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There is a riddle in Franklin's treatment of population. He maintained that the tendency of populations to expand until checked by the lack of subsistence was a cause of European miseries, yet be advocated rapid population growth for the American colonies. When his population theory is highlighted, he appears as a Malthusian pessimist; when his population values are highlighted, he appears as an ardent expansionist. The contradictory elements in his writings are brought into accord by viewing them as the response of a generation to the distinctive situation it encountered. Franklin is assessed to be an advocate who shaped population theory to further the policy agenda of mid-eighteenth-century Americans. It is suggested that such a policy influence on theory is not unique to Franklin or his contemporaries.


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Copyright 1991 Wiley and Population Council.

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Population and Development Review

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Hodgson, Dennis. "Benjamin Franklin on population: From policy to theory." Population and Development Review 17, no. 4 (December 1991): 639-661.

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