Sir James Steuart, 3rd Baronet of Goodtrees and eventually 7th Baronet of Coltness; late in life In Steuart published An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, the first book by a Scottish economist with ‘political economy’ in the. An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy, Volume 1. Front Cover · James Steuart. Being an , Volume 1 · Sir James Steuart Full view – . An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy, Volume 1. Front Cover. James Stewart. Being an , Volume 2 · Sir James Steuart Full view –

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The question before us, though relative to another science, is not altogether foreign to this. I introduce it in this place, not so much for the sake of connexion, as by way of an illustration, which at the same time that it may serve as an exercise upon general principles, may also prove a relaxation to the mind, after so long a chain of close reasoning.

In setting out, I informed my readers that I intended to treat of the political oeconomy of free nations only; and upon every occasion where I principes mentioned slavery, I have pointed out how far the nature of it is contrary to the advancement of private industry, the inseparable concomitant of foreign and domestic trade.

No term is less understood than that principlss liberty, and it is not my intention, at present, to enter into a particular inquiry into all the different acceptations of it. By a people’s being free, I understand no more than their being governed by general laws, well known, not depending upon the ambulatory ecknomy of any man, or any set of men, and established so as not to be changed, but in a regular and economu way; for reasons which regard the body of the society, and not through favour or prejudice to particular persons, or particular classes.

So far as a power of dispensing with, restraining or extending general laws, is left in the hands of any governor, so far I consider public liberty as precarious. I do not say it is hereby hurt; this will depend upon the use made of such prerogatives. According to sheuart definition of liberty, a people may be steurat to enjoy rconomy under the most despotic forms of government; and perpetual service itself, where the master’s power is limited according to natural equity, is not altogether incompatible with liberty in the servant.

Here new ideas present themselves concerning the general principles of subordination and dependence among mankind; which I shall lay before my reader before I proceed, submitting the justness of them to his decision. As these terms are both relative, polltical is proper to observe, that by subordination is implied an authority which superiors have prinicples inferiors; and by dependence, is implied certain advantages which the inferiors draw from their subordination: Dependence is the only bond of society and I have observed, in the fourth chapter of the first book, that the dependence of one man upon another for food, is a very natural introduction to slavery.

This was the first contrivance mankind fell upon, in order to become useful to one another.

Sir James Steuart: Principles of Political Economy

Upon the abolishing of slavery, from a principle of christianity, the next step taken was the establishment of an extraordinary subordination between the different classes of the people; this was the principle of the feudal government. The last refinement, and that which has brought liberty to be generally extended to the lowest denominations of a people, without destroying rpinciples dependence necessary to serve as a band of society, was the introduction of industry.

From this exposition, I divide dependence into three kinds. The first natural, between parents and children; the second political between masters and servants, lords and vassals, Princes and subjects; the third commercial, between the rich and the industrious. May I be allowed to transgress the limits of my subject for a few lines, and to dip so far into the principles of the law of steuuart, as to enquire, how far subordination among men is thereby authorized? I think I may decide, that so far as the subordination is in proportion to the dependence, sofar it is reasonable and just.

This represents an even balance. If the scale of stehart is found too weighty, tyranny ensues; and licentiousness prinnciples implied, in proportion as it rises above the level.

From this let me draw some conclusions.

An Inquiry Into the Principles of Political Economy – James Stewart – Google Books

First, He who depended upon another, for the preservation of a life justly forfeited, and at all times in the power of him who spared it, was, by the civil law, called a slave. This surely is the highest degree of dependence. Secondly, He who depends upon jamss for every thing necessary for his subsistence, seems to be in the second degree; this is the dependence of children upon their parents.

Thirdly, He who depends upon another for the means of procuring subsistence to himself by his own labour, stands in the third degree: Fourthly, He who depends totally upon the sale of his own industry, stands in the fourth degree: These I take to be the different degrees of subordination between man and man, considered as members of the same society.

In proportion, therefore, as certain classes, or certain individuals become more dependent than formerly, in the same proportion ought their just subordination to increase: This seems to be a rational principle: I deduce the origin of the great subordination under the feudal government, from the necessary dependence of the lower classes for their subsistence.

An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy

They consumed the produce of the land, as the price of their subordination, not as the reward of their industry in making it produce. I deduce modern liberty from the independence of the same classes, by the introduction of industry, ssteuart circulation of an adequate equivalent for every service. If this doctrine be applied in order to resolve the famous question so much debated, concerning the origin of supreme authority, so far as it is a question of the law of nature, I do not find the decision so very difficult: Econlmy authority is in proportion to dependence, and must vary according to circumstances.


I think edonomy is as rational to say, that the fatherly power proceeded originally from the act of the children, as to say, that the great body of the people who were fed, and protected by a few great lords, was the fountain of power, and creator of subordination.

Those who have no other equivalent to give for their food and protection, must pay in personal service, respect, and submission; and so soon as they come to be a situation to pay a proper equivalent for these dependences, so far they acquire a title to liberty and independence.

The feudal lords, therefore, who, with reason, had an entire authority over many of their vassals, being subdued by their King; the usurpation was upon their rights, not upon the rights of the lower classes: The rights of Kings, therefore, are to be sought for in history; and not founded upon the supposition of tacit contracts between them and their people, inferred from the principles of an imaginary law of nature, which makes all mankind equal: The general principle I have laid down, appears, in my humble opinion, more rational than this imaginary contract; and as consonant to the full with the spirit of free government.

If the original tacit contract of government between Prince and people is admitted universally, then all governments ought to be similar; and every subordination, which appears contrary to the entire liberty and independence of the lowest classes, ought to be construed as tyrannical: May not one have attained the sovereignty by the free election of the people, I suppose because of the great extent of his possessions, number of his vassals and dependents, quantity of wealth, alliances and connexions with neighbouring sovereigns?

Had not, for example, such a person as Hugh Capet, the greatest feudal lord of his time, a right to a much more extensive jurisdiction over his subjects, than could reasonably be aspired to by a King of Poland, sent from France, or from Germany, and set at the head of a republic, where he has not one person depending upon him for any thing?

The power of Princes, as Princes, must then be distinguished from the power they derive from other circumstances, which do not necessarily follow in consequence of their elevation to the throne. It would, I think, be the greatest absurdity to advance, that the title of King abolishes, of itself, the subordination due to the person who exercises the office of that high magistracy.

Matter of fact, which is stronger than all reasoning, demonstrates the force of the principle here laid down. Do we not see how subordination rises and falls under different reigns, under a rich Elizabeth, and a necessitous Charles, under a powerful Austrian, and a distressed Bavarian Emperor? I proceed no farther in the examination of this matter: From these principles may be deduced the boundaries of subordination. A people who depend upon nothing but their own industry for their subsistence, ought to be under no farther subordination than what is necessary for their protection.

And as the protection of the whole body of such a people implies the protection of every individual, so every political subordination should there be general and equal: This is the subordination of the laws; and whenever laws establish a subordination more than what is proportionate to the dependence of those who are subordinate, so far such laws may be considered as contrary to natural equity, and arbitrary.

These things premised, I come to the question proposed, namely, How far particular forms of government are favourable or unfavourable to a competition with other nations, in point of commerce?

If we reason from facts, and from experience, we shall find, that trade and industry have been found to flourish best under the republican form, and under those which have come the nearest to it. May I be allowed to say, that, perhaps, one principal reason for this has been, that under these forms the administration of the laws has been the most uniform, and consequently, that most liberty has actually been there enjoyed. I say actually, because I have said above, that in my acceptation of the term, liberty is equally compatible with monarchy as with democracy; I do not say the enjoyment of it is equally secure under both; because under the first it is much more liable to be destroyed.

The life of the democratical system is equality. Monarchy conveys the idea of the greatest inequality possible. Now, if, on one side, the equality of the democracy secures liberty; on the other, the moderation in expence discourages industry; and if, on one side, the inequality of the monarchy endangers liberty, the progress of luxury encourages industry on the other.

From whence we may conclude, that the democratical system is naturally the best for giving birth to foreign trade; the monarchical, for the refinement of the luxurious arts, and for promoting a rapid circulation of inland commerce.

The danger which liberty is exposed to under monarchy, prinviples the discouragement to industry, from the frugality of the democracy, are only the natural and immediate effects of the two forms of government; and these inconveniences will take place only, while statesmen neglect the interest of commerce, so far as not to make it an object of administration. The disadvantage, therefore, of the monarchical form, in point of trade and industry, does not proceed from the inequality it establishes among the citizens, but from the consequence of this inequality, which is princjples often accompanied with an arbitrary and undeterminate subordination between the individuals of the higher classes, and those of the lower; or between those vested with the execution of the laws, and the body of the people.

The moment it is found that any subordination within the monarchy, between subject and subject, is left without proper bounds prescribed, liberty is so far at an end. Nay monarchy itself is hereby hurt, as this undeterminate subordination implies an arbitrary power in the state, not vested in the monarch. Arbitrary power never can be delegated; for if it be arbitrary, it may be turned against the monarch, as well as against the subject.

I might therefore say, that when such princi;les power in individuals is constitutional in the monarchy, such monarchy is not a government, but a tyranny, and principlrs falls without the limits of our subject; and when such a power is anti-constitutional, and yet is exercised, that it is an abuse, and should be overlooked. But as the plan of this inquiry engages me to investigate the operations of general principles, and the consequences they produce, I cannot omit, in this place, to point out those which flow from an indeterminate subordination, from whatever cause it may proceed.


Whether this indeterminate subordination between individuals, be a vice in the constitution of the government, or an abuse, it is the same thing as to the consequences which result from it.

It is this which checks and destroys industry, and which in a great measure prevents its progress from being equal in all countries. This difference in the form or administration of governments, is the only one which it is essentially necessary to examine in this inquiry. It produces no difference, whether these irregularities be exercised by those of the superior classes, or by the statesman and his substitutes.

It is the irregularity of the exactions more than the extent of them which ruins industry. It renders living precarious, and the very idea of industry should carry along with it, not only an assured livelihood, but a certain profit over and above. Let impositions be ever so high, provided they be proportional, general, gradually augmented, and permanent, they may have indeed the effect of stopping foreign trade, and of starving the idle, but they never will ruin the industrious; as we shall have occasion to shew in treating of taxation.

Whereas, when they are arbitrary, falling unequally upon individuals of the same condition, sudden, and frequently changing their object, it is impossible for industry to stand its ground. Such a system of oeconomy introduces an unequal competition among those of the same class, it stops industrious people in the middle of their career, discourages others from exposing to the eyes of the public the ease of their circumstances, consequently encourages hoarding; this again excites rapaciousness upon the side of the statesman, who sees himself frustrated in his schemes of laying hold of private wealth.

From this a new set of inconveniences follow. He turns his views upon solid property. This inspires the landlords with indignation against him who can load them at will; and with envy against the monied interest, who can baffle his attempts.

This class again is constantly upon the catch to profit of the public distress for want of money. What is the consequence of all this? It is that the lowest classes of the people, who ought by industry to enrich the state, find on one hand the monied interest constantly amassing, in order to lend to the state, instead of distributing among them, by seasonable loans, their superfluous income, with a view to share the reasonable profits of their ingenuity; and on the other hand, they find the emissaries of taxation robbing them of the seed before it is sown, instead of waiting for a share in the harvest.

Under the feudal form of government, liberty and independence were confined to the nobility. Birth opened the door of preferment to some, and birth as effectually shut it against others. I have often observed how, by reason and from experience, such a form of government must be unfavourable both to trade and industry. From reason it is plain, that industry must give wealth, and wealth will give power, if he who possesses it be left the master to employ it as he pleases.

A government could not therefore encourage a system which tended to throw power into the hands of those who were made to obey only. It was consequently very natural for the nobility to be jealous of wealthy merchants, and of every one who became easy and independent by means of his own industry; experience proved how exactly this principle regulated their administration.

A statesman ought, therefore, to consider attentively every circumstance of the constitution of his country, before he sets on foot the modern system of trade and industry. I am far from being of opinion that this is the only road to happiness, security, and ease; though, from the general taste of the times I live in, it be the system I am principally employed to examine.

A country may be abundantly happy, and sufficiently formidable to those who come to attack it, without being extremely rich. Riches indeed are forbid to all who have neither mines, or foreign trade. If a country be found labouring under many natural disadvantages from inland situation, barren soil, distant carriage, it would be in vain to attempt a competition with other nations in foreign markets. All that can be then undertaken is a passive trade, and that so far only as it can bring in additional wealth.

When little money can be acquired, the statesman’s application must be, to make that already acquired to circulate as much as possible, in order to give bread to every one in the society. In countries where the government is vested in the hands of the great lords, as is the case in all aristocracies, as was the case under the feudal government, and as it still is the case in many countries in Europe, where trade, however, and industry are daily gaining ground; the statesman who sets the new system of political oeconomy on foot, may depend upon it, that either his attempt will fail, or the constitution of the government will change.

If he destroys all arbitrary dependence between individuals, the wealth of the industrious will share, if not totally root out the power of the grandees. If he allows such a dependence to subsist, his project will fail. While Venice and Genoa flourished, they were obliged to open the doors of their senate to the wealthy citizens, in order to prevent their being broken down.

What is venal nobility?