David Hume and American Libertyrnbyrn” T l-laSpVwrli^^HrnMCBK /^^W^BrnH^^B^'”^’^^^^!rn^^Hi-‘^ ”^^1rn^^^Br^ ‘rf-‘^V Bfc^rnWmW^’^rnDon Livingstonrn^ r i / /rn^•f V^rn^ frn• urnK^iSrn^^^^^mff ^rnvr-T’: r^^^AflB^ ‘^V’Vrn^^oA^^fc^vrnA^iraK’a^^’Vrn f ^ BrnivlrnDavid Hume’s History of England was one of the most successfulrnliterary productions of the 18th century. It becamerna classic in his lifetime and was published continuouslyrndown to 1894, passing through at least 167 posthumous editions.rnThe young Winston Churchill learned English historyrnfrom an abridged edition known as “The Student’s Hume.”rnYet in the early 19th century, Thomas Jefferson made efforts tornban it from the University of Virginia and to replace it with JohnrnBaxter’s expurgated version of the work—what Jefferson calledrn”Hume’s history republicanized.” “This single book,” he toldrnJohn Adams in 1816, “has done more to sap the free principlesrnof the English Constitution than the largest standing army.”rnWhat Jefferson found intolerable was Hume’s subversion ofrnthe theory that English liberty is the preservation of an ancientrnconstitution and his argument that the doctrine of naturalrnrights is a philosophical fiction that distorts and subverts politicalrnorder.rnWhat Jefferson did not and could not have known (becausernhe did not have the letters Hume wrote from 1765 until hisrndeath on August 25, 1776) is that Hume was an ardent supporterrnof American independence. He took this radical positionrnas early as 1768, before the idea of a complete break hadrnoccurred to most Americans, including Jefferson. And h,irncame to this conclusion without invoking the philosophicalrnsuperstition of natural rights or the self-congratulatoryrnwhiggish narrative of ancient constitutionalism.rnHume’s radical position on American independencernshocked his friends. The Edinburgh literati were solidly progovernment.rnEven the “friends of America,” Burke, Wilkes,rnBarrc, Shelburne, Eox, Dartmouth, and Pitt, though sympatheticrntoward American claims, sought to keep the Americansrnwithin the British state. On the issue of American independencernHume stood quite alone among the major Britishrnthinkers. In agony, Hume refused his old friend Baron Mure’srnrequest to write a letter on behalf of the county of Renfrewshirernadvising the King to take strong measures against the Americans.rn”Besides,” Hume informed him in October 1775, “I amrnan American in my principles, and wish wc would let themrnalone to govern or misgovern themselves as they think proper.”rnDon Livingston is a professor of philosophy at Emory University.rnWhat is surprising about Hume’s position is that it seems inconsistentrnwith his strong opposition to the republican “Wilkesrnand Liberty” movement that racked England off and on fromrn1763 to 1772. John Wilkes, an engaging libertine and protegernof William Pitt, was convicted of seditious libel in 1763 for satirizingrnthe King’s too early conclusion of Pitt’s Seven Years’ Warrnwith Erance. He fled the country and was declared an outlaw.rnReturning in 1768, he boldly stood for Parliament from therncounty of Middlesex in the environs of London, and turnedrnhimself in. He won the election, but it was not recognized byrnParliament. Though in prison, Wilkes was elected three morerntimes and expelled three times. He played to the mob, and itrnseemed to Hume and others that the government, alreadyrnweak, was in danger of collapsing.rnBehind the farce of elections, riots, and demagoguery wererntwo issues of civil liberty that gave the cry of “Wilkes and Liberty”rnsome plausibility: the government’s right to issue “generalrnwarrants” (warrants against unnamed persons) and the rightsrnof electors to send their own representatives to Parliament.rnThese were issues of “English liberties” with which therncolonists were readily sympathetic. “The Sons of Liberty” atrnthe Whig Tavern in Boston, which included John Adams, sentrngifts to Wilkes, and one of their members, William Palfrey,rnwrote in 1769 that “the fate of Wilkes and America must standrnor fall together.” Counties and towns in the colonies werernnamed after Wilkes. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was namedrnafter him and Isaac Barre (another “friend of America” and,rnincidentally, a friend of Hume). The colony of South Carolinarnvoted £1,2()0 to help with Wilkes’ legal expenses.rnThe apparent inconsistency in both supporting Americanrnindependence and rejecting “Wilkes and Liberty” was wellrnconveyed by Hume’s biographer J.Y.T. Greig: “How could thernsame man, and at the same time, be both Edmund Burke andrnGeorge III? How could he defend the Colonists in NorthrnAmerica for their resistance to the arbitrary power of King, ministers,rnand venal House of Commons, and yet attack the OldrnWhigs, the Patriots, the Wilkites, and democratic radicals ofrnevery sort for trying to resist the same agencies at home?”rnHume’s position, however, was not inconsistent but was the resultrnof a coherent philosophical and historical account, gainedrnover a lifetime, of the emerging ideal of liberty in European civ-rn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn