Monday, October 24, 2016

Steve Pincus's "The Heart of the Declaration"

Steve Pincus is the Bradford Durfee Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of several books on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British history.

Pincus applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Patriots on both sides of the Atlantic advanced a very different kind of economic analysis. Patriots gave voice to and elaborated the same political economic arguments they had been advancing since the 1730s. Where the ministerialists insisted that the value of colonies lay in production, the Patriots emphasized the centrality of colonial consumption. They readily accepted responsibility for paying down a share of the British debt. “The question is not whether the Americans shall contribute but how they shall contribute,” was how the Virginian Arthur Lee put it in 1776. The Patriots argued that Americans made significant and growing contributions to British state revenue, but they did so indirectly. “The advantages derived from America in the circle of commerce are not so evident to a vulgar understanding, as so much palpable cash paid into the exchequer” the Patriot former governor of West Florida George Johnstone had condescended to explain to his fellows in the House of Commons in 1775.
This passage well captures the heart of my radical reinterpretation of the causes of the American Revolution and the nature of America’s Founding document. For generations scholars have debated whether the Revolution was the consequence of the economic self-interest of America’s Founders or as a consequence of their radical ideas. Both groups agree that America’s founders sought to create a weak government. By placing America’s Founders in the context of a transatlantic Patriot party, I insist that economic ideas were at the heart of the Revolution. I share with those who emphasize radical ideas the notion that ideas were at the heart of the American Revolution. But unlike many of those scholars who highlight moral language and rights talk, I highlight the ubiquitous discussion of the proper relationship between state and economy.

This paragraph on page 99 highlights the central arguments advanced by the transatlantic Patriot party. Whereas the British ministry of Lord North and its supporters argued that the value of colonies lay in the production of raw materials, the Patriots argued that true economic prosperity lay in the creative interplay between production and consumption. So the greatest value in the colonies lay in their dynamically growing demand for British manufactured goods. The Patriots insisted that the best way to pay down the burgeoning British sovereign debt was not by taxing the colonies thereby suppressing their demand, but by stimulating growth in the colonies.

This consumption-driven political economy led the Patriots to create a new kind of state in the Declaration of Independence. They complained that the British state, since the accession of George III, had done too little to promote immigration to the colonies. Patriots supported immigration because new immigrants would necessarily become consumers. Similarly the Patriots wanted to restrict slavery and the slave trade because slave societies were not consuming societies. They were furious that George III and the Board of Trade had systematically vetoed colonial legislation that would have placed prohibitive duties on the slave trade or in some cases outlawed sales of slaves altogether. Above all the Patriots wanted a government that could “levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce,” in short, “do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.” Because of their commitment to a political economy in which consumers were as important as producers, the Patriots issued a clarion call for an activist government.
Learn more about The Heart of the Declaration at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: 1688: The First Modern Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue