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II. Adam Smith's Project of an Empire

  • E. A. Benians (a1)

It is now nearly one hundred and fifty years since the publication of the Wealth of Nations and the Declaration of American Independence. The two events, closely associated in time, recall each other; for in his famous chapter on colonies Adam Smith predicted, with little apparent regret, the loss of the American colonies, and outlined the project of an empire which he thought could have been preserved and been worth preserving. That chapter, though it did not influence the course of the controversy which called it forth, nor, for a time, the colonial policy of Great Britain, has become, none the less, a landmark in the history of the British Empire. After Adam Smith had written, it was possible to think of colonies in a new way, though it was still not impossible to treat them in the old. The united empire of which he dreamed never became a fact, or even a political programme, but the ideas which he advanced bore their fruit in general opinion, and the spirit in which he wrote was in due course to animate a generation of colonial reformers and to bring forth a new and better colonial policy. Durham and his friends did not advocate Smith's imperial Parliament, the “States General of the British Empire,” and they did advocate imperial control of colonial trade, and not his “natural system of perfect liberty and justice”; but one may believe that the faith in the future of the British Empire which inspires the speeches of Molesworth and Buller, the Report on Canada and the Art of Colonization, owed some of its vitality to the courageous Utopia imagined in the Wealth of Nations.

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page 249 note 1 Wealth of Nations, pp. 250, 397. The references to the Wealth of Nations are to the edition by J. S. Nicholson, 1886.

page 249 note 2 Rae, Life of Adam Smith, p. 382.

page 250 note 1 Wealth of Nations, p. 259.

page 250 note 2 Ibid. p. 253.

page 250 note 3 The elder Mirabeau, too, speaks of the English as “the most enlightened of the peoples of Europe in their conduct in the New World.” L'Ami des Hommes (edited by M., Rouxel, 1883), p. 528.

page 252 note 1 Lectures of Adam Smith, edited by E., Cannan, 1896.

page 252 note 2 Knox, W., Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies reviewed, 1769, p. III.

page 252 note 3 Wealth of Nations, p. 242.

page 254 note 1 Turgot, , Oeuvres, Paris, 1808, II. 66.

page 254 note 2 The Mirabeaus were descended from an exiled Florentine family, which had established itself for centuries in a rocky fortress in Provence, and which, in the eighteenth century, blossoming into genius, produced in direct succession the soldier, who fought gloriously in the wars of Louis XIV, the economist, of whom we write, and, in his more famous son, the last great statesman who served the old monarchy.

page 254 note 3 L'Ami des Hommes, edited by M., Rouxel, 1883, p. 544.

page 254 note 4 W. W. Stephens, Life of Turgot, p. 304.

page 254 note 5 Bernard-Barrington Correspondence, edited by Channing and Coolidge (1912), p.97.

page 255 note 1 He never spared that his sharpest sarcasm: “To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers…,” Wealth of Nations, p. 253. He repeats the sentence almost verbally in a passage added to the third edition of his work (p. 274).

page 255 note 2 Feb. 12th, 1767. Rae, Life of Adam Smith, p. 236.

page 255 note 3 Ibid. p. 281.

page 256 note 1 The true interest of Great Britain set forth in regard to the Colonies 1774.

page 256 note 2 He argues from philosophical principles that colonies had a right to be free. The extension of empire was contrary to nature, and everything contrary to nature must have an end. “The chain of reciprocal benevolence is the only one that can connect empires at such a distance,” Raynal, European Establishments in the Indies, translated by Justin. See VI. 3, VII. 486–8, VIII. 366. The doctrine of colonial independence had gained considerable vogue in France, intent since 1763 on a stroke of revenge on Great Britain, philosophic thought and the objects of statesmanship having in this matter attained complete harmony. A little earlier Montesquieu in the Esprit des Lois (1748) had described the monopoly of colonial trade as a fundamental law of Europe (p. 315), and the author of the article, Colonie, in the Encyclopédie, III. (1753), had taken similar ground.

page 256 note 3 Wealth of Nations, pp. 255–8.

page 257 note 1 Wealth of Nations, p. 257.

page 257 note 2 Dean Tucker would not contemplate it for a moment. It was “an idle dream”: “home born Englishmen…would never submit to such an indignity.” Lacking Adam Smith's breadth of view, he could not imagine an empire based on equal union and obeying the law of its growth. He could see no solution but separation or submission by one side to the other.

page 258 note 1 Debates on the Declaratory Act and the Repeal of the Stamp Act 1766. Contributed by C. H. Hull and H. W. V. Temperley. Reprinted from the American Historical Review, XVII. No. 3, p. 580.

page 259 note 1 Franklin Memoirs, III. 374. Letter to Governor Franklin, Sept. 1, 1773.

page 259 note 2 Crowley, Letters and Dissertations.

page 259 note 3 Barrington-Bernard Correspondence, edited by E. Channing, p. 97.

page 259 note 4 Ibid. p. 96.

page 260 note 1 The Present State of the Nation, 1768, pp. 80–2.

page 260 note 2 W. Knox, Extra Official State Papers, II. 30–31.

page 260 note 3 Ibid. Appendix, p. 14.

page 260 note 4 A letter of Governor Pownall to Adam Smith, London, 1776, p. 38.

page 261 note 1 Administration of the Colonies, p. 38. [Third edition, 1766.]

page 261 note 2 Ibid. p. 38.

page 261 note 3 Ibid. p. 24.

page 262 note 1 Administration of the Colonies, Appendix, p. 16.

page 262 note 2 Franklin Memoirs, V. 341.

page 262 note 3 Ibid. III. 293.

page 263 note 1 Egerton, Short History of British Colonial Policy, p. 188.

page 263 note 2 Otis, pp. 53–4.

page 263 note 3 John Adams, Works, edited by C. F. Adams, IV. 119.

page 263 note 4 Ibid. p. 101.

page 263 note 5 Ibid. p. 139.

page 263 note 6 See, for example, Warren-Adams Letters, I. 30 (17431777).

page 263 note 7 John Adams, Works, pp. 107, 116.

page 263 note 8 What these private interests were he does not explain. Thorold Rogers, discussing Adam Smith's scheme, in his Colonial Question writes: “To admit the colonists to a seat in the legislature would have lowered the value of the rotten boroughs…. It would have depreciated the value of those other boroughs which were not in the patronage of private individuals, but were held by a close body of electors who sold themselves to ambitious nabobs.” Cobden Club Essays, Second Series, 18711872, p. 446.

page 264 note 1 Observations on a late publication intituled The Present State of the Nation. Burke, , Works, II. 137–43 [edition 1826].

page 264 note 2 Life of William Pitt, by Basil Williams, II. 302. “Chatham and the Representation of the Colonies in the Imperial Parliament,” English Historical Review, Oct. 1907.

page 265 note 1 Beer, Origins of the British Colonial System, pp. 296, 301.

page 266 note 1 Beer, Origins of the British Colonial System, pp. 340, 348.

page 267 note 1 The proposal was in the following form: “To perpetuate one (our) union by a reciprocal deputation of an agent or agents for the different States, who shall have the privilege of a seat and voice in the parliaments of Great Britain, or if sent from Britain, in that case to have a seat and voice in the assemblies of the different states [to] which [they] may be sent, in order to attend to the several interests of those by whom they are deputed.” Hansard, Parl. Hist, of England, XX. June 11, 1779. This was an attempt to solve the problem by an adaptation of existing institutions. The system of colonial agents had grown up in an irregular way since the Restoration and in the eighteenth century had become permanent and important. The new proposal would have exalted it to a formal and pivotal position in our imperial government.

page 268 note 1 Wealth of Nations, p. 397.

page 273 note 1 Hansard, , Parl. Debates, April 29, 1817.

page 274 note 1 Bodelsen, Studies in Mid-Victorian Imperialism, p. 132. He gives the three references to Parliamentary debates considered below and also some other references to discussions of the matter during this period.

page 274 note 2 Hansard, , Parl. Debates, Aug. 16, 1831.

page 274 note 3 Ibid. Feb. 18, 1850.

page 275 note 1 Ibid. April 28, 1853.

page 275 note 2 Wakefield, Art of Colonization, ed. by J. Collier, p. 301.

page 275 note 3 Ibid. p. 309.

page 276 note 1 Merivale, H., Lectures on Colonization, 1841, II. 290–1. Merivale became Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies 1847–59, but delivered these lectures as Professor of Political Economy at Oxford—a further illustration of the close relation between opinion on colonization and the progress of economic science.

page 277 note 1 We are reminded of the plea of the Barbadians, who in the seventeenth century twice asked for representation in Parliament. They thought distance an obstacle that could be overcome: “…we must lose our Country upon the account of Space, a thing little more than imaginary.” Beer, Origins of the British Colonial System, pp. 294–5 n.

page 277 note 2 Thorold Rogers, Colonial Question, Cobden Club Essays, pp. 449–50.

page 277 note 3 Pitt would have opened it freely immediately after the war, but the opposition to such a breach of the old system was too strong.

page 277 note 4 It was disputed by Ricardo who maintained that colonial trade could be so regulated as to be more beneficial to the mother country than a perfectly free trade. Ricardo, Works, ed. by McCulloch, p. 207.

page 278 note 1 Lord Grey, Colonial Policy, I. 9.

page 278 note 2 Ibid. I. 282.

page 280 note 1 G. C. Lewis, Essay on the Government of Dependencies, chap. vi.

page 280 note 2 Huskisson, Speeches, III. 367–8.

page 280 note 3 Ibid. III. 286–7.

page 280 note 4 Ibid. III. 313.

page 281 note 1 Lord Grey, Colonial Policy, I. II.

page 281 note 2 S. J. Reid, Life of Lord Durham, II. 137.

page 281 note 3 Lord Grey, Colonial Policy, I. 17–18.

page 281 note 4 Thorold Rogers, Colonial Question, Cobden Club Essays, p. 410.

page 281 note 5 Wealth of Nations, ed. by McCulloch, p. 609.

page 282 note 1 Cairns, J. E., Political Essays, pp. 57–58.

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