Torchbearer of Freedom

Torchbearer of Freedom: The Influence of Richard Price on 18th Century Thought

Copyright Date: 1952
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Torchbearer of Freedom
    Book Description:

    A bronze inscription in the public library of Bridgend calls Richard Price "Philosopher. Preacher. Actuary. Cfaill Dynolryw" [Friend of Humanity]. He was all these and something more. Son of a Welsh Presbyterian of Calvinistic leaning, Richard Price was educated for the ministry. That he belonged in the best of Dissenting tradition was exhibited at an early age in his own interest in Arianism, an interest fostered by the academy at Pentwyn where he studied. Here he met the works of Samuel Clarke, which thoroughly aroused the ire of his father.

    Richard Price did not cringe in the face of hostile public opinion when events temporarily brought his principles into unpopularity. More than most of his liberal contemporaries, he was truly a "torchbearer of freedom." His first book was an attack on the empiricism of Locke, however, Richard Price intended no denial of other aspects of Locke's thought. An abiding faith in human reason, in free will, and in the value of education and science, with the consequent distrust of tyranny of any variety, all show that Price was not in revolt against the leading philosophical trends of his age. Rather he sought to place these values on a firm moral basis.

    In association with many of the great spirits of the age, Joseph Priestley, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith, John Howard, the Younger Pitt, and Turgot, among others, he moved from moral philosophy to mathematics (an area in which he made many advances in statistics) and from there to political economy. His contribution in this latter respect was twofold. There was his enormous influence in drawing attention to the problem of the national debt of England and suggesting the Sinking Fund scheme that Pitt finally introduced. And there was his interest in and encouragement of the independence of America. In 1778 the Continental Congress voted to invite Price to take up American citizenship and offered to pay his expenses if he chose to move.

    The life of Richard Price is an example of the power of the human spirit to shape the course of history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6254-6
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Carl B. Cone
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter I THE GOOD DR. PRICE
    (pp. 1-5)

    THOSE who best knew him called Richard Price “good.” To the cynic the word is soporific, but the cynic has no appreciation for Price’s kind anyway. He was a good man in ideas, purpose, and conduct. The best life, he thought, was one dedicated to the service of God, to the fulfillment of God’s plan in this world, and to union with God and virtuous men in the next. This did not mean withdrawal from the affairs of the world, passivity, or fatalism. For Price believed that man was God’s noblest creature, endowed with free will and empowered to act...

    (pp. 6-13)

    THOUGH this is the story of the life of Richard Price, it is also a part of the history of English Dissent, which began in the time of Price’s grandfather. Price is not understandable apart from his dissenting heritage and environment. His Presbyterian parents sent him to dissenting schools. After studying in a dissenting academy, he entered the ministry, and for half a century preaching and pastoral care were his regular duties. Many of his dearest friends were dissenting clergymen and laymen. His social and political philosophy, his encouragement of education and science, his fierce and steadfast insistence upon the...

    (pp. 14-27)

    UPN graduating from Coward’s Academy, Richard Price was ready to begin his work in the dissenting ministry. For the first time he had to face up to the embarrassments and contradictions, and also the responsibilities, that complicated the life of the Dissenter. The Toleration Act of 1689 allowed Dissenters, but not Roman Catholics or Unitarians, to worship and teach without fear of imprisonment, provided they observed certain formal requirements that were not especially heavy. The Dissenter could inherit property and engage in any business he cared, subject to the exclusions prejudice might raise against him. He could not enter Oxford...

    (pp. 28-36)

    IN 1758 the Prices moved from bustling Hackney to placid Stoke Newington, where Price was handier to the chapel on the Green, which he had been serving as morning and afternoon preacher for two years. Here Price lived for nearly thirty years in a house with a courtyard flanked by an arched entrance through which he rode his well known white horse. The house also had a little turret chamber that made an ideal study where Price labored on his sermons and his other varied projects.

    During the 1760’s Price held other pastorates before he became permanently established. In December,...

    (pp. 37-51)

    DURING these years when Price was laboriously and steadily increasing his reputation as a minister, a moral philosopher, and a writer of comforting sermons, he was also busy with other studies. Ever since his student days under John Eames, mathematics had fascinated him. He occasionally challenged himself with mathematical problems as a kind of exercise without particular purpose. Then, quite by accident, he was invited to turn his talents to work upon the doctrine of chances. The immediate fruit of this labor was election to membership in the Royal Society, which brought him into a circle of friendships beyond the...

    (pp. 52-68)

    THE PRECEDING two chapters might give the impression that Price’s turret study was a prison, for he spent long hours in it. But he also got about a good deal. His friends valued his company too much to let him become cloistered, though there was little chance he would. Price was a gregarious person. Besides, he thought he needed daily exercise. He led a busy, well regulated life, but not one governed by unalterable routine.

    Price’s health, never robust, had improved by the 1770’s. He frequently went walking, and rode horseback nearly every day. In somber clothing, a cocked hat,...

  10. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 69-90)

    WHILE British politicians quarreled with obstreperous colonials, Price enjoyed the reputation he had earned as a moralist, theologian, mathematician, and authority upon life insurance and public finance. That he had not emphasized politics is not to say that he was politically neutral, but only that an overwhelming necessity for entering the political arena had not yet arisen in his life. The 1740’s and 1750’s saw little agitation for constitutional reforms, and even Dissenters were quiescent. The imperial crisis, however, drew out Price’s latent political interests, and the subsequent reform movement sustained them, so that history remembers him best as a...

  12. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 91-102)

    HAVING done what he could to clarify the issues and explain the principles involved in the struggle between England and her former colonies, Price withdrew from the controversy. He had not intended to engage in a protracted debate. It was beyond his power to influence the outcome of the war; the course of events was settled. Henceforth, he would watch history unfold and hope that everything that happened was for the best.

    In the meantime there were private matters to attend to. Despite the difficulty of sending letters in wartime, it was not impossible to keep in touch with correspondents...

  14. [Illustration]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 103-124)

    PRICE’S relationship to the political course of the United States during the 1780’s was hardly less strange or noteworthy than his influence upon England’s postwar reconstruction. One difference, however, deserves comment. A Dissenter playing any part in England’s public life, and it had to be unofficial because of legal restraints, combated prejudice which dissenting sympathy with American revolutionaries had done nothing to mitigate. In the United States, where his prestige was high and his friendships numerous because of his espousal of the American Revolution, Price’s dissenting background added to his stature. Particularly was this true among New Englanders who boasted...

    (pp. 125-141)

    IN THE closing years of the American Revolution, England’s fortunes sank low. Spain allied with France in 1779, and in the next year the formation of the League of Armed Neutrality among several northern European nations left England without a friend. Next door, Ireland seethed. At home, discontent was aggravated by apprehensions for England’s future. After 1780, the ministry of Lord North faced a restless parliamentary opposition. Dunning, a friend of Price, introduced in April, 1780, his famous resolution “that the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,” which passed in Commons by a...

    (pp. 142-151)

    ONE of the major tasks confronting Pitt when he became prime minister was introducing order into the management of public finance. He grappled with the problem at once. Whatever he did about improving the methods of borrowing money, funding the unfunded debt, raising the interest rate on government stocks, or consolidating the revenue (which he accomplished after establishing the Sinking Fund) was always with the ultimate view of facilitating the redemption of the public debt. In the famous speech of June 30, 1784, he revealed his plan of finance. If his remarks were not derived from Price’s teachings, they certainly...

    (pp. 152-176)

    THE decade of the 1780’s opened and closed amidst excitement in England concerning public affairs. The relatively quiet middle years saw recovery from the humiliations and disasters of the American Revolution. Pitt reorganized the financial administration, established the new Sinking Fund, won a commercial treaty with France, and before England engaged in another war, raised her international prestige which had sunk so low before the American Revolution had ended. Pitt failed to carry parliamentary reform in 1785, and the agitation abated. But with the French Revolution, the spirits of the political reformers revived. The decade closed as it had opened,...

    (pp. 177-195)

    WORDSWORTH expressed the rapture felt by many people in the early months of the French Revolution. Recalling his youthful aspirations, he wrote years later in his autobiographical poem,The Prelude,

    Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

    But to be young was very Heaven!¹

    More soberly, but just as optimistically, men in England who for twenty years had hoped for political reforms sympathized with the efforts of the French to end despotism and to limit the powers of their king by a constitution that would secure for the people a voice in political affairs and guarantee their rights...

  20. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  21. Chapter XIV THE LAST YEAR
    (pp. 196-200)

    FROM the publication of Burke’sReflectionsuntil his own death six months later, Price remained a silent spectator of events in France and England. He did not reply to Burke, but his friends and allies directed some forty pamphlets against theReflections. Some defended Price directly, while all advocated political reforms.¹ Among the champions of Price were his old friends, Capel Lofft and Christopher Wyvill, colleagues in the reform movement of the preceding decade. Wyvill entitled one of his pamphletsA Defense of Dr. Price, and the Reformers of England.² Joseph Priestley, as one might expect, rushed into the controversy...

    (pp. 201-202)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 203-209)