An Essay on the Principle of Population
By Thomas Robert Malthus
There are two versions of Thomas Robert Malthus’s
Essay on the Principle of Population. The first, published anonymously in 1798, was so successful that Malthus soon elaborated on it under his real name.
* The rewrite, culminating in the sixth edition of 1826, was a scholarly expansion and generalization of the first.Following his success with his work on population, Malthus published often from his economics position on the faculty at the East India College at Haileybury. He was not only respected in his time by contemporaneous intellectuals for his clarity of thought and willingness to focus on the evidence at hand, but he was also an engaging writer capable of presenting logical and mathematical concepts succinctly and clearly. In addition to writing principles texts and articles on timely topics such as the corn laws, he wrote in many venues summarizing his initial works on population, including a summary essay in the
Encyclopædia Britannica on population.The first and sixth editions are presented on Econlib in full. Minor corrections of punctuation, obvious spelling errors, and some footnote clarifications are the only substantive changes.* Malthus’s “real name” may have been Thomas Robert Malthus, but a descendent, Nigel Malthus, reports that his family says he did not use the name Thomas and was known to friends and colleagues as Bob. See
The Malthus Homepage, a site maintained by Nigel Malthus, a descendent.For more information on Malthus’s life and works, see
New School Profiles: Thomas Robert Malthus and
The International Society of Malthus.Lauren Landsburg
Editor, Library of Economics and Liberty
First Pub. Date
London: John Murray
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Malthus courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Chapter I
- Chapter II
- Chapter III
- Chapter IV
- Chapter V
- Chapter VI
- Chapter VII
- Chapter VIII
- Chapter IX
- Chapter X
- Chapter XI
- Chapter XII
- Chapter XIII
- Chapter XIV
- Bk.II,Ch.XI, On the Fruitfulness of Marriages
- Appendix I
- Appendix II
Of the Checks to Population among the American Indians.
Book I, Chapter IV
We may next turn our view to the vast continent of America, the greatest part of which was found to be inhabited by small independent tribes of savages, subsisting, nearly like the natives of New Holland, on the productions of unassisted nature. The soil was covered by an almost universal forest, and presented few of those fruits and esculent vegetables which grow in such profusion in the islands of the South Sea. The produce of a most rude and imperfect agriculture, known to some of the tribe of hunters, was so trifling as to be considered only as a feeble aid to the subsistence acquired by the chase. The inhabitants of this new world therefore might be considered as living principally by hunting and fishing;
*31 and the narrow limits to this mode of subsistence are obvious. The supplies derived from fishing could reach only those who were within a certain distance of the lakes, the rivers, or the sea-shore; and the ignorance and indolence of the improvident savage would frequently prevent him from extending the benefits of these supplies much beyond the time when they were actually obtained. The great extent of territory required for the support of the hunter has been repeatedly stated and acknowledged.
*32 The number of wild animals within his reach, combined with the facility, with which they may be either killed or insnared, must necessarily limit the number of his society. The tribes of hunters, like beasts of prey, whom they resemble in their mode of subsistence, will consequently be thinly scattered over the surface of the earth. Like beasts of prey, they must either drive away or fly from every rival, and be engaged in perpetual contests with each other.
Under such circumstances, that America should be very thinly peopled in proportion to its extent of territory, is merely an exemplification of the obvious truth, that population cannot increase without the food to support it. But the interesting part of the inquiry, that part, to which I would wish particularly to draw the attention of the reader, is, the mode by which the population is kept down to the level of this scanty supply. It cannot escape observation, that an insufficient supply of food to any people does not shew itself merely in the shape of famine, but in other more permanent forms of distress, and in generating certain customs, which operate sometimes with greater force in the prevention of a rising population than in its subsequent destruction.
It was generally remarked, that the American women were far from being prolific.
*34 This unfruitfulness has been attributed by some to a want of ardour in the men towards their women, a feature of character, which has been considered as peculiar to the American savage. It is not however peculiar to this race, but probably exists in a great degree among all barbarous nations, whose food is poor and insufficient, and who live in a constant apprehension of being pressed by famine or by an enemy. Bruce frequently takes notice of it, particularly in reference to the Galla and Shangalla, savage nations on the borders of Abyssinia,
*35 and Vaillant mentions the phlegmatic temperament of the Hottentots as the chief reason of their thin population.
*36 It seems to be generated by the hardships and dangers of savage life, which take off the attention from the sexual passion; and that these are the principal causes of it among the Americans, rather than any absolute constitutional defect, appears probable, from its diminishing nearly in proportion to the degree in which these causes are mitigated or removed. In those countries of America, where, from peculiar situation or further advantages in improvement, the hardships of savage life are less severely felt, the passion between the sexes becomes more ardent. Among some of the tribes seated on the banks of rivers well stored with fish, or others that inhabit a territory greatly abounding in game or much improved in agriculture, the women are more valued and admired; and as hardly any restraint is imposed on the gratification of desire, the dissoluteness of their manners is sometimes excessive.
If we do not then consider this apathy of the Americans as a natural defect in their bodily frame, but merely as a general coldness, and an infrequency of the calls of the sexual appetite, we shall not be inclined to give much weight to it as affecting the number of children to a marriage; but shall be disposed to look for the cause of this unfruitfulness in the condition and customs of the women in a savage state. And here we shall find reasons amply sufficient to account for the fact in question.
It is justly observed by Dr. Robertson, that, “Whether man has been improved by the progress of arts and civilization, is a question which in the wantonness of disputation has been agitated among philosophers. That women are indebted to the refinement of polished manners for a happy change in their state, is a point which can admit of no doubt.”
*38 In every part of the world, one of the most general characteristics of the savage is to despise and degrade the female sex.
*39 Among most of the tribes in America their condition is so peculiarly grievous, that servitude is a name too mild to describe their wretched state. A wife is no better than a beast of burden. While the man passes his days in idleness or amusement, the woman is condemned to incessant toil. Tasks are imposed upon her without mercy, and services are received without complacence or gratitude.
*40 There are some districts in America where this state of degradation has been so severely felt, that mothers have destroyed their female infants, to deliver them at once from a life in which they were doomed to such a miserable slavery.
This state of depression and constant labour, added to the unavoidable hardships of savage life, must be very unfavourable to the office of child-bearing;
*42 and the libertinage which generally prevails among the women before marriage, with the habit of procuring abortions, must necessarily render them more unfit for bearing children afterwards.
*43 One of the missionaries, speaking of the common practice among the Natchez of changing their wives, adds, unless they have children by them; a proof that many of these marriages were unfruitful, which may be accounted for from the libertine lives of the women before wedlock, which he had previously noticed.
The causes that Charlevoix assigns of the sterility of the American women, are, the suckling their children for several years, during which time they do not cohabit with their husbands; the excessive labour to which they are always condemned, in whatever situation they may be; and the custom established in many places, of permitting the young women to prostitute themselves before marriage. Added to this, he says, the extreme misery to which these people are sometimes reduced, takes from them all desire of having children.
*45 Among some of the ruder tribes it is a maxim not to burthen themselves with rearing more than two of their offspring.
*46 When twins are born, one of them is commonly abandoned, as the mother cannot rear them both; and when a mother dies during the period of suckling her child, no chance of preserving its life remains, and, as in New Holland, it is buried in the same grave with the breast that nourished it.
As the parents are frequently exposed to want themselves, the diffculty of supporting their children becomes at times so great, that they are reduced to the necessity of abandoning or destroying them.
*48 Deformed children are very generally exposed; and, among some of the tribes in South America, the children of mothers who do not bear their labours well, experience a similar fate, from a fear that the offspring may inherit the weakness of its parent.
To causes of this nature we must ascribe the remarkable exemption of the Americans from deformities of make. Even when a mother endeavours to rear all her children without distinction, such a proportion of the whole number perishes under the rigorous treatment which must be their lot in the savage state, that probably none of those who labour under any original weakness or infirmity can attain the age of manhood. If they be not cut off as soon as they are born, they cannot long protract their lives under the severe discipline that awaits them.
*50 In the Spanish provinces, where the Indians do not lead so laborious a life, and are prevented from destroying their children, great numbers of them are deformed, dwarfish, mutilated, blind and deaf.
Polygamy seems to have been generally allowed among the Americans, but the privilege was seldom used, except by the Caciques and chiefs, and now and then by others in some of the fertile provinces of the South, where subsistence was more easily procured. The difficulty of supporting a family confined the mass of the people to one wife;
*52 and this difficulty was so generally known and acknowledged, that fathers, before they consented to give their daughters in marriage, required unequivocal proofs in the suitor of his skill in hunting, and his consequent ability to support a wife and children.
*53 The women, it is said, do not marry early;
*54 and this seems to be confirmed by the libertinage among them before marriage, so frequently taken notice of by the missionaries and other writers.
The customs above enumerated, which appear to have been generated principally by the experience of the difficulties attending the rearing of a family, combined with the number of children that must necessarily perish under the hardships of savage life, in spite of the best efforts of their parents to save them,
*56 must, without doubt, most powerfully repress the rising generation.
When the young savage has passed safely through the perils of his childhood, other dangers scarcely less formidable await him on his approach to manhood. The diseases to which man is subject in the savage state, though fewer in number, are more violent and fatal than those which prevail in civilized society. As savages are wonderfully improvident, and their means of subsistence always precarious, they often pass from the extreme of want to exuberant plenty, according to the vicissitudes of fortune in the chase, or to the variety in the produce of the seasons.
*57 Their inconsiderate gluttony in the one case, and their severe abstinence in the other, are equally prejudicial to the human constitution; and their vigour is accordingly at some seasons impaired by want, and at others by a superfluity of gross aliment, and the disorders arising from indigestions.
*58 These, which may be considered as the unavoidable consequences of their mode of living, cut off considerable numbers in the prime of life. They are likewise extremely subject to consumptions, to pleuritic, asthmatic, and paralytic disorders, brought on by the immoderate hardships and fatigues which they endure in hunting and war, and by the inclemency of the seasons, to which they are continually exposed.
The missionaries speak of the Indians in South America as subject to perpetual diseases for which they know no remedy.
*60 Ignorant of the use of the most simple herbs, or of any change in their gross diet, they die of these diseases in great numbers. The Jesuit Fauque says, that, in all the different excursions which he had made, he scarcely found a single individual of an advanced age.
*61 Robertson determines the period of human life to be shorter among savages than in well-regulated and industrious communities.
*62 Raynal, notwithstanding his frequent declamations in favour of savage life, says of the Indians of Canada, that few are so long lived as our people, whose manner of living is more uniform and tranquil.
*63 And Cook and Pérouse confirm these opinions in the remarks which they make on some of the inhabitants of the north-west coast of America.
In the vast plains of South America, a burning sun, operating on the extensive swamps and the inundations that succeed the rainy seasons, sometimes produces dreadful epidemics. The missionaries speak of contagious distempers as frequent among the Indians, and occasioning at times a great mortality in their villages.
*65 The smallpox every where makes great ravages, as, from want of care and from confined habitations, very few that are attacked recover from it.
*66 The Indians of Paraguay are said to be extremely subject to contagious distempers, notwithstanding the care and attentions of the Jesuits. The small-pox and malignant fevers, which, from the ravages they make, are called plagues, frequently desolate these flourishing missions; and, according to Ulloa, were the cause that they had not increased in proportion to the time of their establishment, and the profound peace which they had enjoyed.
These epidemics are not confined to the south. They are mentioned as if they were not uncommon among the more northern nations;
*68 and, in a late voyage to the north-west coast of America, Captain Vancouver gives an account of a very extraordinary desolation apparently produced by some distemper of this kind. From New Dungeness he traversed a hundred and fifty miles of the coast without seeing the same number of inhabitants. Deserted villages were frequent, each of which was large enough to contain all the scattered savages that had been observed in that extent of country. In the different excursions which he made, particularly about Port Discovery, the skulls, limbs, ribs and back-bones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were scattered promiscuously in great numbers; and, as no warlike scars were observed on the bodies of the remaining Indians, and no particular signs of fear and suspicion were noticed, the most probable conjecture seems to be, that this depopulation must have been occasioned by pestilential disease.
*69 The small-pox appears to be common and fatal among the Indians on this coast. Its indelible marks were observed on many, and several had lost the sight of one eye from it.
In general, it may be remarked of savages, that, from their extreme ignorance, the dirt of their persons, and the closeness and filth of their cabins,
*71 they lose the advantage which usually attends a thinly peopled country, that of being more exempt from pestilential diseases than those which are fully inhabited. In some parts of America the houses are built for the reception of many different families; and fourscore or a hundred people are crowded together under the same roof. When the families live separately, the huts are extremely small, close and wretched, without windows; and with the doors so low, that it is necessary to creep on the hands and knees to enter them.
*72 On the north-west coast of America, the houses are, in general, of the large kind; and Meares describes one of most extraordinary dimensions, belonging to a chief near Nootka Sound in which eight hundred persons ate, sat, and slept.
*73 All voyagers agree with respect to the filth of the habitations and the personal nastiness of the people on this coast.
*74 Captain Cook describes them as swarming with vermin, which they pick off and eat;
*75 and speaks of the state of their habitations in terms of the greatest disgust.
*76 Pérouse declares that their cabins have a nastiness and stench to which the den of no known animal in the world can be compared.
Under such circumstances, it may be easily imagined what a dreadful havoc an epidemic must make, when once it appears among them; and it does not seem improbable, that the degree of filth described should generate distempers of this nature, as the air of their houses cannot be much purer than the atmosphere of the most crowded cities.
Those who escape the dangers of infancy and of disease, are constantly exposed to the chances of war; and notwithstanding the extreme caution of the Americans in conducting their military operations, yet, as they seldom enjoy any interval of peace, the waste of their numbers in war is considerable.
*78 The rudest of the American nations are well acquainted with the rights of each community to its own domains.
*79 And as it is of the utmost consequence to prevent others from destroying the game in their hunting grounds, they guard this national property with a jealous attention. Innumerable subjects of dispute necessarily arise. The neighbouring nations live in a perpetual state of hostility with each other.
*80 The very act of increasing in one tribe must be an act of aggression on its neighbours; as a larger range of territory will be necessary to support its increased numbers. The contest will in this case naturally continue, either till the equilibrium is restored by mutual losses, or till the weaker party is exterminated, or driven from its country. When the irruption of an enemy desolates their cultivated lands, or drives them from their hunting-grounds; as they have seldom any portable stores, they are generally reduced to extreme want. All the people of the district invaded, are frequently forced to take refuge in woods or mountains, which can afford them no subsistence, and where many of them perish.
*81 In such a flight each consults alone his individual safety. Children desert their parents, and parents consider their children as strangers. The ties of nature are no longer binding. A father will sell his son for a knife or a hatchet.
*82 Famine and distresses of every kind complete the destruction of those whom the sword had spared; and in this manner whole tribes are frequently extinguished.
Such a state of things has powerfully contributed to generate that ferocious spirit of warfare observable among savages in general, and most particularly among the Americans. Their object in battle is not conquest, but destruction.
*84 The life of the victor depends on the death of his enemy; and, in the rancour and fell spirit of revenge with which he pursues him, he seems constantly to bear in mind the distresses that would be consequent on defeat. Among the Iroquois, the phrase by which they express their resolution of making war against an enemy, is, “Let us go and eat that nation.” If they solicit the aid of a neighbouring tribe, they invite them to eat broth made of the flesh of their enemies.
*85 Among the Abnakis, when a body of their warriors enters an enemy’s territory, it is generally divided into different parties, of thirty or forty; and the chief says to each, ” To you is given such a hamlet to eat, to you such a village,”
*86 &c. These expressions remain in the language of some of the tribes, in which the custom of eating their prisoners taken in war no longer exists. Cannibalism, however, undoubtedly prevailed in many parts of the new world;
*87 and, contrary to the opinion of Dr. Robertson, I cannot but think that it must have had its origin in extreme want, though the custom might afterwards be continued from other motives. It seems to be a worse compliment to human nature and to the savage state, to attribute this horrid repast to malignant passions, without the goad of necessity, rather than to the great law of self-preservation, which has at times overcome every other feeling, even among the most humane and civilized people. When once it had prevailed, though only occasionally, from this cause; the fear that a savage might feel of becoming a repast to his enemies, might easily raise the passion of rancour and revenge to so high a pitch, as to urge him to treat his prisoners in this way, though not prompted at the time by hunger.
The missionaries speak of several nations, which appeared to use human flesh whenever they could obtain it, as they would the flesh of any of the rarer animals.
*88 These accounts may perhaps be exaggerated, though they seem to be confirmed in a great degree by the late voyages to the north-west coast of America, and by Capt. Cook’s description of the state of society in the southern island of New Zealand.
*89 The people of Nootka Sound appear to be cannibals;
*90 and the chief of the district, Maquinna, is said to be so addicted to this horrid banquet, that, in cold blood, he kills a slave every moon to gratify his unnatural appetite.
The predominant principle of self-preservation, connected most intimately in the breast of the savage, with the safety and power of the community to which he belongs, prevents the admission of any of those ideas of honour and gallantry in war, which prevail among more civilized nations. To fly from an adversary that is on his guard, and to avoid a contest where he cannot contend without risk to his own person, and consequently to his community, is the point of honour with the American. The odds of ten to one are necessary to warrant an attack on a person who is armed and prepared to resist; and even then each is afraid of being the first to advance
*92 The great object of the most renowned warrior is by every art of cunning and deceit, by every mode of stratagem and surprise that his invention can suggest, to weaken and destroy the tribes of his enemies with the least possible loss to his own. To meet an enemy on equal terms is regarded as extreme folly. To fall in battle, instead of being reckoned an honourable death,
*93 is a misfortune, which subjects the memory of a warrior to the imputation of rashness and imprudence. But to lie in wait day after day, till he can rush upon his prey when most secure, and least able to resist him; to steal in the dead of night upon his enemies, set fire to their huts, and massacre the inhabitants, as they fly naked and defenceless from the flames,
*94 are deeds of glory, which will be of deathless memory in the breasts of his grateful countrymen.
This mode of warfare is evidently produced by a consciousness of the difficulties attending the rearing of new citizens under, the hardships and dangers of savage life. And these powerful causes of destruction may in some instances be so great as to keep down the population even considerably below the means of subsistence; but the fear that the Americans betray of any diminution of their society, and their apparent wish to increase it, are no proofs that this is generally the case. The country could not probably support the addition that is coveted in each society; but an accession of strength to one tribe opens to it new sources of subsistence in the comparative weakness of its adversaries; and, on the contrary, a diminution of its numbers, so far from giving greater plenty to the remaining members, subjects them to extirpation or famine from the irruptions of their stronger neighbours.
The Chiriguanes, originally only a small part of the tribe of Guaranis, left their native country in Paraguay, and settled in the mountains towards Peru. They found sufficient subsistence in their new country, increased rapidly, attacked their neighbours, and by superior valour or superior fortune gradually exterminated them, and took possession of their lands; occupying a great extent of country, and having increased, in the course of some years, from three or four thousand to thirty thousand,
*95 while the tribes of their weaker neighbours were daily thinned by famine and the sword.
Such instances prove the rapid increase even of the Americans under favourable circumstances, and sufficiently account for the fear which prevails in every tribe of diminishing its numbers, and the frequent wish to increase, them,
*96 without supposing a superabundance of food in the territory actually possessed.
That the causes,
*97 which have been mentioned as affecting the population of the Americans, are principally regulated by the plenty or scarcity of subsistence, is sufficiently evinced from the greater frequency of the tribes, and the greater numbers in each, throughout all those parts of the country, where, from the vicinity of lakes or rivers, the superior fertility of the soil, or further advances in improvement, food becomes more abundant. In the interior of the provinces bordering on the Oronoco, several hundred miles may be traversed in different directions without finding a single hut, or observing the footsteps of a single creature. In some parts of North America, where the climate is more rigorous, and the soil less fertile, the desolation is still greater. Vast tracts of some hundred leagues have been crossed through uninhabited plains and forests.
*98 The missionaries speak of journeys of twelve days without meeting a single soul,
*99 and of immense tracts of country, in which scarcely three or four scattered villages were to be found.
*100 Some of these deserts furnished no game,
*101 and were therefore entirely desolate; others, which were to a certain degree stocked with it, were traversed in the hunting seasons by parties, who encamped and remained in different spots, according to the success they met with, and were therefore really inhabited in proportion to the quantity of subsistence which they yielded.
Other districts of America are described as comparatively fully peopled; such as the borders of the great northern lakes, the shores of Mississippi, Louisiana, and many provinces in South America. The villages here were large, and near each other, in proportion to the superior fruitfulness of the territory in game and fish, and the advances made by the inhabitants in agriculture.
*103 The Indians of the great and populous empires of Mexico and Peru sprung undoubtedly from the same stock, and originally possessed the same customs as their ruder brethren; but from the moment when, by a fortunate train of circumstances, they were led to improve and extend their agriculture, a considerable population rapidly followed, in spite of the apathy of the men, or the destructive habits of the women. These habits would indeed in a great measure yield to the change of circumstances; and the substitution of a more quiet and sedentary life for a life of perpetual wandering and hardship, would immediately render the women more fruiful, and enable them at the same time to attend to the wants of a larger family.
In a general view of the American continent, as described by historians, the population seems to have been spread over the surface very nearly in proportion to the quantity of food which the inhabitants of the different parts, in the actual state of their industry and improvement, could obtain; and that, with few exceptions, it pressed hard against this limit, rather than fell short of it, appears from the frequent recurrence of distress for want of food in all parts of America.
Remarkable instances occur, according to Dr. Robertson, of the calamities which rude nations suffer by famine. As one of them, he mentions an account given by Alvar Nugnez Cabeça de Vaca, one of the Spanish adventurers, who resided almost nine years among the savages of Florida. He describes them as unacquainted with every species of agriculture, and living chiefly upon the roots of different plants, which they procure with great difficulty, wandering from place to place in search of them. Sometimes they kill game, sometimes they catch fish, but in such small quantities, that their hunger is so extreme as to compel them to eat spiders, the eggs of ants, worms, lizards, serpents, and a kind of unctuous earth; and, I am persuaded, he says, that if in this country there were any stones, they would swallow them. They preserve the bones of fishes and serpents, which they grind into powder and eat. The only season when they do not suffer much from famine, is when a certain fruit like the opuntia, or prickly-pear, is ripe; but they are sometimes obliged to travel far from their usual place of residence, in order to find it. In another place, he observes that they are frequently reduced to pass two or three days without food.
Ellis, in his Voyage to Hudson’s Bay, feelingly describes the sufferings of the Indians in that neighbourhood from extreme want. Having mentioned the severity of the climate, he says, “Great as these hardships are which result from the rigour of the cold, yet it may justly be, affirmed that they are much inferior to those which they feel from the scarcity of provisions, and the difficulty they are under of procuring them. A story which is related at the factories, and known to be true, will sufficiently prove this, and give the compassionate reader a just idea of the miseries to which these unhappy people are exposed.” He then gives an account of a poor Indian and his wife, who, on the failure of game, having eaten up all the skins which they wore as clothing, were reduced to the dreadful extremity of supporting themselves on the flesh of two of their children.
*105 In another place, he says, “It has sometimes happened that the Indians who come in summer to trade at the factories, missing the succours they expected; have been obliged to singe off the hair from thousands of beaver-skins, in order to feed upon the leather.”
The Abbé Raynal, who is continually reasoning most inconsistently in his comparisons of savage and civilized life, though in one place he speaks of the savage as morally sure of a competent subsistence, yet, in his account of the nations of Canada, says, that though they lived in a country abounding in game and fish, yet in some seasons and sometimes for whole years, this resource failed them; and famine then occasioned a great destruction among a people who were at too great a distance to assist each other.
Charlevoix, speaking of the inconveniences and distresses to which the missionaries were subject, observes that not unfrequently the evils which he had been describing are effaced by a greater, in comparison of which all the others are nothing. This is famine. It is true, says he, that the savages can bear hunger with as much patience as they shew carelessness in providing against it; but they are sometimes reduced to extremities beyond their power to support.
It is the general custom among most of the American nations, even those which have made some progress in agriculture, to disperse themselves in the woods at certain seasons of the year, and to subsist for some months on the produce of the chase, as a principal part of their annual supplies.
*109 To remain in their villages exposes them to certain famine;
*110 and in the woods they are not always sure to escape it. The most able hunters sometimes fail of success, even where there is no deficiency of game;
*111 and in their forests, on the failure of this resource, the hunter or the traveller is exposed to the most cruel want.
*112 The Indians, in their hunting excursions, are sometimes reduced to pass three or four days without food;
*113 and a missionary relates an account of some Iroquois, who, on one of these occasions, having supported themselves as long as they could, by eating the skins which they had with them, their shoes, and the bark of trees, at length, in despair, sacrificed some of the party to support the rest. Out of eleven, five only returned alive.
The Indians, in many parts of South America, live in extreme want,
*115 and are sometimes destroyed by absolute famines.
*116 The islands, rich as they appeared to be, were peopled fully up to the level of their produce. If a few Spaniards settled in any district, such a small addition of supernumerary mouths soon occasioned a severe dearth of provisions.
*117 The flourishing Mexican empire was in the same state in this respect; and Cortez often found the greatest difficulty in procuring subsistence for his small body of soldiers.
*118 Even the missions of Paraguay, with all the care and foresight of the Jesuits, and notwithstanding that their population was kept down by frequent epidemics, were by no means totally exempt from the pressure of want. The Indians of the Mission of St. Michael are mentioned as having at one time increased so much, that the lands capable of cultivation in their neighbourhood, produced only half of the grain necessary for their support.
*119 Long droughts often destroyed their cattle,
*120 and occasioned a failure of their crops; and on these occasions some of the Missions were reduced to the most extreme indigence, and would have perished from famine, but for the assistance of their neighbours.
The late voyages to the north-west coast of America confirm these accounts of the frequent pressure of want in savage life, and shew the uncertainty of the resource of fishing, which seems to afford, in general, the most plentiful harvest of food that is furnished by unassisted nature. The sea on the coast near Nootka Sound is seldom or never so much frozen as to prevent the inhabitants from having access to it. Yet from the very great precautions they use in laying up stores for the winter, and their attention to prepare and preserve whatever food is capable of it for the colder seasons, it is evident that the sea at these times yields no fish; and it appears that they often undergo very great hardships from want of provisions in the cold months.
*122 During a Mr. Mackay’s stay at Nootka Sound, from 1786 to 1787, the length and severity of the winter occasioned a famine. The stock of dried fish was expended, and no fresh supplies of any kind were to be caught; so that the natives were obliged to submit to a fixed allowance, and the chiefs brought every day to our countrymen the stated meal of seven dried, herrings’ heads. Mr. Meares says that the perusal of this gentleman’s journal would shock any mind tinctured with humanity.
Captain Vancouver mentions some of the people to the north of Nootka Sound as living very miserably on a paste made of the inner bark of the pine-tree and cockles.
*124 In one of the boat excursions, a party of Indians was met with who had some halibut, but, though very high prices were offered, they could not be induced to part with any. This, as Captain Vancouver observes, was singular, and indicated a very scanty supply.
*125 At Nootka Sound, in the year 1794, fish had become very scarce and bore an exorbitant price; as, either from the badness of the season or from neglect, the inhabitants had experienced the greatest distress for want of provisions during winter.
Pérouse describes the Indians in the neighbourhood of Port François as living during the summer in the greatest abundance by fishing, but exposed in the winter to perish from want.
It is not therefore, as Lord Kaimes imagines, that the American tribes have never increased sufficiently to tender the pastoral or agricultural state necessary to them;
*128 but, from some cause or other, they have not adopted in any great degree these more plentiful modes of procuring subsistence, and therefore have not increased so as to become populous. If hunger alone could have prompted the savage tribes of America to such a change in their habits, I do not conceive that there would have been a single nation of hunters and fishers remaining; but it is evident that some fortunate train of circumstances, in addition to this stimulus, is necessary for the purpose; and it is undoubtedly probable, that these arts of obtaining food will be first invented and improved in those spots which are best suited to them, and where the natural fertility of the situation, by allowing a greater number of people to subsist together, would give the fairest chance to the inventive powers of the human mind.
Among most of the American tribes that we have been considering, so great a degree of equality prevailed that all the members of each community would be nearly equal sharers in the general hardships of savage life and in the pressure of occasional famines. But in many of the more southern nations, as in Bogota,
*129 and among the Natchez,
*130 and particularly in Mexico and Peru, where a great distinction of ranks prevailed, and the lower classes were in a state of absolute servitude,
*131 it is probable that, on occasion of any failure of subsistence, these would be the principal sufferers, and that the positive checks to population would act almost exclusively on this part of the community.
The very extraordinary depopulation that has taken place among the American Indians, may appear to some to contradict the theory which is intended to be established; but it will be found that the causes of this rapid diminution may all be resolved into the three great checks to population which have been stated; and it is not asserted, that these checks, operating from particular circumstances with unusual force, may not, in some instances, be more powerful even than the principle of increase.
The insatiable fondness of the Indians for spirituous liquors,
*132 which, according to Charlevoix, is a rage that passes all expression,
*133 by producing among them perpetual quarrels and contests which often terminate fatally, by exposing them to a new train of disorders which their mode of life unfits them to contend with, and by deadening and destroying the generative faculty in its very source, may alone be considered as a vice adequate to produce the present depopulation. In addition to this, it should be observed that almost every where the connexion of the Indians with Europeans has tended to break their spirit, to weaken or give a wrong direction to their industry, and in consequence to diminish the sources of subsistence. In St. Domingo, the Indians neglected purposely to cultivate their lands in order to starve out their cruel oppressors.
*134 In Peru and Chili, the forced industry of the natives was fatally directed to the digging in the bowels of the earth, instead of cultivating its surface; and, among the northern tribes, the extreme desire to purchase European spirits directed the industry of the greatest part of them, almost exclusively, to the procuring of plenty for the purpose of this exchange,
*135 which would prevent their attention to the more fruitful sources of subsistence, and at the same time tend rapidly to destroy the produce of the chace. The number of wild animals, in all the known parts of America, is even more diminished than the number of people.
*136 The attention to agriculture has every where slackened, rather than increased, as might at first have been expected; from European connexion. In no part of America, either North or South, do we hear of any of the Indian nations living in great plenty, in consequence of their diminished numbers. It may not therefore be very far from the truth, to say that even now, in spite of all the powerful causes of destruction that have been mentioned, the average population of the American nations is, with few exceptions, on a level with the average quantity of food, which in the present state of their industry they can obtain.
Histoire des Navigations aux terres Australes; and of New Caledonia and the New Hebrides in Cook’s Second Voyage, vol. ii. b. iii.
particular poverty from a large family, the government would be in a manner compelled to take upon itself the suppression of the population by law; and, as this would be the greatest violation of every natural feeling, there cannot be a more forcible argument against a community of goods.