Front Page Titles (by Subject) 3.: Where Maritime Strength is the Object sought by the Mother Country. - Colony
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
3.: Where Maritime Strength is the Object sought by the Mother Country. - James Mill, Colony 
Supplement to the Encyclopedia Britannica (London: J. Innes, 1825).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
Where Maritime Strength is the Object sought by the Mother Country.
That English law, which established the monopoly of the colonies, at least of the transatlantic ones, professes to have in view, not trade so much as defence. The reason of that round-about policy is in this manner deduced. The defence of England stands very much upon her navy; her navy depends altogether upon her sailors; the colony trade and its monopoly breed sailors; therefore, colonies ought to be cultivated, and their trade monopolized.
Upon the strength of this reasoning, in which, for a long time, it would have appeared to be little less than impiety to have discovered a flaw, the navigation laws, as they are called, were embraced, with a passionate fondness, by Englishmen.
Nothing is worthy of more attention, in tracing the causes of political evil, than the facility with which mankind are governed by their fears; and the degree of constancy with which, under the influence of that passion, they are governed wrong. The fear of Englishmen to see an enemy in their country has made them do an infinite number of things, which had a much greater tendency to bring enemies into their country than to keep them away.
In nothing, perhaps, have the fears of communities done them so much mischief, as in the taking of securities against enemies. When sufficiently frightened, bad governments found little difficulty in persuading them, that they never could have securities enough. Hence come large standing armies; enormous military establishments; and all the evils which follow in their train. Such are the effects of taking too much security against enemies!
A small share of reflection might teach mankind, that in nothing is the rigid exercise of a sound temperance more indispensable to the well-being of the community than in this. It is clear to reason (alas, that reason should so rarely be the guide in these matters!) that the provision for defence should always be kept down to the lowest possible, rather than always raised to the highest possible terms! At the highest possible terms, the provision for defence really does all the mischief to a community which a foreign enemy could do; often does a great deal more than he would. A moderate provision against evils of frequent and sudden occurrence, a provision strictly proportioned to the occasion, and not allowed to go beyond it, will save more evil than it produces. All beyond this infallibly produces more evil than it prevents. It enfeebles, by impoverishing the nation, and by degrading with poverty and slavery the minds of those from whom its defence must ultimately proceed. It makes the country, in this manner, a much easier prey to a powerful enemy, than if it had been allowed to gather strength by the accumulation of its wealth, and by that energy in the defence of their country, which the people of a well-governed country alone can evince.
A navy is useful for the defence of Great Britain. But a navy of what extent? One would not, for example, wish the whole people of Great Britain engaged in the navy. The reason, we suppose, would be; because this would not contribute to strength, but weakness. This is an important admission. There is, then, a line to be drawn; a line between that extent of navy which contributes to strength, and that extent which, instead of contributing to strength, produces weakness. Surely it is a matter of first-rate importance to draw that line correctly. What attempt has ever been made to draw that line correctly? What attempt has ever been made to draw it at all? Can any body point out any land-marks which have been set up by the proper authority? Or, has the matter been always managed without measure or rule? And has it not thus always been an easy task to keep the navy in a state of excess, always beyond the line which separates the degree that would contribute to strength from the degree that infallibly contributes to weakness?
As the passion of England has always been to have too great a navy; a navy which, by its undue expence, contributed to weakness; so it has been its passion to have too many sailors for the supply of that navy. The sailors of a navy are drawn from the sailors of the maritime trade. But a navy of a certain extent requires, for its supply, a maritime trade of only a certain extent. If it goes beyond that extent, all the excess is useless, with regard to the supply of the navy. Now, what reason has ever been assigned to prove, that the maritime traffic of Great Britain would not, without the monopoly of the colonies, afford a sufficient supply of sailors to a sufficient navy? None, whatsoever: none, that will bear to be looked at. But till a reason of that sort, and a reason of indubitable strength, is adduced, the policy of the navigation laws remains totally without a foundation. In that case, it deserves nothing but rejection, as all the world must allow. It is a violent interference with the free and natural course of things; the course into which the interests of the community would otherwise lead them; without any case being made to appear which requires that violent disturbance.
The discussion of this supposed benefit of colonies, we shall not pursue any farther; for, it is a signal proof of the diffusion of liberal ideas, that the policy of the navigation laws has become an object of ridicule in the British Parliament, and finds even there but a small number of defenders.