Ferguson’s Conservatism

Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives internationales d’histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 191)


Political Order Civic Virtue Spontaneous Order Political Corruption Militia Scheme 
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  1. 1365.
    Kettler, Adam Ferguson, pp. 179, 211.Google Scholar
  2. 1366.
    Lehmann, ‘Review’, p. 170.Google Scholar
  3. 1367.
    McDowell, ‘Adam Ferguson’s Constitutionalism’, pp. 546–7.Google Scholar
  4. 1368.
    Institutes, pp. 293–4.Google Scholar
  5. 1369.
    P.II., p. 510.Google Scholar
  6. 1370.
    P.I., p. 263.Google Scholar
  7. 1371.
    Essay, pp. 132–3.Google Scholar
  8. 1372.
    Essay, p. 251.Google Scholar
  9. 1373.
    John Robertson, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia Issue, p. 205. John Stuart Shaw has interpreted the particularly fierce faction fighting of English and pre-Union Scottish politics as partly a function of the ‘absence of formal party organisations’. John Stuart Shaw, The Political History of Eighteenth Century Scotland, Basingstoke: MacMillan, 1999, pp. 18–19. My emphasis.Google Scholar
  10. 1374.
    P.II., pp. 510–11. See also Essay, pp. 209–10. This attitude seems to have been partly a function of his views on spontaneous order. Ferguson notes: ‘As a particular way of thinking, proceeds from communication, and is preserved by habit, it were absurd to employ any other method, to obtain or preserve unanimity. The use of force in particular, to dictate opinion, is preposterous and ineffectual’. P.I., p. 219. Ferguson also cautions against the popular but misplaced belief that the’ silence’ of the people denotes consent. Essay, p. 260.Google Scholar
  11. 1375.
    As Sher notes, ‘the Reflections is notable for its delicate handling of the Scottish question, Without ever mentioning Scotland by name, Ferguson contended that denying the militia to one allegedly factious part of Great Britain would have the effect of increasing disaffection and hostility in that area’. Sher, Church and University, p. 221.Google Scholar
  12. 1376.
    Oz-Salzberger, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xii.Google Scholar
  13. 1377.
    Smith, The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, pp. 19–20.Google Scholar
  14. 1378.
    ‘[I]n the summer and autumn of 1759’. Sher, Church and University, p. 222.Google Scholar
  15. 1379.
    Oz-Salzberger, ‘Introduction’ to Essay, p. xii.Google Scholar
  16. 1380.
    Broadie, The Scottish Enlightenment, p. 91. And yet the reaction in Scotland was mild considering the insult. Alexander Carlyle was particularly dismayed by this attitude and regarded Scottish acceptance of the defeat as’ servil[e]’. Sher, Church and University, p. 221.Google Scholar
  17. 1381.
    Ferguson’s was entitled: Reflections Previous to the Establishment of a Militia (1756) while Carlyle wrote The Ques e tion Relating l to g a Scots Mili M tia Conside C red (1760).Google Scholar
  18. 1382.
    Letter to William Eden (later Baron Auckland) January 2, 1780, Correspondence, No. 170, I, p. 228. See also Sher, ‘Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, and the Problem of National Defence’, pp. 240–68.Google Scholar
  19. 1383.
    ‘Separation of Departments’, Collection of Essays, No. 15, pp. 141–51.Google Scholar
  20. 1384.
    Unpublished lecture notes of April 9th, 1776, quoted in Sher, ‘National Defense’, p. 253.Google Scholar
  21. 1385.
    Quoted in Sher, ‘National Defense’, p. 252.Google Scholar
  22. 1386.
    Letter to William Eden, January 2, 1780, Correspondence, No. 170, I, p. 228.Google Scholar
  23. 1387.
    Hamowy, ‘Progress and Commerce’, p. 85.Google Scholar
  24. 1388.
    ‘Separation of Departments’, Collection of Essays, No. 15, pp. 142–3.Google Scholar
  25. 1389.
    Reflections, London, 1756, p. 13.Google Scholar
  26. 1390.
    Reflections, p. 36.Google Scholar
  27. 1391.
    Ferguson, ‘Separation of Departments’ Collection of Essays, No. 15, p. 150. Rousseau had taken an almost identical line when he argued that, in order to limit ‘that personal interest’ which ‘enfeeble[s]’ the state and guard against the ‘evils’ resulting from ‘the indifference of the citizens to the fate of the Republic’, any ‘careful and well-intentioned government’ will be ‘vigilant incessantly to maintain or restore patriotism and morality among the people’ via a system of publicly funded civics education. Rousseau, ‘A Discourse on Political Economy’, Social Contract and Discourses, p. 150. Ferguson also agreed with Rousseau that the ideal political community is one in which every citizen enjoys a degree of independence and yet is also ‘very dependent on the city’ whose strength, in turn, is the only sure way to’ secure the liberty of its members’. Rousseau, Social Contract, p. 227.Google Scholar
  28. 1392.
    Institutes, pp. 272–3.Google Scholar
  29. 1393.
    P.II., pp. 496–8.Google Scholar
  30. 1394.
    Letter to William Eden, January 2, 1780, Correspondence, No. 170, I, p. 230.Google Scholar
  31. 1395.
    Contrary to Alan Smith’s claims that ‘Ferguson explicitly disapproved of mixed monarchy of the British type’, preferring instead ‘a certain sort of pure monarchy’. The Political Philosophy of Adam Ferguson, pp. 18–19. See, for example, Ferguson, Remarks, p. 13; History, p. 407; Essay, p. 252. It was also Montesquieu’s preference. Laws, 2. 11.6. p. 157. For Ferguson’s disapproval of republican movements (by which he meant suffragists) see Letter to John Mcpherson, January 10, 1780, Correspondence, No. 171, I, p. 233.Google Scholar
  32. 1396.
    Remarks, p. 14. Ferguson’s emphasis.Google Scholar
  33. 1397.
    Remarks p. 52. See also History, p. 407.Google Scholar
  34. 1398.
    History, p. 309.Google Scholar
  35. 1399.
    History, pp. 116, 119–20.Google Scholar
  36. 1400.
    History, pp. 108–22Google Scholar
  37. 1401.
    Institutes, p. 273.Google Scholar
  38. 1402.
    Institutes, p. 274–5.Google Scholar
  39. 1403.
    Robertson, ‘The Scottish Enlightenment at the Limits of the Civic Tradition’, in Hont, and Ignatieff, (eds), pp. 139–40. Robertson provides a subtle and detailed treatment of the distinctiveness of the Scottish variant of the civic tradition, especially of their attitude to what regularly constituted government consisted in.Google Scholar
  40. 1404.
    Machiavelli, Discourses, 1.2, p. 109.Google Scholar
  41. 1405.
    Essay, p. 123–4; See also Crehan, ‘The Roman Analogy’, p. 20.Google Scholar
  42. 1406.
    Essay, p. 252; P.II., p. 498.Google Scholar
  43. 1407.
    Essay, p. 124–5.Google Scholar
  44. 1408.
    Letter from Adam Ferguson to the Reverend Christopher Wyvill, December 2, 1782, Correspondence, II, No. 215, p. 292.Google Scholar
  45. 1409.
    Essay, p. 158. ‘[N]ations’ intent on ‘acting wisely in pursuit of public order and freedom’ will avoid any’ simple’ constitutional forms. Republics are unsuitable for any society characterised by rank inequalities while reserving ‘the enactment, as well as the execution of the law to any single power’ is rarely, if ever’ safe’. Instead, the ‘fortunate’ will ‘adopt some mixed’ form. P.II., p. 497.Google Scholar
  46. 1410.
    Kettler, Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson, pp. 86–8; Fagg, Biographical Introduction, lxi–ii. For a copy of Wyvill’s letter see, Letter to Adam Ferguson, November 14, 1782, Correspondence, No. 212, II, p. 289.Google Scholar
  47. 1411.
    Following General Burgoyne’s surrender to the Americans at Saratoga in October 1777, the Commission was instructed to ‘offer everything short of independence if the colonies would remain loyal’. Fagg, Biographical Introduction, pp. xlviii, li. Ferguson was thwarted by the refusal of a passport to the capital. Lehmann, Adam Ferguson, p. 19.Google Scholar
  48. 1412.
    As reported by Benson J. Lossing. The Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, in 2 Vols, New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1859, Vol. II. p. 144. The ‘Manifesto’ was ‘[p]robably wholly or chiefly the work of Ferguson’. Oz-Salzberger, Translating the Enlightenment, p. 320. It should be noted that the manifesto did not bear his signature; only those of Clinton, Carlisle and Eden appeared. Lossing, Field Book of the Revolution, p. 144. See also a letter by Ferguson entitled: ‘To the President and other Members of Congress’, Appendix G, Correspondence, II, pp. 552–4. It was sent to Congress prior to the issuing of the ‘Manifesto’ and was more conciliatory in tone, most likely because it was written before the Americans had made it clear that they were not prepared to negotiate.Google Scholar
  49. 1413.
    Letter to John Macpherson, October 27, 1777, Correspondence, No. 100, I, p. 156.Google Scholar
  50. 1414.
    ‘Memorial Respecting the Measures to be Pursued on the Present Immediate Prospect of a Final Separation of the American Colonys From Great Britain’, Appendix III, Collection of Essays, p. 306.Google Scholar
  51. 1415.
    Fagg, Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato, pp. 142–5.Google Scholar
  52. 1417.
    ‘The work...provoked an outpouring of pamphlets on both sides of the issue’. Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. l.Google Scholar
  53. 1418.
    Due to the fact that America was too extensive to support a democracy. Remarks, pp. 23–4.Google Scholar
  54. 1419.
    Remarks, pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  55. 1420.
    Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. i.Google Scholar
  56. 1421.
    Remarks, pp. 19–22, 57–8Google Scholar
  57. 1422.
    Fagg, Biographical Introduction, p. xlvii.Google Scholar
  58. 1423.
    Dated July 22, 1768. Letters of David Hume, II. pp. 184–5.Google Scholar
  59. 1424.
    ’separation from the colonies, with free trade secured through a commercial treaty, seems to have been the most satisfactory solution in Smith’s opinion, but since no nation could be expected to relinquish dominion voluntarily, the best that could be hoped for was imperial reform’. Dalphy I. Fagerstrom, ‘Scottish Opinion and the American Revolution’, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 11(2), 1954, pp. 252–275, p. 259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 1425.
    Meek, ‘The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology’ p. 46.Google Scholar
  61. 1426.
    Letter to John Macpherson, December 18, 1779, Correspondence, No. 169, I. p. 223.Google Scholar
  62. 1427.
    Letter to William Eden, January 2, 1780, Correspondence, No. 170, I. pp. 230–1. The ‘rivals’ in question were French ones. As Andrew Stuart later wrote to Ferguson: ‘I congratulate you upon the good accounts we have lately had from Ireland, and the appearance of the Rebellion there being in a fair way of being crushed before the arrival of their French friends’. Letter to Adam Ferguson, June 4, 1798, No. 340, Correspondence, pp. 435–6.Google Scholar
  63. 1428.
    Remarks, pp. 23–4, 59. Ferguson’s emphasis.Google Scholar
  64. 1429.
    P.II., pp. 496.Google Scholar
  65. 1430.
    Institutes, p. 274.Google Scholar
  66. 1431.
    ‘Separation of Departments’, Collection of Essays, No. 15, p. 150.Google Scholar
  67. 1432.
    P.II., pp. 496–8.Google Scholar
  68. 1433.
    P.II., pp. 497. Ferguson’s emphasis.Google Scholar
  69. 1434.
    P.II., p.292; P.II., p. 234–5.Google Scholar
  70. 1435.
    Kettler, Adam Ferguson, p. 217.Google Scholar
  71. 1436.
    It should be noted that this would have been less problematic for an eighteenth century mind since party labels were then ‘notoriously ambiguous’. Ward, ‘The Tory View of Roman History’, p. 413.)Google Scholar
  72. 1437.
    P.II., p. 291.Google Scholar
  73. 1438.
    Waszek, Man’s Social Nature, p. 56.Google Scholar
  74. 1439.
    P.II., p. 497.Google Scholar
  75. 1440.
    Kettler, Adam Ferguson, p. 299. Though Ferguson eventually opposed the revolution he was however, impressed by the ‘vigour and fervor’ of the French’. Cited in Fagg, Biographical Introduction, lxxxii.Google Scholar
  76. 1441.
    Remarks, p. 35.Google Scholar
  77. 1442.
    Remarks, pp. 9–10, 23.Google Scholar
  78. 1443.
    Remarks, pp. 28–30.Google Scholar
  79. 1444.
    Yet, he was to write as late as 1798 that ‘men are Such Idiots as to Think that conquests is prosperity and for themselves would sett no limits to either. We complain that the French would be a Conquering and the great Nation by Land: but our publick Scribblers at least are as Offensive in their turn by Sea. Is not rule Britania ov[e]r the Waves as bad as ça ira?’. Letter to Sir John Macpherson, May 14, 1978, Correspondence, No. 339, p. 433.Google Scholar
  80. 1445.
    Sher, Church and University, pp. 180, 189, 262.Google Scholar
  81. 1446.
    Institutes, pp. 158–9. This comment should not be interpreted as an endorsement of slavery which Ferguson condemned. Sher, Church and University, p. 180. One of the constituents of happiness is a willingness to submit ‘to the will of God, in whatever he has assigned for our lot’. P.II., p. 61. Although it does seem to contradict Ferguson’s activism his position is best understood thus: people should accommodate themselves to any evolved constitution and serve it actively.Google Scholar
  82. 1447.
    Institutes, p. 158.Google Scholar
  83. 1448.
    ‘The policy of Sparta arose from a principle directly opposed to the maxims of trade, and went to restrain and suspend the commercial arts in all their effects’. P.I., p. 252.Google Scholar
  84. 1449.
    Essay, p. 232.Google Scholar
  85. 1450.
    Essay, pp. 137–8. Ferguson’s emphasis. See also P.I., pp. 247–8.Google Scholar
  86. 1451.
    Essay, pp. 232–4.Google Scholar
  87. 1452.
    P.I., p. 185.Google Scholar
  88. 1453.
    Fagg, Adam Ferguson: Scottish Cato, p. 33.Google Scholar
  89. 1454.
    Adam Ferguson, The Morality of Stage Plays Seriously Considered, Edinburgh, 1767, pp. 1–2.Google Scholar
  90. 1455.
    Essay, p. 225. See also P.II., p. 371.Google Scholar
  91. 1456.
    P.I., pp. 253–5.Google Scholar
  92. 1457.
    Note, though, that luxury is deemed to be detrimental to societies characterised by universal equality. Essay, p. 241.Google Scholar
  93. 1458.
    Essay, p. 235.Google Scholar
  94. 1459.
    Essay, pp. 232–4.Google Scholar
  95. 1460.
    P.I., pp. 254–5.Google Scholar
  96. 1461.
    P.II., p. 326–7.Google Scholar
  97. 1462.
    Essay, p. 234.Google Scholar
  98. 1463.
    ‘The use of morality on this subject, is not to limit men to any particular species of lodging, diet or cloaths, but to prevent their considering these conveniencies as the principal objects of human life’. Essay, p. 234.Google Scholar
  99. 1464.
    Essay, pp. 232–4.Google Scholar
  100. 1465.
    On this basis Burke made a lexical distinction between the terms ‘reform’ and ‘innovation’. He wrote: ‘It was then not my love, but my hatred to innovation, that produced my Plan of Reform. Without troubling myself with the exactness of the logical diagram, I considered them as things substantially opposite. It was to prevent that evil, that I proposed the measures’. Edmund Burke, ‘A Letter to a Noble Lord’, Further Reflections on the Revolution in France, Daniel E. Ritchie (ed.), Indiana: Liberty Press, 1992, p. 292. Even Rousseau, a far more trenchant critic of modernity, did not advocate radical solutions such as a return to primitive conditions but resorted to the cultivation of virtue as the best guard against corruption. ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’, Social Contract and Discourses, pp. 125–6.Google Scholar
  101. 1466.
    Even though, in principle, he admits that some degree of rationalistic reform is often necessary. The ‘form of society...may be rude or defective and require the exercise of reason to remove its inconveniencies, or to obtain the advantages of which it is susceptible’. P.I., p. 263.Google Scholar
  102. 1467.
    Letter from Adam Ferguson to the Reverend C. Wyvill, December 2, 1782, Correspondence, No. 215, II, p. 292. For further discussion see Ian R. Christie, Willkes Wyvill and Reform, London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1962.Google Scholar

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