David Hume Essays On Commerce

Part I, Essay XII



Those who employ their pens on political subjects, free from party-rage, and party-prejudices, cultivate a science, which, of all others, contributes most to public utility, and even to the private satisfaction of those who addict themselves to the study of it. I am apt, however, to entertain a suspicion, that the world is still too young to fix many general truths in politics, which will remain true to the latest posterity. We have not as yet had experience of three thousand years; so that not only the art of reasoning is still imperfect in this science, as in all others, but we even want sufficient materials upon which we can reason. It is not fully known, what degree of refinement, either in virtue or vice, human nature is susceptible of; nor what may be expected of mankind from any great revolution in their education, customs, or principles. MACHIAVEL was certainly a great genius; but having confined his study to the furious and tyrannical governments of ancient times, or to the little disorderly principalities of ITALY, his reasonings especially upon monarchical government, have been found extremely defective; and there scarcely is any maxim in his prince, which subsequent experience has not entirely refuted. A weak prince, says he, is incapable of receiving good counsel; for if he consult with several, he will not be able to choose among their different counsels. If he abandon himself to one, that minister may, perhaps, have capacity; but he will not long be a minister: He will be sure to dispossess his master, and place himself and his family upon the throne. I mention this, among many instances of the errors of that politician, proceeding, in a great measure, from his having lived in too early an age of the world, to be a good judge of political truth. Almost all the princes of EUROPE are at present governed by their ministers; and have been so for near two centuries; and yet no such event has ever happened, or can possibly happen. SEJANUS might project dethroning the CÆSARS; but FLEURY, though ever so vicious, could not, while in his senses, entertain the least hopes of dispossessing the BOURBONS.


Trade was never esteemed an affair of state till the last century; and there scarcely is any ancient writer on politics, who has made mention of it. Even the ITALIANS have kept a profound silence with regard to it, though it has now engaged the chief attention, as well of ministers of state, as of speculative reasoners. The great opulence, grandeur, and military achievements of the two maritime powers seem first to have instructed mankind in the importance of an extensive commerce.


Having, therefore, intended in this essay to make a full comparison of civil liberty and absolute government, and to showc the great advantages of the former above the latter; I began to entertain a suspicion, that no man in this age was sufficiently qualified for such an undertaking; and that whatever any one should advance on that head would, in all probability, be refuted by further experience, and be rejected by posterity. Such mighty revolutions have happened in human affairs, and so many events have arisen contrary to the expectation of the ancients, that they are sufficient to beget the suspicion of still further changes.


It had been observed by the ancients, that all the arts and sciences arose among free nations; and, that the PERSIANS and EGYPTIANS, notwithstanding their ease, opulence, and luxury, made but faint efforts towards a relish in those finer pleasures, which were carried to such perfection by the GREEKS, amidst continual wars, attended with poverty, and the greatest simplicity of life and manners. It had also been observed, that, when the GREEKS lost their liberty, though they increased mightily in riches, by means of the conquests of ALEXANDER; yet the arts, from that moment, declined among them, and have never since been able to raise their head in that climate. Learning was transplanted to ROME, the only free nation at that time in the universe; and having met with so favourable a soil, it made prodigious shoots for above a century; till the decay of liberty produced also the decay of letters, and spread a total barbarism over the world. From these two experiments, of which each was double in its kind, and shewed the fall of learning in absolute governments, as well as its rise in popular ones, LONGINUS thought himself sufficiently justified, in asserting, that the arts and sciences could never flourish, but in a free government: And in this opinion, he has been followed by several eminent writers in our own country, who either confined their view merely to ancient facts, or entertained too great a partiality in favour of that form of government, established amongst us.


But what would these writers have said, to the instances of modern ROME and of FLORENCE? Of which the former carried to perfection all the finer arts of sculpture, painting, and music, as well as poetry, though it groaned under tyranny, and under the tyranny of priests: While the latter made its chief progress in the arts and sciences, after it began to lose its liberty by the usurpation of the family of MEDICI. ARIOSTO, TASSO, GALILEO, more than RAPHAEL, and MICHAEL ANGELO, were not born in republics. And though the LOMBARD school was famous as well as the ROMAN, yet the VENETIANS have had the smallest share in its honours, and seem rather inferior to the other ITALIANS, in their genius for the arts and sciences. RUBENS established his school at ANTWERP, not at AMSTERDAM: DRESDEN, not HAMBURGH, is the centre of politeness in GERMANY.


But the most eminent instance of the flourishing of learning in absolute governments, is that of FRANCE, which scarcely ever enjoyed any established liberty, and yet has carried the arts and sciences as near perfection as any other nation. The ENGLISH are, perhaps, greater philosophers;d the ITALIANS better painters and musicians; the ROMANS were greater orators: But the FRENCH are the only people, except the GREEKS, who have been at once philosophers, poets, orators, historians, painters, architects, sculptors, and musicians. With regard to the stage, they have excelled even the GREEKS, who far excelled the ENGLISH.e And, in common life, they have, in a great measure, perfected that art, the most useful and agreeable of any, l'Art de Vivre, the art of society and conversation.


If we consider the state of the sciences and polite arts in our own country, HORACE'S observation, with regard to the ROMANS, may, in a great measure, be applied to the BRITISH.

—Sed in longum tamen ævum
Manserunt, hodieque manent
vestigia ruris.


The elegance and propriety of style have been very much neglected among us. We have no dictionary of our language, and scarcely a tolerable grammar. The first polite prose we have, was writ by a man who is still alive. As to SPRAT, LOCKE and, even TEMPLE, they knew too little of the rules of art to be esteemed elegant writers. The prose of BACON, HARRINGTON, and MILTON, is altogether stiff and pedantic; though their sense be excellent. Men, in this country, have been so much occupied in the great disputes of Religion, Politics, and Philosophy, that they had no relish for the seemingly minute observations of grammar and criticism. And though this turn of thinking must have considerably improved our sense and our talent of reasoning; it must be confessed, that, even in those sciences above-mentioned, we have not any standard-book, which we can transmit to posterity: And the utmost we have to boast of, are a few essays towards a more just° philosophy; which, indeed, promise well, but have not, as yet, reached any degree of perfection.


It has become an established opinion, that commerce can never flourish but in a free government; and this opinion seems to be founded on a longer and larger experience than the foregoing, with regard to the arts and sciences. If we trace commerce in its progress through TYRE, ATHENS, SYRACUSE, CARTHAGE, VENICE, FLORENCE, GENOA, ANTWERP, HOLLAND, ENGLAND, &c. we shall always find it to have fixed its seat in free governments. The three greatest trading towns now in Europe, are LONDON, AMSTERDAM, and HAMBURGH; all free cities, and protestant cities; that is, enjoying a double liberty. It must, however, be observed, that the great jealousy entertained of late, with regard to the commerce of FRANCE, seems to prove, that this maxim is no more certain and infallible than the foregoing, and that the subjects of an absolute prince may become our rivals in commerce, as well as in learning.


Durst I deliver my opinion in an affair of so much uncertainty, I would assert, that, notwithstanding the efforts of the FRENCH, there is something hurtful to commerce inherent in the very nature of absolute government, and inseparable from it: Though the reason I should assign for this opinion, is somewhat different from that which is commonly insisted on. Private property seems to me almost as secure in a civilized EUROPEAN monarchy, as in a republic; nor is danger much apprehended in such a government, from the violence of the sovereign; more than we commonly dread harm from thunder, or earthquakes, or any accident the most unusual and extraordinary. Avarice, the spur of industry, is so obstinate a passion, and works its way through so many real dangers and difficulties, that it is not likely to be scared by an imaginary danger, which is so small, that it scarcely admits of calculation. Commerce, therefore, in my opinion, is apt to decay in absolute governments, not because it is there less secure, but because it is less honourable. A subordination of ranks is absolutely necessary to the support of monarchy. Birth, titles, and place, must be honoured above industry and riches. And while these notions prevail, all the considerable traders will be tempted to throw up their commerce, in order to purchase some of those employments, to which privileges and honours are annexed.


Since I am upon this head,° of the alterations which time has produced, or may produce in politics, I must observe, that all kinds of government, free and absolute, seem to have undergone, in modern times, a great change for the better, with regard both to foreign and domestic management. The balance of power is a secret in politics, fully known only to the present age; and I must add, that the internal POLICE° of states has also received great improvements within the last century. We are informed by SALLUST, that CATILINE'S army was much augmented by the accession of the highwaymen about ROME; though I believe, that all of that profession, who are at present dispersed over EUROPE, would not amount to a regiment. In CICERO'S pleadings for MILO, I find this argument, among others, made use of to prove, that his client had not assassinated CLODIUS. Had MILO, said he, intended to have killed CLODIUS, he had not attacked him in the daytime, and at such a distance from the city: He had way-laid him at night, near the suburbs, where it might have been pretended, that he was killed by robbers; and the frequency of the accident would have favoured the deceit. This is a surprizing proof of the loose police of ROME, and of the number and force of these robbers; since CLODIUS was at that time attended by thirty slaves, who were completely armed, and sufficiently accustomed to blood and danger in the frequent tumults excited by that seditious tribune.f


But though all kinds of government be improved in modern times, yet monarchical government seems to have made the greatest advances towards perfection. It may now be affirmed of civilized monarchies, what was formerly said in praise of republics alone, that they are a government of Laws, not of Men. They are found susceptible of order, method, and constancy, to a surprizing degree. Property is there secure; industry encouraged; the arts flourish; and the prince lives secure among his subjects, like a father among his children. There are perhaps, and have been for two centuries, near two hundred absolute princes, great and small, in EUROPE; and allowing twenty years to each reign, we may suppose, that there have been in the whole two thousand monarchs or tyrants, as the GREEKS would have called them: Yet of these there has not been one, not even PHILIP II. of SPAIN, so bad as TIBERIUS, CALIGULA, NERO, or DOMITIAN, who were four in twelve amongst the ROMAN emperors.g It must, however, be confessed, that, though monarchical governments have approached nearer to popular ones, in gentleness and stability; they are still inferior. Our modern education and customs instil more humanity and moderation than the ancient; but have not as yet been able to overcome entirely the disadvantages of that form of government.


But here I must beg leave to advance a conjecture, which seems probable, but which posterity alone can fully judge of. I am apt to think, that, in monarchical governments there is a source of improvement, and in popular governments a source of degeneracy, which in time will bring these species of civil polity still nearer an equality. The greatest abuses, which arise in FRANCE, the most perfect model of pure monarchy, proceed not from the number or weight of the taxes, beyond what are to be met with in free countries; but from the expensive, unequal, arbitrary, and intricate method of levying them, by which the industry of the poor, especially of the peasants and farmers, is, in a great measure, discouraged, and agriculture rendered a beggarly and slavish employment. But to whose advantage do these abuses tend? If to that of the nobility, they might be esteemed inherent in that form of government; since the nobility are the true supports of monarchy; and it is natural their interest should be more consulted, in such a constitution, than that of the people. But the nobility are, in reality, the chief losers by this oppression; since it ruins their estates, and beggars° their tenants. The only gainers by it are the Finançiers,h a race of men rather odious to the nobility and the whole kingdom. If a prince or minister, therefore, should arise, endowed with sufficient discernment to know his own and the public interest, and with sufficient force of mind to break through ancient customs, we might expect to see these abuses remedied; in which case, the difference between that absolute government and our free one, would not appear so considerable as at present.


The source of degeneracy, which may be remarked in free governments, consists in the practice of contracting debt, and mortgaging the public revenues, by which taxes may, in time, become altogether intolerable, and all the property of the state be brought into the hands of the public. This practice is of modern date. The ATHENIANS,i though governed by a republic, paid near two hundred per Cent. for those sums of money, which any emergence made it necessary for them to borrow; as we learn from XENOPHON. Among the moderns, the DUTCH first introduced the practice of borrowing great sums at low interest, and have well nigh ruined themselves by it. Absolute princes have also contracted debt; but as an absolute prince may make a bankruptcy when he pleases, his people can never be oppressed by his debts. In popular governments, the people, and chiefly those who have the highest offices, being commonly the public creditors, it is difficult for the state to make use of this remedy, which, however it may sometimes be necessary, is always cruel and barbarous. This, therefore seems to be an inconvenience, which nearly threatens all free governments; especially our own, at the present juncture of affairs. And what a strong motive is this, to encrease our frugality of public money; lest for want of it, we be reduced, by the multiplicity of taxes, or what is worse, by our public impotence and inability for defence, to curse our very liberty, and wish ourselves in the same state of servitude with all the nations that surround us?

Notes for this chapter


[See Machiavelli, The Prince (1513), chap. 23. Machiavelli speaks of an "imprudent" prince and not a "weak" prince, as Hume suggests.]


[Sejanus was prefect of the praetorian guard under the emperor Tiberius. He ruled Rome for a time after Tiberius's retirement to Capri (A.D. 26), but Tiberius later had him arrested and put to death (A.D. 31). Cardinal Fleury was tutor and subsequently chief minister of Louis XV of France in the decades preceding Fleury's death in 1743.]


XENOPHON mentions it; but with a doubt if it be of any advantage to a state. , &c. XEN. HIERO. [Xenophon, Hiero 9.9: "If commerce also brings gain to a city" (Loeb translation by E. C. Marchant).] PLATO totally excludes it from his imaginary republic. De legibus, lib. iv.b [Plato (427-347 B.C.), Laws, bk. IV (704d-705b).]


[Hume has in mind Holland and England, as he indicates later in this essay.]


[Longinus (A.D. 213?-273), On the Sublime, sec. 44. The author indeed raises the possibility that writers and orators of genius are found only in democratic or free governments, but goes on to suggest, perhaps ironically, that the corruption of genius in the present age is due not to political tyranny but to the tyranny of the passions, especially love of wealth and its attendant vices.]


Mr. ADDISON and LORD SHAFTESBURY. [See Joseph Addison (1672-1719), The Tatler, no. 161 (20 April, 1710); and Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1713), Characteristics (1711), "Soliloquy," pt. 2, sec. 2.]


[The poets Ariosto (1474-1533) and Tasso (1544-92), the physicist Galileo (1564-1642), and the artists Raphael (1483-1520) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) were born in various Italian principalities.]


[During the lifetime of the painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Antwerp, in the southern Netherlands, was loyal to Catholicism and the Spanish king. Dresden in the early eighteenth century was often dominated by Frederick Augustus, Elector of Saxony, a Roman Catholic. Amsterdam and Hamburg were free and Protestant cities.]


[Horace (65-8 B.C.), Epistles 2.1.160: "... yet for many a year lived on, and still live on, traces of our rustic past" (Loeb translation by H. Rushton Fairclough).]


Dr. SWIFT. [Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wrote various works, the most famous of which is the satire Gulliver's Travels (1726).]


[Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) was the first historian of the Royal Society. John Locke (1632-1704) is most famous for his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) and Two Treatises of Government (1690). Sir William Temple (1628-99) was an important essayist and historian.]


[John Milton's (1608-74) many notable works of poetry and prose include Areopagitica (1644) and Paradise Lost (1667).]


[See Sallust (86-34? B.C.), The War with Catiline. Embittered by his failure to win the consulship, Catiline plotted unsuccessfully to capture the government of Rome by raising a private army.]


Vide Asc. Ped. in Orat. pro Milone [The Speech on Behalf of Milo].


[Philip II was king of Spain and the Spanish Empire from 1556 to 1598. Tiberius was emperor of Rome from A.D. 14 to 37, Caligula from 37 to 41, Nero from 54 to 68, and Domitian from 81 to 96.]


[Xenophon, Ways and Means 3.9-10: "But no investment can yield them so fine a return as the money advanced by them to form the capital fund.... But most of the Athenians will get over a hundred per cent. in a year, for those who advance one mina will draw an income of nearly two minae, guaranteed by the state, which is to all appearances the safest and most durable of human institutions" (Loeb translation by E. C. Marchant).]

Part I, Essay XIII

End of Notes

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Republican Government

CHAPTER 4|Document 3

David Hume, Of Commerce


The greatness of a state and the happiness of its subjects, how independent soever they may be supposed in some respects, are commonly allowed to be inseparable with regard to commerce; and as private men receive greater security in the possession of their trade and riches from the power of the public, so the public becomes powerful in proportion to the opulence and extensive commerce of private men. This maxim is true in general, though I cannot forbear thinking that it may possibly admit of exceptions, and that we often establish it with too little reserve and limitation. There may be some circumstances where the commerce and riches and luxury of individuals, instead of adding strength to the public, will serve only to thin its armies and diminish its authority among the neighboring nations. Man is a very variable being and susceptible of many different opinions, principles, and rules of conduct. What may be true while he adheres to one way of thinking will be found false when he has embraced an opposite set of manners and opinions.

The bulk of every state may be divided into husbandmen and manufacturers. The former are employed in the culture of the land; the latter works up the materials furnished by the former into all the commodities which are necessary or ornamental to human life. As soon as men quit their savage state, where they live chiefly by hunting and fishing, they must fall into these two classes, though the arts of agriculture employ, at first, the most numerous part of the society. Time and experience improve so much these arts that the land may easily maintain a much greater number of men than those who are immediately employed in its culture or who furnish the more necessary manufactures to such as are so employed.

If these superfluous hands apply themselves to the finer arts, which are commonly denominated the arts of luxury, they add to the happiness of the state, since they afford to many the opportunity of receiving enjoyments with which they would otherwise have been unacquainted. But may not another scheme be proposed for the employment of these superfluous hands? May not the sovereign lay claim to them and employ them in fleets and armies, to increase the dominions of the state abroad and spread its fame over distant nations? It is certain that the fewer desires and wants are found in the proprietors and laborers of land, the fewer hands do they employ; and consequently the superfluities of the land, instead of maintaining tradesmen and manufacturers, may support fleets and armies to a much greater extent than where a great many arts are required to minister to the luxury of particular persons. Here, therefore, seems to be a kind of opposition between the greatness of the state and the happiness of the subject. A state is never greater than when all its superfluous hands are employed in the service of the public. The ease and convenience of private persons require that these hands should be employed in their service. The one can never be satisfied but at the expense of the other. As the ambition of the sovereign must entrench on the luxury of individuals, so the luxury of individuals must diminish the force and check the ambition of the sovereign.

Nor is this reasoning merely chimerical, but is founded on history and experience. The republic of Sparta was certainly more powerful than any state now in the world consisting of an equal number of people, and this was owing entirely to the want of commerce and luxury. The Helotes were the laborers, the Spartans were the soldiers or gentlemen. It is evident that the labor of the Helotes could not have maintained so great a number of Spartans had these latter lived in ease and delicacy, and given employment to a great variety of trades and manufactures. The like policy may be remarked in Rome. And, indeed, throughout all ancient history it is observable that the smallest republics raised and maintained greater armies than states consisting of triple the number of inhabitants are able to support at present. It is computed that, in all European nations, the proportion between soldiers and people does not exceed one to a hundred. But we read that the city of Rome alone, with its small territory, raised and maintained in early times ten legions against the Latins. Athens, the whole of whose dominions was not larger than Yorkshire, sent to the expedition against Sicily near forty thousand men. Dionysius the elder, it is said, maintained a standing army of a hundred thousand foot and ten thousand horse, besides a large fleet of four hundred sail, though his territories extended no further than the city of Syracuse--about a third of the island of Sicily, and some seaport towns and garrisons on the coast of Italy and Illyricum. It is true the ancient armies, in time of war, subsisted much upon plunder; but did not the enemy plunder in their turn?--which was a more ruinous way of levying a tax than any other that could be devised. In short, no probable reason can be assigned for the great power of the more ancient states above the modern but their want of commerce and luxury. Few artisans were maintained by the labor of the farmers, and therefore more soldiers might live upon it. Livy says that Rome, in his time, would find it difficult to raise as large an army as that which, in her early days, she sent out against the Gauls and Latins. Instead of those soldiers who fought for liberty and empire in Camillus' time, there were in Augustus' days musicians, painters, cooks, players, and tailors; and if the land was equally cultivated at both periods, it could certainly maintain equal numbers in the one profession as in the other. They added nothing to the mere necessaries of life in the latter period more than in the former.

It is natural on this occasion to ask whether sovereigns may not return to the maxims of ancient policy and consult their own interest in this respect more than the happiness of their subjects? I answer that it appears to me almost impossible, and that because ancient policy was violent and contrary to the more natural and usual course of things. It is well known with what peculiar laws Sparta was governed and what a prodigy that republic is justly esteemed by everyone who has considered human nature as it has displayed itself in other nations and other ages. Were the testimony of history less positive and circumstantial, such a government would appear a mere philosophical whim or fiction and impossible ever to be reduced to practice. And though the Roman and other ancient republics were supported on principles somewhat more natural, yet was there an extraordinary concurrence of circumstances to make them submit to such grievous burdens. They were free states; they were small ones; and the age being martial, all their neighbors were continually in arms. Freedom naturally begets public spirit, especially in small states, and this public spirit, this amor patriae, must increase when the public is almost in continual alarm and men are obliged every moment to expose themselves to the greatest dangers for its defense. A continual succession of wars makes every citizen a soldier; he takes the field in his turn, and during his service he is chiefly maintained by himself. This service is indeed equivalent to a heavy tax, yet is it less felt by a people addicted to arms who fight for honor and revenge more than pay, and are unacquainted with gain and industry as well as pleasure. Not to mention the great equality of fortunes among the inhabitants of the ancient republics, where every field belonging to a different proprietor was able to maintain a family and rendered the numbers of citizens very considerable, even without trade and manufactures.

But though the want of trade and manufactures among a free and very martial people may sometimes have no other effect than to render the public more powerful, it is certain that in the common course of human affairs it will have a quite contrary tendency. Sovereigns must take mankind as they find them, and cannot pretend to introduce any violent change in their principles and ways of thinking. A long course of time with a variety of accidents and circumstances are requisite to produce those great revolutions which so much diversify the face of human affairs. And the less natural any set of principles are which support a particular society, the more difficulty will a legislator meet with in raising and cultivating them. It is his best policy to comply with the common bent of mankind and give it all the improvements of which it is susceptible. Now according to the most natural course of things, industry and arts and trade increase the power of the sovereign as well as the happiness of the subjects, and that policy is violent which aggrandizes the public by the poverty of individuals. This will easily appear from a few considerations which will present to us the consequences of sloth and barbarity.

Where manufactures and mechanic arts are not cultivated, the bulk of the people must apply themselves to agriculture; and if their skill and industry increase, there must arise a great superfluity from their labor beyond what suffices to maintain them. They have no temptation, therefore, to increase their skill and industry, since they cannot exchange that superfluity for any commodities which may serve either to their pleasure or vanity. A habit of indolence naturally prevails. The greater part of the land lies uncultivated. What is cultivated yields not its utmost, for want of skill and assiduity in the farmers. If at any time the public exigencies require that great numbers should be employed in the public service, the labor of the people furnishes now no superfluities by which these numbers can be maintained. The laborers cannot increase their skill and industry on a sudden. Lands uncultivated cannot be brought into tillage for some years. The armies, meanwhile, must either make sudden and violent conquests or disband for want of subsistence. A regular attack or defense, therefore, is not to be expected from such a people, and their soldiers must be as ignorant and unskillful as their farmers and manufacturers.

Everything in the world is purchased by labor, and our passions are the only causes of labor. When a nation abounds in manufactures and mechanic arts, the proprietors of land, as well as the farmers, study agriculture as a science and redouble their industry and attention. The superfluity which arises from their labor is not lost, but is exchanged with manufactures for those commodities which men's luxury now makes them covet. By this means, land furnishes a great deal more of the necessaries of life than what suffices for those who cultivate it. In times of peace and tranquillity, this superfluity goes to the maintenance of manufacturers and the improvers of liberal arts. But it is easy for the public to convert many of these manufacturers into soldiers and maintain them by that superfluity which arises from the labor of the farmers. Accordingly we find that this is the case in all civilized governments. When the sovereign raises an army, what is the consequence? He imposes a tax. This tax obliges all the people to retrench what is least necessary to their subsistence. Those who labor in such commodities must either enlist in the troops or turn themselves to agriculture, and thereby oblige some laborers to enlist for want of business. And to consider the matter abstractly, manufactures increase the power of the state only as they store up so much labor, and that of a kind to which the public may lay claim without depriving anyone of the necessaries of life. The more labor, therefore, that is employed beyond mere necessaries, the more powerful is any state; since the persons engaged in that labor may easily be converted to the public service. In a state without manufactures, there may be the same number of hands; but there is not the same quantity of labor nor of the same kind. All the labor is there bestowed upon necessaries, which can admit of little or no abatement.

Thus the greatness of the sovereign and the happiness of the state are in a great measure united with regard to trade and manufactures. It is a violent method, and in most cases impracticable, to oblige the laborer to toil in order to raise from the land more than what subsists himself and family. Furnish him with manufactures and commodities, and he will do it of himself; afterward you will find it easy to seize some part of his superfluous labor and employ it in the public service without giving him his wonted return. Being accustomed to industry, he will think this less grievous than if at once you obliged him to an augmentation of labor without any reward. The case is the same with regard to the other members of the state. The greater is the stock of labor of all kinds, the greater quantity may be taken from the heap without making any sensible alteration in it.

A public granary of corn, a storehouse of cloth, a magazine of arms--all these must be allowed real riches and strength in any state. Trade and industry are really nothing but a stock of labor which, in times of peace and tranquillity, is employed for the ease and satisfaction of individuals, but in the exigencies of state may in part be turned to public advantage. Could we convert a city into a kind of fortified camp and infuse into each breast so martial a genius and such a passion for public good as to make everyone willing to undergo the greatest hardships for the sake of the public, these affections might now, as in ancient times, prove alone a sufficient spur to industry and support the community. It would then be advantageous, as in camps, to banish all arts and luxury, and by restrictions on equipage and tables make the provisions and forage last longer than if the army were loaded with a number of superfluous retainers. But as these principles are too disinterested and too difficult to support, it is requisite to govern men by other passions and animate them with a spirit of avarice and industry, art and luxury. The camp is, in this case, loaded with a superfluous retinue, but the provisions flow in proportionately larger. The harmony of the whole is still supported, and the natural bent of the mind being more complied with, individuals as well as the public find their account in the observance of those maxims.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 1, Chapter 4, Document 3
The University of Chicago Press

Hume, David. Essays Moral, Political and Literary. 1742, 1752.

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© 1987 by The University of Chicago
All rights reserved. Published 2000


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