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writings, as well as from the suggestions of natural conscience, that none of these objects are to be attempted by means inconsistent with virtue.
The fair result of these three propositions seems to be, that it is incumbent, as a moral duty, upon governments and individuals, to use every exertion which appears conducive to the multiplication of the human species, together with, and in proportion to, the extension of industry and civilization, which ensure subsistence and happiness. In other words, the object of a sound politician should be to place his country in that progressive state, which Dr. Adam Smith, in his Treatise on the Wages of Labour, has justly and clearly shown to be the cheerful and hearty state to all the different orders of the community.” (Wealth of Nations, b. i. c. 8.) And the final view of all rational politics being, as Dr. Paley observes, to produce the greatest quantity of happiness in a given tract of country, it follows that it is also our duty to use every exertion for the purpose of preventing a country from resting in the stationary condition, which Dr. Smith designates as “hard” and “dull,” or from sinking into the declining state, which is described as “miserable * and “ melancholy.”
* The passage is as follows: “It deserves to be remarked, perhaps, that it is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired it’s full complement of riches, that the condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people, seems to be the happiest and most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state is in reality the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of the society. The stationary is dull—the declining melancholy.”
Any system, which professes to found the happiness of a people upon measures having a tendency to produce either of these last-mentioned states, must be no less fallacious and unnatural than a scheme which should seek the same end by means inconsistent with sound political morality. In the following Treatise, therefore, I shall think myself at perfect liberty to argue that the Principle of Population has been adjusted with a view to the following truth, viz. that the condition best adapted to the nature of social man is that which most completely fulfils the end of his Creator in placing him in a social state; namely, a condition of progressive prosperity and of moral improvement.
Now if the moral and political progress of a people constitute the main ingredient in any estimate of their power and happiness, a particular inquiry into the mode in which the principle of population operates among them becomes essentially requisite to the correctness of such estimate. For whenever the due proportion between population and the food provided for its support is to any material extent deranged, a corresponding weakness will be infallibly introduced into some of the vital powers of the commonwealth, by an immediate deterioration in the moral and political state of the people. This conseguence has seldom been positively denied: but politicians (of late years especially) have widely and warmly differed both with respect to the quantum of each which constitutes the due proportion between food and population, and to the means by which such proportion is to be maintained, when once established. Now it is evident that the solution of these questions must very much depend upon the
relative progress which population and the production of food would naturally make in the state of society in which the country whose means we are investigating may happen to exist. If indeed, as hath been lately maintained,” “population hath in all cases a natural tendency to exceed the supply of
food for it's support,” the task of the politician is plain and obvious: he must, in all cases and in every state of society, exert his faculties in preventing the exuberance of the one, and supplying the deficiency of the other. But if, as I venture to contend in the following pages, the natural progress of population varies in its tendency with every variation in the state of society, and seldom, if ever, tends to a vicious exuberance, the duties of the politician must then be regulated according to the circumstances of each particular case; that is to say, he may encourage an increase of population under some conditions of society, although he may discourage it under others. It will, however, be a comfortable discovery, if it shall appear (as I think it will) that in most cases he will best fulfil his duty by leaving things in the hands of Providence; who will probably be admitted to be the most competent legislator in a case which concerns the whole world, and who, contemplating the natural man as a being compounded of mind and body, has been very far (as contended by Mr. Malthus) from regulating the laws relating to the increase of his species by the same calculations which govern the increase of the inanimate or brute creatures, the principle of whose multiplication has
* See Mr. Malthus on Population, passim ; Edinburgh Review; Christian Observer, &c.
evidently been framed with a view to their consumption as food. But taking into view the higher destiny of man, the rational as well as the sensual part of his nature, Providence seems to have afforded full security against every danger, in the spontaneous operations of the human will, where they are not materially interfered with by bad government or evil customs, or vitiated by an extraordinary relaxation of morals: that is to say, wherever an ordinary degree of attention is paid to the express commands of the Creator. This I say would be a comfortable discovery, because it would exceedingly simplify the duties of the politician. Instead of wandering through a maze of intricate problems, uncertain as the capricious nature of the beings it is his object to control, his march would be directed to a few simple points, plainly marked out by an unerring Guide: and what is still better, certain though not complete success would attend his career:-for although Providence does in no instance hold out a prospect of perfect success in the pursuit of moral objects, yet it is reasonable to infer that the happiness of mankind will be proportioned to the earnestness of the pursuit, and the degree of the attainment. On whatever side of these conflicting opinions the truth may ultimately be found to rest, one thing seems very clear—that until we have ascertained the truth we are working in the dark, and may probably counteract our common object, the happiness and welfare of mankind, by the very means we adopt to promote it. Moreover, if we reflect upon the extreme importance of the subject, that it involves nothing less than the very foundations of the moral and political welfare of the whole community of nations as
well as of individuals, we must admit that a grave responsibility is incurred by wilful ignorance or apathy concerning it. It is the glory of this free country that our institutions rest upon the secure basis of candid inquiry and free discussion. It is the glory of such a system that, notwithstanding the ignorance, the prejudices, and the self-interest of mankind, and the mischiefs introduced among them by false but plausible reasoning, truth will ultimately prevail. I am very far, however, from suggesting this circumstance as even a palliation of wilful indulgence in false or superficial reasoning on important matters of policy. A profligate perversion of the mental powers in a pretended pursuit of truth is even more disgraceful than gross and wilful ignorance; and is by no means to be excused by the consideration that the deceit will ultimately be discovered, and further evil prevented, after it has served the purposes of the deceiver. It is not, therefore, without long and anxious consideration, that I have ventured to lay before the public the whole of the system embraced in the following pages. But being upon the whole conscientiously convinced, not only of the truth of my hypothesis, but of it's great importance to the moral and political welfare of my Countrymen and of mankind, I now venture to submit it to their judgment. This conviction has been strengthened by a perusal of what has been advanced during the past five or six years in support of the opposite system. I believe my view of the subject to be in a great degree original; and under these circumstances I feel bound to state it in a manner as plain and as strong as that in which I view it: and my confidence in the success of the statement