Adam, Eve, and Early America: Population Theories before Thomas Robert Malthus
James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, Harvard University
Even as “Malthusianism” is today thought of overwhelmingly in relation to the developing, extra-European world, Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population_ (first published in 1798) has been overwhelmingly explicated within a European if not British context. But it was the new world, not the old, which fundamentally shaped Malthus’s central claim,that population always existed within natural limits. New world land and new world peoples, both native and colonial, and whether assumed to be Edenic or else Satanic, would be the key examples for Malthus’s thesis about population, life, and death, which drew on several earlier centuries of theorization about these problems.