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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Adam Smith asks a pertinent question of the colonial powers Spain, Portugal, France, and Great Britain concerning the relative freedom experienced in the capital cities versus the often dictatorial powers exercised by their respective armies in the field. His response is that the junior officers are in awe of the sovereign when at home in the capital and the great distance to the colonies means they can act tyrannically because of the lack of adequate legal supervision. The exception is Britain, and to some degree France, in their North American colonies where the rule of law and respect for property rights has been transplanted and thus restrains the actions of the army officers when they are so far away from home.

Other quotes about Colonies, Slavery & Abolition:

19 June, 2006

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Adam Smith notes that colonial governments might exercise relative freedom in the metropolis but impose tyranny in the distant provinces (1776)

Read the full quote in context here.

Adam Smith, In the chapter "Of Colonies" in vol. 2 of The Wealth of Nations (1776), discusses how colonial governments exercise tyranny in the distant provinces but relative freedom in the metropolis:

The sovereign himself can never have either interest or inclination to pervert the order of justice, or to oppress the great body of the people. In the capital his presence overawes more or less all his inferior officers, who in the remoter provinces, from whence the complaints of the people are less likely to reach him, can exercise their tyranny with much more safety.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

The absolute governments of Spain, Portugal, and France, on the contrary, take place in their colonies; and the discretionary powers which such governments commonly delegate to all their inferior officers are, on account of the great distance, naturally exercised there with more than ordinary violence. Under all absolute governments there is more liberty in the capital than in any other part of the country. The sovereign himself can never have either interest or inclination to pervert the order of justice, or to oppress the great body of the people. In the capital his presence overawes more or less all his inferior officers, who in the remoter provinces, from whence the complaints of the people are less likely to reach him, can exercise their tyranny with much more safety. But the European colonies in America are more remote than the most distant provinces of the greatest empires which had ever been known before. The government of the English colonies is perhaps the only one which, since the world began, could give perfect security to the inhabitants of so very distant a province. The administration of the French colonies, however, has always been conducted with more gentleness and moderation than that of the Spanish and Portuguese. This superiority of conduct is suitable both to the character of the French nation, and to what forms the character of every nation, the nature of their government, which though arbitrary and violent in comparison with that of Great Britain, is legal and free in comparison with those of Spain and Portugal.

[More works by Adam Smith (1723 – 1790)]