Sir James Steuart (1767)
It is with the greatest diffidence that I present to the public this attempt towards reducing to principles, and forming into a regular science, the complicated interests of domestic policy. When I consider the time and labour employed in the composition, I am apt to value it from selfish considerations. When I compare it even with my own abilities, I still think favourably of it, for a better reason; because it contains a summary of the most valuable part of all my knowledge. But when I consider the greatness of my subject, how small does the result of my application appear!
The imperfections, therefore, discovered in this work, must be ascribed to the disproportion between the extent of the undertaking, and that of my capacity. This, I can assure my reader, has been exerted to the utmost: and if, after all, I have failed, it may, at least, with justice, be said, that I have miscarried in an attempt of the greatest importance to mankind.
I no where, I think, have shewn a desire to make my court to any particular minister, whose administration might have been hinted at. I have freely followed the thread of my reasoning without a bias, either in favour of popular opinions, or of any of the numberless systems which have been formed by those who have written upon particular parts of my subject. The warmth of my temper may have led me sometimes into commendations when I have been pleased; but when I felt the effects of ill humour on being dissatisfied with particular circumstances, relating to countries, to men, and to things, which I had in my eye at the time I was writing, I was immediately aware of the danger of blaming the steps of any administration, without being well formed of the whole combination of circumstances which the minister may have had before him at the time.
This composition being the successive labour of many years spent in travelling, the reader will find some passages in which the unities of time and place have not been observed. These I could have corrected with ease, had I not been advised to leave them as characters to point out the circumstances under which I wrote, and thereby to confirm the authenticity of certain facts.
The modes of thinking, also, peculiar to the several countries where I have lived, have, no doubt, had an influence on what I have written concerning their customs: this work, therefore, will not, in general, correspond to the meridian of national opinions any where; and of this it is proper the reader should be apprised, that he may not apply to the domestic circumstances of his own country what was intended to refer to those of other nations; nor impute to wilful prejudice, what was the irresistible effect of my experience and conviction.
Since the first publication of this work some criticisms upon it have been published in which little regard has been paid to this advertisement.
The greater part of it by far, (the three first books particularly) was composed abroad. Can it be supposed, that during an absence of near twenty years, I should in my studies have all the while been modelling my speculations upon the standard of English notions.
It has been alleged that I have imbibed prejudices abroad, by no means consistent with the present state of England, and the genius of Englishmen.
To which I answer, that I flatter myself to have imbibed no prejudices either abroad or at home, at least I think I have exhibited none of them in my work; because there I have rejected all party opinions whatever.
According to my way of treating this subject no general rule can be laid down in political matters: every thing there must be considered according to the circumstances and spirit of the nations to which they relate. Accordingly we shall find in this inquiry some reasonings built on the principles of arbitrary power, others on those of national liberty, others again on those of democracy. Had I, in compliment to the sentiments of Englishmen, suppressed every combination which might apply to the circumstances of those very countries where I was studying my subject, from the actual inspection of their policy, what merit should I have had to plead with my own countrymen from my travels and from my studies, any local English writer describing English policy and sounding through every page the most peculiar opinions of this nation, might have amused his readers far better than ever I could pretend to.
If, from this work, I have any merit at all, it is by divesting myself of English notions, so far as to be able to expose in a fair light, the sentiments and policy of foreign nations, relatively to their own situation.
Now the principal attention of an intelligent reader who peruses a book like this, will be directed towards the investigatory part of it: every step of the reasoning will be weighed by him until the final conclusion be drawn; he will then give his assent to it in proportion to the accuracy of the induction; but he never will recoil from what he has once assented to, in order to form a general notion conceding any result by comparing it with his own animal feelings or with the popular opinion of his countrymen.
This much I am obliged to say in my own justification, with respect to several passages which have been written at times when England was very distant from my thoughts.
I have read many authors on the subject of political oeconomy; and I have endeavoured to draw from them all the instruction I could. I have travelled, for many years, through different countries, and have examined them, constantly, with an eye to my own subject. I have attempted to draw information from every one with whom I have been acquainted: this, however, I found to be very difficult until I had attained to some previous knowledge of my subject. Such difficulties confirmed to me the justness of Lord Bacon's remark, that he who can draw information by forming proper questions, must be already possessed of half the science.
I could form no consistent plan from the various opinions I met with: hence I was engaged to compile the observations I bad casually made, in the course of my travels, reading, and experience. From these I formed the following work after expunging the numberless inconsistencies and contradictions which I found had arisen from my separate inquiries into every particular branch.
I had observed so many persons declining in knowledge as they advanced in years, that I resolved early to throw upon paper whatever I had learned; and to this I used to have recourse, as others have to their memories. The unity of the object of all my speculations, rendered this practice more useful to me than it would be to one whose researches are more extended.
Whoever is much accustomed to write for his own use merely, must contract a more careless style than another who has made language his study, and who writes in hopes of acquiring a literary reputation. I never, till very lately, thought of appearing as an author on this subject; and, in the frequent perusals of what I had written, my corrections were chiefly in favour of perspicuity. add to this, that the language in which I now write was, for many years, foreign to those with whom I lived and conversed. When these circumstances are added to the intricacy of my subject, which constantly carried off my attention from every ornament of language, I flatter myself that those of my readers, at least, who enter as heartily as I have done into the spirit of this work, will candidly overlook the want of that elegance which adorns the style of some celebrated authors in this Augustan age.
I present this enquiry to the public as nothing more than an essay which may serve as a canvass for better hands than mine to work upon.
It contains such observations only as the general view of the domestic policy of the countries I have seen, has suggested. It is a speculation, and no more. It is a rough drawing of a mighty plan, proportioned in correctness to my own sagacity, to my knowledge of the subject, and to the extent of my ideas.
It goes little farther than to collect and arrange some elements relating to the most interesting branches of modern policy, such as population, agriculture, trade, industry, money, coin, interest, circulation, banks, exchange, public credit, and taxes. The principles deduced from all these topics, appear tolerably consistent; and the whole is a train of reasoning, through which I have adhered to the connection of subjects as faithfully as I could: but the nature of the work being a deduction of principles, not a collection of institutions, I seized the opportunities which my reasoning threw in my way, to connect every principle, as I went along, with every part of the inquiry to which it could refer; and when I found the connexion sufficiently shewn, I broke off such disquisitions as would have led me from the object then present.
When principles thus casually applied in one part, to matters intended to be afterwards treated of in another, came to be taken up a-new, they involved me in what may appear prolixity. This I found most unavoidable, when I was led to thoughts which were new to myself, and consequently such as must have cost me the greatest labour to set in a clear and distinct point of view. Had I been master of my subject on setting out, the arrangement of the whole would have been rendered more concise: but had this been the case, I should never have been able to go through the painful deduction which forms the whole chain of my reasoning, and upon which, to many readers slow in forming combinations, the conviction it carries along with it in a great measure depends: to the few, again, of a more penetrating genius, to whom the slightest hint is sufficient to lay open every consequence before it be drawn, in allusion to Horace, I offer this apology, Clarus esse laboro, prolixus fio.
The path I have taken was new to me, after all I had read on the subject. I examined, by my own principles, what I had gathered from others; and adopted it as far as I found it tally with collateral circumstances. When, on the other hand, I found a disagreement, I was apprized immediately of some mistake; and this I found constantly owing to the narrowness of the combinations upon which it had been founded.
The great danger of running into error upon particular points relating to this subject, proceeds from our viewing them in a light too confined, and to our not attending to the influence of concomitant circumstances, which render general rules of little use. Men of parts and knowledge seldom fail to reason consequentially on every subject; but when inquiries are made concerning the complicated interests of society, the vivacity of an author's genius is apt to prevent him from attending to the variety of circumstances which render uncertain every consequence, almost, which he can draw from his reasoning. To this I ascribe the habit of running into what the French call Systèmes. These are no more than a chain of contingent consequences, drawn from a few fundamental maxims, adopted, perhaps, rashly. Such systems are mere conceits; they mislead the understanding, and efface the path to truth. An induction is formed, from whence a conclusion, called a principle, is drawn and defined; but this is no sooner done, than the author extends its influence far beyond the limits of the ideas present to his understanding, when he made his definition. The best method, therefore, to detect a pretended system, is always to substitute the definition in place of the term.
The imperfection also of language engages us frequently in disputes merely verbal; and instead of being on our guard against the many unavoidable ambiguities attending the most careful speech, we place a great part of our learning when at school, and of our wit when we appear on the stage of the world, in the prostitution of language. The learned delight in vague, and the witty in equivocal terms. In general, we familiarize ourselves so much to words, and think so little, when we speak and write, that the signs of our ideas take the place of the images which they were intended to represent.
Every true proposition, when understood, must be assented to universally. This is the case always, when simple ideas are affirmed or denied of each other. Nobody ever doubted that sound is the object of hearing, or colour that of sight, or that black is not white. But whenever a dispute arises concerning a proposition, wherein complex ideas are compared, we may often rest assured, that the parties do not understand each other. Luxury, says one, is incompatible with the prosperity of a state. Luxury is the fountain of a nation's welfare and happiness, says another. There may, in reality, be no difference in the sentiments of these two persons. The first may consider luxury as prejudicial to foreign trade, and as corrupting the morals of a people. The other may consider luxury as the means of providing employment for such as must live by their industry, and of promoting an equable circulation of wealth and subsistence, through all the classes of inhabitants. If each of them had attended to the other's complex idea of luxury, with all its consequences, they would have rendered their propositions less general.
The difference, therefore, of opinion between men is frequently more apparent than real. When we compare our own ideas, we constantly see their relations with perspicuity; but when we come to communicate these relations to other people, it is often impossible to put them into words sufficiently expressive of the precise combination of them we have made in our own minds.
This being the case, I have avoided, as much as possible, condemning such opinions as I have taken the liberty to review; because I have examined such only as have been advanced by men of genius and reputation; and since all matters of controversy regard the comparison of our ideas, if the terms we use to express them were sufficiently understood by both parties, most political disputes would, I am persuaded, be soon at an end.
Here it may be objected, that we frequently adopt an opinion, without being able to give a sufficient reason for it; and yet we cannot persuade ourselves to give it up, though we find it combated by the strongest arguments. To this I answer, that in such cases we do not adhere to our own opinions, but to those of others received upon trust. It is our regard for the authority, and not for the opinion, which makes us tenacious: for were the opinion truly our own, we could not fail of seeing, or at least we should not long be at a loss in recollecting, the ground upon which it is built. But when we assent implicitly to any political doctrine, there is no room for reason: we then satisfy ourselves with the persuasion that those whom we trust have sufficient reasons for what they advance. While our assent therefore is implicit, we are beyond conviction; not because we do not perceive the force of the arguments brought against our opinion, but because we are ignorant of the force of those which can be brought to support it: and as no body will sell what belongs to him, without being previously informed of its value, so no body will give up an implicit opinion, without knowing all that can be said for it. To this class of men I do not address myself in this inquiry.
But I insensibly run into a metaphysical speculation, in order to prove, that in political questions it is better for people to judge from experience and reason, than from authority to explain their terms, than to dispute about words; and to extend the combinations of their own ideas, than to follow conceits, however decorated with the name of systems. How far I have avoided such defects, the reader will determine.
Every writer values himself upon his impartiality; because he is not sensible of his fetters. The wandering and independent life I have led may naturally have set me free, in some measure, from strong attachments to popular opinions. This may be called impartiality. But as no man can be deemed impartial, who leans to any side whatever, I have been particularly on my guard against the consequences of this sort of negative impartiality; because I have found it sometimes carrying me too far from that to which a national prejudice might have led me.
In discussing general points, the best method I found to maintain a just balance in this respect, was to avert my eye from the country in which I lived at the time; and to judge of absent things by the absent. Objects which are present, are apt to produce perceptions too strong to be impartially compared with those recalled by memory only.
When I have had occasion to dip into any question concerning the preference to be given to certain forms of government above others, and to touch upon points which have been the object of sharp disputes, I have given my opinion with freedom, when it seemed proper: but in stating the question, I have endeavoured to avoid all trite, and, as I may call them, technical terms of party; which in such disputes every side chuses to take in their own acceptation: and as there is no sentiment of concord or good-will in their hearts, instead of coming to explanations together, they are charmed to find an occasion to differ concerning general propositions, from those they hate for particular considerations.
I have sometimes entered so heartily into the spirit of the statesman, as to be apt to forget my station in the society where I live; and when as a private man I have read over the work of the politician, my natural partiality in favour of individuals has led me to condemn, as Machiavellian principles, every sentiment, approving the sacrifice of private concerns in favour of a general plan.
In order, therefore, to reconcile me to myself in this particular, and to prevent certain expressions here and there interspersed, from making the slightest impression upon a reader of delicate sentiments, I must observe, that nothing would have been so easy as to soften many passages, where the politician appears to have snatched the pen out of the hand of the private citizen: but as I write for such only who can follow a close reasoning, and attend to the general scope of the whole inquiry, I have, purposely, made no correction; but continued painting, in the strongest colours, every inconvenience which must affect certain individuals living under our free modern governments, whenever a wise statesman sets about correcting old abuses, proceeding from idleness, sloth, or fraud in the lower classes, arbitrary jurisdictions in the higher, and neglects in administrations with respect to the interests of both. The more any cure is painful and dangerous, the more ought men carefully to avoid the disease. This leads me to say a word concerning the connection between the theory of morals and that of politics.
I lay it down as a general maxim, that the characteristic of a good action consists in the conformity between the motive, and the duty of the agent. Were there but one man upon earth, his duty would contain no other precepts than those dictated by self-love. If he come to be a father, a husband, a friend, his self-love falls immediately under limitations: he must withhold from himself, and give to his children; he must know how to sacrifice some of his fancies, in order to gratify, now and then, those of his wife, or of his friend. If he come to be a judge, a magistrate; he must frequently forget that he is a friend, or a father: and if he rise to be a statesman, he must disregard many other attachments more comprehensive, such as family, place of birth, and even, in certain cases, his native country. His duty here becomes relative to the general good of that society of which he is the head: and as the death of a criminal cannot be imputed to the judge who condemns him, neither can a particular inconvenience resulting to an individual, in consequence of a step taken for a general reformation, be imputed to him who sits at the helm of government.
If it should be asked, of what utility a speculation such as this can be to a statesman, to whom it is in a manner addressed from the beginning to the end: I answer, that although it seem addressed to a statesman, the real object of the inquiry is to influence the spirit of those whom he governs; and the variety of matter contained in it, may even suggest useful hints to himself. But his own genius and experience will enable him to carry such notions far beyond the reach of my abilities.
I have already said that I considered my work as no more than a canvass prepared for more able hands than mine to work upon. Now although the sketch it contains be not sufficiently correct, I have still made some progress, I think, in preparing the way for others to improve upon my plan, by contriving proper questions to be resolved by men of experience in the practical part of government.
I leave it therefore to masters in the science to correct and extend my ideas: and those who have not made the principles of policy their particular study, may have an opportunity of comparing the exposition I have given of them with the commonly received opinions concerning many questions of great importance to society. They will, for instance, be able to judge how far population can be increased usefully, by multiplying marriages, and by dividing lands: how far the swelling of capitals, cities and towns, tends to depopulate a country: how far the progress of luxury brings distress upon the poor industrious man: how far restrictions laid upon the corn trade, tend to promote an ample supply of subsistence in all our markets: how far the increase of public debts tends to involve us in a general bankruptcy: how far the abolition of paper currency would have the effect of reducing the price of all commodities: how far a tax tends to enhance their value: and how far the diminution of duties is an essential requisite for securing the liberty, and promoting the prosperity and happiness of a people.
Is it not of the greatest importance to examine, with candour, the operations by which all Europe has been engaged in a system of policy so generally declaimed against, and so contrary to that which we hear daily recommended as the best? To shew, from the plain principles of common sense, that our present situation is the unavoidable consequence of the spirit and manners of the present times; and that it is quite compatible with all the liberty, affluence, and prosperity, which any human society ever enjoyed in any age, or under any form of government? A people taught to expect from a statesman the execution of plans, big with impossibility and contradiction, will remain discontented under the government of the best of Kings. Book I Of Population and Agriculture Introduction
Oeconomy, in general, is the art of providing for all the wants of a family, with prudence and frugality.
If any thing necessary or useful be found wanting, if any thing provided be lost or misapplied, if any servant, any animal, be supernumerary or useless, if any one sick or infirm be neglected, we immediately perceive a want of oeconomy. The object of it, in a private family, is therefore to provide for the nourishment, the other wants, and the employment of every individual. In the first place, for the master, who is the head, and who directs the whole; next for the children, who interest him above all other things; and last for the servants, who being useful to the head, and essential to the well-being of the family, have therefore a title to become an object of the master's care and concern.
The whole oeconomy must be directed by the head, who is both lord and steward of the family. It is however necessary, that these two offices be not confounded with one another. As lord, he establishes the laws of his oeconomy; as steward, he puts them in execution. As lord, he may restrain and give his commands to all within the house as he thinks proper; as steward, he must conduct with gentleness and address, and is bound by his own regulations. The better the oeconomist, the more uniformity is perceived in all his actions, and the less liberties are taken to depart from stated rules. He is not so much master, as that he may break through the laws of his oeconomy, although in every respect he may keep each individual within the house, in the most exact subordination to his commands. Oeconomy and government, even in a private family, present therefore two different ideas, and have also two different objects.
What oeconomy is in a family, political oeconomy is in a state: with these essential differences, however, that in a state there are no servants, all are children: that a family may be formed when and how a man pleases, and he may there establish what plan of oeconomy he thinks fit; but states are found formed, and the Oeconomy of these depends upon a thousand circumstances. The statesman (this is a general term to signify the legislature and supreme power, according to the form of government) is neither master to establish what oeconomy he pleases, or, in the exercise of his sublime authority, to overturn at will the established laws of it, let him be the most despotic monarch upon earth.
The great art therefore of political oeconomy is, first to adapt the different operations of it to the spirit, manners, habits, and customs of the people; and afterwards to model these circumstances so, as to be able to introduce a set of new and more useful institutions.
The principal object of this science is to secure a certain fund of subsistence for all the inhabitants, to obviate every circumstance which may render it precarious; to provide every thing necessary for supplying the wants of the society, and to employ the inhabitants (supposing them to be free-men) in such a manner as naturally to create reciprocal relations and dependencies between them, so as to make their several interests lead them to supply one another with their reciprocal wants.
If one considers the variety which is found in different countries, in the distribution of property, subordination of classes, genius of people, proceeding from the variety of forms of government, laws, climate, and manners, one may conclude, that the political oeconomy in each must necessarily be different, and that principles, however universally true, may become quite ineffectual in practice, without a sufficient preparation of the spirit of a people.
It is the business of a statesman to judge of the expediency of different schemes of oeconomy, and by degrees to model the minds of his subjects so as to induce them, from the allurement of private interest, to concur in the execution of his plan.
The speculative person who, removed from the practice, extracts the principles of this science from observation and reflection, should divest himself, as far as possible, of every prejudice in favour of established opinions, however reasonable, when examined relatively to particular nations: he must do his utmost to become a citizen of the world, comparing customs, examining minutely institutions which appear alike, when in different countries they are found to produce different effects: he should examine the cause of such differences with the utmost diligence and attention. It is from such inquiries that the true principles are discovered.
He who takes up the pen upon this subject, keeping in his eye the customs of his own or any other country, will fall more naturally into a description of one particular system of it, than into an examination of the principles of the science in general; he will applaud such institutions as he finds rightly administered at home; he will condemn those which are administered with abuse; but, without comparing different methods of executing the same plan in different countries, he will not easily distinguish the disadvantages which are essential to the institution, from those which proceed from the abuse. For this reason a land-tax excites he indignation of a Frenchman, an excise that of an Englishman. One who looks into the execution of both, in each country, and in every branch of their management, will discover the real effects of these impositions, and be able to distinguish what proceeds from abuse, from what is essential to the burden.
Nothing is more effectual towards preparing the spirit of a people to receive a good plan of oeconomy, than a proper representation of it. On the other hand, nothing is better calculated to keep the statesman, who is at the head of affairs, in awe.
When principles are well understood, the real consequences of burdensome institutions are clearly seen: when the purposes they are intended for are not obtained, the abuse of the statesman's administration appears palpable. People then will not so much cry out against the imposition, as against the misapplication. It will not be a land-tax of four shillings in the pound, nor an excise upon wines and tobacco, which will excite the murmurs of a nation; it will be the prodigal dissipation and misapplication of the amount of these taxes after they are laid on. But when principles are not known, all inquiry is at an end, the moment a nation can be engaged to submit to the burden. It is the same with regard to many other parts of this science: while people remain blind they are always mistrustful.
Having pointed out the object of my pursuit, I shall only add, that my intention is to attach myself principally to a clear deduction of principles, and a short application of them to familiar examples, in order to avoid abstraction as much as possible. I farther intend to confine myself to such parts of this extensive subject, as shall appear the most interesting in the general system of modern politics; of which I shall treat with that spirit of liberty, which reigns more and more every day, throughout all the polite and flourishing nations of Europe.
When I compare the elegant performances which have appeared in Great Britain and in France with my dry and abstracted manner of treating the same subject, in a plain language void of ornament, I own I am discouraged on many accounts. If I be obliged to set out by laying down, as fundamental principles, the most obvious truths, I dread the imputation of pedantry, and of pretending to turn common sense into science. If I follow these principles through a minute detail, I may appear trifling. I therefore hope the reader will believe me, when I tell him, that these defects have not escaped my discernment, but that my genius, the nature of the work, and the connection of the subject, have obliged me to write in an order and in a style, where every thing has been sacrificed to perspicuity.
My principal aim shall be to discover truth, and to enable my reader to touch the very link of the chain where I may at any time go astray.
My business shall not be to seek for new thoughts, but to reason consequentially; and if any thing new shall be found, it will be in the conclusions.
Long steps in political reasoning lead to error: close reasoning is tedious, and to many appears trivial: this, however, must be my plan, and my consolation is, that the farther I advance, I shall become the more interesting.
Every supposition must be considered as strictly relative to the circumstances presupposed; and though, in order to prevent misapplication, and to avoid abstraction as much as possible, I frequently make use of examples for illustrating every principle; yet these, which are taken from matters of fact, must be supposed divested of every foreign circumstance inconsistent with the supposition.
I shall combat no particular opinion in such intricate matters; though sometimes I may pass them in review, in order to point out how I am led to differ from them.
I pretend to form no system, but, by tracing out a succession of principles, consistent with the nature of man and with one another, I shall endeavour to furnish some materials towards the forming of a good one.
Man we find acting uniformly in all age, in all countries, and in all climates, from the principles of self-interest, expediency, duty, or passion. In this he is alike, in nothing else.
These motives of human actions produce such a variety of circumstances, that if we consider the several species of animals in the creation, we shall find the individuals of no class so unlike to one another, as man to man. No wonder then if people differ in opinion with regard to every thing almost which relates to our species.
As this noble animal is a sociable creature, both from necessity and inclination, we find also, in all ages, climates and countries, a certain modification of government and subordination established among them. Here again we are presented with as great a variety, as there are different societies; all however agreeing in this, that the end of a voluntary subordination to authority is with a view to promote the general good.
Constant and uninterrupted experience has proved to man, that virtue and justice, in those who govern, are sufficient to render the society happy, under any form of government. Virtue and justice, when applied to government, mean no more than a tender affection for the whole society, and an exact and impartial regard for the interest of every class.
All actions, and all things indeed, are good or bad by relation only. Nothing is so complex as relations when considered with regard to a society, and nothing is so difficult as to discover truth, when involved and blended with these relations.
We are not to conclude from this, that every operation of government must become problematical and uncertain as to its consequences: some are evidently good; others are notoriously bad; those, the tendency of which is less evident, are always the least essential, and the more complex they appear to a discerning eye, the more trivial they are found to be in their immediate consequences.
A government must be continually in action, and one principal object of its attention must be, the consequences and effects of new institutions.
Experience alone will shew, what human prudence could not foresee; and mistakes must be corrected as often as expediency requires.
All governments have what they call their fundamental laws; but fundamental, that is, invariable laws, can never subsist among men, the most variable thing we know: the only fundamental law, salus populi, must ever be relative, like every other thing. But this is rather a maxim than a law.
It is however expedient, nay absolutely necessary, that in every state, certain laws be supposed fundamental and invariable: both to serve as a curb to the ambition of individuals, and to point out to the statesman the outlines, or sketch of that plan of government, which experience has proved to be the best adapted to the spirit of his people.
Such laws may even be considered as actually invariable, while a state subsists without convulsions or revolutions; because then the alterations are so gradual, that they become imperceptible to all, but the most discerning, who can compare the customs and manners of the same people in different periods of time and under different circumstances.
As we have taken for granted the fundamental maxim, that every operation of government should be calculated for the good of the people, so we may with equal certainty decide, that in order to make a people happy, they must be governed according to the spirit which prevails among them.
I am next to explain what I mean by the spirit of a people, and to show how far this spirit must be made to influence the government of every society.
The spirit of a people is formed upon a set of received opinions relative to three objects; morals, government, and manners: these once generally adopted by any society, confirmed by long and constant habit, and never called in question, form the basis of all laws, regulate the form of every government, and determine what is commonly called the customs of a country.
To know a people, we must examine them under these general heads. We acquire the knowledge of their morals with ease, by consulting the tenets of their religion, and from what is taught among them by authority.
The second, or government, is more disguised, as it is constantly changing from circumstances, partly resulting from domestic and partly from foreign considerations. A thorough knowledge of their history, and conversation with their ministers of state, may give one, who has access to these helps, a very competent knowledge of this branch.
The last, or the knowledge of the manners of a people, is by far the most difficult to acquire, and yet is the most open to every person's observation. Certain circumstances with regard to manners are supposed by every one in the country to be so well known, so generally followed and observed, that it seldom occurs to any body to inform a stranger concerning them. In one country nothing is so injurious as a stroke with a stick, or even a gesture which implies a design or a desire to strike. in another a stroke is not near so offensive as an opprobrious expression. An innocent liberty with the fair sex, which in one country passes without censure, is looked upon in another as the highest indignity. In general, the opinion of a people with regard to injuries is established by custom only, and nothing is more necessary in government, than an exact attention to every circumstance peculiar to the people to be governed.
The kingdom of Spain was lost for a violence committed upon chastity; the city of Genoa for a blow; the kingdoms of Naples and Sicily have ever been ready to revolt; because having been for many ages under the dominion of strangers, the people have never been governed according to the true spirit of their manners. Let us consult the revolutions of all countries, and we shall find, that the most trivial circumstances have had a greater influence on such events, than the more weighty reasons, which are always set forth as the real motives. I need not enlarge upon this subject, my intention is only to suggest an idea which any one may pursue, and which will be applied upon many occasions as we go along; for there is no treating any point which regards the political oeconomy of a nation, without accompanying the example with some supposition relative to the spirit of the people.
I have said, that the most difficult thing to learn concerning a people, is the spirit of their manners. Consequently, the most difficult thing for a stranger to adopt, is their manner. Men acquire the language, nay even lose the foreign accent, before they lose the peculiarity of their manner. The reason is plain. The inclinations must be changed, the taste for amusements must be new-modelled; established maims upon government, manners, nay even upon some moral actions, must undergo certain new modifications, before the stranger's conversation and behaviour can become consistent with the spirit of the people with whom he lives.
From these considerations, we may find the reason, why nothing is more heavy to bear than the government of conquerors, in spite of all their endeavours to render themselves agreeable to the conquered. Of this, experience has ever proved the truth, and princes are so much persuaded of it, that when a country is subdued in our days, or when it otherwise changes masters, there is seldom any question of altering, but by very slow degrees and length of time, the established laws and customs of the inhabitants. I might safely say, there is no form of government upon earth so excellent in itself, as, necessarily, to make the people happy under it. Freedom itself, imposed upon a people groaning under the greatest slavery, will not make them happy, unless it is made to undergo certain modifications, relative to their established habits.
Having explained what I mean by the spirit of a people, I come next to consider, how far this spirit must influence government.
If governments be taken in general, we shall find them analogous to the spirit of the people. But the point under consideration is, how a statesman is to proceed, when expediency and refinement require a change of administration, or when it becomes necessary from a change of circumstances.
The great alteration in the affairs of Europe within these three centuries, by the discovery of America and the Indies, the springing up of industry and learning, the introduction of trade and the luxurious arts, the establishment of public credit, and a general system of taxation, have entirely altered the plan of government every where.
From feudal and military, it is become free and commercial. I oppose freedom in government to the feudal system, to mark only that there is not found now that chain of subordination among the subjects, which made the essential part of the feudal form. The head there had little power, and the lower classes of the people little liberty. Now every industrious man, who lives with oeconomy, is free and independent under most forms of government. Formerly, the power of the barons swallowed up the independency of all inferior classes. I oppose commercial to military; because the military governments now are made to subsist from the consequences and effects of commerce only. that is, from the revenue of the state, proceeding from taxes. Formerly, every thing was brought about by numbers; now, numbers of men cannot be kept together without money.
This is sufficient to point out the nature of the revolution in the political state, and of consequence in the manners of Europe.
The spirit of a people changes no doubt of itself, but by slow degrees. The same generation commonly adheres to the same principles, and retains the same spirit. In every country we find two generations upon the stage at a time; that is to say, we may distribute into two classes the spirit which prevails; the one amongst men between twenty and thirty, when opinions are forming; the other of those who are past fifty, when opinions and habits are formed and confirmed. A person of judgment and observation may foresee many things relative to government, from an exact attention to the rise and progress of new customs and opinions, provided he preserve his mind free from all attachments and prejudices, in favour of those which he himself has adopted, and in that delicacy of sensation necessary to perceive the influence of a change of circumstances. This is the genius proper to form a great minister.
In every new step the spirit of the people should be first examined; and if this be not found ripe for the execution of the plan, it ought to be put off, kept entirely secret, and every method used to prepare the people to relish the innovation.
The project of introducing popery into England was blown before it was put in practice, and so miscarried. Queen Elizabeth kept her own secret, and succeeded in a similar attempt. The scheme of a general excise was pushed with too much vivacity, was made a matter of party, was ill-timed, and the people nowise prepared for it; hence it will be the more difficult to bring about at another time, without the greatest precautions.
In turning and working upon the spirit of a people, nothing is impossible to an able statesman. When a people can be engaged to murder their wives and children, and to burn themselves, rather than submit to a foreign enemy, when they can be brought to give their most precious effects, their ornaments of gold and silver, for the support of a common cause; when women are brought to give their hair to make ropes, and the most decrepit old men to mount the walls of a town for its defence; I think I may say, that by properly conducting and managing the spirit of a people, nothing is impossible to be accomplished. But when I say, nothing is impossible, I must be understood to mean, that nothing essentially necessary for the good of the people is impossible; and this is all that is required in government.
That it requires a particular talent in a statesman to dispose the minds of a people to approve even of the scheme which is the most conducive to their interest and prosperity, appears from this, that we see examples of wise, rich, and powerful nations languishing in inactivity, at a time when every individual is animated with a quite contrary spirit; becoming a prey to their enemies, like the city of Jerusalem, while they are taken up with their domestic animosities, merely because the remedies proposed against these evils contradict the spirit of the times.
The great art of governing is to divest oneself of prejudices and attachments to particular opinions, particular classes, and above all to particular persons; to consult the spirit of the people, to give way to it in appearance, and in so doing to give it a turn capable of inspiring those sentiments which may induce them to relish the change, which an alteration of circumstances has rendered necessary.
Can any change be greater among free men, than from a state of absolute liberty and independence to become subject to constraint in the most trivial actions? This change has however taken place over all Europe within these three hundred years, and yet we think ourselves more free than ever our fathers were. Formerly a gentleman who enjoyed a bit of land, knew not what it was to have any demand made upon him, but in virtue of obligations by himself contracted. He disposed of the fruits of the earth, and of the labour of his servants or vassals, as he thought fit. Every thing was bought, sold, transferred, transported, modified, and composed, for private consumption, or for public use, without ever the state's being once found interested in what was doing. This, I say, was formerly the general situation of Europe, among free nations under a regular administration; and the only impositions commonly known to affect landed men, were made in consequence of a contract of subordination, feudal or other, which had certain limitations; and the impositions were appropriated for certain purposes.
Daily experience shews, that nothing is more against the inclinations of a people than the imposition of taxes; and the less they are accustomed to them, the more difficult it is to get them established.
The great abuse of governors in the application of taxes contributes not a little to entertain and augment this repugnancy in the governed: but besides abuse, there is often too little management used to prepare the spirits of the people for such innovations; for we see them upon many occasions submitting with cheerfulness to very heavy impositions, provided they he well-timed, and consistent with their manners and disposition. A French gentleman, who cannot bear the thought of being put upon a level with a peasant in paying a land-tax, pays contentedly, in time of war, a general tax upon all his effects, under a different name. To pay for your head is terrible in one country; to pay for light appears as terrible in another.
It often happens, that statesmen take the hint of new impositions from the example of other nations, and not from a nice examination of their own domestic circumstances. But when these are rightly attended to, it becomes easy to discover the means of executing the same plan, in a way quite adapted to the spirit, temper, and circumstances of the people. When strangers are employed as statesmen, the disorder is still greater, unless there be extraordinary penetration, temper, and, above all, flexibility and discretion.
Statesmen have sometimes recourse to artifice instead of reason, because their intentions often are not upright. This destroys all confidence between them and the people; and confidence is necessary when you are in a manner obliged to ask a favour, or when what you demand is not indisputably your right. A people thus tricked into an imposition, though expedient for their prosperity, will oppose violently, at another time, a like measure, even when essential to their preservation.
At other times, we see statesmen presenting the allurement of present ease, precisely at the time when people's minds are best disposed to receive a burden. I mean when war threatens, and when the mind is heated with a resentment of injuries. Is it not wonderful, at such a time as this, to increase taxes in proportion only to the interest of money wanted; does not this imply a shortsightedness, or at least an indifference as to what is to come? Is it not more natural, that a people should consent to come under burdens to gratify revenge, than submit to repay a large debt when their minds are restored to a state of tranquility.
From the examples I have given, I hope what I mean by the spirit of a people is sufficiently understood, and I think I have abundantly shewn the necessity of its being properly disposed, in order to establish a right plan of oeconomy. This is so true, that many examples may be found, of a people's rejecting the most beneficial institutions, and even the greatest favours, merely because some circumstance had shocked their established customs. No wonder then, if we see them refuse to come under limitations, restraints, and burdens, when the utmost they can be flattered with from them, is a distant prospect of national good.
I have found it necessary to premise these general reflections, in order to obviate many objections which might naturally enough occur in the perusal of this inquiry. I shall have occasion to make a number of suppositions, and to draw consequences from them, which are abundantly natural, provided a proper spirit in the people be presupposed, but which would be far from being natural without this supposition. I suppose, for example, that a poor man, loaded with many children, would be glad to have the state maintain them; that another, who has waste lands, would be obliged to one who would gratuitously build him a farm-house upon it. yet in both suppositions I may prove mistaken; for fathers there are, who would rather see their children dead than out of their hands; and proprietors are to be found, who, for the sake of hunting, would lay the finest country in Europe into a waste.
In order to communicate an adequate idea of what I understand by political oeconomy, I have explained the term, by pointing out the object of the art; which is, to provide food, other necessaries, and employment to every one of the society.
This is a very simple and a very general method of defining a most complicated operation.
To provide a proper employment for all the members of a society, is the same as to model and conduct every branch of their concerns.
Upon this idea may be formed, I think, the most extensive basis for an inquiry into the principles of political oeconomy.
The next thing to be done, is to fall upon a distinct method of analysing so extensive a subject, by contriving a train of ideas, which may be directed towards every part of the plan, and which, at the same time, may be made to arise methodically from one another.
For this purpose I have taken a hint from what the late revolutions in the politics of Europe have pointed out to be the regular progress of mankind, from great simplicity to complicated refinement.
This first book shall then set out with taking up society in the cradle, as I may say. I shall here examine the principles which influence their multiplication, the method of providing for their subsistence, the origin of their labour, the effects of their liberty and slavery, the distribution of them into classes, with some other topics which relate to mankind in general.
Here we shall find the principles of industry influencing the multiplication of mankind, and the cultivation of the soil. This I have thrown in on purpose to prepare my reader for the subject of the second book; where he will find the same principle (under the wings of liberty) providing an easy subsistence for a numerous populace, by the means of trade, which sends the labour of an industrious people over the whole world.
From the experience of what has happened these last two hundred years, we find to what a pitch the trade and industry of Europe has increased alienations, and the circulation of money. I shall therefore closely adhere to these, as the most immediate consequences of the preceding improvement; and, by analysing them, I shall form my third and fourth books, in which I intend to treat of money and credit.
We see also how credit has engaged nations to avail themselves of it in their wars, and how, by the use of it, they have been led to contract debts; which they never can satisfy and pay, without imposing taxes. The doctrine, then, of debts and taxes will very naturally follow that of credit in this great chain of political consequences.
By this kind of historical clue, I shall conduct myself through the great avenues of this extensive labyrinth; and in my review of every particular district, I shall step from consequence to consequence, until I have penetrated into the inmost recesses of my own understanding.
When a subject is broken off, I shall render my transitions as gradual as I can, by still preserving some chain of connexion; and although I cannot flatter myself (in such infinite variety of choice, as to order and distribution) to hit at all times on that method, which may appear to every reader the most natural and the most correct, yet I shall spare no pains in casting the materials into different forms, so as to make the best distribution of them in my power.
The multiplication of mankind has been treated of in different ways; some have made out tables to show the progression of multiplication, others have treated the question historically. The state of numbers in different ages of the world, or in different countries at different times, has been made the object of inquiry; and the most exact scrutiny has been made into ancient authors, as the means of investigating the truth of this matter. All passages relative to the subject have been laid together, and accompanied with glosses and interpretations the most plausible, in order to determine the main question. The elaborate performances of Mr Hume, and Dr Wallace, who have adopted opposite opinions in regard to the populousness of the ancient world, have left nothing new to be said upon this subject; at least the application they appear to have given in examining the ancients, is a great discouragement to any one who might otherwise still flatter himself to find out circumstances in them, proper to cast a new light upon the question.
My intention in this chapter is not to decide, nor even to give my opinion upon that matter, far less to combat the arguments advanced on either side. I am to consider the question under a different point of view; not to inquire what numbers of people were found upon the earth at a certain time, but to examine the natural and rational causes of multipliCation. If we can discover these, we may perhaps be led to judge how far they might have operated in different ages and in different countries.
The fundamental principle of the multiplication of all animals, and consequently of man, is generation; the next is food: generation gives existence, food preserves it. Did the earth produce of itself the proper nourishment for man with unlimited abundance, we should find no occasion to labour in order to procure it. Now in all countries found inhabited, as in those which have been found desolate, if the state of animals be inquired into, the number of them will be found in proportion to the quantity of food produced by the earth, regularly throughout the year, for their subsistence. I say, regularly throughout the year, because we perceive, in those animals which produce in great abundance, such as all the feathered sort, that vast multitudes are destroyed in winter; they are brought forth with the fruits of the earth, and fall in proportion to their decay. This principle is so natural, that I think it can hardly be controverted.
As to man, the earth does not spontaneously produce nourishment for him in any considerable degree. I allow that as some species of animals support life by devouring others, so may man; but it must be observed, that the species feeding must always be much inferior in number to the species fed upon. This is evident in reason and in fact.
Were the earth therefore uncultivated, the numbers of mankind would not exceed the proportion of the spontaneous fruits which she offers for their immediate use, or for that of the animals which might be the proper nourishment of man.
There is therefore a certain number of mankind which the earth would be able to maintain without any labour: allow me to call this quantity (A). Does it not, from this exposition of the matter, appear plain, that without labour (A) never can increase any more than animals, which do not work for themselves, can increase beyond the proportion of food provided for them by nature? Let it be however observed, that I do not pretend to limit (A) to a determinate number. The seasons will no doubt influence the numbers of mankind, as we see they influence the plenty of other animals; but I say (A) will never increase beyond the fixed proportion above mentioned.
Having resolved one question with regard to multiplication, and shewn that numbers must become greater or smaller according to the productions of nature, I come to the second thing proposed to be treated of in the chapter; to wit, what will become of the generative faculty after it has produced the full proportion of (A), and what effects will afterwards follow.
We see how beneficent, I might have said prodigal, nature is in bestowing life by generation. Several kinds of animals, especially insects, multiply by thousands, and yet the species does not appear annually to increase. Nobody can pretend that particular individuals of any species have a privilege to live, and that others die from a difference in their nature. It is therefore reasonable to conclude, that what destroys such vast quantities of those produced, must be, among other causes, the want of food. Let us apply this to man.
Those who are supposed to be fed with the spontaneous fruits of the earth, cannot, from what has been said, multiply beyond that proportion; at the same time the generative faculty will work its natural effects in augmenting numbers. The consequence will be, that certain individuals must become worse fed, consequently weaker. consequently, if, in that weakly state, nature should withhold a part of her usual plenty, the whole multitude will be affected by it; a disease may take place, and sweep off a far greater number than that proportioned to the deficiency of the season. What results from this? That those who have escaped, finding food more plentiful, become vigorous and strong. generation gives life to additional numbers, food preserves it, until they rise up to the former standard.
Thus the generative faculty resembles a spring loaded with a weight, which always exerts itself in proportion to the diminution of resistance: when food has remained some time without augmentation or diminution, generation will carry numbers as high as possible; if then food come to be diminished, the spring is overpowered; the force of it becomes less than nothing. Inhabitants will diminish, at least, in proportion to the overcharge. If, upon the other hand, food be increased, the spring which stood at 0, will begin to exert itself in proportion as the resistance diminishes; people will begin to be better fed; they will multiply, and, in proportion as they increase in numbers, the food will become scarce again.
I must here subjoin a remark very analogous to this subject. That the generative faculty in man (which we have compared to a spring), and the care and love we have for our children, first prompt us to multiply, and then engage us to divide what we have with our little ones. Thus from dividing and subdividing it happens, that in every country where food is limited to a certain quantity, the inhabitants must be subsisted in a regular progression, descending down from plenty and ample subsistence, to the last periods of want, and even sometimes starving for hunger.
Although the examples of this last extremity are not common in some countries, yet I believe they are more so than is generally imagined; and the other stages of want are productive of many diseases, and of a decay which extinguishes the faculty of generation, or which weakens it, so as to produce children less vigorous and less healthy. I appeal to experience, if this reasoning be not just.
Put two or three pairs of rabbits into a field proper for them, the multiplication will be rapid; and in a few years the warren will be stocked: you may take yearly from it a hundred pairs, I shall suppose, and keep your warren in good order: give over taking any for some years, you will perhaps find your original stock rather diminished than increased, for the reasons above mentioned. Africa yearly furnishes many thousands for the cultivation of America; in this she resembles the warren. I have little doubt but that if all her sons were returned to her at once, by far the greater part would die of hunger.
I now suppose man to add his labour and industry to the natural activity of the soil: so far, as by this he produces an additional quantity of food, so far he lays a foundation for the maintenance of an additional number. This number I shall call (B). From this I conclude, that as (A) is supposed to be in a constant proportion to the spontaneous fruits, so (B) must be in proportion to agriculture (by this term I understand at present every method of augmenting food by labour), consequently the number maintained by the labour of mankind must be to the whole number of mankind as (B) is to (A + B), or as (B) is to (A) and (B) jointly.
By this operation we find mankind immediately divided into two classes; those who, without working, live upon the spontaneous fruits of the earth; that is, upon milk, cattle, hunting, &c. The other part, those who are obliged to labour the soil. It is proper next to inquire what should naturally oblige a man to labour; and what are the natural consequences of it as to multiplication.
We have already said, that the principle of generation is inherent in man, and prompts him to multiply. Another principle, as naturally inherent in the mind, as the first is in the body, is self-love, or a desire of ease and happiness, which prompts those who find in themselves any superiority, whether personal or political, to make use of every natural advantage. Consequently, such will multiply proportionably: because by appropriating to themselves the fruits of the earth, they have the means of subsisting their offspring. The others, I think, will very naturally become their servants; as this method is, of all others, the most easy to procure subsistence. This is so analogous to the nature of man, that we see every where, even among children, that the smallest superiority in any one over the rest, constantly draws along with it a tribute of service in one way or other. Those who become servants for the sake of food, will soon become slaves: for slavery is but the abuse of service, established by a civil institution; and men who find no possibility of subsisting otherwise, will be obliged to serve upon the conditions prescribed to them.
This seems a consequence not unnatural in the infancy of the world: yet I do not pretend to affirm that this was the origin of slavery. Servants, however, there have always been; and the abuse of service is what we understand by slavery. The subordination of children to their parents, and of servants to their masters, seems to be the most rational origin of society and government. The first of these is natural, and follows as the unavoidable consequence of an entire dependence: the second is political, and may very naturally take place as to those who cannot otherwise procure subsistence. This last species of subordination may, I think, have taken place, the moment man became obliged to labour for subsistence, but no sooner.
The wants of man are not confined to food, merely. When food is to be produced from the rude surface of the earth, a great part of his time must be taken up with this object, even supposing him to be provided with every utensil proper for the exercise of his industry: he must therefore be in a worse condition to provide for his other wants: consequently, he may be willing to serve any one who will do it for him. Whereas, on the other hand, if we suppose all mankind idle and fed, living upon the spontaneous fruits of the earth, the plan of universal liberty becomes quite natural: because under such circumstances they find no inducement to come under a voluntary subordination.
Let us now borrow the idea of a primitive society, of a government, of a king, from the most ancient history we have, the better to point out the effects of agriculture and multiplication. The society is the whole taken together; it is Jacob, his sons, their wives, their children, and all the servants. The government regards the institutions prescribed by Jacob, to every one of the family, concerning their respective subordination and duty. Multiplication will here go forward, not in proportion to the generative faculty, but according to the employment of the persons already generated. If Jacob continue pasturing his herds, he must extend the limits of his right of pasture; he must multiply his stock of cattle, in proportion as the mouths of his family augment. He is charged with all this detail: for he is master, and director, and statesman, and general provider. His servants will work as they are ordered; but if he has not had the proper foresight, to break up lands so soon as his family comes nearly up to that proportion which his flocks can easily feed; if in this case, a dry season should burn up the grass in Palestine, he will be obliged to send some of his stock of cattle, by some of his family, to market, there to be sold; and with the price he must buy corn. For in this early age, there was money, there were manufactures of sackcloth, of common raiment, and of party-coloured garments; there was a trade in corn, in spicery, balm, and myrrh. Jacob and his family were shepherds, but they lived not entirely on flesh; they eat bread: consequently there was tillage in those days, though they exercised none. The famine however was ready to destroy them, and probably would have done it, but for the providential circumstance of Joseph's being governor of Egypt. He relieved their distress, he gave to his family the best country in the whole kingdom for pasture; and they had a gratuitous supply of bread.
No doubt, so long as these favourable circumstances subsisted, multiplication would go on apace. What supernatural assistance God was pleased to grant for the increase of his chosen people, does not concern my inquiry.
I have mentioned transiently this example of the patriarch, to point out only how ancient the use of money, the invention of trade and manufactures appear to have been. Without such previous establishments, I consider mankind as savages, living on the spontaneous fruits of the earth, as in the first supposition; and confined, as to numbers, to the actual extent of these productions.
From what has been said, we may conclude, that the numbers of mankind must depend upon the quantity of food produced by the earth for their nourishment; from which, as a corollary, may be drawn.
That mankind have been, as to numbers, and must ever be, in proportion to the food produced; and that the food produced will be in the compound proportion of the fertility of the climate, and the industry of the inhabitants.
From this last proposition it appears plain, that there can be no general rule for determining the number of inhabitants necessary for agriculture, not even in the same country. The fertility of the soil when laboured, the ease of labouring it, the quantity of good spontaneous fruits, the plenty of fish in the rivers and sea, the abundance of wild birds and beasts, have in all ages, and ever must influence greatly the nourishment, and, consequently, regulate the multiplication of man, and determine his employment.
To make an establishment in a country not before inhabited, to root out woods, destroy wild and venomous animals, drain marshy grounds, give a free course to water, and to lay down the surface into corn fields, must surely require more hands than to cultivate the same after it is improved. For the truth of this, I appeal to our American brethren.
We may therefore conclude, that the most essential requisite for population, is that of agriculture, or the providing of subsistence. Upon this all the rest depends: while subsistence is upon a precarious footing, no statesman can turn his attention to any thing else.
The great importance of this object has engaged some to imagine, that the luxurious arts, in our days, are prejudicial both to agriculture and multiplication. It is sometimes of ill consequence to fix one's attention too much upon any one object, however important. Nobody can dispute that agriculture is the foundation of multiplication, and the most essential requisite for the prosperity of a state. But it does not follow from this, that every body almost in the state should be employed in it; that would be inverting the order of things, and turning the master into the servant. The duty and business of man is not to feed; he is fed, in order to do his duty, and to become useful in his profession; whether agriculture, art, or science.
It is not sufficient for my purpose to know, that the introduction of agriculture, by multiplying the quantity of the earth's productions, does evidently tend to increase the numbers of mankind. I must examine the political causes which must concur, in order to operate this effect.
For this purpose, my next inquiry shall be directed towards discovering the true principles which influence the employment of man, with respect to agriculture. I shall spare no pains in examining this point to the bottom, even though it should lead me to anticipate some branches of my subject.
I shall endeavour to lay down principles consistent with the nature of man, with agriculture, and with multiplication, in order, by their means, to discover both the use and abuse of the two last. When these parts are well understood, the rest will go on more smoothly, and I shall find the less occasion to interrupt my subject, in order to explain the topics upon which the whole depends.
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