Ireland, Sir William Petty, and British "Population Studies":
Ask the Irish About British "Population Theories"

by Paul Gallagher

Printed in the American Almanac, January, 16, 1995

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The worst evils against human dignity and national sovereignty cover themselves as ``population policies'' and ``expert population studies.'' Such ``population studies,'' by bodies like the U.S. National Security Council, have justified mass sterilizations, forced abortions, and even wars against Third World nations. The U.N.'s ongoing series of world government conferences including the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, wanted to reduce the human population by half in 100 years.

Where did this diabolical ``field of expertise'' come from?

Encyclopedias and histories of the so-called ``science of demography,'' agree that it was primarily the invention of Sir William Petty, Britain's first Earl of Shelburne (1622-1687). The Galton Laboratory in London, world center since the 1920s of the notorious eugenics movement--for ``scientific improvement of populations''--emphatically asserted in 1931 published lectures, that Petty founded ``population studies'' along with his friends Sir John Graunt, lord mayor of London, and Sir Edmund Halley. This was at the time of the chartering of the British Royal Society, of which all three were charter members. Its founding was based on a plan by Petty, which immediately became the European center of ``population statistics'' from the 1660s onward.

In fact, Sir William Petty's and the Royal Society's founding of this ``science of population statistics'' rested on a ``study'' both evil and completely unscientific: genocide and ``ethnic cleansing'' against the Irish people, in which Petty was instrumental--the founding genocide of the British Empire, so to speak. This genocide over the years from 1649 into the 1690s, which Petty himself measured and made a subject of his ``statistical tracts,'' was also the pretext for his invention of an obscene eugenics theory.

The Royal Society, besides promoting Sir Isaac Newton against Gottfried Leibniz, also filled up with ``population statisticians'' in its first decades, many of them also Crown officials for collection of taxes or duties, per head or by commodity. Many were trying to apply Newton's ersatz calculus (his ``fluxions'') to calculate various population groups' life expectancies for the life insurance pools of London. Royal Society members promoted Sir William Petty's Treatise of Taxes and Contributions as ``the true foundation of economic theory.''

But though Petty was obsessed with the collection of the maximum regressive tax, and with calculating insurance annuities, his clear overall ``scientific purpose'' was British imperial expansion: the ``cleansing'' of Ireland; its repopulation by Englishmen of ``superior breed''; the plantation of British slave colonies in the West Indies; keeping the American colonies sparsely populated; above all, the defeat of Louis XIV and Colbert's France by an alliance of Britain and Holland. In Ireland, a Catholic people allied to France, the British imperialists lashed out against a defenseless population, essentially as a surrogate for their adversaries in France and the Vatican.

From these purposes came what a Galton Laboratory eugenics lecturer in 1931 called ``the first steps to a population science'' by Sir William Petty. This began in the 1650s as Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell's armies ``cleansed'' Ireland, for English repopulation.

The Roots of Malthus

The ``theory of overpopulation'' had been spread into England in the previous century from Venice--by networks of Elizabeth I's most powerful minister, Sir Francis Walsingham, an agent of Venetian finance. In the 1580s, suddenly, as if from many sides, came the ``idea'' that all the Irish should be completely exterminated to allow the ``excess English population'' lebensraum. Colonies in the Americas were a secondary feature of this concept of such hardcore ``Malthusians'' as Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Edmund Spenser, and Sir Francis Walsingham.

Later, in the eighteenth century, the Venetian monk Giammaria Ortes invented the dogma that the Earth had a fixed ``carrying capacity'' for human beings, because food production per person could not be increased. This fraud--``Malthusianism''--was copied from Ortes by Thomas Malthus and by many other agents of the second Sir William Petty, Earl of Shelburne, who by the 1780s controlled the government of King George III. However, Malthus, in his correspondence, said that the primary early source upon whom he relied was the first Sir William Petty.

The earlier Sir William Petty, in the 1670s, claimed to have based his population doctrines on actual statistics and to be the Newton of population ``science'': ``To make no intellectual arguments, but to rely upon measure; and to use only arguments of sense....'' Petty was trained in the Paris salon of another Venetian agent of influence, the mathematician Abbé Mersenne. Petty's numerous collaborators, and later imitators, in the British Royal Sociey attempted to get birth and death records from many cities and parishes in Europe to support the following theory of carrying capacity (given by Petty's admirer Sir John Derham in 1708 lectures to the Royal Society, which they published in 1713):

``The whole surface of our globe can afford room and support only to such a number of all sorts of creatures, and by their doubling, trebling or any other multiplication of their kind, they must starve or devour one another. The world is now well-peopled ... neither too full nor too empty and if too many the length of life will be reduced.... [T]he balance is nearly even, and life and death keep an equal pace. If here births somewhat exceed deaths, this but fills up for losses of plagues and wars elsewhere. We may say that sometimes these extraordinary expenses of mankind [plague and war] may be, not only a just punishment of the sins of men, but also a wise means to keep the balance of mankind even.''

Petty and Ireland

Speaking of ``plagues and war elsewhere,'' let us consider what was happening at the time on Ireland's portion of ``the whole surface of our globe.''

Sir William Petty, a wealthy merchant and sometime surgeon, accompanied Oliver Cromwell's army to Ireland on its second invasion in 1652, with the task of conducting a survey of lands which had been and were to be confiscated by force from their Irish owners.

By conservative estimates, 20,000 Irish subjects were slaughtered by Cromwell's armies directly in massacres of three cities; 40,000 Irishmen (``Catholic soldiers'') were exiled to Spain or France; 10-20,000 young Irishmen and women were shipped as slaves to the recently conquered sugar-slave colonies of Jamaica and Barbados. Parliament in London then passed an Act of Settlement to forcibly evict the entire Irish population from the most-settled central and southern counties, over the Shannon River ``to Hell or Connacht,'' as the saying arose. Later, this was repeated with the Ulster counties, resettled with Scottish settlers.

Without noting that Petty was on the scene, surveying these emptied lands, one historian says that ``Sir William Petty, the most reliable contemporary population expert, estimated that ... more than half the population of Ireland died, mostly of starvation or disease.'' In fact, both Petty's calculation of the total Irish population before 1650, 1,400,000, and his estimate of the deaths from this genocidal policy, were unreliable, like most of Petty's population statistics. But his survey

``caused all the subsequent stages in the completion of the settlement of Ireland to be practically entrusted to his supervision.... [He] was the practical head of the committees which successively distributed the lands.... an almost unlimited rapacity distinguished him.''
<> Ireland's population density fell to 7-8 persons per kilometer squared. The Irish historian John Prendergast wrote:
``The bodies of many wandering orphans whose fathers had embarked for Spain and whose mothers had died of famine, were preyed upon by wolves. In the years 1652 and 1653 a man might travel twenty or thirty miles and not see a living creature.''

Sir William Petty returned from his first stay in Ireland with two things. He had produced ``The Down Survey of Irish Lands,'' the first British imperial survey of an entire conquered nation. For this survey, Petty was given great credit as a pioneer by the Royal Society and by later ``scholarship.'' But in the 1650s, Petty was charged with fraud in the survey, by several members of Parliament--illustrating that this survey involved fortunes for speculators and creditors of the Cromwell government. Thus, Petty's second triumph: By 1658, when Cromwell died, Petty owned so much Irish land that he essentially owned county Kerry and was Earl of Landsdowne, as the British renamed Kerry.

In Ireland as a whole, between 1580 and 1708 the incredible total of 80 percent of all arable Irish land was forcibly confiscated by English or Scottish landlords--12 million out of 15 million acres. By the early 1800s, 4 million acres, or 25 percent of the arable land, was unused for any purpose--a virtual ``wildlife preserve,'' although its forests had been cut down by the British landlords!

Shortly after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, Charles II appointed Sir William Petty surveyor-general of Ireland. Petty made recommendations on how to raise the largest tax and greatest military support for the British Crown from the devastated nation, and how to ``re-people'' it or ``replant'' it with English. All these were published in the Treatise of Taxes and Contributions (1671), and praised as the foundation-stone of economic theory by its Royal Society admirers. Its tax and military recommendations, and in part the population policy linked to them, became British Crown policy over the period through the 1688 installation of the House of Orange on the British throne.

Petty proposed:

  1. continuous immigration and ``replanting'' of English gentlemen in Ireland ``until it should have 5 million inhabitants,'' with further emigration to America deemed undesirable (except for slave-owning cadre required in Jamaica and Barbados and Carolina) while Ireland was being ``repeopled'';
  2. a new poll-tax in corn and flax throughout Ireland;
  3. a poll-tax in herring on all Scots, and in linen on all English and Welsh; and
  4. each nation be required to raise a militia.

"A Perfect Poll-Money"

Petty's poll-tax proposals reflected his obsessive claims--repeated in dozens of his ``statistical tracts''--that he could use his population statistics (inaccurate as they usually were) to enable the collection of a maximum tax revenue for the Crown at minimum cost. His policy, which, by the end of that century, was becoming British policy, was to eliminate the duties on trade and monopolies which the Tudor kings had relied upon--to eliminate any tax which inconvenienced the East and West India Companies--and replace them with regressive poll-taxes (head taxes) which would raise more money for British military power. Petty's ``Proposal for a Perfect Poll-Money'' (Statistical Tract No. 54), for example, was to be supported by ``the five books of statistics of the people and lands,'' and was to be paid by all, even children under seven; such that the Crown could collect the tax ``at half the charge, and be ready to enlarge the same, if necessary.'' Petty's three major ``population studies''--Political Arithmetick, the Treatise on Taxes and The Anatomy of Ireland (!)--were all ordered to be published again by King William of Orange in 1690 and 1691, after Petty's death.

Petty claimed that rent on land, plus the surplus produced by agricultural workers over their own incomes or wages, constituted the sum of national wealth, except for that earned in international trade. He claimed that he could calculate populations from birth, death, and tax records; use these population figures plus crude ``value-added'' and interest-on-land calculations to compute the average value (in pounds-Sterling) of each person; and therefrom compute ``perfect'' poll-taxes. His rule was that ``it must be agreed that the soundest basis for a tax is the common and more numerous kind of the people.''

Petty's poll-tax in corn and flax had the following effect on the remaining Irish population, according to Radcliffe Salamon's well-known book, The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Ireland's shipping and trade with France and Spain, developed in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, had been wiped out; its mines and iron works closed or destroyed; its previously widespread cattle-raising had been devastated; and by 1690, the Penal Laws officially prohibited cattle-raising and Catholic priests. Thus, the poll-tax in corn and flax took away the only remaining agro-industrial activity, aside from--the potato. Salamon repeats Petty's estimate that 50 percent of the Irish died in the Cromwellian Settlement. He quotes Petty's Anatomy of Ireland:

``Their food is bread and potatoes from August till May; they seldom eat beef, even having killed a cow they cannot preserve it for the lack of salt.''
And he quotes another English gentleman who arrived with Cromwell, Sir Warham St. Leger:
``This country [County Cork] is so ruined, as it has become well near unpeopled.''
Industrial workers left the towns and went back to the villages, but the total value of houses dropped by 80 percent in the 1650s, and secure tenure in land was barred for Catholics. Again Petty:
``And why should they desire to fare better, when they are taught that this way of living is more like the Patriarchs and Saints?|... And why should they breed more Cattel, since 'tis Penal to import them into England?''

Salamon, writing his book in the 1950s, still calls Sir William Petty ``the foremost European expert on population of the time.''


Yet Petty thought that the population of England and Wales might be falling. Indeed, the whole host of British Royal Society ``population experts,'' from Petty, Graunt, and Halley in 1670 until Dr. Richard Price, who wrote on population matters for the Second Earl of Shelburne in the 1770s and 1780s, were unable to determine whether the population of England and Wales was increasing or decreasing. And the Crown and Royal Society never took a census until 1801, long after other European nations, and after the new American Constitution had mandated a decennial census.

Only in Britain, in the absence of real census figures, could ``population science'' really thrive.

This ``scientific'' tradition is continued by the U.N. Fund for Population Activities today. The UNFPA, and all its dependencies, have insisted for the past five years that the world's population was growing by 93 million souls per year, and the rate of growth was rising, until U.S. Bureau of Census figures forced them to acknowledge the truth--it's only 80 million per year, and the rate of growth is falling rapidly.

The second basis, then, of Petty's ``foundation of scientific population studies'' was developed in his Statistical Tracts No. 91-95: ``Concerning Marriages''; ``Marriages''; ``California Marriages''; ``Further on the Same''; and ``On Doubling the People''--the English people. These all date from about 1670, when Petty was surveyor-general of Ireland. Here he discovered that ``God's first command is to increase and multiply.'' Ireland, the West Indian slave colonies, and Scotland must have Englishmen for masters--though ``the colonies in America are only a burden.''

Therefore, ``Shelborne'' proposed replacing sanctified marriage with a system of six-month ``covenants for conception,'' or ``liberty for short marriages, to remain in effect until such time as Ireland, as well as England, shall have 5 millions of people''--Scotland was to have 3 million. These three targets were the objectives for the increase of the English people and their ``replantation'' of what was formerly Ireland and Scotland, as well as their ``sufficient plantation'' of the West Indies and Carolina.

The six-month covenants could be renewed as they proved fertile, but if not renewed, any resulting children could be brought up with the aid of--a universal tax on all men 18-60 and all women 15-45, also to support ``lying-in places'' for child-birth.

And not just any ``Englishmen.'' Petty proposed that special marriages--he called them ``California Marriages'' to pretend that the precedent already existed in Spanish America--should bring together the wealthiest and most beautiful women with the ``heroes'' among English men, in order to breed large numbers of superior children at the fastest rate. Each ``Great Rich Woman'' was to be married to five such ``heroes,'' who needed not necessarily be as wealthy. Each ``Great Man'' would get four beautiful wives. Then follows a ``calculus'' of potential combinations of more than one such marriage to allow cross-breeding among the assigned husbands and wives--with a home for each potential pair. This eugenical system of concubinage is summed up in ``On Doubling the People.'' This was a calculation (Petty later disowned it) of the increased wealth in pounds-Sterling to come from doubling the English population and filling Ireland, etc., with the arithmetic assumption of absolutely no change in technology of agriculture or manufactures.

It is clear from this ``foundation'' what Sir John Derham meant in his 1708 Royal Society lectures: If God caused one people to increase for a time, this was how His Providence supplied some other place which was empty through plague or war, the total remaining a constant and even pace of birth and death.

This was and is the true support of the doctrine of a fixed carrying capacity of the Earth for human beings.


Sir William Petty's third ``foundation of population science'' anticipated the Venetian monk Giammaria Ortes and the ``Malthusians''--and showed the Venetian influence on the entire British Royal Society at its founding. In Political Arithmetick, Petty's first chapter heading stated that ``small country and few people, by its situation, trade and policy, may be equivalent or greater in wealth and strength, to a far greater People and Territory.'' A century later, the target of the ``population theorists'' of the Second Earl of Shelburne, including Malthus, was the United States of America--``the land where population doubled geometrically every 25 years.'' The target of Petty, the earlier ``Shelborne,'' was France. He aimed to prove that England and Holland together were superior to Colbert's France, whose 25 million population was more than twice their combined total population.

Again, Petty completely excluded consideration of technological change and progress. He insisted that Holland's strength and progress ``comes completely without such Angelical Wits and Judgements as some attribute to the Hollanders.'' He wrote that a nation's strength ``comes upon account of natural and intrinsic advantages only.''

He never mentioned, in Political Arithmetick, Holland's very high population density, nor its formerly swampy and poor soil. Rather, Petty said that only ``better soil'' made for more people on the same acreage, who are therefore cheaper to defend, to tax, to minister to, and to establish courts over--the functions of government! Navigable waterways were, he said, a ``natural endowment of Holland and somewhat of England.''

These were all Malthus arguments 130 years later.

As to the policy for those ``small nations with intrinsic advantages,'' Petty declared that the highest objective of a nation was to dominate world shipping trade and the shares in the East and West India Companies.

It was a dogma of Petty--and became dogma of the Royal Society line of ``population studies'' ever since--that urbanization was an evil and that growth of cities led to population collapse, ``devouring'' catastrophes. Petty stated that urbanization raised wages of farm labor and therefore reduced rent and national wealth; and that it put more manufacturing workers to the same capital stock, reducing their efficiency (Malthus's theory of marginal utility). So, with absolutely no technological change, Petty--like the Roman Emperor Diocletian, whose reforms froze all technological progress--sought ``a par between lands and hands'' with just enough left for the army, navy, and priesthood. This was his ``positive population policy.''

"One Sole Disease"

In the 1740s, Johann Sûssmilch, a Prussian follower of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, appears to have founded the actual science of demographics. He estimated the world population, the ``doubling rate'' of Europe's population since the Golden Renaissance, and made an extraordinary forecast that the human species would in the future reach 7 billion people. By no accident, Sûssmilch started his own work to criticize, and ultimately to ``disprove Petty,'' Derham, and the Royal Society line of ``population scientists.''

But with publication of Giammaria Ortes's 1790 On Population and Malthus's 1798 Essay on Population, the work of Süssmilch and other German Leibnizians ``disappeared,'' eventually becoming almost unknown.

The industrial progress of nations, finally even including Ireland, has completely disproven Petty, the Royal Society, and Malthus. But their evil ``population science'' still proliferates, and still seeks to dictate depopulation to the ``Irelands'' of Asia, Africa, and Ibero-America.

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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.

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