§ The order of the day being read, for resuming the adjourned debate on the motion of Mr. Western, and the amendment thereon proposed by Mr. Huskisson,
rose and said, that before he proceeded to make a few observations on the motion before the House, he wished the resolutions to be read, which had been moved by the chancellor of the exchequer on the 13th of May, 1811. [The said resolutions having been accordingly read by the clerk, the hon. member proceeded.] He apologized to the House for offering himself to their notice on this occasion, but he was unwilling to give his vote in favour of the resolution of his hon. friend, without entering into some explanation of the principles on which he should support that resolution—principles, which were in strict conformity with opinions which he had long ago entertained on this subject, but which he confessed he had shrunk from acknowledging, partly from their great singularity at the time, and partly from the unwillingness he felt when he was a younger man, to obtrude himself on the attention of the House upon questions of such primary importance. Had he entertained opinions directly opposite, he should have had no scruple in manfully and honestly retracting them; but when he saw consequences resulting from the measures of his majesty's government, in strict conformity with what he had, previously anticipated, he had no hesi- 929 tation in declaring, that those measures had produced all the calamities under which the country laboured; though he was not prepared to say that all of them ought now to be retraced. At all events, it was time that some inquiry should take place into the causes of the calamitous situation in which the country was placed, and the means of applying some remedial measures. He fully concurred in all that portion of the speech of the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson) in which he described the miserable consequences of tampering with the currency of the country. No man was better qualified to paint those consequences than the right hon. gentleman, because, he would do him the justice to say, that from the commencement of his parliamentary career, he had uniformly deprecated the wretched system of policy with regard to the currency which had been pursued by his colleagues. With what feelings the noble lord could have heard the solemn denunciations of the right hon. gentleman he was at a loss to conceive; since the noble lord and his colleagues were the very persons who had brought those calamities on the country by tampering with the currency, who had first cheated the public creditor, and afterwards cheated the public debtor, so that no class of the community had escaped from the disastrous consequences of their system of government. The depreciation of the currency from the year 1801 to 1813 was fully equal to the amount stated by his hon. friend. In the year 1793, the price of the dollar was 4s. 11d.; in 1813 it was 7s.; the standard of silver was 5s. 1½d. in 1793; in 1813 it was 7s. 4d.; the standard of gold was in the former period 3l. 17s. 10½d. in the latter 5l. 10s. This alteration in the value of the currency was followed, as might naturally be supposed, by an increase in the price of every article of life. The average price of the Winchester bushel of wheat during the five years previous to 1793 was 6s. 9d.; in the five years ending 1813, the average price was 14s. 4d.; in the ten years ending 1793, the average price was 6s. 4d.; in the ten years ending 1813, it was 12s. 6d. The same increase was observable in the price of every other article of life. The right hon. gentleman had stated the consequences of what he termed a breach of faith; but, had his majesty's government considered those consequences, when they cheated the public creditor in 1797, and 930 when they afterwards cheated the public debtor in 1813, and 1819? There was an intermediate period of robbery, during which one of the most decisive instances that could be cited of the disposition of the government to invade private property and interfere with private contracts, was that of lord Stanhope's bill in 1811. The suspension act operated only for the payment of the public creditor; for, with regard to the individual transactions of life it was wholly inoperative. Lord King exposed the distinction between a money and a paper price—a distinction which was obvious to every one; but lord King acted upon it, by endeavouring to compel his tenant, a bank director, to pay his rent in gold. "You have contracted," argued that nobleman, "to pay a certain sum under an old engagement, and if you and the government have depreciated the currency, I have a right to insist on the performance of the contract." Lord King distrained on his tenant, with a view of trying the question of right; and how and the government act on this occasion? Why, they immediately stepped in, and interfered with lord King's private rights, by declaring Bank notes to be a legal tender.—Whatever instances of depreciation of the currency had occurred in Germany, France, and America, they had never received the direct sanction of the government; this was an act reserved for the government of this country. Not only the public creditor, but every individual who had made any contract during the suspension of cash payments, between the years 1803 and 1813, was compelled to pay a greater sum than he had, in fact, borrowed. What could be said, even by ministers themselves of a law which had doubled every debt owing through the kingdom—a law which had doubled every existing mortgage—which robbed alike the public and the private debtor; calling upon the former to pay to the fundholder sums which, in truth, the fundholder had never lent? The right hon. gentleman talked of keeping public faith, let public faith be kept. He (Mr. B.) demanded that it should be kept—kept, not with the fundholder merely, but with the kingdom at large. Let the proposal of his hon. friend be agreed to. Let an examination be entered upon; and let something like a balance, if possible, be struck; but let not the country be called upon for money which it had not received, and which it had not the power to pay. The right hon. 931 gentleman said, that people were supposed to have acted with knowledge and that, contracting while the depreciation existed, they must be taken to have been aware of that depreciation. Aware? Yes; some few political economists might have been aware of the fact. But what means had the public at large of being aware of it? The public knew only of the resolutions of that House which he had just caused to be read, and which broadly declared that there was no depreciation at all. The government had openly made that statement. The chancellor of the exchequer had risked his fortunes upon it. The noble lord opposite, in his fanciful periods, had said that although the gold had increased in value, the paper had not diminished; and yet now the people were to be taken to have known a fact, the existence of which government itself denied. Again, said the right hon. gentleman, "people knew that the Bank would resume cash payments." What security had the people upon that subject? They had seen the measure delayed from time to time; they had seen promises broken as to its commencement, and broken too in, time of peace: but no person could ever have supposed that cash payments would be resumed without something like an arrangement—without some regulation between debtor and creditor. If the precedent of the reign of king William was to be quoted, let the House look at the circumstances in which that monarch had been placed. He had acted when the country was in a hazardous state; when the Crown tottered on his head; and when he stood compelled to encounter a powerful tory faction—a tory faction almost as dangerous as that which had now visited the country for the last fifty years. But, after all, what had been done in king William's time? A little more than five millions of currency had been called in; the whole difficulty had been set straight within twelve months, and at an expense of only 2,400,000l. Why, the whole public debt, at the death of king William, was only 4,000,000l., the interest not exceeding 200,000l. a year. Our debt at the present moment was more than 800,000,000l. Our charge. upon the country 60,000,000l. a year. 17he whole expense during the whole of king William's reign had amounted Only to 70,000,000l. scarcely more than one year's expenditure under the system of the present day. And see the proportion 932 which the taxes bore as applied to the general revenue of the country. Lord Liverpool had stated the income of the country at 250,000,000l. a year. He believed that statement to be exaggerated: but, taking it to be correct, the taxes bore a proportion of almost one to three. In 1193, their proportion had not exceeded one to seven. He again called upon the House to look at the situation of property in this country. If a gentleman had a mortgage upon his estate, incurred perhaps before his birth, he was now obliged if he wished to redeem that mortgage, to pay double the sum of money which had really been borrowed by his ancestor. There was not a county in the kingdom—scarcely an estate—which did not bear witness to the truth of this proposition. It was impossible to move in ordinary society without hearing of persons of property who had become beggars—whose productive estates were not in the hands of their creditors, because the prices of produce had fallen one half; while the nominal amount of their debts remained the same. Take a familiar instance by way of illustration—suppose a man in the time of depreciation to have bought an estate for 20,000l. and to have mortgaged it as far as 10,000l. the estate now was gone—the mortgagee enjoyed it in full. He remembered the robbery of the creditor—and he now saw the robbery of the debtor, perpetrated by nearly the same men, at least by the same erroneous system. He had seen all of those destructive measures supported by the same men who supported every proposition which came from the minister. It would give him pleasure to behold those country gentlemen whom he had so often seen strut into that House to support every measure of expense and extravagance, now crawl out of it—as they deserved to be—paupers. It would be but justice that the bill should be paid by those who had contracted the debt. It was true that he was bound by law to pay it, as well as others; but he contended that he was not so bound by moral law. Neither he, nor any of his, were parties to any of the measures by which this country had been governed since the commencement of the French revolution. The question now was whether the legislature was prepared look the evils in the face by which they were surrounded—whether they would, oppose any dam to arrest this flood of misery. Under all the circumstances he had stated 933 he would support the motion for inquiry, though he was compelled to admit that it would be now impossible to repeal Mr. Peel's bill—to put it into the power of the Bank once more to deluge the country with their notes. Yet he had not a doubt that if this country was again plunged into war, the chancellor of the exchequer, if he still continued to fill his present situation, and the noble marquis, should continue to hold the same place, would urge the same arguments for the adoption of a restriction notwithstanding all their experience of its melancholy results. He would support the motion because he saw that he could do no better. He saw that the country was not in a situation to retrace its steps—nor did he know how it could go forward.
Mr. Alderman Heygate
said, that having been one of the few who actively opposed in 1819, not the principle, but the time and mode of the bill for resuming cash payments, and who then unsuccessfully endeavoured to rouse the landed interest in that House to a sense of its danger, he was desirous of stating on what ground he should vote for the motion of his hon. friend, especially as he did not coincide in all the views he had taken of the subject. He was an enemy to a return now to a paper currency without control, as one of the greatest calamities; but the motion pledged him to nothing more than to a re-consideration of what was called Mr. Peel's bill, and its effects on the country. Such a revision was called for in innumerable petitions. The present was a favourable moment for a calm consideration of it, as we were in a state of tranquillity at home and abroad, and as the clamour had subsided which attended the passing of this bill in 1819, and which rendered it then almost a service of danger to venture to oppose Now, indeed, the public feeling was so much the other way, that he would venture to say, the majority of that night would rather be procured by the supposed impracticability of remedying the evils of this bill than by any approbation of it. He contended, that the measure of 1819, was not perfect and accurate, because it was carried by clamour—because the committee was constituted of individuals, the majority of whom had pledged themselves to the bullion theory by pamphlets or speeches. Besides this, they had founded their measure on a false theory; namely, that gold was the exact index of the depreciation of our currency. 934 This he denied, and contended, that the price of gold was regulated by the exchanges, which were governed by the cheapness at which we could manufacture for the foreign markets. The committee of 1819, had not reverted to the whole standard, but had actually raised it. The former standard was the old gold coin worn to a certain extent, and protected from export by pains and penalties, which formed a protection, as the bullion committee of 1810 stated, of nearly 5 per cent. By repealing these penal laws and giving a new coin, the standard was actually and unintentionally raised nearly one shilling in the pound. Now it would be no breach of public faith to impose a seignorage to this extent, following the example of other nations; and for this reason, and because it would be wise to consider the question of adopting silver, and not gold, as the standard, it was right to grant the inquiry. In addition to these reasons, the Bank had unintentionally and unnecessarily increased the pressure of the measure, by not adopting the plan of paying in bullion, rather than in coin, and by forcibly withdrawing since last autumn, the whole of their small notes. True, they had substituted gold; but that was not the same thing with regard to price: gold was liable to be hoarded; and he knew it actually was so, to a considerable extent. When we compared the rapidity of the fall of prices since the Bank began to withdraw their small notes, was there not reason to conclude a connexion between them?: And if such had been the fruits of this measure, while circumstances were favourable, what would they have been if war, or an importation of foreign corn had existed? The pressure would have been intolerable. He did not mean to blame the Bank directors: they were, placed in a difficult situation, bewildered by theories which were neither understood by themselves, nor, what was worse, by the authors of them. We had been governed by theorists for some years, who were 'calling out for a free trade, at a time when all other nations were enacting restrictions of every kind. For the reasons above stated and without advocating directly or indirectly any breach of the national faith or honour, he would vote for the inquiry.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, that though in much that had fallen from the hon. alderman, he widely differed from him, yet he felt himself compelled to vote as he did. There could be neither doubt nor 935 question, but that the main cause of the embarrassment under which the country laboured, was the having most mistakenly coined to an historical standard which no outstanding contract had been calculated to meet, and which falsified every man's reckonings. Whether it be possible now to alleviate the evil so created must be considered much more problematical; and the unsettling people's minds by the appointment of the committee proposed by the hon. member for Essex, might, it must be confessed, be productive of greater inconveniencies, than the benefit to be derived from its investigations might be likely to compensate. At the same time, when driven to choose between a committee of enquiry and the resolution of the right hon. gentleman opposite, he could not hesitate in voting for the original motion. He should have thought that with the example of the unfortunate resolution of the chancellor of the exchequer before his eyes—given up to contumely by every body, with the sole exception the hon. alderman, the member for Sudbury, the right hon. gentleman would have been cautious of persuading the House again to stultify itself by rash and uncalled for propositions, which the course of events might compel them to retract. But the right hon. gentleman's speech was the best comment on his own resolution, and the clue to the views of government. The resolution was that of Montague in the reign of William the 3rd, when Locke insisted on restoring the currency to its former standard, and Lowndes, with all the monied people of the day, pleaded for a recoinage to existing values—the right hon. gentleman proving from document, in the great distress which followed, that Lowndes had been right, and that Locke had been wrong. But, then, the right hon. gentleman goes on to say, that in process of the country again enjoyed prosperity—totally omitting any mention of the process by which money transactions were in those days set free; namely, by the Exchequer hills, which were put forth as low as 5l. and 10l., and made receivable at the Exchequer for the revenue The operations of the Bank were then commencing—the march of the debt was then beginning its creation of fictitious capital—and the deficiency of the amount of the restored coin to meet the exigencies of the country, was supplied by what then was new, a paper currency.—
936 It seems evident, that the present views of the government, under the altered circumstances of our mountainous debt, are pointed towards a very hazardous experiment, in order to attain the same species of relief—which it is to be feared, may fail them. It seems they have discovered they have coined pieces of money, of a value they cannot afford for ordinary use; but at the same time appear to think, that this coin may be held demandable at will—as a measure or sort of touchstone of value—whilst paper may be encouraged still to multiply itself to occasion; be the real medium of the transactions of the country, small as well as large (which latter it must always be), and the coin being thus in fact very little demanded, the prices generally may somewhat rise. It is obvious that this must be a state of things of extreme danger—excepting for the hoarding of sovereigns by a few individuals—which the hon. alderman laments as likely; but which he (Mr. Gurney), said, in as far as it went, he should rejoice in—there would not be a sovereign to be seen in any district not immediately adjacent to the metropolis.—With the rise of prices would come the fall of the exchanges. Gold would be leaving the Bank, and if an alarm should spring up of any extent, from any cause whatever, the Bank would be placed in the dilemma, of either continuing their discounts freely, at the risk of stopping themselves, or of refusing to continue them, and stopping the whole country.—Mr. G. said, that however injurious the lowering the standard of the coin of a country whilst in circulation might be, there was no country in Europe, or he believed in the civilized world, in which that operation, had not repeatedly taken place, and in no instance had it produced convulsion or genera dissolution of the existing state of society It was the manner in which an over weighted nation had generally relieved itself with the least shock, the least distress, and the least injustice of any. The future state of the affairs of this country seemed to be such as no one could look forward to without great, apprehension; and he should certainly vote against pledging the House, that under no circumstances they would resort to a measure, which many circumstances might concur to render the lesser of acknowledged evils.
§ Mr. Leycester
said, that as he had not yet heard any of the arguments of his 937 hon. friend, the member for Essex, in any degree refuted, he should vote for the motion. There was one observation of his hon. friend, which appeared to him to demand the appointment of a committee by itself. It was this:—The right hon. gentleman opposite, had stated that the depreciation of the currency did not amount to more than 10 per cent, and his hon. friend had declared it to be full 40 per cent. Now it was important to know which of the two was right, or which wrong. If the right hon. gentleman opposite was wrong, all the financial regulations of the country were wrong also, and all the salaries and pensions of the officers under government ought to be reduced 40 instead of 10 per cent. Perhaps honourable gentlemen on the other side would not be willing to own themselves in the wrong upon such a subject. Perhaps they would be reluctant to admit any new light into their minds upon so interesting a point, and would say to those who forced it upon them, in the language of the poet—Pol me occidistis, amici,Non servâstis, ait; cui sic extorta voluptas,Et demptus per vim mentis gratissimus error.But, though he was favourable to the appointment of a committee, he must protest against any attack upon Mr. Peel's bill. He looked upon that bill as a measure founded in wisdom, inasmuch as it gave us the opportunity of becoming a nation of discreet and honest men, instead of a nation of swindlers and spendthrifts—which we had been for so many years. Indeed, the evils under which the country was at present suffering, arose from the measure of 1797, and not from the bill of 1819. He trusted that the right hon. author of that bill would follow it up by advocating treasures of strict retrenchment and rigid economy. The country had gone too far with that bill to allow of retreat. Like Macbeth, they hadStepp'd in so far, that should they wade no more,Returning were as tedious as go o'er.He would vote for the motion, as he was certain that none had ever been proposed to the House more strictly conscientious, and more fairly honest; His hon. friend had no other object than to save the country; and if he could effect that object, he did not care, if he even saved the present administration also.
§ Mr. Haldimand
said, that as the coun- 938 try had now gone through all the distress which was likely to arise from the bill of 1819, it was rather too late to propose the reconsideration of that measure. He contended, that a depreciation of the currency to be at all serviceable ought to be going on from month to month, from week to week, and from day to day. Did his hon. friend, the member for Essex, wish for such a depreciation? The depreciation must stop at some point; and when it had arrived at that point, the advantages to be derived from it must cease to operate. He had heard of late many charges brought against the Bank of England, on account of the transactions which passed between it and the public. All of them appeared to him to be unfounded, save one; and even that charge, supposing it valid, would not weigh much against the Bank, considering that for the last five and-twenty years they had not been much accustomed to payments in cash. The fact was, that the Bank of England, looking forward to the resumption of cash payments, had accumulated a large quantity of gold in its coffers, and by so doing had, as the hon. member for Portarlington observed, appreciated the currency. Whether the Bank had been right or wrong in collecting such a quantity of gold, which might have been as well at the bottom of the sea as in their coffers, he would not now attempt to argue. He would simply state that the appreciation of the currency had gone much farther than the Bank originally contemplated. With regard to the circulation of Bank paper, he would take the liberty of making one remark; and that was, that so long as the Bank was ready to pay its notes in gold, the House had no reason to complain whether there were five millions more or less of their notes in circulation.
§ Mr. Ricardo
said, that he agreed in a great deal of what had fallen from his hon. friend who spoke last, and particularly in his view of the effect of the preparations made by the Bank for the resumption of payments in specie; it was undeniable, that the manner in which the Bank had gone on purchasing gold to provide for a metallic currency, had materially affected the public interests. It was impossible to ascertain what was the amount of the effect of that mistake on the part of the Bank, or to what precise extent their bullion purchases affected the value of gold; but, whatever the extent was, so 939 far exactly had the value of the currency been increased, and the prices of commodities been lowered. His hon. friend had said, that whilst the Bank was obliged to pay its notes in gold, the public had no interest in interfering with the Bank respecting the amount of the paper circulation, for if it were too low, the deficiency would be supplied by the importation of gold, and if it were too high, it would be reduced by the exchange of paper for gold. In this opinion he did not entirely concur, because there might be an interval during which the country might sustain great inconvenience from an undue reduction of the Bank circulation. Let him put a case to elucidate his views on this subject. Suppose the Bank were to reduce the amount of their issues to five millions, what would be the consequence? The foreign exchanges would be turned in our favour, and large quantities of bullion would be imported. This bullion would be ultimately coined into money, and would replace the paper-money which had previously been withdrawn; but, before it was so coined, while all these operations were going on, the currency would be at a very low level, the prices of commodities would fall, and great distress would be suffered.—Something of this kind had, in fact, happened. The Bank entirely mismanaged their concerns in the way in which they had prepared for the resumption of cash payments; nothing was more productive of mischief than their large purchases of gold, at the time to which he alluded. They ought to have borne in mind that, until the year 1823, the bill of his right hon. friend (Mr. Peel), did not make it imperative on the Bank to pay in specie.—Until the arrival of that period, the Bank were only called upon to pay in bullion, and in 1819, when the bill passed, their coffers contained a supply amply sufficient to meet all demands, preparatory to the final operation of the right hon. gentleman's bill. That bill he had always considered as an experiment, to try whether a bank could not be carried on with advantage to the general interests of the country, upon the principle of not being called upon to pay their notes in coin, but in bullion; and he had not the least doubt that, if the Bank had gone on wisely in their preliminary arrangements—if, in fact, they had clone nothing but watch the exchanges and the price of gold, and had regulated their issues accordingly, the years 1819, 1820, 1821, and 1822 would 940 have passed off so well with the working of the bullion part of the plan, that parliament would have continued it for a number of years beyond the time originally stipulated for its operation. Suck, he was convinced, would have been the course, had the Bank refrained from making those unnecessary purchases of gold which had led to so many unpleasant consequences. But it was said by his hon. friend (Mr. Haldimand), that the Bank had since 1819 kept up their circulation to the same level as before 1819, and that, therefore, they had not caused the favourable exchange, and the influx of gold. He denied this—he denied that their issues were now as large as in 1819; but allowing, for the sake of argument; that they were so he should still make it matter of charge against the Bank; that they had not increased their issues, so as to operate on the foreign exchanges, and prevent the large importations of gold With reference to the conduct of the Bank on that occasion, it had been said on a former evening, by an hon. Bank director, (Mr. Manning), in the way of justification, that they were not left masters of their own proceedings—that the numerous executions for forgery throughout the country had made the public clamorous for a metallic circulation so as in a measure to compel the Bank to precipitate the substitution of coin for their one and two pound notes; but they Bank lost the benefit of this argument, by the opposition which they made throughout the discussions of the committee and the House in 1819, against every description of metallic payments.—He believed, indeed, that after they had accumulated gold in large quantities, they thought it expedient to substitute it in the form of coin for the one and two pound notes, and also for the reason which they had given; but this consideration did not lead them to limit their issues and to purchase the large quantities of gold; and it was of the effect of such limitation and of those purchases which he complained, and against this charge they had made no defence, nor could they make any. After their remonstrances to the committee, and to the chancellor of the exchequer, on the subject of the ill consequences of restricting their issues, why did they promote the evil which they deprecated—why make those purchases for amply filled coffers—why take a step so inevitably leading to mischief? He could ascribe it to one 941 cause only, namely, that they were ignorant of the principles of currency, and did not know how, at such an important moment, to manage the difficult machine, which was intrusted to them. He was surprised, after what had been said by the hon. member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Leycester), of the character of Mr. Peel's bill, that he should have come to the conclusion of voting for the appointment of a committee. If the past measures, so far as parliament had acted in this bill, were right, for what purpose was the committee? The declared object of the motion was to alter the standard, and he could not see, how, after, the hon. gentleman's argument in favour of adhering to the present standard, he could vote for a motion tending to such an alteration. It had been said by his hon. friend lithe member for Newton (Mr. H. Gurney), that they had begun at the wrong end—that they should in the first instance, have called on the private bankers to pay their notes in specie, and afterwards on the Bank of England to pursue the same course Such a proposition, he thought, would have been absurd. The Bank of England had the power, by regulating its issues, of depreciating or increasing the value of the Bank note just as they pleased—a power which the country banks had not. The Bank of England could depreciate, as was the case in 1812 and 1813, their one pound note to the value of 14s., or they could increase it to the value of two sovereigns by an opposite course, provided the Mint, by coining, did not counteract their operations. It was impossible, therefore, and if even possible, it would be most unjust, to require private banks to call in their notes and to pay in specie, leaving at the same time this great Leviathan, the Bank, to continue its paper issues at will, and not subject to the same metallic convertibility.
In touching upon this subject, he must say that his opinion had been much misunderstood, both within and without the walls of parliament; and if it were not too great a trespass upon the indulgence of house, he should wish to take this opportunity of explaining himself. In doing so he could not do better than refer to an observation which had fallen from the hon. alderman (Heygate) in the course of the debate. He had said, that if gold were the index of the depreciation of the currency, then his (Mr. Ricardo's) argument founded upon it might be good, and that 942 the sacrifice of 3 or 4 per cent in establishing the ancient standard was small in the estimate of the advantages attending it: but he (the hon. alderman) did not concur in the opinion, that gold was the index of the depreciation of the currency. Now, the whole difficulty in reference to this part of his opinions was, as to the meaning of the word "depreciation:" it was quite evident that the hon. alderman and himself attached a different sense to that word. Suppose the only currency in the country was a metallic one, and that, by clipping, it had lost 10 per cent of its weight; suppose, for instance, that the sovereign only retained 9–10ths of the metal which by law it should contain, and that, in consequence, gold bullion, in such a medium, should rise above its mint price, would not the money of the country be depreciated? He was quite sure the hon. alderman would admit the truth of this inference. It was quite possible however, that, notwithstanding this depreciation, some of those general causes which operate on the value of gold bullion, such as war, or the mines from which gold is annually supplied becoming less productive, that gold might be so enhanced in value, as to make the clipped sovereign comparatively of greater value in the market than it was before the reduction in its weight. Would it not then be true that we should possess a depreciated currency, although it should be increased in value? The great mistake committed on this subject was in confounding the words "depreciation" and "diminution in value. With reference to the currency, he had said, and he now repeated it, that the price of gold was the index of the depreciation of the currency, not the index of the value of the currency, and it was in this that he had been misunderstood. If, for instance, the standard of the currency remained at the same fixed value, and the coin were depreciated by clipping; or the paper money-by the increase of its quantity, five percent, a fall to that amount and no more, would take place in the price of commodities, as affected by the value of money. If the metal gold (the standard) continued of the same precise value, and it was required to restore the currency thus depreciated five per, it would be necessary only to raise its value five per cent, and no greater than that proportionate fall could take place in the price of commodities. In these cases he had supposed gold always to remain at 943 the same fixed seine; but had he ever said that there were not many causes which might operate on the value of gold as well as on the value of all other commodities? No, he had not, but just the contrary. No country that used the precious metals as a standard, were exempted from variations in the prices of commodities, occasioned by a variation in the value of their standard. To such variations we had been subject before 1797, and must be subject to again, now that we have reverted to a metallic standard. In the plan which he had proposed, there was nothing which could cause a demand for gold, and therefore he had been justified in anticipating a variation in the price of commodities, from adopting it, of only five per cent, the then difference between the value of gold and of paper. If, indeed, it had been necessary to purchase gold in order to revert to a metallic standard, then he would allow that a greater difference than 5 per cent would take place in prices; but this was wholly unnecessary, because we had adopted a gold standard, were we therefore to be exempted from those variations in the prices of commodities which arose from the cheapness of their production at one period compared with another? Was the discovery of new improvements in machinery, or a superabundant harvest, or any of those general causes which operate to reduce price, to have no effect? Were the injudicious purchases of the Bank to have no effect on the value of gold? Did he deny that in the present state of the world, the occurrences in South America, might have impeded the regular supply of the precious metals to Europe, have enhanced their value and affected the prices of commodities all over the world.
It had been imputed to him that he entertained the extravagant idea, that if a metallic standard was adopted, from that moment commodities were never to vary more than 5 per cent. A proposition so absurd he had never maintained—his opinion on that subject had never changed, and, if not intruding too much on the time of the House, he would quote a passage from a pamphlet he had published in 1816, on the subject of his plan of bullion payments, to show the House what that opinion had then been:—
"When a standard is used, we are subject only to such a variation, in the value of money as the standard itself is subject to; but against such variation there is no 944 possible remedy; and late events have proved that, during periods of war when gold and silver are used for the payment of large armies, distant from home, those variations are much more considerable than has been generally allowed. This admission only proves that gold and silver are not so good a standard as they have been hitherto supposed; that they are themselves subject to greater variations than it is desirable a standard should be subject to. They are, however, the best with which we are acquainted. If any other commodity less variable could be found, it might very properly be adopted as the future standard of our money, provided it had all the other qualities which fitted it for that purpose but while these metals are the standard, the currency should conform in value to them, and, whenever it does not, and the market price of bullion is above the Mint price, the currency is depreciated."
Such were the arguments he had always used, and the still adhered to them. He hoped the House would pardon this personal reference to his own opinion: he was very averse from intruding on their patience; but he was as it were put upon his trial—his plan had not been adopted, and yet to it was referred the consequences which were distinct from it; and he was held responsible for the plan that had been adopted, which was not his, but was essentially different from it. Such was the singularity of his situation, and if the House would indulge him by permitting one more reference to his opinions expressed in that House in the year 1819, he should have done with that part of the argument which was strictly personal. What he had said in his speech, during the former discussion of Mr. Peel's bill (and he quoted it now from the usual channel of informations—the Reports), was this, "If the House adopted the proposition of the hon. gentleman (Mr. Ellice),* another variation in the value of the currency would take place, which it was his wish to guard against. If that amendment were agreed to an extraordinary demand would take place for gold, for the purpose of coinage, which would enhance the value of the currency three or four per cent in addition to the* Mr. Ellice's proposal was, to allow the Bank to make payments in coin instead of bullion if they should think it expedient.945 first enhancement." "Till October, 1820 the Bank need make no reduction, ant then a slight one; and he had no doubt that, if they were cautious, they might arrive at cash payments without giving out one guinea in gold. The Bank should reduce their issues cautiously, he only feared they would do it too rapidly. If he might give them advice, he should recommend to them not to buy bullion, but even though they had but a few millions, he would boldly sell." Such were his expressions in 1819. Had his recommendations been adopted? No. Why; then, was he to be held chargeable for results over and above the effect of raising the currency from the actual state of depreciation at which it stood at the time?
Having explained these personal allusions, he should now say a little upon the general question, which had not, in his opinion, been very fairly argued. A constant reference had been made to the extreme point of the depreciation in the currency, which they knew occurred in the year 1813; and Mr. Peel's bill had been argued upon as if it had been passed in that year, and had caused all the variation which it was acknowledged had taken place in the currency from that period to the present time. This was a most unfair way of arguing the question, for to Mr. Peel's bill could only be imputed the alteration which had taken place in the currency between 1819 and the present period. What was the state of the currency in 1819? It was left entirely under the management and control of a company of merchants—individuals, he was most ready to admit, of the best character, and actuated by the best intentions; but who, nevertheless—and he had declared plainly his apprehensions at the time—did not acknowledge the true principles of the currency, and who, in fact, in his opinion, did not know any thing about it. This company of merchants were, then, invested with the management of the great and important concern on which the welfare of the country, and the stability of its best interests, materially depended. They were the men who had the power of making their one pound note worth 14s. or 17s. or 18s. or 19s., as it had successively been, under their guidance, between the years 1813 and 1819. In the latter year, and for four years previous to it, the system had so operated as to bring the currency within something like 5 per cent 946 of its par value. The time was then favourable for fixing a standard which was likely to save the country from the vacillation of such a system as that which had previously so much affected it. The time had then arrived (in 1819) for fixing a standard, and the only consideration was as to the selection of the particular standard which ought to be adopted. They had two courses of proceeding open to them on that occasion; one was either to regulate the standard by the price of gold at the moment, or to recur to the ancient standard of the country. If, in the year 1819, the value of the currency had stood at 14s. for the pound note, which was the case in the year 1813, he should have thought that upon a balance of all the advantages and disadvantages of the case, it would have been as well to ix the currency at the then value, according to which most of the existing contracts had been made; but when the currency was within 5 per cent of its par value, the only consideration was, whether they should fix the standard at 4l. 2s., the then price of gold, or recur at once to the old standard. Under all the circumstances, he thought they had made the best selection in recurring to the old standard. The real evil was committed in 1797, and the opportunity of mitigating its consequences was lost by the conduct subsequently pursued by the Bank; for even after the first suspension, they might, by proceeding upon right principles in managing their issues, by keeping the value of the currency at or near par, lave prevented the depreciation which followed. It might be asked how they could have done so? His reply was, that quantity regulated the value of every thing. This regulated the value of every thing. This was true of corn, of currency, and of every other commodity, and more, perhaps, of currency, than of any thing else. Whoever, then, possessed the power of regulating the quantity of money, could always govern its value, and make the pound note, as he had said before, worth fourteen shillings or two sovereigns, unless the mint, by opening to coin for the public, counteracted the operation of the Bank issues. By pursuing a wise and prudent course, the Bank might have so regulated its affairs, as to have prevented he currency from sustaining any depredation from 1797 downwards; they night, in fact, have governed the market-price of bullion, and the foreign ex-changes; but, unfortunately, they had 947 not taken the steps necessary for that purpose.
With respect to the bill of 1819, he must say, that he never regretted the share which he had taken in that measure.—[Hear, hear.] Remarks had frequently been made upon an opinion which he (Mr. Ricardo) had given of the effect which had been produced on the value of gold, and therefore on the value of money, by the purchases made by the Bank, winch he had computed at five per cent, making the whole rise in the value of money ten per cent. He confessed that he had very little ground for forming any correct opinion on this subject. By comparing money with its standard, we had certain means of judging of its depreciation, but he knew of none by which we were able to ascertain with certainty alterations in real or absolute value. His opinion of the standard itself having been raised five per cent in value, by the purchases of the Bank, was principally founded on the effect which he should expect to follow, from a demand from the general stock of the world of from fifteen to twenty millions worth of coined money. If, as he believed, there was in the world twenty times as much gold and silver as England had lately required to establish her standard on its ancient footing, he should say that the effect of that measure could not have exceeded five per cent. The hon. member, who had brought forward this motion had disputed the propriety of the standard recognized by Mr. Peel's bill, and contended, that the value of corn would have formed a better and more fixed standard. His reason in support of such an opinion was, that the average price of corn, taken for a series of ten years, or for longer periods, furnished a standard less liable to variation than the standard of gold. He did not perfectly comprehend that part of the hon. member's argument. Either he meant that the country ought to have a fixed metallic standard, regulated by the price of corn each year, as deduced from the average of the ten previous years, or else by an average for ten years, determinable at the expiration of every ten years. Now, in any way in which the average could be taken, according to either plan, there would be a sudden and considerable variation in the value of the currency. To-day, for example, the standard might be fixed with reference to the price of corn, when its 948 average price was 80s. per quarter, and to-morrow if that were the period for correcting the standard of money by such it regulation, it might be necessary, to alter it to 85s. or 90s., thus causing, a sudden variation in all money payments from one day to another. [Mr. Western here signified his dissent.] He was extremely sorry to have mistaken the member, and he would not press this part of his argument. He must, however, say, that to take the average price of corn, as the best measure of value, was a molt mistaken principle. The hon. member had, indeed, quoted in support of such a measure of value, the concurring authorities of Locke and Adam Smith, had asserted that the average price of corn, during a period of ten years, was a less variable standard than gold; and in support of the opinion, the prices taker according to such an average were quoted: But the great fallacy in the argument was this—that, to prove that gold was more variable than corn, they Were obliged to commence by supposing gold invariable. Unless the medium in which the price of corn is estimated could be asserted to be invariable in its value, how could the corn be said not to have varied in relative value? If they must admit the medium to be variable—and who would deny it?—then what became of the argument? So far from believing corn to be a better measure of value than gold, he believed it to be a much worse one, and more dependent upon a variety of fluctuating causes for its intrinsic value. What was the real fact? In populous countries, they were compelled to, corn on a worse quality of land than they were obliged to do when there was, not the same demand far subsistence. In such countries then, the price must rise to remunerate the grower, or else the commodity must be procured from abroad by the indirect application of a larger capital. There were many causes operating on the value of corn, and therefore making it a variable standard.—Irnprovemerits in husbandry; discoveries of the efficacy of new manure; the very improvement of a threshing machine, tendency to lower the price. Again, the different expense of production, according to the capital necessary for cultivation, and the amount of population to be supplied with food, had a tendency to augment the price. So that there were always two causes operating and contend- 949 ing with each other, the one to cheapen and the other to increase the price of the commodity; how, then, could it be said to furnish the least variable standard?—[Hear, hear.] It was a part of Adam Smith's argument that corn was a steadier criterion, because it generally took the same quantity to furnish one man's sustenance. That might be; but still the cost of production did not the less vary, and, that must regulate the price. Its power of sustaining life was one thing: its value was another. He fully agreed with the hon. member for Essex, that there were various causes operating, also; on the value of gold, some of which were of a permanent, and others of a temporary nature. The more or less productiveness of the mines were among the permament causes; the demands for currency, or for plate, in consequence of increased wealth and population, were temporary causes, though probably of some considerable duration. A demand for hats or for cloth would elevate the value of those commodities, but as soon as the requisite quantity of capital was employed in producing the increased quantity required, their value would fall to the former level. The same was true of gold: an increased demand would raise its value, and would ultimately lead to an increased supply, when it would fall to its original level, if the cost of production had not also been increased. No principle was more true than that the cost of production was the regulator of value, and that demand only produced temporary effects. The hon. member (Mr. Western) had entered into elaborate statements of the amount of taxation at different periods, estimated in quarters of wheat, and from this statement he inferred an enormous fall in the value of money. Now, if these calculations, and the mode of applying them, were of any value. They must apply at all times as well as at present. Let the hon. member then, extend his calculations a little over former times, and how his reasonings applied. If reference, were made to three particular years which he should name, the hon. gentleman's calculation would look a little differently to what it did at present. The price of wheat was, in 1796, 72s. per quarter; in 1798 (only two years afterwards) it fell to 50s.; in 1801 it rose as high as 118s.—[Hear!]. This was the enormous fluctuation of only three years. Here, then, the House had the experience of so short 950 a period as three years, and of the variations of price in that time. The hon. gentleman, in his argument, had assumed, that the price of wheat was to be permanent as it now stood. He (Mr. Ricardo) thought it was by no means likely to be permanent; he anticipated that it would rise; and, indeed, if the present was not a remunerating price, it was impossible that it should not rise; for in no case would production go on, fir any considerable length of time, without remunerating prices. The alteration in the price of the quarter of wheat, then, in three years, was as the difference between 50s. and 118s. But, in 1803, the price fell again to 56s. In 1810 it attained 106s. and in 1814 was reduced to 73s. The variations, in short, were infinite and constant—[Hear!]. Then, with regard to the price of flour, he had ascertained, that in the year 1801, in the month of July, the Victualling office at Deptford paid 124s. for the sack of flour. In December of the same year they paid only 72s. In December, 1802, they paid for the same commodity and quantity, 52s.; in December, 1804, 89s.; and in subsequent years the price per sack was successively from 99s. to 50s., in short, as uncertain as possible. All these details tended to show that the price of corn was perpetually fluctuating and varying; and it would only be wonderful if such were not the case. The hon. gentleman had said, that he hoped no member of that House would, with a contrary conviction on his mind, refuse, from motives to mistaken pride or prejudice, to acknowledge any former error into which he might have fallen in the consideration of these subjects. He (Mr. R.) could assure the hon. gentleman, that so far as he himself might be supposed to be concerned, he would not allow any foolish pride of the sort to operate with him. The hon. gentleman had remarked, at some length, on the evidence which had been furnished to that House by Mr. Tooke, with respect to the effect of an abundance of commodities lowering prices. Those prices were said to have fallen considerably more than ten per cent; but Mr. Tooke expressly said, that of the commodities he mentioned, there was not one, for the depreciated value of which, when it exceeded ten per cent, he could not well account. The quantity of all articles of consumption which had been brought in to our markets, during the time of which that 951 gentleman spoke, exceeded the quantity furnished in any former period; and there were some of the imported articles, the prices of which had continued to fall ever since, as sugars and cotton. But surely this could not be matter of surprise, when the House looked at the augmented quantity. The hon. gentleman had dwelt much on the injury which he conceived the country had sustained in consequence of loans that had been contracted for, at periods when the prices of the public funds were low, and which were now to be redeemed when the prices were high; and to make the disadvantages still more apparent, the calculation of the hon. gentleman was made in quarters of wheat at the corn prices of those times. The hon. gentleman said, "in order to pay that stock at the present value of money, I require such an additional number of quarters of corn." Any body who heard the hon. gentleman's speech would naturally have snpposed that the rise in price of the funds was necessarily connected with the increased value of the currency. But this could not be so; if the value of the currency had any thing to do with it, the contrary effect would take place, But the alteration in the value of the currency had nothing to do with this question; if the dividends were paid in amore valuable medium, so was the price of stock estimated in the same valuable medium; and if the dividend were paid in the less valuable medium, so also was the price estimated in the like medium. During the American war, the three per cent consols were as low as 53; and afterwards they rose to 97. At that time there had been no tampering with the currency. What, therefore, could the value of the currency have to do with the price of the funds? If a man wanted money upon mortgage now he could raise it at four per cent; whereas, during the continuance of the late war, he not only gave seven or eight per cent, but was obliged to procure the money, after all, in a round-about manner. The whole of the argument might be reduced to the statement of a single fact, which was this—they who invested sums of money in the funds at this day would get a low interest in return; those who had invested during the war had obtained a large interest—With respect to an. argument which had been advanced by the hon. member for Shrewbury (Mr. Bennet) he could not concur in it. It was con- 952 tended by his hon. friend, that the whole loss on the recoinage of money in king William's reign, when it was restored from a depreciated to a sound state, was about two millions and a half; and he estimated the inconvenience and loss to individuals at that sum. But his hon. friend forgot that contracts in all countries existed in a much larger proportion than money, and consequently the loss must have been much greater than his hon. friend had estimated. The contracts might, in fact, be twenty or fifty times the amount of money, and therefore the interests of particular parties would have been affected accordingly. It was quite clear, that any alteration effected in the value of currency must of necessity, now as well as at all other times, affect one party or the other to such contracts; but this was an effect perfectly natural and inevitable.
To recur to the question before the, House, he must say, that the motion of the hon. member for Essex was calculated to awaken and renew the agitation, which he had hoped would, ere this, have subsided. It was calculated to do much mischief—[Hear!]. If there were any chance of the hon. gentleman's motion obtaining the support of the House, its success must be attended with the effect which, on the preceding evening, his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) had ably pointed out. Every person would be eager to get rid of money which was to be rendered liable to an excessive and immediate depreciation. Every one would be anxious to withdraw it, as it were, from a currency of which be must anticipate the fate; he would be directly, embarking it in gold, ships, goods, property of any kind that he might deem more likely to retain a steady value than-money itself. He (Mr. R.) believed that the measure of 1819 was chiefly pernicious to the country, on account of the unfounded alarms which it created in, some men's minds, and the vague fears that other people felt lest something should occur, the nature of which they could not themselves define. That alarm was now got over; those fears were suits siding; and he conceived, that as the depreciation in the value of our currency, which a few years ago was experienced, could not possibly return upon us in future, if we persevered in the measures we had taken, it would be the most unwise thing in the world to interfere with an 953 act, the disturbance of which would unsettle the great principle we had established. He did flatter himself, that after the suffering which the country had undergone, in consequence of the Bank Suspension bill, a measure of a similar character would never again be resorted to. His hon. friend (Mr. Bennet) had stated, that the depreciation in the value of the currency was in 1813 about 42 per cent. He thought his hon. friend had much overstated the amount of the depreciation. The highest price to which gold had ever risen, and that only for a short time, was 5l. 10s. per ounce. Even then the Bank-note was depreciated only 29 per cent, because 5l. 10s. in Bank-notes could purchase the same quantity of goods as the gold in 3l. 17s. 10½d. of coin. If, then, 5l. 10s. in Bank-notes was worth 3l. 17s. 10½d. in gold, 100l. was worth 71l., and one pound about fourteen shillings, which is a depreciation of 29 per cent, and not 42 per cent, as stated by his hon. friend. Another way of stating this proposition might make it appear that money had risen 42 per cent; for if 14s. of the money of 1813 were now worth 20s., 100l. was now worth 142l.; but as he had already observed, nothing was more difficult than to ascertain the variations in the value of money—to do so with any accuracy, we should have an invariable measure of value; but such a measure we never had, nor ever could have. In the present case, gold might have fallen in value, at the same time that paper-money had been rising; and therefore, when they met, and were at par with each other, the rise in paper-money might not have been equal to the whole of the former difference. To speak with precision, therefore, of the value of money at any particular period, was what no man could do; but when we spoke of depreciation, there was always a standard by which that might be estimated. Another argument of his hon. friend greatly surprised him: he objected to the amendment of his right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson), because it did not give him sufficient security that the standard would not be at some future time altered. He appeared, to fear that recourse might, on some supposed emergency, again be had to the measure of 1797. In short, his hon. friend was for adhering to the standard fixed by Mr. Peel's bill; and yet, in the same breath, added, as it appeared to him (Mr. R.) most inconsistently, that he would vote 954 for the motion of the hon. member for Essex, which professedly went to alter that standard.
§ Mr. Pearse
said, that the hon. member for Portarlington had charged the Bank with error and indiscretion in having become too extensive purchasers of gold, in consequence of the passing of the act of 1819. The fact was, that the Bank were quite passive in taking the gold from the merchants who offered it for their purchase. The consequence, however, had been, that bullion had been paid whenever it had been demanded, and that an issue of 10 or 11,000,000 of gold sovereigns had taken place. Ever since he had been connected with the establishment, he had been invariably against, all forced or artificial measures. The cirstances which had chiefly led to the late high and the existing low prices, and plenty of gold, were, perhaps, these:—in 1797, the country was pretty full of gold. During the ensuing year some gold, in small quantities, was sent out of the country, to pay a few balances, such as purchases of corn and other commodities. As fast as that gold went out of the country, the quantity of Bank notes issued was increased. Up to the year 1810, which was 13 years after the suspension of cash payments, gold enough was left in the country to pay all its foreign balances. By the end of the year 1813, the war had become excessively expensive, and very large quantities of wheat were purchased. Still, however, sufficient gold was left in the country to pay the same balances; but it was at this period that it obtained its excessive price. In four years afterwards, when the war and these several causes ceased, gold fell extremely. When peace returned, and trade was more regularly settled, the exchanges became gradually more favourable to us. The issue of Bank-notes in the meantime certainly continued; but it was with great regularity. In fact, the Bank had no means of making forced issues. In proportion as the nominal value and the trading value of gold was different, the transactions between man and man were more or less affected; but the issues of Bank-notes were kept up, always with reference to the standard price of gold. He would assert, that as the Bank had never forced an issue, so neither had there ever been any depreciation in the value of their notes, with reference to the price of gold.
Sir F. Burdett
said, that if ever there 955 was a period which required great firmness and strength of mind, it was that at which his hon. friend, the member fox Essex, had brought forward the present motion. His hon. friend had shown to the House and to the country, that when once his mind was fully made up upon a measure which he was convinced would be of great public benefit, he was not to be deterred by any consideration—he was not to be barred by any obstacle—from using his best efforts to put that measure into execution. It might be said of his hon. friend, what had been said of a great man of former times —"Vincit amor patriæ" With this feeling as to the conduct of his hon. friend, the member fox Essex, he must take the liberty to complain a little of the hon. member for Portarlington, who seemed to him to hint something like a disapprobation of that conduct. That hon. member had objected to the motion, on the ground that it would end in disappointment, and would create a fever in the public mind; and had treated it with less of liberality, than, judging from his general habits, was to have been expected from him. Knowing his hon. friend as he did, he felt surprised that the hon. member for Portarlington should for a moment imagine any thing but good could result from a member of parliament's openly speaking the truth in that House. Now, that good must result from the motion was evident; for, if his hon. friend was mistaken as to the causes which had produced the distresses under which the country laboured, then the fallacy would be exposed, and the fever which such, opinions may have created in the country removed; but if the distress was produced by those causes, then the House, knowing the evil, would be bound to inquire into and remedy it as speedily as possible. The hon. member for Portarlington had alluded to the various prices of corn at different periods, but he (sir F. B.) differed totally from the hon. member's inferences from those arguments. It was contended, that the limited circulation of our currency had Produced distress; and the hon. member had proceeded to prove, that there, had been high and low prices at different periods, without producing any fluctuation in the currency. But the hon. member had not shown that at the periods when those high and low prices existed there was a severe pressure of distress in, the country; as was unfortunately the case at present. But when 956 the hon. member had, in his consideration of the whole effect of this measure, by which the circulating medium of the country had been so much decreased, estimated the whole amount of that effect at 10 per cent, or 20 per cent on prices (or whatever his calculation might be) it did appear to him (sir F. B.) that the hon. gentleman, if he supposed that the loss to the public was no more than would result from this 10 or 20 per cent, was totally mistaken. [Mr. Ricardo expressed his dissent from this statement]. He (sir F. B.) appeared to be in error in the statement he was making, and therefore would not pursue it. But suppose that any portion, say one-fifth, of the circulating medium of the country had been drawn, he (sir F. B.) contended, that, the effect would be to decrease the whole income of the productive classes of the community—the agriculturists, the manufactures, and the merchant—in the proportion of one-fifth. Taking the gross produce of the income of the productive classes at 600,000,000l. (and for aught he knew, it might be more), then it' one-third (and he apprehended that one-third of our currency had actually been withdrawn), if one-third of their circulating medium were taken away, the loss to them would not be in proportion of that one-third merely, nor any thing like it. But it would be a loss of income, to the productive classes, of 200,000,000l. That was the proper way of looking at the thing. The mere matter of the money being lost was nothing: but here, were those classes, with a loss of one-third of their means, called upon to pay all burthens and debts, contracted and levied during a period of great depreciation. They required to be allowed to pay in proportion: and not only was this not an injustice, but it might be the destruction of the country if they attempted to discharge them in any other way.
Now, with respect to the injustice, as it was called, that would accrue from a revision of the currency and an adjustment of the contracts between the government and the public creditor. Good God! did any body believe that, after dealing in a depreciated currency for five and twenty years, there would be any injustice, on the alteration of the standard, in making allowance for that depreciation? The taxes had been imposed in this depreciated currency, and consequently their nominal amount had increased in proportion to the 957 depreciation; the civil list had been augmented to meet the reduction in the standard: salaries and allowances out of the public revenue had been increased in the same, ratio from the same cause: all the expenditure of government had been settled with a view to the depreciation: all contracts between man and man had been affected by it. Could there then be any injustice in taking this into consideration, when we felt ourselves pressed down by the evils of a change in our money system What injustice could there be in demanding a reduction of the nominal amount of the taxes, proportioned to the rise in the value of the standard, as their nominal amount had been increased in proportion to the depreciation? The people, at the time when these taxes were imposed, when the government expenditure was increased and their own contracts were formed, were aware that a change had taken place in the currency, though they could not then ascertain its nature, or see into all its consequences. This change they called high prices. With a view to those high prices, therefore, every mortgage was entered into, every family arrangement made, every provision for children settled, and every contract formed. All parties, both debtor and creditor both those who were to pay and those who were to receive, carried on their transactions, and arranged their plans, in the confidence that high prices would continue; or, in other words, that the currency would not be altered. What injustice was there, therefore—since we had now altered the standard—in taking into view this mass of contracts, plans, engagements, public and private obligations, national burthens, and official incomes, which had arisen during the high prices, and under a belief that the standard would not be again altered? When gentlemen talked of the injustice of interfering with existing contracts, they ought to recollect that the injustice did not begin now. They ought to have given due weight to their principles, and paid a proper deference to their moral feelings, when they originally allowed the standard to be altered by the measure of 1797. But then, when they permitted the conditions of all contracts to be altered, they never thought of that injustice which they now brought forward as a bar to the present motion. Nay, from a blind confidence in the minister, they gave their votes in favour of an alteration in the standard, and thus laid the 958 foundation for all those evils under which the country now laboured.
Reference had been made by a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson) to the proceedings with respect to the currency in king William's time, and it had been broadly stated, that similar calamities had been the result or similar causes both then and now. But nothing could be more opposite than the two cases, either in respect to the amount of calamity experienced, the nature of the transactions out of which it arose, or the conduct and principles of the government by which it was met. At the period when king William restored the currency, the silver was clipped and reduced in value, but the whole of the currency was not depreciated. It was only Abe silver coin that was debased; the gold maintained its standard qualities; and out of the 9,000,000 of money in circulation 4,000,000 were gold. The good gold circulation for some time sustained the bad, silver; but when the deterioration of the latter came to be generally known, it fell in price, and two standards were formed. What did the minister of king William do in this emergency? He did not get the Bank to issue paper, and then empower it to stop payment: he did not force the deteriorated currency on the country: he did not declare that the bad silver should be a legal tender, as Bank-notes had been declared by the restriction laws. No: instead of keeping the debased money in circulation, he recalled it; instead of making it legal tender, he passed severe laws and enacted heavy penalties against those who should receive it. The ministers of that day even took to themselves blame for not being able to recall it as early as they wished, and endeavoured to protect the public from the frauds and cheats resulting from it. They went further. They not only cried down the bad money, but they offered to receive it in full for the taxes, carried it to the mint, and recoined it. Even for a considerable length of time, when this clipt money was prohibited from circulation, it was received in payment into the treasury at its nominal value. What analogy was there between conduct like this and the measures which had been adopted in and subsequent to the year 1797? The former showed honesty and integrity: it was intended to preserve, not to alter the standard; while the measures or the present period introduced as complete a change into the standard, as if the coin had been debased by act of par- 959 liament in 1797, and raised since 1814. It was in consequence of the debasing of the coin in the time of king William, and proposals for restoring it, that the controversy, so often alluded to, arose between Mr. Locke and Mr. Lowndes. The latter declared that bullion had risen in value, because the silver coin had fallen. "No, (said Mr. Locke), bullion has not risen but the currency is debased." As a remedy for the evil, Mr. Lowndes, consistently enough with his theory, proposed to alter the standard; for it should be remarked that the standard had not then been altered as now. Mr. Locke, on the other hand, contended wisely and irresistibly, that the remedy was not to be found in an alteration of the standard, but in a restoration of the coin to its legal weight and fineness—that an alteration of the standard would create the greatest emberrassment, and be accompanied with the greatest injustice. What Mr. Locke so strongly objected to, we had twice done we had altered the standard in 1797, and again, by the measure pursued for the resumption of cash payments, since 1814. The clipt money of that period could be objected to; it was not the lawful money of the country, whereas, the deteriorated currency of 1797 was declared a legal tender. Mr. Locke had ably stated those reasons for not altering the standard, which ought to have occurred to our ministers for not passing the act of 1797. It would, he said, alter all contracts. Those who owed money would pay less than they had engaged to pay, and those who were creditors would receive less than they had stipulated to accept. We had altered the standard twice, and were now suffering from the consequences of changes that ought to have been foreseen.
The question was, how, in our present circumstances, injustice was to be avoided, and distress removed. It could not be denied, that a great part of the public debt was contracted in a depreciated currency. The hon. member for Portarlington had admitted this, and had stated that in 1813, the pound was about equal to 14 shillings, at which it might have been retained. That was probably what his hon. friend; the for Essex, would have proposed. There was no room to doubt that by neglecting this fact, and restoring the currency to its ancient standard, without making allowance for the previous depreciation, the greatest injustice was done to all classes 960 of the community, but especially to the industrious classes. By continuing to support the act by which these evils were produced, the injustice was perpetuated. When he spoke of Mr. Peel's bill as the cause of the evil, he merely alluded to it as the consummation of a system which had worked its chief effects before its enactment; and, consequently, that bill in itself could no more be justly accused of producing our present distress, than the lamb in the fable, of giving disturbance to the wolf, the year before it was born. In entering on the inquiry proposed by the motion, the committee would not, therefore, confine itself to the consequences of that measure alone. All the difficulties of the country, arising from legislative interference with the currency since 1797, must be looked in the face and fully examined No man could deny that great injustice had been done, and overwhelming calamities experienced; and it surely could be no sufficient answer to a call for inquiry into the extent of the evil, and the nature of the remedy.—that his majesty's ministers had resolved to do nothing—that they had determined to lat the country sink or swim, rather than reopen the question?—The hon. baronet again reverted to the proceedings with respect to the currency in king William's time, and showed not only the difference but the contrast between them and the late measures. The two cases had not a feature of resemblance, either as regarded the state of the country or the conduct of the government. The ministers of that day endeavoured to prevent any alteration of the currency. The ministers of the present day thought nothing of the public injustice they were committing, or the national suffering they were creating, but had been solely occupied with the idea of getting as much money as they could from the Bank, and thus obtaining the means of accomplishing their projects, at whatever sacrifice of the general interests. When the silver coin was cried down in William's time the debased money amounted only to 5,000,000l., circulating with 4,000,000l. of good gold currency. When, in 1814, measures were taken to restore the standard, we had 70,000,000l. of a currency, including Bank of England and country bank paper, without a single guinea of good coin Here, therefore, appeared something like a conspiracy between the Bank and the government to alter the circulation and to cheat the industrious classes.
961 When he thus expressed his opinion of the mischief occasioned by the alteration of the standard, he was not bound to say that he agreed in any specific plan by which that mischief might be counteracted. He was inclined to wait the result of inquiry; and he would say that no man had done a greater service to his country than his hon. friend in proposing the present inquiry, and making the question the subject of fair discussion. Notwithstanding the opinion of the hon. member for Portarlington, he, for one, would say, that he apprehended no evil from the fullest discussion. The most learned and most able of those gentlemen who had devoted themselves to questions of this kind, had not made up their minds on what it was proper to do to meet an evil which they all acknowledged. Was it fit, then, that the House should separate in this state of uncertainty? Was it fit that the country should see them unable to come to an agreement, in a matter so pressing to its welfare or relief? The public mind was restless and uneasy. Was it proper that no resolution should be taken before the prorogations, to allay its anxiety, or guide its judgment? All the causes hitherto brought forward to account for the public distress had been found inadequate or fallacious. First we were told, about eight years ago, by the noble lord opposite, that our calamities were occasioned by a transition from war to peace. The honest country gentlemen believed for the time in this declaration; nor did he blame them for the confidence which they generally reposed in ministers, to whom they justly ascribed superior means of knowledge on most subjects. It was natural, therefore, that they should give their confidence to the minister of the day, and it was, perhaps, fortunate that they were little disposed to interfere captiously on questions which they had not studied deeply. But when he spoke thus, he did not mean to deny that there might be a corrupt acquiescence, as well as a laudable confidence, and that for "gifts which blind the eyes of the wise," some might surrender their judgment to the minister. To such he now made no allusion. He spoke voluntary and un-bought confidence; and, certainly, no minister had ever made more extensive demands on the liberality of his friends than the noble lord. No minister ever took less trouble to give them consistent reasons for following him—no minister 962 ever got their sanction to measures formed with so little consideration. In proof of this, he might allude to his. motions and projects during the present session, which had been proposed and abandoned with a degree of levity which scarcely gave his friends a shadow of excuse for trusting his judgment. His first theory for accounting for the public distress was a transition from war to peace. That transition had begun eight years ago, and had not yet reached its consummation. The next cause was, an importation of foreign corn—our agriculture suffered because, though corn was high, we were in part supplied from abroad. A corn bill was introduced for the purpose, therefore, of preventing importation, and great apprehensions were entertained by the people that the bill would raise prices. He, (sir F. B.) was persuaded that the people were wrong in this opinion—he was persuaded that the corn bill would not produce high prices. The bill passed, and corn fell, and was still depressed. The distress which this occasioned was called agricultural distress; but he was convinced that it was a distress extending over all the industrious classes. As the corn law passed, and prices fell, some other theory must be invented to account for the general distress; and redundancy of produce was next brought forward. But then came the report of the agricultural committee which stated that the late crops were only average crops. In one year, for an average of several years, we had imported 1,200,000 quarters of grain, and the price still continued high. For these three last years we had imported no corn at all from abroad, and our own crops at home were only average crops; and yeti with this apparent increase of demand, and stationary state of supply, we are suffering from a redundant produce which could obtain no market. It would appear from these facts, that importation rather had a tendency to raise prices than depress them, as prices had fallen since we had ceased to import. The great trade of every country was its internal trade—the distribution of the commodities of its own or foreign growth for internal consumption. If the manufacturing classes were employed, they became the best customers of the agricultural—they must both flourish or suffer together. When we imported 1,200,000 quarters of foreign corn, or, according to a commons calculation, 963 corn for 1,200,000 people, we had so many actively employed in manufacturing industry, who were the customers of the farmers for additional articles of produce. Some part of such a population must be supported by foreign corn. The industrious classes who consumed it in our years of prosperity, were now on the poor-rates. A great population usefully employed was the glory of a country, but a population not employed at all, or employed unproductively, was a source of calamity. He was persuaded that the country gentlemen were wrong in endeavouring to restrain the free trade in corn, or in wishing this country to become an exporting rather than an importing country. The demand for agricultural produce could only be kept up by a well employed, industrious and prosperous population, with a tendency to exceed the supplies at home, and therefore requiring importation from abroad. By debarring them from the use of foreign corn, we prevented them from having a market for their manufactures. We thus crippled their industry, and threw them for relief upon the parish.
He had thus gone over all the theories of the noble lord to account for the public distress. A transition from war to peace had grown out of date; importation of corn could no longer be pleaded as a cause of our sufferings when we imported none; and the redundancy so confidently relied on as sufficient to account for all our calamities turned out to be only average crops. No cause seemed adequate to account for apparent facts, but the state of the currency. It was not a sufficient reason for riot entering on the inquiry to be told that ministers had made up their minds. But it was said the inquiry would be difficult—an excellent reason why it should immediately be instituted, and a committee appointed, as the best instrument for carrying it forward. It had likewise been said that there was no remedy, but an issue of paper which would be limited. That he denied. Suppose the currency had been arrested as it stood in 1813, the pound note was then equal to 14 shillings, and to this extent the correction might be made. Nor would he allow the Bank to have that influence over the currency which they had before. He allowed that the directors were honourable and respectable men, and that they conducted concerns as honestly and disinterestedly as any other company; but he 964 would not intrust such an instrument in their hands as the direction of the currency. He would not permit them to play fast and loose with all the contracts of the nation, by lowering or raising the value of the money in which they were contracted. The government should be made responsible for the exercise of this power. He did not mean to state any specific opinion, or to declare a preference for any particular plan; but something should be done—and something must be done—to save the industrious classes from absolute ruin. If the noble marquis opposite could not make up his mind what was the best course to pursue in a matter so difficult, he ought to confess his inability, and relinquish a situation which he could not fill to the public advantage. He was given to understand, that the manufacturers were not now making profits to the amount of the interest of their capital; and he gave the statement the more credit, because he could not see how it was possible that manufactures should be flourishing, and agriculture in a state of such extreme distress. Ministers had involved country in its present difficulties and they were bound to find a remedy for the evil. It was not to be permitted that the people should die under it, because the king's ministers did not choose to incur the responsibility of a remedy. It was impossible for any rational man to contend, that it was fit that the House should be dismissed, and the members sent back to their constituents, until every method had been tried of averting the present calamities. He applauded the industry and the ability displayed on this subject by his hon. friend, the member for Essex, whose arguments anti facts were equally conclusive, although an attempt had been made to cast a ridicule upon them by exaggerated misstatements. He referred particularly to what had fallen last night from a right hon. gentleman (Mr. Huskisson), who had represented that his hon. friend wished corn to be the currency of the kingdom. Such an assertion was un-candid, and reflected upon any body rather than upon his hon. friend. After contending that the productiveness of the estates belonging to colleges, on which corn rents had been reserved, supported the argument of the hon. member for Essex, the hon. baronet expressed, in conclusion, his entire approbation of the original motion.
appealed to all who had heard him, whether he had represented the hon. member for Essex, as saying, that corn was to be the currency; but he maintained that he advocated corn being the standard. He would not call that un-candid of the hon. baronet; but he would say that he had been misrepresented. The hon. baronet represented him as comparing the currency of 1797 with that in the time of king William. He had not done so. He had compared the pressure which now prevailed from the restoration of a metallic currency, with that during king William's reign, and had argued, that similar effects had arisen from similar causes.
addressed the House to the following effect:
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of explaining to the House the reasons for which I concur in the motion before it; and to call the attention of the House to the grounds on which, as it appears to me, that motion rests, which, if an opinion were to be formed from many of those arguments by which it has been opposed, might be taken to refer to questions and interests of unimportant-detail; and not to be, as I understand it, measure which, whether in respect to the magnitude of the interests it proposes to affect; the principles which it involves; or above all, the necessity under which it is proposed: is of as great importance as any motion that has been at any time under the consideration of the House. And this main ground of necessity in particular, has been so much lost sight of, upon this occasion; it has been so entirely overlooked, or purposely avoided by the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Huskisson), who has proposed an amendment to the present motion—his arguments and reasoning have gone so far wide of the important. character of the present motion—of the nature and character, and effects, of those measures which have preceded, and have rendered this motion necessary—that it might almost have been doubted, whether he had been himself an actor in those transactions, the important character of which he so readily loses sight of; though their consequences have been so extensive and disastrous—or that he were now a minister of the crown in this country—the distressed condition of which appears to occupy so trifling a portion of his consideration.
966 The important nature of the present motion is, as I consider it, no less than this—these are the grounds on which it rests—That all the calamities of the country, in all their extent, have had their origin in measures of the legislature itself—that those measures have been as monstrous in their injustice, as extensive in their ruin—that they are at this moment in the midst of their operation—that the sufferings of the people, as they are of a fictitious origin; as they have had their origin in measures of the government—so they are within the power of the government to relieve and to remove. This is the nature of the present motion; and this is the responsibility under which the House acts in the conduct which it is called upon to adopt.
And I cannot here but express the astonishment with which I have witnessed that tone of misplaced and presumptuous confidence, with which appeals have been made on this occasion to public faith and the national character—by those in whose measures every principle of public faith, has been twice violated—and who now stand before the House and the country, covered with whatever opprobrium belongs to alterations in the value of the public money, in the value of the public money in the value of the monied standard; violent, extensive, and secret And, is it for them to throw out imputations against the object of the present motion, and to impugn the motives of my hon. friend who brings it forward—as though he was to be charged with a desire to sacrifice public faith, when it is his object to support public faith, and to restore it; when it is his object to arrest the progress of measures in which all faith and justice are outraged,—to oppose himself between those measures and their victims,—to protect what remaining, of the ruined fortunes of millions unjustly sacrificed,—to restore confidence, and security, and equity to broken contracts to do that which is the first duty of all government; to provide that contracts shall be executed in the meaning and intention in which they were made.
The main ground, therefore, as understand it, of the present motion is, that the difficulties which oppress the country have had their origin in measures of the legislature itself. And first, let the House consider what that extraordinary condition of difficulty and embarrassment is, which now exists in this country; and whether it does not take place, under circumstances, 967 in which it is, at least, equally extraordinary, that any difficulties should exist at all. For the country is in the midst of what may now be called a long and profound peaee. Our population has never been more numerous, nor more distinguished by skill and industry; nor more unrivalled in all those great qualities, on which the wealth of nations, and their greatness, mainly depend. Our capital has been never more abundant, nor more adequate, to the successful employment of our population. Our land has never been so richly cultivated, nor its cultivation so widely extended; and that is the most satisfactory evidence of national wealth and resources; and the most advantageous form in which they can be embodied; unless we are to change our opinions with our situation; and to abandon the maxims in conjunction with which this country has so long flourished; for that mixture of inauspicious policy, and ill-omened philosophy, which distinguishes the proceedings, and accompanies the calamities of the present day. We apprehend no war: no ports are closed to our merchants. We have experienced no scarcity; and it in the midst of all these concurring circumstances, indications of a great and general prosperity; that the country labours under difficulties, which are altogether without example in the experience of any former time. Our capital, in whatever form it is employed, whether in agriculture, in manufactures, or commerce, is cither unproductive or ruinous. All the efforts of our industry are fruitless or destructive; and the whole of that vast body, employed in the cultivation of the soil, are involved in one common and undistinguishing ruin; from which no effort of industry, or resource of prudence, affords any protection.
And, does not this condition of things, strongly demand of the House, to distrust at least, the character of its own internal measures?—Does it not afford strong evidence of great and extreme misgovernment; strong reason to believe that the objects, and the measures of the government have been adverse to the industry, and destructive to the interests of the people? And in this condition of things it is, that the right hon. gentleman opposite proposes that most preposterous resolution, by which he calls on the House to pledge itself, to a blind and imbecile perseverance in measures, the character of which they 968 have never yet understood; but of which the consequences are so strikingly before them.
The immediate and obvious cause, of the difficulties now experienced, is undoubtedly the low monied price, at which our productions and commodities, exchange one against the other. That is the immediate cause, however it has been itself occasioned, of all the difficulties now experienced in this country, whatever form they assume. But, whence is it that this circumstance, that the existence of low monied prices, should be capable of occasioning difficulty, poverty, and national distress? Money is not wealth. The wealth of a nation consists in the abundance of its productions. Money is the means by which wealth is estimated but is not wealth itself. It is a mere means of accounts. And it is of little importance to the wealth of a nation, whether its property and commodities are estimated and exchanged, at a high or a low monied price. That is undoubtedly true; and it is not the mere existence of low prices alone, which has occasioned national distress. It is that these lows prices, which now exist, have succeeded a very high rate of monied prices, that recently existed. That it was in those high monied prices, in which our present existing pecuniary engagements, of all descriptions, were formed; and that it is in the present low prices that they are to be discharged: that the same amount of money possesses a different signification, from that which it possessed when these contracts were made. that our money has; kept accounts falsely: that it has given a false estimate that it has, in this way, given the property of one man to his neighbour, throughout the whole extent of the country.—The property of the debtor to his creditor: of the tenant to the landlord. And it makes reprisals on the landlord, for it gives his property to public and private annuitants, and to him that has incumbrances on his estate. That it has given generally, the property of the productive, to the unproductive, classes of society; and of the country to the annuitants and servants of the state; and will leave, if the present low rate of monied prices be rendered permanent productive industry so greatly burthened, as to render it doubtful, whether it will be able to support itself under such burthens.
These, Sir, are the effects of the fall of 969 monied prices, however that fall has been itself occasioned: and in these the difficulties of the country consist. And it is equally certain, that we have been occupied in effecting alterations in our monied system: that we have recently adopted a standard of value, which we call the antient standardard of value, as distinguished from that modern standard, or measure of value, which it has succeeded. And in the high prices it was which accompanied that modern standard, in which our engagements were formed; and it is in those low prices, which have now returned with the old standard in which they are to be paid: and it is precisely, because the ancient standard of value, has given an ancient measure of value, it is that in which consists precisely those low monied prices, of which we complain. The consequences indeed of this fall in prices have been so extensive and disastrous, that we are unwilling to believe, that they have arisen from our own measures. That question has been avoided. It has never been encountered fairly in the House. We have rather preferred to have recourse to theories,—the most inconsistent and absurd, if they sufficed to keep for the moment this view of the question from our sight. We have looked at the effects before us. We have said they. were the causes of distress. When the reduction in the amount of money, rendered necessary by the substitution of the old standard, affecting the resources of the merchants and manufacturers, was first felt in a lessened demand for labour, and exhibited to us immense bodies of manufacturers, destitute of employment; we saw in that circumstance, the cause of national distress. A redundant population was, as we then imagined, that cause "The two great evils for which it is desirable to provide a Temedy"—these appear to be the words of the hon. member for Portarlington himself. "The two great evils for which it is desirable to provide a remedy, are a tendency to a redundant population, and inadequacy of wages." This was the hon. member's opinion: in. 1819; of him who now tells us of a third evil, and that it consists in a redundancy of food. And the House has acted on such theories as these and sums of money have been voted out of the taxes to export the people by whose means or consumption the taxes were paid. These unhappy and redundant multitudes; the best strength of the coun- 970 try, if the wisdom of the government were equal to the resources of the people; we purposed to carry to distant shores, where they might find what we then dreamed, did no longer exist here—a little surplus land which they might force a scanty bread. But the distress of the labouring classes operating through a lessened consumption of poverty of the farmer and corn dealer, had scarcely produced an excessive supply in the markets, but we adjusted our theory to that state of things also. As we had too many people at one time, we had too much land at another. And our remedies corresponded. They were first to export the population, and next to abandon the soil; and to absurdities like these we have been driven: unworthy of the character of parliament, derogatory to its character, rather than believe that an ancient standard of value would give an ancient measure of value. That that money which we have determined by. Lay, shall exchange against gold at the ancient and the low price of the last two centuries, will only exchange against corn at that same ancient and low price that money is capable of none but a general, and not of any partial application; that it cannot be made to exchange against one commodity at a low price—against, gold at a low price to gratify our prejudices: and against corn at a high price, to relieve our necessities. The nature of money is, that it regards neither prejudice nor necessity: and that intractable quality it is from whence it became so. essential, when we returned to a metal standard of value, to determine with caution at what rate, and of what value, that metal standard should be fixed. By fixing the rate of 3l. 17s. 10½d. for gold we fixed the price of from 40s. to 50s. a quarter for wheat. If our metal standard had been fixed at 5l. or 6l. that would have given from 60s. to 80s. for wheat; it would have given an equally high price generally; and by adopting some measure of that kind, the House would have reconciled the reestablishment of a metallic standard, with existing contracts and interests, and have rendered that reestablishment, a measure at once of advantage and justice, to all the great classes of the community.
This is, then, one of the main grounds on which this question respecting the cause 971 of our present low monied prices rests. I maintain that no higher prices of agricultural produce than the present can upon an average exist in conjunction with that metallic standard of 3l. 17s. 10½d. which we have by law established. And if this cannot be answered—and it has never been attempted to be answered—this view of this subject has been hitherto uniformly avoided; it is then of little importance for the right hon. secretary opposite to tell us of defects in the paper standard: and of great fluctuations in particular years in the prices of corn; and that these fluctuations did not correspond with the prices of gold, nor with the amount of Bank notes in circulation in those years. And those years to which he thus referred, the years in which neither one standard nor the other could be said to exist: but when the government was occupied in private and abortive attempts; at one time to return to the old standard, and at another when they abandoned that attempt in consternation and dismay; and then in renewing it a second time—doubtless it was necessary to put a stop to that system of measures, and to fluctuations so arising. I agree with the right hon. Secretary in that. In my estimation, his majesty's government have incurred a responsibility most grave and weighty, by their proceedings at that period. But by what means was it necessary to put a stop to those fluctuations? By adopting a permanent standard that should fix the price of wheat permanently at 45s.? If that were the meaning and view of the right hon. Secretary when he proposed the act of 1819, then I would suggest to him that if he had explained that object to the House; if he had told the House that the effect of that measure was, to establish a monied system which would prevent any higher price than 47s. being given on an average in this country for wheat: he Would then have disclosed a view of that measure to parliament, very different in its importance from those topics with which its attention was then occupied: that bill would not then have been adopted without grave and deliberate consideration; without at least being accompanied with measures of extensive provision and arrangement, with great and extensive reductions; it would scarcely then have been accompanied with three millions of additional taxes—nor would there have been wanting, from amongst the warm supporters of that measure, those by whom 972 it would have been described as I shall now and ever designate it; as a measure effecting more extensive wrong, fraud, iniquity, than any measure that has ever been before imposed by its government on any people. And I would beg now to call, shortly, the attention of the House to a consideration of what the prices of grain have in reality been, which have at all times existed in this country, when estimated by that standard of value now again established;—and I wish to refer to these prices more particularly because a statement which I had the honour of submitting to the House on a former occasion, has been greatly misunderstood. The document I referred to on that occasion, was the report of the corn committee of 1813, in, which report is given the price of wheat, for a century prior to the late war. The committee has in that table divided those prices into the prices of successive average periods of a short number of years, which on account of the great temporary fluctuations in corn is the best method by which a useful view of its comparative prices can be obtained. The result which that table shews, is, that the highest price of wheat which for any average period of 5 years had taken place for a century prior to the late war, was 49s. 9d. for a quarter of wheat: and that price is marked in the former part of this period. The commencement of that period was marked by a price as high as its close; and by a price which had existed and continued for half a century before that time. The present price of wheat is the same as that which, from the commencement of the present standard, and so long as it existed amongst us, was with no great average variation, and with no advance, the price of corn. The price of corn when we abandoned the old metal standard in 1793, was no higher than the price which commenced with the same standard a century and a half before that times The precious metals did never exist in this country, nor in fact in any age or in any country, in so great abundance, as to be given in exchange, in greater amount than our prices now give against corn. And if that cannot be denied, and the fact is indisputable, what, reason have we to expect, that a relative proportionate value between corn and the precious metals; which never did exist in any time or country, nor under any circumstances, shall be found to establish 973 itself now for the purpose of relieving our necessities, of correcting the errors of a rash and a blind legislation, and to enable us to reconcile with the act of 1819, 60 millions of annual taxes, and 12 millions of salaries and pensions: the attempt to reconcile which, if his majesty's government purpose to undertake it, they understand as little of the nature and difficulties of that attempt, of its destructive effects on the national industry, if it should succeed, as this House understood, of the nature and character of the act of 1819, when they adopted that measure. But it may be thought by some gentlemen, that it is in the power of the taxes which we imposed during the paper money, to support agricultural prices now, when that description of money is abandoned. Let us see to what conclusion that would lead us? If taxation possess a power to enhance monied prices in one country, it possesses a similar. power, doubtless, in all countries. And then let it be imagined, that throughout Europe, each nation should follow the example, one of the other, till one general circle of increased taxation were complete. Would an higher scale of monied prices be, by that means, established throughout Europe? A low value of money be established by an operation which neither increased the quantity of money, nor lessened its use? Nothing of that kind can exist. It is in opposition to the plainest principles. The effect throughout the continent at large would he, that as those commodities on which taxation was directly imposed, were enhanced in price, other commodities must sink in price; for without an increased quantity of money, no higher average could exist. That would be the effect throughout the continent at large. And whether in this country, the effect of those taxes which we accumulated during the existence of a description of money depending for its quantity on our own regulations, will not be, now we depend again on a species of money subject to the continental drain whether the effect of those taxes on prices, will not now be to sink the price of all untaxed commodities, to a degree still lower than their price before these taxes were imposed; lower than their price previous to the late war; that is a problem in political economy which the experience of this country has yet to resolve and there are few questions at this moment of more extensive importance to its interests. Neither is it in the power of any corn 974 laws materially to enhance the price of corn the principal necessary of human subsistence, on the price of which the, price of labour, and of all the productions of labour, mainly depend. When did corn laws produce any such effect? What has been the effect, in supporting prices, of the late and the present corn laws? This is, then, Sir, an important question connected with this subject. Is the standard, established by the act of 1819, capable of sustaining higher prices than those which have accompanied its reestablishment, and of which we so greatly complain? This has never been attempted to be shewn. The right hon. Secretary turns from that view of the question. He inveighs against the paper standard. That he says was a fictitious standard, accompanied with much speculation, great fluctuations in prices, with great failures amongst the country bankers. I fully concur with the right hon. Secretary in all this. These assertions are in opposition to no opinion of mine as he appeared to imagine. These qualities are, indeed, for the main part common to every standard, of whatever kind or species of money. The price of corn will fluctuate measured by whatever standard, and I beg to spew him what the degree of that fluctuation, has been. From 70s. at the lowest to 120s. at the highest; that may be taken to have been the fluctuation in wheat during the existence of the paper standard of the war. And the fluctuations in wheat during the existence of the metal standard, may be taken to have been from 35s. at the lowest to 58s. at the highest. The average prices of the paper standard have been from 80s. to 100s., and of the old metal standard from 40s. to 50s. But the main question which I submit to the right hon. Secretary, is not what was the character of the paper money, but whelk is the character of that particular metal money, which we, have established in its place. And with respect to the paper standard, its most material feature, the loses sight of; the material question respecting that is was it note depreciated money? Whether it was not money of a lower value than that which his bill substitutes for it? And whether an increase in the value of the public money, by whatever means effected whether: effected during the existence of a paper standard, or during the existence of a metal standard, or at the moment when we shift from one to the moment when we shift from one to the other—be not a disguised method by which we in- 975 crease all debts—a disguised method by which we increase all taxes—by which we in a disguised manner increase all pensions and salaries—whether it be not an operation affecting more extensively than any other, all the complicated interests of society, and whether it be not one of importance enough, to occasion all the difficulties and derangement the country now suffers?
But if this be the character of that monied standard, at present established, I would now call the attention of the House to a consideration of what that operation has been, by which this standard has been introduced. And I am perfectly persuaded that as the present system and description of money can support no higher rate of prices than the present, so the House will see that the measures by which it has been introduced are such as must of necessity have occasioned a fall of prices, fully as extensive as that which has taken place; and which does, in fact, Merely mark the difference between the value of one standard and another; between the value of the paper money lately, and of that metal money now established. We have been told, and on very inadequate authority, that a fall in prices has taken place on the continent at large, as great as that which has been experienced here. Into that question I shall not now enter. Whatever the fall in prices in Europe has been, our own internal operations have been perfectly adequate to account for our own reduction, in all its extent. They have been such as could not have taken place without occasioning a fall in prices here, as great as that which we have witnessed. I shall not, therefore, enter into the question of continental prices, except to observe, that these operations have been of a nature calculated to derange, in some degree, the prices of Europe generally; end perhaps to a considerable degree the prices of those continental markets, more particularly or exclusively connected with this country. But, before proceeding to a detailed view of those internal measures by which the fall in prices here has been occasioned, I request the attention of the House to a statement of what that fall in prices has, in reality, been, and to what extent and degree it has operated. It has been much the custom to consider this reduction of prices as principally confined to the productions of agriculture; and on this erroneous opinion as to 976 the fact, most of those abstruse theories and explanations, which the House has from time to time beard on this important subject, entirely rest, And in order the better to exhibit what the general reduction in prices has been, and to explain in a more distinct form the causes of that fall, I shall refer to that fall in prices which has taken place since the commencement of the year 1818. The year 1818 is a period midway between the war and the present time. if there are still individuals who believe that the high prices which accompanied the war were occasioned by its operations—though that is an opinion opposed to all experience, for prices did never rise in any former war, but, on the contrary, uniformly fell, and it is in the nature of all foreign war to lower prices —but if that opinion shall still be entertained, it will yet scarcely be believed, that a high scale of prices, occasioned by the operations of war, could be able to sustain itself, like the motion of a machine by its own velocity, for three or four years after those operations had ceased, and that prices could then commence gradually to fall, and continue declining for three or four years longer, and down to the present time. In the year 1818, the average price of wheat appears to have been 84s. a quarter; and if the present price be taken at 47s., that is, a reduction on wheat of 37s., which is equal to a fall of 45l. in every 100l., or 45 per cent. The price of iron, in the year 1818, appears to have been 13l.; that price has now fallen to 8l., and that is equal to a reduction of about 40 per cent upon iron. The price of cotton, in 1818, was 1s., and it has now sunk to 6d., and that is a fall of 50 per cent in cotton. Wool, in the year 1818, sold for 2s. 1d., which now sells for 1s. 1d., and there is, therefore, in wool a fall of nearly 50 per cent. The fall, therefore, that has taken place since 1818, in iron, in cotton, and in wool, is as great as the fall in wheat. It is 45 per cent on an average of the three; and that is precisely the fall in grain. These are our three great staple articles; and this fact of the fall in price they have sustained, I recommend to the consideration of those gentlemen who tell us of an excessive production of corn—of an excessive cultivation of land. If corn has been produced in excess—if the proof of that is to be found in its fall of price—doubtless there has been an equal excess likewise in the production of these three 977 great staple articles. But I will refer to paper containing further information upon this subject; and which, I am satisfied, will be received as exhibiting a correct estimate of the general fall in prices which has taken place on the whole of our productions and commodities. The paper to which I refer for this purpose will be found in the agricultural report of the last session. It was delivered to the committee by Mr. Tooke, and contains a list of the principal articles of commerce and manufacture, 30 in number, selected by that gentleman for the purpose of information respecting prices; and the prices of each commodity are given for several successive years, in the month of May in each year. I have caused the prices of these articles to be added to this table, for the month of May in the present year also. The result which this table exhibits is, that since May, 1818, a great and general fall in these articles has taken place; which fall cannot, on the whole, be taken to be less than the fall in the price of agricultural produce which has accompanied it. Of these 30 articles, there are two only that have experienced no fall. These are indigo, of two kinds, and their price has been supported, as I understand, by circumstances of an extremely peculiar nature. The fall which has taken place between May, 1818, and May, 1822, in the prices of the articles contained in this table, indigo excepted, is, if we take the lowest price marked in the table in each period, and take away the direct tax, which exists on some of these articles exactly 40 per cent. And if we add to this 40 per cent, 5 per cent more, for the difference between prices, as marked in tables, and those for which commodities can really be sold in the market, when the market is depressed and falling, that will give us an average fall of 45 per cent, which precisely similar to the fall in grain.
There is no truth, therefore, in the opinion, that any fall in prices peculiar to agricultural produce has taken place. The fall in prices has been universal and not particular. The leases of the tenants, the mortgages of the landowner, taxation pressing heavily on agricultural labour, but which the machinery of the manufacturer lightens; all these will render the difficulties of the agricultural community more permanent, perhaps, than those of the mercantile and manufacturing 978 community; but they have not been more severe. Let the House consider what difficulties, as this table shows, out mercantile and manufacturing industry has been exposed to? In the midst of this fall in prices, what operation of business could proceed without loss or ruin? There has been no form in which the capital of the merchant; none in which the capital of the manufacturer could be invested without the half of it being sacrificed during calamitous period. We have been thrown back upon a condition of society in which all industry and enterprise have been rendered pernicious or ruinous; and where no property has been safe, unless hoarded in the shape of money, or lent to others on a double security. The hon. member for Portarlington, in referring to this table on another occasion, I think told us, that Mr. Tooke was able to point out several circumstances which had tended to lower the price of many of these articles. I do not in the least doubt it. The price in the market of every particular commodity is fixed by the influence of a great variety of contending circumstances; some tending to advance, and some to depress that price. I doubt not but Mr. Tooke could point out numerous circumstances; that have affected the prices of every one of these commodities; and have contributed both to depress and to support them. But the question is not as to what has affected the price of any particular commodity. The question is, whether this list is to be received for that purpose for which it was given; as containing an indifferent and impartial selection from the general mass of our productions and commodities; and exhibiting in its result a fair estimate of the fall in price on that general mass? That, I see, the hon. member for Portarlington admits. This table shows what the general fall in price has been. Let us see, then, to what conclusion this brings us Either the quantity of all commodities has increased, or the quantity of money has been diminished. One of these we must of necessity admit; for the proportion is altered. There is either an increase in the general quantity of commodities, or a reduction in the quantity of money. And are we to believe that the quantity of commodities has increased: that a great augmentation has suddenly taken place in all the produce of all labour: that all industry has become suddenly more skilful and efficient; and 979 the produce of all soil more abundant? If we could believe, that, indeed, then we might look on our present difficulties, as necessarily attending, the introduction of a better order of things; as the sure precursors of an age more prosperous than this country has yet experienced. But it is impossible to entertain such a belief. It. is impossible to believe that any great and sudden augmentation of commodities has taken place. It is the quantity of money that must of necessity have been reduced: and I now beg, there fore, the attention of the House to a consideration of what that reduction has in reality been; how it has been effected; and how it corresponds with the fall in monied prices which it has occasioned.
The monied circulation of this country, has rested on that of the Bank of England. The amount of the notes of the Bank in circulation, at the period immediately preceding this fall of prices, appears to have, been from about 29 to 30 millions. That is the average amount in circulation, for the last half year of 1817. If we take a view of the amount of Bank notes in circulation from this time downwards; and observe the amount in the middle of each quarter; which affords, as appears by the evidence of Mr. Harman, the best comparative view—a gradual and systematic reduction will appear at this period to have commenced.
And at this period the joint circulation of 1l. notes and sovereigns, has rendered a further comparative estimate, in this way taken, uncertain and obscure; I would, refer, therefore, to the mode of estimation adopted by the hon. member for Portarlington, for the purpose of bringing a comparative view of the circulation of Bank notes down to the circulation of Bank notes down to the present time; which method is, to exclude from 980 the account all 1l. notes, and notes, but those 5l. and upwards, and payable on demand; and this, method of computation does, as I perfectly agree with him in thinking, give a fair comparative of the circulation down to the present period.
The amount in circulation. Aug. 16, 1817, is 30,100,000. It was reduced by Nov. 15, 1817, to 29,400,000. And continued as follows: Feb. 1818, 28,700,000. May, — 28,000,000. Aug. — 26,000,000. Nov. — 26,000,000. Feb. 1819 25,600,000. May. — 23,000,000. Aug. — 26,000,000. Nov. — 24,000,000. Feb. 1820. 24,000,000. May. — 23,900,000. Aug. — 24,400,000. Nov. — 23,400,000.
The amount of Bank-notes in circulation in this way taken, appears,
and the amount appears to have been now reduced to somewhat below this last sum. Nothing can be more regular, gradual, and uniform, than this reduction in the quantity of money, thus exhibited and commencing at a period immediately preceding the commencement of the fall in monied prices. It was altogether a forced and a systematic contraction. It did not take place in consequence of the fall of prices. It preceded it. It was not effected by means of a lessened demand for Bank-notes. It took place in the midst of a constantly increasing demand. The requisitions made to the Bank by the mercantile community, were less, at the time of the greatest circulation; were less during the last half year of 1817than they have been at any; subsequent time, and the Bank is now under greater advances to the merchants, with this reduced circulation, than those advances amounted to, when their circulation of notes was 30 millions. This reduction, forced, regular, and systematic, was dictated to the Bank by parliament, which at one period appeared to believe that this country, had no other evil to contend with, but too many Bank-notes in circulation; or difficulty to overcome but the imaginary reluctance of the directors to reduce their amount. It was effected, not in consequence of lessened demands for discounts from the merchants; but first and in part by the Bank in preparation for the expiration of the Restriction bill, taking in, in the latter part of 1817, some part of its notes, and discharging them in gold, without returning those notes to the circulation; but mainly, and principally by the Bank calling in the advances it had made to government; and by the repayment of those advances, for the particular
Notes of £.5 and upwards, Nov. 1817 £19,600,000. Nov. 1818 16,900,000. Nov. 1819 * Nov. 1820 15,300,000. Nov. 1821 14,800,000. May 1822 14,600,000.* This account is not before the House.981 and express object of reducing the amount of notes in circulation: that object which we see thus accomplished. We see then a regular, gradual, systematic reduction of the notes of the Bank, our legal money, on which the whole of our circulation depends; and that reduction followed by an equally regular fall of prices. But the one is in greater proportion than the other. Prices have fallen more than notes have been reduced. The reduction of Bank notes is one-fourth, or one-fifth; and the fall in prices has approached nearly to one-half: and the hon. member for Portarlington denies that prices will fall except in proportion to the reduction of money. But I beg him to consider, that, first we have the fact plainly before us; and that to facts we must reconcile our theories as well as we are able. Twenty-three millions of Banknotes in circulation, do in reality no more than sustain prices somewhat more than one-half of those prices which were sustained by 30 millions. But let us consider what the office of these notes the amount of which we have now thus reduced is. These notes of 5l. and upwards discharge ultimately all our larger pecuniary transactions. They perform the operations, exchange the productions, and support the prices, of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce; and they perform still a further duty; they support the operations of our system of taxation. Fifty-five millions of taxes, transmitted annually to the Exchequer, and all of them transmitted in these notes of 5l. and upwards, of which the whole amount, is no more than 19 millions at the highest, and 14 millions at the lowest; necessarily absorb, occupy, appropriate, a considerable amount of these notes; and they occupy the same amount, now the circulation is 14 millions, as they occupied when the circulation was 19 millions; for the taxes have not been reduced. But this amount so-occupied forms a larger proportion of the 14 millions, than it formed of the 19 millions. The reduction effected, therefore, is more than a fourth or a fifth part of that portion of the circulation occupied in supporting commercial and agricultural prices: and consequently a reduction of one fourth, or one fifth of the whole amount of notes in circulation; necessarily occasions a fall in these prices, in a much greater. proportion. But there sis still another and more important operation on prices, arising out of our system of 982 taxes. I have shown that the monied prices of all productions and commodities have fallen nearly one-half; but when it is said that all prices have fallen one half it is to be remembered, that there is one great class of commodities, the prices of which have not fallen at all; and which cannot fall, for their price is composed of taxation. These commodities indeed may cease to be produced, they may cease to be consumed, but price they cannot. This class of commodities is very numerous and important; it includes many of the most extensive articles of consumption; it includes tea, malt, sugar, and other articles of as great importance. This extensive class of commodities, requires as large an amount of money, to be occupied in its distribution and circulation at this time, when the quantity of money is reduced, as it occupied before that reduction took place. The reduction falls exclusively angina part of the circulation, which was employed in circulating and distributing and supporting the prices, of untaxed commodities. These two operations therefore, at once explain to us why a reduction in money occasions a more than proportionate reduction in monied prices: that reduction in prices is partial—it falls unequally: on many commodities there is no fall, and thus it has been, that when we withdrew a fourth or a fifth part of the notes of the Bank of England from circulations we occasioned a fall in prices of near one half on all untaxed productions and commodities. The committee of 1819 entirely overlooked this obvious operation. Twenty millions of Bank-notes, said they—that was the method of their computation—if we take one million away, that is one twentieth part, this will occasion there fore a fall in the prices of commodities of 5 per cent; but they forgot that the prices of a great portion of these commodities could undergo no fall at all, that this money must be taken away from that part of the circulation which supported the prices of other commodities and that those other commodities, and that those other commodities would not fall 5 per cent but 10 per cent. This is the kind of information with which this great question was disposed of. But a further consideration of the important functions which these notes discharge; the amount of which we have thus diminished from 30 to 23 or 24 millions—and diminished in the face of an increasing demand for notes on the part 983 of the merchant; for that is always to be observed, a further, consideration will show us, how important an operation that reduction, so effected, must of necessity have been. These notes form the basis, and limit the amount, of all that vast mass of circulation of paper money and paper credit of whatever kind; by which all the pecuniary transactions of the country are carried on; and all prices supported and fixed. The amount of this mass of paper and of credit; the prices it supports; all these advance or sink, as these notes are in this way increased or reduced. We have accounts before us which show, that a proportionate reduction in the notes of the country bankers, has followed this diminution of Bank of England notes. All country bankers notes wherever issued, in whatever part of the kingdom, receive their final discharge in the notes of the Bank of England. All bills of exchange, all commercial credits, or transactions on credit of whatever kind, and wherever they take place; all these are discharged finally in these same notes. These functions are discharged by the notes of 5l. and upwards, of which the amount was at one time 19 and which we have now reduced to 14 millions; and these notes transmit in addition 55 millions of taxes, annually to the Exchequer. There exists on the part of that body which issues country bank notes, which circulates bills of exchange, and creates commercial and other credits, on the part of this body there exists a perpetual effort to increase the amount and extent of all such issues and operations. But there is also a perpetual limit, beyond which they cannot go; and that limit is fixed by the amount and value of these notes of the Bank of England; in which they are discharged, and with which they must circulate at par. We required the Bank of England, to maintain its paper in circulation on a par with gold, at 3l. 17s. 10½d. By that step we forced upon the Bank the necessity of lessening by whatever means, the quantity of its notes; this amount lessened, their value increased; our country bankers notes would no longer circulate at par with Bank of England notes, unless their amount were lessened equally; commercial credits could no longer be regularly discharged, unless their amount were reduced also. Let it be imagined that from whatever cause, a sudden augmentation were effected in country bankers paper; in bills of 984 exchange, and in circulating credits of every description; but that the Bank of England were to refuse to increase the amount of that 14 millions of notes they now circulate; and that the House, still were to require all paper money to exchange against gold, as now, at the price of 3l. 17s. 10½d. What consequence would ensue?—The paper of the country bankers would be cheap; that of the Bank of England comparatively scarce and dear; they would no longer circulate at par—the country paper would consequently be taken in and exchanged; the bills of exchange, and circulating credits of every kind, could not meet that regular discharge, necessary to their renewed circulation. The 14 millions are not adequate in amount to the regular discharge of that extent of country bankers paper, bills of exchange, and credits, which was discharged by 19 millions. These would be dishonoured; the issuers ruined, and the quantity reduced again to the level which the notes of the Bank of England could readily support; and thus it is that a reduction in these notes necessarily also reduces, and brings necessarily down to its own level, all circulation of paper credit, all paper money of whatever description, and with that all monied prices.—And here, cannot but desire to ask the right hon. gentleman opposite; the chief commissioner of woods and forests, who has informed the House of the important share he took in the proceedings of the agricultural committee of the last session, whence it was that no account of the reduction of Bank notes in circulation was taken into the view of that committee? The main object of their inquiry was the cause of the low price of corn, and there were laid before them accounts relating to every thing except the subject before them. The committee, with a most perverse industry; collected accounts exhibiting information, very accurate, respecting coffee, respecting tea, candles the quantity of spirits, British as well as foreign, wine, both French and Cape, the quantities of soap, of snuff, of tobacco, but no account whatever of the amount of Bank notes withdrawn from circulation, is to be found amongst those tables of accounts Ando are we surprized that the committee complained of mystification? What information were accounts like those to convey to their minds? It appears to me, that a more complete instance of what is called 985 mystification is not to be found than these proceedings present, and I should give the right hon. gentleman great credit for his talents on that occasion, if it were not, indeed, on a subject somewhat too serious to have been so disposed of. A single table exhibiting the reduction in the quantity of money, an explanation showing how it had been effected, and the manner in which it necessarily operated on prices, would have conveyed at once full information on the subject on which their inquiries of tile committee were occupied.
Let the House, then, consider how this question stands. A great and general distress prevails, which, by my hon. friend, the member for Newton (Mr. Gurney), has been well denominated, a great and extraordinary degree of pecuniary difficulty and embarrassment. And undoubtedly it is that, into which the whole distress of the country is to be resolved, and out of which it has sprung. We have been occupied in effecting alterations in our pecuniary system; and it is precisely since the time in which we have been so occupied, that these pecuniary difficulties have been felt. The alteration we have effected has been this—that for a particular purpose; for the purpose of reducing the price of gold, we have diminished the quantity of money which we found existing in circulation. That is the nature of the alteration we have effected; and the nature of the difficulty experienced is, that it is only a reduced amount of money, that can now be obtained in exchange for property and commodities. And it would be strange if it were otherwise. Most strange, indeed, and extraordinary would it be, if that money which we have ourselves caused to be withdrawn from circulation, and returned upon the issuers, should still be found existing in circulation as before, and be given as before in exchange for property and commodities. The extent of reduction in money which has been effected is towards one half; it is near one half of that part of the circulation, occupied in supporting agricultural and commercial prices. The agricultural and commercial community find, that they are able to obtain for their productions, but little more than one half of the amount of money which they obtained before this alteration took place. Money being reduced in quantity, the quantity of property and commodities remaining the same, monied prices fall. These 986 prices falling, but pecuniary engagements remaining, then commences that state of difficulty and embarrassment which we witness. The difficulty of supporting burthens and discharging engagements when the money is withdrawn by the agency of which they were contracted and imposed. This is the origin of that state of things, which in its result leaves the land-owner without rent, the merchant without profit, the labourer without employment or wages, which revolutionizes property, and deranges and disorganizes all the different relations and interests of society.
And here I shall beg to call the attention of the House to another view of this question, and of that most important operation which is now under its consideration. The right hon. secretary opposite gave, some time since, to the House, a kind of historical detail of the means by which, according to his view of the subject, the re-establishment of the old metal standard had been effected. Our paper standard, or money, had become, as I understood him to say, greatly lowered in its value during the war; but he considered that it had again been raised in value, and that that debasement had, been corrected by means of failures amongst the country bankers, occurring very opportunely, it must be allowed, for that object, in the years 1815 and 1816 shortly after the war had closed, The public money having been in this way raised in value, and approaching very nearly to the value of the standard which had existed before any depreciation took place, the right hon. Secretary considered, that the measures of the legislature in 1819, did merely adjust that small remaining difference, and then finally establish by law a standard which had been chiefly by accident corrected, and by accident brought back, to nearly its former value. That is the view which, as I understood the right hon. gentleman, he took of the character of the act of 1819, and of the measures which preceded that act. But in this account the right hon. gentleman entirely left out of view a whole system of measures, the most important of all those connected with this operation, adopted by the government itself, for the express object of influencing and preparing for the re-establishment of the old standard and leaving those measures entirely out of his consideration, on which that whole operation did in fact turn—he arrived at 987 the conclusion—somewhat extraordinary indeed—that a depreciation of money arising out of the act of 1797, had been corrected whilst that act continued in full vigour; that a depreciation, occasioned by excessive issues of the notes of the Bank of England, had been restored by a diminution in the issues of the country bankers; that a debasement of money, which had been effected systematically, which had existed and had stood its ground during all the changes of twenty years, was at length corrected by an accident, at that period when a depreciated money was looked on as no longer necessary; at the period when it is maintained, by the colleagues of the right hon. Secretary, that we were bound in equity and policy to re-establish money of the old value—and at that precise period, also, when, as I shall show the right hon. Secretary, measures were in operation, which must, of necessity, have raised the value of money to the level of the old standard, whether, any such accident had or had not taken place. These measures arose out of the advances which the government had received from the Bank The House will recollect that the question of the return to payments in cash by the Bank in money of the old value, was never discussed in parliament without that other question of the re-payment to the Bank of its advances to government coming under consideration at the same time, as immediately and essentially connected with it. What, then, was the nature of the connexion between the resumption of cash payments by the Bank, and the amount of its advances to government? It was, that the resumption of cash payments in money of the old standard, required that a reduction of the amount of Bank notes, and an increase in their value, should be previously effected; and that, as it was in advances to the government that these notes had been principally issued and circulated, so the repayment of those advances afforded the most convenient, and possibly the only practicable mode, by which they could be withdrawn; and on these transactions it is, connected with this debt, and lost sight of altogether by the right hon. gentleman, on which the alterations experienced since the war in the value of money do almost entirely depend; on which the rise in the value of money in 1815 and 1816, and its subsequent depreciation in the two succeeding years, en- 988 tirely turn; and mainly the second rise in the value of money, commenting with 1818. I beg to refer the right hon. gentleman to the report of that committee of which he was chairman, the committee of 1819. The report states—"It will be seen that a material reduction of the debt to the Bank (that of the government) took place between the month of August, 1815, and the month of February, 1816"—and indeed the tables from whence this statement is drawn show that this reduction commenced in the early part of 1815, and before the month of August. "This debt," the report states, again increased between February, 1816, and the August following." And afterwards we find, "the amount of these advances was again reduced between August, 1818, and February, 1819." What, then, was the object of this repayment thus twice made? The report informs us—"To enable the Bank to make the experiment of cash payments." And then have the respectable evidence of Mr. Harman, that the immediate tendency of these reductions was, to lessen the amount of Bank-notes in circulation. And what has been the nature of this experiment thus spoken of? It was no less than to alter—to lessen the amount and raise the value of that money, which had become the legal current public money of this kingdom; to cause that money, which had fallen so low in value, as to exchange against gold under circumstances peculiarly favourable to a low price of gold, at the rate of 5l. 10s. for an ounce; that that money should be raised to an old and former value, which it had long lost, and be made to circulate on a par with gold, at the price of 3l. 17s. 10½d., and that, too, under circumstances occasioning a great additional demand for gold. This is the experiment of which the right hon. secretary loses sight. It has been twice made. It was made in the years 1815 and 1816 It was the cause of all the calamities, never to be forgotten, which then beret, the country. The fall of prices then; experienced was its necessary consequence. It was abandoned at the commencement of 1816, by the administration don, alarmed by the consequence of its own measures. The debt which had been repaid was again advanced The money which had been withdrawn, again and in haste returned to the circulation. The standard of the war was again 989 restored. The prices of the war accompanied it The burthens of the country were seen once more, to be no more than commensurate with its resources. All the difficulties of the people ceased, one universal scene of general prosperity was restored. But that prosperity had scarcely been established, before that fatal experiment was a second time commenced. It has continued to the present time. It is now in process. It is the cause of all the sufferings of the country. None other can be shown to have existed along with it. But that experiment had not far proceeded, before the government adopted a measure, that of the appointment of the committee of 1819, which had this effect and object, at least, and that only; that it committed the political opponents of the administration, to the support of a measure, of the effects of which its authors were at least doubtful. This is the short history of the origin of these measures; the progress, the effects of which are so manifestly before us, The failures of the country bankers in 1815 and 1816; of the banks in Ireland in 1820; the appointment of the committee of 1819, are mere incidents in this drama We are not to ascribe to them an importance which they do not possess. The right hon. secretary said that I should tell him of the failure of the country banks in 1815 and 1816, and account by that for the fall in, prices, and the rise in the value of money; which produced effects so disastrous at that time. I shall be guilty of no such absurdity. I shall refer him to the year 1810, when nearly as great a proportion of the country bankers failed as in 1815; and when no fall of prices or increase in the value of money accompanied those failures. I shall refer him to 1793, when a greater proportion of the country bankers failed; and which failures were accompanied with a rise in the price of corn, and not of money. I refer him to the circulation of Scotland in 1815 and 1816, where as great a fall of prices, as great a rise in the value of money; as great a reduction of the circulation, took place, as in any part of the kingdom, and where no failure amongst the issuers of paper money had taken place. And with respect to the fall of prices, and the rise of money in 1815 and 1816, I refer him to this operation before us, carried into effect for the express purpose of lessening the quantity, and raising the value of money, and of necessity producing these effects.
Will it be thought that this is ascribing 990 too great importance to the effect of this last referred to operation? It was in its advances to government that those notes were issued by the Bank, which protected in circulation by the restriction bill, and becoming excessive in quantity, became also depreciated in their value. It was by the repayment of those advances, that those notes were again lessened in quantity, and their value raised. Let us consider what the effect would necessarily be if this last operation were reversed. The amount of money repaid by the government to the Bank, since the commencement of this second experiment of cash payments, and in order to provide for that experiment, has been, as appears by papers before the House, from 12 to 15 millions. What would be the effect, then, of the Bank again undertaking to lend this 12 or 15 millions which has been thus repaid? First the Bank would require a Restriction bill. This advance could not be made and continued without it. A restriction given, the Bank placed in all respects, in the same situation as that which before enabled it to make this advance—the sovereigns which are now in circulation, replaced by notes of 1l.; what would be the effect on the value of money on monied prices, of the Bank again advancing to the government that 12 or 15 millions of money which the government has recently repaid? There can be given but one answer to this question. The effect would be clear and indisputable; no individual; no individual whose attention has been turned to these subjects, can doubt it. The effect would be to depreciate money. It would raise prices, the prices of agricultural and of all other produce, and that existed in 1818, or that existed during the war, Our money would be at once placed on the war footing. Its relative value with property would be the same as that which existed during the war; and if this debt were again repaid these consequences would be reversed. It is impossible that any doubt can exist on this head, or that this position can be denied. And with these operations before us, twice repeated and uniform in their result; it is to sink below the character we ought to preserve, and our own duty, it is trifling with the important character of this subject, and with the distress of the country, to turn aside as we have done from the consideration of these operations; to lose sight of them altogether, to have recourse to vague and 991 abstruse theories, in opposition to facts, to principles, and to experience, and to endeavour to persuade ourselves and the country, that our difficulties arise from causes, over which we can exercise no control and which have thrown upon us no responsibility.
These are the grounds then—plain, manifest, and undeniable, on which this important question rests—concerning the origin of that condition of difficulty and distress, that fall of prices, so disastrous and calamitous in its effects, the cause of which we have involved in so much mystery and obscurity; and have concealed from ourselves, and the country at large.
I maintain first, that that old standard which we have reestablished, is incapable of sustaining any higher scale of prices, than that which now exists and which has accompanied its re-establishment. That the law which re-established that old description of money of the value of 3l. 17s. 10½d., re-established also the old scale of prices generally; and that with respect to agricultural produce in particular, the evidence is distinctly before us; that no higher average rate of agricultural produce than the present ever has existed, or can be with reason expected to exist, in conjunction with our present mowed standard.
I state next, that the amount of money Which we have withdrawn from circulation for the purpose of preparing for the introduction of the old standard, that that reduction has been to an extent, which must necessarily have occasioned a fall of prices as great as that which has been experienced. That the fall of prices is general. That it is simply an increase in the value of money occasioned by its lessened quantity.
And lastly, that the repayment of the Bank advances by government has been the measure on which this reduction in the quantity of money, and the consequent increase in its value, has been founded. We found existing high prices—money in great quantity, of low value, of a depreciated, a debased value, as compared with a description of money which had formerly existed. Our public money had been thrown into circulation, and retained there by means of advances made by those who issued it to the government. We caused those advances to be repaid and reduced. We lessened by that means the quantity of circulating money, we raised its value to a level with that of the 992 old standard, and caused a proportionate fall in prices, and finally by the act of 1819 we established permanently by law, that standard and those prices which we had thus introduced. These are the proceedings by which we have reduced prices, regular, systematic, effectual. Their existence, their operation, cannot be disputed or denied. I am perfectly persuaded that no hon. gentleman will venture to deny, with respect even to this last operation, that if the Bank were to advance again that 15 millions repaid it by the government since 1817, and were enabled to do so by the necessary alteration in the act of 1819; it will not, I am persuaded, be denied that that advance would be at once followed (in spite of all the influence of excessive production, to whatever extent it exists), by a scale of prices as high as that which existed in 1818, and which existed during the war.
What is the ultimate operation, then, the equity and policy of these proceedings in their ultimate effects; the origin, progress, and establishment of which, and the fall of' prices occasioned by them rest on this evidence—altogether impossible, as I maintain it is, to be refuted, or disproved?
By these proceedings the debt of every debtor, by whatever description of pecuniary contract he is bound, has been en-creased. These measures are laws, by which we have enacted, that an augmentation should be made to every debt which one man owes to another, and to that which the nation owes to the public creditor. For every 60l. that we found owing, we have enacted by law that 100l. shall be paid. We have made the claim of the creditor as strong and valid for this false and fraudulent augmentation which we have given him, for this fictitious 40l. which he had never lent, which the debtor had never received, as it is for his real and just debt, for the 60l. which he had lent, and which the debtor did in reality and justice owe. For this fictitious debt which we have thus created we have rendered the property of the debtor subject to execution and his person to imprisonment. It is not that we have protected the creditor in his just rights, as the right hon. gentleman opposite would represent—we have defrauded the debtor; aad have taken away his property, in this proportion, and in this manner, throughout the whole extent of the kingdom.
These measures are laws by which we 993 have established that all the public burthens shall be in a like proportion increased. They are additional taxes which we have imposed. Pensions and salaries which we have distributed, amidst the increase of the public distress. We had accumulated a mass of annual taxes, to the amount of 60 millions by a long, and gradual course of taxation, directly imposed —we had increased pensions and salaries to 12 annual millions, by a long course of gradual, direct, and progressive augmentation; and then by, these measures we proceeded to augment at once every existing tax on whatever it was imposed; every pension and every salary for whatever service; we accomplished this by a disguised and hidden operation, concealed from the view of the people on whom we caused these augmented burthens suddenly to fall: from the, view of their representatives, from our own view, our attention occupied with one miserable object, and with one only. The 60 millions of annual taxes we thus made equal to 100 millions, and the 12 millions of salaries and pensions have been made equal to 20 millions. We found 800 millions of accumulated debt and ye encreased it at once to 1,400 millions, in their effectual pressure on the industry of the people, in their effectual drain on the property and resources of the country; which property and which resources we thus gave over to the creditors and servants of the state. Our annual taxes are at this moment, and by these means, more than three times the amount of all the tent of all our land; and we pay more in pensions and salaries than all the cultivators of all our soil can ever in future obtain.
These are the effects, the nature, the character of these operations, of magnitude and wrong without a parallel; which have been thus carried into effect.
Do we find it difficult to believe that measures such as these can in reality have had existence; can have been carried into effect and operation in this country, with the interests of which we are ourselves entrusted? Let us direct our attention then to the condition of the country: let us examine its situation, and see if that gives us evidence of misgovernment less blind and violent: if it exhibits to us disorder, derangement, difficulty, and ruin, less extensive and universal than measures such as those are calculated to produce? And are we to have regard, in considering a question like this, to the per- 994 sonal views or feelings of individuals or parties who may choose to identify their views with these measures? Are we to hear it said, that one part of the House did not oppose those proceedings, and that by another they were supported; and that now, therefore, they are not to exercise their judgments upon them, nor to express what those judgments are? I repeat it: no measures of more monstrous, and enormous iniquity; more extensive And violent in the ruin and calamities they have occasioned, are to be found in the example of any time or of the worst government. They are dark and obscure in their operation: such measures whenever adopted; such changes however accomplished, have always been so. The people have not seen from whence that blow came, which has been felt throughout their extended interests; alike in the crowded city, the obscure village, the distant colony by which all industry has been crushed, however occupied. As little have we, by whose hand that blow was given, seen the nature of the measures in which we were engaged. Our hand was placed upon a spring, one of the most powerful of all those that move in the complicated machinery of civilization and society; but we were ignorant of its potency and character. But the character of these measures though slowly, must be at length with certainty seen, and the light in which they are now placed, is that in which they must be viewed by the present as well as by future times; and it is now the duty of every man; whether he supported or opposed these proceedings whether he supported these measures in ignorance, or opposed them from an enlightened conviction, to exercise now his earnest and unbiased judgment upon them. It is now the duty of the House to exercise its earnest judgment upon them; with the condition of the country before us—with the experience of the effects of these measures for our guide; it is now the duty of the House to exercise its earnest judgment upon these proceedings, and whether it shall decide now to reverse at once these disastrous proceedings; to restore at once by that means, as it has the power to do—tranquillity, and ease, and prosperity, to this distracted country and its ruined industry—whether the House will go that length or not, I know not; but this House would abandon essential duties—essential functions, if it were to refuse to proceed 995 to investigation and inquiry—to determine by that means how best to satisfy the demands of necessity and justice; if this House by whose measures the nation has been plunged into the difficulties and disorders in which it is overwhelmed, should turn aside or shut its eyes to them; should be content to leave their issue to chance and accident—to the unassisted efforts—to the blind despair, perhaps, of the oppressed people. The condition of this country at this moment—the disordered condition of all its property and all its interests, resembles that of a city laid waste by a great conflagration, which the hand of its own governors had ignorantly kindled, and which still rages—the first duty of the government is, to arrest its progress—the next is to do justice to the sufferers and between them—to define the rights of property—to re-establish its, effaced boundaries—and to erect afresh the ruined structures of private and of public prosperity on the foundations of equity and justice. That is now the duty of the House, and it would be to sink below every quality of efficient and enlightened legislation; to proclaim ourselves efficient only for evil, but weak and incompetent for every purpose of wise, and enlarged, and beneficent protection and arrangement if we are appalled by the magnitude and complication of that duty and abandon it.
There is, however, undoubtedly another question connected with this subject; of extremely great importance; and that is, the effect of these measures on the interest of that great body, the labouring part of the community. This is a consideration to which I attach its full weight; it is a consideration never, in my opinion, to be lost sight of by parliament; in any of its proceedings capable of influencing those interests. It has been maintained, that the fall of prices so destructive to the interests of many of the great classes of the community, so ruinous and destructive to the capital of him, by whom the labourer is employed, is advantageous to the interest of the labourer himself; and the farmer, the trader, the landowner, in the midst of the ruin that oppresses them, are told to look for consolation in this, that what they lose the labourer gains. That they enjoyed at one time great prosperity, but at the expense of the labourer; that he, in his turn, now profits at their expense; and the right hon. secretary opposite has congratulated the House, on a condition of plenty 996 and tranquillity restored, as he imagines, to the labourers, after it had been long lost—but now again restored by the operation of his bill. But on what foundation in fact does this opinion rest; posed as it is to all experience, and all authority? This opinion, which would represent the interests of the different orders of productive industry as opposed rte each other, is directly in opposition to the fact. Doubtless, there exists at this moment, a partial prosperity amongst the labourets—it is local—it is owing to peculiar circumstances—it is not accompanied any where with a profitable employment of capital—it is at the expense of the capital of the trader, on one hand, and of the farmer on the other—it is the absorption, the confiscation of these capitals, and, there passing rapidly in partial districts, through the hand of the labourer, to the Exchequer in the shape of taxes. But neither can this be permanent, nor is it general; nor are we to take the condition, of the labouring classes from this partial view. We are not to leave out of our consideration, as the right hon. secretary has done, the condition of the labourers in Ireland; in the agricultural districts, the formation given in the petitions before us, given in the proceedings of all those public meetings with which the face of the country has been covered. We are not to lose sight of all this, and then to assume that the condition of the labourers is prosperous, when it is in extremes; when the, precarious plenty which they enjoy in some districts, exists in conjunction with a condition of the severest want, extending greatly and generally throughout the country. But I apprehend that it is perfectly undeniable; that it will not be disputed that the effect on the wages of labour, and on the condition of the labourer, of an increase, or of a fall in the value of money, is of itself temporary; and is confined to the period when such operation is in progress. That will not, I am satisfied, be denied. And when the right hon. secretary therefore, with the condition of Ireland before us, with that of Norfolk, of Suffolk, and of Sussex; regards the manufacturing districts alone, and congratulates the House on the plenty and the tranquillity restored to the labouring classes by the operation of his bill, I refer him to the condition of these manufacturers themselves, at the period when the measures for restoring the old standard, were in their most active operation on their interests.
997 The ruin which these measures produced, amongst the merchants and traders, preceded the destruction of the farmers. The bankruptcies which they produced amongst that important body, those bankruptcies which we told them were occasioned by their over-trading, as though it were not the character of traders at all times to trade to the full extent of their power and their means—as though our commercial eminence itself were., not founded on that character.—the bankruptcy of a part of the traders; the losses, the reduced means of them all, occasioned by these measures, were felt at once in the, condition of the manufacturing labourers, and left them destitute of employment and wages together. The House will well remember when they separated in July, after passing the act of 1819, for what purpose they again met in November, and what was the condition, and the tranquility of the manufacturing labourers at that time. It was within a few months after that bill had passed in parliament, that 80,000 people assembled in Manchester, for purposes which it is foreign to this subject to discuss, but driven to those purposes, whatever they were, by the utmost extremity of suffering and distress. The condition of bodies of the people like these—the causes of that condition, can never too much occupy the attention of parliament. That state of distress and despair, in which, without any apparent cause for it, they were then plunged, was the sole origin of this great movement on the part of the people. I state that on an authority which on this subject will be admitted on both sides of the House. It is on the authority of the Manchester magistrates, who in a letter to the predecessor of the right hon. secretary, which has been laid before the House; and which is dated a few weeks before the meeting of the people at Manchester took place, give this account of their condition. They say to lord Sidmouth, "Of the deep distresses of the manufacturing classes of this extensive population your lordship is fully apprized." These gentlemen do not speak of plenty and tranquillity produced by the right hon. gentleman's bill. They speak of calamities with no apparent origin, of sufferings, of which the people were occupied in discovering the obscure causes. They say, "The disaffected lose no opportunity of instilling the worst principles into these unhappy sufferers, and when the people are oppressed with hunger," that is 998 their expression, "when the people are oppressed with hunger, we do not wonder at their giving ear to any doctrines which they are told will redress their grievances." These are the terms in which these gentlemen described what they saw around them; and no terms, nor any language, have ever been employed to describe, nor are capable of describing, a lower condition of destitution and calamity, as applied to any considerable portion of a great and a civilized community. From sufferings and wants such as these, it is one of the conditions of civilization itself, to be exempt. And was this state of things confined at this time to Manchester?—The right hon. secretary tells me his bill, had at this time, but shortly passed. But the measures of which that bill formed a part commenced before that time. This was the period when those measures—this second experiment for the resumption of cash payments—were in the midst of their operation on the manufacturing community; as they had before this time exerted an influence, equally destructive on the mercantile interest. These are those manufacturers, and this has been their condition whose interests the right hon. secretary tells us, the returning to an old standard of value was calculated to promote. But was this condition of the manufacturers confined to Lancashire? It extended to Yorkshire, to Durham, to Scotland, to the hardware and the iron districts. There was no local or partial exception, as there was in operation no local or peculiar cause. Wherever there was a mill, or a. loom, or an anvil to be found—wherever the people were assembled in manufacturing communities, they were overwhelmed in one common calamity; of which the causes were as much hidden from them as is now the cause of the ruin of agriculture from the farmers; they were overwhelmed in one common calamity, and united in one common determination to relieve themselves by measures hostile to the existence of the government, and dangerous to the safety of the state. It becomes a government to look well to its own measures, when this is the condition of the people. It is not an ordinary responsibility that weighs upon a government where a state of things exists like this. Here was no foreign war—no scarcity of provisions—no ports were shut to the industry of these manufacturers—neither of America, nor 999 of Europe. We shall not now hear, at least of a redundant population. This is not a state of things to be justified by the plea that it was rendered necessary by the re-establishment of an old standard of value. That the government was occupied on one miserable object, the getting back to an old standard which it had long abandoned, and that in pursuit of that object, the rights of property, and the lives of the people were as nothing. The right hon. gentleman who has proposed his amendment, on this occasion to my hon. friend's motion asks, would you alter the gold standard? The standard of king William, which he refused to alter? We mistake our own functions; the people are to be made the victims of no standard—nor are we invested with the right of sacrificing them to suck objects. The standard of value; the functions of all government exist for the good of the people, and not for their destruction.—Our measures with respect to the standard of value, not less than in all other respects, are to be adopted, with a full consideration of all existing circumstances; with a regard to all the rights and interests which they affect; and are not to be guided by a blind adherence to any former precedent. In the period referred to, there existed no standard which had been previously debased by the act of the legislature itself. No standard was then either lowered or raised. We have done both, and imagine we are following the example then given us. But to return to the effect of our proceedings on the labourers: the disorders amongst the manufacturers were, no doubt, repressed, they were repressed by military force; but this condition of the manufacturers continued. This was their condition in 1820. It was their condition in the last session. The petitions, the representations made to us avouch it. The evidence of Mr. Hodgson before the agricultural committee of the last session, and the statements he adduced, distinctly proved that the produce of agriculture was consumed in diminished quantities in all the great manufacturing towns. We are told they now enjoy a greater prosperity, and doubtless a profitless activity prevails in the manufacturing districts. It is without profit, without advantage to the traders, it depends entirely for its continuance on low prices, on those low prices which are destructive to the farmer. And what is the effect of this on the agricultural labourer? If the manufacturer has ob- 1000 tained some respite, is not the condition of the agricultural laboucer becoming every day more calamitous than before. And is this condition to be lost sight of? Let the House refer to the evidence on, that subject given before the late agricultural committee. It is most distinct, and particular, and important. Here is the evidence of Mr. Hanning describing the condition of the labourers in the rich and fertile county of Somerset, and his evidence corresponds with the whole of the information on this most important subject given to the committee. He says, "The small tradesmen and farmers are reduced to a scale of living, little better than the labourers used to enjoy; and the labourers are now reduced to the necessity of living in a great degree on potatoes." And then he is asked, "Has there been a change in their living within the last 2 years?" And his answer is, "Unquestionably;" and then he answers further:—"I see the labourers, being constantly moving about my own farms, I see, them now almost wholly supplied with potatoes, breakfast, and dinner, brought to them in the fields, and nothing but potatoes;" and he is asked, "Were they in the habit, in better times, of consuming a certain quantity of animal food," and he says "some certain portion: for instance, bacon and cheese, which they do not eat now." This is the improved condition of the labourers in one of the most fertile districts of England: here their situation has been reduced; but in those counties less favourably situated, their misery is extreme; and let us see what evidence that committee received of the condition of Ireland. There is the evidence of Mr. Nolan, who states, that the distress of the population of Ireland was so great, that they had exported every thing they possessed. This is the source of those abundant supplies of grain, which we witnessed in our markets; and received as evidence of the extraordinary fertility of Ireland; it was the last tribute of poverty, despair and distress. Mr. Nolan is asked whether a considerable portion of the land must be thrown out of cultivation in Ireland if the present prices continued. And he answers, "Undoubtedly, that would be the first effect. The despondency prevailing," he says, "prevailing in Ireland at this moment is such, that I cannot say what will be the consequence. There is a general feeling we despair pervading the tenantry Ireland." This 1001 was the information given us in the last session or parliament and we well know what events have since followed. The calamities which the labouring classes have suffered in Ireland, and not there alone but generally in every part of the empire, since the progress of these unhappy measures, have been such as have existed at no former time in this or in any other country. But what followed on our parts this information respecting Ireland? What measures of investigation, of protection, of precaution? How have the first duties of government been discharged, or how have they been abandoned under circumstances like these? No measures have been adopted by government but measures of coercion and force. We have inflicted civil and military execution on a people perishing with want. And is it our intention still to persevere in this system? Are we so fir satisfied with it? Let us consider what spectacle it is that our proceedings exhibit. We congratulate ourselves on plenty and tranquillity diffused amongst the labouring classes by our measures, when they have been driven to resistance or struggling with want. The exhausted produce of our land has been forced on impoverished markets, the distress and the sufferings of famine have raged amongst the people in every part of the empire; whilst we have been deploring the evils of production and abundance: of calamities arising from the fertility of our soil and the industry and the energy of the people; of that industry and that energy, of those great qualities of the people which if they now succeed in carrying this country through the dangers in which it has been involved by the errors of its legislation; they will accomplish in that a greater task than the people have ever before achieved.
And it is here very material to be considered by the House that the effects of those measures were in no degree contemplated by parliament, they entered in no degree into their consideration when those proceedings were adopted out of which they have sprung. To alter debts and contracts, formed no part of the intention of parliament, when it passed the act of 1819, by which all debts and contracts have been changed. Those who supported that act, had no such view of its character and effects. The committee, on whose report that act was founded, lid not consider that measure as being in any way materially connected with these 1002 important interests, or as having reference to such questions. So far were that committee from looking on the act of 1819 as an act by which taxes, debts, pensions, and contracts were to be increased: they were so far from looking upon the act, which they recommended, in that character; that in the whole of the report, in which they described the nature of their labours and inquiries, and in which they recommended the act of 1819 to the House; in the whole of that report, there is not to be found any such word or term as debt, or tax, or pension, or salary, or annuitant, or public or private creditor. No reference is made to any such questions. Not even the terms are to be found. The chairman of that committee, who introduced their bill to the House, was so far from considering that it went to increase debts and taxes; that he rested his support of it, in a great measure, on a reference to the examples of former times; when scarcely a debt or a tax could be said to exist in this country. If the view which the right hon. chairman then took of the character of his bill, was, that it went to establish a standard, different in value from the standard which had existed during the war, if his meaning and intention then was, to increase by that alteration the debts and taxes, of the war; if that was his intention, then, when he imagined that he was following the example; that he was carefully treading in the footsteps of great monarchs and illustrious statesmen of former times—it escaped him to observe, that he was so acting, under circumstances diametrically opposite to those in which those great monarchs and illustrious statesmen had been placed. If he had informed the House what was the amount of the national debt at the time of king William what was the amount of our annual taxation in the time of Queen Elizabeth: that would have disclosed a view of this subject to the House, somewhat commensurate with its important character. All considerations of this kind have been wholly lost sight of, in the whole course of these proceedings, as much as they have been now lost sight of in the arguments of the right hon. member for Chichester. And are we to consider it extraordinary, that in measures supported by a great majority of the House, carried unanimously, and affecting in an extensive degree the rights and interests of all classes of the state, that in those 1003 measures every great question of national interest involved in them should be entirely overlooked. When has it been, from the very commencement of these measures, from their first origin in 1797, that the character of any one of them has, been understood, at the time when it was adopted by the House? Is there an individual now to be found of all those that composed the majority by which the vote of 1811 was passed—that vote in which this House took upon itself to declare that things unequal were equal—that things unequal in value in the market were equal in value in public estimation—in the vain hope that the people would receive that fact from our resolutions in opposition to their own experience; is there a single individual of the majority that concurred in that vote, who is now prepared to contend, that that vote had the slightest foundation in reason and truth? And by how many was the character of the act of 1797 understood, amongst those who framed and supported that act, and the acts that followed it? That act changed the nature and character of our public money. It substituted a public money of paper for a public money of metal—a paper standard for a metal standard. But it went further for it made this change from causes, and under circumstances; which rendered it impossible, it may be almost said, that a reduction in the value of that substituted standard should not be at once established; that a depreciation, a debasement of that substituted money should not at once follow. But so far was it from being then intended to lower the value of this substituted public money or public standard; that after its depreciation has taken place, we are called on again to raise it—to abandon the standard of a low, as we had abandoned the standard of a high value; to restore not merely a metal money in the place of a paper money: but a metal money of a high, in the place of a paper money of a low value:—upon the ground, that those who passed the act of 1797, did never contemplate that the standard would be lowered; that the money and measure of value they had recourse to would be sunk when they did that which rendered it altogether impossible that its original value could be maintained. And although the act of 1797 was of that character, that a depreciation of the public money it introduced, was a natural and almost an inevitable consequence of its 1004 introduction; yet it was not till 13 years had elapsed after that act had passed; and after that money had been established; that any considerable portion of the House or the country; that any more than a few individuals did even entertain a suspicion that our paper money had sunk below that old metal money, which it must have either risen above or sunk below, an equality with which it was impossible that it could maintain; it was not till the Bullion committee of 1810, that such belief was entertained, by any considerable number of the House. And with respect to the report of the committee of 1810; doubtless an intelligent document; undoubtedly, the most intelligent of all the proceedings of parliament on this subject; is there any one now prepared to maintain that that report did not with much truth, combine much error? That committee established the fact incontestably that the public money had become depreciated in its value; but what the effects of that depreciation had been; and what would follow from an attempt to increase its value again; of that they lost sight. They saw existing a greatly increasing degree of public wealth—great internal prosperity of all kinds; agricultural, commercial, manufacturing; towns increasing, land improved and improving, public and private credit high—our population was greatly and rapidly enlarged, and all this had taken place in the midst of a long, expensive and destructive war; of public burthens yearly, and greatly increasing. The committee found that the public money had undergone a great depreciation, during the period distinguished by this improving condition of the country. The depreciation of the public money, and an unexampled increase of the national wealth, had gone together but the committee failed to connect them; the increase of public wealth had taken place under circumstances peculiarly adverse to such accumulation: never before accompanied with increasing population and wealth. They demonstrated the depreciation of money; but it did not occur to the committee that the prosperous condition of the country had arisen out of and was dependent upon it—although the tendency of a depreciation of money to promote industry, and wealth, and the increase of population, had been long and well understood; and is as obvious as is the contrary tendency of taxation and war. The committee, therefore, proposed, 1005 that the value of money should be again raised; that money of the former value should be again re-established. But they did not weigh the consequences which would of necessity follow. They proposed to restore the old standard at the end of two years; and if the House had acted on that report, the act of parliament which adopted it, would have been an act for closing the war at the same period. The supplies of the one were drawn from the resources furnished by the other. The committee of 1810 proposed like the committee of 1819 to postpone the difficulty before them, to spread it over a larger surface—to place it at some distance from their view; they appear to have had some fear of encountering a measure which they, yet wished to fix and to entail.— If the House had adopted their report, and had carried an act founded on it into execution; no man can now doubt that that act would have delivered this country, hound, and incapable of resistance and amidst every description of internal disorder, calamity and distress to the conditions of the foreign enemy, whatever they might have been and in doing that it could scarcely have inflicted on the country, more extensive calamities or deeper sufferings, than have followed and been occasioned by the act of 1819. And with this experience of the character of all our former measures before us; and after witnessing the calamities which have accompanied the act of 1819; and which no cause but the fatal error of that proceeding can account for or explain; are we to believe, that a perfect information on this obscure subject did suddenly and for the first time enlighten on that occasion the unanimous understanding of the House? That those who proposed that measure to the House; that the House itself amidst the tumultuous violence by which its proceedings were distinguished on that occasion, and in the midst of which a measure was decided on; affecting in the most immediate and extensive manner all classes and all interests, that it was then guided by an enlightened wisdom of which its conduct on this subject can furnish no former example; and which so little corresponds with the events that have succeeded. The error of the House on that occasion, and that of the committee consisted in this, that they mistook the value of the paper money; the extent of its existing depreciation; and mistaking that, they formed of course an erroneous esti- 1006 mate of the magnitude of the change they recommended. They took the value of paper from the price of gold. The value of money from the price of one single commodity, and not from the prices of commodities generally. They estimated the rate of a general and an average rise of prices, from the advanced price of one particular article. They found the price of this particular article, advanced at that moment no more than 4 per cent or 5 per cent beyond its price as formerly estimated in money of the old standard: and from thence concluded that the average rise, of all prices was to that extent, and no more; and that consequently the paper money-was to that extent fallen, to the extent of 4 or 5 per cent only, below the value of the old standard which they purposed to restore. But that particular commodity, which they pitched upon for this important purpose, had been at that moment lowered in its price, by circumstances of a, most peculiar character. No less an amount than 7 millions of that particular commodity, had been recently poured into the market from the Bank of England, and disposed of in that market at the ancient price which gold had borne for the former century. This operation was in progress at the moment of the sitting of the committee; but the committee did not estimate, that the price of bullion had been influenced by it. They proceeded to take the price of bullion as a fit criterion of all other prices, without reference to this operation. If the committee had examined evidence on that subject, they would have learned, that, except for this particular operation, the price of bullion at that moment, would have been from 20 to 30 per cent above the mint price, and not 4 or 5 per cent. And I would undertake now to give evidence to that effect at the bar; the evidence of individual dealers in bullion, daily making purchases and sales, and daily observing that market at that period. Let the House consider, what the effect would have been of a similar operation on the market of any other commodity. Would not the corn market at the period of the highest price of corn, of the lowest depreciation of money; have been similarly reduced, if corn to the amount of 7 millions sterling had been for a particular purpose poured into the market and disposed of there at 40s. a quarter? Would not the general market of corn have been temporarily reduced to that price; and 1007 should we thence have justly concluded that no depreciation of money then existed, no general rise of prices, because it was not marked in the price of corn? But what course then remained for the committee and the house to adopt? The course was obvious and manifest. First to cause this operation on the price of bullion by the Bank to cease. Next, to return to the circulation, the Bank-notes which had been already withdrawn. To have maintained that circulation at the highest level of the war and of 1817. That step taken—the dangers which immediately threatened, thus guarded against:—Then ought this House to have paused. Great interests were before them. A derangement of long establishment, interwoven with all the vital interests of the state. Great deliberation and caution were necessary. Haste, impatience, and vehemence were ill suited to this period. The circulation kept up to the level of the war; the price of bullion would then have been seen gradually to rise. It would have risen to the level of the general rise of property and commodities. The price of bullion would at length have accurately marked the rate of the depreciation of our paper money; the depreciation of the standard of the war, of the standard of all our debts, contracts, and property; that standard vitally interwoven with all our interests: and this rate and degree ascertained accurately, cautiously, deliberately, with no consideration capable of influencing its estimation, lost sight of; then ought the House to have proceeded to the re-establishment of the metal standard of value; to have adjusted that standard to the precise value of the paper money for which it was to be in future the substitute; to have made it value correspond with the level to which the paper standard had sunk, whatever that level should be found thus to have been; and thus would the House have restored to the country, a metallic standard of value, as perfect in point of security, as perfect in point of limitation, as perfect in respect to its invariability, as any standard that ever has existed or ever can exist amongst us; and have reconciled this great measure with all existing interests, existing contracts, with the rights of property, with the safety hand the best interests of the state; it would have rendered this important operation a measure of pure and unmixed advantage to all classes and to all in- 1008 terests; then would the exertions and the glory of the war have been succeeded by a peace as prosperous; and this House, in thus discharging this great duty, as weighty as any that had ever devolved upon it, have merited the lasting gratitude of the country, and have protected the people from all the calamities to which they have been since exposed. That was the duty of the House at that time, and such in my conviction, or little differing from it, is the conduct it ought now to pursue. It is first to arrest the present measures; to return to the circulation and to the standard of the war, or one approaching nearly to it; and to establish finally our metal standard on that adjusted basis. This is my conviction; but the duty of this House is, at least, to proceed under these circumstances, to investigation and inquiry; to examine the full effect of their mistaken measures on the rights, the property and the interests of the great classes of society; to examine on what grounds of justice the best interests of the country are sacrificed, and on what grounds we are now called on to persevere in this system, and what are to be its future effects. We have exhibited in these proceedings enough of blind adherence to destructive measures; of vague and obscure theories inconsistent with facts and opposed to the sense and reason of the people; of presumptuous confidence which events have belied. It is at length our duty to apply ourselves to the condition of the great interests of the country, as they have been affected by our measures, to determine the extent of injustice these measures have effected; the means of redress, and the course which necessity, and policy, and justice now require to reject those worse than partial views, which would occupy the attention of the House with a reverence to the transactions of former times, and would exclude from its consideration the calamities with which we are now surrounded, and the circumstances out of which they have arisen: and to proceed to that investigation with the full conviction before us, that in our hands now rests the power of removing at once the difficulties under which the people labour, of at once relieving the sufferings, of healing the distractions, of turning aside the dangers of the country, and of opening again to the exertions of the despairing, but still confiding people, that career of prosperity, to which the character of our 1009 population will always conduct this country, when the energy of the people is not fettered, subverted, crushed, and destroyed, by the errors of its government. This is our duty, and if we abandon or turn aside from it, on that step now rests the responsibility of all the past calamities, and all the future dangers with which the state is menaced.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that, as he wished the discussion to be as much limited as was consistent with the importance of it, in claiming the attention of the House, he promised to confine the observations which he had to offer within the narrowest bounds. To prove that such was his intention, he would at once come to the question before them, without entering into those abstruse topics in which the hon. member who had just sat down had indulged, and which were hardly fit to be debated in an assembly like the present. For unless a case of over-ruling necessity could be made out, that House ought not for a moment to entertain an idea of again interfering with the standard of the country it was difficult to conceive a motion to which more objections could present themselves than the one which was now before them. The period of the session at which it was brought forward—the arguments by which it had been supported—the object contemplated—all presented separate sources of objections to it. It was on the 12th of June that they were called upon to commence an inquiry into the effect of a bill, the operation of which affected the agriculture, the manufactures, and the commerce of the empire, and consequently all classes in the state. He would ask the House if it was possible for them to enter upon a more important or more extended inquiry; and what proposition was pointed to as that at which they must ultimately arrive? This was not distinctly made out; and until he came to the speech of the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, he was at a loss to determine what it was that the committee was to do. The hon. alderman, the member for Sudbury, in supporting the motion had declared that he could not concur in the arguments which had been used in its support. He was followed by another hon. member, who also agreeing with the motion, disapproved of five-sixths of the arguments which had been advanced in its behalf; and to him succeeded the hon. member for Portarlington, who, proposing to vote for it, considered the act of 1819 1010 as the great safeguard of the country, which must not on any account be disturbed. Then came the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, who told them, "say what you will, the object of this motion is the total repeal of the act of 1819." The object of this motion was fairly stated by the hon. baronet, and be thanked him for his candour, to be the total repeal of that bill, and to establish a new standard which should lower the value of the pound sterling to fourteen shillings. He called upon the House to pause before they agreed to a motion for an inquiry the object of which was thus avowed to be, to reduce the standard of value in this country by one-third. He begged to ask what would be the state of the agricultural and mercantile interests, and, indeed, of every interest in the country, during the interval which must elapse between the commencement of such an inquiry, and the period at which they might hope to arrive at a termination of their labours. Good God! and could the hon. member who spoke last think, that by supporting such a proposition, he was doing that which was likely to calm the public mind, to establish a just standard of value, and secure general prosperity? Could the hon. member for Callington anticipate such results from a proposition, which went to reduce our standard of value from twenty to fourteen shillings? He called on the House to look at what would be the immediate consequences of such a measure. Let them vote that which was proposed to them that night, and to-morrow every man of common sense would be trying to possess himself of every guinea in the country, that, when the committee had closed their labours, he might be ready to profit by the new state of things. What fluctuations, what derangement, what confusion, would not such a measure cause? And, at what period was such a motion brought forward? Was it within a month after that decision had been come to which was now thought so injurious? No. It was after the House had stood pledged for seven or eight years to favour the earliest return to cash payments, and after all the concerns of the country had been, for so long a period, accommodating themselves to the change. In 1814 the House came to a resolution, that it would be desirable that the Bank of England should return to cash payments. In 1816, when his right hon. friend brought in a bill on the subject, the late Mr. Horner would not 1011 consent to it until an express pledge was introduced, that the legislature would see that cash payments should be shortly resumed, and his proposition was accordingly adopted; but the restriction was continued, in order to enable the Bank to resume cash payments with greater convenience. So that ever since 1814, the country had been accommodating itself to this new state of things; and, after having accomplished that object, the House were now told by the hon. baronet, that the intent of the motion of the hon. gentleman was, to reduce the standard of value from 20s. to 14s. How was it possible to examine and re-adjust contracts upon that principle? With respect to the public creditor, how was it possible to re-adjust the contract? Supposing one of those creditors could be found who had advanced but 70l. and now received 100l. he might say, "I advanced the money in 1797, 1798, or 1800, when the currency was not so much depreciated as it was afterwards, but the restoration of the ancient standard was then pledged to me." How would they deal with him? How would they deal with individuals who had bought annuities within the last eight years? Each of them had advanced no money to the state; but because he had bought his annuity, suppose at 95, were they now to reduce his dividend? If such measures should be entertained in the House of Commons—if the Commons of England could so far degrade themselves as to sanction such a proceeding—there was an cud of that public faith which hitherto, in all circumstances of difficulty, had been the pride of the country, and its best support. But, admitting its fitness, how was it possible for such a principle to be acted upon? Numerous contracts had been closed during the last eight years; but the closing of a contract, if such a course-were taken, would be no bar to its being examined, with a view to a new arrangement, as it would be obviously unjust, to deny a punctual man who had fulfilled his engagements, a participation in those advantages which would be open to him, who, from not being punctual, had failed to close his contract.
Yet, strong as those objections were, he could conceive a case of such distress as would compel the legislature to adopt a proposition like the present: and, could he believe, with the hon. member who spoke last, that the country was on the verge of ruin, through the restoration to 1012 a metallic standard; or could he believe, with the hon. member for Essex, that the effect of a change of the currency was most felt among the industrious classes, where it had produced poverty, ruin, beggary, and sloth—if he believed, that the change of the currency had already caused such disasters, and was about to cause still greater disasters, then he would, though reluctantly, acquiesce in the present motion. But he would now state the sew, sons why he denied the allegations of those hon. members. Admitting, as he did with pain, that great distress was felt, especially by the agriculturists, he was ready to show that the predictions of ruin were not justifiable, and to assert, that not the measure of 1819, but the restoration of the currency, which had begun much earlier, had not been attended with the injurious effects so confidently ascribed to it. The first subject to which the hon. member for Essex had referred was the poor-rates. He began with this topic, because he meant to advert to several indications of distress alleged to have been produced by the change of the currency, and to show that the use made of them was incorrect and fallacious. "Look to the poor-rates," said the hon. member for Essex, "they were never greater during the war than now." Now, he would deny the fairness of the comparison between a period of peace and a period of war in such a case. But, if there was a general reduction of the poor-rates in one year, as compared with another year of peace, though he would not say that it was decisive, yet he would contend that it was one of many circumstances to be taken into consideration in this question. He would, therefore, refer to two years of peace; not to 1817, or 1818, but he would take the years ending the 25th of March, 1820, and 1821. If 1821 were compared with 1814, and the difference imputed to the change of currency without, reference to the change from war to peace, it would evidently be erroneous; but, taking the two succeeding years in time of peace, it would be found that of 52 counties in England, only two had increased their rates—they were, Huntingdon and Northumberland. In every other county the rates were less in 1821 than they had been in 1820. In every county in Wales great reductions had taken place. He would run over six of them. In the first, the reduction effected amounted to 10 per cent; in the second, to 16, in the third, to 9; in the fourth, to 10; in the fifth, to 10; and 1013 in the sixth, to 10 per cent. In each county there had been some reduction, in six counties a reduction of 10 per cent. If, then, any reference were to be drawn from the poor-rates, it was not the interference for which the hon. gentleman contended, namely, that the country was in a state of decay. The hon. member had then called on the House to judge of this bill from the state of crime, and had referred them to a comparison of three years before 1816, with three years after 1816. It so happened, however, that, though the two periods referred to were before and after the House had declared in favour of restoring the currency, they were marked by one circumstance which had escaped the hon. gentleman's notice, namely, that the former three years were years of war, and the latter three years were years of peace. Now, in all former instances, it was found that there was an excess of crime in peace over what occurred in war. Looking at the capital convictions which had taken place at Newgate, from 1719 to 1755, inclusive, the convictions amounted to 428. From 1756 to 1762, which were years of war, the convictions were about 175. In the years 1760, 1761, and 1762, which were years of war, the number of capital convictions was 61. In the three following years, being years of peace, the total number more than doubled the number of convictions which had taken place during the same period in war, as they amounted to 124. In the four years which followed the termination of the American war, the convictions were 544. The convictions in the first four years of the next war were but 271. These facts proved that those circumstances which the hon. gentlemen had connected, though co-existent, did not stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect. But he would now proceed to take a more important view of this subject, by comparing the state of crime in several succeeding years of peace. He found that in doing this, the number sent to 27 county jails, charged with capital offences, in the years 1820, 1821, and 1822, at the Lent assizes, gave no increase in the latter years. Among the counties taken into this calculation, Chester, Cornwall, Lancashire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and Essex, were included, and out of the twenty-seven there was an increase of crime in but four. These were Buckinghamshire, Devonshire, Northumberland, and Essex. In those there was an increase 1014 —in all thereat, the numbers were fewer, giving in the whole in the year 1822, as compared with 1821, a reduction of 414. From this he could not draw the inference, that the morals of the country had suffered from the bill of 1819.
The right hon. gentleman next adverted to the flourishing state of the revenue. He did not refer to the increase in the different branches of the revenue with the natural exultation of a minister of the Crown, but he drew a fair inference from it of the corresponding increase of consumption. There had been 60 Excise collections between the year ending October 1820, and the year ending October 1821. In five of these collections there had been a diminution, and in four instances the diminution had arisen from a failure in the growth of hops; in the other fifty five collections there had been a considerable increase. With regard to the number of Excise prosecutions to which the hon. member for Essex had alluded, it appeared from the official returns, that in 1817 there had been 461 prosecutions; in 1818, 378; in 1819, 220; in 1820, 229; and in 1821, 186. There had been no increase of prosecutions on account of the assessed taxes, and in the last two years the diminution of law expenses had been very considerable. The next consideration suggested, was the state of the labouring classes. Upon this most difficult of all subjects, whatever information had been given to him, he received with much hesitation. The great value he attached to the change in the currency was particularly on account of the labouring classes. Ever since 1810, the effect of the depreciated currency was believed to have been particularly oppressive upon the labouring classes; and what had made him anxious to effect a permanent change in the currency was, the good effect which he believed it would have on the labouring and manufacturing classes. And here be would advert to a statement brought forward by the hon. member who spoke last against the change in the currency. The hon. member had read a letter, dated in July, 1819, from Manchester, to prove that the labouring classes were at that time in distress. But as the act now in question had not passed till the second of July in that year, the distresses of Manchester could not be imputed to it. He held in his hand returns of the condition of the manufacturing classes in Bolton, Rochdale, Manchester, Leeds, 1015 Glasgow, Huddersfield, and Nottingham, which he would state to the House. He would cite to the House the various accounts which he had received from the manufacturing towns; and hon. gentlemen would judge whether the situation of the labouring classes was such as had been described by the hon. member for Callington. At Bolton, the state of affairs was this;—an immense quantity of goods had lately been manufactured; the working population was well provided for; and the profits of the master manufacturers were low. At Rochdale, the spinners were said to have plenty of employment; and the working weavers never doing better. At Manchester, the profits of the master manufacturers were said to be smaller upon the average than they had been in former years; but from the contraction of credit, and the improved quality of the currency, the risk of loss was also less; speculation and adventure were less common; consequently profit, though smaller than heretofore, was more secure; at present there was abundant employ for the working classes. At Leeds, more cloth was making than had been known for many years; but profits were comparatively low; the working classes were generally employed; their nominal earnings were less, but their comforts greater, than they had been formerly. From Glasgow the account was equally favourable. At Huddersfield the profits were low, but the whole population was employed; good workmen earned constantly from 16s. to 22s. per week. At Nottingham all was doing well but the silk stocking trade. Now, such was the result of his inquiry into the state of the manufacturing classes, which he presented to the House exactly as he had received it. The statements admitted the rate of profit to be low, but it was high enough, evidently, to induce persons to enter into trade, or the workmen would not be fully provided with employment. The assertion of the hon. member for Callington, as to the condition of the labouring classes, he begged leave altogether to deny; and the House, he trusted, would see, that that statement had been greatly exaggerated. The natural result of a return to a metallic currency must be a diminution in the profits of the masters, and an increase in those of the men. The reverse had been the effect of our continued paper system; the speculations, and, in some instances, the gains, of the masters had risen; but 1016 the workman's wages had beets low, and his comforts inconsiderable. Upon the whole, both parties would be benefitted by the change: for the labourer's condition was visibly amended; and the profits of the employer, if less sudden, were more certain.
But, while he was presenting this view to the House of increased prosperity among the manufacturing classes, he felt that it was impossible to doubt or to deny the pressure that existed upon other interests of the community. He admitted the distress of the agricultural interest; but, before the House consented to resolutions like those now proposed, let it be sure that the distress had arisen out of the return to cash payments, and that a repeal of the cash payment act would remedy the evil. That the resumption of cash payments had tended, in some degree, to increase that distress he was not prepared to deny; but let them see whether the same state of things did not exist in countries where the same causes had not operated; and if such should be found to be the case, he hoped the House would see cause to doubt, whether the particular measure complained of had occasioned the agricultural distress. In the first place, to revert to the reduction in the price of agricultural produce: let the Houses look to a country which, during the war, had never departed from a metallic currency; and then see whether fall in prices had not taken place. Let them take Amsterdam, for instance; where, during the whole war, the currency had never been altered. If they compared the prices of 1817 and 1818 with those of the year 1822, a considerable reduction would appear in favour of the latter period. In 1817, Polish wheat had been at from 510 to 540 stivers per last. That was an extreme price; but the following years gave an average of 260 to 290 stivers a last, while the price in the year 1822 was only from 130 to 200. In oats, rape-seed, Prussian rye, and a number of other articles of agricultural produce, a similar rate of reduction would be found. Then how stood the fact in other quarters? Were there no complaints in the Low Countries of agricultural distress—of abundance as to produce, and diminution as to the means of consumption? He would read to the House a petition presented to the chamber of deputies at the Hague, and they would sew that it contained statements which might absolutely pass it off for a petition of British 1017 ariculturists. The petition complained that for a long time past all agricultural produce, and property connected with the produce of the land, butter alone excepted, had been falling in price; and that at, length it had become so low that it would not pay the expenses of cultivation. Again; to look at the account of Mr. Jacob, a gentleman of considerable eminence, who had travelled on the continent, and who had given the benefit of his experience in evidence to the House. Mr. Jacob found in Brunswick and Saxony that the land was generally mortgaged, The Dutch farmers were all complaining. In France, his knowledge extended only from the frontiers of Germany to Paris; but upon that line of the country he had beard nothing but complaints. In those countries the distress had accrued without the aid of a return to cash payments. Was it reasonable, then, to attribute the distress of this country entirely, to that measure? Still, however, he wished to be understood as not denying that the act in question might have had some share in the difficulties which had followed upon it. There were two ways in which such an alteration of the currency might have operated upon the country: first, to the extent of the actual difference between depreciated paper and the ancient standard of value; and next, to the extent of that additional value, which a variety of events might have given to money itself. The causes of variation in the value of money no man could determine; but if the House once established the fatal precedent of disturbing existing contracts to meet such variations in value, the idea of a fixed standard for the country was at an end for ever. Fluctuation in the value of money had always occurred, and must continue to occur; but far better would it be to take to the paper system again, than to set the example of reviewing the contracts of the country, on account of an alteration in the value of its currency. The right hon. gentleman concluded by expressing his decided opposition to the motion, and his readiness to support the amendment, which was indeed a mere record of the fact, that it was not the intention of the House to depart from the present standard of our currency.
§ Mr. Brougham
rose for the purpose of stating very briefly the grounds on which he-should give his vote to the motion of his hon. friend, the member for Essex. Of all the propositions which had ever 1018 been submitted to any House or to any auditory, that proposition would be the most extravagant and absurd (if indeed any man could be found moon-stricken enough to submit it), which the right hon. gentleman had hinted at in his argument; namely, the proposition of resorting to a paper standard That paper proposition was gone of his He considered a standard as necessary to the country; he looked Upon the due fixing and arrangement of that standard to be part of the policy and of the law of the country; but his doubt was at present, whether it ought not to have been fixed lower than it stood, with reference to past events, and to the circumstances of the time at which it was adjusted. His reasons for supporting the proposition for inquiry were these. Parliament had done that which gave the country a right to inquiry. Parliament had been the great actor in that portentous plot, the unravelment of which formed the present subject of discussion—in that plot, the full effects of which the country had not yet lived to see; but which was the cause of the evils under which at present it was labouring. To hear some gentlemen on the other side of the House, a man might imagine (if he could lose the recollection of the last twenty years), that no tampering with the currency had taken place during that period; that the House was now called upon, for the first time, to interfere between debtor and creditor; that they were now first called upon to do, what in all former times had been hold impolitic and unjust—to lower the of the currency of the country. But he would say, that since the year 1797, they had done nothing but tamper with the currency of the country. Who had first broken public faith, and interfered between debtor and creditor? Who, after a man had made a contract, came in and said, "you shall not pay this, which you have agreed to pay; but you shall pay something else, which you have not agreed, nor expected to pay. You have received at the rate of 15s., and you shall pay at the rate of 20s?" It was the House of Commons which had done these things. The legislature, in the year 1797, had commenced its operations upon the currency of the country. The consequence of the act of 1797 had been an immense transfer of property from one class of the community to another. Now government was trying to make another transfer back again, in the dark as to who was to get the 1019 property, and seeing nothing plainly but the persons from whom they were to take it; and the consequence would be, that it would pass from those who had it, not to the original possessors, but to persons who had never lost it. He supported the inquiry moved for by his hon. friend upon the grounds of public convenience and public advantage. The mere fact of public convenience—the mere supposition that it would be affected—had been held a sufficient ground for restraining our cash payments. The 37th of the late king—the Bank Restriction act—proceeded simply upon a supposed suspicion, that coin was being hoarded, and that there would be a deficiency of money to meet the public purposes. On grounds of public convenience, the legislature had first entered upon its long course of fatal impolicy. For that reason only, it had overturned the ancient standard of our coin; and, on the same ground, surely, the country was entitled to call for an inquiry into the effects of too sudden a return to that system which had been, in the first instance, so fatally departed from. The right hon. gentleman who had last sat down said, that until the country was shown to be in the state described by the hon. member for Callington, he would not listen to any such proposition. Upon that point he was at issue with the right hon. gentleman; for, after following him through the whole of his reply to the hon. member for Callington, he was much more disposed to take that hon. member's view than his. The right hon. gentleman, in the first place, took the poor-rates in his aid, and contended that they had diminished in the course of the last two years. But how did the right hon. gentleman make the comparison? He did not compare the years 1821 and 1822 with former years, but he took those two years, and compared them with one another faking that course of comparison, and applying it to some of the Welch counties, the right hon. gentleman made out a diminution of about one-eighth or one-tenth. But this proceeding was a repetition of the argument of the hon. member for Essex, rather than an answer to it. The hon. member for Essex did not deny that there had been, nominally, a reduction in the poor-rates: he did not deny that a less quantity of money was paid; but he said, "take the quantity of bread or other food, which that quantity of money will purchase, and you will find that, instead of paying a diminished rate, 1020 you are, in fact, paying an increased one." The whole statement of the right hon. gentleman was a confirmation of the argument of the hon. member for Essex. Look at the price of grain in the years 1820 and 1821: In 1820, the price had been 67s. a quarter; in 1821, 55s. only. Here, then, was a difference of 12s. a quarter upon wheat, which more than balanced the nominal diminution in the amount of the poor-rate; for the reduction of the poor-rate was, according to the right hon. gentleman's own showing, only an eighth or a tenth, while the reduction in the cost of corn amounted almost to a fourth. The calculation, in fact, showed that the poor-rates were increased.—The next point of the right hon. gentleman's speech to which he would advert, was his statement, that since the return to cash payments, the amount of crime the country had decreased. If he looked at the document he now held in his hand, he feared it would be found not to bear the right hon. secretary out in his conclusions. From that document it appeared, that in the year 1811 there had been committed for crimes in England 5,000 In 1812 the number had increased to 6,500; and it continued to increase every year until the year 1815. At that year it suddenly increased in a very considerable number, and kept on augmenting in' the years 1816, 1817, and 1818. In 1819, the number exceeded that of 1818. In 1820, there was a diminution of 500 below 1819; and, in 1821, there was a farther diminution of about 600, as compared with the year 1820. Now he would contend, that in a comparison of years where the number of commitments was so great, the increase or diminution of 500 or 600 could not weigh much on either side. The change from war to peace might account for an increase in the number of commitments for the first year or two of the peace; but here was an increase in the first year of peace of 1,200, and in the next an increase of 3,000 or 4,000. But in the year after the return of the troops from France, and when we might be considered as being most perfectly at peace, then the increase was greatest. But how did the case of the diminution stand in the years 1820 and 1821? He would assert, that there were many causes to account for a diminution of crime la one year as compared with another. He contended, that a great part of the diminution of commitments in those two years could 1021 be accounted for by the diminution in the number of prosecutions for Bank forgeries; but there were so many causes from which the diminution might arise—for instance, a mild winter would occasion fewer commitments than a severe one—that no stress could be laid, no general conclusion be drawn, from the decreased numbers which had been stated.—The right hon. secretary had come next to the revenue, and had taken it as an argument in his favour, that there had been no complaints of a dilapidated revenue. For his own part, he had not heard any arguments used on that subject. He had not heard any such complaints; but he had heard that to which no contradiction had been, because no contradiction could be given. He had heard it asserted, that the revenue was much higher, and fell more heavily on the public, than it had done before the resumption of cash payments. He had heard it said, and not denied, that while nominally at 60 or 61,000,000l. it was in effect, and as to comparative value, nearer to 80,000,000l.; thus equalling in substance the most costly year of our most costly and extravagant war. This was the complaint which he had heard—that there was a virtual increase in the pressure of the revenue, amounting to something about 30 per cent.—But it was contended, that the increase in our revenue was a proof of the increased comforts of the people; and the Excise was called in as a proof of this. The collection of this branch had, it was said, increased in amount. This, he maintained, was a most fallacious criterion by which to measure the prosperity of a country or the comforts of a people. He knew that the chancellor of the Exchequer looked upon him with a smile of pity for such an assertion: for that right hon. gentleman had been accustomed to view prosperity as finance, and to judge of the comforts and happiness of a people by the amount of their contributions to the Exchequer. But he (Mr. B.) would contend, that the increase, if any, was to be accounted for upon other and different grounds. It was well known that, for the last two years, the manufacturers were enabled, upon the same rate of wages—and that they were low enough, all who were acquainted with the manufacturing districts would allow—to procure a greater quantity of the necessaries and comforts of life than they had been able to do at any former period for several years, It was natural, then, in propor- 1022 tion as those articles of consumption were excisable, that the amount of collections in that branch of revenue should be increased. But then, see how the thing stood. This very circumstance was one of those of which the agriculturists complained. They complained that such a depreciation of their produce had taken place, that they were growing it to a loss. They complained, that agricultural produce of every kind was brought—that they were obliged to bring it—to market, where (if he might use a common phrase) it was sold for less than nothing. It was of this they complained, by which their situation was rendered so much worse than before. To this it was owing, that the low wages of the manufacturer, who was the great consumer of agricultural produce, enabled him to live better, and to purchase a greater quantity of excisable goods than he otherwise could do. This, as far as the increase of the comforts of one class was concerned, could not be regretted for it was a consolation, that out of so much evil any good should be produced; but he wished to warn the House against taking the fact as a proof of the prosperity of the country. It was, he would maintain, impossible that the agriculturists could continue to grow at a loss; it was impossible that they could continue to go on in the present way. [Hear!] They must reduce their cultivation and grow less than they now did. The price would then be increased; and whenever that time arrived, so soon would it be found that the wages of the manufacturer would not be sufficient, not merely for the supply of luxuries and comforts as they were called, but for his subsistence. One effect would be, that the profits of the master manufacturer, now low enough, would be greatly diminished; and the consequence would be, either that hundreds and thousands of hands would be thrown out of employment, or be obliged to work at such reduced wages, as would make them look back with envy on their miserable pittance of the present period. He understood the meaning of the cheer at his saying that at no distant time the farmer must reduce his produce. He repeated that such must be the case. It was impossible that he could go on and cultivate at an annually increasing loss; and it must follow, that the price of corn must thereby be increased by the diminution of the supply, unless the House did what they as yet showed no great willingness to 1023 do—so reduce the taxes, as greatly to lessen the expenses of cultivation. There was no other remedy, and as that remedy was not likely to be applied to the extent which would relieve the farmer, the only resource left him was, to throw a large quantity of land out of cultivation—that was to say, to bury the capital which he had heretofore employed on it, as completely as if he had thrown it into the sea—that was to say, to destroy and render of no avail all the labour and exertion of former years in improving that land. Yet this was the melancholy and only hope which was held out to the agriculturist by hon. gentlemen on the other side—that his produce must be lessened by throwing the land out of employment, and thereby lessening his means of subsistence.—He had heard it stated, that a great portion, if not the whole, of the present agricultural distress arose from over production; and be was told to look at the situation of the continent in the same respect. Now, he could not see how, with an increase of population within the last 30 years, in the proportion of 3 to 2, and without any extraordinary application of machinery in its cultivation, such a circumstance could arise. How this assertion could be supported, under such circumstances, was to him a mystery which he was not able to solve. But another reason why the distress did not arise from over production, was founded upon the comparison of the prices in the year 1792 and the present time. Much as the farmer justly complained of his situation at present, the prices of his produce were not at present lower, nor so low, as they were in that year. If there was a redundancy, as compared with that time, the prices must be lower; but the price last year was 55s. and it was only in the present year that it had come down to 50s.; whereas in 1792 it did not exceed 44s. But surely if we had a redundancy, the price should be still lower. What the farmer complained of was, that his expenses were doubled since 1792; and to him it was immaterial whether the price was diminished, or the expense of cultivation; eaeh had an equal effect in the diminution of his profits. As to foreign countries he would contend, that there was no comparison between the distress which they experienced and that which was felt by the land-owners of England. With the exception of one or two places in the North Riding of Yorkshire, 1024 and part of the north-east coast of Northumberland and Durham, he had heard of no places where the distress was not equal in every county; and it was not the land-owners and farmers alone who suffered, for it was known that where the farmers suffered greatly, the labourers suffered in proportion. In some places, the distress existed to the extent of the production of crime; and in Norfolk and Suffolk, where the farmer suffered most, the situation of the labouring poor was most wretched; and the distress and wretchedness of Ireland were too well known to need any comment of his. "But," said the right hon. secretary "see the distress which exists in several places on the continent, where it cannot have arisen from an alteration in the currency." Now, he (Mr. B.) denied that distress existed to the same extent to the continent that it did in this country. But if there was distress felt in France and the Netherlands, a great part of it could be traced to the same cause; for, be would ask, could 10,000,000l. be withdrawn from the circulation there, and not be sensibly felt The alteration with us had taken place all at once. With them it was more gradual, and its effect was spread aver a larger surface; for the 10,000,000l. which had been withdrawn must be considered as from the whole of the continent. However, in proportion as it was lost in different places, so must the inconvenience be more or less felt. Thus, the depreciation of prices in Bordeaux was 14 in Hamburgh 16, and in England 40 per cent, which would explain the difference of effect between the operation of the cause on a larger or a smaller surface. He was not prepared to say, that all the distress of the country arose from a return to cash payments, yet still he would; to the inquiry, though he did not know exactly how it would operate. [Hear, hear, from the marquis of Londonderry.] Did the noble lord mean that he should so far reverse all rational proceeding, as to anticipate the result of an examination before he went into it? Did the noble lord imagine him such a novice in logic, that he would preface a demand for inquiry by an anticipation of the result? It was because he desiderated information —because he was ignorant of all the effects if the present measure—because he did not see all the evils, and could not be aware of the exact nature of the remedy which might be necessary, that he called 1025 upon the House to go into the examination of this important question. If he already possessed full information upon those points, inquiry would be absurd: but, if any thing could render him more anxious for the investigation—if any thing was wanted to convince him still more of the necessity of strict examination into this important matter, it was the reception which had been that night given to one of the most argumentative, learned, and elaborate speeches, which he had ever heard delivered upon a subject of so very abstruse and difficult a nature. The hon. member for Callington (Mr. Attwood) had brought to bear upon this question a degree of practical knowledge, logical acuteness, and, he might add, eloquence, which had rarely been combined on such a topic. He did not speak from prejudice in favour of the hon. member for Callington, seeing that he differed widely from him on many subjects; but it was almost impossible for any person interested in the subject, not to listen to him with attention and respect—nay, with admiration. Yet such an address seemed scarcely to have beep attended to by the House. They were not in a frame and temper to listen to argument. He would not say dozens or scores, but hundreds of members had poured in during its delivery, not to discuss, but to vote and to prevent discussion; and while an argument was going on, which it was more easy to put down by clamour than to answer, they loudly called for a decision. [Hear, hear!] If any thing, then, could induce him to be more anxious for inquiry by a committee, it was, that he saw the House not in a frame of mind at present fit for a discussion. It was, he said, now too late —[Cries of "Hear, hear," from a member in the side gallery.] This was an additional proof of what he had just observed. This torpid indifference upon a subject of such importance, showed the patriotic feelings of the party. He could not but admire the ease of mind of some gentlemen, who could treat a subject, for the result of which the people of the country from one end to the other waited in breathless expectation, as a matter of mere common-place. He repeated, that it was now too late to talk of an immutable standard of currency, when, for the last five and twenty years, the whole system of gentlemen on the other side had been, to violate that standard. When it was seen that contracts had been made, 1026 and afterwards broken without scruple, he would say, that no man who saw this done from day to day but must have come to a conclusion that it was never intended by government to return to cash payments. In 1811, a majority of that House —a majority as great as that which he was prepared to expect were now ready to dismiss this motion, and stamp the decision of 1819 with a second vote of parliament—had passed a resolution; which any man who could count ten on his fingers must have known to be false, and which was proved by the force of an act of parliament passed within two months afterwards to have been false—that a pound note was worth 20s. This was in May, 1811; and in the July following, an act was passed for the punishment of any man who should attempt to give less than 20s. for the pound note; thereby demonstrating that the public did not believe it to be worth that sum. This the House had done then, though it knew it was asserting what it did not believe. From his recollection of these facts, and for the reasons he had stated, he would vote for a committee, though he could not pretend to say what all the consequences of such a measure would be. He, however, felt satisfied, that if the House did not adopt such a measure at present, it would in a short time force itself upon them, and that in a way which it would not be able to avoid.
The Marquis of Londonderry
said, that at that hour of the morning he would occupy the time of the House only for a few minutes. The motion of the hon. member would, he contended, if adopted, lead to very dangerous results, and could produce no possible benefit. With that candour and manliness which characterized that hon. member, he had at once called for a committee to inquire how the standard currency of the country might be altered. Such a motion could be met by arguments showing that no alteration was necessary. But, that this was a measure not called for by necessity, was proved by the conduct of the hon. member himself; for if he considered it a measure of the importance which it was now sought to attach to it, why had he delayed it unfit the present period of the session? With respect to the amendment of his right hon. friend, it had been greatly misunderstood. It was not meant by it, that under no possible contingency any alteration could take place in the currency of the 1027 country as now established, but that at the present moment there was not the slightest ground for departing from the sound principles on that subject which had been recently put into execution. The present, he maintained, was not a time for the adoption of any plan for an alteration in our currency. When the House considered the daily attempts which were made to shake the public faith—when, within the last 48 hours, they saw the attempt which had been made, and with success, in a neighbouring county—when they saw a man of whose talents he did not mean to speak disparagingly, getting up in a meeting of that county, and moving a clause to be added to a petition about to be presented to that House, calling on the House to deprive the public creditor of the fair interest of his debt—he would ask, was this a time for interfering with our currency, or was it not a time in which the House was called upon to affirm their former vote on the subject? He denied that the standard currency had been altered. The payment of specie had only been suspended; and in every contract subsequently made, a reference had been had to an expected return to cash payments. He must protest, therefore against any arguments founded upon such an assertion. He contended, that whilst this investigation was going forward, one of two things must take place—either all contracts must be at a stand-still from a want of knowledge of the value in which they were to be paid, or extensive speculations would be formed, to collect a great quantity of that commodity in which the standard of value was likely to be fixed. If they wished to pass any measure to destroy public and private credit, and to throw all the operations of our industry into confusion, he could not conceive a measure more certain of doing it than the one proposed. The fixation of the standard was the only measure by which the country could hope to emerge from its present embarrassments. He should therefore, without pressing the argument farther, call upon the House, not merely to negative the motion, but to affirm the amendment of his right hon. friend.
After a short reply from Mr. Western, the House, at three in the morning, divided: For Mr. Western's motion, 30; Against it, 194, Mr. Huskisson's Amendment was then put, and agreed to.
|List of the Minority.|
|Attwood, M.||Moore, P.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Monck, J. B.|
|Burdett, sir F.||Maxwell, J.|
|Bentinck, lord W.||Owen, S.|
|Burrell, sir C.||Price, P|
|Burrell, W.||Palmer, F.|
|Brougham, H.||Rowley, sir W.|
|Brown, Dom.||Thompson, alderman|
|Benett, J.||Titchfield, marquis|
|Crawley, S.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Denison, W.||Webb, E.|
|Gurney, H.||Western, C. C.|
|Gratton, J.||Hamilton, lord A.|
|Grosset, J. R.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Griffiths, J. W.||Barham, J. F.|
|Heygate, alderman||Barham, J. F. jun.|
|Honywood, W.||Leycester, R.|
|Latouche, R.||Ossulston, lord|