Wales

Dr Richard Price: The Welshman who influenced US founders

Richard Price; portrait by Benjamin West (1728–1820)
Image caption Richard Price depicted in a portrait by Benjamin West (1728-1820)

Dr Richard Price was born 290 years ago in the farmhouse of Tyn Ton in the village of Llangeinor, just to the north of Bridgend.

Yet this Renaissance scholar of politics, philosophy, mathematics and economics is better remembered on the other side of the Atlantic.

Now the Richard Price Society are hoping to reawaken a pride in the achievements of one of the Garw Valley's most influential - if not famous - sons.

They have launched an exhibition of some of his most seminary works and pictures and according to Swansea University's Professor of History Chris Williams it is a tribute which is well deserved.

"If Richard Price had been born a hundred years later then quite possibly we'd be hailing him as the father of the modern world."

"Though unfortunately he was ahead of his time. His ideas - such as one-person-one-vote and that the government only exists to serve the people - may seem obvious today, but in the 1750s and 1760s, he was the first person to seriously suggest them."

His upbringing was already radical, as he was born the son of a Unitarian preacher who flew in the face of established theological doctrine by believing that God was one entity, rather than the Holy Trinity.

Though for the first half of his life Price was comparatively low-profile and anonymous; working as a minister in the still-technically illegal Unitarian church of Newington Green.

However by the late 1760s his dissertations on economics had won him friends in high society, including Lord Shelburne and William Pitt The Younger.

According to Martyn Hooper, chairman of the Richard Price Society, his theories still provide the backbone to a great deal of today's financial orthodoxy.

Image caption Price influenced the founding fathers of the US, including Benjamin Franklin (left)

"Does the need to reduce the national debt sound familiar? Well it was Richard Price who first warned of the dangers of over-indebting the economy in his 1772 pamphlet, 'Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the National Debt'," he said.

"He also developed a theory of statistical calculation which revealed a serious flaw in the way in which pensions and insurance of the time was calculated and prevented a major financial disaster."

Yet Prof Williams says that no sooner had Price's economic genius taken him to the very heart of London society than his hard line liberal views set him at odds with the establishment once again.

"Price was faithful to his beliefs in egalitarianism, regardless of if that put him at odds with his country," he said.

"His belief in the right of people to govern themselves influenced America's founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

"His work directly contributed to George Washington's assertion that George III's reign over the 13 colonies of America was 'tyrannical, and thus illegitimate'.

"In fact upon the Declaration of Independence Price was made an honorary US citizen and invited to take charge of the new nation's economic policy."

Price died in 1791 in the midst of a controversy surrounding his support for another popular revolution - this time in France.

While he was honoured by both the American Founding Fathers and Napoleon, in Britain he was largely written off as a dissident trouble-maker.

His exhibition in Llangeinor Community Centre officially opened on Saturday - on the 222nd anniversary of his death - by Mayor of Bridgend, Councillor Marlene Thomas.

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