Front Page Titles (by Subject) LXXIX: OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE INCREASE OF MANKIND AND THE PEOPLING OF COUNTRIES - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753
Return to Title Page for The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
LXXIX: OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE INCREASE OF MANKIND AND THE PEOPLING OF COUNTRIES - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. II Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. II (Letters and Misc. Writings 1735-1753).
About Liberty Fund:
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
OBSERVATIONS CONCERNING THE INCREASE OF MANKIND AND THE PEOPLING OF COUNTRIES
1. Tables of the proportion of marriages to births, of deaths to births, of marriages to the number of inhabitants, &c., formed on observations made upon the bills of mortality, christenings, &c. of populous cities, will not suit countries; nor will tables formed on observations made on full-settled old countries as Europe, suit new countries as America.1
2. For people increase in proportion to the number of marriages, and that is greater in proportion to the ease and convenience of supporting a family. When families can be easily supported, more persons marry, and earlier in life.
3. In cities, where all trades, occupations, and offices are full, many delay marrying till they can see how to bear the charges of a family; which charges are greater in cities, as luxury is more common; many live single during life and continue servants to families, journeymen to trades; hence cities do not, by natural generation, supply themselves with inhabitants; the deaths are more than the births.
4. In countries full settled the case must be nearly the same; all lands being occupied and improved to the height, those who cannot get land must labor for others that have it; when laborers are plenty their wages will be low; by low wages a family is supported with difficulty; this difficulty deters many from marriage, who therefore long continue servants and single. Only as the cities take supplies of people from the country, and thereby make a little more room in the country, marriage is a little more encouraged there, and the births exceed the deaths.
5. Europe is generally full settled with husbandmen, manufacturers, &c., and therefore cannot now much increase in people. America is chiefly occupied by Indians, who subsist mostly by hunting. The hunter, of all men, requires the greatest quantity of land from whence to draw his subsistence (the husbandman subsisting on much less, the gardener on still less, and the manufacturer requiring least of all). The Europeans found America as fully settled as it well could be by hunters; yet these, having large tracts, were easily prevailed on to part with portions of territory to the new comers, who did not much interfere with the natives in hunting, and furnished them with many things they wanted.
6. Land being thus plenty in America, and so cheap as that a laboring man that understands husbandry can in a short time save money enough to purchase a piece of new land sufficient for a plantation, whereon he may subsist a family, such are not afraid to marry; for, if they even look far enough forward to consider how their children, when grown up, are to be provided for, they see that more land is to be had at rates equally easy, all circumstances considered.
7. Hence, marriages in America are more general, and more generally early than in Europe. And if it is reckoned there that there is but one marriage per annum among one hundred persons, perhaps we may here reckon two; and if in Europe they have but four births to a marriage (many of their marriages being late), we may here reckon eight, of which, if one half grow up, and our marriages are made, reckoning one with another, at twenty years of age, our people must at least be doubled every twenty years.
8. But, notwithstanding this increase, so vast is the territory of North America, that it will require many ages to settle it fully, and, till it is fully settled, labor will never be cheap here, where no man continues long a laborer for others, but gets a plantation of his own; no man continues long a journeyman to a trade, but goes among those new settlers and sets up for himself, &c. Hence labor is no cheaper now in Pennsylvania than it was thirty years ago, though so many thousand laboring people have been imported.
9. The danger, therefore, of these colonies interfering with their mother country in trades that depend on labor, manufactures, &c., is too remote to require the attention of Great Britain.
10. But in proportion to the increase of the colonies, a vast demand is growing for British manufactures, a glorious market wholly in the power of Britain, in which foreigners cannot interfere, which will increase in a short time even beyond her power of supplying, though her whole trade should be to her colonies; therefore, Britain should not too much restrain manufactures in her colonies. A wise and good mother will not do it. To distress is to weaken, and weakening the children weakens the whole family.
11. Besides, if the manufactures of Britain (by reason of the American demands) should rise too high in price, foreigners who can sell cheaper will drive her merchants out of foreign markets; foreign manufactures will thereby be encouraged and increased, and consequently foreign nations, perhaps her rivals in power, grow more populous and more powerful; while her own colonies, kept too low, are unable to assist her, or add to her strength.
12. It is an ill-grounded opinion that, by the labor of slaves, America may possibly vie in cheapness of manufactures with Britain. The labor of slaves can never be so cheap here as the labor of workingmen is in Britain. Any one may compute it. Interest of money is in the colonies from six to ten per cent. Slaves, one with another, cost thirty pounds sterling per head. Reckon then the interest of the first purchase of a slave, the insurance or risk on his life, his clothing and diet, expenses in his sickness and loss of time, loss by his neglect of business (neglect is natural to the man who is not to be benefited by his own care or diligence), expense of a driver to keep him at work, and his pilfering from time to time, almost every slave being by nature a thief, and compare the whole amount with the wages of a manufacturer of iron or wool in England, you will see that labor is much cheaper there than it ever can be by negroes here. Why, then, will Americans purchase slaves? Because slaves may be kept as long as a man pleases, or has occasion for their labor; while hired men are continually leaving their masters (often in the midst of his business) and setting up for themselves (sec. 8).
13. As the increase of people depends on the encouragement of marriages, the following things must diminish a nation, viz.: 1. The being conquered; for the conquerors will engross as many offices and exact as much tribute or profit on the labor of the conquered as will maintain them in their new establishment; and this, diminishing the subsistence of the natives, discourages their marriages, and so gradually diminishes them, while the foreigners increase. 2. Loss of territory. Thus, the Britons being driven into Wales, and crowded together in a barren country, insufficient to support such great numbers, diminished till the people bore a proportion to the produce, while the Saxons increased on their abandoned lands till the island became full of English. And were the English now driven into Wales by some foreign nation, there would in a few years be no more Englishmen in Britain than there are now people in Wales. 3. Loss of trade. Manufactures exported, draw subsistence from foreign countries for numbers, who are thereby enabled to marry and raise families. If the nation be deprived of any branch of trade, and no new employment is found for the people occupied in that branch, it will also be soon deprived of so many people. 4. Loss of food. Suppose a nation has a fishery, which not only employs great numbers, but makes the food and subsistence of the people cheaper. If another nation becomes master of the seas, and prevents the fishery, the people will diminish in proportion as the loss of employ and dearness of provision make it more difficult to subsist a family. 5. Bad government and insecurity of property. People not only leave such a country, and, settling abroad, incorporate with other nations, lose their native language, and become foreigners, but the industry of those that remain being discouraged, the quantity of subsistence in the country is lessened, and the support of a family becomes more difficult. So heavy taxes tend to diminish a people. 6. The introduction of slaves. The negroes brought into the English sugar islands have greatly diminished the whites there; the poor are by this means deprived of employment, while a few families acquire vast estates, which they spend on foreign luxuries, and in educating their children in the habit of those luxuries. The same income is needed for the support of one that might have maintained one hundred. The whites who have slaves, not laboring are enfeebled, and therefore not so generally prolific; the slaves being worked too hard and ill fed, their constitutions are broken, and the deaths among them are more than the births; so that a continual supply is needed from Africa. The northern colonies, having few slaves, increase in whites. Slaves also pejorate the families that use them; the white children become proud, disgusted with labor, and being educated in idleness, are rendered unfit to get a living by industry.
14. Hence, the prince that acquires new territory, if he finds it vacant, or removes the natives to give his own people room; the legislator that makes effectual laws for promoting of trade, increasing employment, improving of land by more or better tillage, providing more food by fisheries, securing property, &c.; and the man that invents new trades, arts, or manufactures, or new improvements in husbandry, may be properly called fathers of their nation, as they are the cause of the generation of multitudes by the encouragement they afford to marriage.
15. As to privileges granted to the married (such as the jus trium liberorum among the Romans), they may hasten the filling of a country that has been thinned by war or pestilence, or that has otherwise vacant territory, but cannot increase a people beyond the means provided for their subsistence.
16. Foreign luxuries and needless manufactures, imported and used in a nation, do, by the same reasoning, increase the people of the nation that furnishes them, and diminish the people of the nation that uses them. Laws, therefore, that prevent such importations, and on the contrary promote the exportation of manufactures to be consumed in foreign countries, may be called (with respect to the people that make them) generative laws, as, by increasing subsistence, they encourage marriage. Such laws likewise strengthen a country doubly, by increasing its own people and diminishing its neighbours.
17. Some European nations prudently refuse to consume the manufactures of East India; they should likewise forbid them to their colonies; for the gain to the merchant is not to be compared with the loss, by this means, of people to the nation.
18. Home luxury in the great increases the nation’s manufacturers employed by it, who are many, and only tends to diminish the families that indulge in it, who are few. The greater the common fashionable expense of any rank of people, the more cautious they are of marriage. Therefore luxury should never be suffered to become common.
19. The great increase of offspring in particular families is not always owing to greater fecundity of nature, but sometimes to examples of industry in the heads, and industrious education; by which the children are enabled to provide better for themselves, and their marrying early is encouraged from the prospect of good subsistence.
20. If there be a sect therefore in our nation that regard frugality and industry as religious duties, and educate their children therein, more than others commonly do, such sect must consequently increase more by natural generation than any other sect in Britain.
21. The importation of foreigners into a country that has as many inhabitants as the present employments and provisions for subsistence will bear, will be in the end no increase of people, unless the new comers have more industry and frugality than the natives, and then they will provide more subsistence, and increase in the country; but they will gradually eat the natives out. Nor is it necessary to bring in foreigners to fill up any occasional vacancy in a country, for such vacancy (if the laws are good, sec. 14, 16) will soon be filled by natural generation. Who can now find the vacancy made in Sweden, France, or other warlike nations, by a plague of heroism forty years ago; in France, by the expulsion of the Protestants; in England, by the settlement of her colonies; or in Guinea, by one hundred years’ exportation of slaves, that has blackened half America? The thinness of inhabitants in Spain is owing to national pride and idleness, and other causes, rather than to the expulsion of the Moors, or to the making of new settlements.
22. There is, in short, no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other’s means of subsistence. Were the face of the earth vacant of other plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread with one kind only, as, for instance, with fennel; and were it empty of other inhabitants, it might in a few ages be replenished from one nation only, as, for instance, with Englishmen. Thus, there are supposed to be now upwards of one million English souls in North America (though it is thought scarce eighty thousand has been brought over sea), and yet perhaps there is not one the fewer in Britain, but rather many more, on account of the employment the colonies afford to manufacturers at home. This million doubling, suppose but once in twenty-five years, will in another century be more than the people of England, and the greatest number of Englishmen will be on this side the water.1 What an accession of power to the British empire by sea as well as land! What increase of trade and navigation! What numbers of ships and seamen! We have been here but little more than one hundred years, and yet the force of our privateers in the late war, united, was greater, both in men and guns, than that of the whole British navy in Queen Elizabeth’s time. How important an affair then to Britain is the present treaty for settling the bounds between her colonies and the French, and how careful should she be to secure room enough, since on the room depends so much the increase of her people.
23. In fine, a nation well regulated is like a polypus. Take away a limb, its place is soon supplied; cut it in two, and each deficient part shall speedily grow out of the part remaining. Thus, if you have room and substance enough, as you may by dividing make ten polypuses out of one, you may of one make ten nations, equally populous and powerful, or rather increase a nation ten fold in numbers and strength.
And since detachments of English from Britain, sent to America, will have their places at home so soon supplied and increase so largely here, why should the Palatine boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and, by herding together, establish their language and manners, to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us, instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs any more than they can acquire our complexion?
24. Which leads me to add one remark, that the number of purely white people in the world is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny; Asia chiefly tawny; America (exclusive of the new comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians, and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who, with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the earth. I could wish their numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, scouring our planet, by clearing America of woods, and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light to the eyes of inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we, in the sight of superior beings, darken its people? Why increase the sons of Africa by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and tawnys, of increasing the lovely white and red? But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind.