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Cato's Letter No. 67

Arts and Sciences the Effects of Civil Liberty only, and ever destroyed or oppressed by Tyranny

Thomas Gordon (Saturday, February 24, 1722)

SIR, Having already shewn, that naval trade and power cannot subsist but in free countries alone, I will now shew, that the same is true of domestick arts and sciences; and that both these, and population, which is their constant concomitant, and their chief cause as well as their certain effect, are born of liberty, and nursed, educated, encouraged, and endowed, by liberty alone.

Men will not spontaneously toil and labour but for their own advantage, for their pleasure or their profit, and to obtain something which they want or desire, and which, for the most part, is not to be obtained but by force or consent. Force is often dangerous; and when employed to acquire what is not ours, it is always unjust; and therefore men, to procure from others what they had not before, must gain their consent; which is not to be gained, but by getting them in lieu of the thing desired, something which they want and value more than what they part with. This is what we call trade; which is the exchange of one commodity for another, or for that which purchases all commodities, silver and gold.

Men, in their first state, content themselves with the spontaneous productions of nature, the fruits of the field and the liquid stream, and such occasional supplies as they now and then receive from the destruction of other animals. But when those supplies become insufficient to support their numbers, their next resource is to open the bosom of the earth, and, by proper application and culture, to extort her hidden stores: And thus were invented tillage and planting. And an hundred men thus employed can fetch from the bowels of our common mother, food and sustenance enough for ten times their own number; and one tenth part more may possibly be able to supply all the instruments of husbandry, and whatever is barely necessary to support these husbandmen: So that all the rest of the people must rob or starve, unless either the proprietors of the land will give them the produce of their estates for nothing, or they can find something wherewithal to purchase it.

Now in countries where no other arts are in use, but only husbandry and the professions necessary to it, and to support those who are employed about it; all the other inhabitants have no means of purchasing food and raiment, but by selling their persons, and becoming vile slaves and vassals to their princes, lords, or other proprietors of the land; and are obliged, for necessary sustenance, to follow them in their wild wars, and their personal and factious quarrels, and to become the base instruments of their ambition and pride. Great men will rather throw their estates into forests and chases, for the support of wild beasts, and for their own pleasure in hunting them, than into farms, gardens, and fruitful fields, if they can get nothing from the productions of them.

This is the forlorn condition of mankind, in most of the wild empires of the East; this was their condition in all the Gothick governments; and this is the condition of Poland and of the highlands of Scotland; where a few have liberty, and all the rest are slaves. And nothing can free mankind from this abject and forlorn condition, but the invention of arts and sciences; that is, the finding out of more materials and expedients to make life easy and pleasant; and the inducing people to believe, what they will readily believe, that other things are necessary to their happiness, besides those which nature has made necessary. Thus the luxury of the rich becomes the bread of the poor.

As soon as men are freed from the importunities of hunger and cold; the thoughts and desire of conveniency, plenty, ornament, and politeness, do presently succeed: And then follow after, in very quick progression, emulation, ambition, profusion, and the love of power: And all these, under proper regulations, contribute to the happiness, wealth, and security of societies. It is natural to men and societies, to be setting their wits and their hands to work, to find out all means to satisfy their wants and desires, and to enable them to live in credit and comfort, and to make suitable provision that their posterity may live so after them.

Necessity is the mother of invention; and so is the opinion of necessity. Whilst things are in their own nature necessary to us, or, from custom and fancy, made necessary; we will be turning every thought, and trying every method, how to come at them; and where they cannot be got by violence and rapine, recourse will be had to invention and industry. And here is the source of arts and sciences; which alone can support multitudes of people, who will never be wanting to the means which bring them support.

Where-ever there is employment for people, there will be people; and people, in most countries, are forced, for want of other employment, to cut the throats of one another, or of their neighbours; and to ramble after their princes in all their mad conquests, ridiculous contentions, and other mischievous maggots; and all to get, with great labour, hazard, and often with great hunger and slaughter, a poor, precarious, and momentary subsistence.

And therefore whatever state gives more encouragement to its subjects than the neighbouring states do, and finds them more work, and gives them greater rewards for that work; and by all these laudable ways makes [the] human condition easier than it is elsewhere, and secures life and property better; that state will draw the inhabitants from the neighbouring countries to its own; and when they are there, they will, by being richer and safer, multiply faster. Men will naturally fly from danger to security, from poverty to plenty, and from a life of misery to a life of felicity.

And as there will be always industry where-ever there is protection; so where-ever there is industry and labour, there will be the silver, the gold, the jewels, and power, and the empire. It does not import who they are that have conquered, or inhabit the countries where silver and gold are natives, or who they are that toil for them in the mines; since they will be the possessors of the coin, who can purchase it afterwards with the goods and manufactures which the proprietors of the mine and their people want. One artificer in England, or Holland, can make manufacture enough in a week to buy as much silver and gold at the mine, as a labourer there can dig and prepare in a month, or perhaps two; and all the while that Spain and Portugal lessen their inhabitants, we increase ours: They lose their people by sending them away to dig in the mines; and we, by making the manufactures which they want, and the instruments which they use, multiply ours. By this means every man that they send out of their country is a loss to it, because the reason and produce of their labour goes to enrich rival nations; whereas every man that we send to our plantations, adds to the number of our inhabitants here at home, by maintaining so many of them employed in so many manufactures which they take off there; besides so many artificers in shipping, and all the numerous traders and agents concerned in managing and venting the produce of the plantations, when it is brought hither, and in bringing it hither: So that the English planters in America, besides maintaining themselves and ten times as many Negroes, maintain likewise great numbers of their countrymen in England.

Such are the blessings of liberty, and such is the difference which it makes between country and country! The Spanish nation lost much more by the loss of their liberties, followed with the expulsion of the Moors, than ever they got by the gold and silver mountains of Mexico and Peru, or could get by all the mines of gold, silver, and diamonds upon earth.

Where there is liberty, there are encouragements to labour, because people labour for themselves: and no one can take from them the acquisitions which they make by their labour: There will be the greatest numbers of people, because they find employment and protection; there will be the greatest stocks, because most is to be got, and easiest to be got, and safest when it is got; and those stocks will be always increasing by a new accession of money acquired elsewhere, where there is no security of enjoying it; there people will be able to work cheapest, because less taxes will be put upon their work, and upon the necessaries which must support them whilst they are about it: There people will dare to own their being rich; there will be most people bred up to trade, and trade and traders will be most respected; and there the interest of money will be lower, and the security of possessing it greater, than it ever can be in tyrannical governments, where life and property and all things must depend upon the humour of a prince, the caprice of a minister, or the demand of a harlot. Under those governments few people can have money, and they that have must lock it up, or bury it to keep it; and dare not engage in large designs, when the advantages may be reaped by their rapacious governors, or given up by them in a senseless and wicked treaty: Besides, such governors condemn trade and artificers; and only men of the sword, who have an interest incompatible with trade, are encouraged by them.

For these reasons, trade cannot be carried on so cheap as in free countries; and whoever supplies the commodity cheapest, will command the market. In free countries, men bring out their money for their use, pleasure, and profit, and think of all ways to employ it for their interest and advantage. New projects are every day invented, new trades searched after, new manufactures set up; and when tradesmen have nothing to fear but from those whom they trust, credit will run high, and they will venture in trade for many times as much as they are worth: But in arbitrary countries, men in trade are every moment liable to be undone, without the guilt of sea or wind, without the folly or treachery of their correspondents, or their own want of care or industry: Their wealth shall be their snare; and their abilities, vigilance, and their success, shall either be their undoing, or nothing to their advantage: Nor can they trust any one else, or any one else them, when payment and performance must depend upon the honesty and wisdom of those who often have none.


Ignorance of arts and sciences, and of every thing that is good, together with poverty, misery, and desolation, are found for the most part all together, and are all certainly produced by tyranny. In all the great empires of Morocco, Abyssinia, Persia, and India, there is not amongst the natives such a thing as a tolerable architect; nor one good building, unless we except a palace built by a Portuguese for the Abyssinian emperor; and perhaps there may be in all these vast continents a few more good houses built by Europeans. The Aethiopians have scarce such a thing as an artificer among them; their only weavers are the Jews, who are likewise their smiths, whose highest employment in iron is to make heads for their spears; and for artists of their own, their wretched trumpeters and horn-winders seem to be the highest. When the Jesuits built a few churches and chapels in their country, the whole nation were alarmed, taking them for so many castles and fortresses. The rest of their condition is a-piece; they are abjectly miserable, in spite of their soil, which in many places is luxuriant, and yields three crops a year; Of such small effect are the gifts of God to his creatures, when the breath of a tyrant can blast them!

In Persia, the carpenters and joiners have but four tools for all their work, and we may guess what sort of work they make; they have a hatchet, a saw, and a chisel, and one sort of plainer, brought thither not long since by a Frenchman. As to printing, they have none; nor any paper but coarse brown stuff, which cannot be folded without breaking to pieces. In painting, they do not go beyond birds and flowers, and are utterly ignorant of figures and history.

Egypt was once the mother of arts and sciences, and from thence Greece had them: But Egypt losing its liberties, lost with them all politeness, as all nations do; and the pyramids were built by the first Egyptian tyrants, while the knowledge of arts was not yet lost in barbarism, and before the country was dispeopled, else they never had been built. Nor could all the power of the Ottoman Empire build such in the place now, though the Turks were not savages in the sciences, as they are. "Till the time of Ramphsinitus," says Herodotus, "the Egyptians report, that liberty flourished, and the laws were the highest power." Then he tells us, that Cheops, the successor of that king, falling into all debauchery and tyranny, employed a hundred thousand of his people in drawing of stone; Diodorus Siculus says, three hundred and sixty thousand were employed in this inhuman drudgery; and then he began a pyramid. The Egyptians grew afterwards in ignorance, barbarity, and vileness, and almost any body that invaded them, mastered them; and when they were defended, the free Greeks defended them, a band of them being generally entertained for that end by the Egyptian kings. It is true, one or two of the Ptolemies, particularly the first, attempted to revive arts and learning amongst them; but the attempt came to nothing: They were slaves, incapable either of tasting or producing the embellishments and excellencies of liberty, of which they had been long deprived; and therefore the Greek artists, and the Greek professors in Egypt, had the glory of every improvement to themselves, as indeed they were the authors of all. The Romans afterwards left there many monuments of their grandeur and politeness: But when their free government ended, as tyranny succeeded, so did barbarity all over the empire, and no where more than in Egypt, which is at this day the prey of robbing and thieving Arabs, and of oppressive and devouring Turks.

I shall here subjoin a summary account given us by that judicious traveller Monsieur Bernier, concerning the condition of the three great eastern empires, best known to us. It is in his last chapter of The History of the Great Mogul.

There is, says he, "almost no person secure from the violence of the governors, timariots, and farmers of the royal rents; nor can the princes, though they were disposed, hinder these violences, nor prevent the tyranny of their servants over their people; which should be the chief employment of a king. This tyranny is often so extensive, that it leaves to the peasant and tradesman neither food nor raiment, but robs them of the common necessaries of life, and they live in misery, and die with hunger: They either beget no children; or, if they do, see them perish in their infancy, for want of food: Sometimes they desert their huts and land, to become lackeys to the soldiers, or fly to neighbouring nations (where their condition is not mended). In short, the land is not tilled but by force, and therefore wretchedly tilled; and great part of it lies waste and is lost: There is no body to clear the ditches and water-courses; no body to build houses, or to repair those that are ruinous. The timariot will not improve the ground for his successor, not knowing how soon he may come; nor will the peasant work for a tyrant, and starve while he does it: And neither timariot nor peasant will labour for bread which others are to eat. So the peasant is left to starve, and the land to become a desert.

"Hence it is, that we see those vast states in Asia run and running to wretched ruin: Most of their towns are raised with dirt and earth; and you see nothing but ruinous towns, and deserted villages: And hence it is, that those celebrated regions of Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Palestine, with those admirable plains of Antioch, and so many other countries, anciently so well manured, so fertile, and so full of people, are all at present half deserted, abandoned, and untilled, or become pestilent and uninhabitable bogs. Egypt is in the like condition; and within these fourscore years, above the tenth part of its incomparable soil is lost by poverty, and want of hands to scour the channels of the Nile, and remove the sand which covers their fields.

"From the same causes, arts languish and starve in those countries: For with what heart can an artisan labour and study for ignorant beggars, who are not judges of his work, and cannot pay him for it, or for grandees who will not? He is so far from any prospect of reward, that he is not only without all hopes of wealth, office or lands; but, to avoid being thought rich, must live poorly: He must never eat a good meal, never wear a decent coat, never appear to be worth sixpence. Nay, he is happy if he can escape the korrah, a terrible whip exercised by the great lords upon the artists; proper encouragement of ingenuity!

"Indeed, the knowledge and beauty of arts had been lost in those countries long since, were it not that the kings and grandees give wages to certain handicraftsmen, who work in their houses, and, to escape the whip, do their best: Besides, the rich merchants, who share their gains with men of power, to be protected by them, give these handicraftsmen a little more pay, and but a little. We must not therefore think, upon seeing rich eastern stuffs here, that the workman there is in any condition or esteem: He works not for himself: Only necessity and the cudgel makes him work; and let him work how he will, he is doomed to live miserably, to clothe himself meanly, to eat poorly.

"Traffick also in those countries is faint and decaying: For how many are there that care to take much pains; to make dangerous voyages, and take long journeys; to be constantly running up and down; to write much, to live in perpetual anxiety and care, and to risk all hazards and chances; and all for a precarious gain, which is at the mercy of the next greedy governor?"

This whole chapter of Bernier deserves every man's reading: I have only room to add part of another paragraph. talking of the Turkish empire: "We have travelled," says he, "through almost all the parts of it; we have seen how woefully it is ruined and dispeopled; and how in the capital city the raising of five or six thousand men requires three whole months: And we know what a fall it must have had before now, had it not been for the supplies of Christian slaves and captives brought thither every year from all parts. Without doubt, if the same sort of government continue, that state will destroy itself: It is at this day maintained by its own weakness, and must at last fall by it. The governors are frequently changed, to make room for new oppressors; but neither has any one governor, or one subject in the whole empire, a penny that he can call his own, to maintain the least party; nor, if he had money, are there any men to be had in these wide desolate provinces. A blessed expedient this, to make a state subsist! An expedient, much like that of a brama of Pegu, who, to prevent sedition, commanded that no land should be tilled for some years together; and having thus destroyed half the kingdom with hunger, he turned it into forests: Which method, however, did not answer his end, nor prevent divisions in that state, which was reduced so low, that a handful of Chinese fugitives were like to have taken and mastered the capital city Ava."

Thus far Bernier. Sir Paul Ricaut tells us, that it is a reigning maxim in the Turkish policy, to lay a great part of their empire waste. A maxim, which they need take no pains to practise; since, without destroying deliberately their people and provinces, which yet they do, the dreadful spirit of their government creates desolation fast enough in all conscience.

The whole city of Dhili, the capital of India, is obliged to follow the Great Mogul their emperor, when he takes a journey, their whole dependence being upon the court and the soldiery; for they cannot support themselves: Nor is the country round them, which is either waste, or its inhabitants starving, able to support them. So that the citizens of this mighty metropolis, are only the wretched sutlers to a camp: They are forced to leave their houses empty, and stroll after their monarch, whenever he is graciously disposed to take a jaunt; and are absent sometimes from home a year and a half together.

The Jesuit Nicholas Pimenta, who was in Pegu about an hundred and twenty years ago, gives this account of it: "The last king," says he, "was a mighty king, and could bring into the field a million and sixty thousand men, taking one out of ten: But his son had, by his wars, his oppressions, his murders, and other cruelties, made such quick dispatch of his subjects, that all that were left did not exceed seven thousand, including men, women, and children. What an affecting influence is here of the pestilential nature of tyranny!"

It is not unlikely that some of these fatal wars were made by this inhuman prince, for white elephants; and that he either made or provoked invasions upon that score, as I have instanced in another paper: And here I shall add something to make this conjecture still more probable. Mr. Ralph Fitch, a merchant of London, was at Pegu thirteen or fourteen years before Pimenta, in the reign of the above potent king; and he says,

"Such is the esteem that this king has for an elephant of this colour, that amongst his other titles, he is called King of the White Elephants; a title, which to him seems as lofty as any of the rest. And that no other prince round about him may wear his glorious title, therefore none of them must keep a white elephant, though nature gave it them; but must send it to him, or an army shall fetch it; for rather than not have it, he will make war for it."

He says, that the houses of these creatures are splendidly gilt, and so are the silver vessels out of which they are fed. When they go to the river to be washed, which they do every day, six or seven men bear up a canopy of cloth of gold or silk over them; and as many more march with drums and musical instruments before them; and when they come out of the water, their feet are washed in great silver basins by persons of quality, whose office it is thus to serve them. Bernier says, the Great Mogul allows fixed pensions (sometimes very large ones) to every elephant, with proper attendance; nay, two men are employed in the sultry months, to stand, one on each side, to fan them.

I only mention this, to shew how much more care these tyrants take of their beasts, than of their people. And it is too true of all arbitrary princes; their stable of horses is dearer to them than their subjects, and live infinitely better.

This is almost universally true where-ever there are such. Nay, they value their dogs more than they do the lives of men. When the Grand Seignior goes a hunting, a great number of peasants must enclose the ground for several leagues round, and keep in the game; this they must often do for many days together, sometimes in ice and snow, with hungry bellies. By which means their work is neglected, their grounds are destroyed, and they themselves are many times killed in the sport, or starved in attending it; and it often happens, that forty or fifty of his own followers perish in a day. Sultan Mahomet's grand falconer had once the honesty and boldness to represent to his master all this destruction and carnage which attended his endless passion for hunting; but all the answer which he received from this father of the faithful, was, "By all means take care of the dogs, let them have clothing and other accommodations."

This paper upon arts and population grows too long: I shall therefore reserve to another what I have to say further upon this subject.

G I am, &c.

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