An Essay on the Principle of Population
Thomas Malthus

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This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo

Thomas Malthus
An Essay on the Principle of Population




The following Essay owes its origin to a conversation with a
friend, on the subject of Mr Godwin's essay on avarice and
profusion, in his Enquirer. The discussion started the general
question of the future improvement of society, and the Author at
first sat down with an intention of merely stating his thoughts
to his friend, upon paper, in a clearer manner than he thought he
could do in conversation. But as the subject opened upon him,
some ideas occurred, which he did not recollect to have met with
before; and as he conceived that every least light, on a topic so
generally interesting, might be received with candour, he
determined to put his thoughts in a form for publication.

The Essay might, undoubtedly, have been rendered much more
complete by a collection of a greater number of facts in
elucidation of the general argument. But a long and almost total
interruption from very particular business, joined to a desire
(perhaps imprudent) of not delaying the publication much beyond
the time that he originally proposed, prevented the Author from
giving to the subject an undivided attention. He presumes,
however, that the facts which he has adduced will be found to
form no inconsiderable evidence for the truth of his opinion
respecting the future improvement of mankind. As the Author
contemplates this opinion at present, little more appears to him
to be necessary than a plain statement, in addition to the most
cursory view of society, to establish it.

It is an obvious truth, which has been taken notice of by
many writers, that population must always be kept down to the
level of the means of subsistence; but no writer that the Author
recollects has inquired particularly into the means by which this
level is effected: and it is a view of these means which forms,
to his mind, the strongest obstacle in the way to any very great
future improvement of society. He hopes it will appear that, in
the discussion of this interesting subject, he is actuated solely
by a love of truth, and not by any prejudices against any
particular set of men, or of opinions. He professes to have read
some of the speculations on the future improvement of society in
a temper very different from a wish to find them visionary, but
he has not acquired that command over his understanding which
would enable him to believe what he wishes, without evidence, or
to refuse his assent to what might be unpleasing, when
accompanied with evidence.

The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy
hue, but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints
from a conviction that they are really in the picture, and not
from a jaundiced eye or an inherent spleen of disposition. The
theory of mind which he has sketched in the two last chapters
accounts to his own understanding in a satisfactory manner for
the existence of most of the evils of life, but whether it will
have the same effect upon others must be left to the judgement of
his readers.

If he should succeed in drawing the attention of more able
men to what he conceives to be the principal difficulty in the
way to the improvement of society and should, in consequence, see
this difficulty removed, even in theory, he will gladly retract
his present opinions and rejoice in a conviction of his error.

7 June 1798


Question stated--Little prospect of a determination of it, from
the enmity of the opposing parties--The principal argument
against the perfectibility of man and of society has never been
fairly answered--Nature of the difficulty arising from
population--Outline of the principal argument of the Essay

The great and unlooked for discoveries that have taken place of
late years in natural philosophy, the increasing diffusion of
general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing, the
ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout
the lettered and even unlettered world, the new and extraordinary
lights that have been thrown on political subjects which dazzle
and astonish the understanding, and particularly that tremendous
phenomenon in the political horizon, the French Revolution,
which, like a blazing comet, seems destined either to inspire
with fresh life and vigour, or to scorch up and destroy the
shrinking inhabitants of the earth, have all concurred to lead
many able men into the opinion that we were touching on a period
big with the most important changes, changes that would in some
measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.

It has been said that the great question is now at issue,
whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated
velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived
improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between
happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an
immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.

Yet, anxiously as every friend of mankind must look forwards
to the termination of this painful suspense, and eagerly as the
inquiring mind would hail every ray of light that might assist
its view into futurity, it is much to be lamented that the
writers on each side of this momentous question still keep far
aloof from each other. Their mutual arguments do not meet with a
candid examination. The question is not brought to rest on fewer
points, and even in theory scarcely seems to be approaching to a

The advocate for the present order of things is apt to treat
the sect of speculative philosophers either as a set of artful
and designing knaves who preach up ardent benevolence and draw
captivating pictures of a happier state of society only the
better to enable them to destroy the present establishments and
to forward their own deep-laid schemes of ambition, or as wild
and mad-headed enthusiasts whose silly speculations and absurd
paradoxes are not worthy the attention of any reasonable man.

The advocate for the perfectibility of man, and of society,
retorts on the defender of establishments a more than equal
contempt. He brands him as the slave of the most miserable and
narrow prejudices; or as the defender of the abuses of civil
society only because he profits by them. He paints him either as
a character who prostitutes his understanding to his interest, or
as one whose powers of mind are not of a size to grasp any thing
great and noble, who cannot see above five yards before him, and
who must therefore be utterly unable to take in the views of the
enlightened benefactor of mankind.

In this unamicable contest the cause of truth cannot but
suffer. The really good arguments on each side of the question
are not allowed to have their proper weight. Each pursues his own
theory, little solicitous to correct or improve it by an
attention to what is advanced by his opponents.

The friend of the present order of things condemns all
political speculations in the gross. He will not even condescend
to examine the grounds from which the perfectibility of society
is inferred. Much less will he give himself the trouble in a fair
and candid manner to attempt an exposition of their fallacy.

The speculative philosopher equally offends against the cause
of truth. With eyes fixed on a happier state of society, the
blessings of which he paints in the most captivating colours, he
allows himself to indulge in the most bitter invectives against
every present establishment, without applying his talents to
consider the best and safest means of removing abuses and without
seeming to be aware of the tremendous obstacles that threaten,
even in theory, to oppose the progress of man towards perfection.

It is an acknowledged truth in philosophy that a just theory
will always be confirmed by experiment. Yet so much friction, and
so many minute circumstances occur in practice, which it is next
to impossible for the most enlarged and penetrating mind to
foresee, that on few subjects can any theory be pronounced just,
till all the arguments against it have been maturely weighed and
clearly and consistently refuted.

I have read some of the speculations on the perfectibility of
man and of society with great pleasure. I have been warmed and
delighted with the enchanting picture which they hold forth. I
ardently wish for such happy improvements. But I see great, and,
to my understanding, unconquerable difficulties in the way to
them. These difficulties it is my present purpose to state,
declaring, at the same time, that so far from exulting in them,
as a cause of triumph over the friends of innovation, nothing
would give me greater pleasure than to see them completely

The most important argument that I shall adduce is certainly
not new. The principles on which it depends have been explained
in part by Hume, and more at large by Dr Adam Smith. It has been
advanced and applied to the present subject, though not with its
proper weight, or in the most forcible point of view, by Mr
Wallace, and it may probably have been stated by many writers
that I have never met with. I should certainly therefore not
think of advancing it again, though I mean to place it in a point
of view in some degree different from any that I have hitherto
seen, if it had ever been fairly and satisfactorily answered.

The cause of this neglect on the part of the advocates for
the perfectibility of mankind is not easily accounted for. I
cannot doubt the talents of such men as Godwin and Condorcet. I
am unwilling to doubt their candour. To my understanding, and
probably to that of most others, the difficulty appears
insurmountable. Yet these men of acknowledged ability and
penetration scarcely deign to notice it, and hold on their course
in such speculations with unabated ardour and undiminished
confidence. I have certainly no right to say that they purposely
shut their eyes to such arguments. I ought rather to doubt the
validity of them, when neglected by such men, however forcibly
their truth may strike my own mind. Yet in this respect it must
be acknowledged that we are all of us too prone to err. If I saw
a glass of wine repeatedly presented to a man, and he took no
notice of it, I should be apt to think that he was blind or
uncivil. A juster philosophy might teach me rather to think that
my eyes deceived me and that the offer was not really what I
conceived it to be.

In entering upon the argument I must premise that I put out
of the question, at present, all mere conjectures, that is, all
suppositions, the probable realization of which cannot be
inferred upon any just philosophical grounds. A writer may tell
me that he thinks man will ultimately become an ostrich. I cannot
properly contradict him. But before he can expect to bring any
reasonable person over to his opinion, he ought to shew that the
necks of mankind have been gradually elongating, that the lips
have grown harder and more prominent, that the legs and feet are
daily altering their shape, and that the hair is beginning to
change into stubs of feathers. And till the probability of so
wonderful a conversion can be shewn, it is surely lost time and
lost eloquence to expatiate on the happiness of man in such a
state; to describe his powers, both of running and flying, to
paint him in a condition where all narrow luxuries would be
contemned, where he would be employed only in collecting the
necessaries of life, and where, consequently, each man's share of
labour would be light, and his portion of leisure ample.

I think I may fairly make two postulata.

First, That food is necessary to the existence of man.

Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and
will remain nearly in its present state.

These two laws, ever since we have had any knowledge of
mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of our nature, and, as we
have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right
to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are,
without an immediate act of power in that Being who first
arranged the system of the universe, and for the advantage of his
creatures, still executes, according to fixed laws, all its
various operations.

I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth
man will ultimately be able to live without food. But Mr Godwin
has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be
extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work a
deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell longer
upon it at present than to say that the best arguments for the
perfectibility of man are drawn from a contemplation of the great
progress that he has already made from the savage state and the
difficulty of saying where he is to stop. But towards the
extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever
has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at
present as it did two thousand or four thousand years ago. There
are individual exceptions now as there always have been. But, as
these exceptions do not appear to increase in number, it would
surely be a very unphilosophical mode of arguing to infer, merely
from the existence of an exception, that the exception would, in
time, become the rule, and the rule the exception.

Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power
of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth
to produce subsistence for man.

Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.
Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight
acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first
power in comparison of the second.

By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the
life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept

This implies a strong and constantly operating check on
population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty
must fall somewhere and must necessarily be severely felt by a
large portion of mankind.

Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms, nature has
scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and
liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and
the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence
contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room
to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a
few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious all pervading law
of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race
of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great
restrictive law. And the race of man cannot, by any efforts of
reason, escape from it. Among plants and animals its effects are
waste of seed, sickness, and premature death. Among mankind,
misery and vice. The former, misery, is an absolutely necessary
consequence of it. Vice is a highly probable consequence, and we
therefore see it abundantly prevail, but it ought not, perhaps,
to be called an absolutely necessary consequence. The ordeal of
virtue is to resist all temptation to evil.

This natural inequality of the two powers of population and
of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature
which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great
difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the
perfectibility of society. All other arguments are of slight and
subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by
which man can escape from the weight of this law which pervades
all animated nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulations
in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for
a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive
against the possible existence of a society, all the members of
which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure;
and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for
themselves and families.

Consequently, if the premises are just, the argument is
conclusive against the perfectibility of the mass of mankind.

I have thus sketched the general outline of the argument, but
I will examine it more particularly, and I think it will be found
that experience, the true source and foundation of all knowledge,
invariably confirms its truth.


The different ratio in which population and food increase--The
necessary effects of these different ratios of increase--
Oscillation produced by them in the condition of the lower
classes of society--Reasons why this oscillation has not been so
much observed as might be expected--Three propositions on which
the general argument of the Essay depends--The different states
in which mankind have been known to exist proposed to be examined
with reference to these three propositions.

I said that population, when unchecked, increased in a
geometrical ratio, and subsistence for man in an arithmetical

Let us examine whether this position be just. I think it will
be allowed, that no state has hitherto existed (at least that we
have any account of) where the manners were so pure and simple,
and the means of subsistence so abundant, that no check whatever
has existed to early marriages, among the lower classes, from a
fear of not providing well for their families, or among the
higher classes, from a fear of lowering their condition in life.
Consequently in no state that we have yet known has the power of
population been left to exert itself with perfect freedom.

Whether the law of marriage be instituted or not, the dictate
of nature and virtue seems to be an early attachment to one
woman. Supposing a liberty of changing in the case of an
unfortunate choice, this liberty would not affect population till
it arose to a height greatly vicious; and we are now supposing
the existence of a society where vice is scarcely known.

In a state therefore of great equality and virtue, where pure
and simple manners prevailed, and where the means of subsistence
were so abundant that no part of the society could have any fears
about providing amply for a family, the power of population being
left to exert itself unchecked, the increase of the human species
would evidently be much greater than any increase that has been
hitherto known.

In the United States of America, where the means of
subsistence have been more ample, the manners of the people more
pure, and consequently the checks to early marriages fewer, than
in any of the modern states of Europe, the population has been
found to double itself in twenty-five years.

This ratio of increase, though short of the utmost power of
population, yet as the result of actual experience, we will take
as our rule, and say, that population, when unchecked, goes on
doubling itself every twenty-five years or increases in a
geometrical ratio.

Let us now take any spot of earth, this Island for instance,
and see in what ratio the subsistence it affords can be supposed
to increase. We will begin with it under its present state of

If I allow that by the best possible policy, by breaking up
more land and by great encouragements to agriculture, the produce
of this Island may be doubled in the first twenty-five years, I
think it will be allowing as much as any person can well demand.

In the next twenty-five years, it is impossible to suppose
that the produce could be quadrupled. It would be contrary to all
our knowledge of the qualities of land. The very utmost that we
can conceive, is, that the increase in the second twenty-five
years might equal the present produce. Let us then take this for
our rule, though certainly far beyond the truth, and allow that,
by great exertion, the whole produce of the Island might be
increased every twenty-five years, by a quantity of subsistence
equal to what it at present produces. The most enthusiastic
speculator cannot suppose a greater increase than this. In a few
centuries it would make every acre of land in the Island like a

Yet this ratio of increase is evidently arithmetical.

It may be fairly said, therefore, that the means of
subsistence increase in an arithmetical ratio. Let us now bring
the effects of these two ratios together.

The population of the Island is computed to be about seven
millions, and we will suppose the present produce equal to the
support of such a number. In the first twenty-five years the
population would be fourteen millions, and the food being also
doubled, the means of subsistence would be equal to this
increase. In the next twenty-five years the population would be
twenty-eight millions, and the means of subsistence only equal to
the support of twenty-one millions. In the next period, the
population would be fifty-six millions, and the means of
subsistence just sufficient for half that number. And at the
conclusion of the first century the population would be one
hundred and twelve millions and the means of subsistence only
equal to the support of thirty-five millions, which would leave a
population of seventy-seven millions totally unprovided for.

A great emigration necessarily implies unhappiness of some
kind or other in the country that is deserted. For few persons
will leave their families, connections, friends, and native land,
to seek a settlement in untried foreign climes, without some
strong subsisting causes of uneasiness where they are, or the
hope of some great advantages in the place to which they are

But to make the argument more general and less interrupted by
the partial views of emigration, let us take the whole earth,
instead of one spot, and suppose that the restraints to
population were universally removed. If the subsistence for man
that the earth affords was to be increased every twenty-five
years by a quantity equal to what the whole world at present
produces, this would allow the power of production in the earth
to be absolutely unlimited, and its ratio of increase much
greater than we can conceive that any possible exertions of
mankind could make it.

Taking the population of the world at any number, a thousand
millions, for instance, the human species would increase in the
ratio of--1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, etc. and
subsistence as--1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, etc. In two
centuries and a quarter, the population would be to the means of
subsistence as 512 to 10: in three centuries as 4096 to 13, and
in two thousand years the difference would be almost
incalculable, though the produce in that time would have
increased to an immense extent.

No limits whatever are placed to the productions of the
earth; they may increase for ever and be greater than any
assignable quantity, yet still the power of population being a
power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can
only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of
subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of
necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.

The effects of this check remain now to be considered.

Among plants and animals the view of the subject is simple.
They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase of
their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no reasoning
or doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever therefore
there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted, and the
superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room
and nourishment, which is common to animals and plants, and among
animals by becoming the prey of others.

The effects of this check on man are more complicated.
Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful
instinct, reason interrupts his career and asks him whether he
may not bring beings into the world for whom he cannot provide
the means of subsistence. In a state of equality, this would be
the simple question. In the present state of society, other
considerations occur. Will he not lower his rank in life? Will he
not subject himself to greater difficulties than he at present
feels? Will he not be obliged to labour harder? and if he has a
large family, will his utmost exertions enable him to support
them? May he not see his offspring in rags and misery, and
clamouring for bread that he cannot give them? And may he not be
reduced to the grating necessity of forfeiting his independence,
and of being obliged to the sparing hand of charity for support?

These considerations are calculated to prevent, and certainly
do prevent, a very great number in all civilized nations from
pursuing the dictate of nature in an early attachment to one
woman. And this restraint almost necessarily, though not
absolutely so, produces vice. Yet in all societies, even those
that are most vicious, the tendency to a virtuous attachment is
so strong that there is a constant effort towards an increase of
population. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject
the lower classes of the society to distress and to prevent any
great permanent amelioration of their condition.

The way in which, these effects are produced seems to be
this. We will suppose the means of subsistence in any country
just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants. The constant
effort towards population, which is found to act even in the most
vicious societies, increases the number of people before the
means of subsistence are increased. The food therefore which
before supported seven millions must now be divided among seven
millions and a half or eight millions. The poor consequently must
live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe distress.
The number of labourers also being above the proportion of the
work in the market, the price of labour must tend toward a
decrease, while the price of provisions would at the same time
tend to rise. The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the
same as he did before. During this season of distress, the
discouragements to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a
family are so great that population is at a stand. In the mean
time the cheapness of labour, the plenty of labourers, and the
necessity of an increased industry amongst them, encourage
cultivators to employ more labour upon their land, to turn up
fresh soil, and to manure and improve more completely what is
already in tillage, till ultimately the means of subsistence
become in the same proportion to the population as at the period
from which we set out. The situation of the labourer being then
again tolerably comfortable, the restraints to population are in
some degree loosened, and the same retrograde and progressive
movements with respect to happiness are repeated.

This sort of oscillation will not be remarked by superficial
observers, and it may be difficult even for the most penetrating
mind to calculate its periods. Yet that in all old states some
such vibration does exist, though from various transverse causes,
in a much less marked, and in a much more irregular manner than I
have described it, no reflecting man who considers the subject
deeply can well doubt.

Many reasons occur why this oscillation has been less
obvious, and less decidedly confirmed by experience, than might
naturally be expected.

One principal reason is that the histories of mankind that we
possess are histories only of the higher classes. We have but few
accounts that can be depended upon of the manners and customs of
that part of mankind where these retrograde and progressive
movements chiefly take place. A satisfactory history of this
kind, on one people, and of one period, would require the
constant and minute attention of an observing mind during a long
life. Some of the objects of inquiry would be, in what proportion
to the number of adults was the number of marriages, to what
extent vicious customs prevailed in consequence of the restraints
upon matrimony, what was the comparative mortality among the
children of the most distressed part of the community and those
who lived rather more at their ease, what were the variations in
the real price of labour, and what were the observable
differences in the state of the lower classes of society with
respect to ease and happiness, at different times during a
certain period.

Such a history would tend greatly to elucidate the manner in
which the constant check upon population acts and would probably
prove the existence of the retrograde and progressive movements
that have been mentioned, though the times of their vibrations
must necessarily be rendered irregular from the operation of many
interrupting causes, such as the introduction or failure of
certain manufactures, a greater or less prevalent spirit of
agricultural enterprise, years of plenty, or years of scarcity,
wars and pestilence, poor laws, the invention of processes for
shortening labour without the proportional extension of the
market for the commodity, and, particularly, the difference
between the nominal and real price of labour, a circumstance
which has perhaps more than any other contributed to conceal this
oscillation from common view.

It very rarely happens that the nominal price of labour
universally falls, but we well know that it frequently remains
the same, while the nominal price of provisions has been
gradually increasing. This is, in effect, a real fall in the
price of labour, and during this period the condition of the
lower orders of the community must gradually grow worse and
worse. But the farmers and capitalists are growing rich from the
real cheapness of labour. Their increased capitals enable them to
employ a greater number of men. Work therefore may be plentiful,
and the price of labour would consequently rise. But the want of
freedom in the market of labour, which occurs more or less in all
communities, either from parish laws, or the more general cause
of the facility of combination among the rich, and its difficulty
among the poor, operates to prevent the price of labour from
rising at the natural period, and keeps it down some time longer;
perhaps till a year of scarcity, when the clamour is too loud and
the necessity too apparent to be resisted.

The true cause of the advance in the price of labour is thus
concealed, and the rich affect to grant it as an act of
compassion and favour to the poor, in consideration of a year of
scarcity, and, when plenty returns, indulge themselves in the
most unreasonable of all complaints, that the price does not
again fall, when a little rejection would shew them that it must
have risen long before but from an unjust conspiracy of their

But though the rich by unfair combinations contribute
frequently to prolong a season of distress among the poor, yet no
possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action
of misery upon a great part of mankind, if in a state of
inequality, and upon all, if all were equal.

The theory on which the truth of this position depends
appears to me so extremely clear that I feel at a loss to
conjecture what part of it can be denied.

That population cannot increase without the means of
subsistence is a proposition so evident that it needs no

That population does invariably increase where there are the
means of subsistence, the history of every people that have ever
existed will abundantly prove.

And that the superior power of population cannot be checked
without producing misery or vice, the ample portion of these too
bitter ingredients in the cup of human life and the continuance
of the physical causes that seem to have produced them bear too
convincing a testimony.

But, in order more fully to ascertain the validity of these
three propositions, let us examine the different states in which
mankind have been known to exist. Even a cursory review will, I
think, be sufficient to convince us that these propositions are
incontrovertible truths.


The savage or hunter state shortly reviewed--The shepherd state,
or the tribes of barbarians that overran the Roman Empire--The
superiority of the power of population to the means of
subsistence--the cause of the great tide of Northern Emigration.

In the rudest state of mankind, in which hunting is the principal
occupation, and the only mode of acquiring food; the means of
subsistence being scattered over a large extent of territory, the
comparative population must necessarily be thin. It is said that
the passion between the sexes is less ardent among the North
American Indians, than among any other race of men. Yet,
notwithstanding this apathy, the effort towards population, even
in this people, seems to be always greater than the means to
support it. This appears, from the comparatively rapid population
that takes place, whenever any of the tribes happen to settle in
some fertile spot, and to draw nourishment from more fruitful
sources than that of hunting; and it has been frequently remarked
that when an Indian family has taken up its abode near any
European settlement, and adopted a more easy and civilized mode of
life, that one woman has reared five, or six, or more children;
though in the savage state it rarely happens that above one or
two in a family grow up to maturity. The same observation has
been made with regard to the Hottentots near the Cape. These
facts prove the superior power of population to the means of
subsistence in nations of hunters, and that this power always
shews itself the moment it is left to act with freedom.

It remains to inquire whether this power can be checked, and
its effects kept equal to the means of subsistence, without vice
or misery.

The North American Indians, considered as a people, cannot
justly be called free and equal. In all the accounts we have of
them, and, indeed, of most other savage nations, the women are
represented as much more completely in a state of slavery to the
men than the poor are to the rich in civilized countries. One
half the nation appears to act as Helots to the other half, and
the misery that checks population falls chiefly, as it always
must do, upon that part whose condition is lowest in the scale of
society. The infancy of man in the simplest state requires
considerable attention, but this necessary attention the women
cannot give, condemned as they are to the inconveniences and
hardships of frequent change of place and to the constant and
unremitting drudgery of preparing every thing for the reception
of their tyrannic lords. These exertions, sometimes during
pregnancy or with children at their backs, must occasion frequent
miscarriages, and prevent any but the most robust infants from
growing to maturity. Add to these hardships of the women the
constant war that prevails among savages, and the necessity which
they frequently labour under of exposing their aged and helpless
parents, and of thus violating the first feelings of nature, and
the picture will not appear very free from the blot of misery. In
estimating the happiness of a savage nation, we must not fix our
eyes only on the warrior in the prime of life: he is one of a
hundred: he is the gentleman, the man of fortune, the chances
have been in his favour and many efforts have failed ere this
fortunate being was produced, whose guardian genius should
preserve him through the numberless dangers with which he would
be surrounded from infancy to manhood. The true points of
comparison between two nations seem to be the ranks in each which
appear nearest to answer to each other. And in this view, I
should compare the warriors in the prime of life with the
gentlemen, and the women, children, and aged, with the lower
classes of the community in civilized states.

May we not then fairly infer from this short review, or
rather, from the accounts that may be referred to of nations of
hunters, that their population is thin from the scarcity of food,
that it would immediately increase if food was in greater plenty,
and that, putting vice out of the question among savages, misery
is the check that represses the superior power of population and
keeps its effects equal to the means of subsistence. Actual
observation and experience tell us that this check, with a few
local and temporary exceptions, is constantly acting now upon all
savage nations, and the theory indicates that it probably acted
with nearly equal strength a thousand years ago, and it may not
be much greater a thousand years hence.

Of the manners and habits that prevail among nations of
shepherds, the next state of mankind, we are even more ignorant
than of the savage state. But that these nations could not escape
the general lot of misery arising from the want of subsistence,
Europe, and all the fairest countries in the world, bear ample
testimony. Want was the goad that drove the Scythian shepherds
from their native haunts, like so many famished wolves in search
of prey. Set in motion by this all powerful cause, clouds of
Barbarians seemed to collect from all points of the northern
hemisphere. Gathering fresh darkness and terror as they rolled
on, the congregated bodies at length obscured the sun of italy
and sunk the whole world in universal night. These tremendous
effects, so long and so deeply felt throughout the fairest
portions of the earth, may be traced to the simple cause of the
superior power of population to the means of subsistence.

It is well known that a country in pasture cannot support so
many inhabitants as a country in tillage, but what renders
nations of shepherds so formidable is the power which they
possess of moving all together and the necessity they frequently
feel of exerting this power in search of fresh pasture for their
herds. A tribe that was rich in cattle had an immediate plenty of
food. Even the parent stock might be devoured in a case of
absolute necessity. The women lived in greater ease than among
nations of hunters. The men bold in their united strength and
confiding in their power of procuring pasture for their cattle by
change of place, felt, probably, but few fears about providing
for a family. These combined causes soon produced their natural
and invariable effect, an extended population. A more frequent
and rapid change of place became then necessary. A wider and more
extensive territory was successively occupied. A broader
desolation extended all around them. Want pinched the less
fortunate members of the society, and, at length, the
impossibility of supporting such a number together became too
evident to be resisted. Young scions were then pushed out from
the parent-stock and instructed to explore fresh regions and to
gain happier seats for themselves by their swords. 'The world was
all before them where to choose.' Restless from present distress,
flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the
spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers were likely
to become formidable adversaries to all who opposed them. The
peaceful inhabitants of the countries on which they rushed could
not long withstand the energy of men acting under such powerful
motives of exertion. And when they fell in with any tribes like
their own, the contest was a struggle for existence, and they
fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the rejection that
death was the punishment of defeat and life the prize of victory.

In these savage contests many tribes must have been utterly
exterminated. Some, probably, perished by hardship and famine.
Others, whose leading star had given them a happier direction,
became great and powerful tribes, and, in their turns, sent off
fresh adventurers in search of still more fertile seats. The
prodigious waste of human life occasioned by this perpetual
struggle for room and food was more than supplied by the mighty
power of population, acting, in some degree, unshackled from the
consent habit of emigration. The tribes that migrated towards the
South, though they won these more fruitful regions by continual
battles, rapidly increased in number and power, from the
increased means of subsistence. Till at length the whole
territory, from the confines of China to the shores of the
Baltic, was peopled by a various race of Barbarians, brave,
robust, and enterprising, inured to hardship, and delighting in
war. Some tribes maintained their independence. Others ranged
themselves under the standard of some barbaric chieftain who led
them to victory after victory, and what was of more importance,
to regions abounding in corn, wine, and oil, the long wished for
consummation, and great reward of their labours. An Alaric, an
Attila, or a Zingis Khan, and the chiefs around them, might fight
for glory, for the fame of extensive conquests, but the true
cause that set in motion the great tide of northern emigration,
and that continued to propel it till it rolled at different
periods against China, Persia, italy, and even Egypt, was a
scarcity of food, a population extended beyond the means of
supporting it.

The absolute population at any one period, in proportion to
the extent of territory, could never be great, on account of the
unproductive nature of some of the regions occupied; but there
appears to have been a most rapid succession of human beings, and
as fast as some were mowed down by the scythe of war or of
famine, others rose in increased numbers to supply their place.
Among these bold and improvident Barbarians, population was
probably but little checked, as in modern states, from a fear of
future difficulties. A prevailing hope of bettering their
condition by change of place, a constant expectation of plunder,
a power even, if distressed, of selling their children as slaves,
added to the natural carelessness of the barbaric character, all
conspired to raise a population which remained to be repressed
afterwards by famine or war.

Where there is any inequality of conditions, and among
nations of shepherds this soon takes place, the distress arising
from a scarcity of provisions must fall hardest upon the least
fortunate members of the society. This distress also must
frequently have been felt by the women, exposed to casual plunder
in the absence of their husbands, and subject to continual
disappointments in their expected return.

But without knowing enough of the minute and intimate history
of these people, to point out precisely on what part the distress
for want of food chiefly fell, and to what extent it was
generally felt, I think we may fairly say, from all the accounts
that we have of nations of shepherds, that population invariably
increased among them whenever, by emigration or any other cause,
the means of subsistence were increased, and that a further
population was checked, and the actual population kept equal to
the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.

For, independently of any vicious customs that might have
prevailed amongst them with regard to women, which always operate
as checks to population, it must be acknowledged, I think, that
the commission of war is vice, and the effect of it misery, and
none can doubt the misery of want of food.


State of civilized nations--Probability that Europe is much more
populous now than in the time of Julius Caesar--Best criterion
of population--Probable error of Hume in one the criterions that
he proposes as assisting in an estimate of population--Slow
increase of population at present in most of the states of Europe
--The two principal checks to population--The first, or
preventive check examined with regard to England.

In examining the next state of mankind with relation to the
question before us, the state of mixed pasture and tillage, in
which with some variation in the proportions the most civilized
nations must always remain, we shall be assisted in our review by
what we daily see around us, by actual experience, by facts that
come within the scope of every man's observation.

Notwithstanding the exaggerations of some old historians,
there can remain no doubt in the mind of any thinking man that
the population of the principal countries of Europe, France,
England, Germany, Russia, Poland, Sweden, and Denmark is much
greater than ever it was in former times. The obvious reason of
these exaggerations is the formidable aspect that even a thinly
peopled nation must have, when collected together and moving all
at once in search of fresh seats. If to this tremendous
appearance be added a succession at certain intervals of similar
emigrations, we shall not be much surprised that the fears of
the timid nations of the South represented the North as a region
absolutely swarming with human beings. A nearer and juster view
of the subject at present enables us to see that the inference
was as absurd as if a man in this country, who was continually
meeting on the road droves of cattle from Wales and the North,
was immediately to conclude that these countries were the most
productive of all the parts of the kingdom.

The reason that the greater part of Europe is more populous
now than it was in former times, is that the industry of the
inhabitants has made these countries produce a greater quantity
of human subsistence. For I conceive that it may be laid down as
a position not to be controverted, that, taking a sufficient
extent of territory to include within it exportation and
importation, and allowing some variation for the prevalence of
luxury, or of frugal habits, that population constantly bears a
regular proportion to the food that the earth is made to produce.
In the controversy concerning the populousness of ancient and
modern nations, could it be clearly ascertained that the average
produce of the countries in question, taken altogether, is
greater now than it was in the times of Julius Caesar, the
dispute would be at once determined.

When we are assured that China is the most fertile country in
the world, that almost all the land is in tillage, and that a
great part of it bears two crops every year, and further, that
the people live very frugally, we may infer with certainty that
the population must be immense, without busying ourselves in
inquiries into the manners and habits of the lower classes and
the encouragements to early marriages. But these inquiries are of
the utmost importance, and a minute history of the customs of the
lower Chinese would be of the greatest use in ascertaining in
what manner the checks to a further population operate; what are
the vices, and what are the distresses that prevent an increase
of numbers beyond the ability of the country to support.

Hume, in his essay on the populousness of ancient and modern
nations, when he intermingles, as he says, an inquiry concerning
causes with that concerning facts, does not seem to see with his
usual penetration how very little some of the causes he alludes
to could enable him to form any judgement of the actual
population of ancient nations. If any inference can be drawn from
them, perhaps it should be directly the reverse of what Hume
draws, though I certainly ought to speak with great diffidence in
dissenting from a man who of all others on such subjects was the
least likely to be deceived by first appearances. If I find that
at a certain period in ancient history, the encouragements to
have a family were great, that early marriages were consequently
very prevalent, and that few persons remained single, I should
infer with certainty that population was rapidly increasing, but
by no means that it was then actually very great, rather; indeed,
the contrary, that it was then thin and that there was room and
food for a much greater number. On the other hand, if I find that
at this period the difficulties attending a family were very
great, that, consequently, few early marriages took place, and
that a great number of both sexes remained single, I infer with
certainty that population was at a stand, and, probably, because
the actual population was very great in proportion to the
fertility of the land and that there was scarcely room and food
for more. The number of footmen, housemaids, and other persons
remaining unmarried in modern states, Hume allows to be rather an
argument against their population. I should rather draw a
contrary inference and consider it an argument of their fullness,
though this inference is not certain, because there are many
thinly inhabited states that are yet stationary in their
population. To speak, therefore, correctly, perhaps it may be
said that the number of unmarried persons in proportion to the
whole number, existing at different periods, in the same or
different states will enable us to judge whether population at
these periods was increasing, stationary, or decreasing, but will
form no criterion by which we can determine the actual

There is, however, a circumstance taken notice of in most of
the accounts we have of China that it seems difficult to
reconcile with this reasoning. It is said that early marriages
very generally prevail through all the ranks of the Chinese. Yet
Dr Adam Smith supposes that population in China is stationary.
These two circumstances appear to be irreconcilable. It certainly
seems very little probable that the population of China is fast
increasing. Every acre of land has been so long in cultivation
that we can hardly conceive there is any great yearly addition to
the average produce. The fact, perhaps, of the universality of
early marriages may not be sufficiently ascertained. If it be
supposed true, the only way of accounting for the difficulty,
with our present knowledge of the subject, appears to be that the
redundant population, necessarily occasioned by the prevalence of
early marriages, must be repressed by occasional famines, and by
the custom of exposing children, which, in times of distress, is
probably more frequent than is ever acknowledged to Europeans.
Relative to this barbarous practice, it is difficult to avoid
remarking, that there cannot be a stronger proof of the
distresses that have been felt by mankind for want of food, than
the existence of a custom that thus violates the most natural
principle of the human heart. It appears to have been very
general among ancient nations, and certainly tended rather to
increase population.

In examining the principal states of modern Europe, we shall
find that though they have increased very considerably in
population since they were nations of shepherds, yet that at
present their progress is but slow, and instead of doubling their
numbers every twenty-five years they require three or four
hundred years, or more, for that purpose. Some, indeed, may be
absolutely stationary, and others even retrograde. The cause of
this slow progress in population cannot be traced to a decay of
the passion between the sexes. We have sufficient reason to think
that this natural propensity exists still in undiminished vigour.
Why then do not its effects appear in a rapid increase of the
human species? An intimate view of the state of society in any
one country in Europe, which may serve equally for all, will
enable us to answer this question, and to say that a foresight of
the difficulties attending the rearing of a family acts as a
preventive check, and the actual distresses of some of the lower
classes, by which they are disabled from giving the proper food
and attention to their children, act as a positive check to the
natural increase of population.

England, as one of the most flourishing states of Europe, may
be fairly taken for an example, and the observations made will
apply with but little variation to any other country where the
population increases slowly.

The preventive check appears to operate in some degree
through all the ranks of society in England. There are some men,
even in the highest rank, who are prevented from marrying by the
idea of the expenses that they must retrench, and the fancied
pleasures that they must deprive themselves of, on the
supposition of having a family. These considerations are
certainly trivial, but a preventive foresight of this kind has
objects of much greater weight for its contemplation as we go

A man of liberal education, but with an income only just
sufficient to enable him to associate in the rank of gentlemen,
must feel absolutely certain that if he marries and has a family
he shall be obliged, if he mixes at all in society, to rank
himself with moderate farmers and the lower class of tradesmen.
The woman that a man of education would naturally make the object
of his choice would be one brought up in the same tastes and
sentiments with himself and used to the familiar intercourse of a
society totally different from that to which she must be reduced
by marriage. Can a man consent to place the object of his
affection in a situation so discordant, probably, to her tastes
and inclinations? Two or three steps of descent in society,
particularly at this round of the ladder, where education ends
and ignorance begins, will not be considered by the generality of
people as a fancied and chimerical, but a real and essential
evil. If society be held desirable, it surely must be free,
equal, and reciprocal society, where benefits are conferred as
well as received, and not such as the dependent finds with his
patron or the poor with the rich.

These considerations undoubtedly prevent a great number in
this rank of life from following the bent of their inclinations
in an early attachment. Others, guided either by a stronger
passion, or a weaker judgement, break through these restraints,
and it would be hard indeed, if the gratification of so
delightful a passion as virtuous love, did not, sometimes, more
than counterbalance all its attendant evils. But I fear it must
be owned that the more general consequences of such marriages are
rather calculated to justify than to repress the forebodings of
the prudent.

The sons of tradesmen and farmers are exhorted not to marry,
and generally find it necessary to pursue this advice till they
are settled in some business or farm that may enable them to
support a family. These events may not, perhaps, occur till they
are far advanced in life. The scarcity of farms is a very general
complaint in England. And the competition in every kind of
business is so great that it is not possible that all should be

The labourer who earns eighteen pence a day and lives with
some degree of comfort as a single man, will hesitate a little
before he divides that pittance among four or five, which seems
to be but just sufficient for one. Harder fare and harder labour
he would submit to for the sake of living with the woman that he
loves, but he must feel conscious, if he thinks at all, that
should he have a large family, and any ill luck whatever, no
degree of frugality, no possible exertion of his manual strength
could preserve him from the heart-rending sensation of seeing his
children starve, or of forfeiting his independence, and being
obliged to the parish for their support. The love of independence
is a sentiment that surely none would wish to be erased from the
breast of man, though the parish law of England, it must be
confessed, is a system of all others the most calculated
gradually to weaken this sentiment, and in the end may eradicate
it completely.

The servants who live in gentlemen's families have restraints
that are yet stronger to break through in venturing upon
marriage. They possess the necessaries, and even the comforts of
life, almost in as great plenty as their masters. Their work is
easy and their food luxurious compared with the class of
labourers. And their sense of dependence is weakened by the
conscious power of changing their masters, if they feel
themselves offended. Thus comfortably situated at present, what
are their prospects in marrying? Without knowledge or capital,
either for business, or farming, and unused and therefore unable,
to earn a subsistence by daily labour, their only refuge seems to
be a miserable alehouse, which certainly offers no very
enchanting prospect of a happy evening to their lives. By much
the greater part, therefore, deterred by this uninviting view of
their future situation, content themselves with remaining single
where they are.

If this sketch of the state of society in England be near the
truth, and I do not conceive that it is exaggerated, it will be
allowed that the preventive check to population in this country
operates, though with varied force, through all the classes of
the community. The same observation will hold true with regard to
all old states. The effects, indeed, of these restraints upon
marriage are but too conspicuous in the consequent vices that are
produced in almost every part of the world, vices that are
continually involving both sexes in inextricable unhappiness.


The second, or positive check to population examined, in England
--The true cause why the immense sum collected in England for the
poor does not better their condition--The powerful tendency of
the poor laws to defeat their own purpose--Palliative of the
distresses of the poor proposed--The absolute impossibility,
from the fixed laws of our nature, that the pressure of want can
ever be completely removed from the lower classes of society--
All the checks to population may be resolved into misery or vice.

The positive check to population, by which I mean the check that
represses an increase which is already begun, is confined
chiefly, though not perhaps solely, to the lowest orders of

This check is not so obvious to common view as the other I have
mentioned, and, to prove distinctly the force and extent of its
operation would require, perhaps, more data than we are in
possession of. But I believe it has been very generally remarked
by those who have attended to bills of mortality that of the
number of children who die annually, much too great a proportion
belongs to those who may be supposed unable to give their
offspring proper food and attention, exposed as they are
occasionally to severe distress and confined, perhaps, to
unwholesome habitations and hard labour. This mortality among the
children of the poor has been constantly taken notice of in all
towns. It certainly does not prevail in an equal degree in the
country, but the subject has not hitherto received sufficient
attention to enable anyone to say that there are not more deaths
in proportion among the children of the poor, even in the
country, than among those of the middling and higher classes.
Indeed, it seems difficult to suppose that a labourer's wife who
has six children, and who is sometimes in absolute want of bread,
should be able always to give them the food and attention
necessary to support life. The sons and daughters of peasants
will not be found such rosy cherubs in real life as they are
described to be in romances. It cannot fail to be remarked by
those who live much in the country that the sons of labourers are
very apt to be stunted in their growth, and are a long while
arriving at maturity. Boys that you would guess to be fourteen or
fifteen are, upon inquiry, frequently found to be eighteen or
nineteen. And the lads who drive plough, which must certainly be
a healthy exercise, are very rarely seen with any appearance of
calves to their legs: a circumstance which can only be attributed
to a want either of proper or of sufficient nourishment.

To remedy the frequent distresses of the common people, the
poor laws of England have been instituted; but it is to be
feared, that though they may have alleviated a little the
intensity of individual misfortune, they have spread the general
evil over a much larger surface. It is a subject often started in
conversation and mentioned always as a matter of great surprise
that, notwithstanding the immense sum that is annually collected
for the poor in England, there is still so much distress among
them. Some think that the money must be embezzled, others that
the church-wardens and overseers consume the greater part of it
in dinners. All agree that somehow or other it must be very
ill-managed. In short the fact that nearly three millions are
collected annually for the poor and yet that their distresses are
not removed is the subject of continual astonishment. But a man
who sees a little below the surface of things would be very much
more astonished if the fact were otherwise than it is observed to
be, or even if a collection universally of eighteen shillings in
the pound, instead of four, were materially to alter it. I will
state a case which I hope will elucidate my meaning.

Suppose that by a subscription of the rich the eighteen pence
a day which men earn now was made up five shillings, it might be
imagined, perhaps, that they would then be able to live
comfortably and have a piece of meat every day for their dinners.
But this would be a very false conclusion. The transfer of three
shillings and sixpence a day to every labourer would not increase
the quantity of meat in the country. There is not at present
enough for all to have a decent share. What would then be the
consequence? The competition among the buyers in the market of
meat would rapidly raise the price from sixpence or sevenpence,
to two or three shillings in the pound, and the commodity would
not be divided among many more than it is at present. When an
article is scarce, and cannot be distributed to all, he that can
shew the most valid patent, that is, he that offers most money,
becomes the possessor. If we can suppose the competition among
the buyers of meat to continue long enough for a greater number
of cattle to be reared annually, this could only be done at the
expense of the corn, which would be a very disadvantagous
exchange, for it is well known that the country could not then
support the same population, and when subsistence is scarce in
proportion to the number of people, it is of little consequence
whether the lowest members of the society possess eighteen pence
or five shillings. They must at all events be reduced to live
upon the hardest fare and in the smallest quantity.

It will be said, perhaps, that the increased number of
purchasers in every article would give a spur to productive
industry and that the whole produce of the island would be
increased. This might in some degree be the case. But the spur
that these fancied riches would give to population would more
than counterbalance it, and the increased produce would be to be
divided among a more than proportionably increased number of
people. All this time I am supposing that the same quantity of
work would be done as before. But this would not really take
place. The receipt of five shillings a day, instead of eighteen
pence, would make every man fancy himself comparatively rich and
able to indulge himself in many hours or days of leisure. This
would give a strong and immediate check to productive industry,
and, in a short time, not only the nation would be poorer, but
the lower classes themselves would be much more distressed than
when they received only eighteen pence a day.

A collection from the rich of eighteen shillings in the
pound, even if distributed in the most judicious manner, would
have a little the same effect as that resulting from the
supposition I have just made, and no possible contributions or
sacrifices of the rich, particularly in money, could for any time
prevent the recurrence of distress among the lower members of
society, whoever they were. Great changes might, indeed, be made.
The rich might become poor, and some of the poor rich, but a part
of the society must necessarily feel a difficulty of living, and
this difficulty will naturally fall on the least fortunate

It may at first appear strange, but I believe it is true,
that I cannot by means of money raise a poor man and enable him
to live much better than he did before, without proportionably
depressing others in the same class. If I retrench the quantity
of food consumed in my house, and give him what I have cut off, I
then benefit him, without depressing any but myself and family,
who, perhaps, may be well able to bear it. If I turn up a piece
of uncultivated land, and give him the produce, I then benefit
both him and all the members of the society, because what he
before consumed is thrown into the common stock, and probably
some of the new produce with it. But if I only give him money,
supposing the produce of the country to remain the same, I give
him a title to a larger share of that produce than formerly,
which share he cannot receive without diminishing the shares of
others. It is evident that this effect, in individual instances,
must be so small as to be totally imperceptible; but still it
must exist, as many other effects do, which, like some of the
insects that people the air, elude our grosser perceptions.

Supposing the quantity of food in any country to remain the
same for many years together, it is evident that this food must
be divided according to the value of each man's patent, or the
sum of money that he can afford to spend on this commodity so
universally in request. (Mr Godwin calls the wealth that a man
receives from his ancestors a mouldy patent. It may, I think,
very properly be termed a patent, but I hardly see the propriety
of calling it a mouldy one, as it is an article in such constant
use.) It is a demonstrative truth, therefore, that the patents of
one set of men could not be increased in value without
diminishing the value of the patents of some other set of men. If
the rich were to subscribe and give five shillings a day to five
hundred thousand men without retrenching their own tables, no
doubt can exist, that as these men would naturally live more at
their ease and consume a greater quantity of provisions, there
would be less food remaining to divide among the rest, and
consequently each man's patent would be diminished in value or
the same number of pieces of silver would purchase a smaller
quantity of subsistence.

An increase of population without a proportional increase of
food will evidently have the same effect in lowering the value of
each man's patent. The food must necessarily be distributed in
smaller quantities, and consequently a day's labour will purchase
a smaller quantity of provisions. An increase in the price of
provisions would arise either from an increase of population
faster than the means of subsistence, or from a different
distribution of the money of the society. The food of a country
that has been long occupied, if it be increasing, increases
slowly and regularly and cannot be made to answer any sudden
demands, but variations in the distribution of the money of a
society are not infrequently occurring, and are undoubtedly among
the causes that occasion the continual variations which we
observe in the price of provisions.

The poor laws of England tend to depress the general
condition of the poor in these two ways. Their first obvious
tendency is to increase population without increasing the food
for its support. A poor man may marry with little or no prospect
of being able to support a family in independence. They may be
said therefore in some measure to create the poor which they
maintain, and as the provisions of the country must, in
consequence of the increased population, be distributed to every
man in smaller proportions, it is evident that the labour of
those who are not supported by parish assistance will purchase a
smaller quantity of provisions than before and consequently more
of them must be driven to ask for support.

Secondly, the quantity of provisions consumed in workhouses
upon a part of the society that cannot in general be considered
as the most valuable part diminishes the shares that would
otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members, and
thus in the same manner forces more to become dependent. If the
poor in the workhouses were to live better than they now do, this
new distribution of the money of the society would tend more
conspicuously to depress the condition of those out of the
workhouses by occasioning a rise in the price of provisions.

Fortunately for England, a spirit of independence still
remains among the peasantry. The poor laws are strongly
calculated to eradicate this spirit. They have succeeded in part,
but had they succeeded as completely as might have been expected
their pernicious tendency would not have been so long concealed.

Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent
poverty ought to be held disgraceful. Such a stimulus seems to be
absolutely necessary to promote the happiness of the great mass
of mankind, and every general attempt to weaken this stimulus,
however benevolent its apparent intention, will always defeat its
own purpose. If men are induced to marry from a prospect of
parish provision, with little or no chance of maintaining their
families in independence, they are not only unjustly tempted to
bring unhappiness and dependence upon themselves and children,
but they are tempted, without knowing it, to injure all in the
same class with themselves. A labourer who marries without being
able to support a family may in some respects be considered as an
enemy to all his fellow-labourers.

I feel no doubt whatever that the parish laws of England have
contributed to raise the price of provisions and to lower the
real price of labour. They have therefore contributed to
impoverish that class of people whose only possession is their
labour. It is also difficult to suppose that they have not
powerfully contributed to generate that carelessness and want of
frugality observable among the poor, so contrary to the
disposition frequently to be remarked among petty tradesmen and
small farmers. The labouring poor, to use a vulgar expression,
seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants
employ their whole attention, and they seldom think of the
future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom
exercise it, but all that is beyond their present necessities
goes, generally speaking, to the ale-house. The poor laws of
England may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the
will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of
the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and
consequently to happiness.

It is a general complaint among master manufacturers that
high wages ruin all their workmen, but it is difficult to
conceive that these men would not save a part of their high wages
for the future support of their families, instead of spending it
in drunkenness and dissipation, if they did not rely on parish
assistance for support in case of accidents. And that the poor
employed in manufactures consider this assistance as a reason why
they may spend all the wages they earn and enjoy themselves while
they can appears to be evident from the number of families that,
upon the failure of any great manufactory, immediately fall upon
the parish, when perhaps the wages earned in this manufactory
while it flourished were sufficiently above the price of common
country labour to have allowed them to save enough for their
support till they could find some other channel for their

A man who might not be deterred from going to the ale-house
from the consideration that on his death, or sickness, he should
leave his wife and family upon the parish might yet hesitate in
thus dissipating his earnings if he were assured that, in either
of these cases, his family must starve or be left to the support
of casual bounty. In China, where the real as well as nominal
price of labour is very low, sons are yet obliged by law to
support their aged and helpless parents. Whether such a law would
be advisable in this country I will not pretend to determine. But
it seems at any rate highly improper, by positive institutions,
which render dependent poverty so general, to weaken that
disgrace, which for the best and most humane reasons ought to
attach to it.

The mass of happiness among the common people cannot but be
diminished when one of the strongest checks to idleness and
dissipation is thus removed, and when men are thus allured to
marry with little or no prospect of being able to maintain a
family in independence. Every obstacle in the way of marriage
must undoubtedly be considered as a species of unhappiness. But
as from the laws of our nature some check to population must
exist, it is better that it should be checked from a foresight of
the difficulties attending a family and the fear of dependent
poverty than that it should be encouraged, only to be repressed
afterwards by want and sickness.

It should be remembered always that there is an essential
difference between food and those wrought commodities, the raw
materials of which are in great plenty. A demand for these last
will not fail to create them in as great a quantity as they are
wanted. The demand for food has by no means the same creative
power. In a country where all the fertile spots have been seized,
high offers are necessary to encourage the farmer to lay his
dressing on land from which he cannot expect a profitable return
for some years. And before the prospect of advantage is
sufficiently great to encourage this sort of agricultural
enterprise, and while the new produce is rising, great distresses
may be suffered from the want of it. The demand for an increased
quantity of subsistence is, with few exceptions, constant
everywhere, yet we see how slowly it is answered in all those
countries that have been long occupied.

The poor laws of England were undoubtedly instituted for the
most benevolent purpose, but there is great reason to think that
they have not succeeded in their intention. They certainly
mitigate some cases of very severe distress which might otherwise
occur, yet the state of the poor who are supported by parishes,
considered in all its circumstances, is very far from being free
from misery. But one of the principal objections to them is that
for this assistance which some of the poor receive, in itself
almost a doubtful blessing, the whole class of the common people
of England is subjected to a set of grating, inconvenient, and
tyrannical laws, totally inconsistent with the genuine spirit of
the constitution. The whole business of settlements, even in its
present amended state, is utterly contradictory to all ideas of
freedom. The parish persecution of men whose families are likely
to become chargeable, and of poor women who are near lying-in, is
a most disgraceful and disgusting tyranny. And the obstructions
continuity occasioned in the market of labour by these laws have
a constant tendency to add to the difficulties of those who are
struggling to support themselves without assistance.

These evils attendant on the poor laws are in some degree
irremediable. If assistance be to be distributed to a certain
class of people, a power must be given somewhere of
discriminating the proper objects and of managing the concerns of
the institutions that are necessary, but any great interference
with the affairs of other people is a species of tyranny, and in
the common course of things the exercise of this power may be
expected to become grating to those who are driven to ask for
support. The tyranny of Justices, Church-wardens, and Overseers,
is a common complaint among the poor, but the fault does not lie
so much in these persons, who probably, before they were in
power, were not worse than other people, but in the nature of all
such institutions.

The evil is perhaps gone too far to be remedied, but I feel
little doubt in my own mind that if the poor laws had never
existed, though there might have been a few more instances of
very severe distress, yet that the aggregate mass of happiness
among the common people would have been much greater than it is
at present.

Mr Pitt's Poor Bill has the appearance of being framed with
benevolent intentions, and the clamour raised against it was in
many respects ill directed, and unreasonable. But it must be
confessed that it possesses in a high degree the great and
radical defect of all systems of the kind, that of tending to
increase population without increasing the means for its support,
and thus to depress the condition of those that are not supported
by parishes, and, consequently, to create more poor.

To remove the wants of the lower classes of society is indeed
an arduous task. The truth is that the pressure of distress on
this part of a community is an evil so deeply seated that no
human ingenuity can reach it. Were I to propose a palliative, and
palliatives are all that the nature of the case will admit, it
should be, in the first place, the total abolition of all the
present parish-laws. This would at any rate give liberty and
freedom of action to the peasantry of England, which they can
hardly be said to possess at present. They would then be able to
settle without interruption, wherever there was a prospect of a
greater plenty of work and a higher price for labour. The market
of labour would then be free, and those obstacles removed which,
as things are now, often for a considerable time prevent the
price from rising according to the demand.

Secondly, premiums might be given for turning up fresh land,
and it possible encouragements held out to agriculture above
manufactures, and to tillage above grazing. Every endeavour
should be used to weaken and destroy all those institutions
relating to corporations, apprenticeships, etc., which cause the
labours of agriculture to be worse paid than the labours of trade
and manufactures. For a country can never produce its proper
quantity of food while these distinctions remain in favour of
artisans. Such encouragements to agriculture would tend to
furnish the market with an increasing quantity of healthy work,
and at the same time, by augmenting the produce of the country,
would raise the comparative price of labour and ameliorate the
condition of the labourer. Being now in better circumstances, and
seeing no prospect of parish assistance, he would be more able,
as well as more inclined, to enter into associations for
providing against the sickness of himself or family.

Lastly, for cases of extreme distress, county workhouses
might be established, supported by rates upon the whole kingdom,
and free for persons of all counties, and indeed of all nations.
The fare should be hard, and those that were able obliged to
work. It would be desirable that they should not be considered as
comfortable asylums in all difficulties, but merely as places
where severe distress might find some alleviation. A part of
these houses might be separated, or others built for a most
beneficial purpose, which has not been infrequently taken notice
of, that of providing a place where any person, whether native or
foreigner, might do a day's work at all times and receive the
market price for it. Many cases would undoubtedly be left for the
exertion of individual benevolence.

A plan of this kind, the preliminary of which should be an
abolition of all the present parish laws, seems to be the best
calculated to increase the mass of happiness among the common
people of England. To prevent the recurrence of misery, is, alas!
beyond the power of man. In the vain endeavour to attain what
in the nature of things is impossible, we now sacrifice not only
possible but certain benefits. We tell the common people that if
they will submit to a code of tyrannical regulations, they shall
never be in want. They do submit to these regulations. They
perform their part of the contract, but we do not, nay cannot,
perform ours, and thus the poor sacrifice the valuable blessing
of liberty and receive nothing that can be called an equivalent
in return.

Notwithstanding, then, the institution of the poor laws in
England, I think it will be allowed that considering the state of
the lower classes altogether, both in the towns and in the
country, the distresses which they suffer from the want of proper
and sufficient food, from hard labour and unwholesome
habitations, must operate as a constant check to incipient

To these two great checks to population, in all long occupied
countries, which I have called the preventive and the positive
checks, may be added vicious customs with respect to women, great
cities, unwholesome manufactures, luxury, pestilence, and war.

All these checks may be fairly resolved into misery and vice.
And that these are the true causes of the slow increase of
population in all the states of modern Europe, will appear
sufficiently evident from the comparatively rapid increase that
has invariably taken place whenever these causes have been in any
considerable degree removed.


New colonies--Reasons for their rapid increase--North American
Colonies--Extraordinary instance of increase in the back
settlements--Rapidity with which even old states recover the
ravages of war, pestilence, famine, or the convulsions of nature.

It has been universally remarked that all new colonies settled in
healthy countries, where there was plenty of room and food, have
constantly increased with astonishing rapidity in their
population. Some of the colonies from ancient Greece, in no very
long period, more than equalled their parent states in numbers
and strength. And not to dwell on remote instances, the European
settlements in the new world bear ample testimony to the truth of
a remark, which, indeed, has never, that I know of, been doubted.
A plenty of rich land, to be had for little or nothing, is so
powerful a cause of population as to overcome all other
obstacles. No settlements could well have been worse managed than
those of Spain in Mexico, Peru, and Quito. The tyranny,
superstition, and vices of the mother-country were introduced in
ample quantities among her children. Exorbitant taxes were
exacted by the Crown. The most arbitrary restrictions were
imposed on their trade. And the governors were not behind hand in
rapacity and extortion for themselves as well as their master.
Yet, under all these difficulties, the colonies made a quick
progress in population. The city of Lima, founded since the
conquest, is represented by Ulloa as containing fifty thousand
inhabitants near fifty years ago.6 Quito, which had been but a
hamlet of indians, is represented by the same author as in his
time equally populous. Mexico is said to contain a hundred
thousand inhabitants, which, notwithstanding the exaggerations of
the Spanish writers, is supposed to be five times greater than
what it contained in the time of Montezuma.

In the Portuguese colony of Brazil, governed with almost
equal tyranny, there were supposed to be, thirty years since, six
hundred thousand inhabitants of European extraction.

The Dutch and French colonies, though under the government of
exclusive companies of merchants, which, as Dr Adam Smith says
very justly, is the worst of all possible governments, still
persisted in thriving under every disadvantage.

But the English North American colonies, now the powerful
people of the United States of America, made by far the most
rapid progress. To the plenty of good land which they possessed
in common with the Spanish and Portuguese settlements, they added
a greater degree of liberty and equality. Though not without some
restrictions on their foreign commerce, they were allowed a
perfect liberty of managing their own internal affairs. The
political institutions that prevailed were favourable to the
alienation and division of property. Lands that were not
cultivated by the proprietor within a limited time were declared
grantable to any other person. In Pennsylvania there was no right
of primogeniture, and in the provinces of New England the eldest
had only a double share. There were no tithes in any of the
States, and scarcely any taxes. And on account of the extreme
cheapness of good land a capital could not be more advantageously
employed than in agriculture, which at the same time that it
supplies the greatest quantity of healthy work affords much the
most valuable produce to the society.

The consequence of these favourable circumstances united was
a rapidity of increase probably without parallel in history.
Throughout all the northern colonies, the population was found to
double itself in twenty-five years. The original number of
persons who had settled in the four provinces of new England in
1643 was 21,200.(I take these figures from Dr Price's two volumes
of Observations; not having Dr Styles' pamphlet, from which he
quotes, by me.) Afterwards, it is supposed that more left them
than went to them. In the year 1760, they were increased to half
a million. They had therefore all along doubled their own number
in twenty-five years. In New Jersey the period of doubling
appeared to be twenty-two years; and in Rhode island still less.
In the back settlements, where the inhabitants applied themselves
solely to agriculture, and luxury was not known, they were found
to double their own number in fifteen years, a most extraordinary
instance of increase. Along the sea coast, which would naturally
be first inhabited, the period of doubling was about thirty-five
years; and in some of the maritime towns, the population was
absolutely at a stand.

(In instances of this kind the powers of the earth appear to
be fully equal to answer it the demands for food that can be made
upon it by man. But we should be led into an error if we were
thence to suppose that population and food ever really increase
in the same ratio. The one is still a geometrical and the other
an arithmetical ratio, that is, one increases by multiplication,
and the other by addition. Where there are few people, and a
great quantity of fertile land, the power of the earth to afford
a yearly increase of food may be compared to a great reservoir of
water, supplied by a moderate stream. The faster population
increases, the more help will be got to draw off the water, and
consequently an increasing quantity will be taken every year. But
the sooner, undoubtedly, will the reservoir be exhausted, and the
streams only remain. When acre has been added to acre, till all
the fertile land is occupied, the yearly increase of food will
depend upon the amelioration of the land already in possession;
and even this moderate stream will be gradually diminishing. But
population, could it be supplied with food, would go on with
unexhausted vigour, and the increase of one period would furnish
the power of a greater increase the next, and this without any

These facts seem to shew that population increases exactly in
the proportion that the two great checks to it, misery and vice,
are removed, and that there is not a truer criterion of the
happiness and innocence of a people than the rapidity of their
increase. The unwholesomeness of towns, to which some persons are
necessarily driven from the nature of their trades, must be
considered as a species of misery, and every the slightest check
to marriage, from a prospect of the difficulty of maintaining a
family, may be fairly classed under the same head. In short it is
difficult to conceive any check to population which does not come
under the description of some species of misery or vice.

The population of the thirteen American States before the war
was reckoned at about three millions. Nobody imagines that Great
Britain is less populous at present for the emigration of the
small parent stock that produced these numbers. On the contrary,
a certain degree of emigration is known to be favourable to the
population of the mother country. It has been particularly
remarked that the two Spanish provinces from which the greatest
number of people emigrated to America, became in consequence more
populous. Whatever was the original number of British emigrants
that increased so fast in the North American Colonies, let us
ask, why does not an equal number produce an equal increase in
the same time in Great Britain? The great and obvious cause to be
assigned is the want of room and food, or, in other words,
misery, and that this is a much more powerful cause even than
vice appears sufficiently evident from the rapidity with which
even old states recover the desolations of war, pestilence, or
the accidents of nature. They are then for a short time placed a
little in the situation of new states, and the effect is always
answerable to what might be expected. If the industry of the
inhabitants be not destroyed by fear or tyranny, subsistence will
soon increase beyond the wants of the reduced numbers, and the
invariable consequence will be that population which before,
perhaps, was nearly stationary, will begin immediately to

The fertile province of Flanders, which has been so often the
seat of the most destructive wars, after a respite of a few
years, has appeared always as fruitful and as populous as ever.
Even the Palatinate lifted up its head again after the execrable
ravages of Louis the Fourteenth. The effects of the dreadful
plague in London in 1666 were not perceptible fifteen or twenty
years afterwards. The traces of the most destructive famines in
China and Indostan are by all accounts very soon obliterated.10
It may even be doubted whether Turkey and Egypt are upon an
average much less populous for the plagues that periodically lay
them waste. If the number of people which they contain be less
now than formerly, it is, probably, rather to be attributed to
the tyranny and oppression of the government under which they
groan, and the consequent discouragements to agriculture, than to
the loss which they sustain by the plague. The most tremendous
convulsions of nature, such as volcanic eruptions and
earthquakes, if they do not happen so frequently as to drive away
the inhabitants, or to destroy their spirit of industry, have but
a trifling effect on the average population of any state. Naples,
and the country under Vesuvius, are still very populous,
notwithstanding the repeated eruptions of that mountain. And
Lisbon and Lima are now, probably, nearly in the same state with
regard to population as they were before the last earthquakes.


A probable cause of epidemics--Extracts from Mr Suessmilch's
tables--Periodical returns of sickly seasons to be expected in
certain cases--Proportion of births to burials for short periods
in any country an inadequate criterion of the real average
increase of population--Best criterion of a permanent increase
of population--Great frugality of living one of the causes of
the famines of China and Indostan--Evil tendency of one of the
clauses in Mr Pitt's Poor Bill--Only one proper way of
encouraging population--Causes of the Happiness of nations--
Famine, the last and most dreadful mode by which nature represses
a redundant population--The three propositions considered as

By great attention to cleanliness, the plague seems at length to
be completely expelled from London. But it is not improbable that
among the secondary causes that produce even sickly seasons and
epidemics ought to be ranked a crowded population and unwholesome
and insufficient food. I have been led to this remark, by looking
over some of the tables of Mr Suessmilch, which Dr Price has
extracted in one of his notes to the postscript on the
controversy respecting the population of England and Wales. They
are considered as very correct, and if such tables were general,
they would throw great light on the different ways by which
population is repressed and prevented from increasing beyond the
means of subsistence in any country. I will extract a part of the
tables, with Dr Price's remarks.


Proportion Proportion
Births Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
Marriages Burials
10 Yrs to 1702 21,963 14,718 5,928 37 to 10 150 to 100
5 Yrs to 1716 21,602 11,984 4,968 37 to 10 180 to 100
5 Yrs to 1756 28,392 19,154 5,599 50 to 10 148 to 100

"N.B. In 1709 and 1710, a pestilence carried off 247,733 of the
inhabitants of this country, and in 1736 and 1737, epidemics
prevailed, which again checked its increase."

It may be remarked, that the greatest proportion of births to
burials, was in the five years after the great pestilence.


Proportion Proportion
Annual Average Births Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
Marriages Burials
6 yrs to 1702 6,540 4,647 1,810 36 to 10 140 to 100
6 yrs to 1708 7,455 4,208 1,875 39 to 10 177 to 100
6 yrs to 1726 8,432 5,627 2,131 39 to 10 150 to 100
6 yrs to 1756 12,767 9,281 2,957 43 to 10 137 to 100

"In this instance the inhabitants appear to have been almost
doubled in fifty-six years, no very bad epidemics having once
interrupted the increase, but the three years immediately follow
ing the last period (to 1759) were so sickly that the births were
sunk to 10,229 and the burials raised to 15,068."

Is it not probable that in this case the number of inhabitants
had increased faster than the food and the accommodations
necessary to preserve them in health? The mass of the people
would, upon this supposition, be obliged to live harder, and
a greater number would be crowded together in one house, and
it is not surely improbable that these were among the natural
causes that produced the three sickly years. These causes
may produce such an effect, though the country, absolutely
considered, may not be extremely crowded and populous. In a
country even thinly inhabited, if an increase of population take
place, before more food is raised, and more houses are built, the
inhabitants must be distressed in some degree for room and
subsistence. Were the marriages in England, for the next eight or
ten years, to be more prolifick than usual, or even were a
greater number of marriages than usual to take place, supposing
the number of houses to remain the same, instead of five or six
to a cottage, there must be seven or eight, and this, added to
the necessity of harder living, would probably have a very
unfavourable effect on the health of the common people.


Proportion Proportion
Annual Average Births Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
Marriages Burials
5 yrs to 1701 5,433 3,483 1,436 37 to 10 155 to 100
5 yrs to 1726 7,012 4,254 1,713 40 to 10 164 to 100
5 yrs to 1756 7,978 5,567 1,891 42 to 10 143 to 100

"Epidemics prevailed for six years, from 1736, to 1741, which
checked the increase."


Proportion Proportion
Annual Average Births Burials Marriages of Births to of Births to
Marriages Burials
5 yrs to 1702 6,431 4,103 1,681 38 to 10 156 to 100
5 yrs to 1717 7,590 5,335 2,076 36 to 10 142 to 100
5 yrs to 1756 8,850 8,069 2,193 40 to 10 109 to 100

"The years 1738, 1740, 1750, and 1751, were particularly

For further information on this subject, I refer the reader
to Mr Suessmilch's tables. The extracts that I have made are
sufficient to shew the periodical, though irregular, returns of
sickly seasons, and it seems highly probable that a scantiness of
room and food was one of the principal causes that occasioned

It appears from the tables that these countries were
increasing rather fast for old states, notwithstanding the
occasional seasons that prevailed. Cultivation must have been
improving, and marriages, consequently, encouraged. For the
checks to population appear to have been rather of the positive,
than of the preventive kind. When from a prospect of increasing
plenty in any country, the weight that represses population is in
some degree removed, it is highly probable that the motion will
be continued beyond the operation of the cause that first
impelled it. Or, to be more particular, when the increasing
produce of a country, and the increasing demand for labour, so
far ameliorate the condition of the labourer as greatly to
encourage marriage, it is probable that the custom of early
marriages will continue till the population of the country has
gone beyond the increased produce, and sickly seasons appear to
be the natural and necessary consequence. I should expect,
therefore, that those countries where subsistence was increasing
sufficiency at times to encourage population but not to answer
all its demands, would be more subject to periodical epidemics
than those where the population could more completely accommodate
itself to the average produce.

An observation the converse of this will probably also be
found true. In those countries that are subject to periodical
sicknesses, the increase of population, or the excess of births
above the burials, will be greater in the intervals of these
periods than is usual, caeteris paribus, in the countries not so
much subject to such disorders. If Turkey and Egypt have been
nearly stationary in their average population for the last
century, in the intervals of their periodical plagues, the births
must have exceeded the burials in a greater proportion than in
such countries as France and England.

The average proportion of births to burials in any country
for a period of five to ten years, will hence appear to be a very
inadequate criterion by which to judge of its real progress in
population. This proportion certainly shews the rate of increase
during those five or ten years; but we can by no means thence
infer what had been the increase for the twenty years before, or
what would be the increase for the twenty years after. Dr Price
observes that Sweden, Norway, Russia, and the kingdom of Naples,
are increasing fast; but the extracts from registers that he has
given are not for periods of sufficient extent to establish the
fact. It is highly probable, however, that Sweden, Norway, and
Russia, are really increasing their population, though not at the
rate that the proportion of births to burials for the short
periods that Dr Price takes would seem to shew. (See Dr Price's
Observations, Vol. ii, postscript to the controversy on the
population of England and Wales.) For five years, ending in 1777,
the proportion of births to burials in the kingdom of Naples was
144 to 100, but there is reason to suppose that this proportion
would indicate an increase much greater than would be really
found to have taken place in that kingdom during a period of a
hundred years.

Dr Short compared the registers of many villages and market
towns in England for two periods; the first, from Queen Elizabeth
to the middle of the last century, and the second, from different
years at the end of the last century to the middle of the
present. And from a comparison of these extracts, it appears that
in the former period the births exceeded the burials in the
proportion of 124 to 100, but in the latter, only in the
proportion of 111 to 100. Dr Price thinks that the registers in
the former period are not to be depended upon, but, probably, in
this instance they do not give incorrect proportions. At least
there are many reasons for expecting to find a greater excess of
births above the burials in the former period than in the latter.
In the natural progress of the population of any country, more
good land will, caeteris paribus, be taken into cultivation in
the earlier stages of it than in the later. (I say 'caeteris
paribus', because the increase of the produce of any country will
always very greatly depend on the spirit of industry that
prevails, and the way in which it is directed. The knowledge and
habits of the people, and other temporary causes, particularly
the degree of civil liberty and equality existing at the time,
must always have great influence in exciting and directing this
spirit.) And a greater proportional yearly increase of produce
will almost invariably be followed by a greater proportional
increase of population. But, besides this great cause, which
would naturally give the excess of births above burials greater
at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign than in the middle of the
present century, I cannot help thinking that the occasional
ravages of the plague in the former period must have had some
tendency to increase this proportion. If an average of ten years
had been taken in the intervals of the returns of this dreadful
disorder, or if the years of plague had been rejected as
accidental, the registers would certainly give the proportion of
births to burials too high for the real average increase of the
population. For some few years after the great plague in 1666, it
is probable that there was a more than usual excess of births
above burials, particularly if Dr Price's opinion be founded,
that England was more populous at the revolution (which happened
only twenty-two years afterwards) than it is at present.

Mr King, in 1693, stated the proportion of the births to the
burials throughout the Kingdom, exclusive of London, as 115 to
100. Dr Short makes it, in the middle of the present century, 111
to 100, including London. The proportion in France for five
years, ending in 1774, was 117 to 100. If these statements are
near the truth; and if there are no very great variations at
particular periods in the proportions, it would appear that the
population of France and England has accommodated itself very
nearly to the average produce of each country. The
discouragements to marriage, the consequent vicious habits, war,
luxury, the silent though certain depopulation of large towns,
and the close habitations, and insufficient food of many of the
poor, prevent population from increasing beyond the means of
subsistence; and, if I may use an expression which certainly at
first appears strange, supercede the necessity of great and
ravaging epidemics to repress what is redundant. Were a wasting
plague to sweep off two millions in England, and six millions in
France, there can be no doubt whatever that, after the
inhabitants had recovered from the dreadful shock, the proportion
of births to burials would be much above what it is in either
country at present.

In New Jersey, the proportion of births to deaths on an
average of seven years, ending in 1743, was as 300 to 100. In
France and England, taking the highest proportion, it is as 117
to 100. Great and astonishing as this difference is, we ought not
to be so wonder-struck at it as to attribute it to the miraculous
interposition of heaven. The causes of it are not remote, latent
and mysterious; but near us, round about us, and open to the
investigation of every inquiring mind. It accords with the most
liberal spirit of philosophy to suppose that not a stone can
fall, or a plant rise, without the immediate agency of divine
power. But we know from experience that these operations of what
we call nature have been conducted almost invariably according to
fixed laws. And since the world began, the causes of population
and depopulation have probably been as constant as any of the
laws of nature with which we are acquainted.

The passion between the sexes has appeared in every age to be
so nearly the same that it may always be considered, in algebraic
language, as a given quantity. The great law of necessity which
prevents population from increasing in any country beyond the
food which it can either produce or acquire, is a law so open to
our view, so obvious and evident to our understandings, and so
completely confirmed by the experience of every age, that we
cannot for a moment doubt it. The different modes which nature
takes to prevent or repress a redundant population do not appear,
indeed, to us so certain and regular, but though we cannot always
predict the mode we may with certainty predict the fact. If the
proportion of births to deaths for a few years indicate an
increase of numbers much beyond the proportional increased or
acquired produce of the country, we may be perfectly certain that
unless an emigration takes place, the deaths will shortly exceed
the births; and that the increase that had taken place for a few
years cannot be the real average increase of the population of
the country. Were there no other depopulating causes, every
country would, without doubt, be subject to periodical
pestilences or famine.

The only true criterion of a real and permanent increase in
the population of any country is the increase of the means of
subsistence. But even, this criterion is subject to some slight
variations which are, however, completely open to our view and
observations. In some countries population appears to have been
forced, that is, the people have been habituated by degrees to
live almost upon the smallest possible quantity of food. There
must have been periods in such counties when population increased
permanently, without an increase in the means of subsistence.
China seems to answer to this description. If the accounts we
have of it are to be trusted, the lower classes of people are in
the habit of living almost upon the smallest possible quantity of
food and are glad to get any putrid offals that European
labourers would rather starve than eat. The law in China which
permits parents to expose their children has tended principally
thus to force the population. A nation in this state must
necessarily be subject to famines. Where a country is so populous
in proportion to the means of subsistence that the average
produce of it is but barely sufficient to support the lives of
the inhabitants, any deficiency from the badness of seasons must
be fatal. It is probable that the very frugal manner in which the
Gentoos are in the habit of living contributes in some degree to
the famines of indostan.

In America, where the reward of labour is at present so
liberal, the lower classes might retrench very considerably in a
year of scarcity without materially distressing themselves. A
famine therefore seems to be almost impossible. It may be
expected that in the progress of the population of America, the
labourers will in time be much less liberally rewarded. The
numbers will in this case permanently increase without a
proportional increase in the means of subsistence.

In the different states of Europe there must be some
variations in the proportion between the number of inhabitants
and the quantity of food consumed, arising from the different
habits of living that prevail in each state. The labourers of the
South of England are so accustomed to eat fine wheaten bread that
they will suffer themselves to be half starved before they will
submit to live like the Scotch peasants. They might perhaps in
time, by the constant operation of the hard law of necessity, be
reduced to live even like the Lower Chinese, and the country
would then, with the same quantity of food, support a greater
population. But to effect this must always be a most difficult,
and, every friend to humanity will hope, an abortive attempt.
Nothing is so common as to hear of encouragements that ought to
be given to population. If the tendency of mankind to increase be


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