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Adam Smith's argument for American independence:

In addition to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, 1776 also saw the publication of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Writing just a few months before the Declaration, the founder of modern economics and a key influence on modern libertarianism and conservatism endorsed American independence for somewhat different reasons than Jefferson & Co. did:

It is not contrary to justice that both Ireland and America should contribute towards the discharge of the public debt of Great Britain. That debt has been contracted in support of the government established by the Revolution [of 1688], . . . a government to which several of the colonies of America owe their present charters, and consequently their present constitution and to which all the colonies of America owe the liberty, security, and property which they have ever since enjoyed. That public debt has been contracted in the defence, not of Great Britain alone, but of all the different provinces of the empire; the immense debt contracted in the late [French and Indian] war in particular, and a great part of that contracted in the war before, were both properly contracted in defence of America . . .

If the colonies, notwithstanding their refusal to submit to British taxes, are still to be considered as provinces of the British empire, their defence in some future war may cost Great Britain as great an expence as it ever has done in any former war . . .

If any of the provinces of the British empire cannot be made to contribute towards the support of the whole empire, it is surely time that Great Britain should free herself from the expence of defending those provinces in time of war, and of supporting any part of their civil or military establishments in time of peace . . .

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapt. III (1776).

Bruce Wilder (www):
"the founder of modern economics and a key influence on modern libertarianism and conservatism"

And, a key influence within modern liberalism, as well.
7.4.2006 9:49pm
Enoch:
If any of the provinces of the British empire cannot be made to contribute towards the support of the whole empire, it is surely time that Great Britain should free herself from the expence of defending those provinces in time of war, and of supporting any part of their civil or military establishments in time of peace

That logic certainly did not prevail from 1784 to 1914, when Britain grabbed a great many provinces in Africa and Asia that not only did not contribute to the defense of the Empire as a whole, but were a positive drain on it.
7.4.2006 11:05pm
jimbino (mail):
I now see that avoiding taxes was one of the motivating forces of our American Revolution. I can understand that, since concentrating on avoiding taxes pays better than does working itself. I have even come to the conclusion that any American of any means and common sense should not only leave his country for better living conditions and more fun, but should also renounce his citizenship to rid himself of the confiscatory Amerikan taxes that promise "benefits" that no expatriate can enjoy, like Medicare B and D, farm price supports, foreign wars and bailouts of contractors pretending to improve New Orleans.
7.4.2006 11:25pm
cxmmc (mail):
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7.5.2006 4:20am
Freder Frederson (mail):
That logic certainly did not prevail from 1784 to 1914, when Britain grabbed a great many provinces in Africa and Asia that not only did not contribute to the defense of the Empire as a whole, but were a positive drain on it.

Were a positive drain on Great Britain? To what do you think Great Britain owed its great power and wealth over those years. Not the puny resources of its little island. It was the riches of the Empire. Great Britain drained the Empire, not the other way around.

Apparently even Adam Smith didn't know much about logistics or the economics of the defense industry even in his own country when he made such an ignorant statement. The American colonies were vital to the British defense industry. By the mid-eighteenth century, Britain's native supply of wood for warships was exhausted. The American colonies had ample supplies of wood for both hulls and masts. The large live oaks found in abundance in the southeast were in fact the perfect wood for the hulls of warships (The Constitution would later earn its nickname of Old Ironsides for its hull of live oak).

As restive and as big a pain in the butt the Americans were, the American Colonies were vital to the British defense industry, especially its Navy.
7.5.2006 9:31am
Anderson (mail) (www):
But of course, Smith's argument was mocked as "pulling out" by George and his ministers ...
7.5.2006 11:32am
Bruce Wilder (www):
The U.S.S. Constitution's keel, long framing and famously impervious hull planking is "white oak", not "live oak". "Live oak", a gnarly wood of wildly curving grain, is used in the ship's curving compass timbers, knee supports and the like. With its long, fine, straight grain, white oak is a product of northern forests.
7.5.2006 1:01pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
After 3 weeks of World Cup excitement I'm so thankful for the efforts of George Washington and Co.
7.5.2006 1:33pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The U.S.S. Constitution's keel, long framing and famously impervious hull planking is "white oak", not "live oak".

I stand corrected, but the overall point is still valid. The American colonies were a vital source of raw materials for Britain's Navy and the loss of them hurt. Adam Smith apparently didn't consider this when he made his statement about the freeloaders and malcontents in the American colonies. One hundred forty years later, the oil fields of the middle east would once again be vital to the British Navy as their fleet, which had switched from coal to oil, was able to keep the German Navy (which still relied on native coal to fire their boilers, but as a consequence, lost the battle for speed and manueverabilty) bottled up during World War I.
7.5.2006 1:48pm
Ilya Somin:
Apparently even Adam Smith didn't know much about logistics or the economics of the defense industry even in his own country when he made such an ignorant statement. The American colonies were vital to the British defense industry. By the mid-eighteenth century, Britain's native supply of wood for warships was exhausted. The American colonies had ample supplies of wood for both hulls and masts.

I'm very skeptical. The British had no trouble deploying a massive navy during the Napoleonic wars, after the loss of the American colonies. They did not seem to lack for wood. I'm not at all sure that they relied on American wood to build their warships before the Revolution (perhaps you have documentation?). But even if they did, the Americans would have every incentive to sell it to them even after independence. Indeed, the US was a key raw materials supplier to British industry throughout the 19th century.

As for the oil of the middle east, it was not crucial to Britain during WWI because it did not become a major source of oil until the 1930s. Moreover, during most of WWI the part of the Middle East that is today the main oil producing region of the world was controlled by Britain's enemy Turkey.

Finally, it is not true that British ships were better than the German ones during WWII. Most experts believe that the opposite was true. See, e.g., Robert K. Massie's book, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.
7.5.2006 2:24pm
dew:
re: Britain and American wood
I don’t think that you would have to look very hard to find that Britain had become a *very* heavy user of American wood to build up its navy in the 18th century – I have seen references that the northern colonies' tall, straight red and white pine were seen as particularly valuable for masts, and Britain was still buying them from the US in the late 19th century. I can’t remember that oaks (esp. southern live oaks) were considered very important, but it could be true.

By the time of the American Revolution though, I believe Canada was well on its way to becoming a loyal colony, and it had plenty of wood – by officially allowing Canadians to keep their Catholic religion undisturbed, Britain both kept the Canadians happy and helped stoke rebellion in parts of the 13 English colonies with heavy anti-Catholic sentiment (particularly in Boston).

You also have to remember the context of Smith’s arguments – Britain had racked up a huge debt from the 7 Years War (French &Indian War), much of it spent on conquering Canada to make the American colonies safe. By the 1770s I have seen it claimed that the average London resident was the most heavily taxed citizen in the “western world”, while the typical American colonist was the least taxed. Smith does appear to play a little fast and loose with the facts – “several” of the colonies did owe their charters to the English post-revolution government, but several others (like Virginia) had pre-Cromwell crown charters and claimed (however shaky and self-serving the claim was) that they were subject to George III, but not Parliament. Parts of those colonies’ “taxation” arguments were not whether the colonies should be taxed, but how they should be taxed - for example, by direct parliament-issued tax laws, or indirect assessments from Britain to the governments of the colonies.

One of the better books I have found on the subject is by an Englishman - Sidney George Fisher’s “The True History of the American Revolution”. It is a great read with good research on what was happening on the British side during the American Revolution - including the debates in Parliment on whther to grant proportional representation to the American colonies. Unfortunately it was published about 100 years ago and may be a little hard to find.
7.5.2006 5:50pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
As for the oil of the middle east, it was not crucial to Britain during WWI because it did not become a major source of oil until the 1930s. Moreover, during most of WWI the part of the Middle East that is today the main oil producing region of the world was controlled by Britain's enemy Turkey.

Obviously you missed Lawrence of Arabia. Backing the Arabian tribes in the uprising against the Ottomans was not done just out of a desire to open a southern front against the Turks. It was all about the oil. And while the German ships were more heavily armored, they were kept in port because the British ships, with their oil fired boilers were faster and could outrun the Germans. Massie missed this key ingredient and never quite can figure out why the Germans would take on the Brits with their superior firepower.
7.5.2006 6:16pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Anderson, I share your surprise that Adam Smith advocated "cutting and running" from America.
7.5.2006 6:31pm
Ilya Somin:
Obviously you missed Lawrence of Arabia. Backing the Arabian tribes in the uprising against the Ottomans was not done just out of a desire to open a southern front against the Turks. It was all about the oil. And while the German ships were more heavily armored, they were kept in port because the British ships, with their oil fired boilers were faster and could outrun the Germans. Massie missed this key ingredient and never quite can figure out why the Germans would take on the Brits with their superior firepower.

British support for the Arab uprising during WWI was not motivated by concerns about oil, since oil was not discovered in Saudi Arabia until 1938, as you can see at this website, among many others.

In any event, Saudi oil, even if the British had known about it at the time, could not have helped them in WWI because the British did not drive the Turks out of the Arabian peninsula until near the end of the war. As for Lawrence of Arabia (which is not exactly a completely accurate source of historical evidence), if I remember correctly, it does not even mention oil as a possible British motive for supporting the uprising.

Finally, as the Massie book makes clear (on this point, supported by other studies by experts), German ships were not inferior to British in speed, were superior in armor (though inferior to the newest British warships in the size of their guns), and were only kept in check because the British had a substantial numerical superiority (roughly 5 to 3 in capital ships). The Massie book and other studies of WWI naval warfare note many instances where German ships outran British ones during the war.
7.5.2006 7:18pm