On Physiocracy

Benjamin Franklin

[Excerpt from a letter to DuPont de Nemours, 28 July, 1768]

I received your obliging letter of the 10th May with the most acceptable present of your Physiocratie, which I have read with great pleasure, and received from it a great deal of instruction. There is such a freedom from local and national prejudices and partialities, so much benevolence to mankind in general, so much goodness mixed with the wisdom in the principles of your new philosophy that I am perfectly charmed with it, and wish I could have stayed in France for some time to have studied in your school, that I might, by conversing with its founders, have made myself quite a master of that philosophy.

I had, before I went into your country, seen some letters of yours to Dr. Templeman that gave me a high Opinion of the doctrines you are engaged in cultivating, and of your personal talents and abilities, which made me greatly desirous of seeing you. Since I had not that good fortune, the next best thing is the advantage you are so good to offer me of your correspondence, which I shall ever highly value and endeavor to cultivate with all the diligence I am capable of.

I am sorry to find that that wisdom which sees the welfare of the parts in the prosperity of the whole seems yet not to be known in this country; we are so far from conceiving that what is best for mankind, or even for Europe in general, may be best for us, that we are even studying to establish and extend a separate interest of Britain to the prejudice of even Ireland and our colonies. It is from your philosophy only that the maxims of a contrary and more happy conduct are to be drawn, which I therefore sincerely wish may grow and increase till it becomes the governing philosophy of the human species, as it must be of superior beings in better worlds. (Bigelow's Franklin, IV: 195).

Excerpt from a letter to Alexander Small, 1787

Later letters on this subject may be seen in Spark's Franklin (X: 300 and 345); and Bigelow's Franklin (IX: 414)

In the first of these letters, he agrees with his French correspondent, Abbe Morellet, that "liberty of trade, cultivating, manufacturing etc." is preferable even to civil liberty. The last letter (to Alexander Small, 1787) confirms his early confession of faith:

I have not lost any of the principles of political economy you once knew me possessed of, but to get the bad customs of the country changed, and new ones, though better, introduced, it is necessary first to remove the prejudices of the people, enlighten their ignorance, and convince them their interests will be promoted by the proposed change; and this is not the work of a day. Our legislators are all landholders; and they are not yet persuaded that all taxes are finally paid by the land therefore we have been forced into the mode of indirect taxes, i. e., duties on importation of goods.