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Political Economy
By Thomas Chalmers


Chalmers' Political Economy. Glasgow (1832)
An article from the Border History Magazine

We have always been inclined to consider the politico-economical schemes and theories of this great and popular divine, as rather visionary and ingenious, than just and practicable. But the present volume has effected a radical change in our former opinions. There is a depth of thought—and a force of argument—and a sufficiency and happiness of illustration displayed in every part of it, which, in our opinion, are well worthy the author of the inimitable Sermons connected with Modern Astronomy.

We were particularly struck with the chapters on Taxes and Tithes. That the present state of the country requires a change in the manner of obtaining these no man is more fully sensible than Dr. Chalmers. And yet no man is more decidedly opposed to their total abolition than he. He proposes, what appears to us by for the most prudent and politic method, a commutation for a “territorial impost." He shows in a clear and convincing manner what would be the effects of the former plan and what of the latter, and proves by the most vigorous and sufficient argument, that though the former would produce more immediate beneficial consequences—though the country would, for a time, feel as if a mighty load had been taken from its shoulders—and, though, perhaps, provisions might be cheaper and even more plentiful,—yet, that a commutation of Taxes and Tithes will alone be productive of lasting and sure advantages to the people of England.

The object of the work he thus states:—“Our endeavour is to prove that, in every direction, there is a limit to the augmentation or our physical resources, and that in virtue of this, there must, especially in old countries, be a felt pressure and discomfort throughout every community, which has either outgrown the means for its Christian instruction, or, in any other way, renounced the habits and decencies of a Christian land. In other words, our object will be gained, if we can demonstrate, that, even but for the economic well-being of a people, their moral and religious education is the first and greatest object of national policy; and that, while this is neglected, a government, in its anxious and incessant labours for a well conditioned state of the commonwealth will only flounder from one delusive shift or expedient to another, under the double misfortune, of being held responsible, and yet finding this to be an element most helplessly and hopelessly beyond its control."

In page 28, he thus expresses himself “All the remedies which have been proposed against a state of general destitution in society, may be classed under two descriptions. By the first, it is sought to provide the adequate means for the increasing numbers of mankind, by the second, to keep down the numbers to the stationary, or comparatively speaking, to the slowly increasing means. The first may, we think, be conveniently designated the external remedies—insomuch that their object is to equalize the means with the population, by an increase on the former term, or by an increase and enlargement of the resources from without. The second may, perhaps, be contradistinguished from the other, by viewing it in the light of an internal remedy—insomuch as its object is to maintain the equality of the taro by preventing an undue increase on the latter term, which can only be achieved, in a right way, by adding to the restraints of prudence and principle from within. It is our main design to demonstrate the insufficiency of one and all the remedies put together which belong to the first class—and to contrast, with their operation, the effect of the moral remedy, the prosperous economic state that will surely be realized through the medium of general intelligence and virtue, or by an action on the minds of the people themselves.”

Such is the object of the work, and it is an object, which the learned author has accomplished in the most successful manner. And though there are some of his views we should be inclined to dispute, yet with his general principle we must agree, that it is in the power of the peasantry of Great Britain, whether they shall be a happy and a high conditioned race, or sink into all the grossness and ignorance, and depravity and poverty which obtain among the lower orders of the sister island. His general doctrine strikes us as peculiarly analogous to that expressed by the immortal Goldsmith, in the conclusion of his “Traveller.”

“In every government though terrors reign,
Though tyrant kings or tyrant laws restrain,
How small of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure;
Still to ourselves in every place consigned,
Our own felicity we make or find.
With secret course which no loud storms annoy
Glides the smooth current of domestic joy.
The lifted axe, the agonizing wheel,
Luke's iron crown and Damien's bed of steel,
To those remote from power but rarely known,
Leave reason, faith, and conscience all our own."

You can download his Political Economy here


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