“Make way! Make way for the good Dr. Price!”
This is reportedly the familiar cry of farmers and tradesman that would greet Richard Price every morning as he would pass by their stalls at the marketplace. Today, there are PhDs in American history who have never heard of this man once known as the “Torchbearer of Liberty.”
There are scores of books published every year about the various men and movements that influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States, but there are few that even mention the celebrated Richard Price. This article is going to change that.
Richard Price is a name that every American who loves liberty and wants to more fully understand the true value of “so celestial an article as freedom” should know and whose words should be taught to every child in every home in the country whose liberty Dr. Price praised so fully and so frequently.
Among our Founding Fathers, not only was the name of Richard Price known very well, but many of the leading lights of that noble generation knew him personally, eating dinner with him, listening to him deliver fiery sermons in support of human freedom, and carrying on years of correspondence with him. If for no other reason, our Founders’ immense respect and innumerable references to him make Richard Price worthy of our interest.
Born in Tynton, Wales in 1723 in a farmhouse that was home to his ancestors for over 200 years by the time he was born, Richard Price was raised in a family of devout faith who were members of a denomination of Christianity known in history as “Dissenters.”
Dissenters were those who did not agree with the direction being taken by the Anglican Church when it was restored as the established church by Charles II. Many members of the Church of England, in fact, fled from their mother church and met together in defiance of the dictates of the political powers of the day.
In a book describing the atmosphere that dominated Great Britain in those days, G.M. Trevelyan wrote that the Puritans and other Dissenters developed a “political tradition…of vigilant criticism of protest towards the powers that rule society and the State.”
During the reign of Charles II, Dissenters — including the Puritans, the Presbyterians, and others — were oppressed by laws passed by Parliament for that very purpose: denying Dissenters their religious liberty.
Richard Price’s parents were Dissenters who attended the congregation created by Reverend Samuel Jones in Glamorganishire, Wales and Richard was raised in a home where protest against any power that limited liberty was a family tradition.
Reverend Jones and his parishioners, including the Price family, often met in a barn, being prohibited by Parliament from publicly meeting. While the laws restricting the activity of the Dissenters were sometimes not enforced strictly, at other times they were enforced with ferocity, which ferocity once saw Samuel Jones imprisoned for a short time.
This suffering for the sake of the right to worship according to one’s own conscience was a condition that would make a deep impression on the young mind of Richard Price and would set the course of his life.
That attitude was cultivated and encouraged during his years studying at a school ran by a man named Samuel Jones, however this was not the same Samuel Jones who was the pastor of his family’s church. This Samuel Jones, was, though, a fellow Dissenter.
When he was twelve, Richard’s father Rees Price enrolled his son in Jones’s school, seeking a tutor for his son that would give him more than an ordinary education. Samuel Jones was an able teacher and one that exposed to his students scholarship that would have been ignored, had it not been for Jones’s zeal for teaching his young scholars to be free-thinking, farsighted, and tenaciously true to the cause of religious liberty. This was the fountain from which the young Richard Price would drink deeply.
Richard’s father died suddenly when Richard was only sixteen, forcing the young man and his two sisters to move from the family’s ancestral estate and into a small house some forty miles away. The death of her husband caused Mrs. Price’s own health to deteriorate and she died less than one year later.
So, at 17 years-old Richard Price was an orphan. Although yet young, Richard was determined to not allow the tragedy of his parents’ untimely deaths to determine the trajectory of his life. Accordingly, Richard set out for London and the home of his uncle, Samuel Price, a preacher of some note among the nonconformists.
While in the home of his uncle, Richard marinated in the teaching of his uncle and he enrolled in Coward’s Academy where his uncle was a professor. In order to be admitted to the Coward school, applicants were required to pass difficult entrance tests and deliver a sermon in front of the academy’s faculty and administration.
Richard Price not only passed this battery of examinations and discourses, but he was such a studious young man that he developed jaundice attributed to “fatigue from his arduous studies.”
When surveying the lives of our own Founding Fathers and the men that formed their thinking, you come to find that with few exceptions all of them clung tenaciously to the concept that wisdom was acquired by sincere study and genuine faith in God. Richard Price was such a man. He was not afraid of the heavy lifting required of those who would be leaders, whether in the 18th Century or the 21st Century.
During his four years at Coward’s Academy, Richard studied Hebrew, Greek, Latin, philosophy, divinity, theology, the history of the Holy Land, algebra, trigonometry, physics, oration, logic, and “pastoral care,” the art and science of being a minister of the gospel.
These are the very subjects that were studied by our Founding Fathers during their own education and it would seem that anyone who wants to be a man of their mental power would do more than give lip service to such studies.
After graduating from Coward’s Academy Richard Price entered the world where those of his religious beliefs were still subject to widespread prejudice. This challenge sculpted men of Richard’s mien and, as Trevelyan wrote, they were shaped into “a large body of the most conscientious and enthusiastic men [who] became political critics and social reformers by profession.” They were leaders of the liberty movement because “their own wrongs sharpened their sensibility to the wrongs of others, and their own position never permitted them to fall into the sleep of those to whom the world is an easy bed.”
Are you starting to see the picture? Are you starting to appreciate why Richard Price was so influential on our Founding Fathers? Are you starting to sense why tyrants of any era would want to keep kids from learning about him and from reading the powerful words he wrote defending freedom and condemning despots?
There’s no doubt that those devoted to restoring liberty to our people and protecting the free exercise of religion would be better prepared for such an endeavor by reading some of the sermons delivered by the Reverend Richard Price that prove that he was a flamethrower of freedom! Before we get into some of those sermons, let’s look at how he came to call so many Founding Fathers his friend.
By the time he was 40 years-old, Richard Price had written a shelf-full of books on several subjects and a variety of religious tracts taking to task the established church and the politicians that propped it up. By 1767, Richard Price’s reputation as a staunch supporter of liberty and talented writer had drawn many famous men into the orbit of his friendship, including David Hume, Lord Shelburne (the prime minister of England), and Benjamin Franklin.
Respect spread rapidly for Richard Price all over the island of Great Britain, across the English Cannel to continental Europe, and across the Atlantic Ocean to America. Believe it or not, Richard’s rise to worldwide fame began after he published a book about how to determine a person’s expected lifespan and how to handle life insurance costs based on those calculations. His work in this area was so well regarded that many American leaders pointed to Price’s work as the best way for a country “to avoid sinking under a weight of debt.”
That statement alone should be enough to convince parents and professors in a country that’s currently over $20 trillion in debt to teach children and students about Richard Price!
In fact, American political leaders were so grateful to the good work of Richard Price that on October 6, 1778, the Second Continental Congress passed the following resolution:
RESOLVED, that the Honorable Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, and John Adams, Esqrs., or any of them, be ordered forthwith to apply to Dr. Price, and inform him that it is the desire of Congress to consider him as a citizen of the United States and to receive his assistance in regulating their finances; that if he shall think it expedient to remove with his family to America and afford such assistance, a generous provision shall be made for requiting his services.
The resolution, offered by Henry Laurens of South Carolina, passed 6 to 3, with three states whose delegations were split.
Richard Price declined the offer, but wrote that he hoped that “British America may preserve its liberty, set an example of moderation and magnanimity, and establish such forms of government, as may render it an asylum for the virtuous and oppressed in other countries.” (Emphasis in original)
In a separate letter sent to his friend Benjamin Franklin, Price asked that Franklin inform Congress “that Dr. Price feels the warmest gratitude for the notice taken of him, and that he looks to the American States as now the hope and likely soon to become the refuge of mankind.” (Emphasis in original)
When the war between England and America started a couple of years earlier, Richard Price supported the states in their battle to defeat the forces of despotism. As the war continued and the breach between the colonies and their mother country became irreparable, Price clearly communicated his advocacy for the Americans.
Richard Price was such a strident proponent of American independence, in fact, that Congress hired him as a spy and he began sending secrets to the representatives of the states. The intelligence gathered by Price never made much of a difference in the Wagin of the war, but his pen certainly did.
First, in February 1776, Price wrote a pamphlet called “Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America,” setting out his positions on the importance not only of political liberty in general, but on the success of the American struggle to restore that very condition to their country.
In the preface to the fifth edition of the work published one month after it first appeared, Price summarized his purpose in penning this pamphlet, courageously calling out the British government for fomenting the war by denying Americans of the freedom they enjoyed as an endowment from God, not from government:
The principles on which I have argued form the foundation of every State as far as it is free, and are the same with those taught by Mr. Locke, and all the writers on Civil Liberty who have been hitherto most admired in this country. But I find, with concern, that they are not approved by our Governors; and that they chuse to decline trying by them their present measures: For, in a pamphlet which has been circulated by government with great industry; these principles are pronounced to be “unnatural and wild, incompatible with practice; and the offspring of the distempered imagination of a man who is byassed by Party, and who writes to deceive.”
I must take this opportunity to add, that I love quiet too well to think of entering into a controversy with any writers; particularly, nameless ones—Conscious of good intentions, and unconnected with any Party, I have endeavoured to plead the cause of General Liberty and Justice; and happy in knowing this, I shall, in silence, commit myself to that candour of the Public of which I have had so much experience.
Later in the paper, Price puts a fine point on the problem, warning his own countrymen that if they love liberty, then they just support the cause of the colonies or their own freedom would be forfeited:
OUR Colonies in North America appear to be now determined to risk and suffer every thing, under the persuasion, that Great Britain is attempting to rob them of that Liberty to which every member of society, and all civil communities, have a natural and unalienable right. The question, therefore, whether this is a reasonable persuasion, is highly interesting, and deserves the most careful attention of every Englishman who values Liberty, and wishes to avoid staining himself with the guilt of invading it.
The case for considering Richard Price a starting player on the varsity squad of men who molded the minds of our Founding Fathers shouldn’t need much more evidence. For those who remain unpersuaded, there’s a more to come.
Writing of the freedom to worship, Price wrote that, “He likewise who, in religion, cannot govern himself by his convictions of religious duty, but is obliged to receive formularies of faith, and to practise modes of worship imposed upon him by others, wants Religious Liberty.”
Using Price’s definition of religious liberty, would a time traveler to the United States of 2019 believe that we enjoyed the right of unregulated religious practice?
In a final selection from “Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America,” Richard Price puts himself in the company of such renowned republicans as John Locke and Algernon Sidney:
FROM what has been said it is obvious, that all civil government, as far as it can be denominated free, is the creature of the people. It originates with them. It is conducted under their direction; and has in view nothing but their happiness. All its different forms are no more than so many different modes in which they chuse to direct their affairs, and to secure the quiet enjoyment of their rights.—In every free state every man is his own Legislator.—All taxes are free-gifts for public services.—All laws are particular provisions or regulations established by common consent for gaining protection and safety.—And all Magistrates are Trustees or Deputies for carrying these regulations into execution.
Liberty, therefore, is too imperfectly defined when it is said to be “a Government by Laws, and not by Men.” If the laws are made by one man, or a junto of men in a state, and not by common consent, a government by them does not differ from Slavery. In this case it would be a contradiction in terms to say that the state governs itself.
Again, would someone who’s a stranger to our world and our country read this description of liberty and judge the United States to be a free country? Would he think that Americans were self-governing?
Finally, in this time when political turmoil too often turns into partisan terrorism, Richard Price has a sermon that could set us straight.
On November 4, 1789 Richard Price delivered a discourse celebrating the centennial of the Glorious Revolution of Great Britain that should be required reading for every American who wants to make a difference on the direction our country is heading and on the people who we put in political office and the power they’re able to exert on the liberty that we once recognized as being composed of rights with which we were “endowed by our Creator,” but today is being converted by Congress, the courts, and the president into permission they can give and take away at their will.
We know better. Richard Price knew better.
So, for us, in these days of deep political and moral division, here’s a couple words of counsel from Richard Price’s 1789 sermon entitled “A Discourse on the Love of Our Country”:
The love of our country has in all times been a subject of warm commendations; and it is certainly a noble passion; but, like all other passions, it requires regulation and direction. There are mistakes and prejudices by which, in this instance, we are in particular danger of being misled.—I will briefly mention some of these to you, and observe,
First, That by our country is meant, in this case, not the soil or the spot of earth on which we happen to have been born; not the forests and fields, but that community of which we are members; or that body of companions and friends and kindred who are associated with us under the same constitution of government, protected by the same laws, and bound together by the same civil polity.
In other families there may be as much worth as in our own. In other circles of friends there may be as much wisdom; and in other countries as much of all that deserves esteem; but, notwithstanding this, our obligation to love our own families, friends, and country, and to seek, in the first place, their good, will remain the same.
Do yourselves a solid and go read Richard Price for yourselves. All of his most influential works are available free online.
Maybe, if enough of remember this forgotten influence on the Founding Fathers, we can develop the same unshakeable love of liberty that our ancestors had and maybe we can come to truly find the good and the commendable in other countries and other parties, realizing that such wisdom does not require us to reduce in any amount whatsoever the love of what is our own.