Price, Richard, 1723-1791

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1723-02-23
Death 1791-04-19
Britons
English

Biographical notes:

Richard Price was an English nonconformist minister and writer on morals, politics, and economics.

From the description of Papers, 1767-1790. (American Philosophical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 122488751

British philologist and antiquary.

From the description of Papers, 1753-1791. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 36115923

The son of a harsh Calvinist Congregational minister in the Welsh heartland, Richard Price followed in his father's footsteps in profession only, becoming a leading advocate of a liberal Christianity and a supporter of republican and revolutionary values. Born in 1723 in Glamorgan, Price was educated at a succession of dissenting academies before establishing himself as chaplain to Mr. Streatfield at Stoke Newington and filling in at a variety of dissenting pulpits in the vicinity of London. The door from this seemingly obscure position to greater achievement, however, opened through Price's formidable literary and intellectual skills.

In his first and most widely known work, Review of the Principal Questions in Morals (London, 1758), written the same year that he married Sarah Blundell and settled at Newington Green, Price pitted himself against the moral philosophy of Frances Hutcheson, arguing that morality is intrinsic to human action and that good and evil could be ascertained through reason and individual conscience alone, without the need to posit the existence of a separate moral sense. In later works such as Importance of Christianity (London, 1766), Price built upon this rationalistic moral edifice, rejecting the concepts of original sin and eternal punishment, further distinguishing his thought from orthodoxy. Together with his friend Joseph Priestley, Price became one of the preeminent spokesmen for "rational dissent" in the 1760s and 1770s, and his works found a wide readership. Through his endeavors he became an intimate correspondent of several of the leading intellectual figures in England and America, including David Hume, Benjamin Franklin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and the Earl of Shelburne. In testimony to his stature, Price was admitted to the Royal Society in 1765 and received a doctorate of divinity from Aberdeen in 1767.

Price's reputation was founded not only upon his contributions to moral and religious philosophy, but for his pioneering interest in finance, economy, and insurance. He published an important work on life expectancy in the Philosophical Transactions of 1769, and his pamphlet, "Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the National Debt" (London, 1771) lambasted the growth of the public debt, inducing William Pitt to make serious efforts toward its eradication. Among his other works, Observations on Reversionary Payments (1771) fleshed out a practical system for life-insurance and pensions, and his Essay on the Population of England (1780) was an important effort in its genre.

Politically and religiously, Price was a throughgoing liberal. During the American Revolution, he was one of the most strident and consistent voices in England opposing war against the Americans. His Observations on Civil Liberty and the Justice and Policy of the War with America (London, 1776) sold remarkably well, earning accolades and broadsides intermittently, and for this and the unqualified support he tendered the American cause, Congress invited him to emigrate in 1778 and assume responsibilities for overseeing American finances. Price wisely declined. After the war, his popularity soared on both sides of the Atlantic, but his health soon failed. He lived to see the United States lay the foundation of its political organization with the ratification of the Constitution and to witness the early, optimistic phases of the Revolution in France, a "glorious" one in his eyes, without experiencing either the depths of French Revolutionary violence or the English backlash against political and religious unorthodoxy. A founding member of the Unitarian Society in 1791, Price died on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1791.

From the guide to the Richard Price Papers, 1767-1790, (American Philosophical Society)

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Subjects:

  • Religion
  • Lexington, Battle of, 1775
  • Life expectancy
  • Colonial Politics
  • Howard, John, 1726-1790
  • Slavery
  • Italy--Description and travel--18th century
  • Social conditions, social advocacy, social reform
  • United States--Politics and government, 1783-1788
  • Pensions--Massachusetts
  • African Americans
  • Prisons
  • Great Britain--Politics and government--1760-1789
  • France--History--Revolution, 1789-1799
  • Massachusetts--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
  • Gage, Thomas, 1721-1787
  • Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Religious aspects
  • American Revolution
  • Bunker Hill, Battle of, 1775
  • Ethics--Great Britain--Early works to 1850
  • Abolition, emancipation, freedom
  • American Philosophical Society
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783
  • Harvard College
  • Smith, Adam, 1723-1790
  • Smith, Isaac, 1744-1817
  • Slaves, slavery, slave trade

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)