Chapter 3b

From Free Cities to Independent Republics

by Adam Smith Icon

The Weakness of the King (Conservatives) Led to the Rise of the Free Traders (Liberals)

9 The kings who hated their barons gave the most liberal grants to their burghs.

For example, King John of England was a most munificent benefactor to his towns.

Philip 1st of France lost all authority over his barons.

  • Louis 6th was the son of Philip 1st

According to Father Daniel, towards the end of the reign of Philip 1st, Louis 6th consulted with the bishops on how to restrain the great lords. They had two proposals=

  1. Create a new order of jurisdiction by establishing magistrates and a town council in every big town in his territory.
  2. Form a new militia made up of the townspeople under the command of their own magistrates, to assist the king.

This period marks the institution of the magistrates and councils of French cities.

During the unprosperous reigns of the princes of the house of Swabia=

  • most of the German free towns received their first privileges, and
  • the famous Hanseatic league first became formidable.

10 The urban militia was not inferior to the rural militia of the great lords.

  • They could be more readily assembled which gave them an advantage over the militia of the lords.

In countries where the sovereign lost his whole authority, such as in Italy and Switzerland, the cities became independent republics.

The sovereign there lost his authority due to=

  • the distance of the cities from the seat of government,
  • the natural strength of the country itself, or
  • some other reason.

Those cities conquered all the nobility in their neighbourhood. They obliged the nobility to pull down their castles and live in the city.

This is how the republic of Berne and other Swiss cities came to be.

  • Except for Venice, this is also how all the considerable Italian republics were formed*.
  • So many Italian republics arose and perished between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 16th century.

*Translator’s note= This is similar to how the Roman Empire collapsed under the competition of the Germanic tribes

The Origin of Representation in Parliaments

11 In countries where the sovereign’s authority was never destroyed, such as in France or England, the cities had no opportunity to become independent.

However, they became so big that the sovereign could not impose taxes besides the stated tax-farm, without their own consent. They were instead called on to send deputies to the general assembly. Those deputies=

  • joined the clergy and the barons to grant extraordinary aid to the king on urgent occasions
  • were employed by the king as a counter-balance to the great lords in those assemblies.

This is the origin of the burgh representation in all the great European monarchies.

Urban Development Outpaced Rural Development

12 In this way, order, good government, liberty, and security were established in cities when the countryside was still exposed to violence.

The rural areas fell to poverty in order not to tempt their feudal oppressors.

On the contrary, the men in the cities were secure and were able to better their condition and acquire life’s conveniences and elegancies. This led to urban industry long before the development of rural industry.

A poor cultivator, oppressed with serfdom, will hide his little stock from his master.

  • He would run away to a town at the first opportunity.
  • Back then, the law was so indulgent to townspeople in order to reduce the lords’ authority in the countryside.
    • If a poor cultivator could conceal himself in a town from his lord for a year, he was free forever.

Thus, the stock accumulated by the industrious of the countryside naturally took refuge in cities.

The Development of Foreign Commerce

13 City-people ultimately derive their subsistence and raw materials from the countryside.

The subsistence and materials of a coastal city or one near a navigable river can be sourced from anywhere in the world in exchange for its manufactured produce.

  • City-people can be the carriers between distant countries and exchange their produce.
  • In this way, a city, no matter how poor, can become wealthy
  • Its trading partners individually might be able to afford only a small part of its products. But all of them taken together could afford much more.

Within the narrow circle of commerce of the past, some countries became opulent and industrious. Examples were=

  • the Greek empire,
  • the Arabs during the Abassid Caliphate,
  • Egypt before it was conquered by the Turks,
  • some parts of the North African coast, and
  • Spain under the Moors.

The Public Spending for the Crusades Boosted the Private Profits of the Italian Cities

14 The Italian cities were the first in Europe raised by commerce to opulence. Back then, Italy was in the centre of the civilized world.

The Crusades too, were extremely favourable to some Italian cities, even if they retarded the progress of the rest of Europe by their death and great waste of stock.

  • Their armies gave extraordinary encouragement to the shipping of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.
  • Italian shipping transported and supplied them.
    • They were the commissaries of those armies.

Thus, the most destructive frenzy in Europe was a source of opulence to those republics.

15 The people of trading cities afforded some food to the vanity of the great proprietors by importing the improved manufactures and luxuries of richer countries.

The proprietors eagerly bought them with much of their rude produce.

European commerce back then consisted chiefly in the exchange of their own rude produce for the manufactures of more civilized nations.

  • English wool was exchanged for French wines and the fine cloths of Belgium.
  • Polish wheat is currently exchanged for French wines and brandies and the silks and velvets of France and Italy.