§ Mr. Brougham
rose and said:
Sir;—when I consider, that the period of the session is well nigh passed in which it has been the custom of this House, at periods of great public distress, to inquire into the state of the nation, and yet that nothing has been done to bring the subject before us, or to testify, on our part, a becoming anxiety concerning the sufferings of the people, I feel myself supported by this reflection under the magnitude of the vast question, which I have presumed to handle. We have, in truth, allowed 1005 the accustomed season of investigation to elapse, without doing any thing except what, with all possible respect for the proceedings of parliament, I conceive to have been beginning at the wrong end. Mistaking the symptom for the malady, we have attempted to stifle the cries of the people in their extreme distress, instead of seeking the cause of their sufferings, and endeavouring to apply a cure. I am, indeed, aware, that there are many, who differ with me upon this subject; who deemed the late measures of legislation salutary and wise. But whatever variety of opinion might exist upon their merits, I may now appeal to all who hear me, to those who joined me in deprecating and resisting the suspension of the constitution, and to those who viewed this frightful step as justified by the necessities of the times, and call upon all parties alike to say, whether the moment is not at length come, when it behoves us to mount from the effect to the cause of the mischief; and, having done so much to preserve the public peace, whether it is not our duty to search for the means of alleviating the general misery by which alone that peace has been endangered. My very sincere anxiety to give the parliament an opportunity of discharging this duty has made me bold to bring forward the present question; too late, I admit, for attaining all the objects that might once have been within our reach; but early enough, I would fain hope, to effect some good purposes.
I am aware, that there is nothing so injudicious as to begin a discussion like this by hazarding any large and sanguine predictions of its probable result. Nevertheless, I will venture to say, that whatever difference of opinion may exist upon particular topics, a considerable majority of the House will agree in holding, that the period is now arrived, when, the war being closed, and prodigious changes having taken place almost all over the world, it becomes absolutely necessary to enter upon a careful but fearless revision of our whole commercial system, that we may be enabled safely, yet promptly, to eradicate those vices which the lapse of time has occasioned or displayed; to retrace our steps, where we shall find that they have deviated from the line of true policy; to adjust and accommodate our laws to the alteration of circumstances; to abandon many prejudices, alike antiquated and senseless, unsuited to the advanced age in 1006 which we live, and unworthy of the sound judgment of the nation.
I shall begin, Sir, by entering upon the fundamental branch of the inquiry, which I am solicitous the House should institute; I mean the present aspect of our affairs. Every one is aware, that there exists in the country a great and universal distress; a distress wholly without parallel in any former period of its history. This, indeed, is unhappily matter of so much notoriety, that I should hardly think it required any particular proof or illustration, were it not that, according to my view of the subject, the extent to which the evil has spread, and the peculiar shapes which it has assumed, must be examined before we can probe its sources or find a remedy. The House will speedily perceive in what way this examination of the fact conduces to the object we all have in view; and will, I am persuaded, give me credit, in the mean time, for not leading them into superflurous details.
To demonstrate the general proposition, indeed, I might bid you cast your eyes upon the petitions that load the table, from all parts of the empire, from every description of its inhabitants, from numbers infinitely exceeding those that ever before approached us in the language of complaint. It is in vain to remind us of the manner in which some of them have been prepared for signature. Does any man believe, that a treasury manufactory of petitions, distributing the article through the country with all the influence of government, could procure one column of names to a statement of national prosperity, or a prayer for liberal taxation 1 Nor does the ineptness of the remedies, which many of the petitioners suggest, impeach the correctness of their tale of distress: they may be very incapable of devising the means of relief; they are abundantly qualified to give evidence of the grievance.
I might next appeal to the returns from the Custom-house, to show the declension of trade. I am aware, that these documents give no information respecting the internal commerce of the country, by far its most important branch; and that, even with respect to foreign traffic, nothing can be more fallacious than arguments wholly drawn from such sources. When taken, however, in conjunction with other evidence, they are not altogether to be disregarded. Now it is shown, by a comparison of the years 1815 and 1816, that there was a falling off, in the shipping em- 1007 ployed during the latter year, of 826,000 tons, or nearly 5,000 vessels. This fact is the more remarkable, that we were at war during a quarter of 1815, whereas 1816 was the first whole year of peace. These returns speak of the tonnage outwards and inwards; but they tell nothing of the difference between the exports and imports of either year. I will venture to assert, that a much more considerable defalcation will be found in the importation of last year than the mere falling off in the tonnage indicates. I am well aware, that many millions of goods have been sent abroad, for which no returns have been received, and which never will produce sixpence to the exporters. Upon this point no Custom-house papers can give any information. They cannot show what proportion of the cargoes shipped have found a market; what parts have been sold under prime cost; what parts remain upon hand unsaleable at any price; and what parts of the goods imported are in a similar situation.
We have known former times of great national suffering; most of us are old enough to remember more than one period of severe public calamity: but no man can find an example of any thing like the present. In 1800 there was a scarcity, much greater than is now felt, but no distress ensued beyond the reach of private charity: and the affliction ended with the bad season; for, though provisions were dear, work was abundant, and the bulk of the poor were enabled to sustain the pressure of the evil. In 1812 there was a much greater distress; the dearth was less, indeed, but the rate of wages was far lower. The House well remembers the painful inquiries in which it was then my fortune to bear a considerable part. We were accustomed to describe the circumstances in which we found the manufacturing population of the country as wretched beyond all former example; and the expression was strictly justified by the fact. Yet, compared with the wide spread misery under which the same classes now labour, the year 1812 rises into a period of actual prosperity. It will be necessary for me, and I hope the House will grant me their indulgence, to go shortly into some particulars touching the great staple manufactures of the kingdom, in order to show how unparalleled in its amount, and how various in its kinds, the distress is, which now every where prevails.
I shall begin with the clothing; a branch‡1008 of trade, which, from accidental circumstances, is not so depressed as our other great staples; and for this, among other reasons, that the foreign markets do not happen to be overstocked with this manufacture, while some considerable foreign government contracts have given great aasistance to several of the clothing districts. I hold in my hand the result of statements, which I have received from the principal clothing countries of Yorkshire—Leeds, Huddersfield, Wakefield, and Halifax. Taking the number of men engaged in the branch which suffers most, the cloth dressing, at 3,360 in August last, there were then 927 in full, 1,385 in partial employment, and 1,048 wholly out of work. Calculating upon the same number, there are now only 757 in full, and 1,439 in partial work; while 1,164are entirely idle. That is to say, a third of the whole are idle; and of those who have any work, only one third, that is, two-ninths of the whole, or two men in nine, have full employment. The distress of the other clothiers in this county is far from being so considerable; but in the west of England I am informed, by the most unexceptionable evidence, that it exceeds any thing which can easily be conceived.
If we now carry our view towards the iron trade, a most gloomy picture is presented; and I may take the state of Birmingham as a fair symptom of this commerce in general, intimately connected as that great town is with the neighbouring counties in all the branches of their industry and commerce. In a population of 84,000 souls, about 27,500 receive parish relief. Of the work people, one third are wholly out of employ, and the rest are at half work. The poor-rates have risen to between fifty and sixty thousand pounds a year, a sum exceeding, as 1 am informed, what the inhabitants paid to the income tax. In 1812, when the House was so greatly touched by the state of this place, only a ninth part of the population were paupers, and the rates did not exceed 27,000l., yet we then thought the public distresses had reached their utmost pitch.
The people engaged in the iron trade may be divided into four great classes, with reference to my present purpose; the miners, and others employed in obtaining the raw material; the persons employed in manufacturing arms; the nailers; and the common artificers. The first of these classes, who in 1810 received from 18s. 1009 upwards as far as two guineas a week, get now from 10s. to 18s.; the second who received still higher, I might say even exorbitant wages, from the demand occasioned by the war, now get only 7s. 6d., when they are employed at all: the nailers, who are better off than most classes, yet earn no more than 8s. or 9s. instead of 12s. or 15s.; while the common artificers are working at a shilling a day. But in all these classes the women and children, who used to earn so much as nearly to double the gains of the able workmen, are now wholly unemployed. Sir, I do not wish to mingle any allusions of a political nature with the description of these sad scenes; but I feel it due to the character and the sufferings of those unhappy persons to assert (and I do so upon the authority of men who differ with me in political sentiments), that a more loyal, peaceful, tranquil set of people are not to be found within the limits of his majesty's dominions.
It is truly painful to think, that, severe as the distress is in those parts of the country, which I have been describing, a yet more melancholy picture presents itself when we turn to the great staple of the country, the cotton manufacture. This, as the House is well aware, consists of two branches, the spinning and weaving; but, from the introduction of machinery, the numbers employed in weaving are beyond all comparison greater than those employed in spinning. In Lancashire alone, and the borders of the adjoining counties, there are above half a million of persons who derive their support from the former. Taking the average gains of a thousand weavers, of all ages and classes, their rate of wages was 13s. 3d. a week in May 1800. In 1802 the same persons received the still higher sum of 13s. 10d. In 1806 it had fallen to 10s. 6d.; and in 1808, after it had pleased the wisdom of government to "retaliate," as they phrased it, "upon the enemy the evils of his own injustice," and to inflict upon ourselves (as the event proved to such as had not the sense to perceive it) the evils of our own impolicy—when we had succeeded in quarrelling with our best customers—those wages fell as low as 6s. 7d. In 1812, when the whole virtues of our system had been called into action, and had bestowed the full measure of its beneficence upon our trade, the wages fell to 6s. 4d. In 1816, the third year of peace, and while we were slowly moving through that transition of which 1010 we have heard (though it seems something of rather a permanent than a passing nature), wages were as low as 5s. 2d. This was in the month of May; and in January last they had reached the fearful point of depression at which they now stand, of 4s. 3½d.; from which, when the usual expenses paid by the work people for the loom are deducted, there remains no more than 3s. 3d. to support human life for seven days. By another calculation it appears, that 437 persons have to provide for themselves and as many more out of 5s. a week; making, for the whole subsistence and expenditure of each individual, less than 4½d. a day.
When I paused over this scene of misery, unequalled in the history of civilized times, I felt naturally impelled to demand, how it was possible to sustain existence in such circumstances, and whether it were not practicable to administer charitable aid? To the first question I received for answer the painful intelligence, that those miserable beings could barely purchase, with their hard and scanty earnings, half a pound of oatmeal daily, which, mixed with a little salt and water, constituted their whole food. My other inquiry had been anticipated by that well known spirit of kindness, not more humane than politic, by which the demeanour of the master manufacturers in this country has ever been regulated towards their workmen in. the seasons of their common distress. Projects for affording them relief had been canvassed; but it was found, that to distribute only a slender increase of nourishment, an addition of a little milk, or beer, or a morsel of meat, to the oatmeal and water, no less a sum than 20,000l. a week was required, and at a time when the masters were hardly receiving any profits from their trade. To talk of charity, then, is entirely out of the question; the case lies far beyond the reach of private beneficence; and, if it admits of a remedy at all, must look to other sources of relief.
Now what is the consequence of all this, and whither does it inevitably lead? These wretched creatures are compelled first to part for their sustenance with all their trifling property, piecemeal, from the little furniture of their cottages to the very bedding and clothes that used to cover them from the weather. They struggle on with hunger, and go to sleep at night-fall, upon the calculation, that, if they worked an hour or two later, they might indeed earn three halfpence more, one of which 1011 must be paid for a candle, but then the clear gain of a penny would be too dearly bought, and leave them less able to work the next day. To such a frightful nicety of reckoning are human beings reduced, treating themselves like mere machines, and balancing the produce against the tear and wear, so as to obtain the maximum that their physical powers can be made to yield! At length, however, they must succumb; the workhouse closes their dismal prospect; or, with a reluctance that makes their lot a thousand times more pitiable, they submit to take parish relief; and, to sustain life, part with the independent spirit, the best birthright of an English peasant.
If from these details we ascend to considerations of a more general nature, and observe certain symptoms, which, though less striking in themselves, are perhaps the safest guides in such an inquiry, we shall find, that nothing is happening around us on any side, which is not indicated by these signs of the times. The first of the symptoms to which I shall refer is the great diminution that has taken place in the consumption of luxuries all over the country. This is attested by the undeniable fact, that there has been a material and increasing defalcation in the produce of the customs and excise, especially of the latter, during the last twelve months. It is well known, too, that those districts suffered first, and most severely, which depended upon the manufacture of luxurious articles. Every one is familiar with the case of Spitalfields. The poor of that neighbourhood, after having exhausted the whole rates, have received from voluntary contributions, reflecting the highest honour upon the charitable and liberal character of the metropolis at large, sums, which, added to the rates, exceed the whole income of the parish at rack rent. In like manner the levies of Coventry and its neighbourhood have increased beyond all former example. It appeared, when the petition from thence was presented, that one estate of 200 acres paid 400l. in rates. A singular instance, illustrative of the same position, with respect to the county generally, was stated by my hon. friend the member for that city (Mr. P. Moore), and, through his courtesy, I have this evening seen a more minute account of it than he then gave. A person belonging to the place has been accustomed for many years to travel over a great part of England, selling watches. 1012 He visits, in his circuits, 283 cities and towns, and he used commonly to dispose of about 600 watches. Last year, making precisely the same round as usual, he only found purchasers for 43. Perhaps, when we consider the variety of classes who use watches, and the extent of the space over which this diminution operated, it would be difficult to imagine a stronger symptom of the decrease in demand for luxuries. The watch trade in London has suffered in an equal degree. The statements recently published show, that there are now 3,000 journeymen out of employment; that those who are in work have been earning for the last three months one fourth of their usual gains; and during the last month only one sixth; while their property has been pledged to the amount of 1,600l. in three quarters of a year. If I am not misinformed, other trades in the metropolis suffer in a like proportion. It is said that 2,000 of the 18,000 journeymen taylors in Westminster are wholly destitute of work.
I take the great discontent excited throughout the country by the introduction of new machinery to be another symptom, and a most unerring one, of the present distress. Formerly, when the invention of any piece of mechanism for abridging manual labour occasioned an alarm among the working people, it was partial and transient. Those who were thrown out of employment speedily found other channels of profitable occupation, the population disengaged by the new machine were absorbed, with their industry; and in a short time the traces of the change disappeared, except that its beneficial effects upon the capital of the country soon created a greater demand for labour than existed before the invention. But now the case is widely different. The petitions, which night after night are presented to us by thousands and tens of thousands, complaining of machinery, testify, that when workmen are flung out of one employment they can no longer find others ready to receive them: and that the capital saved by the abridgment of labour no longer produces its former healing effect. When sir R. Arkwright invented the apparatus, which has proved of such benefit to this country, though it deprived many thousands of their livelihood for the moment, yet no particular j discontent was excited. I have obtained from two of the greatest cotton spinners in both parts of this island, an estimate 1013 of the saving in manual labour effected by that machinery; and as both concurred in stating, unknown to each other, that by means of it one man can do the work of a hundred, I may assume the calculation as pretty near the truth. So considerable a shock to the labouring population produced scarcely any discontent. The case is so different now, when the smallest improvement is made in the means of economising human power, that I hardly know whether to rejoice or be sorry at any such change. There has of late been a considerable accession of mechanical power in the weaving trade; and though it cannot operate like the spinning mills, yet it bids fair to throw numbers out of work, and destroy even the scanty pittance at present gained by a great number of those wretched individuals, whose hardships I have been describing to-night—I allude to what is called the Power Loom, by which one child is enabled to do the work of two or three men. But the House will hear with surprise and vexation, that mechanical improvement has, as it were, reached its limit; an unexpected impediment has started up to check its farther progress. It is now found, for the first time in the history of mankind, so low are wages fallen, so great is the pressure of distress, that manuel labour is making reprisals on machinery, standing a successful competition with it, beating it out of the market, and precluding the use of an engine, far from costly in itself, which saves three labourers in four. The farther introduction of the power loom is actually stopped by the low rate of weaver's wages! There are, however, other branches of industry, as the printing and lace trades, which have been lately threatened, if I may so speak, with the competition of new mechanism, and of such powers as not even the miserable wages of the day can be expected to resist.
The last symptom of distress which I shall mention is the state of the money market. I am aware that there are some who view this subject in a very different light. I know not if the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer concurs in the opinion recently delivered from high authority in another place, no less than that of the first minister of the county, and the person at the head of its finances. That noble lord is reported to have drawn the most favourable augury from the late rise of the funds, which he ascribed, by some process of reasoning not very easily fol- 1014 lowed, to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act. However injurious this measure may prove to the constitution, it seems we are to regard it as highly favourable to trade. Now suppose I were minded to turn the tables upon the noble lord, and bid him look at the still greater rise of the stocks after the report of the committee appointed to examine the contents of the Green Bag. That famous document first unfolded the existence of the Spencean plan, and was calculated directly to bear upon the funds; because, according to the true faith of that great sect, though the landholder is bad and fit to be despoiled, the fundholder is "a monster, and must be hunted down." So says the report; yet the funds rose upon its appearance: from whence I might argue, if I chose to adopt the ground of the first minister of finance, that the fundholders one and all disbelieved in the existence of the plot. I will not, however, take this advantage of the noble lord, by following his own example. I am satisfied with drawing, from the state of the stocks and the money market generally, inferences more naturally connected with the subject, and in favour of the view I have already taken of public affairs. It is well known, that there exists at present a facility of obtaining discounts at 4and 4½ per cent. on bills of short dates, which even a year ago were not to be procured at a much higher premium. Stocks, too, have risen; they are 10 per cent. higher on the nominal capital than they were a few months since. Exchequer bills, after two several reductions of interest, leaving the income upon them at only 3½ per cent., still bear a premium. What does all this prove? If I saw that there was any proportionate facility in obtaining loans upon land at 5 per cent., that is, upon the best security our law affords, I might be inclined to pause before I ascribed the state of the money market to a glut of unemployed capital. But hitherto none of this capital has overflowed upon the land; and the fact is unquestionable, that there is much money in the market of stocks, floating debt, and discounts, only because there is little or no employment for it in trade, and because no capitalist chooses to put his money beyond his reach for more than a few months, in the expectation that commerce will revive. The want of employment at home has a tendency to drive capital abroad; and signs of this emigration have already manifested themselves in the ne- 1015 gociation of loans with foreign powers. One transaction of this nature has already been concluded with France; and undoubtedly the greater part of the money to be advanced in the course of it will come from the capitalists of this country America is said to have two speculations, of a similar description going on at the present moment in the city. Respecting one of them I have heard some particulars; and it resolves itself into a stock operation, the object of which is the application of British capital to the support of the American funds. How indeed is it to be supposed, that capital should not find its way abroad, when, on the other side of the channel, it fetches in the public stocks nearly double the interest given by our funds, and much more than double the interest paid by our floating debt? The state of foreign exchanges with this country I shall at present only glance at cursorily, because I venture to assure the House, that, before I sit down, if I do riot altogether fail in stating the views I entertain of another branch of the subject, I shall be able to demonstrate the necessary connexion between what is called a favourable rate of exchange and the depression of foreign commerce. That rate is in fact only another proof of the unnatural state of our trade; it is the immediate result of forced exportations, with scarcely any importation in return. Thus it happens, that, when goods have been sent to any part of the continent, from whence nothing can be brought back, in order to remit the produce of the sales, there is a demand for bills; but there being no transactions ending in this country, and no real bills, fictitious drawing is resorted to, until the pound sterling is raised to a height above par, very favourable indeed to those who spend money abroad, but wholly useless to traders, who can buy nothing there to sell again in this country: a height, too, which it cannot retain as long as there is bullion to send over; and which, when properly understood, indicates the existence of a traffic unnatural and necessarily short-lived— exportation without imports.
Sir, when such is the unparalleled state of embarrassment under which two of the great branches of national industry, commerce, and manufactures, labour, it would be in vain to expect, that any material or permanent improvement should take place in that which is the ultimate Source of all wealth and prosperity, and is inti- 1016 mately connected with every other employment—I mean our agricultural. If we hear Jess at the present moment of the distresses of the landed interest, it can only be because the consumption of the foreign grain, which last year oppressed the markets, and the measures adopted by the legislature to shut out this competition, have been aided by a scanty crop, and have raised the price of corn. Those districts, where the harvest has been tolerable, are therefore comparatively well off; whereas last year the suffering was universal; but wherever the crop has been a failing one, that is, in the greater part of the country, the high price is by no means a compensation for the deficiency and the poor-rates. I have therefore no manner of doubt, that the land is, generally speaking, worse off than before. It is indeed a vain and idle thing to take distinctions between the different orders of the country, and to speak of the agricultural and mercantile classes as if they had opposite or even independent interests. They are all intimately and inseparably connected by the eternal nature of things; they must for ever run together the same course, whether of progress or decline. I will give you, on this matter, the words of a man, who, having by his honest industry become the greatest ornament of the one order, made himself, by the fruits of his honourable gains, a distinguished member of the other, and afterwards rose, by his sagacity and experience, to adorn also the literature of his age. "Trade and land," says Mr. Child, "are knit each to other, and must wax and wane together; so that it shall never be well with land but trade must feel it, nor ill with trade but land must fall."
The House will feel how much less difficult it is to describe the extent and intensity of the prevailing distresses, than to trace the various causes which have concurred in producing them, and to separate those portions of the evil, which arise out of temporary circumstances, from those which have gone on increasing with a slower growth, deeply rooted in the system of policy that has been established amongst us, or at the least closely interwoven with it. But I should not deal fairly with the House if I did not thus early state my opinion as to the nature of those causes generally: it is founded upon the universal extent and the great variety of the distresses which I have been describing; and my principal reason for entering so 1017 largely into that description was, not certainly because it required any such evidence to prove the miserable condition of the country, but because, from the universality in which the pressure prevails, I deemed the inference to be unavoidable, that it springs from causes of no temporary nature. It is quite true, that a transition from war to peace must always affect several branches of public wealth, some connected with foreign, but a greater proportion with domestic trade. Thus two departments of industry have suffered severely by the cessation of hostilities; the provision trade of Ireland; through it also, the cattle market of this country, and the manufacture of arms at Birmingham. The distress arising from the peace in those branches of commerce may be temporary; if all the other channels of trade, unconnected with the war, were open, it certainly would be temporary. But when we find the depression general in all lines of employment, as well in those uninfluenced by the war-demand, as in those wholly dependent upon it; when we see that hands thrown out of work in one quarter can no longer be absorbed into the other parts of the system; when there plainly appears to be a choking up of all the channels of industry, and an equal exhaustion in all the sources of wealth—we are driven to the conclusion, that the return of peace accounts at the utmost only for a portion of the sad change we every where witness, and that even that portion may become permanent from the prevalence of the evil in quarters not liable to be affected by the termination of the war. I have shown you, that the cotton trade, wholly unconnected with the war, is more depressed than the iron trade in general, and to the full as much depressed as the very gun manufactory at Birmingham. I am entitled to conclude, first, that the transition from war to peace has not produced all the mischief; and next, that the mischief which it has produced might have been got over, as in former times, if it had been the only one which oppressed us. Sir, we must once for all look our situation in the face, and firmly take a view of the extent of our disease. It is not of a partial description; it is of general prevalence; it is of a searching nature; there is no channel of our whole circulation into which it has not worked its way; no fibre or filament of our whole economical system that does not feel its deadening influence; not one 1018 limb has been hurt, but the whole body is impaired in the exercise of all its functions. Can we expect it all to heal and revive of itself, and in a short time? I need hardly remind you, that we are now approaching the fourth year of "transition," and still no relief, no mitigation; on the contrary, we experience an increase of our calamity; whilst every one knows, that in less than half the time, from the end of all former wars, a complete recovery was effected. I shall therefore endeavour to describe what, after all the attention that I have been able to give the subject, appear to me the real causes of the unnatural state in which every man must admit the country is placed.
I must entreat the House impartially to fix their eye upon the line of policy, which for many years past has been adopted by the public councils of the country. In referring to it, I shall as much as possible avoid the more debate able grounds of the commencement and continuance of war, and keep to points upon which I believe a very little explanation will preclude the possibility of any considerable difference in opinion. It should seem, that those who style themselves the practical politicians of this country (because they are the dupes of a theory as visionary as it is absurd) have long been surrounded by a class of men, who, blending with what is termed true mercantile knowledge much narrow-minded, violent, national, prejudice, or, as they call it, genuine British feeling, assume to themselves the style and title of the "sound statesmen," and certainly do in good earnest exert a real and practical influence over the affairs of the nation. With these sage instructors of almost every administration (and they are generally found united in place with their pupils, and knit to them by the endearing reciprocity of good offices), it is a maxim equally sacred and profound, that too much can hardly be done to discourage importations of all kinds and from all countries. The old mercantile system has long been exploded; but these wise personages, having been born and bred up in it, seem to have caught hold of its last plank, to which they still cling with all their might, perpetually conning over its grand motto—"All trade, and no barter; all selling, and no buying; all for money, and nothing for goods." To support the remnants of a doctrine, universally abandoned in every enlightened country, all means are resorted to, fair and foul; for‡1019 in defence of their favourite creed, these sound advisers betray a morality far from rigid or scrupulous. The theory itself is repudiated, and its very name disowned by all who have received a liberal education. No man is to be found hardy enough, no one so careless of his reputation for common sense, as even to use its language. How long is it since the "soundest" politician among us has ventured to speak, in public at least, the jargon of the balance of trade? Yet, marvellous to relate, the practical results of this extirpated heresy are interwoven with our whole commercial policy; and, though the nonsense, and even the dialect of its tenants are rejected of all men, they are disguised in legal phraseology, embodied in efficient regulations, and may be traced in broad characters through every volume of the statute book down to the last. Year after year we have proceeded under the auspices of our wholesome, practical, sound, national statesmen, until we now find ourselves, as might naturally be expected, deprived of most of the great staples of foreign commerce.
In mentioning a few instances of our obligations to these sagacious counsellors, I must say a single word upon the corn bill, which, strictly speaking, comes within the class of measures I am alluding to. To the opinion, which I originally entertained upon that law, I still adhere. I feel now, as I did then, that its first effects are injurious, by cutting off a great article of foreign trade; but I look for an ample compensation of that injury in advantages of a higher nature; the ensuring a regular, a safe, and ultimately a cheap supply of the great necessary of life, which no change of foreign policy, no caprice of hostile governments, can impede or disturb. It may also be admitted by those who disapproved of the measure as a permanent branch of our policy, that the circumstances of the times justified its adoption as a temporary resource. At any rata we resorted to it, not as the only prohibitory law in our commercial code, but while almost every branch of trade was struggling in the fetters of the restrictive system. We approved of it for special reasons, many of them temporary in their nature; and regarded it as an exception justified by those reasons, and by the unnatural state of our whole polity. The doctors of the mercantile school jumped at it as a part of their scheme, and as coinciding with the numberless 1020 trammels which they had devised for commerce in all its departments, and the removal of which might very possibly alter our whole opinion upon the corn bill. Let us only cast our eye over a few of those regulations.
I shall first request the attention of the House to the exploits of these sages in the Baltic trade. That branch of commerce has always been deemed highly important, both to our shipping and our mercantile interest; both with a view to defence and to gain. Its short voyages make it an excellent nursery for seamen; its quick returns are highly favourable to profit. Circumstances, which I need not enumerate, render it a peculiarly secure and steady kind of traffic. Yet, of the four great staples of the Baltic trade, two, including the greatest of the whole, have been cut off. We still receive hemp and tallow; but we have prohibited the importation of iron and timber. And to what views have we sacrificed this important market for own goods? To encourage ruinous speculations in this country, we imposed a duty upon foreign iron amounting to a prohibition; while, to force the importation of inferior timber from our North American colonies, that is, to gratify the Canada and shipping interests, always highly favoured by the school of the practical and right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Rose), we excluded the greatest staple of the Baltic. Instead of leaving the adventurers in mines to their fate, suffering them to thrive if they could by their natural resources, we encouraged them, by extraordinary stimulants, in a pursuit, which sound policy would rather have discouraged; a precarious, gambling, and upon the whole a losing concern to the country. Mark the consequences of this system. We used to export 4 or 500,000l. of our manufactures annually to Norway; that vent, I understand, has now ceased, Norway having no other means of making payment but the iron and the timber, which our modern practitioners of antiquated wisdom have seen good to exclude altogether. Canada, for whose sake the sacrifice was partly made, no doubt, still remains ours, in spite of all the pains we took to lose it; but there is no part of this country at present so distressed as the mining districts of Wales. A similar prohibition of foreign copper has cut us off from one of the principal articles of South American produce.
1021 It is not many days since some conversation took place respecting an act of last session, which imposed protecting duties on foreign butter and cheese. I then expressed my repugnance to any extension of that protection; and I will now mention a fact within my knowledge, both to show how dangerous this sort of legislative interference is in a vast, complicated, and delicate commercial system, and also to demonstrate how little a high rate of exchange indicates a thriving trade. The instant that those duties were imposed, as true as the pulse keeps time with the stroke of the heart, foreign exchange rose, as it is called, in our favour 2 or 3 per cent. A branch of our importation was lopped off; it became more difficult to remit from abroad, in the first instance, and consequently must have become proportionably more difficult to send goods thither immediately after; our whole foreign trade was sensibly diminished, and by the very operation which raised the exchange, and in exact proportion to its rise. So much for the quick effects of the operations in which these sound personages delight; so much for the accuracy of the symptom which they consult as infallible in pronouncing upon the state of commerce!
The same perverse views have long regulated our commercial intercourse with France. Partly from mercantile views, partly from feelings of a political, and almost a religious nature, there are many amongst us, who have laid it down as a principle, from whence they hold it nearly impious to depart, that as little wine as possible must be taken from France. Although that fine country is our nearest market, and ought to be our best customer; although the vine is its chief produce, and its wines are allowed by all to be the best, by some considered as the only ones drinkable: yet their importation is to be avoided because France is our natural enemy, and Portugal our dear, and indeed costly friend. In the true spirit of this creed, the chancellor of the exchequer some time ago laid a new duty upon claret, not with any view to revenue, but, as he himself declared, in the technical language of his sect, with the hopes of discouraging the use of French wines, upon principles of a political nature. It may, for any thing I know, be, in the contemplation of this class of statesmen, a mark of comprehensive policy in a manufacturing country to refuse those articles, which it wants the 1022 most and likes the best, and which alone enable a trade with its best customer to be kept up. But if I may be allowed to speak as a trader, availing myself of the flattering compliment bestowed upon me last night by the worthy alderman (Atkins), and to proceed on the suggestions of common sense, I should regard such conduct, not as the result of sound policy, or of any policy at all, but as dictated by prejudices bordering on insanity.
But it is somewhat melancholy to think that worse blunders remain untold. The conduct pursued with regard to the linen trade very considerably surpasses all that I have mentioned; for it has been as directly in hostility to the favourite principles of the mercantile school as to the interests of the country. That school has always patronized the carrying trade in an especial manner; and I believe I may assert, that no branch of it was ever more productive than the transit of foreign linens; yet upon this we began, and never stopped until we had imposed a duty of 15 per cent, upon all linens imported and re-exported. If I am asked to explain why we did so, I cannot; for here the wit of man would in vain search for any thing like a reason. But I can tell what the ministers thought they were doing all the while. The fact is, that many nations prefer foreign linens to our own; and they used to buy those linens here. We saw this, and said they should not have them: so to legislate we went; resolved, that an act of parliament should pass the two Houses, and should then receive the royal assent, as requisite to make it binding upon the taste of foreign countries, which we expected would be changed to please us the instant that the solemnities of legislation were completed, and the accustomed words from the Crown pronounced. What has been the consequence? Those nations, who formerly repaired to British markets, laid in their investment of foreign linens, and at the same time completed their assortment in British goods (the foreign linen operating as a kind of decoy, from the convenience of finding all their cargo in the same place), all at once ceased to visit our ports. They were unmannerly enough to disregard our law, although it had been passed with every one of the accustomed formalities; they took theit course to Hamburgh, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, where they could get the foreign linens somewhat cheaper than we ever sold them. This latter advantage 1023 they had always disregarded, considering the opportunity of conveniently completing their assortments of British articles as a compensation for it; but the transit duty was much greater than the trade could bear; it proved, as indeed it was meant, a prohibition; only that the contrivers of it, who did not mean to drive the purchaser to a foreign market, forgot that they had no means of keeping him in one where they would not sell him what he wanted. They forgot, too, that his departure not only destroyed the transit trade, but the trade in British goods connected with it and now transferred to foreign countries. The House, no doubt, must be prepared to hear, that this scheme of perverse and short-sighted folly, is not of yesterday. It betokens so low a state of information, so gross an ignorance of the subject, so senseless a disregard of the most obvious principles, that every one will readily conjecture its origin to be lost in antiquity. At all events, it must have been invented prior to the date of the mercantile system, itself now exploded; for nothing can more clash with the doctrine of promoting the carrying trade. Then what will the House say, if it is less than a century and a half since this notable law passed? What if, after ages of experience, after the full knowledge imparted by the multiplicity of events and changes crowded into the last twenty years—what if this statute was deliberately passed not longer ago than the year 1810, under the auspices of the present ministers! What if, no farther back than last year, parliament were induced by them to decline revising this piece of nonsense, and expunging it from the book! Sir, these are indeed things, which it requires the evidence of all our senses to make us believe. But if such be the groundwork of our commercial system, there can be little difficulty in comprehending the mischiefs that must sooner or later flow from it.
There are numberless other instances of the same policy, which I might detail to the House. I might speak of the duty upon the exportation of coal, amounting at ordinary prices, to 70 per cent.; but for which that article might find a ready market in France, provided we agreed to take French goods in return. Here indeed we may be said to act consistently; for, when we refuse to receive the produce of a country, it seems natural enough, though perhaps it is superfluous, to prevent ours from going thi- 1024 ther. We are not, however, so consistent in all the branches of this system. While we protect agriculture in some respects, we allow the importation and prohibit the export of wool. This deviation from the general rule is professedly to encourage manufactures, by denying to foreigners the use of the raw produce; yet cotton twist is allowed to go abroad, though it is in the first stage of manufacture; and one should think it full as easy for the continent to grow long wool as to erect spinning mills. The arrangement of the silk duties affords matter of similar observation; but I abstain from leading the House into farther details. I think I may venture to assert, that, taking all things into the account, the time is now arrived, when the circumstances of our situation imperiously demand a full and unsparing review of the whole commercial policy of this country: and not only the branch of legislation which bears a more immediate reference to trade, but the navigation law itself requires the same prompt and accurate revision.
Whether I consider that system with a view to national defence, or to commercial wealth, I feel persuaded, that no time should be lost in at least relaxing the rigour of its provisions. Many speculative writers have maintained, that it was from the first a sacrifice of wealth to security; but I am disposed to admit, that it was originally calculated to promote both these objects. I think it may fairly be allowed to have hastened, by half a century, an event which must sooner or later have happened, the transference from the United Provinces to this country of a large portion of trade, which though naturally belonging to us, had been attracted by the peculiar advantages which enabled the Hollanders to possess themselves of the commerce of all other nations. But whatever may have been the good policy of the navigation law, I am quite clear, that we have adhered to its strict enactments a century after the circumstances which alone justified its adoption had ceased to exist. What is now passing in the colonies affords a striking illustration of its impolicy in the present times. Whether in consequence of orders from home, or of the views entertained by the local governments, the navigation law is enforced, it seems, with unusual strictness, a stop being put to the licences granted under the intercourse act for importing provisions in foreign bottoms. What 1025 course does America pursue to meet this protecting measure? She says, as you will not suffer us to supply your settlements, in any vessels but your own, with those articles of which they stand so much in need, that they may starve for want of them; we "retaliating on your head the mischiefs of your own policy," forthwith shut our ports against all vessels coming from ports from whence you exclude ours. This is the substance of a bill lately before congress, now passed into a law. I have in my hand a copy of it, which has just arrived; and I know, that the greatest alarm has been excited by it in our West India colonies, as well as among all who are connected with our North American fisheries. Here is a striking specimen of that obstinate, perverse system, that refuses to vary with the alteration of circumstances; that will not accommodate itself to the progress of events, or follow the course of times and seasons, but clings superstitiously to what is now inapplicable, though it may once have been important; as if time were standing still, and history were not the record of unceasing change.
Surveying, then, the derangement which pervades every branch of the public economy; seeing how our trade is cramped by the short-sighted operations of an unenlightened and senseless policy; finding what trifling relief, and that little accompanied with serious obstructions, it has derived from the prosperous condition of our foreign affairs; we may assuredly affirm, that there never was a period in the vicissitudes of our fortunes when British commerce might, with so much truth, be said to labour for its existence. Casting our eye over every point of the compass, and scarce able to descry any from which a solitary ray of comfort or of hope breaks in, it is natural for this House, to whose hands the sum of affairs is committed—for our unfortunate brethren, suffering under distresses that baffle description, after bearing us, by their industry and their patience, through the late eventful struggle—for the whole population of the empire, exhausted by the drains of a protracted warfare, weighed down by the pressure of the intolerable public burthens which it has accumulated, and now cut off' from the temporary relief which the unnatural monopoly of that war afforded—it is, I will say, but natural and reasonable for us all to direct our expectations towards any untried resources, any new opening that may 1026 present itself to the industry of the community. There can be no field of enterprise so magnificent in promise, so well calculated to raise sanguine hopes, so congenial to the most generous sympathies, so consistent with the best and the highest interests of England, as the vast continent of South America, He must indeed be more than temperate, he must be a cold reasoner, who can glance at those regions, and not grow warm. The illustrious historian [Robertson] who has described the course of their rude invaders, relates, if I mistake not, that when, after unparalleled dangers, amid privations almost insupportable, through a struggle with sufferings beyond endurance—weary, hungry, exhausted with the toil, scared at the perils of their march, they reached at length the lofty summits so long the object of their anxious enterprise, they stood at once motionless, in gratitude for their success, in silent amazement at the boundless ocean stretched out before them, and the immeasurable dominion spread beneath their feet, the scene of all their fond expectations.—And now the people of this country, after their long and dreary pilgrimage, after all the dangers they have braved, the difficulties they have overcome, the hardships they have survived, in something like the same state of suffering and exhaustion, have that very prospect opened to their view! If any sense of justice towards them, any regard for the dictates of sound policy, any reverence for the real wisdom of past ages, has influence over our councils, they must be enabled and invited to approach that hemisphere, and partake in the numberless benefits which flow from such an intercourse. Upon our good pleasure it depends to command the virgin resources of that mighty expanse of territory—variegated with every species of soil—exposed to all the gradations of climate—rich from the fallow of centuries—sufficiently peopled to raise every variety of the produce we want, yet too thinly inhabited to threaten our own industry with any rivalry—watered in all directions by seas rather than rivers—studded with harbours through which to distribute its wealth over the Old World—and the native country of that wherewith the sect of practical politicians are best pleased, and their patron saint propitiated, gold and silver mines, already faithful, but capable of yielding infinitely larger returns under the management of European skill. Such is the prospect 1027 which those vast regions unfold; a prospect sufficient to compensate every loss you have sustained; an adequate outlet for your mercantile enterprise, though Europe were once more hermetically sealed against you though Buonaparté were restored, and his continental system (as indeed it is) revived: even though Europe itself were, for commercial purposes, blotted from the map of the world. Nor let any man suppose, that all this is the indulgence of a heated fancy: I rest my expectations upon a careful examination of facts, derived from authority altogether unquestionable. Some of these I shall state, for the guidance of the hon. gentlemen opposite; because I well know, that some folks will listen to nothing which does not come in the shape of a detail.
The exports of Spanish America cannot amount to less than 18 millions sterling in yearly value. Humboldt, the justly celebrated traveller, states them at 13½ millions, from the custom house returns in Old Spain: he reckons the exports of Buenos Ayres at 800,000l. of that sum, whereas, on the spot, they are reckoned at 1,150,000l.: we may therefore assume, that there is a similar deficiency in the other sums indicated by those documents, which would make the whole exportation worth 18 millions, and one third of it is from Mexico. It appears from official returns, indeed, that Cadiz imported from South America, in the year 1802, to the amount of 18¼ millions, of which 12¼ millions were in bullion, a trade pleasing even to the gentlemen opposite; though I must confess the remaining 6 millions were only composed of goods, and I therefore ought to mention this sum with considerable diffidence. Before the late troubles the annual coinage of Spanish America was 9½ millions sterling, and it had trebled in half a century. The population of the country is about 17 millions, including all classes; and it is estimated, that only one person in three wears foreign manufactures. This is probably considerably above the truth; for of the seven millions, who inhabit Mexico, only one is understood to wear those goods; the rest using a wretched stuff of home manufacture, only recommended by its cheapness; for, according to the remark of a native writer, England is there held to have taught them by her wars how to make their own clothes. What an opening does such a country afford for our goods! There exists no want 1028 of means to buy them, if the trade is so far facilitated as to afford them at reasonable prices; and if any proof were wanting how tar the taste for using them might be introduced by opening the ports, the speculations at Buenos Ayres abundantly supplies it; for, though injurious to the projectors, that traffic has certainly had the effect of diffusing among the natives an inclination to use British manufactures. If the southern continent generally were opened, it would infallibly take, not only a larger quantity of them than has ever yet been sent thither, but a swiftly and regularly increasing quantity, which would in a short time leave the imagination behind that should try to calculate it.
With scenes such as these approach; with all the prepossessions of the natives in our favour; calling upon us to sacrifice no principle or propriety of conduct, but only to bless them with commerce and with the light of our superior civilization, in return for the treasures which they are ready to pour into our lap: whence comes it to pass, that, in a season. of such pressure in all other quarters, this splendid theatre of exertion has been overlooked or avoided? It is the new-fangled, the execrable doctrine of legitimacy, the love of Ferdinand the Seventh, that has cut England off from her natural connection with South America. In the hour of our greatest need we have sacrificed the certainty of relief, nay the brightest prospects of new prosperity, to the antiquated prejudice against colonial independence, the political caprice of making common cause with the mother country in her endeavours to extinguish the new-born liberties of settlements, now, thank God, in spite of Old Spain and of ourselves, almost severed from her tyrannical dominion. But for these humours, so senselessly gratified, our flag might have floated in every part of that immense continent. We have chosen to be supplanted by a nearer power; a power as active and skilful in speculation as ourselves, and wholly free from the incumbrance of those political attachments and antipathies, which so lamentably fetter our commercial enterprise. Only see the course into which these doctrines, or prejudices, have driven us. In 1809 we concluded what is commonly termed Admiral Apodaca's Treaty, acknowledging the dominion of Spain over the Indies, in terms which seem even to imply a guarantee of her dominion. An article was added, which bound the par- 1029 ties, as speedily as possible, to conclude o treaty of commerce; but nothing whatever has since been done towards the fulfilment of this stipulation. In 1814, after the conduct of Ferdinand had called forth, not certainly the applause of all enlightened minds in all countries, it pleased our government to make a convention with him, binding this country to every thing short of guarantee, and expressive of deep anxiety for the subjugation of those whom I call the independents, but whom the treaty stigmatised as revolted subjects of our dear ally. In vain have the various provinces of South America, successively, as they threw oft' the 3'oke of Spain, courted our notice, and offered us the highest commercial advantages in return. As often as the popular party obtained the advantage in any place, the ports were thrown open to our trade, the residence of Englishmen protected, all intercourse with them cherished. If ever the patriots were unhappily defeated, if the "anxious wishes were gratified, which the convention expresses, on the part of this country, for the restoration of the legitimate tyranny, straightway the ports were shut against us, and our countrymen could no longer trade, or remain under the dominion of our favourite ally. We were offered by the revolted, as we call them, in Venezuela and New Grenada, an exclusive trade for twenty years; and their congress, believing (I use their own words), "that it is the characteristic disposition of Great Britain to protect and assist oppressed people, for the sake of justice and humanity," vainly fancied their cause might be favourably viewed by us. The legitimate lieutenant of the crown, Montalvo, subdued them for a while, and instantly proclaimed what he called "the wise and salutary regulations of the council of the Indies," recited the services rendered by the Philippine company to trade (of all things), and restored its exclusive monopoly, to be enforced with additional rigour. In 1816, general Bolivar made offers of the most advantageous nature, when on his way to battle for the independence of the Caraccas, which I trust in God he has before this time achieved. All such propositions were rejected; seldom honoured with an answer; always treated with contempt or aversion. We were for the party of the oppressor—we wished ill to freedom for its own sake, and out of the love we bore its enemy, notwithstanding the advantages we might reap 1030 from doing our duty, and helping its struggles. But even this bad policy has been pursued in a wavering, irresolute, and inconsistent manner. We have sent a consul to Buenos Ayres, where he did not present his credentials until the patriots had succeeded; he now resides in his public capacity, transacting business with the independent government. But no one other commercial or diplomatic agent has been sent to any part of Spanish America; and even at Buenos Ayres the blockade imposed by the royalists of Monte Video, a few years ago, was enforced by a British man of war. The long-established contraband trade with the Main is still encouraged, at least protected, in Jamaica. In Trinadad every impediment is thrown in its way; the councils of the government are influenced by an assessor, who retired thither after the massacre of the independents in Caraccas, where he had been a principal adviser; proclamations are issued, prohibiting, under the highest penalties, the sending, not only of arms, but of money, to the continent; and severe measures have been adopted towards the refugees of the independent party. These measures have produced their natural effect; and I understand, that the principal articles of importation from the Spanish Main have almost doubled in price.
I intreat the House farther to recollect, that the same treaty, which bound our government to prevent all succour from being given to the patriots, bound Ferdinand to abolish the Slave Trade. We have more than performed our part of the compact—he neither has taken, nor has the slightest intention of taking, any one step towards fulfilling his part. I do not contend, that we ought to make war upon him for the failure; but I think we have some right to have it explained; and I am clear, that if he persists in his departure from the stipulation, we are set free from our part of the contract. That we should ever desire to recede from it is more than I can expect; for hitherto we have done much more than we bargained in his behalf and against the patriots. So bigotted are we to his cause, that I have read a memorial, presented to his majesty's government by three respectable merchants, who, having come to this country from Buenos Ayres upon commercial business, and having finished their arrangements, were ready to sail on their return homeward, when they were stopped by an or- 1031 der from one of the under secretaries of state, refusing them leave to proceed, until they should also obtain the Spanish ambassador's leave! Here is one of the fruits of that blessed measure the Alien Act; and a striking proof how soundly those reasoned against it, who urged, that it would be used as a political engine for gratifying the caprices of foreign courts. The treaty, you will observe, only binds us to give no assistance to the patriots in warlike stores. The Trinidad proclamation threatens with banishment, confiscation, and imprisonment, all who shall send money. The direct stipulations only engage for neutrality: the preamble expresses the warmest good wishes for the success of the tyrant, while it insults the patriots with the name of revolters. But, as if we were resolved to go beyond both the spirit and the letter of this convention, to testify, by every possible means, our hostility to the cause of the Spanish colonies, and our anxiety to extinguish their rising liberties, the British minister to the United States has been charged, in congress, with a formal interference to prevent American citizens from sending arms and ammunition to the patriots; and no denial whatever has been given to the statement. I ask the Commons of England, if they are prepared to patronize councils, so repugnant at once to the character and the interests of their country as those which, having excluded our trade from the marts of the old world, deny it a vent in the new, for fear such an intercourse might aid the cause of human freedom, and give umbrage to the contemptible tyrant of Spain?
It has often been said, and I have hitherto assumed it as unquestionable, that the excessive load of taxation is one chief cause of the depression under which our commerce now labours. The House, I am persuaded, will give me credit for entertaining no disposition to mix this question with popular clamour against burthens which must be borne. But I wish to remove some misconceptions of an opposite nature, which have too frequently influenced such discussions; and to show in what manner relief might be given to the public without material injury to the revenue. Some persons, whose general opinions I profess to hold in great respect, have lately supported a position, which I take leave to think a mere fallacy; they have maintained, that the amount of the imposts laid upon goods, or upon what- 1032 ever affects the price of goods, destined for the foreign market, can be no obstacle to their sale; and they attempt to prove this strange paradox by the consideration, that, as we are enabled to give a proportionally higher price for those commodities which we take in return, it comes to the same thing, whether the foreigner buys cheap or dear of us. A single word overthrows this reasoning at once. Admitting, for a moment, that prices are thus regulated; the foreigner who has goods to buy, will go to those who sell cheaper than we can do; and the foreigner who has goods to sell, will come to us who can give the best prices. To suppose, that those who cannot afford to sell as cheap as others, will have the power of regulating the market for their own commodities, is as absurd as to suppose, that those who can afford to buy dearer than others, will pay higher than is necessary. There is another fallacy, much more prevalent, as to the effects of taxation within the country. The money thus raised, we are told, is spent by the government; and the same consumption is maintained as if it were expended by the individuals who paid it. Thus, to take the principal example, it is contended, that if we raise 44 millions to pay the interest and charges of the debt, that sum is spent in the country by the stockholders, instead of being spent by the payers of taxes. But first of all it should be recollected, that those sums are levied in one part of the system, and generally expended in another; so that the expenditure affords no relief in the quarter where the levy of the impost was principally felt. Thus, when the duty on sugar was raised, in the course of a few years, from 14s. to 27s. a cwt., that sum was neither returned to the planter nor the consumer; it neither went to create a new demand for the article enhanced, nor to aid those who paid dearer for it: it went to support other industry than that of the grower, and other resources than those of the consumer.— Next we must bear in mind, that the revenue paid to the stockholder represents capital, which has been sunk and in great part destroyed by war: capital, which has been taken away from profitable to unprofitable employment. Nor is there any fairness in the argument, that the community is not injured by a mere transference of wealth, though none should disappear; for the taking from one class to bestow upon another, injures the one 1033 more than it benefits the other, even if we had any right to strike such unjust balances; and how much more does this apply to the case of taking from an existing class, to supply one which we create, or at least augment, for the purpose of impoverishing the other! But the truth is, that all taxes go to support, either those whose labour is so much dead loss to the community, or much less productive than it might have been; whose numbers therefore ought never to exceed the lowest possible amount. The immense sums now raised, either feed those employed thus unproductively, or pay those whose capital has been spent in the same way; they are a constant drain upon the fund destined to support productive labour; they not only prevent accumulation, but create a destruction of capital; they necessarily diminish, in exact proportion to their enormous amount, the fund which creates the effective demand for all articles of consumption. The operation, too, of taxes, in driving abroad various branches of industry, is unquestionable. They give advantages to foreigners in many points of view. Take, for instance, our duties on silk. The raw pays 5s. 6d., the organized 15s. the pound; while in France there is but one duty on both, and that only 2s. 6d. The French silk weaver, then, gets the article, in the first stage of manufacture, for less than half what our's pays for the raw material, as far as duty is concerned. Sometimes foreigners are discontented by a tax beyond its mere amount; the increase of, I think, only half a crown upon the policy stamp, drove them away from Lloyd's, and created several insurance offices at Hamburgh and in America. Sometimes a branch of trade is irretrievably destroyed by an injudicious tax, or receives a shock from which, even after the repeal of the duty, it never recovers. I am informed, that this has been the case with the watch trade; and the present appearances are quite consistent with this supposition.
I purpose now to illustrate what I have said of the effects which taxation produces upon consumption, by a reference to facts; and I shall, at the same time, have an opportunity of showing that the revenue does not gain all the trade loses. On the contrary, I suspect we have been in many instances killing the goose that laid the golden eggs; and I greatly deceive myself if the right hon. gentleman opposite (the chancellor of the exchequer), will 1034 not soon be aware, how much truth there is in Dean Swift's remark, that "in the arithmetic of the customs two and two do not always make four."
I shall begin with the duties on sugar, one of the widest fields of modern finance. They were in a short time raised from 14s. to 27s.; and if the price reaches 40s. then to 30s. the cwt. In three years, from 1803 to 1806, the former duties were increased about 50 per cent. Now the average produce of the old duties for three years before that rise was 2,778,000l. The produce of 1804, after they had been raised 20 per cent., was not 3,330,000l., as they ought to have been had the consumption remained the same, but only 2,537,000l.; and the average produce of 1806 and 1807; after the whole 50 per cent, was added, only gave 3,133,000l., instead of 4,167,000l. which they should have yielded had the consumption not fallen off since the first rise of duty began; or 3,805,000l. which they should have yielded, had there been no falling off since 1804. Thus both trade and revenue suffered by the great increase of duty in 1803; and trade suffered severely by the subsequent augmentations, while revenue gained in a very small proportion. The duties on glass were nearly doubled in ten years; the produce of those duties has not sensibly increased at all. Here, then is a destruction of the glass trade, to the amount of one half its whole bulk, without any direct gain to the revenue, and with a very certain loss to it in other branches connected with the diminished consumption. In this case two and two were not found to make four.
We have recently had before us the history of the wine trade, in a very excellent petition presented by my hon. friend below me (Mr. Sharp), and well illustrated in the course of his remarks. The duties on wine have been trebled since 1792; the deficiency in the port of London alone was 338,329l. last year, as compared with 1815. The average consumption of three years, ending 1814, was above 3,000 pipes less than the average of three years, ending 1808. In 1804 the duty on port wine was increased one ninth; the produce of the duty that year fell off nearly one fourth, instead of increasing a ninth; and in 1805 it had by no means increased a ninth above its amount before the rise. Here then was a diminution of trade, an abridgment of the comforts of the people, and an injury to the revenue, first directly and afterwards indirectly.
1035 It is not so easy to illustrate by example the converse of the proposition; for, unhappily, the instances are rare in which taxes have been taken oft' or diminished: yet all the cases where this policy has been pursued demonstrate the truth of the doctrines for which I contend. When Mr. Pitt, by a wise and politic measure, in the year 1784, lowered the duty on tea from 56 to 12 per cent., the revenue rose considerably. The consumption could hardly have been increased six-fold, but smuggling was prevented to an extent which, with the increased consumption, made the revenue upon the whole a gainer. When in 1787 the duty on wine and spirits was lowered 50 per cent., the revenue was improved; the trade must therefore have doubled, the comforts of the people been materially increased, and the other sources of revenue have benefited in the same proportion. But the progress of the duties and revenue upon coffee illustrates every part of the question in a manner peculiarly striking. In 1805 they were raised one third, and that year their produce fell off an eighth, instead of increasing a third; in 1806 they had increased but only a sixteenth; so that the consumption had diminished above a fourth. But it was at length found, that this tax had been overdone, and it was lowered from 2s. to 7d. the cwt. Mark the immediate effects of this step. The average produce of the high duty, for the three years before it was altered, was 166,000l.; the average of the low duty for three years after the alteration, was 195,000l.: so that, as addition has the effect sometimes of diminishing, subtraction seems to increase the sum, in the arithmetic of finance. The augmentation here showed an increase of consumption between four and fivefold; and in Scotland, I find, that it increased tenfold. It is not, then, on mere speculative grounds that I recommend the finance ministers to retrace their steps, and to turn their attention from devising ways of augmenting the taxes (an object, by the by, which they may pore over as long as they please, and will never be able to accomplish) to discover the best means of lessening the public burthens. I have shown from facts, that taxes may be repealed with positive and immediate benefit to the revenue; I think no man hardy enough to deny, that the diminution would contribute mainly towards restoring our commerce to its healthy state, and re-establishing general comfort and prosperity.
1036 The very collection of our present enormous revenue occasions evils of a serious nature to every class of the people. All of us are acquainted with the inconveniences of ordinary occurrence; but few are aware how severely they press upon trade. To the difficulties of collecting such a revenue are principally owing the monopolies of the dock companies, by which the whole of the West Indian commerce, and several of the other great branches of trade are subjected to heavy duties, and irksome delays. Our merchants complain of much dilatory and troublesome proceeding at the custom-house; they must wait for a person who has more to do than he can manage; they must, on every trifling difference, apply to the board; a variety of annoying steps must be gone through; bonds with all the costs, incident to them are needlessly multiplied; and, in short, every thing begins in plague and ends in expense. It is very true, that better arrangement might remove some portion of these hardships, but the greater part of them are essential to the s}'stem. You cannot multiply indefinitely officers and boards, in whom so large a confidence is of necessity reposed; you cannot, in a word, collect such a revenue as ours without infinite vexation and delay, beyond the actual burthen of the impost. Such prodigous levies, with their direct effects, hamper and distress our trade in various ways, which it would be impossible to estimate in money.
Sir, I have trespassed beyond all bounds, I fear, upon the patience of the House; but I cannot prevail on myself to sit down without soliciting your attention to that part of the subject which I have as yet only glanced at slightly. The House, I doubt not, have already perceived that I refer to the entire abandonment of all care, for the commercial interests of this country in the administration of our foreign affairs. After a war of unexampled suffering and exertion has been crowned with success far beyond the most sanguine expectation, and lifted the name and the influence of the nation to a height without any parallel in the proudest eras of its past history, we naturally ask, how it comes to pass, that the glorious peace which our efforts have purchased comes without restoring our foreign trade; that we are still shut out from most parts of the continent, as if war was still waged against our commerce; and that, day after day, fresh obstacles spring up to it in the quarters 1037 where it ought to meet the kindest encouragement? It is not in France merely, where we have long been accustomed to expect a return of jealousy, that our intercourse enjoys no facilities. In what corner of Europe does it possess them? Is it not plain, that with those very allies for whom we have fought and conquered—for whose cause we have been lavish of our treasure and prodigal of our best blood—from whom neither dominion nor indemnity have ever been asked in return—even with those allies we have never had influence enough to obtain the advantage or the convenience of one single customhouse regulation in our favour? Has any thing been done by these men, with all their influence over the councils of Europe? Has any thing been attempted by them? I am aware, that Russia has reduced her tariff in many articles since the termination of the war; but 1 also know, that, generally speaking, our commerce labours under duties so nearly amounting to a prohibition, as to throw it into the hands of contraband traders, and exclude the fair and honourable dealing of the British merchant. I know, that, from Memel to the southernmost part of Poland, along the whole line of the Russian frontier, the traffic is driven by means of Jews and other smugglers, as it used to be under Buonaparté's continental system: that now, as formerly, they have their great entrepôt at Brody, and were the purchasers of almost all the bills drawn last summer for the sales of wheat exported through Odessa to the Mediterranean. Russia, however, is more favourable to our commerce than any of our other allies, and some improvement might be hoped for in that quarter, were we not exactly in that quarter met most adversely by the other branch of our policy, of which I have already said so much, the prohibitory scheme of our own laws, by which we are prevented from taking in exchange most of the articles of Russian produce. But Prussia, with whom we made common cause—who owes to our efforts, next to those of her gallant people, the restoration of her independence—almost directly excludes us from all intercourse with her dominions. Duties amounting to a prohibition are laid upon the importation of our goods: and for such as are carried through the territory to be sold elsewhere there are only two ports of landing assigned, and a transit payment of 8½ per cent, imposed. How then does the matter stand‡1038 in Spain—in that country which our gigantic exertions have saved—whose defence, in money alone, beside subsidies, and beside expenses incurred elsewhere, has left a sum of accounts still unaudited, amounting, as we heard the other day, to-above fifty millions? Why, in return for this it appears, that with the cabinet of Madrid we possess just no interest whatsoever, either commercial or political! This is a picture of ingratitude on the one hand, and imbecility on the other, disgusting as it regards Spain—humiliating to our own government—provoking to the country.
The sense of the Spanish nation was, with more or less correctness, represented by the Cortes: while its authority continued, a free intercourse with us was studiously promoted. The Cortes was put down, freedom extinguished, and the beloved usurper restored. Instantly old monopolies were revived and enforced, and enlarged with new powers, all strictly hostile to British interests. Additional obstruction was given to our trade, notwithstanding Apodaca's treaty had, on our part, almost guaranteed the integrity of the Spanish dominions, and, on theirs, promised a speedy commercial arrangement. Nay, after our ministers had, in support of Ferdinand, gone farther than was lawful for the rulers of a free and honourable nation like England; after they had been guilty of the most indecent subserviency to his criminal views, abandoned the high tone they used to assume with France while fighting his battle, looked on with perfect indifference at his iniquities, stooped to become the parasites of his caprices and pander for him the degradation of his country and the slavery of his unfortunate subjects, our own gallant companions in arms—how were they requited for those labours in the humiliation of the English name?—In "a little month" after the signature of the second treaty, an edict was issued, extending the monopoly of the Philippine company, so as to exclude all British cottons; and we had hardly sent out the order of the garter to our ally, when, in return of the courtesy, this decree was backed and enforced by new regulations: and the commercial privileges of Biscay, so favourable to all foreign trade, were, by an act of mere violence upon its ancient constitution, annulled! Beside the rigorous prohibition of cottons, woollens pay 26 and d-S per cent. for the two finer qualities, and as high as 1039 130 for the second, a burthen which the fair trader cannot bear. It thus happens, that our commerce with Spain is in a worse condition than with almost any other foreign state, and consigned, in a very great measure, to contraband traders. Not fifteen parts in the hundred of our goods consumed in that country are calculated to pay the duties imposed; the remaining seventy-five parts are smuggled; and about 200,000l. are paid yearly to Portugal for duties upon the goods sent thither in order to be covertly introduced into Spain.
If we turn our attention to Austria, again we meet with nothing but prohibition. Since the peace, which we fought for side by side with her, and conquered more for her than ourselves, she has either excluded, or loaded almost to the point of exclusion, all the articles in which we can trade with her fine dominions. Our manufactures generally are forbidden; so are cotton yarns below a certain fineness; and it is not much above half a year since the duties upon all finer yarns were suddenly doubled. It should seem as if, from all our exertions to serve the continental powers, whether looking after honour or profit, we were fated to reap nothing but loss and disgrace.
I would now call the attention of the noble lord in the blue ribbon (lord Castlereagh) to some things, which, though within his department, it is very possible he may not be aware of; because it is quite possible, that those military gentlemen, whom he has planted as ministers and consuls in different places, how skilled so ever in their own profession, may have failed to make any reports upon commercial arrangements, as things very much out of their line, if not below their notice. Does the noble lord now hear, for the first time, and if he does I am sure it should make a deep impression on his mind, that punishment has so swiftly followed guilt? Does he for the first time hear, that the fruits have already been gathered of the two worst acts in that system of wicked policy, of which the noble lord is the advocate in this House, as he was the adviser elsewhere—that the very persons, in whose behalf those deeds were done, have even now set themselves in direct hostility to the interests of this country. If he has not before heard this, it may prove a useful lesson to him, and at all events I trust it will not be thrown away upon public men generally, if I make known how those 1040 very individuals, for whose sake the noble lord sacrificed the honour of his country, and abandoned its soundest policy towards foreign states; those with whom, after pulling down the usurper, lie plunged into the deepest of all the public crimes that stained his course, and gave the ground for resisting him—that they now execrate or contemn the man who made himself the accomplice of their infamous projects? I suspect the noble lord's conscience already whispers to what I allude. I guess he is aware, that I am going to name Ragusa and Genoa—Ragusa and Genoa! where the name of England received a stain, that all the victories of lord Wellington cannot wipe away, nor the services of the longest life of the greatest minister that ever lived could atone for. I will speak of Ragusa first: it is the smaller state, and for that reason I dwell upon it the most; because, if there be such a thing as political morality, and political justice—if those words have any sense—they can only mean, that the rights and the liberties of the weaker states are to be protected by the more powerful; because, in the nature of things, public crime, the offence of one nation against another, must always consist of the strong trampling down the feeble. Therefore, if the spot in question were San Marino instead of Ragusa, I should the rather cite the example, and deem the oppression of that smaller community a still more flagrant outrage upon justice—a baser dereliction of public principle. Ragusa had flourished for centuries under the protection of the Ottoman Porte, and nominally, at least, under its dominion. The Porte was the ally of England. Often had we blazoned Buonaparté's attack upon Egypt as among the worst of his atrocities, because France was in amity with the Turk, and there could be no motive for the enterprise but the love of gain or the lust of power. Nay, his sending Sebastiani to Egypt after the peace of Amiens was one of the principal grounds alleged by us for so suddenly renewing the war. Then I demand, were we at war with the Ottoman Porte during the black transactions of Vienna? Were we not in friendship and alliance with it? Did we once consult it about the cession of Ragusa to Austria? What is more important, did we ever consult the Ragusans upon that cession? Have we not, without the least regard to the rights of a free people, parcelled out their country at our own dis- 1041 cretion; and from the liberty they were enjoying and the independence they were proud of, delivered them over to what they deemed subjugation and tyranny? Had they, the Ragusans, the people of Ragusa, the smallest share in the deliberations of the famous congress? They had no minister there—they had made no communication to the assembled negociators—they had received none from thence. Their existence was hardly known, except by the gallant example they had set of shaking off, without any aid, the hated empire of France. And how did we requite them for this noble effort, nay, this brilliant service in what we cantingly termed "the common cause of nations?" We, who had sounded to the uttermost corners of the earth the alarum of Buonaparté's ambition—we, who, in the name of freedom and independence, had called on the people of the whole globe, and on the Ragusans among the rest, and they at least had answered the summons, to rise up against him and overthrow his usurped dominion—we requited them by handing them over, in the way of barter, as slaves to a power of which they detested the yoke! But let the noble lord, and let this House, and let the world mark the retribution which has followed this flagitious act. Austria, extending her commercial regulations to all her new acquisitions, has absolutely shut our trade out of that very Ragusa, which we had betrayed into her hands; and thus has the noble lord received his punishment upon the spot on which he had so shamefully sacrificed the honour of his country!
Sir, if any page in the history of the late congress be blacker than another, it is that which records the deeds of the noble lord against Genoa. When I approach this subject, and reflect on the powerful oratory, the force of argument as well as of language, backed by the high authority of virtue, a sanction ever deeply felt in this House, once displayed in the cause of that ill-fated republic, by tongues now silent, but which used to be ever eloquent where public justice was to be asserted or useful truth fearlessly inculcated, I feel hardly capable of going on. My lasting sorrow for the loss we have sustained is made deeper by the regret, that those lamented friends * live not to witness* Messrs. Whitbread and Horner, in the debate upon Mr. Lambton's motion. See Vol. 29, p. p. 944 and 950.1042 the punishment of that foul conduct which they solemnly denounced. The petty tyrant, to whom the noble lord delivered over that ancient and gallant people almost as soon as they had at his call joined the standard of national independence, has since subjected them to the most rigorous provisions of his absurd code; a code directed especially against the commerce of this country, and actually less unfavourable to France.
Thus, then, it appears, that after all, in public as well as in private, in state affairs as in the concerns of the most humble individuals, the old maxim cannot safely be forgotten, that "honesty is the best policy." In vain did the noble lord flatter himself, that his subserviency to the unrighteous system of the congress would secure him the adherence of the courts whom he made his idols. If he had abandoned that false, foreign system—if he had acted upon the principles of the nation whom he represented, and stood forward as the advocate of the rights of the people—the people would have been grateful. He preferred the interests and the wishes of the courts, and by the courts he is treated with their wonted neglect. To his crimes against the people all over Europe—to his invariable surrender of their cause—to his steady refusal of the protection, which they had a right to expect, and which they did expect from the manly and generous character of England—it is owing, that if, at this moment, you traverse the continent in any direction whatever, you may trace the noble lord's career in the curses of the nations whom he has betrayed, and the mockery of the courts who have inveigled him to be their dupe. It is in vain we attempt to deceive ourselves. No truth can be more evident than this, that if, instead of patronizing abuse, tyranny, and plunder, we had exhibited a noble, gallant, English spirit in behalf of popular rights and national independence—if, instead of chiming in with and aping their narrow, wretched principles, we had done our utmost to enlighten the policy of foreign courts—we should have had to treat with a number of constitutional governments, directed by sound views of policy, and disposed to adopt arrangements generally beneficial, instead of the capricious and spiteful regulations, which now annoy us in every quarter.
Only compare the conduct of America towards us with that of the king of Sardinia, of the Austrian emperor, of Ferdi- 1043 nand of Spain. From America we had no right to expect peculiar favour. Her struggle for independence we had treated as a rebellion. It was successful; and we never altogether forgave it, but entertained towards her, feelings approaching sometimes to contempt, sometimes to hatred. I am very far from thinking the Americans untainted by similar prejudices. They have perhaps been foolish enough to cherish a little spite in return for ours. Nor do I give their government credit for being wholly above the influence of this animosity; but experience has shown, that, in all popular governments, the true interests of the community must in the main be consulted, and in the great bulk of cases supersede every lesser consideration. Now we can never, as a trading nation, desire more than that all other countries should adopt the line of commercial policy best suited to the interests of the body of the people in each. The American government has, not from regard for us, but for the sake of its own subjects, pursued a course favourable to the mutual intercourse of the two states. It is allowing the manufacturies created by our absurd system gradually to decline, because industry can there be more beneficially employed in other pursuits. With a few very trifling exceptions, the market of the United States will, in a few months, again be completely restored to us, as far as the competition of the American manufacture is concerned, and it is plainly the only considerable relief which we can expect for a long time to come. In France we might have obtained something like the same advantages. There was a time when the feelings of the people ran strongly in our favour; but instead of cultivating such dispositions, we have adopted a policy destructive of every kindly impression, and calculated to alienate the affections of all who retain the slightest regard for national honour. I may appeal to any one who has been in France since the war, I will even ask the gentlemen opposite, if they have not observed a most intimate connexion between the commercial and the political prejudices, which now prevail against us. Talk to them of a commercial treaty, or generally of trade with us, and their answer is, nor can we marvel at it "While you keep 130,000 men in arms quartered upon our territory, we will not treat with you at all. While you rule us with a rod of iron, you shall get no gold from us by trading. 1044 While you exact tribute directly at the point of the bayonet, you must not hope to obtain it circuitously through the channels of traffic." These feelings are not peculiar to France; depend upon it, as long as the same fatal policy is pursued, British commerce will be excluded from the continent—excluded more effectually than by Buonaparté's decrees and his armies, because now, for the first time, its ports are sealed against us by the governments, with the cordial assent of the people.
I hope and trust, that this country may, before it is too late, retrace the steps, which it has been taking towards destruction, under the guidance of the noble lord. I pray that we may live to see England once more holding her steady course in the direction of a liberal, a manly, an honest, an English policy. May the salutary change be wrought, because our honour and fame demand it; but, if no higher considerations can influence our councils—if all worthier motives have lost their force—may we at the least consult our safety; adhere to that which is right, because it is shown to be beneficial; and abandon the path of dishonour, because it is leading us to ruin.—I move you, Sir, to resolve:—
The first Resolution being put,
- 1. "That the trade and manufactures of the country are reduced to a state of such unexampled difficulty as demands the most serious attention of this House.
- 2. "That those difficulties are materially increased by the policy pursued with respect to our foreign commerce, and that a revision of this system ought forthwith to be undertaken by the House.
- 3. "That the continuance of these difficulties is in a great degree owing to the severe pressure of taxation under which the country labours, and which ought, by every practicable means, to be lightened.
- 4. "That the system of foreign policy pursued by his majesty's ministers has not been such as to obtain for the people of this country those commercial advantages, which the influence of Great Britain in foreign courts fairly entitled them to expect."
The Hon. Frederick Robinson
said, when he recollected the powerful and temperate speech addressed to the House by the hon. and learned gentleman last year on a subject intimately connected with the present, he came to the House that evening with a conviction on his mind, that the 1045 hon. and learned gentleman would pursue a similar course of moderation and candour on this occasion. During the greatest part of his speech, indeed these hopes were not disappointed; for he was ready to admit that with respect to those parts of his speech which were practical, his expectations had not been disappointed; and it was really with unfeigned surprise that he had heard the latter part of the speech, in which the hon. and learned gentleman converted the whole of the topics on which he had enlarged into an instrument of crimination against his majesty's ministers. If the object of the hon. and learned gentleman had been to induce the House to look the difficulties of the country fairly in the face, he did not think that he would have adopted the course which he had done; for it was impossible to enter on a discussion with that dispassionate calmness and impartiality which the subject required, if subjects were mixed up with it by the hon. and learned gentleman, which could not fail to call forth the most opposite feelings from the different sides of the House. But though he lamented the course which the hon. and learned gentleman had taken, he did not feel himself called on to enter into those extraneous topics, the introduction of which he considered so extremely objectionable. All the points of the subject matter of the crimination of the hon. and learned gentleman against his majesty's ministers had already been decided by votes of the House, though these votes might not be convincing to the hon. and learned gentleman and those who acted with him. It was sufficient, however, that the subjects had been already decided by the House not to mix them up with the points which bore properly on the present question: and therefore he would not trouble the House with any observations on that part of the hon. and learned gentleman's speech. With respect to the other parts of that speech, it would be presumption in him to suppose that it was possible for him to follow the hon. and learned gentleman throughout the vast variety of interesting statements and details into which he entered. With much of what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman he entirely concurred. Many of the observations respecting the foreign commerce of the country—respecting the prohibitory system adopted by this country towards other countries—had his entire concurrence. But he felt more than the hon. and learned gentleman 1046 seemed to do, the infinite difficulty which there was in extricating ourselves from that system. The question was not now whether it was right or wrong to introduce the system, or whether the ministers of a century ago were to be blamed who had got us into that system, but whether we could, without infinite danger, escape from it, now that we were so deeply entangled in it? In all the communications which he had had with persons engaged in trade, he had never heard the general principle denied, but he never could get the individual to allow that the general principle ought to be applied to his case. He admitted with the hon. and learned gentleman, that it was true, in a considerable degree, that the prohibitory system operated to produce the present distress of the country. It operated to produce that distress, because it prevented the beneficial effects of commercial arrangements with foreign powers. But the hon. and learned gentleman argued, that after the conclusion of the war, for the successful prosecution of which we had advanced such vast supplies, we ought to have made some sort of condition with the various nations of the continent favourable to our commerce and manufactures. But he would venture to say, that no concessions extorted from foreign powers in that manner could possibly be lasting. Good God! were the nations on the continent so unlike ourselves, that they would allow themselves to be treated in that manner? Take Holland, for instance, which had benefited the most from our exertions by her extension of territory. Did the hon. and learned gentleman imagine that Holland and the Netherlands would remain quiet under an arrangement exclusively beneficial to us? It was hopeless to expect such concessions, unless we could induce the manufacturers of this country to consent to our giving the same facilities to foreign states which they gave to us.—If we failed in that, the extorting of concessions from others would only lead to heart burnings and jealousies, which would soon defeat the hopes of advantage that we might promise to ourselves from the arrangement. It was to be recollected also with regard to those powers to whom we gave assistance, that they were not fighting for a cause exclusively their own, but for a common cause; and if we had made the assistance dependent on concessions to our trade, we should have been no longer acting a disinterested part—no longer able to hold the tone we were enabled to hold and 1047 we should have laid ourselves open to reproaches far from honourable to us as a nation.
With regard to France, the case would have been still worse. The effect of the war, with regard to France, had been to reduce her purse, to humble her pride, to strip her of the emblems of glory which she had derived from the surrounding territories; and if, besides that humiliation, we had insisted on commercial advantages from that country, what hope was there, that the people of France would ever have borne with this usage. Had we adopted the policy recommended by the hon. and learned gentleman, that policy could not have held—sooner or later we should have been driven from it. It was not possible to avail ourselves of our former beneficial treaties. He was convinced, from the rooted prejudices in this country, against any facilities being given to foreign powers, in disposing of their manufactures in this country, that every proposition of that nature would be overcome by the hostility of the great mass of the manufacturers. Whether commercial treaties were beneficial or not, he would not say—the question was one which was open to great doubt—but this he was sure of, that they never could be beneficial where the advantages were not reciprocal. He agreed with the hon. and learned gentleman as to the bad effects on our own commerce of our restrictive policy. But the hon. and learned gentleman was not aware of all the difficulties in which the subject was involved. With regard to the corn bill, he agreed with him that it stood by itself—that its overwhelming necessity set all general principle at defiance. He stated this, that the hon. and learned gentleman might reflect, if he found that one subject was entitled to an exemption from the operation of his principle, there could be no wonder that others should also claim their exceptions—he would find exceptions claimed by many of his friends beside him. The hon. member for Essex (whose indisposition unfortunately prevented his attendance that night) wished that the exception with regard to corn should be extended to every article of agricultural produce.—With respect to two of the articles, hides and tallow, had that hon. member succeeded in obtaining the imposition of prohibitory duties on them, there would have been an utter end of the magnificent prospects opened by the hon. and learned gentleman in South America, as those 1048 were the chief articles by which the inhabitants of South America were enabled to pay for our manufactures.
With regard to the distresses of the country, he did not wish to represent them otherwise than they really were—he knew them to be very great, and it was not likely that he should be insensible to them; but he did not go so far as the hon. and learned gentleman in thinking that so little of them was to be considered as temporary; and in this he was a good deal borne out by what the hon. and learned gentleman himself had said last year in his speech on the agricultural question; for the hon. and learned gentleman had expressly said, that the transition from war to peace was a cause of considerable distress. With respect to the woollen and iron trade, for instance, it was impossible that the cessation of war should not strike a very heavy blow on those manufacturers.—But the hon. and learned gentleman had endeavoured to weaken to night what he had then asserted, by declaring that the temporary distress must be considered as now blown over—that this was the third year of peace, and that the temporary difficulties, occasioned by the cessation of former wars had been repaired in a much shorter space of time. But the hon. and learned gentleman had forgotten that though this might be said to be the third year of peace, yet that several months of 1815 were occupied in war, and preparations for war—and that the greatest expenditure which this country ever had made, was made in 1815—and the most extensive efforts ever made by this country were made in that year. It was impossible that the recovery from the effects of the war should be so rapid as in the case of former wars; first, from its longer duration; secondly, from its enormous expense; and lastly, from its having called into operation a much greater extent of the population and capital of the country; and then suddenly withdrawing the demand which called that population and capital into operation. From all these circumstances the distress was much more likely to be of longer duration. Now let it not be supposed he was so absurd as to argue that a transition from war to peace was not the happiest thing which could befal this country. His argument was against war, seeing the unnatural prosperity to which it gave rise. The revulsion from the cessation of that unnatural prosperity occasioned by the war, was the most 1049 powerful of all arguments against war. And holding that opinion, he could not help considering that it would be most unwise to act on the principle of the hon. and learned gentleman, with regard to South America; for we could not act on that principle without risking another war; and if once we got into war with Spain, or any other power, there was no saying to what extent that war might ultimately spread. The conduct pursued by France in the course of the hostilities between us and our colonies, would not justify us in imitating that conduct in the dissensions between Spain and her colonies. The declaration of war on the part of France, during the American war excited a very general indignation among all classes in this country; even Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke, who opposed the American war on what he (Mr. Robinson) conceived to be wise principles, loudly reprobated the interference of France at that period. How then, would it be less unjust and wise for us at this period to interfere in the dissensions between Spain and her colonies? The hon. and learned gentleman was fond of imputing to the government of this country a love of tyranny, the flattering of unworthy courts, and every base disposition; he was most ready to impute the worst motives to his majesty's ministers; but his readiness in imputing such motives was no reason why the House should adopt his opinions.
He should now advert to a few of the statements made by the hon. and learned gentleman with respect to the distress of the country, as well as his recollection would enable him. The hon. and learned gentleman had endeavoured to heighten a most melancholy picture of that state, by expatiating on the condition of the miners and manufacturers of iron in Staffordshire. It was indeed true that great distress did exist among the iron manufacturers of that county; but, in one branch, that of the armourers, it was easy to account for that distress from the cessation of demand for one great article, which, but for war, never would have been manufactured to the same extent. It was the inevitable consequence of peace, therefore, that that branch should fall. As far as that went, the evil certainly was not temporary, and nothing but a new war could put an end to it. With respect to another article of miner importance, the watch trade, he really did not see how it was possible for the House to effect any 1050 improvement in that trade. There was a great facility in smuggling foreign watches into the country, from their being, as he understood, not only much cheaper, but in some respects better than our own. During the war the intercourse was less, and of consequence the smuggling also less. They were now brought into the country, not by common smugglers, but by ladies and gentlemen coming from France. With respect to the tailors, of whom 2,000 were said to be out of employ, this no doubt, in a great measure, arose from a cessation of the army demand. But how could this be remedied? That the want of employment of tailors was, however, a proof of the distresses of the times, he was ready to admit; for if men had more money, they would naturally buy more coats with it. The hon. and learned gentleman had adverted to another branch of our trade, and commented with great force on the S3'stem pursued by this country with regard to timber. Though he did not go so far as the hon. and learned gentleman with regard to that subject, yet he concurred in a great measure with him upon it; but he wished the hon. and learned gentleman only knew the difficulties with which any person must have to struggle who attempted to make any change in the system. The persons concerned considered their interest as absolutely bound up in the maintenance of the system; and he believed if all the interest of the government were employed with the view of overturning the system, it would be impossible for them to succeed. He had adverted also to another subject, the system pursued with regard to iron, by which foreign iron was prevented from coming here; but he believed that any attempts to introduce any alteration in that respect would be equally unsuccessful. With respect to another article, foreign linen, he recollected that he (Mr. Robinson) had been burnt in effigy in half the towns in the north of Ireland at the time when he endeavoured to take off the duty on that article. It was only last year that the hon. member for Glasgow proposed a committee for taking that subject into consideration, but the House would not grant the committee. He stated those things to show the difficulty there was in bringing all parties concerned to adopt one common principle. The hon. and learned gentleman asked why there was such a heavy export duty on coals? Why not take that duty off and warm half the peo- 1051 ple of Europe? But if the hon. and learned gentleman were to come to the House with any proposition to this effect, he would immediately have the half of the manufacturers of the country in arms against him. Only last year he had proposed to take off the export duty on small coals. Immediately the manufacturers of glass came forward and said this measure would be enabling foreign manufacturers of the article to undersell and ruin them. He who thought that taking off the duty would enable us to sell our coals over Europe, forgot that in France and in Holland there was a high import duty, for the sake of protecting their own coal mines. The import duty in Holland was as high as our export duty here. The effect, therefore, of taking off that export duty would be, not to put money into our own treasury, but into that of the Dutch treasury in Holland. France also had calculated pretty much on our export duty. It was evident from this that they did not wish to encourage the importation of coals from this country—The hon. and learned gentleman had entertained much too sanguine views on this subject. What he (Mr. Robinson) now said, he did not consider at all inconsistent with the principle laid down by him, of wishing that we had never entered into the restrictive system, and thinking that it would be advantageous if we could break through it. Any person, however, who thought that the foreign commerce of this country could ever again be placed on the footing in which it was for several years, would be very much disappointed. W had been in possession of most of the valuable colonies, and from them we had supplied the nations with the produce of these colonies, which, to every people were almost necessaries of life. If we looked to our accounts of exports, we should find that a great part of the diminution in our exports was in colonial produce. The exportation of sugar, coffee, &c. in some years, had amounted to more than eight millions. When the House recollected that so many colonies had been given up, and among others, the magnificent colony of Java to the Dutch, they must be aware that the articles, the produce of those colonies, would never again find their way to the continent through this country. The cessation of war must sooner or later establish manufactures on the continent of Europe. What was there to prevent it? The people of the continent had capital, skill, and 1052 industry—there was nothing mysterious in the machinery. At present we might be somewhat better at constructing the machinery, and have more skill in working it; but if peace should last, and God grant it might! he did not see what there was to prevent the people of the continent from rivalling us, if not in countries where no manufactures were established, at least in their own countries. France had paid great attention to her cotton manufactures; already she employed hundreds and thousands in the manufacture of the best cloths and silks. What was there to prevent her also manufacturing cottons? So it was with Saxony, and several other parts of Germany—so it was with Switzerland—and so it would be in every country posessed of capital and industry.
He felt that he had troubled the House long enough with these details, so he should now close his observations. If the hon. and learned gentleman had concluded his speech in the way he began it, it was impossible that he could have met it with so decided an opinion as that which he was now forced to come to upon it. He had hoped and wished that the hon. and learned gentleman would bring the subject before the House in a way that would allow of some practical conclusion. From that course the hon. and learned gentleman had departed—he had given a different character to his motion—he therefore could not possibly agree to it, and he should in consequence move the other orders of the day.
§ Mr. Brougham
begged to explain, that in what he had said of the watch trade and unemployed tailors, he meant merely to advert to them as developing some of the general symptoms of the prevailing distress.
said, that if the right hon. gentleman opposite was surprised at the conclusion of the able and eloquent speech of his hon. and learned friend, he could also assure him, that he was in no small degree surprised and astonished at the manner in which he had terminated the able speech he had just delivered.—The House could not certainly go along with the right hon. gentleman in his conclusion, who, after admitting the prevailing distress and want of trade that had become so general of late, could yet from the mere casual circumstance of an alteration in his hon. and learned friend's temper, overlook great leading points of admitted radical necessity, and pass to the 1053 other orders of the day to get rid of the whole discussion.—The fight hon. gentleman had not only not refuted what had fallen from his hon. and learned friend, but he had actually confirmed by his testimony some of the leading and essential parts of the opening statement—and notwithstanding this he would throw aside the material decline of the iron, foreign linen, and other trades, merely on account of the manner in which his hon. and learned friend had treated the affairs of Ragusa and Genoa—He (Mr. Baring) could not come to such a conclusion as that, with these sentiments he should call for the other orders of the day. The right hon. gentleman had indeed alluded to certain difficulties in which, as vice-president of the board of trade, he had been placed. He had said, that he was so beset by the intercessions of one interested party or another, that he really knew not how to act between them. Now, to his conception, this, so far from being an argument for passing to the other orders of the day, should rather operate as an inducement to the right hon. gentleman to come down to parliament, and call for its full advice and decision to relieve him from these interested importunities. In one part of the statement of his hon. and learned friend, he did not certainly acquiesce—he alluded to the subject of machinery on which his friend intimated an opinion that might be construed to the injury of the setters up of machinery. Now he was convinced his hon. friend could not have meant to convey such a reflection. He (Mr. Baring) was free to confess he should have wished that a great deal of this machinery never had existence. He would have certainly preferred to see each cottage-door with its spinning wheel, as was formerly the case. The question, however, was not whether this sort of machinery should be introduced, but whether, being in existence, its use should be rejected. In the progress of arts it had found its way through the process of human invention, and it was quite impossible to counteract its advance towards perfection. The consequence of rejecting it now, would be only to transplant it to the other aide of the coast, where it would effect a permanent injury to our home trade—It was thus that the deluded people at Nottingham destroyed frame works, rendered insecure the property of the manufacturer, and, in some instances, drove him with his capital from the place, where, had he remained, they 1054 must have derived a benefit from his residence.—The question, he would then repeat, was no longer whether machinery should be used, but whether this country or the continent should have the greater benefit from it. The general state of the commerce of the country appeared in a situation (setting aside the bad state of laws and regulations which the right hon. gentleman admitted, but could not remedy as he ought) the same in kind as that which followed the close of every former war in which the country had been engaged. The description of the state of England after the peace of 1762, in one of Dr. Franklin's letters recently published, would, word for word, apply to the distresses under which it at present laboured. The present state, however, was greatly aggravated in comparison with the former by the longer and more expensive character of the war from which the country had been just disengaged, and by an additional cause which had no existence at any former period, but which now, operated in an enormous degree—he meant the state of the paper circulation—and its return to-something like a sign of metallic currency. This was now bitterly felt though the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer not very long ago, was able to persuade the House into a declaration that paper and gold were equivalent in value, and this at a time when they stood towards each other at a discount of 30 per cent.—The effect of the fluctuation of this paper currency was at length bitterly felt. As it approached to what commercial men called a par, land immediately fell in value, and every thing suffered a depreciation. The peculiar character of the present times was, that the distress pervaded all ranks. Commercial property (the. reduction in which was, from its nature, more of a private and concealed character) had, to his own knowledge, fallen immensely within the last two or three years, and had thus partaken of the universal calamity. The time had arrived when it became the duty of the legislature to interpose; more especially as ministers avowed their intention of attempting nothing for the relief of the country.—On the general question involving the applicability of commercial treaties to the welfare of particular states, he was certainly not very decided. He generally agreed with the right hon. gentleman, that to possess the character of durability, they must be founded on a reciprocity of interest; and†1055 that nothing would savour more of silly cunning and useless craft than any attempt to impose upon one party, while under the influence of a particular restraint a condition which was only productive (or unequally so) to the interest of another—it would be like the mean and suspicious cunning of little minds in private transactions, who were generally found to overreach themselves. In giving this opinion however, as to putting trade into an artificial state, he did not hesitate to say, that if the object of the treaty were to remove a manifest impediment to commerce then, indeed, its enactment would be salutary, for it would be in conformity with the old maxim in every body's mouth, but by none practised. "That the soul of trade was freedom, and a removal from impediment." This ought to be the only true basis of a commercial treaty. As to the funds, their present high price evidently arose from the want of a sufficient employment for capital in the general business of the country. A great borrower (the government) had suddenly gone out of the market, and the price of the funds had augmented in proportion. Capital was withdrawn in a great degree from landed speculation, and deposited in the funds. This disposal of money was, in a great degree, induced by the impolitic laws regulating the interest of money.—This should be free and open, and matter of private arrangement. This year might not perhaps be the exact period for introducing an alteration in those Jaws, but whenever the subject came forward it should receive his support—Were there no restraint in money matters in the regular market, money would be obtained on mortgage at 5s. 5¼ or 5½ per cent, instead of the land-holders being driven into the fangs of Jew moneylenders, who extorted (and mostly on landed revenue) thirteen per cent, and upwards from thoughtless or dissipated individuals, thus dipping still more that estate which was already encumbered. The great evil of the laws regulating interest was, that the government stood exempted from their operation, and borrowed at a great usurious interest on terms which it disallowed to all others. The law, as it at present stood, produced not a single benefit, and was the real source of considerable distress. He trusted that the House would agree to the motion, in order to convince the country that it was not altogether forgetful of its duty, however negligent ministers might be of theirs.
contended, that the hon. and learned mover of the resolutions had made out no case on which the House could possibly accede to his resolutions. He admitted that there existed a great deal of distress in the country, but these resolutions applied no remedy to them. The whole of the first part of the hon. and learned gentleman's argument went to prove that we ought to have established constitutional governments on the continent in order that the benefits of commerce should be extended to us. This argument was so absurd in its nature, that he would not then take up the time of the House in offering any answer. The resolutions ought not to be adopted until some evidence had been adduced to show that the statements were true: assertions were made, but nothing was proved; and though many arguments had been employed to show that all the distresses were imputable to ministers, the arguments were as destitute of foundation as the assertions. The present was the first occasion within his memory when not a single account had been required from the public offices on which a motion of such importance was to be grounded. The account of tonnage produced by the hon. and learned gentleman proved nothing unless he could also show in what way that tonnage was, employed, with what goods the ships were laden, or how many of them were in ballast. It was an erroneous assertion to say that the commerce of this country was altogether declined. The iron trade, on which so much had been said was not in that decayed state which was said, for the exports of the last year had considerably exceeded that of the two preceding years. Another objection of the hon. and learned member was, that we had not taken advantage of circumstances, and secured the trade of South America, but all persons better acquainted with the subject knew that that would be impracticable without running the risk of a war. As to the twenty years monopoly which was talked of, it was offered only by one province (the Carracas). The diminution of the demand for the luxuries of life was principally to be attributed to the temporary emigration of many families to the continent. The remarks, made upon machinery seemed inapplicable to this question. Session after session, during the war, acts were repealed that restricted the use of machinery: and if a different course of policy were now pursued, what would become of the cotton- 1057 manufactures of the kingdom? The difference of the circulation now and at a former period might be considered one cause of the present distresses. When the resstriction was put upon the cash payments of the bank of England, no less than 44 millions sterling, in gold, were in circulation; bank paper at that time did not exceed 12 millions; it had since risen to 27 millions, and the paper of country banks had amounted to 9 or 10 millions; so that, in the whole, the circulation of late had been only 36 millions instead of 44 millions, as in 1797; which of itself would produce much inconvenience. At the same time he was decidedly opposed to a precipitate resumption of cash payments. The poverty of the continent was another great source of distress in this country; but in that respect a rapid improvement was taking place. The hon. and learned gentleman had contended, that the prosperity of the country was not to be calculated from the present state of the exchanges; but in his Mr. Rose's opinion, those exchanges and the price of gold afforded the most flattering prospect. It had also been argued, that in our commercial arrangements, we had constantly treated France as an inveterate enemy, instead of conciliating her friendship. The fact, however, was otherwise; for after the American war many duties were lowered, and several prohibitions removed: the impost upon French wines was reduced one-half, while that upon the wines of Portugal was only reduced one third. With respect to commercial treaties, he thought it would be absurd to say that we could have them with all the advantage on our own side. Such treaties would only involve us in great intricacy and confusion. As to the complaint of the collection of the customs, he was of a different opinion. He thought that there could not be a more economical plan than that which was followed in our customs. On the whole, although it was impossible not to admit that great distresses prevailed, he saw no cause for despondency, convinced as he was, that in a short time all things would come round and prosperity be restored to all classes.
§ Sir John Newport
expressed his surprise at the line of argument adopted by the right hon. gentleman who, while he admitted that such great distress existed in the country, denied that there was evidence before the House sufficient to support the resolutions. But the fact was, there was a great mass of evidence before 1058 the House, besides the admission of the right hon. gentleman himself. There were petitions from all parts of the country, and from every class and description of its inhabitants, complaining of distress, and decay in their several branches of industry whether of agriculture, manufacture, or commerce.—and these were documents sufficiently strong to support the question now in discussion. The opinion of the right hon. gentleman was most extraordinary, "that the country was in distress, but that it would right itself," There might be hopes of this, but unless some measures were adopted to enable it to right itself, those hopes would be most groundless, and the assertion of the right hon. gentleman reminded him of what Horace said, "Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis," and unless some measure of relief were adopted, it might be added of the tide of distress that overflowed the country, "Labitur et labetur in omne vo-lubilis ævum." Distress pervaded every part of the country, yet, with an apathy as singular as it was unaccountable, ministers put off, day after day, week after week, the great business of examining its true causes. They seemed to shudder at the very idea of looking into the origin of these distresses. But he would ask, how were members to justify themselves to their constituents, by allowing themselves to be pursuaded by ministers to overlook these distresses? The right hon. gentleman had talked of a gradual resumption of cash payments, just as he had once talked of a gradual abolition of slavery; and the House had no occasion to be reminded of what that term "gradually" meant. It was insulting to the country to describe the transition from war to peace, as the cause of our distresses, for those distresses to a very great extent, were simply owing to our immense taxation. The emigration of the gentry was said to be another cause, but it was more properly an effect of the distress, for they were driven by the force of taxation from the country, and found it utterly impossible to exist here under such an intolerable load. That emigration would be, not temporary, as the right hon. gentleman flattered himself; but permanent until the country should be restored to such a state that a gentleman of family could live in the style to which he had been accustomed from birth. Let the taxes be moderate, and no emigrations would ever take place. But things we were told were coming round. Yes, Dis- 1059 tress had come round, with its ally poverty, and had reached to us from the continent, and now centered in England, and was likely to remain stationary there for any efforts that ministers seemed disposed to make. Poverty had laid its withering grasp on all classes of the community. The rise of the funds had been ascribed to the increasing prosperity of the country, but it certainly was owing to the increase of capital, as there was no channel of trade in which the merchant or trader could embark his capital with profit, and he had therefore gone to the funds. If the argument for their rising, on account of the suspension of the Habeas Corpus, was good for any thing at all, why not at once abolish that act, since its temporary suspension was a source of prosperity. The sinking fund could not be at all beneficial, unless there was a surplus revenue, for, if that surplus revenue ceased, the fund must be made up by new taxes, which it was now acknowledged the country could not pay, and which could not be levied. He considered the present delusion, called by the name of a sinking fund, to be worse than a delusion, inasmuch as it materially injured one class without benefiting another.
Mr. C. Grant
junr. contended, that the resolutions moved by the hon. and learned gentleman were a direct censure on the conduct of ministers. They contained criminal charges against them which were not borne out by the fact. He therefore could not agree with them; though he admitted that there existed a considerable degree of distress in the country, yet that he did not conceive a sufficient foundation for charging his majesty's government with criminality of which they were not guilty. Another reason why he could not agree with the resolutions was, that they tended to produce throughout the country regret for the past and hopelessness for the future; neither of which feelings had any foundation in fact. It could not be denied that distress existed, but it ought to be admitted that it was considerably less than it had been a short time back, and that great improvements were recently perceptible in almost every branch of manufacture.—We were improving, and we had a prospect of improving still more. It was then unfair to give a check by such desponding views of our present state, as were comprehended in the resolutions, to the hopes which the incipient renovation of our commerce had begun to excite. The causes which ope- 1060 rated in continuance of some distress were stated, but the great and first cause of their existence had been kept out of sight. The one great cause in which the present distress originated was, the cessation of the demand from our foreign customers. We had for a long time the almost exclusive supply of the foreign market; but this was now cut off, or at least checked by the poverty of those whom we before supplied. Of course the commodities which they formerly consumed were now returned upon our own home market, which was already glutted by the quantity on hands. He would not go into the political causes of this, but it was enough to account in some degree for that pressure which was now felt. Another great source of commercial distress was, the cessation of the home consumption, and this arose from the want of means occasioned by temporary causes. The home market was one of the best supports which our commerce and manufactures had. It always, during the war, afforded a ready consumption for a great part of our manufactured goods as well as for the articles of foreign importation. While we were at war, the high price at which all articles of agricultural produce had arrived, enabled the farmers, and others dependent on that branch of our industry, to use our own productions. It gave them amply the means of purchasing, not only the necessaries and comforts, but even the superfluities of life, and this afforded a support to our domestic trade and commerce, which was nearly equal to that given by the foreign markets. If it was recollected that corn had risen during the war from 2l. to 3, 4, 5, and 6l. it would not be surprising that the consumption of our manufactures, by the landed interest, had increased to a corresponding extent. This consumption gave a stimulus and support to every other branch of our trade, which was of the greatest advantage: but now that the price of agricultural produce was so considerably reduced, when its exchangeable value was so much depreciated, it was not at all surprising that the profits of our home market had so considerably diminished. At one time, during the war, the value of our agricultural produce was rated at 216 millions annually; but at the present moment, it was reduced to nearly half that amount. This would show the root of the distress. It was, in fact, the home consumption on which we had hitherto, in a great degree, depended; and 1061 when that became materially lessened from the operation, as he had before observed, of temporary causes, we ought not to be astonished if our general trade suffered. In former years, when, by the operation of what was called the continental system, our goods were partially excluded from those foreign markets, where before they had found so quick a sale, the flourishing state of our agriculture enabled us to supply, in a great degree, the deficiency in our foreign consumption, which that temporary exclusion had created. Means were found to circulate our commodities through the country at home; and though this was done at a reduction in their price, yet there was still a sufficient profit to keep our manufactories in a flourishing condition. But at the present moment, when we were shut out from foreign markets, by the temporary poverty of our customers, we had not the same means. For besides the diminution of our home demand, we had our warehouses filled, and this glut was increased by the return of those goods, which we were not enabled to dispose of abroad. At the same time that he admitted this, he was glad to perceive that we were beginning to revive from that languor into which the change from war to peace had thrown us. In several parts of the country our manufactures had begun to improve. Orders for our manufactures were daily falling in from various quarters. Many persons, till recently out of employment, were now at full work. This was particularly visible in our woollen and cotton manufactures, and the prospect which was open of then greater increase was extremely cheering. In Glasgow, at the present moment, most of the weavers were engaged; and this was, in a great measure, attributable to the impulse that had been given to that which communicated its impulse to every thing else—he meant agriculture—by the corn bill, of which measure the corn districts were now reaping the benefits. It was an unfounded assumption, that the rise in the funds had been occasioned solely by the purchase made in them of unemployed capital. The real cause of the rise was, that public confidence had revived. The hon. and learned gentleman had spoken of the relaxation of our commercial system; and he agreed with him in thinking, that such relaxation would be highly advantageous to the country; but how was it to be brought about? The hon. and learned gentleman 1062 could not but be aware, that the opinion of the country was decidedly against any relaxation, and nothing could be more tin-statesmanlike, than to attempt to legislate against public opinion. Many seemed to suppose, that there was some magical secret in the system which had elevated this country to its high pitch of commercial greatness; but if there was any secret, he was sure it was not wrapped up in the paragraphs of these restrictive statues, but was to be found in the industrious spirit and skill of the people of this country. But he was convinced that the difficulties which our trade had experienced were about to be overcome. With regard to foreign trade, the Mediterranean and American markets were fully open to us. Nothing could eventually exclude our manufactures from the continent. Even the iron hand of Buonaparté had failed in producing that effect. They had been sent hence to Russia; from Russia to Turkey; thence to Salonica; and over land to Vienna; and even then the trade left a profit. When gentlemen considered the resources the country possessed, the high state of its cultivation, the extent of our empire, our political ascendency and superiority in arts and in arms could they believe the predictions they had heard? Were they to believe, that this great nation was now ruined past all hope of recovery? that it was a nation to be hurled from guilty greatness, to irretrievable destruction? In answering these questions, he should not inquire what markets we had for our manufactures; he would appeal to a higher ground. He relied, for out security and prosperity, on the energy and strength of character possessed by the people of this country—on the ascendency of the national genius, which had carried us with glory through the war; and on that constitution, so admirably adapted to insure the national prosperity in peace.
§ Mr. Sharp
adverted to two points in the speech of a right hon. gentleman opposite, to show the fallacious character of his reasoning. The right hon. gentleman had asked, how the late rise in the funds had taken place, and had concluded by attributing it to increased confidence in the government. This was certainly not going so far as a noble person was said to have done in another place, who ascribed the rise in the funds to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act! The plain fact was, that it had been occasioned by the very prudent measure adopted by the chancel- 1063 lor of the exchequer—the reduction of the interest of exchequer bills, from 5 to 3¾ per cent. The right hon. gentleman had also argued, that there was similar distress, at the close of every war and had instanced the price of funds after the close of the American war, which was certainly low. But there was a manifest cause for this:—for as commerce was then opened to America, the temptation to withdraw money from the funds, to embark in mercantile speculations, was so great, that a reduction in the price necessarily took place; but for such a transfer at present there was no temptation. The right hon. gentleman had said, he was convinced the whole system of restrictions was erroneous. If so, what was the reason that it was continued? Why, the right hon. gentleman told them that he was so teazed and worried by the manufacturers in sup-port of them, that he feared to make any change. Now, he (Mr. S.) could not conceive any stronger argument than this acknowledged weakness of the government, to prove the mischief which would ensue, if the House, by its vote, should declare that there was no necessity for its interference, while the ministers were unable or unwilling to do even that which they were convinced would be advisable.
said, that he felt obliged to the hon. and learned gentleman for fringing forward the discussion; and although he did not feel the necessity to change our whole policy of foreign commerce, he still was induced to recommend his majesty's ministers to revise many branches of it; and in particular those that had been mentioned, of the duties on foreign timber, especially from Norway and the Baltic (imposed to favour the importation of timber from our American colonies, but in reality favourable only to the importation of that article from the United States). Also the high duty on foreign linens, which was the occasion of the transit and profits on them being lost to the country, together with the other articles that might compose an assorted cargo with the linens, Adverting to the statement that had been made by a right hon. gentleman respecting the decreased circulation of the country, and his observations on the bank of England, he remarked that the directors had a delicate and arduous duty to fulfil. There were persons in that House ready to censure any increased issue of bank notes; and, on the other hand, the right hon. gentle- 1064 man was of opinion their issue was too small. The directors ever had fulfilled, and would continue to fulfil the trust and confidence placed in them in a prudent and considerate manner. The right hon. gentleman had stated, that a circulation of 40 millions of gold had existed before the war, and had said so in a pamphlet. He (Mr. Thornton) thought it extremely difficult to say what had been the circulation of gold; and he was certain that the amount coined was not a data from which it could be taken. During the American war our troops had been maintained in that country by guineas sent from hence, and 20 years after a large portion of those guineas had returned to this country. In estimating the circulating currency, the country bank-notes and the exchequer bills ought to be comprehended. He approved of the policy, that this country should not interfere in the dispute between Spain and her colonies; but should the trade to them be opened, he hoped active and early measures would be adopted to secure a share of it to Great Britain.
§ Mr. Finlay
did not agree with those who supposed the distress of the country proceeded from a diminished demand for our manufactures. The goods brought to market by the manufacturers were disposed of, but the evil lay in the low state of wages. This, he believed, was an evil experienced over all Europe. An hon. baronet, in a former debate, had represented the situation of this country as worse than any other in Europe; but that he was confident was not the case. In France, in Switzerland, in Austria, Saxony, and every part of Germany, the greatest distress was felt. This state of things, he thought, was occasioned almost solely by the change from war to peace, which sent back to their homes great numbers of men who had been engaged in military pursuits. When the prices of labour became thus reduced, the workman found it necessary to work a greater number of hours to enable him to maintain his family; and this additional work threw a new quantity of labour into the market, and aggravated the distress. An improvement, however, had taken place in all the manufacturing districts; and when that improvement should advance a little farther the situation of the cotton manufacturers would no longer be a subject of complaint. He objected to the resolutions, but he wished to see some other way of disposing 1065 of them resorted to than that of passing to the order of the day.
§ Mr. Brougham
in reply to an observation which had fallen from a right hon. gentleman, explained that he had not stated any thing against the use of machinery; on the contrary, he had observed, that the low price of labour had the effect of leading to a competition with machinery,
was happy to think that any impression which could have been made by the tone of gloomy despondency which pervaded the hon. and learned gentleman's speech must have been long since removed by the facts which have been stated by gentlemen well informed of the real state of the country; and especially by those which the House had just heard from the hon. member for Glasgow. To the latter part of the hon. and learned gentleman's speech, the introduction of which he very much lamented, he certainly did not feel himself called upon to reply, because there was nothing in it realty applicable to the question before the House. He could not refrain, however, from observing, that the discussion of a nature similar to the present which took place last session, had been conducted in a better manner and spirit. Care had then been taken to abstain from mixing political questions with those of the present kind. On the present occasion it seemed to have been more the aim of the hon. and learned gentleman to wound the government than [to mend the situation of the country. But with respect to what the hon. and learned gentleman had said of the course of policy which his majesty's ministers had pursued at the close of the late war, he should only observe, that every point of that great question bad, after full deliberation, been decided upon by the House.—Having obtained the sanction of parliament, he apprehended that the conduct of ministers could not now be made the subject of inquiry. He was certainly ready to acknowledge that, as fallible men, they might have committed mistakes; but he was willing to leave it to the present generation, and posterity, to judge whether in those great transactions, in the adjustment of which they had to participate, they had not done their best for the interests of the country and of mankind. He, for his part, should never regret that he had been no party in the framing of such treaties as the hon. and learned gentleman thought ought to have been the result of the late peace.—No- 1066 thing, in his opinion, could be more criminal than exercising a power over other men, in order to compel them to contribute to our interests. Such a system almost always turned against the country which resorted to it. Where was the country with which there could be any hope of maintaining a treaty imposed upon it contrary to its interests and wishes? In what sort of situation would this country have been placed had we been obliged after peace to remain armed for the purpose of compelling the countries to submit to treaties which they might think it their interest to break? With regard to the question of distress, he was not disposed to deny its existence to a very considerable extent; but he was well assured that the state of the country was improving. An hon. member from an important district, who spoke last, had acknowledged this improvement; and had farther borne testimony, that the distress did not arise from the smallness of the demand for our manufactures, but from the decreased price of labour. What had passed last session, relative to another branch of public industry, was calculated to afford much consolation in the consideration of the present subject. The House would recollect, that the state of agriculture was then as depressed as that of manufactures was now. In the speech which the member for Essex with great ability addressed to the House, on submitting his resolutions for the advantage of agriculture, he, with all his knowledge of the subject, fell into a manifest error.—He regarded the depression of agriculture as permanent. The Committee of that House which took the subject into consideration, on the contrary, considered the distress to proceed from temporary causes, capable of removal; and the event proved their opinion to have been well founded. There was often a strong similarity between the circumstances which tended to depress agriculture and those which operated in the same way on manufactures. An expectation of the introduction of foreign corn, for instance, always produced a rapid decline in the value of agricultural produce. It was much the same with manufactures, when, after a war a great mass of population was thrown back on the country to seek for civil employments. This could not fail to cause a depression in the price of labour, and, combined with the low price of corn, had the effect of making all descrip- 1067 tions of persons seek to indemnify themselves by a reduced consumption, and other measures of economy.—He denied that the continent was shut against our manufactures. There were some accounts on the table to which he should advert as evidence of the present state of our foreign commerce. They would amply prove that our trade had not suffered in consequence of no commercial treaties having been concluded. Of such treaties it ought always to be remembered, that the powers of the continent entertained the greatest jealousy, and could not now be persuaded to adopt a system which would throw their commerce into one channel for a given series of years. To so great a height was that jealousy carried, that though this country should not have common justice in a commercial convention, it would be thought on the continent that the bargain was entirely to our advantage. The House would, however, see from the accounts he should read, that our trade did not need the assistance of such treaties. The exports of our manufactures for the year 1816, according to the statement of their official value, which the House knew was the fittest for a comparison of this kind, amounted to 36,700,000l., and this was the highest value they had ever reached, except in the preceding year, when the amount was 44,000,000l. In the year 1814, they were 36,000,000l. in 1813, 31,000,000l. Upon every fair principle of reasoning, it might be concluded that the unnatural amount of the exports of 1815 had contributed to the present distress. It was well known that much speculation had previously taken place, and that very great efforts were made to meet the expected demand of peace. Very considerable exports have been made to America, where, in consequence of a distress similar to that which prevailed in Europe, the power of purchasing had diminished, and our manufactures, after lying for a time in warehouses, were re-exported to this country. This produced a surplus in the home market, and a consequent depression of prices. He would show by the state of our ex-ports that there had not been much falling off. Last year we exported cotton goods to a higher amount than we ever did in any former year except the preceding. In 1816, the exports of cotton were to the value of 16,300,000l.; in 1815, 21,000,000l.: in 1814, 16,000,000l. Our woollen and linen manufactures were exported in a si- 1068 milar proportion compared with preceding years. In all our export trade there was no indication of a great decline. Looking at our intercourse with the continent we should be sensible that it was now greater than at any former period; and from this there was every hope that a revival of our commerce might be expected. Our home consumption of manufactures had certainly been exceedingly diminished in consequence of the great falling off in government demand; this would be seen by a comparison of the demand of the ordnance, of the navy, and the commissariat, for manufactured articles and produce during the last and preceding years. He had not the ordnance accounts before him, but it would be seen what difference existed between the war and peace demand of the navy board and the commissariat from the following statement:—In the year 1812, the navy purchases were to the amount of 2,300,000l., in 1813, 2,800,000l., in 1814, 1,400,000l., in 1815, 505,000l., in 1816, 317,000l. The commissariat demand in 1814, was 280,000l., in 1815, 553,000l., and in 1816, 195,000l. The withdrawing of this great demand from the home market was the cause of the diminished consumption of manufactures, and of a portion of the distress of the manufacturing interest. The improvement of the exchange, too, which might be advantageous to the country, operated against the merchant who exported our commodities, and tended to diminish his trade. When the exchange was high, the merchant could afford to export articles and sell them in a foreign country for a small, or even for a less price than he bought them, and still be a gainer by the profit on the exchange in making his returns. Now how much must the exchange discourage exports, when instead of being 25 or 30 per cent, against us, it was 8 per cent, the other way. Even with this disadvantage, our manufactures would, however, find their way to the continent. Notwithstanding the obstructions formerly thrown in the way of a free intercourse with the continent, our manufactures and produce were exported for the supply of our neighbours: and it could not be supposed that greater facilities of intercourse would diminish this tendency. When there was every reason to hope for a beneficial change in the circumstances of the trading and manufacturing interest, he could not help expressing his disapprobation of any thing that tended to inspire 1069 gloom and distrust, Nothing could be more cruel than to add to the pressure of distress foreboding predictions of its continuance, and to take away from those who were suffering the prospect of amelioration. There might soon be a demand, for the labour and industry of the country, as great nearly as formerly. Wages would in consequence rise; but he did not think they would rise so high as formerly, nor did he believe that such a rise was desirable. The excessively high rate of wages, during some of the flourishing periods of our manufacturing industry, he was convinced contributed neither to the morals, to the health, nor to the happiness of the people. They were apt to engender habits of extravagance, to produce irregularity, and to operate against temperance and economy. If the present calamity did nothing else but correct the disposition thus fostered and strengthened, it would effect an ultimate benefit. He came now to the question, whether the resolutions ought to be supported; and here he concurred cordially with his hon. friend who had moved the amendment. The hon. and learned gentleman seemed desirous, from the way in which he introduced this subject, and the nature of the resolutions with which he concluded his speech, to leave his majesty's ministers no other alternative than to move the orders of the day. The political hostility of the hon. and learned gentleman was so mixed up with his commercial propositions, that he could not expect from ministers their concurrence in his resolutions. His object seemed to be to attack ministers, and thus to leave him no other course but to concur in the motion of his hon. friend for passing to the orders of the day, with whatever reluctance he did it, and however willing he would have been to have entered into the discussion of the commercial question had it not been studiously rendered subservient to a political one.
, in looking to the causes of the present distress, could not but come to a very different conclusion from that which had been come to by the noble lord and the hon. and learned gentleman. To him it appeared their observations with respect to the effect that would be produced by an increase in the value of agricultural produce, were completely unfounded. Consequences very different from those which they thought were to be expected, would, he was confident, result from such a change. If what was 1070 raised from the land became of greater value a higher price must be placed on the article manufactured from it; and if the prices of our commodities were thus enhanced, they would cease to be exported. The root of the evil appeared to him to lie in the amount of taxes paid by the manufacturer and landholder, and not in any temporary causes, arising out of the transition from a state of war to a state of peace, or from the falling off of the demands of government for those supplies of manufactured articles which were wanted during the war. He was of opinion if the people were relieved from that load of taxes which now oppressed their industry, not only would the home demand revive, but they would be enabled to under-sell the merchants of other countries in the foreign markets. At present it was impossible for them to enter into competition with foreigners. It was said, that as our goods had found their way to the continent while Buonaparté was in power, and while his decrees were rigorously enforced, there could be no doubt that they would do so again, when the other nations of Europe had had time to recover themselves from the effects of the late war. On this he had to remark, we were now in a situation very different from that in which we had formerly stood at the period referred to. Then, the difficulties we were enabled to throw in the way of France, created such impediments to the transfer of her manufactures to other parts, that the British merchant was enabled, in spite of the decrees, to send goods to them cheaper from this country, than they could be exported from France. It had been said by some gentleman who had spoken in the debate, that all classes in the state laboured under the same difficulties. This was certainly the case with one exception. Those were exempted from the general calamity, who, in some way or other, derived their revenue from the public purse. While all other classes were severely suffering from the pressure of the times, these, on the contrary were better off than formerly, in proportion as the general distress was great. This in part arose from the great diminution of the circulating medium which had taken place. At that late hour he would not enter at large into the subject, but he must say the evil would not be removed by an increase of the number of bank notes now in circulation. If no other means were devised by ministers for the relief of the people it would be impossible 1071 for this country to carry on any trade with foreign nations, without having the exchanges immediately turned against us once more. When however they were congratulated on the prospect of the bank resuming its payments in gold and silver, he thought it right to say that for the bank to return to cash payments at present, would be most injurious. It was a delusion to talk of it, but if the thing could be done, it would produce universal distress; greater even than that which had been already experienced. The agricultural interest would be ruined by it, and the country could derive no benefit from the sacrifice which would thus be made, with the exception of that class of which he before had had occasion to speak. These for a time (but such a state of things could not continue long) might be gainers by it, and while the rest of the population suffered, more profits might be put by the resumption of cash payments, into the pocket of the fundholder.
§ Mr. Alderman Atkins
said, if the hon. and learned gentleman had moved for a committee to inquire into the state of manufactures and commerce, he should have supported his motion. He thought the state of the country indispensably demanded the appointment of such a committee to investigate the causes of the existing distress, and to endeavour to discover means by which it might be removed. As the hon. and learned gentleman's resolutions had no reference to that object, however unwilling he felt on such a question to pass to the order of the day, he could not vote with him.
§ Mr. Brougham
rose to reply, and spoke as follows:
Sir;—Having already trespassed beyond all bounds on the patience of the House. I shall now intrude upon it but for a very few moments. It was not my intention to have offered one word more on the subject; but the observations which have fallen from the worthy alderman who spoke last, and from another hon. gentleman (the member for Glasgow) call for some reply. Both seemed to complain that in the resolutions which I have had the honour to submit to the House, I have not called for the appointment of a committee. Had they read my second resolution, I think they would have seen that it involved that which they have thought it their duty to recommend. They would there have found that I have endeavoured to prevail upon the House, to bring the whole com- 1072 merce of the country under their consideration, with a view to make such a general revision of the system, as may appear to be called for by the changes which have taken place in the circumstances of the country, and indeed of the whole world. I have proposed that the question at large should be made the subject of inquiry, that inquiry of course to be undertaken by a committee of this House. I never thought of bringing in bills to repeal the prohibitory duties now in force, or to alter the navigation laws, till some investigation of the effects produced by them on our commerce had taken place. I considered it necessary that the subject should first go before a committee who should report on it, preparatory to the bringing in of such bills. What but this would immediately follow if the resolutions now before the House should be carried? The committee of trade and commerce (one of our standing committees), would immediately take cognizance of the resolutions, upon the motion being agreed to, unless it should be deemed adviseable to refer them in the usual way to a committee above stairs.
Being on my legs, there are one or two of the statements made by the noble lord that appear to me so calculated to mislead the House, that I must be allowed to notice them. In the first place the noble lord has replied to my speech by an attempt to show that the exports of the last year, amounting to 36,700,000l., were greater than those of any former year with the exception of 1815. I expected to be met by a large statement of the exports from the official returns, and the noble lord will recollect that I anticipated such an answer. What appears on the face of the official papers does not at all surprise me, for I knew the facts before, which the noble lord has endeavoured to establish, but what I contend for is this, that the noble lord has no means of showing that the returns he has quoted give any thing more than mere nominal prices. He cannot prove that the goods have been paid for—that these were real invoice prices, or that even 50 per cent, on them had ever been paid. The returns do not show that there has been any demand for the goods so exported; or that a bale of them has been sold. The truth is the foreign markets have been glutted with our merchandise; there has been no sale for the goods sent out; consequently no returns have been made; and it is this state of things which has had the effect of raising the exchanges 1073 to their present unnatural height, in what is absurdly called our favour. The state of the exchanges is merely the consequence of there being no market for our goods, and no returns for them by importation. The hon. member for Glasgow has stated that there is at present but a small stock on hand, and that the export has been unusually great. What follows from this statement?—why that great quantities of goods have been sent abroad,—but not sold; and much of what has been sold, has been sold for less than it cost to manufacture the goods thus disposed of. If then, under such circumstances, my honourable friend, the member for Glasgow, has exported a large quantity of his cotton webs, and has now but a small stock on hand, it does not follow that the view I have taken of the state of our commerce is other than correct. On the contrary, it is because my statement proves accurate; because what he has exported fetches little or no profit, and much of it is sold at a loss; that he cannot afford to pay even moderate wages to the hands that wove the webs. In a word, I never denied that there was both export and work going on, but I stated (and all the answers attempted to me admit it) that the exportation brought no profit, and consequently the work was not paid. That the demand of government for various manufactured articles was great during the war; and that the cessation of this demand, now we are at peace, must cause much partial distress I am aware; but the noble lord has argued on this, as if the sum formerly expended, had been so much clear profit to the country. He has made no account of the money which, from the cessation of these demands, must remain in the hands of the people. He has not spoken of this as being at all likely to promote our internal commerce, and to make up for the depression experienced in one part of the country, by the increased prosperity of another. If he and his colleagues have no longer their hands in our pockets as formerly, might it not have been expected that the same private revenue, would still have caused nearly the same demands in the home market generally? Is it unreasonable to suppose that the people should purchase for themselves the same articles with their own money, which were formerly, purchased for them, while the chancellor of the exchequer had his longer hand in the pockets of those paying taxes? The noble lord argues as if 1074 men could not spend their money unless that hand was working in it as well as their own. I admitted distinctly that the transition from a war to peace in some particular places increased the distress; and I gave Birmingham as an instance—But from the falling off in the demands of government having operated severely in some instances, the noble lord cannot account for the absence of money in all directions; yet this is the melancholy fact.
In noticing one part of my speech, the noble lord has argued as if I were an advocate for so monstrous a speculation as that of establishing and supporting foreign governments, not with a view to the general happiness of mankind, but in order to make them subservient to our commercial interests:—as if I were desirous that dynasties should be planted here and there, for no purpose but to secure this country undue advantages in her trade. Sir, I have said no such thing. I never thought of advancing such a proposition. On the contrary, I have said. "Do that which is right, which is honourable,—which a liberal and enlightened view of the present situation of the world would dictate; and which a regard to our own national character prescribes;—and doing this, you will find you consult your own best interests, commercial as well as political." This was the course which I recommended to the noble lord, and I asked him whether that which he had pursued was the true line of policy, and whether it served the interests any better than it maintained the honour of the country? To the system which he and his colleagues have pursued, I objected not merely on commercial grounds, but on account of the injustice by which it was marked. I contended, that the character and the trading interests of England suffered equally from making her the patroness of every antiquated superstition; the accomplice in spoliation, and the ally of fraud and of oppression wherever it was to be found on earth. Such conduct I maintained, while it must prove most injurious to our character, unless disavowed by parliament, would also ultimately injure us in money, as well as in reputation; since those who profited by our departure from principle, would be the first to laugh at our folly, and despise us for joining in their crimes. Those in whom we most confided, far from giving us those advantages to which, by the conduct I have described, we might suppose ourselves entitled, will be found most ready to con- 1075 demn our injustice, and to deprecate our interference in their affairs. After what I have already said, I will only humbly venture to suggest that we might have presumed to solicit something from the countries for which we have done the most;—we might have attempted to use the influence we had acquired with their governments in favour of our commerce. In France, instead of making the restoration of a particular family our sine qua non, our attention might have been directed more to the happiness of the people, and in helping them out of their difficulties; commercial advantages might have been obtained from their gratitude. Instead of acting thus, a widely different course has been taken; but so long as we continue to act by that country as we do now, it is my firm conviction—a conviction which I have not the smallest doubt I shall carry with me to my grave,—that we shall not only injure our character in France, but shall irremediably, if a cure to the evil be not promptly applied, lay such a foundation for commercial jealousy, and political hatred, as will infallibly meet us every where in tariffs and in treaties—it is of no consequence under what name, but it will meet us in some shape or other, wherever we are called upon to act. We ought to have endeavored to make some commercial arrangement with France. Her goods ought not to have been excluded from our markets. But instead of taking that course we have treated the French people in such a manner, that supposing them to possess but the lowest feelings of honour, or of national dignity, it is impossible for them at present to listen to any offer on our part to treat with them.
With respect to South America, I have not recommended that we should go to war to obtain commercial advantages in that part of the world, but I do wish that we should use the means we possess of enforcing our interests without going to war. I have not said that we ought to take part with the colonies of Spain against the parent state; but without recommending this, I will say we ought to put our relations with the Spanish colonies on some regular footing. At present we have done neither one thing nor another. We have consuls in one place; in others we have no agents—one governor appears hostile, another seems friendly to the independent cause; and the whole course of our policy, if policy it can be called, is calculated to perplex, and hamper our own 1076 merchants. I wish some distinct line of conduct to be adopted, which may at once set all doubt at rest. In making such a call, I am supported by a very considerable authority, that of the noble lord himself. Once upon a time I recollect, the noble lord, by some strange caprice of fortune, was doomed to occupy the benches from which I now address you. In those days (they were not many, and may never return) he himself took the very same view of this question which I now recommend. In a very able speech, at least it was a pretty extensive one, upon the address to the Crown, he touched upon the South American question. I am the more confident that my account of his words is correct from internal evidence; for one of his charges against the ministers of the day was, their having dissolved parliament, which act the report makes him typify under the figure of "turning their backs upon parliament." Their policy with respect to the Spanish colonies in South America, met with his disapprobation, as he considered it to be neither one thing nor another, and what he wished was, that they would determine on some definite line to be adopted, and, as he said, either do one thing or another. This, which the noble lord then recommended to others, is precisely what I am now exhorting him to think of himself. I wish him to adopt some fixed line, and pursue it; I would have him do either one thing or another. I am surprised and grieved at the manner in which it is attempted to get rid of the present motion. If the House shall adopt the previous question, or proceed to the other orders of the day, what will such a decision be, but that which my hon. friend (Mr. Sharp) has very ably stated? It will be considered a declaration that the calamities of the people are great, but that this House will do nothing for them in the hour of distress: that we even refuse to inquire into their situation, and will not entertain the question of relieving them.
If such a course is at any time to be shunned, Good God! what must it be at a time like the present, when pursued in the face of the portentous statement made by the right hon. gentleman at the head of the trade of the country, who has declared himself to be against the great bulk of the present commercial restrictions, who has avowed that he agrees with me in almost all I have urged against the system, but gives as a reason for clinging†1077 to its errors, that the ministers are not strong enough to combat the various personal interests opposed to a change. The right hon. gentleman has admitted, that the government would be willing to encourage a revival of the commerce formerly carried on between this country and the north of Europe, but they could not do this for the representations made by the timber merchants concerned in the trade to British North America. They would make new regulations too with respect to the importation of iron, but here in the same way, they are met by those interested in the iron trade. When a government is reduced to such a state of deplorable weakness, that it not only consists of a few mere clerks in office, but is in so dependent and tottering a state, that it cannot stand up to act for itself against one paltry interest and another; and when this wretched imbecility is not only confessed by themselves, but put forth as a reason for not attempting what they admit ought to be done for the country, is it not full time, I ask, for the House to take the affairs out of their hands? Have they not supplied an unanswerable argument in favour of the present motion, one which should induce this House, if there were no other, to take upon itself the revision of the commerce of the country, and to make those necessary regulations, which ministers, from the opposition of interested individuals of this trade and that, of their iron-men and wooden-men, are unable to effect, and afraid of attempting themselves? On a former night, I incurred the displeasure of the master of the Mint for quoting the authority of a predecessor of his, who filled the same office, but was certainly a person of very inferior rank and influence in all other respects—I mean sir Isaac Newton. Perhaps I shall be excused to night for citing the words of another great man, who, having been also a cabinet minister, may be better listened to by the gentlemen opposite, my lord chancellor Bacon. That illustrious person has delivered himself in expressions not inapplicable to the present times. He recommends for the remedy of seditions, nothing like gagging bills or other measures of restraint, which, by seeking to silence the voice of complaint, only give the people more cause to complain. But, he says, that the best means of checking discontent, is to search the causes of it, and undertake their removal, whether these shall be found in the amount of 1078 taxes, the falling off of trade, the breach of ancient customs and privileges, or the number of soldiers and strangers in the land, and generally whatever tends to knit the discontented together in a common cause. He is disposed to think too that we should give the public feeling a free vent; and above all things, he warns us not "to turn the humours back, and thereby cause the wound to bleed inwards." Sir, I warn this House to have a care how, in the present season of acknowledged calamity, of grievances from misgovernment this night openly confessed, you turn back the popular humours of which you complain, least you cause the wounds to bleed inwards.
The House then divided on the Amendment, "That the other orders of the day be now read."
§ Yeas, 118; Noes, 63; Majority against Mr. Brougham's Motion, 55.
|List of the Minority.|
|Anson, sir George||Madocks, W. A.|
|Atherley, Arthur||Maitland, hon. A.|
|Aubrey, sir John||Martin, Henry|
|Babington, Thomas||Martin, John|
|Butterworth, Joseph||Molyneux, H. H.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Monck, sir Chas.|
|Baillie, James E.||Morpeth, vise.|
|Baring, sir Thomas||Moore, Peter|
|Baring, Alexander||Newport, sir John|
|Barnett, James||North, Dudley|
|Brand, hon. Thos.||Ord, Wm.|
|Brougham, Henry||Osborne, lord F.|
|Calcraft, John||Ossulston, lord|
|Calvert, Charles||Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.|
|Carter, John||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Cavendish, lord G.||Ridhey, sir M. W.|
|Cochrane, lord||Romilly, sir Sam.|
|Duncannon, visc.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Ebrington, vise.||Russell, R. G.|
|Fazakerley, J. N.||Sebright, sir John|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Sefton, earl of|
|Fitzroy, lord John||Smith, John|
|Folkestone, visc.||Smith, Samuel|
|Grenfell, Pascoe||Smith, Wm.|
|Guise, sir W.||Smyth, J. H.|
|Hammersly, H.||Stanley, lord|
|Hill, lord Arthur||Teed, John|
|Hughes, W. L.||Vernon, Granville|
|Hornby, Ed.||Waldegrave, hon. W.|
|Lamb, hon. W.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Langton, W. G.||TELLERS.|
|Lemon, sir W.||Macdonald, James.|
|Lyttelton, hon. W. H.||Sharp, Richard.|
|Mackintosh, sir J.|