February 23, 1723 – Birthdate of Richard Price, Would-Be Founding Father

On this day in history, Richard Price was born in Wales. He became a Presbyterian minister in London, and joined the “Society for Constitutional Information,” a British activist group founded in 1780 to promote parliamentary reform. An avid intellectual, he also participated in the informal dining club named by Benjamin Franklin “The Club of Honest Whigs.”

Portrait of Richard Price, 1784

Portrait of Richard Price, 1784

Price achieved fame as an advocate of civil liberties and of the American and French revolutions. In early 1776 he published Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. Sixty thousand copies of this pamphlet were sold within days, and a second cheaper edition sold twice as many copies. Price rapidly became one of the best known men in England, and his name became identified with the cause of American independence.

Price later wrote Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution and The Means of Rendering it a Benefit to the World (1784). Well-received by Americans, it suggested that the greatest problem facing Congress was its lack of central powers.

He was visited and admired by Americans Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and John and Abigail Adams, as well as a number of British politicians including William Pitt the Elder. He also consorted with philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith.

According to Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, who writes about his mathematical prowess in The Theory That Would Not Die (Yale University Press, 2011), the Continental Congress of the United States asked Price to move to America and manage its finances, and Thomas Jefferson asked Price to write to the youth of Virginia about the evils of slavery. An English magazine at the time thought Price would figure in American history as largely as Franklin, Washington, Lafayette, and Thomas Paine.

Alas, Price stayed in England, and is now more remembered for his contribution to Bayes’ Theorem on probability than his relationship with, and influence upon, the American Revolutionaries.

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