Benjamin Franklin on Demography & Whiteness
by Andrew Hamilton
A SHORT PAPER on demography by Benjamin Franklin consisting of 24 numbered paragraphs, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, Etc.” (1751), provides interesting insight into the thoughts of one of the most astute and discerning of the Founding Fathers. I will focus primarily upon Franklin’s demographic insights and perceptions of race and whiteness, though he also discussed economics. In quoted passages I have modernized archaic capitalization and italicization.
The essay was written in 1751 (when America and Canada were still British colonies) and privately circulated. It was finally published anonymously in 1755. Between that year and 1770 the essay was republished ten times in America and abroad.
The paper influenced Adam Smith, David Hume, Lord Kames, Samuel Johnson, Richard Price, Turgot, and William Godwin, “as well as nearly every American writing on population during the latter half of the eighteenth century,” according to University of California-San Diego political science professor Alan Houston.
The second edition of Thomas Malthus’ 200,000-word Essay on the Principle of Population (1802) reiterated a central Franklin premise on its first page: It is “the constant tendency in all animated life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it. It is observed by Dr. Franklin, that there is no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other’s means of subsistence. . . . This is incontrovertibly true.”
Franklin’s business, scientific, political, and social accomplishments are so numerous and varied that it is difficult to wrap one’s mind around them. This thumbnail sketch will not attempt to summarize them.
Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 to tallow chandler Josiah Franklin and his wife, Abigail née Folger. Josiah was born in England; years later Franklin visited his ancestral home and wrote about it in his autobiography. (To see the names of Franklin’s ancestors, click here. Click “Show” if the box is unexpanded.) Abigail was born on Nantucket Island to Puritan immigrants.
By his first wife, Anne Child, Josiah had had 7 children—Benjamin’s half- brothers and sisters. By Abigail he had 10 more, for a total of 17. Benjamin later had three children, one illegitimate and one of which died in infancy.
According to Wikipedia, citing Jewish historian Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003),”Franklin’s parents were both pious Puritans. The family attended the old South Church, the most liberal Puritan congregation in Boston, where Benjamin Franklin was baptized in 1706.”
“The first generation of Puritans had been intolerant of dissent, but by the early 18th century, when Franklin grew up in the Puritan church, tolerance of different churches was the norm, and Massachusetts was known, in John Adams’ words, as ‘the most mild and equitable establishment of religion that was known in the world’” (quoting Jewish historian Bernard Bailyn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, 1967, 1992).
Despite being raised a Puritan of the Congregationalist stripe by his parents, who ‘brought me through my Childhood piously in the Dissenting Way,’ Franklin recalled, he abandoned that denomination, briefly embraced deism, and finally became a non-denominational Protestant Christian.
As a member of the Second Continental Congress, Franklin served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, a document he also signed. He famously remarked, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
In 1776 Franklin was appointed American emissary to France, where he secured grants, loans, and other aid for the colonies in the struggle against Great Britain. In 1778 he negotiated the treaty of alliance with France that signaled the turning point of the American Revolution, and five years after that, with John Adams and John Jay, negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1783) ending the Revolutionary War.
During his long stay in France, Franklin, a lifelong Freemason, belonged to one of the foremost Masonic lodges in the country, where he met prominent philosophers and future leaders of the French Revolution (1789–1799). Although Franklin favored liberalization of the French government, he opposed violent revolution.
Returning to America in 1785, he was a delegate to the US Constitutional convention and a signer of the Constitution.
Franklin’s extensive writings are characterized by empiricism and specificity rather than abstract speculation. Although his longest single text is his short, masterful Autobiography, the definitive edition of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Yale University Press, 1959–2011), 40 volumes long and counting, has now reached the year 1783—when he was still a diplomat in France.
According to “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind,” many factors combine to enhance fertility and population growth: acquisition by the state of new, vacant territory, or territory from which the natives are removed to give space to white people, effective laws promoting trade, rising employment, improvements in agricultural techniques, inventions, and business innovations. Persons responsible for such things “may be properly called fathers of their nation, as they are the cause of the generation of multitudes, by the encouragement they afford to marriage.”
2. People increase in proportion to the number of marriages, and that is greater in proportion to the ease and convenience of supporting a family. When families can be easily supported, more persons marry, and earlier in life.
The central role of marriage in population expansion recurs again and again throughout Franklin’s paper. He implicitly links marriage and procreation.
It is essential to bear in mind that Franklin was writing before the European demographic transition, an historical watershed—an enormous decline in white fertility that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.
White procreative behavior in Franklin’s time therefore differed radically from behavior afterward.
Moreover, many births today—of whites, part-white hybrids, and non-whites—occur out of wedlock. This is historically unprecedented:
There exists, of course, fertility outside of marriage, generally called illegitimate. Historically, levels of illegitimate fertility in the West have been insignificant as (at least until the last few decades) [emphasis added] the vast majority of reproduction has taken place within the context of marriage. (Massimo Livi-Bacci, A Concise History of World Population, 4th ed., Blackwell, 2007, p. 240, n. 13)
In his paper, Franklin differentiates between demographic statistics derived from European urban areas and “full settled old countries,” and “new countries, [such] as America.” The old statistical tables do not fit the new situation.
“America” means North America, including Canada, but not Latin America. So even in 1751 North America and Latin America were viewed as two different worlds despite common European origins. Of course, demographically Latin America was (and is) majority nonwhite.
In European urban centers, Franklin notes, many people delay marriage due to a shortage of jobs and high living expenses. Others remain single. “Cities do not by natural generation supply themselves with inhabitants; the deaths are more than the births.”
Franklin possessed keen observational and analytical abilities—keep in mind also the incredible range of his interests and high level of accomplishment within them. Two-and-a-half centuries later, population geneticist L. L. Cavalli-Sforza wrote:
Until recently [emphasis added], cities, unlike rural regions, had negative net reproduction rates and were not reproducing themselves. Urban growth was thus maintained by immigration, and urban people typically represent a sample of the population of the whole area from which the immigrants have originated. (The History and Geography of Human Genes, abr. pbk. ed., 1994, p. 105)
Comparable forces operate countrywide in fully-settled areas of Europe, depressing overall population growth. Only because migration moves from rural to urban areas to fill the cities’ population deficits do births modestly exceed deaths in the countryside. Otherwise, there is overall equilibrium or slow growth: “Europe is generally full settled” with farmers and manufacturers “and therefore cannot now much increase in people.”
By contrast, America is chiefly occupied by “Indians” “who subsist by hunting.” Of all men, “the hunter requires the greatest quantity of land from whence to withdraw his subsistence”—the “husbandman” (farmer) subsists on “much less” and the “manufacturer” on the “least of all.”
Franklin here distinguishes between the hunting-gathering (also called foraging) mode of existence (in this case, of the American Indians) and the predominantly agrarian mode of existence of the white settlers.
Cavalli-Sforza: “The most important innovation allowing an increase in the carrying capacity of the land and the accompanying increase in population density was the transition from food collection (foraging) to food production through plant cultivation and animal breeding” (p. 105). Today this is referred to as the Neolithic Revolution.
The Europeans found America as fully settled as it well could be by hunters; yet these having large tracks [tracts], were easily prevail’d on to part with portions of territory to the new comers, who did not much interfere with the natives in hunting, and furnish’d them with many things they wanted.
6. Land being thus plenty in America, and so cheap as that a labouring man, that understands husbandry [farming], can in a short time save money enough to purchase a piece of new land sufficient for a plantation [farm], whereon he may subsist a family; such are not afraid to marry; for if they even look far enough forward to consider how their children when grown up are to be provided for, they see that more land is to be had at rates equally easy, all circumstances considered.
7. Hence marriages in America are more general, and more generally early, than in Europe. And if it is reckoned there, that there is but one marriage per annum among 100 persons, perhaps we may here reckon two; and if in Europe they have but 4 births to a marriage (many of their marriages being late) we may here reckon 8, of which if one half grow up, and our marriages are made, reckoning one with another 20 years of age, our people must at least be doubled every 20 years.
8. But notwithstanding this increase, so vast is the territory of North–America, that it will require many ages to settle fully; and till it is fully settled, labour will never be cheap here, where no man continues long a labourer for others, but gets a plantation of his own, no man continues long a journeyman to a trade, but goes among those new settlers, and sets up for himself, etc. Hence labour is no cheaper now, in Pennsylvania, than it was 30 years ago, tho’ so many thousand labouring people have been imported.
Franklin opposes immigration as a means of increasing population size, putting him sharply at odds with contemporary replacement-migration advocates who insist millions of non-whites are required to replace the dying white race in every European nation.
Instead, Franklin contends, immigration “will gradually eat the natives out”:
21. The importation of foreigners into a country that has as many inhabitants as the present employments and provisions for subsistence will bear; will be in the end no increase of people; unless the new comers have more industry and frugality than the natives, and then they will provide more subsistence, and increase in the country; but they will gradually eat the natives out. — Nor is it necessary to bring in foreigners to fill up any occasional vacancy in a country; for such vacancy (if the laws are good) will soon be filled by natural generation. Who can now find the vacancy made in Sweden, France or other warlike nations, by the plague of heroism 40 years ago; in France, by the expulsion of the Protestants; in England, by the settlement of her colonies; or in Guinea, by 100 years exportation of slaves, that has blacken’d half America? — The thinness of inhabitants in Spain, is owing to national pride and idleness, and other causes, rather than to the expulsion of the Moors, or to the making of new settlements.
In the 1600s Spain’s population dropped by 1 million, from 8.5 million to 7.5 million (-12%). Historical demographer Colin McEvedy attributed the decline to Spain’s selection of a Catholic-Mediterranean-Southern European economic orientation over a Protestant-Atlantic-Northern European one, causing the country to be “badly hit by the economic crisis of the early 17th century—during which the population dropped,” as well as the seizure of its empire by “allies and enemies” in the early 1700s.
Like Franklin, he does not attribute the decline to Spain’s settlement of Latin America or the expulsion of 150,000 Jews in 1492 or 250,000 Muslims (“Moors”) in 1609–14 (Colin McEvedy and Richard Jones, Atlas of World Population History, Penguin, 1978, p. 100).
Franklin likens pre-demographic transition population adaptability to a “polypus,” a genus of octopuses:
23. In fine, a nation well regulated is like a polypus; take away a limb, its place is soon supply’d; cut it in two, and each deficient part shall speedily grow out of the part remaining. Thus if you have room and subsistence enough, as you may by dividing, make ten polypes out of one, you may of one make ten nations, equally populous and powerful; or rather, increase a nation ten fold in numbers and strength.
He concretely illustrates his point:
22. There is in short, no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each others means of subsistence. [Emphasis added.] Was the face of the Earth . . . empty of other inhabitants, it might in a few ages be replenish’d from one nation only; as, for instance, with Englishmen. Thus there are suppos’d to be now upwards of one million English souls in North–America, (tho’ ’tis thought scarce 80,000 have been brought over Sea) and yet perhaps there is not one the fewer in Britain, but rather many more, on account of the employment the colonies afford to manufacturers at home. This million doubling, suppose but once in 25 Years, will in another century be more than the people of England, and the greatest number of Englishmen will be on this side the water. What an accession of power to the British empire by sea as well as land!
Proposals are sometimes advanced urging governments to create incentives encouraging large families. However, there are now so many nonwhites permanently ensconced in the former First World that such measures would undoubtedly prove harmful. The proposals would not be limited to whites, and indeed might actively discriminate against them, and cast further economic burdens upon their shoulders.
On this subject Franklin noted: “15. As to privileges granted to the married, (such as the Jus trium Liberorum among the Romans), they hasten the filling of a country that has been thinned by war or pestilence, or that has otherwise vacant territory; but cannot increase a people beyond the means provided for their subsistence.”
In Roman law, jus trium liberorum (L., “right of children”) was a privilege conferred upon a parent who had several children.
Among the factors that diminish populations Franklin enumerates:
1. Conquest. Conquerors exact economic tribute, thus driving down the living standards and birth rates of the native inhabitants as “foreigners” expand.
(Note: I’ve moved the next sentence from Franklin’s “Bad Government” to the “Conquest” subsection.) “People not only leave such a country, and settling abroad incorporate with other nations, lose their native language, and become foreigners; but the industry of those that remain being discourag’d, the quantity of subsistence in the country is lessen’d, and the support of a family becomes more difficult.”
Sounds like a template of contemporary Jewish-US-UK-EU-UN Middle Eastern policy!
Franklin does not clearly indicate whether he conceives of “incorporation with other nations” and “becoming foreigners” (i.e., loss of individual or group racial or ethnic identity) substantially in biological terms or, in common with most liberals and Romantics of the period, with the loss of language. Given his inquisitive mind—he was a scientist—and incredible range of interests, I suspect that somewhere in his vast collection ofPapers he touched upon the issue of racial hybridity/miscegenation.
2. Loss of trade.
Franklin’s wording here is unclear, but he seems to be saying that the export of manufacturing facilities to foreign countries reduces population in the homeland. This interpretation is confirmed a few of paragraphs later when he tightly links protectionism (to use today’s terminology) to healthy population growth:
16. Foreign luxuries & needless manufactures imported and used in a nation, do . . . increase the people of the nation that furnishes them, and diminish the people of the nation that uses them. Laws therefore that prevent such importations, and on the contrary promote the exportation of manufactures to be consumed in foreign countries, may be called (with respect to the people that make them) generative laws, as by increasing subsistence they encourage marriage. Such laws likewise strengthen a country, doubly, by increasing its own people and diminishing its neighbours.
17. Some European nations prudently refuse to consume the manufactures of East–India: They should likewise forbid them to their colonies; for the gain to the merchant, is not to be compar’d with the loss by this means of people to the nation.
3. Loss of food.
4. Bad government, insecure property, and heavy taxes discourage industry; “the quantity of subsistence in the country is lessen’d, and the support of a family becomes more difficult. So heavy taxes tend to diminish a people” (Emphasis added).
In light of the crucial role taxation played in the American Revolution, this last belief is significant. Whatever the motives of merchants such as John Hancock or Carter Braxton, or southern planters such as George Washington and James Madison, Franklin, at least, clearly viewed excessive taxation as a direct attack upon family formation and population size.
He was also convinced that “luxury” (wealth) and a plantation system based upon Negro slavery were demographically harmful and detrimental to character and families. However, for general philosophical and prudential reasons clearly stated in his autobiography, he never would have expressed or emphasized such deep differences of opinion with his fellow revolutionaries in a provocative or confrontational manner.
5. The introduction of slaves. (See the subsection “Race” below.)
I reserved one factor for last because it has implications for the establishment of an ethnostate:
Loss of Territory. Thus the Britons being driven into Wales, and crowded together in a barren country insufficient to support such great numbers, diminished ’till the people bore a proportion to the produce, while the Saxons increas’d on their abandoned lands; ’till the Island became full of English. And were the English now driven into Wales by some foreign nation, there would in a few years be no more Englishmen in Britain, than there are now people in Wales.
Loss of territory is closely linked to conquest, above. Worldwide today both processes are destroying white populations because of governments’ unshakable determination to genetically eliminate the white race (commit genocide).
Significantly, the establishment of a small, vastly reduced ethnostate effectively constitutes a loss of territory in Franklin’s sense. Theoretically preferable would be Samuel Francis’s proposed “reconquest” by a long march through the institutions, a William Pierce-style revolution effectively aimed at reconquest, Pan-Nationalism, or a Richard McCulloch-type ethnostate incorporating major elements of an existing state (see McCulloch’s subsection “Thirteen Principles of Racial Partition;” he has devoted decades to thinking carefully about this problem).
Only such large-scale approaches avoid Franklin’s dilemma. In Germany, nationalists took control of the existing state, thereby avoiding demographic marginalization and probably permanent, cataclysmic population decline.
Small ethnostates, besides being politically marginal, economically and militarily vulnerable, and easy targets for hostile intelligence agencies, effectively abandon the vast majority of the white population. In South Africa, Orania has attracted only a tiny handful of whites post-takeover. It is a laboratory example of the failure of the ethnostate idea where it logically should have worked well. Until recently Afrikaners possessed a racial-religious-linguistic-ethnic constitution that was among the strongest and most cohesive in the white world. Nevertheless, they completely failed to coalesce into a sizeable, vital ethnostate after South Africa’s externally-imposed anti-white revolution-from-above.
Paragraph 12 of Franklin’s paper deals with slavery versus free labor. The thrust of his argument, directed at the British, is that American slavery will not undercut wages paid to British workers. Franklin contends that labor economics are such that the cost of slaves exceeds the labor costs of English workmen. (He does not point out that American Negroes were not employed in manufacturing.)
Franklin owned two slaves (possibly more earlier), which he freed after his return from France in 1785. In 1789–90 he authored three abolitionist pamphlets. And one of his last public acts was signing, as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, a Quaker petition to the US Congress urging abolition of slavery and the suppression of the slave trade. Two months later he died in Philadelphia at the age of 84.
Opposition to slavery is not the same as race denial, multiracialism, anti-white racism, or promotion of genocide via race-mixing. One would need to examine Franklin’s antislavery pamphlets and related writings closely to properly gauge his ideas on such subjects. My guess is that he was not anti-white, or a multiracialist, because that was not normative during his era, and he avoided extremism as a matter of principle.
Franklin’s future abolitionist views were presaged in the 1751 article, where he argued that slavery “diminishes” white nations:
The Negroes brought into the English Sugar Islands [e.g., the Leeward Islands, Barbados, Martinique, and Guadeloupe], have greatly diminish’d the Whites there; the poor are by this means depriv’d of employment, while a few families acquire vast estates; which they spend on foreign luxuries, and educating their children in the habit of those luxuries; the same income is needed for the support of one that might have maintain’d 100. The Whites who have slaves, not labouring, are enfeebled, and therefore not so generally prolific; the slaves being work’d too hard, and ill fed, their constitutions are broken, and the deaths among them are more than the births [emphasis added]; so that a continual supply is needed from Africa. The Northern Colonies having few slaves increase in Whites. Slaves also pejorate [make worse, depreciate] the families that use them; the white children become proud, disgusted with labour, and being educated in idleness, are rendered unfit to get a living by industry.
Franklin here seems to foresee, or perhaps discern at a remarkably early stage, an important feature of the upcoming European demographic transition: that “luxury” diminishes fertility in white families. In paragraph 18 he asserts:
Home luxury in the great, increases the nation’s manufacturers employ’d by it, who are many, and only tends to diminish the families that indulge in it, who are few. The greater the common fashionable expence of any rank of people, the more cautious they are of marriage. Therefore luxury should never be suffer’d to become common.
The last two paragraphs of Franklin’s paper focus explicitly on race. These passages were the ones that struck me most forcefully when I first read the essay years ago.
Franklin, a Pennsylvanian, was hostile to the colony’s large contingent of German immigrants (by 1775 they would comprise one-third of the colony’s population), who he perceived as markedly foreign:
And since detachments of English from Britain sent to America, will have their places at home so soon supply’d and increase so largely here; why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their language and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion.
“Palatine Boors” refers to the Pennsylvania “Dutch” (a corruption of Deutsch), many of whom hailed from a region of southern Germany known as the Palatinate. “Boors” means farmers.
Franklin’s hostile attitude toward these people mirrored Tory-Anglican opposition to their admission to England at the time rather than the welcoming stance of the Whigs.
Political scientist Alan Houston writes, “Franklin was not the only English-speaker to be worried by these developments. Patterns of immigration were matters of state, and were closely watched by Parliament. An early manuscript copy of the Observations was eagerly read by leading MPs. Proposals to mitigate the perceived effects of German immigration were floated.”
In light of America’s subsequent experience with continental European immigrants, one would expect Franklin to have been wrong in his belief that the Germans would “never adopt our language or customs.” Yet it was not until after WWII that Pennsylvania German finally died out in favor of English. Indeed, the language persists to this day among the more insular Anabaptists such as the Old Order Mennonite and Old Order Amish.
Finally, Franklin unfavorably noted the Germans’ dark complexion, perceiving them as in some sense nonwhite. His idea of German foreignness thus linked the single physical trait of skin color with cultural traits of language and customs. As a freethinker, the religion of the Germans (most of whom were Protestants) did not trouble him.
Franklin’s final, racially-oriented, paragraph is worth quoting in full. It is an unabashed expression of white pride coupled with idiosyncratic confusion over what constitutes whiteness.
24. Which leads me to add one remark: That the number of purely white people in the world is proportionably very small. All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal body of white people on the face of the Earth. I could wish their numbers were increased. And while we are, as I may call it, scouring our planet, by clearing America of woods, and so making this side of our globe reflect a brighter light to the eyes of inhabitants in Mars or Venus, why should we in the sight of superior beings, darken its people? Why increase the sons of Africa, by planting them in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all Blacks and Tawneys, of increasing the lovely White and Red?
Along with the bold expression of white pride and striking point-of-view from outer space reminiscent of the opening passages of Francis Parker Yockey’s Imperium, what is most conspicuous here is the puzzling classification of an unusual selection of six big European nations as not-quite-white, or perhaps nonwhite, based upon the single trait of skin color. Few No one else has concurred with this eccentric assessment, either then (Linnaeus, Blumenbach) or since. Franklin seems to regard only the English and a subset of Germans (the “Saxons”) as “purely white.”
However, in letters from the 1750s Franklin counts as “White” the Dutch, French, English, Scottish, Irish, and Germans.
In the quoted paragraph, Franklin explicitly contrasts “whites” with blacks, tawnys, and reds, thereby distinguishing four major continental races. But he also contradictorily and inexplicably shifts from a negative (“tawny”) to a positive (“lovely Red”) categorization for Indians.
Franklin concludes his paper with the following sentiment, which, despite having been penned 261 years ago, remains far in advance of benighted 21st century opinion: “But perhaps I am partial to the complexion [whiteness] of my country, for such kind of partiality is natural to mankind.”
[It is likely, in this editor’s opinion, that Franklin meant by “lovely white and red” a rosy complexion and was not referring to Amerindians. His ultra-narrow and weirdly arbitrary conception of Whiteness, though, seems bizarre and neither politically nor biologically viable. — K.A.S.]
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