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AN ESSAY ON The Economy, Policy, and Resources of the THIRTEEN STATES, AND The Means of their Preservation. [ First published in Philadelphia , in January 1781.] - Pelatiah Webster, Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects 
Political Essays on the Nature and Operation of Money, Public Finances and Other Subjects, published during the American War, and continued up to the present Year, 1791 (Philadelphia: Joseph Crukshank, 1791).
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AN ESSAY ON TheEconomy, Policy,andResourcesof the THIRTEEN STATES, AND TheMeansof theirPreservation.
THE exhausted state of the public treasury, and the universal disorder of our finances, the pressing demand for supplies for every department of the public service, the convulsions which begin to appear, and the general confusion that threatens us, are become very serious and alarming, are become matters of very anxious concern, and even painful despondency, in the minds of many very wise and good men; and the public necessities are thence arisen to such a pitch of urgency, as must convince every thinking man that a speedy remedy or ruin must be the consequence. In this dreadful crisis, I will venture to lay before the public some thoughts on the present state of our affairs, and the ways and means of deliverance, which appear to me most wise, natural, and practicable; and this I propose to do with the same openness and freedom of mind and expression, which I have heretofore used, and hope for the same candor and indulgence from the public which I have heretofore experienced,
1. Our country is not exhausted; it is full of supplies of every kind, which are needed for public service. We have men enough who would wish to serve in the army, if they could be properly supported and paid. We have provisions and all other supplies enough in the hands of our own people, who wish to sell them to any body who would pay for them.
2. We have unanimity and general zeal for the great cause of liberty, for which we are contending. Neither our public counsels nor movements are obstructed or weakened by strong, opposite factions, wasting our wisdom or force in counter-working each other. The most dangerous and alarming commotions among us, show such firmness, zeal, and unshaken attachment to the great American cause, as plainly demonstrate that they do not at all arise from disaffection, but from other real, distressing causes.
3. We want nothing but wisdom, to draw into use the force and supplies of which the country has sufficient plenty. Like the foolish prodigal, we are feeding and starving on busks, while there is bread enough and to spare, within our reach; and if we fall at last under the power of our enemies, we shall fall a sacrifice to our own folly, not to their wisdom or power; to the weakness of our counsels, not to the want of sufficient strength; if we fall at last, no nation or people ever fell more despised, or less pitied. Our absurdities of counsel will be topics of ridicule and by-words of scorn, whilst our posterity will be noticed groaning under the iron rod of oppression, and lashed into that effort for the benefit of their masters, which would now be sufficient to secure their and our liberty; but which we have not now wisdom and virtue enough to call into use.
How will the by-standers laugh, and our poor posterity groan, at the absurdity of our plans of appreciating our currency month by month, whilst every cause of depreciation continues and increases;—of lessening the number of buyers, in order to increase the sellers;—of limiting, forcing, and reducing the market, in order to increase the quantity of goods brought for sale;—of forcing credit, value, and desirableness into our currency by tender-acts and penal laws;—and of procuring the vast supplies for the public service, by taking away every inducement of industry, and throwing every branch of our trade, mechanic arts, and husbandry into stagnation;—and, which caps all the rest, the sacred scheme of supporting our government, and securing all the blessings of liberty by a shameless departure from every principle of honesty and justice, which is essential to the very existence of civil society.
These are but few of the absurdities in politics which we have seen adopted, and forced into practice by every application of compulsive methods, and with a perseverance incredible. Nothing but the absolute impossibility of the practice could compel the chimerical zealots to discontinue their mad career; but, however laughable to our enemies, and distressing to our posterity, and incredible to both, these things may appear, they may be of use to us, as the dreadful and destructive consequences, the shame, disgrace, and ruin, which we have seen resulting from them, and which now threaten us in a manner that makes every considerate face gather paleness; these, I say, all tend to work an universal conviction in the minds of all men, of their total inutility and the absolute necessity of an immediate reformation.
And as a necessary means of it, to reject for ever from our public counsels, those weak, unprincipled men of wild projection and madness of design, who have infatuated the land with their extravagant chimeras, and drawn many of the honest, unthinking, but too easy people into their methods of shame and ruin. A man will not kill his own child, tho’ ever so monstrous; nor is it to be supposed, that these authors of our present distress will ever heartily concur in the rejection and public censure of their own darling schemes, or that they are capable of that wisdom necessary to bring about a total reformation.*
Here I must stop a little, and observe that the thing which makes one nation excel another in glory, political prudence, and happiness, is most commonly this, viz. That men of genius, abilities, integrity, and industry, are placed at the head of their public departments. The public will ever receive its tone, in respect of its dignity, fame, good order, and happiness, from the men who are intrusted with the management of the public affairs. This observation is so manifestly true, that every man, in the small circle of his own domestics or neighbours, can judge well how any business will be done, if he knows who is to do it. We cannot hope for reformation and good management of our public affairs, unless we see judicious, upright, and steady men in the several departments of the State; men adequate to the offices they fill, and industrious and persevering in attending thereto. But to return,
I will suppose for once that every public department was filled with the best and most suitable men, and that every individual was willing to adopt and pursue the best methods of safety and deliverance which our case admits; what then can and ought to be done? I answer,
1. Every man is to be called on for the debt which he owes the public. Every man stands indebted to the public for his share or proportion of all the money or supplies necessary to the public safety, and this debt must be paid, or the public safety must be insecure, must be in danger. The public safety cannot be put off, as some people serve their Maker, with empty prayers and good wishes. This payment can ruin nobody. It is manifest, that if any individual, even the least able to pay, should, by some accident, lose as much money or other estate as his share of this debt amounts to, it would not ruin him, it would not greatly distress him; for the truth of this I appeal to every man’s knowledge of his own and his neighbour’s circumstances; but on the other hand, how many thousands of individuals are ruined for want of this payment? Dreadful and swift witnesses of this are, all those who have suffered by the violations of our public faith, by the depreciation of our currency; all those who are not paid for the produce of their lands, or personal services, or other fruits of their labor, with which the public has been furnished.
The people of the Thirteen States are almost in the same condition which they would have been in, if they had sold their principal produce to bankrupts or broken merchants, who could not pay them. They, by this means, have not money to pay their debts, to trade with, to buy of the merchant, to lay in their stock for the ensuing year, to increase their scale of business, &c. &c. One disappointment creates another; an universal stagnation of business is the consequence; and all industry is checked even in its first principle, as well as in practice; and of course the produce of the lands, and the fabrics of the tradesman are daily lessened, and of course the great stock for home consumption, and the great staples of trade, are daily dwindling away. These are facts notorious to every body, and arise directly from this, viz. that there is not public money enough to pay the public creditors.
Whereas, if every man was called on for his share of the public debt, there would be money enough to pay every body, and all this dreadful deluge of calamity would be remedied at once, and every individual would be a gainer by the tax he would pay, because he loses more every year by the confusions and disappointments arising from this want of public monies, than his tax would amount to. This is all mighty well in theory, but impossible enough in practice. Do you say this in earnest? I do most seriously contend, that it is very possible in practice; it is possible, it is practicable, it is necessary.
2. To make out a true estimate of the public debts and demands, and issue a monthly tax for the amount, in which every one shall be called on for his share, and no more than his share. The money which is collected in the first month’s tax will go out again among the people, and help them to pay the next month’s tax; that will go out again, to be again called in by the third tax, and so on; and the quickness of circulation hereby excited will supply the want of medium; for it is plain to every man, that a guinea, which passes from hand to hand thirty times in one month, pays as much, and of course goes as far, as thirty guineas which are paid but once in a month.
It is further manifest, that such an universal demand for money will give it value, will make it an object of universal desire; this will give spring to industry, motion to every method of obtaining money, and security to every man who has obtained it. It is necessary for us to know the worst of the matter, let that worst be as bad as it will. Let us know how much it will cost to save our country, to restore our morality, our industry, our safety, and happiness. The profits of the year at most will do it, because no more is or can be spent in the year than is raised or produced in the year; for we loan abroad enough to pay for all we import from abroad for the public use.
It is impossible indeed to increase our husbandry or manufactures, without a free, open, and sufficient market. Shut or diminish the market, and the supplies of it will soon lessen; open and increase the demand of the market, and all supplies of it will soon increase. All this is too manifest to need proof; therefore it is necessary to remove wholly all obstructions of our market, all fetters, and restraints, and discouragements of business, such as, embargoes, tender-acts, limitations, regulations, &c. &c. Let every body be at liberty to get money as fast as they can, and be put under every natural advantage for doing it.
I am of opinion that our people would receive an enfranchisement of this sort with as much joy, as the inhabitants of Greece received the declaration of their liberties from the mouth of the Roman Ambassador. If premiums had been offered for stupid plans and wild projections, I think worse could not have been offered than such as we have seen, viz. laying embargoes on the exports, to increase the produce of the country for the army; forcing people to sell their goods below the market price, in order to induce them to bring more to market; offering money with horrid penalties, in order to make folks love and esteem it; embarrassing all business, to get the more of it done; &c. &c.
Such wild, stupid, horrible, and unnatural projects, with the effects of them, discourage our people, and render the wheels of government heavy, and destroy all confidence of the people in the public counsels, much more than the real weight and burdens of the war. These bear no sort of proportion to the distresses which are produced by the madness of our counsels, and unnatural way of doing every thing. Laws ought to be conformed to the natural course of things; but we have been absurdly endeavouring to control the natural course of things, and bend it to our laws.
I think it impossible that further arguments should be necessary to prove the expediency, yea, the strong propriety, and urgent reason of dismissing at once all these most unnatural and destructive measures, these absurd scandals of human reason, and of American policy; that so our minds may be open to impressions from the true state of our case; open to the real difficulties we are under, and to the proper measures which will, by their natural operation, afford us relief. We ought to study hard for this. Perhaps we may by strong exertion, by close attention, and the blessing of God, be able to find out, that means must be adequate to their ends; that the way to restore our credit is to pay our debts; that the way to pay our debts is to get money to pay them with; that any burden laid on the whole community is safer for the whole, than when the same burden is laid on a part only; that the only way to keep the members strong and in health is, to keep the belly full of substantial food, not of husks, &c.
But the absurdity of our measures is not all the objection I have to them. They are inadequate to their own purposes. What can it signify to plague the continent, and exhaust all the patience of our people with difficult, intricate plans of raising money, when all the plans put together, and fully executed, would not produce half, perhaps not a quarter, of the sum necessary to our prefervation? This is like bailing a leaky ship with a spoon, when buckets are necessary to keep her free. I think it would be far more natural and satisfactory to our people, to make out estimates and demands equal to our necessities, which will give this strong inducement to the efforts of each individual, viz. that it will be adequate to the purpose; that the means, however difficult, will be sufficient to produce the great ends designed. When the great demand is made known, the first question will be, Is this enough? Will this be sufficient to the purpose? An assured, affirmative answer will inspire great courage and effort, when the object is the great wish, the passionate desire of almost every individual, as is most manifestly the case with our people. It is a false delicacy, a shameful timidity, a dangerous injury to a nation, to keep them ignorant of their true circumstances and real danger, and not give them an opportunity to put the means of their safety in practice.
I am clearly of opinion, that scarce a man of any weight could be found in the Thirteen States, who would not readily and with joy pay a much larger sum than his tax would amount to, if he had reasonable hope that the distresses, oppressions, and dangers of the country could be thereby removed, a free course of justice be restored, every man’s person and property be protected, and the natural inducements of industry be favored and encouraged, and our insulting enemies be effectually opposed.
The yearly incomes of the country are much more than sufficient to do all this, if properly called into use. We have two armies in the country to seed, and the produce of the country is amply sufficient for both. The supplies of the one we are paid for, it is only the other which must be supported from our own resources; and after supplying both armies (if our husbandry and trade could be suffered to take their natural course) we should have large produce to spare for exportation.
In addition to all this, I am clearly of opinion that our resources are so great, that with proper management (even tho’ the war should continue seven years longer) the treasury of the Thirteen States might be filled with silver and gold coin, and be made a BANK as safe and useful as that of Amsterdam or Venice; and all this within a very short time, as may be clearly demonstrated to any body who is acquainted with the nature and constitution of this kind of subject.
The Dutch, as soon as they sound out the secret of inspiring their people with the true spirit of industry and enterprise, soon recovered their national credit, and grew amazingly rich, long before their wars with Spain ceased. We have vastly greater means in our power than they had, and want nothing but their wisdom to improve them to as great advantage. I conceive it to be very certain and manifest, that our national character, honor, and safety are yet in our own power, and depend on nothing for their full and perfect establishment, but our own wisdom and effort, and the blessing of Divine Providence.
I will conclude this Essay with one proposition, which, however much like a paradox it may appear at first sight, I think is very demonstrable, and I conceive will require little more than mere inspection for a short time, to convince every man of discernment and serious attention of its truth, viz. it would be easier and cheaper for every man of business, whether farmer, tradesman, or merchant, to pay his share of the whole annual expenditures of the public within the year, than not to pay it; i. e. he would live more easy thro’ the year, and be richer at the end of it, by paying such tax, than by not paying it. This was the great Posilethwait’s grand doctrine in England thirty years ago, and every body now sees the great advantages which would have resulted from his advice, had it then been adopted and pursued.—
“Oh! that we could know the things of our peace, in this the day of them.” God forbid they should be hid from our eyes. Men often look abroad for things that are at home, and seek at a distance for things that are near. I apprehend that union of sentiment and effort, in the practice of means, which it does not require any great sagacity to discover, would be quite sufficient for our safety. A plain simplicity is more to our purpose, than any depth of delusive policy.*
An honest integrity and natural prudence always create dignity, confidence, and respect. On these I would wish to build our national character, on these I would ground our defence, and in the practice of these I would hope for the divine blessing on ourselves and on our posterity.
[* ] Tho’ the principle of the American revolution was perfectly just, and the necessity of adopting it unavoidable, yet the same great evil and inconvenience happened in the course of it, which, I conceive, always did take place, more or less, in all public commotions and revolutions which have existed in all States in the world; viz. that many very improper men worked themselves somehow or other into places of great trust and importance, both in the legislative and executive departments; by which the vices, the whims, the wild projections, and visionary plans of individuals became diffused and almost incorporated into the character, counsels, laws, and administration of the States.
Such men are ever dangerous, but most peculiarly so in times of general calamity and distress, when wisdom, fortitude, and prudence are most indispensably necessary in rulers and leading men. But however unfortunate our States have been in that respect, they were still happy in this, that the evil did not reach their most capital departments; the army, foreign affairs, and, in most instances, the presidency of Congress were under the direction of men of most unblemished integrity, adequate abilities, and most consummate prudence; and had not our confusions been in some degree under their check, it is hard to say to what lengths they might have extended.
[* ] Every reader will easily observe, that the grand principle of revenue every where recommended in these Essays is this, viz. an actual recourse to the solid wealth of the States for the public supplies, i. e. a tax of sure product, payable in hard money or paper at the exchange which should be current at the time of payment; and this tax must be so really productive as to be equal to the expenditures. These are the means here referred to, on which the States could safely rest, and all visionary projects (which multiplied in abundance at this time) would of course vanish before the true means of our deliverance, and become soon as manifestly useless as they were really vain and ridiculous.