Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Robert W. Reichert


The closing decades of the eighteenth century were marked by considerable interest in population matters particularly in the rapidity with which human populations were increasing and of the economic effects of population increase. Both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson devoted considerable time and thought to such subjects. The demographic event of greatest consequence in this period, however, was the appearance in 1798 of the first edition of the Essay on Population, published anonymously in England by a young clergyman named Thomas Robert Malthus. A substantial revision of the work, tempered down and expanded considerably, followed in 1803 and further editions appeared in 1806, 1807, 1817, and 1826, each in response to criticisms, refutations, and replies. The several editions through which his work went attest to the pointedness of the ideas and the tremendous interest aroused by them . Nevertheless, Malthus did not create an original theory, for some of the doctrines which he promulgated had already been enunciated by other writers, especially during the eighteenth century. "But he elaborated, focused, epitomized, and synthesized these ideas, added features and interpretations of his own, supported his contentions with a vast amount of historical data, and gave them universal application." The basic thesis of his work, that the growth of population tends consistently to outstrip the increase in the means of subsistence, has for decades been a chief bone of contention among those writing and debating upon social and economic questions.