Richard Price lived in an age of revolutions. Two of the greatest occasions in the political history of the world occured during his lifetime – the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
Price’s political theory
At a time when the British Monarchy was establishing itself as the cornerstone of the emerging and dynamic British Constitution, and all British subjects, including those in the North American Colonies, were subjects of the Crown, Price provided the theoretical foundation to justify, and even advocate, the actions of the colonists in severing their ties with Britain. This was a very dangerous thing to do – he was after all lending support to those who were seen by most people as treacherous. However, although he was heavily criticised and was, at one time, fearful of his life, Price resolutely supported the colonists believing that their cause was justified and that the British Government, and the King no less, were guilty of denying these British subjects any political rights to fair representation. In short, he was brandishing the King and his Government as Tyrants.
Price made great friends with Benjamin Franklin and the future President John Adams and was awarded one of the first honorary degrees by Yale University. He was invited to become a citizen of the new United States and to take charge of the fledgeling country’s finances. He declined due to his advancing age but continued to be revered in the new democracy that he did so much to support.
Similarly, thirteen years later when the French peasantry revolted against the French monarchy and aristocracy Price once more offered his political and moral support to the repressed citizens of the French political system. Just like the Americans in the previous decade, he believed that the revolutionaries may have been poorly armed and desperately hungry, but they carried with them a justification for their action that was based on morality and ethics which can be traced in Price’s early theological writings.
If there is such a thing as a ‘good’ revolution then both the American and French revolutions were just that. Thankfully Price didn’t live to see the French model descend into the tyranny which would have had a profound effect on him.
And what of today’s political troublespots? Well, it is highly likely that Price would have justified and supported the Arab Spring although whether he would have lent his support to the second gulf war and the Afghan conflict is something that is still the subject of debate.