Notes on the Physiocrats

Mason Gaffney
The School of Cooperative Individualism

The Physiocrats were an group of 18th century French economists whose theories influenced, among others, Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith.

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"Adam Smith. Father of capitalism. Coined 'the invisible hand.' Wrote the oft referred to but rarely read, Wealth of Nations.'

He was also a deeply odd guy who mumbled to himself in public, lived with his mother until she died and ordered all of his many papers burned upon his death. But that is all beside the point.

What he was not, was brief. His 'Wealth of Nations' ran to five...

This article provides a brief biography of the Marquis de Condorcet, a French political philosopher. Condorcet was a moderate member of the National Assembly during the French Revolution, who argued for majority rule, and his ideas were also influential on later American and European political thinkers.

David Gergen questions Brookhiser on the historical and moral importance of Washington: "[A]ll the ideals that he espoused, the ideals of the Declaration, or all the talk about the rights of mankind, all the rhetoric of his period, he really meant it. And he really put himself on the line, his time, potentially his life, his reputation, over and over again, because he really believed in this experiment, and he was determined to make it work."

Analysis Report White Paper

This article maintains that there is a set of "core arguments" common in the writings of American Revolutionaries, and it lists several of these, including "Natural Law Guarantees All Human Beings Fundamental Rights," "Colonists are Entitled to Charter Rights Given to Forefathers," and others.

Smith’s writings are both an inquiry into the science of economics and a policy guide for realizing the wealth of nations. Smith believed that economic development was best fostered in an environment of free competition that operated in accordance with universal 'natural laws.

In this essay, historian Paul Johnson discusses the "relationship between the American republic and the religious spirit."

This article uses John Adams "A Dissertation on the Canon Feudal Law" to illustrate the typical arguments and style of the American Revolutionary authors. It condenses the basic points of the political philosophy of the American Founding Fathers.

This article illustrates how Condorcet's propositions still influence voting choice research today.

Edmund Burke is a "classic political thinker" and one of the more influential of this period. This entry provides a biography of Burke, discusses his intellectual approach, and considers his differing views on the American versus French Revolutions.

This article discusses the methods of communications in the American colonies and explains how pamphlets and broadsides became important vehicles of political thought.

The Physiocrats were an group of 18th century French economists whose theories influenced, among others, Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith.

The American Founding Fathers were aware of the writings of the Marquis de Condorcet. This article discusses to what extent these writings may have influenced the Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

This entry provides a brief overview of Jean Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract and illustrates the typical objections made to Rousseau's comments on religion.


Rousseau wrote this essay to answer the question "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?" He begins by envisioning a state of nature.

In this lecture Professor Nash explores how books and libraries molded the "remarkable elite that made and preserved the American Revolution."

In this lecture Stanlis compares, through the use of several scholarly perspectives, Rousseau's and Burke's views on the role of civil society in man's life.

In this lecture Byrne explains who Burke was, his ideas, and how those ideas can be a resource to the contemporary conservative movement.

In this lecture Brookhiser discusses fatherhood in George Washington's political and private life.

This lecture on Rousseau is part of the 10-lecture course The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

In this tree-part lecture, Thornton covers the events leading up to and of the American Revolution.

Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) is best known for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in which she argued that women are not naturally inferior to men, but only appeared to be because they lacked education. She suggested that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagined a social order founded on reason.

A look at the period leading up to the French Revolution reveals a world power heavily in debt, lacking the political will to balance the budget, and involved in foreign adventures while its poor and middle class found their ability to put food on the plate severely limited.

"Before exploring the three Enlightenment traditions in particular, Professor Shapiro examines the Enlightenment holistically, using John Locke as the foundation for the discussion. The first tenet of the Enlightenment is a commitment to science as a way of ordering politics, and Professor Shapiro introduces the Cartesian philosophy of science and segues into an elucidation of the workmanship...

Journalist and historian Richard Brookhiser joins the National Constitution Center for a conversation about his new book George Washington on Leadership, showing how one man's struggles and successes over 200 years ago can be a model for the leaders of today.

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Most commonly known as "Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms," this document discusses the colonists' reasoning for revolting against the English crown.

Noah Webster examines the roots of the Federal Constitution. He cites virtue as one of the most important factors.

This economic classic is noted for providing us with terms for and expositions of such key economic ideas as the division of labor, "invisible hand," self-interest as a beneficial force, and freedom of trade.

Noah Webster's speech given on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He gives a brief outline of America's progress and his beliefs for its future.

Unlike the Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers are not a single organized project, but a set of later compilations of articles, essays, and speeches opposing the ratification of the Constitution.

Written at the Continental Congress in 1774, this document states the intention to boycott all British goods in the colonies, whether they be imports or exports.

Thomas Paine's famous and radical 1776 pamphlet made a bold case for American Independence from Britain, at a time when the notion of Independence was still contested among the colonists.

When the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was created, a Polish leader asked two political thinkers to draft suggestions on a new constitution for Poland. This volume provides Rousseau's suggestions.

The official text of the original Constitution.

Predominantly written by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence formally and eloquently justified the independence of the United States from British monarch King George III.

Accepted by the National Assembly in France in 1789, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen listed the rights held as true for all men everywhere. The goal was to establish a republic after the destruction of the monarchy.

Rousseau wrote this essay to answer the question "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?" He begins by envisioning a state of nature.

In this work, Rousseau outlines a strategy for educating the "natural man" he advocates in The Social Contract.

Speeches by Maximillien Robespierre justifying the brutality of the revolution despite the Declaration of the Rights of Man's statement that all are equal and do not deserve harsh punishments.

This Loyalist pamphlet argues that it is in America's interests to remain in the British Empire.

A Frenchman living in American, Crevecoeur expounded upon the wonders of farm life and its benefits to the American culture.

The Marquis de Condorcet argued that women should be given the same political rights as men.

A compilation of pamphlets published during the debate over the ratification of the US Constitution, this volume includes works by Noah Webster, John Jay, James Wilson, and others.

An attack against the revolution in France by Edmund Burke. Burke argues that the French Revolution will end disastrously because its abstract foundations, purportedly rational, ignore the complexities of human nature and society.

This letter to John Adams from his wife expresses common colonial points of view on the political situation at the beginning of the American Revolution.

In attempting to find a way for both Parliament and the American colonies to have their demands met, Burke notes that while the Parliament may indeed retain the right to legislate for the colonies, they do not need to exercise that right. This allows the colonies some measure of de facto autonomy (which would be pleasing to the increasingly riled American colonists), but still maintains Parliament’s superior position.

Published during the Revolutionary War, the American Crisis was written by Thomas Paine in order to motivate the colonists fighting for separation from Britain.

"The Federalist Papers were a series of articles written under the pen name of Publius by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Madison, widely recognized as the Father of the Constitution, would later go on to become President of the United States. Jay would become the first Chief Justice of the US...

The English historian of economic thought Higgs discusses iin a series of lectures given at the London School of Economics in 1896 the 18th century free market Physiocratic school, its origins, ideas, political and intellectual influence.

Thomas Paine drafted this pamphlet in response to Edmund Burke's criticisms of the French Revolution.

This piece is contained in the Boston Pamphlet as part of the reaction against British attempts to strengthen their stronghold on the colonies. Moreover, it was a response to the slew of acts England passed during the 1760s and would remain a symbol to the colonists who participated in the Boston Tea Party.

Rousseau is noted for advancing the idea of popular sovereignty. He opens with the question of whether any government authority can be legitimate, and concludes that the only legitimate government is one where "the laws being solely the authentic acts of the general will, the Sovereign cannot act save when the people is assembled."

This volume includes Rousseau's Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, and The Social Contract.

"Smith expresses his general system of morals, exploring the propriety of action, reward and punishment, sense of duty, and the effect of numerous factors on moral sentiment.

In so doing, Smith devised innovative theories on virtues, conscience, and moral judgment that are still relevant and accessible today. Though somewhat surprising to find a philosopher of Smith's abilities...

"CALLED upon to undertake the duties of the first executive office of our country, I avail myself of the presence of that portion of my fellow-citizens which is here assembled to express my grateful thanks for the favor with which they have been pleased to look toward me, to declare a sincere consciousness that the task is above my talents, and that I approach it with those anxious and awful...

John Adams' suggestions for the formation of a new government in the North Carolina provincial congress.

The first written constitution of the United States of America. They maintained state sovereignty, yet unified the colonies into a single nation.

George WashingtonPreparing to leave office, Washington wrote his now famous "Farewell Address" to placate American concerns that a country without his leadership could not survive. Washington stresses the importance of unity, the supremacy of the Constitution, the danger of...

Abbé Sieyes wrote this famous pamphlet in the early run-up to the French Revolution. In it, he expresses the political ideals of many of the revolutionaries. It advanced ideas of popular sovereignty and the right of the people to choose their government.




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