Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.

Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, peopling of Countries, etc.
Author Benjamin Franklin
Country America (British Colonies)
Language English
Publication date
1755 (originally written in 1751)

Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc. is a short essay written in 1751 by Benjamin Franklin.[1] It was circulated by Franklin in manuscript to his circle of friends, but in 1755 it was published as an addendum in a Boston pamphlet on another subject.[2] It was reissued ten times during the next 15 years.[3]

The essay examines population growth and its limits. Writing as, at the time, a loyal subject of the British Empire, Franklin argues that the British should increase their population and power by expanding across the Americas, taking the view that Europe is too crowded.


Franklin projected an exponential growth (doubling every twenty five years)[4] in the population of the British colonies that in a century “the greatest Number of Englishmen will be on this Side of the Water” thereby increasing the power of England. As Englishmen they would share language, manners, and religion with their countrymen in England, thus extending English civilization and English rule substantially.[5]

Franklin viewed the land in America as underutilized and available for the expansion of farming. This enabled the population to establish households at an earlier age and support larger families than was possible in Europe. The limit to expansion, reached in Europe but not America, is reached when the “crowding and interfering with each other’s means of subsistence,” an idea that would inspire Malthus.[6]

Protectionist policies in 1750 led to the prohibition of ironworks in America. Franklin’s essay argued against such policies by advancing the position that labor is more valued in self-owned farming given the availability of land in America. “No man continues long a laborer for others, but gets a plantation of his own.” Growth in the colonies should increase demand for British manufacturing making protectionism unwise, an argument appreciated by Adam Smith.[6][7]

Franklin argued that slavery diminished the nation, undermined the virtue of industry, and diminished the health and vitality of the nation. He argued that slavery wasn’t as cost effective or productive as free labor.[6][7]


The work was cited by Adam Smith, David Hume, Samuel Johnson, Richard Price and William Godwin. It influenced Thomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population and, through Malthus, Charles Darwin.[3][4]

Science historian Conway Zirkle has described the work as an influence on natural selection. Zirkle has noted that "Franklin is really the source of Darwin's inspiration, for he gave Malthus the clue to the theory of population we now call Malthusian, and Malthus... gave Darwin the clue which led to the discovery of natural selection."[8]

Controversial paragraphs

While the essay was an important contribution to economics and population growth, recent attention has focused on the final two paragraphs.

Franklin was alarmed by the influx of German immigrants to Pennsylvania. The German immigrants were lacking in a liberal political tradition, the English language, and English culture. Franklin wrote "why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our settlements, and by herding together establish their languages and manners to the exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or customs, any more than they can acquire our complexion?"[7]

Recognizing the potential offense that these comments might give, Franklin deleted the final paragraph from later editions of the essay, but his derogatory remarks about the German and Dutch were picked up and used against him by his political enemies in Philadelphia, leading to a decline in support among the Pennsylvania Dutch. Partly as a result, he was defeated in the October 1764 election to the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly.[2] Franklin funded education and charitable institutions to settle and assimilate German immigrants and would in time regain their good will.[7]

Franklin favored immigration of Anglo-Saxons, a view condemned as racist in recent literature.[2][9] He writes in paragraph 24:

All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.

Gordon S. Wood and others note that Franklin viewed this kind of bias as universal. He ends this section with "But perhaps I am partial to the complexion of my Country, for such kind of partiality is natural to Mankind."[5][7]


  1. Houston, Alan (March 30, 2009). "Tracing evolution to a founding grandfather". Philadelphia Inquirer.
  2. 1 2 3 Franklin, Benjamin (edited by Ormond Seavey), Autobiography and other writings, Oxford University Press, 1999, p.251-252.
  3. 1 2 Hodgson, Dennis (Dec 1991). "Benjamin Franklin on Population: From Policy to Theory". Population and Development Review. 17 (4): 639–661. doi:10.2307/1973600.
  4. 1 2 von Valtier, William F. (June 2011). ""An Extravagant Assumption": The Demographic Numbers behind Benjamin Franklin's Twenty-Five-Year Doubling Period" (PDF). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 155 (2): 158–188.
  5. 1 2 Wood, Gordon S. (2004). The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. Penguin Books. pp. 71–72. ISBN 978-1594200199.
  6. 1 2 3 Brands, H. W. (2000). The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin. Doubleday. pp. 245–6. ISBN 978-0385493284.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 van Doren, Carl (1991). Benjamin Franklin. Penguin Books. pp. 216–8. ISBN 978-0140152609.
  8. Zirkle, Conway (April 25, 1941). "Natural Selection before the 'Origin of Species'". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, PA: American Philosophical Society. 84 (1): 71–123. ISSN 0003-049X. JSTOR 984852.
  9. Joe R. Feagin, Racist America: roots, current realities, and future reparations, Routledge, 2000, p.77.
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