A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World

Author: Thomas Pownall  | Date: 1780

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The United States as a World Power (1780)


NORTH-AMERICA is become a new primary planet in the system of the world, which while it takes its own course, in its own orbit, must have effect on the orbit of every other planet, and shift the common center of gravity of the whole system of the European world.

North-America is de facto AN INDEPENDENT POWER which has taken its equal station with other powers, and must be so de jure. The politicians of the Governments of Europe may reason or negociate upon this idea, as a matter sub lite. The powers of those Governments may fight about it as a new Power coming into establishment; such negocia-tions, and such wars, are of no consequence either to the right or the fact. It would be just as wise, and just as effectual, if they were to go to war to decide, or set on foot negociations to settle, to whom for the future the sovereignty of the moon should belong. The moon hath been long common to them all, and they may all in their turns profit of her reflected light. The independence of America is fixed as fate; she is mistress of her own fortune;—knows that she is so, and will actuate that power which she feels she hath, so as to establish her own system, and to change the system of Europe. . . .

If the Powers of Europe will view the state of things as they do really exist, and will treat them as being what they are, the lives of thousands may be spared; the happiness of millions may be secured; and, the peace of the whole world preserved. If they will not, they will be plunged into a sea of troubles, a sea of blood, fathomless and boundless. The war that has begun to rage betwixt Britain, France, and Spain, which is almost gorged betwixt Britain and America, will extend itself to all the maritime, and most likely, afterwards, to all the inland powers of Europe: and like the thirty years war of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, will not end, but as that did, by a new and general resettlement of powers and interests, according to the new spirit of the new system which hath taken place. . . .

There is no where in the European part of the old world such a greatness of interwoven and combined interest, communicating through such largeness of territory, as that in North America, possessed and actuated by the English nation. The northern and southern parts of Europe, are possessed by different nations, actuated by different spirits, and conducted under very different systems. . . .

On the contrary, when the scite and circumstances of the large extended territories of North America are examined; one finds every thing united in it which forms greatness of dominions, amplitude and growth of state.

The nature of the coast and of the winds upon that coast, is such as renders marine navigation, from one end of its extent to the other, a perpetually moving intercourse of communion: and the nature of the rivers which open (where marine navigation ends) an inland navigation which, with short interruptions, carries on a circulation throughout the whole, renders such inland navigation but a further process of that communion; all which becomes, as it were, a one vital principle of life, extended through a one organized being. . . .

Whether the islands, in those parts called the West Indies, are naturally parts of this North American Communion, is a question, in the detail of it, of curious speculation, but of no doubt as to the fact. . . .

. . . The civilizing activity of the human race, is what forms the growth of state. . . .

In this new world we see all the inhabitants not only free, but allowing an universal naturalization to all who wish to be so; and an uncon-trouled liberty of using any mode of life they choose, or any means of getting a livelihood that their talents lead them to. Free of all restraints, which take the property of themselves out of their own hands, their souls are their own, and their reason; they are their own masters, and they act; their labour is employed on their own property, and what they produce is their own. In a country like this, where every man has the full and free exertion of his powers, where every man may acquire any share of the good things thereof, or of interest and power which his spirit can work him up to; there, an unabated application of the powers of individuals, and a perpetual struggle of their spirits, sharpens their wits, and gives constant training to the mind. The acquirement of information in things and business, which becomes necessary to this mode of life, gives the mind, thus sharpened, and thus exercised, a turn of inquiry and investigation which forms a character peculiar to these people, which is not to be met with, nor ever did exist in any other to the same degree, unless in some of the ancient republics, where the people were under the same predicament. This turn of character, which, in the ordinary occurrences of life, is called inquisitiveness, and which, when exerted about trifles, goes even to a degree of ridicule in many instances; is yet. in matters of business and commerce, a most useful and efficient talent. . . .

. . . In America, the wisdom and not the man is attended to; and America is peculiarly a poor man’s country. . . . They find themselves at liberty to follow what mode they like; they feel that they can venture to try experiments, and that the advantages of their discoveries are their own. They, therefore, try what the soil claims, what the climate permits, and what both will produce and sustain to the greatest advantage. . . .

Although the civilizing activity of America does not, by artificial and false helps, contrary to the natural course of things, inconsistent with, and checking the first applications of, its natural labour, and before the community is ripe for such endeavour, attempt to force the establishment of manufactures: yet following, as Use and Experience lead, the natural progress of improvement, it is every year producing a surplus profit; which surplus, as it enters again into the circulation of productive employment, creates an accumulating accelerated progressive series of surpluses. With these accumulated surpluses of the produce of the earth and seas, and not with manufactures, the Americans carry on their commercial exertions. Their fish, wheat, flour, rice, tobacco, indigo, live stock, barrel pork and beef (some of these articles being peculiar to the country and staple commodities) form the exports of their commerce. This has given them a direct trade to Europe; and, with some additional articles, a circuitous trade to Africa and the West Indies.

The same ingenuity of mechanic handicraft, which arises concomitant with agriculture, doth here also rise concomitant with commerce, and is exerted in SHIP-BUILDING: it is carried on, not only to serve all the purposes of their own carriage, and that of the West Indies in part, but to an extent of sale, so as to supply great part of the shipping of Britain;

and further, if it continues to advance with the same progress, it will supply great part of the trade of Europe also with shipping, at chea[p]er rates than they can any where, or by any means, supply themselves.

Thus their commerce, although subsisting (while they were subordinate provinces) under various restrictions, by its advancing progress in ship-building, hath been striking deep root, and is now shot forth an active commerce, growing into amplitude of state and great power. . . .

I will here, therefore, from this comparison of the spirit of civilizing activity in the old and in the new world, as one sees it in its application to agriculture, handicrafts, and mechanics, and finally in an active commerce, spatiating on an amplitude of base, the natural communion of a great country, and rising in a natural progression, venture to assert, that in this point, NORTH AMERICA HAS ADVANCED, AND IS EVERY DAY ADVANCING, TO GROWTH OF STATE, WITH A STEADY AND CONTINUALLY ACCELERATING MOTION, OF WHICH THERE HAS NEVER YET BEEN ANY EXAMPLE IN EUROPE.

But farther; when one looks to the progressive POPULATION which this fostering happiness doth, of course, produce, one cannot but see, in North America, that God’s first blessing, "Be fruitful and multiply; replenish the earth and subdue it," hath operated in full manifestation of his will. . . .

This might have been, indeed, the spirit of the British Empire, America being a part of it: This is the spirit of the government of the new Empire of America, Great Britain being no part of it. It is a Vitality, liable, indeed, to many disorders, many dangerous diseases; but it is young and strong, and will struggle, by the vigour of internal healing principles of life, against those evils, and surmount them; like the infant Hercules, it will strangle these serpents in its cradle. Its strength will grow with its years, and it will establish its constitution, and perfect adultness in growth of state.

To this greatness of empire it will certainly arise. That it is removed three thousand miles distant from its enemy; that it lies on another side of the globe where it has no enemy; that it is earth-born, and like a giant ready to run its course, are not alone the grounds and reasons on which a speculatist may pronounce this. The fostering care with which the rival Powers of Europe will nurse it, ensures its establishment beyond all doubt or danger.

[Thomas Pownall], (second edition, London, 1780), 4–69 passim.

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Chicago: Thomas Pownall, A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1902), 77–79. Original Sources, accessed September 30, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8XGHPR938TFZ5H.

MLA: Pownall, Thomas. A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 3, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1902, pp. 77–79. Original Sources. 30 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8XGHPR938TFZ5H.

Harvard: Pownall, T, A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World. cited in 1902, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.77–79. Original Sources, retrieved 30 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L8XGHPR938TFZ5H.