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CHAPTER II. *: [OF THE CONTENTS AND DISTRIBUTION OF POLITICAL ECONOMY PROPER,—OR OF PART FIRST.] - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 1 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. I. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1855).
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[OF THE CONTENTS AND DISTRIBUTION OF POLITICAL ECONOMY PROPER,—OR OF PART FIRST.]
In the last chapter I endeavoured to convey a general idea of the nature of those disquisitions which I comprehend under the title of Political Economy, and to which I have in this Dissertation restricted the meaning of Political Philosophy. In point of fact, the subjects of Population and of National Wealth have of late appropriated the title of Political Economy almost exclusively to themselves; but I flatter myself that the reasons I have assigned for enlarging the province of this science will be found satisfactory.
That the science of Political Economy, in the common acceptation of the phrase, is of modern origin, is universally admitted; and that the same observation is applicable to the other subjects to which I propose to extend the same title, will appear in the course of the following remarks. Indeed, upon all of them many of the conclusions which now very generally unite the suffrages of speculative men, stand in direct opposition to the maxims of ancient policy. It seems, therefore, naturally to occur as an object of preliminary inquiry, what are the peculiarities in the circumstances of Modern Europe which have given birth to this new science, and which have imposed on statesmen the necessity of searching for other lights than what are to be collected from the institutions of Ancient Greece and Rome? In considering this question, I shall have occasion to point out the natural connexion by which the different branches of Political Economy are united into one department of knowledge, and the easy transitions by which the consideration of any one of them leads to that of all the others. The remarks which I have to offer under this head will serve, at the same time, to explain, why in this part of my Dissertation so many of my observations are rather of a prospective, than of a historical or retrospective nature. This view of the subject I found to be unavoidable in treating of a science which, though it has suddenly burst into preternatural maturity, is still in point of years only in a state of infancy.
I.—Among the various objects of Political Economy, one of the most important and interesting has been always understood to be the augmentation of the numbers of the people; and accordingly, I propose to begin the course with an examination of the principal questions to which this subject has given rise.* It is a subject on which much attention has been bestowed both by ancient and by modern legislators, but the relative place which it occupies in the ancient and modern systems of Political Economy, will be found to be essentially different.
Of this difference the most powerful, though not the only cause, is the civil and domestic liberty now enjoyed, in this part of Europe, by the industrious orders of the community, contrasted with that slavery which entered into the constitutions of those states which, in the ancient world, were understood to have accomplished, in the most effectual manner, the great ends of government. In consequence of this mighty change produced by the dissolution of the Feudal system, the care of the statesman (in as far as population is concerned) is necessarily transferred from the higher classes of the people, to a description of men whose numbers in the Free States (as they were called) of Antiquity, were recruited, as they are now in the West India Islands,* by importations from abroad. It is this description of men which forms the basis of that political fabric, which Sir William Temple has so finely compared to a pyramid; and it is on their numbers, combined with their character and habits, that the stability of the superstructure depends. Their numbers, however, it is evident, can in the actual state of things be kept up only by such political arrangements as furnish them with the means of rearing families; and it is into the question concerning the comparative expediency of the various arrangements proposed for that purpose, that the problem of population ultimately resolves. It is well known the efforts of Augustus and of the other statesmen of Rome to discourage celibacy, had little or no reference to this class of the community, but were calculated exclusively to keep up the race of citizens, and more especially of the order of nobility.
In consequence of the place which the subject of population necessarily occupies in the systems of modern statesmen, it will be found to be more or less connected with every other article of Political Economy; and accordingly, the most enlightened writers who have of late treated of population, have been led under this general title to discuss a variety of questions, to which it may appear, on a superficial view, to bear a very remote relation; such, for example, is the question with respect to the relative claims of Agriculture and of Manufactures to the attention of the statesman, with a number of other incidental inquiries connected with these different modes of industry. Nothing, however, under this head appears more deserving of notice, than the striking contrast between ancient and modern schemes of policy, considered in their effects on national manners, and on the progressive improvement of mankind; the former checking or altering the natural course of things by means of agrarian laws, and of other restrictive and violent regulations, calculated chiefly to keep up and to multiply the breed of soldiers; the latter (in those countries, at least, where the true principles of Political Economy have made any progress) allowing Agriculture and Commerce to act and re-act on each other, in multiplying the comforts of human life, in developing all the capacities that belong to our nature, and in diffusing as widely as the imperfections of human institutions will permit, the blessings of knowledge and of civilisation among all classes of the community. “The advantages, indeed, which modern policy possesses over the ancient, arises principally from its conformity, in some of the most important articles of Political Economy, to an order of things recommended by nature;” and where it remains imperfect, its errors may in general be traced to the obstacles which, in a few instances, it still continues to oppose to those beneficent arrangements which would gradually take place of their own accord if the legislator were only to confine his attention to his proper province.
[II.]* —The various questions concerning Population, lead by an easy transition to an examination of the nature and causes of National Wealth; a branch of Political Economy which presents a contrast no less striking than that which the former article exhibits, between the maxims of ancient and of modern policy.
As the wealth possessed by some of the most celebrated states of antiquity was acquired not by commerce but by the sword, it had no tendency to encourage a commercial spirit, excepting in so far as it ministered to luxury. Accordingly, we find that commerce was dreaded by the Roman statesmen on account of the luxury which they regarded as its necessary consequence; and it is a curious circumstance, that after their foreign conquests had brought immense riches into the public treasury, this very dread of the commercial spirit produced the same jealousy about the exportation of the precious metals with which the prejudices of the mercantile system of Political Economy so long inspired the legislators of Modern Europe. “Exportari aurum,” says Cicero, “non oportere, cum sæpe antea senatus, tum, me consule, gravissime judicavit.”* The same policy continued afterwards (partly indeed from other motives) under the Emperors; and it must be confessed, that in so far as their aim was to keep possession of the riches they had acquired, their views were somewhat more reasonable and consistent than those of our ancestors, for as they had no commodities of their own to give in exchange for the luxuries they imported, they must have paid for every thing in silver and gold. In the degenerate state, however, into which the Roman manners had then fallen, the progress of luxury was not to be checked by legislative restrictions, and the discouragements to commerce served only to prevent the operation of that antidote which nature has so beautifully provided against its pernicious effects, in the general diffusion of wealth among the body of a people, accompanied with that spirit of industry and frugality which commercial pursuits have a tendency to inspire.
The fatal effects which had been found, in the history of so many states, to be produced by a sudden influx of riches from abroad, combined with an ignorance of the salutary tendencies of commerce, led the ancient lawgivers very generally to check, as much as possible, the commercial spirit by the force of positive institutions. Plato prohibits the introduction into his imaginary Commonwealth, of any arts but those which minister to the necessities of human life, and refused to give laws to the Arcadians, because they were rich and loved magnificence;—while Phocion, who saw in the wealth of the Athenians the seeds of their ruin, proposed that artisans should be considered as slaves, and deprived of the rights of citizens. That these ideas correspond perfectly with the prevailing, or rather the unanimous opinion of antiquity, appears from numerous passages in the Greek and Roman authors. At present, I shall only mention Plutarch’s Life of Pericles, and the 8th, 17th, 20th, and 94th Epistles of Seneca.
How different are the ideas which now prevail universally on the same subject! “It is no longer,” says Raynal, “a people immersed in poverty, that becomes formidable to a rich nation. Power is at present an attendant on riches, because they are no longer the fruit of conquest, but the produce of lives spent in perpetual employment. Gold and silver corrupt only those indolent minds which indulge in the delights of luxury, upon that stage of low intrigue which is called greatness. The same metals put in motion the hands and arms of the people, exciting a spirit of agriculture in the fields, of navigation in the maritime cities, and multiplying over the whole face of the country, the comforts, enjoyments, and ornaments of life.”* Montesquieu himself does not seem to have been sufficiently aware of this essential difference between the wealth acquired by commerce and by rapine, in the parallel which he draws between the Carthaginians and the Romans. The former were indeed subdued by the latter, but they must be allowed to have maintained a far more obstinate and glorious struggle for their political existence, than was afterwards exhibited by their conquerors when assailed by the arms of the barbarians.
Agreeably to these remarks, and in direct contradiction to the maxims of ancient policy, we find everywhere, when we cast our eyes over the surface of the globe, that the most wealthy states are those where the people are the most industrious, humane, and enlightened, and where the liberty they enjoy, by entering as an elementary principle into the very existence of the political order, rests on the most solid and durable basis. Indeed, it was the general diffusion of wealth among the lower orders of men which first gave birth to the spirit of independence in Modern Europe, and which has produced under some of its governments, and more especially under our own, a more equal diffusion of freedom and of happiness than took place under the most celebrated constitutions of antiquity.
The difference between the condition of ancient and of modern nations, in consequence of the abolition of domestic slavery, has been already remarked, and the effects which it has produced have in no instance been more conspicuous than upon the sources of national opulence. As the ground is now universally cultivated (at least in this part of Europe) by men whose subsistence depends on the fruits of their own industry, the measure of their exertions can be increased only by the multiplication of their wants and necessities; or (as Sir James Steuart expresses it) “by the operation of manufactures and commerce, in rendering men slaves to their own passions and desires.” Hence the important distinction upon which this ingenious writer has laid so great stress between labour and industry. “The former,” he observes, “may always be procured, even by force, at the expense of furnishing man with his daily sustenance, whereas the latter cannot possibly be established, but by means of an adequate equivalent, proportioned not to what is absolutely necessary, but to what may satisfy the reasonable desire of the industrious, which equivalent becomes, in its turn, the means of diffusing a similar taste for superfluities among all classes of people.”1
One of the best illustrations I know of this distinction between labour and industry, and of the consequent difference between the ancient and modern system of Political Economy, is to be found in the discourse (commonly, and I think justly, attributed to Xenophon) “On the Improvement of the Revenue of the State of Athens.”2 From this work of Xenophon we learn the opinion of the author with regard to the three principal classes of the Athenian people—the Citizens, the Strangers, and the Slaves; and it is particularly remarkable, that even among the lowest order of the citizens, he never once supposes the expediency, or even the possibility, of exciting a spirit of industry by any of the motives which operate so effectually on the minds of the multitude in Modern Europe. On the contrary, his professed object is to secure the same advantages at which Political Economy now aims, through the medium of men’s natural propensities, by regulations of police, altogether unconnected with the habits of the people for whose welfare they were destined.
With this view, he lays down a plan for improving the revenue of the State, (by means of taxes to be imposed on its confederate cities,) in such a manner, as out of it to give every Athenian citizen a pension of three oboli a day, or threepence three farthings of our money.
In case the resources he points out for obtaining this revenue should prove deficient, people from all quarters, (he observes,) princes and strangers of note in all countries, would be proud of contributing towards it, to have their names transmitted to posterity in the public monuments of Athens.
Besides providing this daily pension of threepence three farthings for every citizen of Athens, rich and poor, Xenophon proposed to build, at the public expense, a number of trading vessels, a great many inns, and houses of entertainment for all strangers in the sea-ports, to erect shops, warehouses, and exchanges, the rents of which would not only increase the revenue, but add to the beauty and magnificence of the city. In a word, the great aim of this ancient system of Political Economy, (as Sir James Steuart has well observed,) is to accomplish by the labour of slaves, and by the subsidies of strangers, what a free people in our days are constantly performing by their own industrious exertions.1
In consequence of this independent industry of our lower orders, and more especially of the action and re-action of manufactures, commerce, and agriculture on each other, there has gradually arisen in the mechanism of modern society, a complexness of parts, and, at the same time, an apparent simplicity of design, essentially different from what fell under the review of ancient politicians.
Among other important consequences resulting from this mechanism, there is one which it may not be improper to mention at present, as it affords a peculiarly striking proof of the essential difference between the state of mankind in ancient and in modern times. The circumstance I allude to is, the effect of internal commerce in circulating money through all the different parts of the political body; affording by this very process a sensible illustration of the systematical relations which now connect together all the different orders of men in the same community, and which render every change in the condition of any one order a source either of advantage or loss to all the others. How different the case was in the old world, we may infer from the low price which the necessaries of life bore at a time when the precious metals were in the greatest abundance among the higher classes; and when the pecuniary expenses of some individuals, in articles of luxury and of ornament, were on a scale far exceeding the most extravagant ideas of modern ages.
These, and some other facts of the same kind, demonstrate how much the relation between prices and the quantity of the precious metals depends on that circulation of money which is produced by an active internal commerce: But the only inference I wish to draw from them at present is, the disjointed organization of society in the ancient Commonwealths, when compared with that comprehensive mechanism, which, in such a country as ours, combines so beautifully into one system the different classes and interests of individuals.
Another circumstance which has had a powerful influence on the condition of civilized nations in modern times, is the activity and extent of maritime trade, so wonderfully facilitated by the improvements which have taken place in the art of navigation, and so strongly encouraged by the intercourse which these have opened with parts of the globe formerly unknown.
It is observed by Dr. Robertson,* that in the ancient world land trade was the principal object, and maritime trade only a secondary one. This was not entirely owing to the cause to which he ascribes it,—the imperfection of the art of navigation: it was the natural effect of the geographical situation of the three continents to which the operations of commerce were confined. They all either touched, or nearly touched, each other; and the Mediterranean seas, which they included, served only to facilitate the operations of a commerce, of which the land was the principal element.
Of the extent to which human ingenuity and industry were able, in ancient times, to carry on foreign trade, under the great disadvantages of land-carriage, an idea may be formed from the remains of this species of commerce, still existing in the East; for although since the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope was opened, the trade from that country to Europe has been carried on by sea, a considerable portion of its valuable productions are, to this day, conveyed by land to other parts of the earth. This mode of communication is, indeed, rendered absolutely necessary, by the unbroken continuity of many of the most extensive provinces of Asia; and in a still greater degree, by the effect of the same circumstances in the Continent of Africa. The religious pilgrimages to Mecca, enjoined by the founder of the Mahometan faith, have contributed to increase, or, at least, to concentrate this commercial intercourse, by drawing annually to the Holy City numerous caravans, both of pilgrims and merchants, from all the countries where the Mahometan worship is established, extending to the shores of the Atlantic on the one hand, and to the remotest regions of the East on the other. During the few days of its continuance, the Fair of Mecca is said to be the greatest on the face of the earth; and of the immense value to which mercantile transactions are there carried on, the most unequivocal proof (as Dr. Robertson remarks) is afforded by the despatch, the silence, the mutual confidence and good faith with which they are conducted.
I have mentioned these facts chiefly as proofs of the extent to which the commercial transactions of ancient nations may have been carried, notwithstanding their comparative ignorance of the art of navigation. Accordingly, it has been argued by a late writer, (Mr. Heeren of Göttingen,* ) that although particular states, in modern times, may have carried their trade to a higher degree than single states of the ancient world; yet, on the other hand, commerce was, in the earlier ages, more equally divided among nations than at present, when a few countries in the western parts of Europe are become almost the only seats of the commerce of the globe. It has been observed by the same author, that while, in consequence of our extended navigation and maritime trade, the nations which are in possession of them have made the most important improvements, a multitude of other nations, whose situations now lie out of the road of commerce, have sunk into the lowest state of barbarism. But although there may be some foundation for these remarks, no comparison certainly can be made between the land trade carried on of old, and the commerce which has originated in modern Europe, when considered in connexion with human improvement and happiness. Nothing, indeed, can shew this more clearly than the stationary condition in which the race still remains in those parts of the world, where the former species of traffic is carried on upon the greatest scale. The facts which have been collected to illustrate the extent of their traffic serve only to place in the stronger light the peculiar advantages of that maritime intercourse, which unites, by a rapid intercourse, the most remote harbours of the globe; more particularly when combined with that inland trade, which, by means of water conveyance, penetrates in every direction the interior of a continent.
The origin of that maritime commerce which so peculiarly distinguishes modern times, is to be ascribed in a great measure to the discovery of the New World, and of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope. The former of these events, more particularly, was necessarily accompanied with the most important consequences; extending, in an incalculable degree, the mutual connexion of nations; and by encouraging the art of man to contend with the dangers of the ocean, throwing a new light on those beneficent arrangements which Providence has made for the improvement of the human race. It is to this event that the subsequent progress of navigation, and of that commercial spirit which now exerts so powerful an influence over the condition of mankind, may be ultimately traced; and, if it had not happened, it may be reasonably questioned whether the circumnavigation of Africa would have produced any essential change in the course of trade, or in the relations which had till then connected together the different parts of the globe.
The activity of trade thus excited and maintained by the boldness and skill of modern navigators, has been farther aided, in an immense degree, by the commerce of money, so expeditiously and easily carried on in modern times by the simple and beautiful expedient of bills of exchange. By means of these, debts and credits may be shifted from one place to another, so as to answer all the purposes of transportation of the precious metals; the same ends being accomplished by this happy invention in foreign commerce, to which coins are subservient in the details of ordinary business.
The invention of bills of exchange has been generally ascribed, since the time of Montesquieu, to the Jews. “It is a known fact,” says this eminent writer, “that under Philip Augustus and Philip the Long, the Jews who were chased from France took refuge in Lombardy, and that there they gave to foreign merchants and travellers secret letters drawn upon those to whom they had entrusted their effects in France, which bills were accordingly accepted by their correspondents.” “Commerce,” he adds, “by this means, became capable of eluding violence, and of maintaining everywhere its ground; the richest merchant having nothing but invisible effects, which he could convey imperceptibly wherever he pleased.”*
In these observations, Montesquieu has probably gone a little too far; for although the Jews may have invented the modern forms of transactions of this nature, (a fact, however, which is by no means indisputably ascertained,) there are very strong reasons for believing that the practice in question was not altogether unknown among the commercial states of antiquity. The idea, indeed, of thus exchanging one debtor for another, or of a reciprocal transfer of credits, is so extremely obvious, that it could not possibly fail to occur wherever an extensive commerce has subsisted between different nations; and, in fact, some traces of such transactions in ancient times, have been discovered by the learned industry of modern writers.
Notwithstanding, however, these circumstances, I believe it may be safely asserted, that it was in modern Europe that this mode of settling accompts, and transacting payments between foreign merchants, was first reduced to a system; a chain of correspondences being established all over the commercial world, among a particular description of traders, whose business it is to negotiate pecuniary transactions; and who, by confining their attention to this branch of commerce, have given a regularity and correctness, formerly unknown, to all other mercantile operations. The improvements which have taken place, during the course of a few centuries, in the general state of political society, all over this part of the world, by giving rise to the establishment of regular posts, and promoting everywhere a disposition to good faith and mutual confidence, are, in truth, (as I shall have occasion afterwards to show,) the foundation of those multiplied mercantile relations, of which the refinements now under our consideration may be regarded as the necessary consequences, and without which they could not possibly have existed.
In a passage already quoted from Montesquieu, [p. 41,] it is observed,—by the invention of bills of exchange, merchants were enabled to elude the grasp of despotism. The observation is just, and it touches on a circumstance equally important to civil liberty, and to the prosperity of commerce. Whether these advantages are not in some degree compensated by the selfish independence of capitalists, who by the same causes which increase their influence on public affairs, are released from local connexions, and rendered citizens of the world at large, is a question of more difficult discussion.
Among the various circumstances, however, which distinguish the modern systems of political economy, and add to the intricacy of this branch of study, none is more conspicuous than the fabric of public credit, particularly in the great commercial states of Europe; an innovation which not only affects essentially all the branches of trade, in consequence of its intimate connexion with the commerce of money, but in its more remote tendency affects the condition of all the different classes of the community.
One advantage, however, (among many inconveniences,) which may be traced to this innovation, is the attention which sovereigns have been forced to give, for their own sakes, to the advancement of industry and wealth among their subjects; and although their efforts towards this end have not been always enlightened, yet they have almost everywhere contributed materially to ameliorate gradually the condition of the body of the people. The strength of modern empires is now understood to depend on internal cultivation; presenting in this respect a striking contrast to those in the Old World, which rose by conquest, and were fed by precarious tribute. The greater the number of such states, which thus found their importance on their internal advantages and resources, and the more liberal the policy by which they are connected, the greater will be the prosperity of each individually; and the more solid will be the foundation which is laid for the future happiness of the human race.
It is remarked by Mr. Hume, in one of his political discourses, that “though all kinds of government be improved in modern times, yet monarchical governments seem to have made the greatest advances towards perfection. It may now,” he says, “be affirmed of civilized monarchies, what was formerly said in praise of republics alone, that they are a government of laws, not of men. They are found susceptible of order, method, and constancy, to a surprising degree. Property is there secure; industry encouraged; the arts flourish; and the prince lives secure among his subjects like a father among his children. There are, perhaps, and have been for two centuries, near two hundred absolute princes, great and small, in Europe; and allowing twenty years to each reign, we may suppose that there have been in the whole two thousand monarchs, or tyrants, (as the Greeks would have called them,) yet of these there has not been one, not even Philip II. of Spain, so bad as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, or Domitian, who were four in twelve among the Roman emperors.”*
Of this very remarkable fact, an explanation may no doubt be found, in part, in the diffusion of knowledge among all orders of men by means of the press, which has everywhere raised a bulwark against the oppression of rulers in the light and spirit of the people; but much must likewise be ascribed to the influence which juster views of Political Economy have had upon the counsels even of absolute princes, by convincing them how inseparably the true interests of governors and the governed are connected together;—a consideration which, while it opens an encouraging prospect with respect to the future history of the world, affords an additional proof of a proposition which I shall afterwards endeavour to illustrate; that the science of Political Economy, much more than that part of the theory of government which relates to forms of administration, is entitled, in the present circumstances of mankind, to the attention of the speculative politician.
† In treating of the various questions connected with the general title of National Wealth, I shall be obliged to confine myself to very partial views on the subject. The field is of immense extent; and one of the most interesting portions of it (that relating to the question about the freedom of trade) has been surveyed already by Mr. Smith, with so great accuracy, that little remains for me but to consider a few incidental questions which have not entered into his plan, and to examine such of his fundamental principles as seem to myself to require limitations or corrections, or which have been disputed on solid grounds by political writers of a later date. An outline of his reasonings on this important article will be necessary for the sake of connexion; but I shall direct my attention more particularly to certain applications of the general doctrine, about which doubts have been suggested either by Mr. Smith himself, or by later writers. Of this kind are the questions,—First, with respect to the expediency of restrictions on the commerce of money, in the case of pecuniary loans. Second, concerning the expediency of restrictions on that branch of commerce which is employed about the necessaries of life; and Third, concerning the expediency of restrictions on the commerce of land.
But although in my practical conclusions on the more important questions, I am disposed to agree with Mr. Smith, I shall have frequent occasion to differ from him widely in stating the first principles of the science, as well as in my opinion of the logical propriety of various technical phrases and technical distinctions which he has sanctioned with his authority. I must take the liberty also to observe, that the plan of arrangement of his invaluable work, is far from being unexceptionable; and I am not without hopes, that by the criticisms which I have to offer on its imperfections in this respect, I shall be able to simplify the study of its doctrines to those who may adopt it, (which most persons in this country now do, and, in my opinion, for the most solid reasons,) as the elementary groundwork for their future speculations on that branch of Political Economy to which it relates.
The great variety of subjects which the plan of the course embraces, will necessarily confine my attention, in general, to those principles of Political Economy which are of a universal application. To examine the modifications which may be requisite in particular instances, in consequence of the peculiarities in the physical or moral circumstances of nations, would lead me into details inconsistent with the nature of academic lectures. In discussing, however, the two articles already mentioned, (those of Population and of National Wealth,) my reasonings will often have a reference to the interests of our own country. And if I should be thus occasionally led to deviate a little from systematical method, I flatter myself, that the inconvenience will be more than compensated, not only by the useful information to which I shall be able to lead your attention, but by the light which such digressions cannot fail to throw on our general principles. It is, indeed, one of the most fruitful sources of error and paradox in disquisitions of this kind, to reason abstractedly concerning the resources of states, without any regard either to existing forms of society, or to varieties in the physical and geographical advantages of different regions. It is a source of error, not only because the soundest general rules ought to be applied with caution in particular cases, but because the greater part of political writers, even when they express themselves in the most general and abstract terms, have been insensibly warped, more or less, in their speculations, by local habits, and local combinations of circumstances to which they have been accustomed. To this source may be distinctly traced many of the apparent diversities in the theories of different politicians; and among others, some of the contradictions between the partisans and the opponents of the agricultural system of Political Economy. The very ingenious author himself, of the Essay on Circulation and Credit,* has not perhaps always recollected, that, while his antagonists had a view, more especially to a territory like France, his mind was occupied about Holland. An attentive consideration of this circumstance will, if I do not deceive myself, account, in many instances, for an apparent diversity of opinion among speculative politicians, upon points concerning which there could not possibly have been any disagreement, if both parties had stated fully all the local particulars by which their general principles were tacitly, perhaps unconsciously, modified in their own habits of thinking.
In studying Political Economy, it is more particularly necessary for an inhabitant of these kingdoms, to keep in remembrance the many peculiarities of our situation, combining an immense fund of agricultural riches, with the advantages arising from an insular form, from the number and disposition of our navigable rivers, and from an extent of coast amounting (according to Sir William Petty’s computation, a computation which, I apprehend, falls short greatly of the truth) to three thousand eight hundred miles. Nor ought he to lose sight of the prodigies which the industry and spirit of the people, improving on their natural advantages, have already effected, under the protecting influence of civil liberty; connecting the different parts of our islands by an extended system of inland navigation, which (considering the mountainous surface of the country) may be justly regarded as one of the proudest monuments of human power.
[The Poor:—their Maintenance.]
III.— The researches of modern politicians concerning the sources of National Wealth, have naturally directed their attention to that unfortunate class of men, who, in consequence either of the imperfections of our social institutions, or of the evils necessarily connected with the present condition of humanity, are left dependent on the bounty of their fellow-citizens. The speculation is sufficiently interesting in itself, considered merely in its relation to those orders of the community who are its immediate objects; but it has been found, on examination, to be still more interesting, when considered in its connexion with the general system of Political Economy. . . . . [Sic.] To those who have any knowledge of the rise and progress of that part of English policy which relates to this subject, it is unnecessary for me to remark, with what extreme difficulty the speculation is attended, and how frequently the best intended, and apparently the most wisely considered schemes have been found to aggravate the evils they were meant to remedy.
Doubts have accordingly arisen in the minds of many sagacious inquirers, whether it would not have been better if the cause of this class of men had been left entirely to the voluntary charity of their fellow-citizens; and whether the existing system of our poor laws may not be added to the many other instances which human affairs afford, of an officious attempt on the part of statesmen, to accomplish artificially, by the wisdom of man, those beneficent ends, for securing which so beautiful an arrangement has been made by the wisdom of Providence. That in many individual instances the evils of extreme indigence are thus greatly alleviated, is beyond a doubt: but the question is, how does this interference of law operate with respect to the general, and the most important interests of the labouring orders? Is it favourable to their industry, to their economy, and to their domestic virtues? Or is there no reason to apprehend, that while it operates as a palliative to local inconveniences, it aggravates and confirms the radical malady in which they originated?
It must, however, be owned to be a very different question, whether, supposing no legal provision to have been made for the poor, it would have been expedient to introduce the present system of laws; and whether, circumstanced as we actually are, it would be wise to abolish this part of our policy. Among the various opinions concerning the mode of relieving the wants of the lower classes, it seems to be very generally agreed, that a modification only of our existing regulations, and not a total repeal of them, can be safely attempted; and that the correction of the evils complained of is to be expected less from the direct and immediate interposition of the Legislature, than from the gradual operation of more remote and powerful causes on the industry, morals, and resources of the people.
It is scarcely necessary for me to add, that these disquisitions with respect to the poor, which have for many years past exercised the ingenuity of speculative men all over Europe, furnish another very remarkable illustration of that contrast which the present state of society in this part of the world exhibits, to the condition of mankind under the ancient governments. The disorders which have been now under our consideration, originated in the abolition of a much greater disorder, the institution of Slavery, and they have presented ever since to the politician, one of the most interesting, and, at the same time, one of the most difficult problems, which the science of legislation affords.
[Education.—Prevention, Reformation, Correction of Crime.]
IV.— The maintenance of the poor is intimately connected with another subject:—The means of encouraging among the body of the people habits of industry, and of a regularity of morals; and of effecting, where it is possible, a reformation in the manners of those who have rendered themselves obnoxious to the laws of their country. The attempts which have been made with this last view by the projects of penitentiary houses and of solitary confinement, do honour to the enlightened benevolence of the present age, and may probably be found susceptible of many improvements for accomplishing, still more effectually, the laudable and important purposes for which they are destined.
With a review of these establishments, the general principles which ought to regulate the punishment of crimes have a very close connexion, and accordingly, they have attracted, in the course of the last century, the attention of some very distinguished writers, and more particularly of the Marquis Beccaria, whose humane and eloquent Treatise on Crimes and Punishments forms one of the most valuable illustrations that has yet appeared, of the connexion between the principles of Ethical Philosophy and the Science of Legislation. In order, however, to apply a radical cure to these evils, it is necessary for government to bestow such a systematical attention on the Education of the people, as may afford the means of instruction even to the lowest classes of the community.
It is justly and beautifully observed by Sir Henry Wotton, that “albeit good laws have always been reputed the nerves and ligaments of human society, yet they are no way comparable in their effects to the rules of good nature. For it is in civil as it is in natural plantations, where young tender trees (though subject to the injuries of the air, and in danger even of their own flexibility) would yet little want any under proppings and shoarings, if at first they were well fastened in the root.” In the present state of society this may be regarded as one of the most effectual objects of legislation; and the happy effects resulting from the establishments (however imperfect) for that purpose, in Scotland and America, give the strongest encouragement to the farther prosecution of the same plan on more liberal principles.
“In a civilized and commercial country, the education of the common people,” as Mr. Smith has well remarked, “requires the attention of the public more than that of people of some rank and fortune. The common people have little time to spare for education. Their parents can scarce afford to maintain them even in infancy. As soon as they are able to work, they must apply to some trade, by which they can earn their subsistence. That trade, too, is generally so simple and uniform, as to give little exercise to the understanding, while, at the same time, their labour is both so constant and so severe, that it leaves them little leisure and less inclination to apply to, or even to think of anything else.”*
“An instructed and intelligent people, besides,” as is farther observed by the same writer, “are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one. They are more disposed to examine, and more capable of seeing through the interested complaints of faction and sedition; and they are, upon that account, less apt to be misled into any wanton or unnecessary opposition to the measures of government. In free nations, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favourable judgment which the people may form of its conduct, it must surely be of the highest importance, that they should not be disposed to judge rashly or capriciously concerning it.”†
To the same liberal doctrine a very forcible sanction has been given by a late Bishop of London, (Dr. Porteous,) in the following passage of one of his Charges to the clergy, a passage which is well entitled to particular attention, inasmuch as it states, on this very important and long contested question, the opinion of a most intelligent and candid judge, founded on a calm review of the causes which have produced the revolutionary evils of our own times.
“Ignorance is the mother of superstition, of bigotry, of fanaticism, of disaffection, of cruelty, and of rebellion. These are its legitimate children. It never yet produced any other, and never will, to the end of the world. And we may lay this down as an incontestable truth, that a well-informed and intelligent people, more particularly a people well acquainted with the sacred writings, will always be more orderly, more decent, more humane, more virtuous, more religious, more obedient to their superiors, than a people totally devoid of all instruction and all education.”
I shall only add farther on this subject at present, (and it is an observation which I shall state in the words of Bishop Butler,) that the duty of extending the means of elementary instruction to the lower orders, is now recommended to us by many powerful arguments which did not apply to the state of the world, prior to the invention of printing.
“Till within a century or two, all ranks were, in point of learning, nearly on a level. The art of printing appears to have been providentially reserved till these latter ages, and then providentially brought into use, as what was to be instrumental, for the future, in carrying on the appointed course of things.”
“The alterations which this art has even already made in the face of the world, are not inconsiderable. By means of it, whether immediately or remotely, the methods of carrying on business are, in several respects, improved; “knowledge has been increased,” and some sort of literature is become general. And if this be a blessing, we ought to let the poor in their degree share it with us. If we do not, it is certain, how little soever it may be attended to, that they will be upon a greater advantage, on many accounts, especially in populous places, than they were in the dark ages. And, therefore, to bring up the poor in their former ignorance, now that knowledge is so much more common and wanted, would be not to keep them in the same, but to put them into a lower condition of life than what they were in formerly. Nor,” concludes this excellent author, in the same spirit which dictated the passage just quoted from Mr. Smith, “nor, let people of rank flatter themselves that ignorance will keep their inferiors more dutiful and in greater subjection to them; for surely there must be danger that it will have a contrary effect, under a free government such as ours, and in a dissolute age.”*
To ascertain what are the branches of knowledge best fitted for accomplishing the purposes here described, and to devise the simplest means for their communication, is a more difficult subject of speculation than may at first be imagined. Nor do I apprehend that the field is yet exhausted, notwithstanding the dogmatical assertion of Dr. Johnson, that “education is as well known as it ever can be.”† Admitting even his observation to be just when applied to the instruction of the higher orders, it must be allowed to fail most remarkably in its application to the instruction of the lower, a subject on which very little attention has been hitherto bestowed in modern Europe; and which, in ancient times, was considered as unworthy the notice of a philosopher. The plans of education recommended by some of the most enlightened writers of Greece, had a reference only to those who were called [ἐλεύθεροι,—χαρίεντες (?)]; while the inferior classes were almost entirely overlooked as a part of the social system. In proportion to the progress of society during the last two or three centuries, this order of men have been gradually rising in political importance; but the authors who have hitherto speculated concerning their intellectual improvement, have, in general, (and more especially in our own times,) gone into extremes; some representing it as a duty incumbent on governments to extend gratuitously the means of instruction, (and that on the most liberal plan,) to all descriptions of people; and others recommending to statesmen a policy calculated to check completely, among the great mass of their fellow-citizens, the progress of the human mind.
Besides a provision for the general elementary instruction of the lower orders, some politicians have recommended to government a still more watchful and minute interference in the care of the rising generation, and that, not only in the case of the labouring classes, but of all ranks and descriptions of men. A celebrated English writer, (Dr. John Brown, author of the Estimate,) whose publications at one time attracted a great deal of attention, has laid much stress on this idea, in his Thoughts on Civil Liberty, Licentiousness, and Faction. “It is deeply to be regretted,” he observes in one passage, “that the British system of policy and religion is not upheld in its native power, like that of Sparta, by correspondent and effectual rules of education; that it is in the power of every private man to educate his child, not only without a reverence for these, but in absolute contempt of them; and that at the Revolution in 1688, the education of youth was still left in an imperfect state; this great Revolution having confined itself to the reform of public institutions, without ascending to the great fountain of political security, the private and effectual formation of the public mind.” . . . “The chief and essential remedy of licentiousness and faction, the fundamental means of the lasting and secure establishment of civil liberty, can only be in a general and prescribed improvement of the laws of education, to which all the members of the community should legally submit; and it is for want of a prescribed code of education that the manners and principles, on which alone the State can rest, are ineffectually instilled, are vague, fluctuating, and self-contradictory.”
“Nothing,” he adds, “is more evident, than that some reform on this great point is necessary for the security of public freedom, and that, though it is an incurable defect of our political state, that it has not a correspondent and adequate code of education, inwrought into its first essence: we may yet hope, that in a secondary and inferior degree, something of this kind may yet be inlaid; that though it cannot have that perfect efficacy, as if it had originally been of the piece, yet, if well conducted, it may strengthen the weaker parts, and alleviate defects, if not completely remove them.”
Some remarks to the same purpose occur in the Essays on the Spirit of Legislation, published by the Society of Berne, in Switzerland. “A legislator,” it is justly observed, “occupied like the father of his country, with the happiness of his people, will watch national education, to the end that children may suck in with the milk, the principles and maxims which may contribute to the public good, and the prosperity of individuals.” “Upon this principle,” the author adds, “I do not comprehend how we can abandon the public education to masters that depend not on government, or are little concerned with the State.”
To this plan, however, of Dr. Brown, (at least in its application to the circumstances of our own country,) many strong and insuperable objections might be stated, and accordingly, several very eminent writers have expressed their doubts, whether some of the important ends which he was so anxious to accomplish, would not be secured more effectually, if governments were to interfere still less in regulating the system of education, than they have been commonly disposed to do. Without giving any opinion on this point, I shall content myself with remarking, that these considerations which, in such a country as this, impose on the public as a duty, the task of providing proper instruction for the poor and for the labouring classes, do not apply, with the same force, to the higher orders. It is on the character and habits of these inferior classes, that the stability of every government essentially depends; and it is on their account chiefly that regulations of police are necessary, as their condition exposes them peculiarly to the contagious influence of those vices which disturb the general tranquillity.
The education of the higher orders is, at the same time, in such a state of society as that in which we live, an object of the last consequence; and if it is one of those to which the superintending care of government cannot be extended with advantage in any considerable degree, it becomes doubly incumbent on those who direct their speculations to subjects of public utility, to contribute their efforts towards an improvement of the principles on which it is conducted. The revolution which has taken place in science and philosophy since the time of Lord Bacon, seems obviously to recommend (in a greater degree than has hitherto been effected in most universities) a correspondent change in the plan of academical instruction. This view of education, indeed, (considered in its connexion with intellectual improvement and the advancement of human knowledge,) properly belongs to the Philosophy of the Human Mind; but there are also many views of the same subject, which will be found to be very intimately connected with the most important objects of Political Economy.
In this respect, as well as in many others, the education of females (to whose care the task of early instruction must be, in a great measure, intrusted) will be found not undeserving of attention.
Among the various circumstances, indeed, which discriminate the condition of mankind in modern times, from what it was among ancient nations, nothing is more striking than the rank and consequence of the other sex. I shall not at present inquire into the various causes which have conspired to produce this change. It is of more importance to remark its extensive influence on human character, and on the whole system of European manners. The ancients appear to have attached but little importance to the domestic virtues. They considered man almost always in relation to his fellow-citizens; and as their free States were in general composed of a scanty population, and women altogether overlooked, as parts of the social system, the public duties of the individual were understood to be the only ends of his existence; and to enforce the zealous discharge of these duties, was the sole object of those philosophers who devoted themselves to the study of morals. Plato, in his Republic, proposes as a plan for increasing the happiness of the human race, to destroy conjugal love, and paternal affection, by a community of women and of children; and even those writers who, uninfected by the spirit of paradox or of theory, confined themselves to a faithful delineation of the manners around them, plainly shew, by their silence concerning the other sex, how insignificant the share was which they were then understood to possess in carrying on the business of human life. It is remarked by an ingenious French writer, that the word woman does not occur once in the characters of Theophrastus; and that it may be questioned whether the word happiness is, in any passage of the Greek writers, employed in the modern acceptation. As the extent of modern States and the structure of their governments have now detached the greater number of individuals from political concerns, men have been led to concentrate their pursuits within the circle of their domestic relations, and by doing so, have unquestionably opened to the species sources of enjoyment and improvement of which the philosophers of antiquity were unable to form a conception.
Notwithstanding, however, these circumstances, the education of women has, till very lately, been almost entirely overlooked by systematical writers; and among the few who have treated of it, there has been, in general, a strange disposition to run into extremes. One set of theorists, undervaluing the natural endowments of the other sex, and inattentive to their immense importance in the social system, have adhered even in these times to the confined notions of our forefathers; while others, overlooking the obvious and beautiful destinations of nature, have confounded the provinces and the duties of both sexes together, indulging themselves in visionary and licentious projects, equally subversive of the order of political society, and of the purity and refinement of domestic manners.*
[* ] [Miss Stewart notes upon her transcript,—“All after this is old.”—If hereby she means, that the process of accommodating the Lectures to the Dissertation ceases with the first Chapter, this is manifestly incorrect; as is apparent from the earlier portion, at least, of the following chapter.]
[* ] [This latter clause is deleted in the earlier copy, and omitted by Miss Stewart.]
[* ] [Miss Stewart, in her transcript, notes:—“This must be altered to suit 1823. My father has evidently overlooked it.”]
[* ] [This numeral apparently omitted by inadvertence.]
[* ] [Pro Flacco, cap. xxviii.]
[* ] [Histoire Philosophique des Etablissemens et du Commerce, &c.]
[1 ] Sir James Steuart’s Works, Vol. II. p. 163, 8vo edition, [An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, Book II. chap. xxx.]
[2 ] A translation of this Discourse is introduced into the first volume of the edition of D’Avenant’s Political Works, published by Sir Charles Whitworth.
[1 ] Vol. II. pp. 166-168. [Ibidem.]
[* ] [Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge which the Antients had of India, and the Progress of Trade, &c.]
[* ] [Mr. Stewart, though he did not read German, possessed in manuscript an English translation of Heeren’s work on the Policy and Commerce of the Ancient Nations.]
[* ] [Esprit des Loix. Liv. XXI. chap. xvi.]
[* ] [Essays, Vol. I., Essay Of Civil Liberty.]
[† ] [All that follows under II., or the head of National Wealth, is deleted in the older transcript.]
[* ] [Mr. Stewart probably refers to the Traité de la Circulation et du Crédit, Amst. 1771, by Isaac Pinto.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. i.]
[† ] [Ibid.]
[* ] [Sermon preached at Christchurch. London, 1745.]
[† ] [The absurdity of this is shown somewhere in the Dissertation, by Johnson’s own childish superstitions.]
[* ] [With this Chapter terminates Mr. Stewart’s last review and occasional alterations of the context, which were continued so recently as 1823. All hereafter is from the olden Manuscripts, chiefly in 1800; and even what is placed as Chapter Third of this Introduction, stands there only by conjecture.]