden undertaken by the colonies in the war.
[45. ]It appears that Lord Shelburne had given serious thought to offering the post to Ferguson after Johnstone had returned to England in 1766. Fagg, “Biographical Introduction” in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:xl.
[46. ]Johnstone had entered Parliament following his tenure as governor of West Florida and over the course of the next decade had been an outspoken defender of the American cause. Ferguson’s biographer recounts that Johnstone was encouraged by others to choose Ferguson as a companion in part because of Johnstone’s hotheadedness which, it was felt, would be moderated by Ferguson’s more temperate disposition. Fagg, “Biographical Introduction” in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:li.
[47. ]The Commission’s official letter to Congress was accompanied by personal notes from both Eden and Johnstone warmly commending Ferguson. Eden referred to the favorable reception to which Ferguson was entitled by virtue of his eminence in the literary world (Eden to Washington, June 9, 1778, in Benjamin Franklin Stevens, ed., Stevens’s Facsimiles of Manuscripts in European Archives Relating to America, 1773–1783, 24 vols. [London: Malby & Sons, 1889–95], 5:401, facsimile 498), while Johnstone’s letter was even more generous. “I beg to recommend to your private civilities my friend Dr. Ferguson,” he wrote. “He has been engaged from his early life, in inculcating to mankind the virtuous principles you practise.” (Johnstone to Washington, June 10, 1778, in Jared Sparks, ed., Correspondence of the American Revolution, 4 vols. [Boston: Little, Brown, 1853], 2:136).
[48. ]There are good reasons to explain the colonists’ refusal to treat with the Commission. The United States had just entered a treaty of alliance with France, and it was clear that there were deepening divisions in Parliament regarding America. Washington was particularly adamant that the Commission’s terms be rejected out of hand. Finally, with respect to the Commission’s secretary, one is tempted to speculate that Washington was familiar with Ferguson’s rejoinder to Price’s essay and, as a result, was especially ill-disposed toward the writer.
[49. ]Extensive discussions of the Carlisle Commission appear in Weldon A. Brown, Empire or Independence: A Study in the Failure of Reconciliation, 1774–1783 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1941), 244–92, and Carl Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1941), 63:116.
[50. ]Fagg, “Biographical Introduction” in Ferguson Correspondence, 1:liii.
[51. ]The Commission sought to remind the clergy that “the foreign power with which the Congress is endeavouring to connect them has ever been averse to toleration.” Van Doren, Secret History, 112–13.
[52. ]Brown, Empire or Independence, 284–85.
[53. ]Thomas Paine, “The Crisis,” no. 6, October 20, 1778, in Thomas Paine, Collected Writings (New York: Library of America, 1995), 186–90.
[54. ]Two Tracts on Civil Liberty, the War with America, and the Debts and Finances of the Kingdom (London: T. Caddell, 1778).
[55. ]“The consequences [of not acceding to America’s demands] must be that the colonies will become the allies of France, that a general war will be kindled and, perhaps, this once happy country be made, in just retribution, the seat of that desolation and misery which it has produced in other countries.” Richard Price, “The General Introduction and Supplement to the Two Tracts on Civil Liberty, the War with America, and the Finances of the Kingdom” in Peach, Ethical Foundations, 60.
[56. ]D. O. Thomas, The Honest Mind: The Thought and Work of Richard Price (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 261–62.
[57. ]Martha K. Zebrowski, “Richard Price: British Platonist of the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas 55 (1994): 29. See also Bernard Peach, “The Indefinability and Simplicity of Rightness in Richard Price’s Review of Politics,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 14 (1954): 370–85.
[58. ]The ethical foundations of Price’s political views are discussed at some length in Peach, “Introduction” in Ethical Foundations, 18.
[59. ]“Observations,” 70.
[60. ]Institutes of Moral Philosophy (Edinburgh: A. Kincaid and W. Creech, 1769), 2.
[61. ]Principles of Moral and Political Science, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: A. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1972), 1:5 (hereafter cited as Principles).
[62. ]Peach, “Introduction” in Ethical Foundations, 19.
[63. ][Adam Ferguson], Remarks on a Pamphlet Lately Published by Dr. Price (London: T. Caddell, 1776), 7 (hereafter cited as Remarks). “The liberty of every class and order is not proportional to the power they enjoy,” Ferguson writes, “but to the security they have for the preservation of their rights” (ibid., 11).
[64. ]Ibid., 5.
[65. ]Carl B. Cone, Torchbearer of Freedom: The Influence of Richard Price on Eighteenth Century Thought (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1952), 73.
[66. ]Price admits as much. In the Preface to the fifth edition of the “Observations,” Price acknowledges that “the principles on which I have argued form the foundation of every state as far as it is free; and are the same with those taught by Mr. Locke, and all the writers on civil liberty who have been hitherto most admired in this country” (65).
[67. ]“Religious liberty signifies the power of exercising, without molestation, that mode of religion which we think best or of making the decisions of our consciences respecting religious truth the rule of our conduct, and not any of the decisions of our fellow-men” (ibid., 68).
[68. ]“Additional Observations,” 81.
[69. ]“Observations,” 69.
[70. ]Essay, 63–64.
[71. ]Ibid., 247.
[72. ]Remarks, 16.
[73. ]Principles, 2:461.
[74. ]Remarks, 41.
[75. ]“Observations,” 80.
[76. ]Remarks, 18–19.
[77. ]Ferguson goes so far as to make the following claim: “It is certainly true, that no nation ever planted Colonies with so liberal or so noble a hand as England has done” (ibid., 26).
[78. ]Essay, 61.
[79. ]“Appendix H,” in Ferguson Correspondence, 2:556.
[80. ]P. J. Marshall, “Introduction,” P. J. Marshall, ed., The Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. 2: The Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 25–26.
[81. ]“Observations,” 69. Every man is his own legislator in a free state, according to Price, in the sense that every man in a truly free state participates in making the political decisions or in choosing those who make the political decisions that govern him. See “Additional Observations,” 140.
[82. ]“Without all doubt, it is the choice of the people that makes civil governors. The people are the spring of all civil power, and they have a right to modify it as they please.” “Additional Observations,” 148.
[83. ]Essay, 10.
[84. ]See David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge, 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 534–39.
[85. ]Essay, 1:22–26. The notion that government itself, far from being the product of conscious design, took its form gradually and without deliberate intent has led one commentator to refer to Ferguson’s rejection of the social contract as the boldest attack on the contractarian theory of political obligation that had been made up to that time (Hermann Huth, “Soziale und Individualistische Auffassung im 18. Jahrhundert, vornehmlich bei Adam Smith und Adam Ferguson,” Staats- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Forschungen [Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1907], 46).
[86. ]Essay, 118.
[87. ]“If the palace be unnatural,” wrote Ferguson in an often-quoted passage, “the cottage is so no less; and the highest refinements of political and moral apprehension, are not more artificial in their kind, than the first operation of sentiment and reason” (ibid., 14).
[88. ]Principles, 1:192.
[89. ]“Observations,” 102–03.
[90. ]Ibid., 115.
[91. ]“Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, and the Means of Making It a Benefit to the World, To Which Is Added, a Letter from Mr. Turgot, Late Comptroller of the Finances of France” in Peach, Ethical Foundations, 210 (hereafter cited as “Importance of the Revolution”).
[92. ]Price was a seminal contributor to the study of finance and insurance and was universally so regarded. His Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the National Debt (London, 1771) argued decisively against the increasing British public debt and called for its elimination. In the same year he published an essay, Observations on Reversionary Payments, that was of crucial importance in making possible a workable system of life insurance and pensions.
[93. ]“Importance of the Revolution,” 210.
[94. ]Price to Ezra Stiles, Newington Green, August 2, 1785, in Bernard Peach and D. O. Thomas, eds., The Correspondence of Richard Price, 3 vols. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1991), 2:297.
[95. ]“Importance of the Revolution,” 211.
[96. ]Principles, 2:371.
[97. ]Ibid., 1:254, 253.
[98. ]Ibid., 254.
[99. ]Ibid., 235.
[100. ]Ferguson writes in his Essay that “The laws made to secure the rights and liberties of the people, may serve as encouragements to population and commerce” (131).
[101. ]Ibid., 135.
[102. ]“What generally emerges from Ferguson’s Essay and from others like it, is a simple and clear demonstration from conjectural history of a proposition which Americans, in their feelings of pity and censure over the fate of the Indians, needed desperately to believe; that men in becoming civilized had gained much more than they had lost; and that civilization, the act of civilizing, for all of its destruction of primitive virtues, put something higher and greater in their place” (Roy Harvey Pearce, The Savages of America: A Study of the Indian and the Idea of Civilization, rev. ed. [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965], 85).
[103. ]Ferguson’s views respecting the dangers arising out of the division of labor are discussed at some length in Ronald Hamowy, “Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and the Division of Labour,” Economica 35 (1968): 249–59.
[104. ]Essay, 174.
[105. ]Principles, 2:424.
[106. ]Ferguson was a strong supporter of a civilian army and had written tracts pointing out the serious dangers that followed the creation of a professional military force and calling for the establishment of a civilian militia. See his Reflections Previous to the Establishment of a Militia (London: R. & J. Dodsley, 1756), published anonymously.
[107. ]Ferguson to Sir John Macpherson, Edinburgh, July 31, 1790 (no. 269) in Ferguson Correspondence, 2:340.
[108. ]With reference to the French Convention, for example, Ferguson wrote ironically, “[they] are Surely very impudent in pretending to prescribe to the great Infallible Sovereign People of France whom they shall elect.” Ferguson to Sir John Macpherson, Nydpath Castle, September 17, 1795 (no. 297), ibid., 370.
[109. ]Ferguson to Alexander Carlyle, Edinburgh, November 23, 1796 (no. 322), ibid., 408.
[110. ]Ferguson to Sir John Macpherson, Edinburgh, January 19, 1790 (no. 265), ibid., 336–37.
[111. ]Ferguson seems to have blamed the French military, drunk with notions of democracy, for the revolution. “The French Revolution,” he wrote in 1797, “it seems is still a Curiosity; many things certainly led to it and the French heads a stir after new things made bolder and wider steps than ever were made before by Mankind in any case whatever; but all this would have come to nothing if the French Army had Adhered to their noblesse officers & to the Crown: but they did not; & they made the Revolution. They made & will continue to make every change that is to happen in France to the end of time. They were struck with democracy as with a Spark of Electricity or a Stroke of Lightening & have continued changed ever Since. They will follow no General that swerves from Democracy & will cut the throats of all Representatives of the People of France if the Cry of Royalism is raised against them.” Ferguson to Alexander Carlyle, Hallyards, October 2, 1797 (no. 332), ibid., 423.
[112. ]“A Discourse on the Love of Our Country” in D. O. Thomas, ed., Political Writings, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 195–96.