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under his command, with all the fortresses in his possession; and who knows but (like some provincial generals in the Roman empire, and encouraged by the universal discontent you have produced) he may take it into his head to set up for himself? If he should, and you have carefully practised these few excellent rules of mine, take my word for it, all the provinces will immediately join him ;—and you will that day (if you have not done it sooner) get rid of the trouble of governing them, and all the plagues attending their commerce and connection, from thenceforth and for ever.
Written in England by Benjamin Franklin, to discourage the intended act for preventing emigration.
To The Printer Of The Public Advertiser. Sir,
You give us in your paper of Tuesday the 16th of November, what is called "the Plan of an Act to be proposed at the next meeting of Parliament to prevent the Emigration of our People." I know not from what authority it comes, but as it is very circumstantial, I suppose some such plan may be really under consideration, and that this is thrown out to feel the pulse of the public. I shall therefore, with your leave, give my sentiments of it in your paper.
During a century and half that Englishmen have been at liberty to remove if they pleased to America, we have heard of no law to restrain that liberty, and confine them as prisoners in this island. Nor do we perceive any ill effects produced by their emigration. Our estates, far from diminishing in value through a want of tenants, have been in that period more than doubled; the lands in general are better cultivated; their increased produce finds a ready sale at an advanced price, and the complaint has for some time been, not that we want mouths to consume our meat, but that we want meat for our number of mouths.
Why then is such a restraining law now thought necessary? A paragraph in the same paper from the Edinburgh Courant, may perhaps throw some light upon this question. We are there told, "that 1500 people have emigrated to America from the shire of Sutherland within these two years, and carried with them 7,500/. sterling; which exceeds a year's rent of the whole county; that the single consideration of the misery which most of these people must suffer in America, independent of the loss of men and money to the mother-country, should engage the attention not only of the landed interest, but of administration." The humane writer of this paragraph may, I fancy, console himself with the reflection, that perhaps the apprehended future sufferings of those emigrants will never exist; for that it was probably the authentic accounts tBey had received from friends already settled there, of the felicity to be enjoyed in that country, with a thorough knowledge of their own misery at home, which induced their removal. And, as a politician, he may be comforted by assuring himself, that if they really meet with greater misery in America, their future letters lamenting it, will be more credited than the Edinburgh Courant, and effectually, without a law put a stop to the emigration. It seems some of the Scottish chiefs, who delight no longer to live upon their estates in the honorable independence they were born to, among their respecting tenants, but choose rather a life of luxury, though among the dependants of a court, have lately raised their rents most grievously to support the expense. The consuming of those rents in London, though equally prejudicial to the poor county of Sutherland, no Edinburgh newspaper complains of; but now, that the oppressed tenants take flight, and carry with them what might have supported the landlord's London magnificence, he begins to feel for the Mother-country, and its enormous loss of 7,500/. carried to her colonies! Administration is called upon to remedy the evil, by another abridgment of English Liberty. And surely administration should do something for these gentry, as they do any thing for administration.
But is there not an easier remedy? Let them return to their family seats, live among their peopie, and instead of fleecing and skinning, patronise and cherish them; promote their interest, encourage their industry, and make their situation comfortable. If the poor folks are happier at home than they can be abroad, they will not lightly be prevailed with to cross the ocean. But can their lord blame them for leaving home in search of better living, when he first set them the example? I would consider the proposed law,
1st. As to the Necessity of it. 2dly. The Practicability. 3dly. The Policy, if practicable. And, 4thly. The Justice of it.
Pray spare me room for a few words on each of these heads.
1st. As to the Necessity of it. If any country has more people than can be comfortably subsisted in it, some of those who are incommoded may be induced to emigrate. As long as the new situation shall be far preferable to the old, the emigration may possibly continue. But when many of those who at home interfered with others of the same rank, (in the competition for farms, shops, business, offices, and other means of subsistence) are gradually withdrawn, the inconvenience of that competition ceases; the number remaining no longer half starve each other; they find they can now subsist comfortably, and though perhaps not quite so well as those who have left them, yet, the inbred attachment to a native country is sufficient to overbalance a moderate difference; and thus the emigration ceases naturally. The waters of the ocean may move in currents from one quarter of the globe to another, as they happen in some places to be accumulated, and in others diminished; but no law beyond the law of gravity, is necessary to prevent their abandoning any coast entirely. Thus the different degrees of happiness of different countries and situations, find, or rather make their level by the flowing of people from one to another, and where that level is once found, the removals cease. Add to this, that even a real deficiency of people in any country, occasioned by a wasting war or pestilence, is speedily supplied by earlier and more prolific marriages, encouraged by the greater facility of obtaining the means of subsistence. So that a country half depopulated would soon be repeopled, till the means of subsistence were equalled by the population. All increase beyond that point, must perish or flow off into more favorable situations. Such overflowings there have been of mankind in all ages, or we should not now have had so many nations. But to apprehend absolute depopulation from that cause, and call for a law to prevent it, is calling for a law to stop the Thames, lest its waters, by what leave it daily at Gravesend, should be quite exhausted. Such a law therefore I do not conceive to be Necessary.