This chapter explores the origin of John Sinclair's political arithmetic of land use to determine the precise measure of marginal soil still available for improvement in the Highlands. The changing scene of conservative reaction among Sinclair's Scottish allies is surveyed, including the activities of the Highland Society of Scotland and the chemical project of Archibald Cochrane, the Earl of Dundonald. This is followed by an examination of Sinclair's agitation in Parliament and the Board of Agriculture. These threads converge into a broader thesis about island consciousness. Sinclair's ambition with his political arithmetic to quantify the environmental limits of the nation preceded the better-known pessimistic political economy of Malthus by several years. Ecological strains multiplied because of the rapid British population growth in the second half of the eighteenth century, but in the nineteenth century, these limits were overcome thanks to the “ghost acres” of the colonies and the transition into a new industrial society based on mineral energy and steam power.
Keywords: political arithmetic, John Sinclair, Highland improvement, Highland Society, Archibald Cochrane, island consciousness, pessimistic political economy, Malthus, ghost acres, new industrial society
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