The American Declaration of Independence reflects the same Enlightenment ideals that led William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet to argue for the possibility of the perfectibility of humanity through institutional reform, so Malthus’s Essay on Population also serves as a rebuke to Americans who, believing that European poverty was due to European institutions, sought to build a new society that would provide freedom, equality and general prosperity. But there were competing visions. Nationalist supporters of government promotion of manufacturing argued that Malthusian misery and vice were not inevitable because, in the absence of oppressive European institutions, productivity increases as population increases. Southern defenders of slavery, on the other hand, viewed Malthus as a symbol of the horrific so-called ‘free labour system’, under which wage workers, who could be exploited and discarded, were worse off than slaves because of the slave owners’ interest in the well-being of their property.
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