§ Mr. E. D. Davenport
rose and said:* Sir; I am fully sensible that the deep interest I take in the question about to be* From the original edition printed by J. Ridgway, Piccadilly.1266 discussed—an interest totally divested of any personal or selfish motive—has involved me in an arduous task, for the due execution of which I have neither the abilities nor the practice requisite. And, as if this intricate subject had not difficulties enough within itself, I have to encounter others of an extrinsic and unusual nature; I shall have to contend not only with those who officially and perhaps naturally support all existing systems, but with others who are usually the no less natural allies of whatever has, primâ facie, a just, beneficial, or humane tendency; who seem to think that, because they support the existing government, therefore they are bound to abstain from inquiring into any mischief which occurred under that which preceded it—a very unusual act of respect for the names of a fallen foe, and one in which the very members of the recent administration so little sympathise, that they were, not forty-eight hours ago, legislating with a view to neutralise a bill which they had themselves not many days before concocted.
But, though I may be denied encouragement in certain quarters, where it is seldom refused to such as devote their time and labours to improve the lot of their suffering fellow-creatures, by one thing, at least, I am supported, and that is, by that paramount sense of duty which has been, and if it please God shall be, the sole rule and guide of my conduct whilst I have a seat within these walls.
To those who have witnessed the obstacles opposed to this motion, it must be quite unnecessary to apologise for a delay, on my part involuntary; I have now, therefore, only to request the patient attention of the House to a subject dry enough in itself, and which I will defy the art of man to enliven, whilst I endeavour to expose the evils and dangers of a system to which, in all its ruthless rigour, some members of the cabinet (and, thank God, the sentiments of the majority are as yet unpronounced) have expressed their determination, pertinaciously, doggedly to adhere. And when it is remembered that I am about, solemnly, to call upon you to inquire into the causes of a financial convulsion almost without parallel in civilised times, and the political opprobrium of the age and lights we live in, a convulsion which, with its disastrous consequences, together with the misconceived remedies applied to it, has hurled thousands of in 1267 dustrious tradesmen from a state of competency and comfort, to one of necessity and toil; which reduced tens of thousands in the class below them to a state of absolute destitution—ruinously affecting property of every kind, and even the public revenue itself, I trust that matter of such awful importance will force itself upon the consideration of the House, in spite of the unskilful manner in which I am but too well aware the subject is likely to be presented to your notice.
I shall put in evidence, and from their own mouths you shall judge them, the inconsistency and vacillation of those under whose auspices the country was reduced to this deplorable condition; I shall show that this condition may continue, or get worse, or improve, precisely according to the will of the government and Bank of England, but that it can only mend (under the present system) by means calculated to produce another crisis of greater or less intensity, according to the degree in which the present relief may be administered. Of this re-action I conceive the seeds to be already sown—attempts are made to force the circulation of Bank paper—we may soon expect to see a rise of prices followed by an exportation of gold, and its usual and necessary consequence.
Sir, we are attempting impossibilities, and trying to reconcile contradictions. We flatter ourselves, that, although dying under the operation, we are, by this unsound and fluctuating system, maintaining national faith, whilst the slightest attention to the very terms of the proposition will show that we are acting in the grossest violation of it, for what is the meaning of faith in this case but maintaining the spirit of contracts? and what is the nation else but the people, composed of debtors and creditors—of nineteen debtors to one creditor: do you, then, call it keeping faith to sacrifice the nineteen to the interest of one, by making them pay a much larger sum than they borrowed of him? Some, again, think we can support public credit in a course which endangers the revenue, on the punctual receipts of which that credit alone depends—four millions having actually fallen short this year. Others fancy they can with one hand tender protecting prices to British corn-growers, while with the other they are withdrawing the money, the very elementary matter of which their remuneration must consist. Others—men too 1268 who are candid enough to admit that water must find its level—that it cannot stand still on a declivity—and who know that we use the same medium of value with the continent, yet seem to imagine that we can enjoy a permanently and much higher rate of prices than other nations, though there is no law to prevent the metals which measure those prices from leaving the country. But of all the contradictions, that which I can least account for is, that men of great talent and constitutional spirit—men who would leap from their skins at the bare idea of imposing a tax, however trifling, upon the people, without their knowledge and concurrence, should actually appear to give their tacit assent to the surreptitious imposition of taxes, amounting to many millions; for where is the distinction between a direct imposition of new taxes and that virtual increase effected by raising the standard of the money in which the old taxes are paid? In short, Sir, we are bent upon what the hon. member for Callington (Mr. Baring) last year, truly called a "screwing and grinding course," tending to a state of anarchy, of which the symptoms are already discernible in the various petitions which have recently encumbered your table; some praying for, others against, Corn-laws; some for, some against, the wool-growers; some from the shipping, some from the manufacturing interest; some praying for a minimum of wages, others for a maximum on inventions; for such are their very natural, though fruitless complaints against improved machinery. All these plainly demonstrate the severe pressure of distress affecting all the working classes indiscriminately, and a resolution on the part of the poor sufferers to bear their calamities patiently, so long as the ingenuity of man can furnish them with the hope of a cure for what they believe to be a particular, but we know to be a general disorder. But the time for petitions is passing away; and something must be done to relieve men who are actually begging for means to leave a country where, to its disgrace and the no great glory of those who have presided over its destinies, the labourer is no longer deemed worthy of his hire.
If I succeed in getting a Committee of Inquiry, I pledge myself to prove that the present uncertain and fluctuating system of currency is detrimental to every description of property, whether it be land or 1269 merchandize; that its tendency is to strain the sinews of credit till they break, and involve the national creditor in ruin; that the operation of this system at times aggravates the pressure of taxation, and is as beneficial to the receivers as it is oppressive to the payers of taxes; that the existing taxation, and the standard of value and free trade, cannot, without some change in the machinery, be simultaneously maintained; that the concealment from the public of the Bank's transactions serves to enrich those who are in the secret, and to pauperise the fair trader, who knows knothing of what is to happen; that the connection between the government and the Bank is dangerous to the latter; that the public have been deprived of advantages, amounting to many per cent in the value of property, by the removal of a joint standard of silver, * and also by the repeal of the law which prohibited the exportation of the precious metals; and finally, that the consequence of all this is an alarming increase of distress and crime; and as this subject may come more home to the feelings of honourable members than other parts of the subject seem to do, I shall dwell on it somewhat more at length.
The prevalence of crime in a state will, at all times, bear a close relation to the condition of its inhabitants. The happiness and comfort of the working classes, and that good conduct which is but the natural consequence of them, depends on that which best furnishes a test of the art of governing—the keeping up a steady demand for their labour. Whatever suspends or interrupts this demand deprives the labourer of his food, which, if he cannot obtain fairly by the sweat of his brow, he will infallibly resort to other means; for the cravings of nature will prove stronger than the fear of your laws, though they be as wise as Solon's, or as bloody as Draco's. What is it, then, which excites the artisan to work or the capitalist to employ him, but that in which consists the wages of the one and the profit of the other. Whenever, therefore, the king, whose prerogative and duty it is to supply his subjects with a quantity of current money sufficient for maintaining their industry and meeting the* The public are not aware, that previous to 1798 silver was a legal tender to any amount; Mr. Vansittart tells us, in his speech (1811), "that the whole Interest of the National Debt might previous to 1798, have been paid in crooked sixpences.1270 taxation which he levies—whenever he, or rather his ministers, materially reduce the supply of money in the country, they surreptitiously increase the pressure of taxation; which, being ultimately all paid in labour, then requires an increased quantity of such labour in payment; they diminish the wages and food of the workman, and fill the gaols as effectually as if they legislated with these specific objects in view; so that any bill like those of 1819 and of last year might fairly be entitled, "An Act for diminishing the labourer's food, for surreptitiously increasing taxation, and for the better filling his Majesty's gaols in Great Britain and Ireland."
I do not mean to deny that there are accessary causes. I know very well that, whilst population has been increasing, a counteracting principle has shown itself in improved machinery, which has diminished the demand for manual labour in the same (or a still greater proportion) as the hands themselves have multiplied; but I deny that this has operated more than as an accessary; for the weavers who very lately got but three shillings for weaving a piece of calico (for which sir Robert Peel, not many years since, gave them nearly three times that sum) got the double of this in 1825, or previous to the last tampering with the currency.
Having thus traced the distress to its true cause, I will now say a word or two on the fallacies to which it is attributed. Some have actually attributed the increase of distress and crime to the Game-laws, as if the severity of those laws acted as an inducement to infringe them. Neither is the increase of these offences to be attributed to any greater demand in the market for game, but rather in the only market where, latterly, there has been any briskness—the market of empty stomachs.
Next we hear of the high price of corn assigned as a cause of distress—high with reference, I presume, to former years; but how stands the fact? Why, that with the exception of the years of unparalleled agricultural distress, in 1821–2 and 3, the price of wheat never was so low as it was last winter. In fact, the price has been descending for the last two years, in proportion to the increased clamour against its exorbitancy; till it had, about two months ago, actually reached 53s.—the precise point of depression which the great professor of political economy, Mr. M'Culloch, himself, had, in a recent paper in the 1271 Edinburgh Review, announced to be the beau ideal of reduction, to the attainment of which all our efforts, political and economical, ought to be directed. Since, then, such was the price of corn at the time when the great flight of petitions against high prices reached your table, either the learned professor and his flock are at issue upon a leading article of faith, or the petitioners thought it was a pity so much eloquent invective and sound doctrine should be wasted, merely because the grounds of it had somewhat treacherously given way from under them.
It was the sudden fluctuations, rather than the height of prices, which lurched the agricultural poor during the war, leaving them stranded upon the poor-rate, and in a condition which no man of common feeling or sense can behold without deep concern, and somewhat of alarm; a state, however, from which I greatly doubt the power of any further reduction of which corn is still capable (without endangering the supply) from relieving them; though I can readily imagine how, by checking the demand for their labour, such reduction might aggravate instead of relieving their unhappy lot.
If the price of corn has recently increased the distress, it is the low price; the farmers have, last year, lost almost all their crops except that of wheat; and now we find that, in several counties in England, young men in full health and strength are actually employed at two shillings and sixpence and three shillings a week to work on the high roads; if they have families, the law provides better for them, otherwise they are cheated of three-fourths of their fair earnings. Can any man wonder, under such circumstances, at the increase of distress and crime? May it not rather be a question, how long crime will continue to have any terrors with those who have no alternative between the commission of it and starving? From whatever causes their distresses have arisen, whether, as I think is demonstrable, from a fluctuating currency, or whether the debt of the nation, out of which the monied interest has risen, and from the consequences of which it is comparatively exempted, presses with undue weight upon the labouring classes, we are bound as Christians, as men, if we value the character of our country, of parliament, or the government, to apply some prompt and permanent relief; for nothing can be more disgraceful than such a state of things, 1272 especially in a country where there is a Bible Society wherever there is a baker's shop (and much the most accessible of the two), and where the sufferers may have a ton of spiritual, easier than an ounce of corporeal, sustenance.
I have here a synopsis of the monetary changes which have occurred in the last forty years, which I will not read to the House, for though I have not been sparing of my own trouble, I am anxious to avoid any matter that can possibly be omitted; I shall merely allude to two or three epochs, out of no less than thirteen alterations which took place during that period, all characterised by the same symptoms, to show there was nothing very wonderful or new in these crises, nor was there any lack of evidence as to the necessary management of the machinery previous to the late convulsions; on the contrary, there were abundant symptoms to denote every stage of the disease, and to suggest the remedy in time.
It will be remembered, that some years after 1797, when Mr. Pitt and lord Grenville having to choose between peace and paper money preferred the latter, the paper depreciated to such a degree as to excite the alarm of several distinguished persons, who thought it high time to arrest the progress of so great an inconvenience. The bullion committee assembled in 1810; and, as it is to the errors of this committee that the country may attribute most of its calamities, I shall beg to say a few words concerning its proceedings. They, however, came to this sound resolution—that the country ought, at its convenience, to return to cash payments; and the next question was, the time and degree to which this resolution should be acted on. Here, however, they showed a want of due patience and investigation; they were so overjoyed at the discovery of their mare's nest—that it was right to put a stop to injustice in one way—that they committed, from sheer want of proper caution and information, an act of ten-fold greater injustice in another. They at once recalled the precious metals, and set them up at their old standard, without any inquiry as to how gold, of which they had lost sight during fourteen years, had still maintained its character as an invariable measure of value. They seem not to have attended to the meaning of the term standard, which I apprehend means that which commercial nations agree to recog 1273 nise as a common measure of value or exchange for their commodities. The committee, therefore, might have known, that the same nations which, by giving their consent, raised metals into a standard of value, could degrade them by withdrawing that consent. The notorious fact is, that, at the time this committee were proposing to restore these metals, they were actually discarded by three fourths of the commercial nations of Europe; besides America, our own country, Austria, Russia, and Prussia, had discontinued the use of them in currency; and it is a matter of fact, that the degradation that gold had in consequence undergone, by being thus driven out of these countries into a restricted sphere of action, was such, that an ounce of gold now will buy double what it would have done in those days. During five years of our paper money there is no instance of a single purchase made in gold bullion recorded in the prices current; so completely had we lost all sight of this, as they termed it, invariable standard of value.
These practical and necessary details were disregarded by the committee, and instead of them were routed out old musty acts, and resolutions of parliament, showing how, in the 4th of George 1st, "parliament would not alter the standard of gold and silver." Why should they? the country had never at that time abandoned its standard or its metallic money, and there was no need of all this virtue. How, then, could this determination of parliament, under circumstances totally different, apply to justify the restoration of a standard of which we had taken our leave fourteen years? In defiance of truth and sense, I find these words in the speech of the chairman of that committee, a person who was usually remarkable for great knowledge and talent. "The standard value of gold cannot possibly fluctuate as a measure of exchange under any possible change of circumstances." Now, there were several circumstances so possible as actually to have occurred; to say nothing of the increase of a paper substitute, will not the "standard value of gold, as a measure of exchange," be affected, so as to cause considerable variation, by the different commercial nations (as I have already shown) discontinuing to use it in currency? will it not be affected, like any thing else, by a long-continued interruption in the supply of it from the mines? 1274 Will its value not be raised by those commercial nations which had given up the use of it suddenly resuming it in their currency after so long a period as thirteen or fourteen years, since which the supply from America has been comparatively nothing, while on the other hand the population requiring these metals has every where been increasing? This excites a very important matter for consideration, to which I beg the attention of the House. It is well known that the debates in the parliament of France have run lately upon the distress prevalent in that and I may add other states of the continent; a subject upon which I have here a condensed extract from a work calculated to throw some light; it was written by Mr. Florez Estrada, who, I believe, held some high office in the administration of Spain under the Cortes.
"During the five years previous to Napoleon's invasion of Spain, when the whole proceeds of the mines were secured to Spain by strict monopoly, the Mexican mint alone furnished, annually, twenty-eight millions of hard dollars, and as much more from the united product of the other five great divisions, besides three hundred thousand ounces of gold from Brazil;" This he states as taken by himself, from documents in the financial department of Spain; and for their being the best data in existence he pledges himself. He states, "that the annual amount of late years imported into this country (the only one in Europe where specie could be ported, being the only one in commercial communion with these colonies) is not one eighth of the above. He asks how such results as the commercial stagnation experienced in France, Austria, and Prussia, as well as in England, could fail to follow such causes? results which, this author says, he predicted in 1818."
These statements are supported by Mr. Tooke, as well as by a recent report of the Mexican United Mining Association, whose interests would seem to lie in refuting them. It appears also, that the whole amount of precious metals (which I believe by law in Mexico must go to the Mint in the first instance) amounted last year to little more than one million sterling. The interesting journal of captain Head; who was deputed to inspect the mines of Chile, corroborates these statements, and shows how little these countries want from us; that the mines are never likely to be worked 1275 now slave-labour has ceased; that population is deficient and lazy; that labour is so odious that great profits prove no stimulus to it; and that, were the infecundity of the mines less than he found it, none can rationally expect that where millions of fertile acres are unappropriated the people will delve into the bowels of the earth for wealth, when they are heedless of that which nature offers them on its surface. He illustrates the folly of our mining speculations, by stating—that under the multitude of obstacles, the iron for working the mines would cost its worth in silver by the time it reached its destination, whereas the silver it extracted would not be worth its weight in iron to the English speculator by the time it reached this country.
Estrada says, that in a country like this, possessing all the necessaries, and heedless of the luxuries of life, the balance of trade with the old countries must for long be in its favour; and if such be the case, we may have to send her our metals instead of receiving them from her as formerly. The principal facts contained in this paper must have been known to the British government many years ago, and they are well entitled, now more than ever, to its serious consideration. Notwithstanding these circumstances, the chairman of the bullion committee goes boldly on to say that "in England, when gold constitutes the standard (uttered fourteen years after it had ceased virtually to do so), it is impossible that any change can be produced in its value as a measure of exchange;"—what, not if the whole world gave up the use of it as money? And immediately after he allows that "the great and paramount standard of all value is corn," the average price of which, in the twelve years preceding 1797, was 52s. the quarter of wheat, and in the twelve years following, fifty per cent higher; namely, 79s.; measured by what? Why by this invariable standard of gold, which "no circumstances can alter;" and he proceeds to show how the legislature recognised these changes, by altering the ratio of protection against foreign importations at different times subsequent to 1793.
Having endeavoured to show the theoretical lights diffused on the subject by the bullion committee, it is but just to exhibit the no-less-distinguished wisdom of their opponents, the practical men of those days. In the same year (1811) that 1276 the above debates occurred, the following resolution passed the House: "That Bank notes are held to be equivalent to the current coin of the realm in all pecuniary transactions to which such coin is legally applicable;" and this celebrated resolution was passed at the very time that the government which moved it were themselves buying up guineas for exportation, not at par with Bank paper, as their resolution falsely stated, but at twenty-eight shillings a piece!
It is satisfactory to turn from all this falsehood and inconsistency, to the sound opinions delivered by Mr. Henry Thornton: "To change," says he, "the standard, when the paper has long been depreciated, is only to establish and perpetuate a currency of that value to which we have long been accustomed, and may also be made the means of precluding further depreciation. The very argument of justice, after a certain time, passes over to the side of deterioration. If we had been used to a depreciated paper for only two or three years, justice is on the side of returning to the antecedent standard; but if eight, ten, fifteen, or twenty years, have passed since the paper fell, then it may be deemed unfair to restore the ancient value of the circulating medium, for bargains will have been made, and loans supplied, under the expectation of the continuance of the existing depreciation."
In May, 1819, Mr. Peel, speaking of the distress in 1816, admits "that the commercial speculation which led to the crisis in 1816 was the consequence of an over-issue of paper currency, is a fact beyond dispute." Why did he not admit the same causes last year, instead of attributing the mischief to "speculation and country bankers," &c.? He afterwards, wishing to show that the more we are taxed the less money we want, makes an erroneous estimate of the currency of 1792 compared with 1809. "If there was any truth in the argument that the circulating medium should increase with the trade, taxation, and revenue, it should have varied directly in that year; the fact was, however, that it varied inversely;" and he takes the circulation of 1792 at thirty-six millions, and that of 1809 at nineteen millions, reckoning the Bank paper only, and leaving out the small item of near twenty millions of country notes. 1277 Such were the lights, and such the information, on which the honest bill of 1819 passed through the cheers of hundreds who knew nothing of what they were doing, and whose cheers are now called in as solitary evidence of its justice or expediency. Mr. Ricardo told them, "the difficulty was only raising the currency three per cent in value. He was quite astonished that such alarm prevailed at the reduction of perhaps one million in four years"—the eventual reduction being sixteen millions in four years. Lord Grenville said, "the utmost loss from cash payments was three per cent, and we had sustained changes even amounting to five per cent; he thought cash payments might safely be resumed at the end of the year."—"Vicit digna viri sententia;" he had, twenty-two years before, depreciated the currency fifty per cent, and after plunging the nation into a debt of eight hundred millions, in that depreciated paper, exacts payment, in sterling money, of double value, of value not raised "three," nor thirty, but above fifty per cent. Yet warnings were not wanting; and among others came a petition from the merchants of Liverpool, in 1821, of which the following extracts are worth notice in contradistinction to the darkness prevailing in this House:
"Your petitioners cannot refrain from stating, that the inquiry which led to this determination to resume cash payments on the part of your honourable House, seemed rather directed to the capability of the Bank to pay its notes in specie than to the capability of the country to sustain such a derangement and loss of property, and to meet, at the same time, its fixed and positive engagements with the public creditor.
"That there can be no doubt that the ancient standard may be resumed, if all considerations as to the consequences be disregarded; but your petitioners humbly submit, that the attempt to restore it has already created great distress, and that a further prosecution of the plan will produce a greater mass of suffering than was ever produced by any other measure; and that greater injustice will be done towards individuals, and ultimately to the public creditor, than by any plan of state policy which has hitherto been pursued in these kingdoms.
"Your petitioners beg leave to state, in support of this opinion, that since this 1278 act passed, the trade, the commerce, the agriculture, and the manufactures of this country, have suffered grievous depression; that, with some few exceptions, they are still declining, and are still unprofitable; that a diminution of imports and exports has not been attended with those beneficial results which a cessation from over-trading was expected to produce; that a considerable proportion of the mechanics and labouring husbandmen, in different parts of the kingdom, are either without work, or without wages sufficient for the sustenance of life; that the poor's-rates are oppressive, and cannot generally be diminished without endangering the peace and safety of the country; and finally, that property of nearly every description is still lessening in value.
"They conceive, that of all the existing contracts, except such as arise out of commerce, and expire on short credits, the major part has been made between 1797 and 1819; that the proportion of lands, houses, and other property mortgaged, and subject to charges for portions and annuities, is as three fourths to the whole, and as one half to the value; that the average term of takings at rack-rent may be considered five years; and further, that bonds, annuities, salaries, and pensions, still remain in operation.
"That this, then, is the situation of the country, after a twenty-two years' war and suspension of the ancient standard, cannot in substance be denied; and your petitioners look in vain for the benefits which the wisdom of your honourable House doubtless meditated in the act for the resumption of that standard; they see in that measure an attempt to remedy the mischief caused by a departure from fixed principles, by sacrificing the property of many to the advantage of a few, and for no other purpose, as your petitioners conceive, than to re-establish a standard to which comparatively few contracts have any reference.
"Your petitioners, therefore, humbly beg leave to approach your honourable House, for the purpose of stating their opinion, that the general interest of the community requires an immediate lowering of the standard of the realm, as calculated to lead to the only practicable remedy for those difficulties in which the people of this country have been involved by the abandonment of the ancient stand 1279 and in 1797, and by the attempt now making to restore it."
In 1821, a committee was appointed to inquire into the national calamities brought on by the bill of 1819; but whenever their inquiries began to touch upon the true cause, the tampering with the currency, a right hon. member is said to have been always ready to check such investigations, by stating that "parliament had already decided the currency question." Now, I should be glad to know what would be said of a consultation of physicians, called to inquire into an invalid's case, where the leading doctor should protest against feeling the patient's pulse? Yet the state of the circulation of money is, in the complaints of the body politic, of the same importance as the circulation of the blood is in those of the human body. There is in one of Molière's plays a celebrated consultation of doctors, where they agree that it is better the patient should die according to scientific rules, than recover under a violation of them; but here is a still worse case, where the faculty decide against any scientific course of ascertaining the disease.
In 1822, the cries of the people forced the government to devise some mode of affording them substantial relief, and with that view all imaginable means were adopted professedly to increase the circulating medium. Seven or eight measures were simultaneously resolved upon, all, or almost all of which had this direct tendency. There was the Dead-weight contract, the renewal of the One-Pound-Note act, the discounting at four per cent, the advance of one million and a half upon mortgage, and of seven hundred thousand pounds upon stock, the discounting bills at ninety days, the Indian loan, and the payment of those who declined the bargain proposed in lieu of five per cent stock. Here then, in 1822, were the seeds sown which came to maturity in the autumn of 1825, producing the crisis so falsely attributed to "speculation, country banks," &c.
The Bullion Report had laid down the principle, that the Bank should regulate its paper issues with reference to the exchanges; if, therefore, there was any one object to which it might be expected that the attention of government would be more exclusively directed than another, it was the keeping a rigid control over that part of the currency most liable to excess. They knew how small a quantity was 1280 sufficient to produce that excess when the circulation is saturated—they knew the process by which the excess is produced, that the country bankers increase their notes whenever the impulse is first given by the Bank of England, that they sometimes issue them in the proportion of two for one, according to the security which prosperous times, or times announced to be such, never fail to inspire. It might then have been expected that they would have kept a vigilant eye on the proceedings of the Bank, after they saw the usual symptoms of a disease which past experience must have informed them was drawing towards a crisis. For there were, not only the ordinary forerunners of plethora —the high prices of stock, and of commodities—the low rate of interest—the abundance of money, and consequent speculation—but the safety valve itself had given them notice of the approaching danger by the long-continued exportation of gold. The exchanges, which had been partially adverse in the spring of 1824, were decidedly so in the summer of that year, and continued so for fifteen or eighteen months. Did they then compel the Bank to call in its paper money in order to turn the tide, or diminish its force? No! the House will be astonished to learn that they actually allowed the increase of that paper which had already been proved to be excessive; and the document recently laid upon the table shows that, even as late as July, 1825, the amount of Bank-notes in circulation was at the highest, having actually reached twenty-one million seven hundred and sixty-three thousand pounds!! Such was their surveillance over an establishment, on the prudent government of which depended the whole machinery of the state, that they had in 1825 near ten millions of money of one sort or other in circulation more than in 1823, and began to contract their issues fifteen months too late.
Yet why should we fear? The ministers were many of them the friends, and all the disciples, of Mr. Pitt; they had sailed with the pilot who had weathered the storm, and could surely conduct the ship through smooth water. On February 3rd, 1824, the King's Speech "congratulates Parliament on the prosperous condition of the country."—"An increasing activity pervades almost every branch of manufactures, agriculture is recovering, and, by the steady operation of natural causes, is 1281 gradually re-assuming that station to which its importance entitles it." The dead weight, the money advanced on mortgage and stock, and the other five or six manœuvres, were "natural causes!" And in June, the king in person, says, "He had the greatest satisfaction in repeating his congratulations on the general and increasing prosperity of the country." On February 3rd, 1825, the Royal Commissioners say, "We are commanded by his Majesty to express to you his gratification at the continuance and progressive increase of that prosperity on which his Majesty congratulated you on the opening of the last Session of Parliament." — "There never was a period in the history of this country, when all the great interests of it were at the same time in so thriving a condition." And on the 6th of July, 1825, the King's Speech again alludes to "that general and increasing prosperity on which his Majesty had the happiness to congratulate you on the opening of the present Session of Parliament." Yet, at the very time the ministers were putting these cheering words into his Majesty's mouth, they had, or might have had, in their pockets, the Custom House returns, shewing an exportation of twelve millions of treasure in the course of the fifteen previous months; and, although so much of the convertible matter was thus disappearing, we had lecturers telling us all manner of valuable truths, but omitting just this—that we were upon the brink of a state of barter! When Mr. Ellice, then member for Coventry, expressed his alarms at what he appears clearly enough to have foreseen, he was thus answered:— Mr. Peel (June, 1825) said, "He was sorry the hon. member for Coventry thought the circulation in so bad a state, and prophecied so darkly of its future condition."
Soon after all these fine speeches came the catastrophe of which I shall merely give in evidence the King's Letter, showing the state of the country last autumn; the eleven thousand four hundred tradesmen who were, last year, by one or other process of insolvency, put hors de combat; and a letter I have in my hand from the mayor of Macclesfield, containing under thirty thousand inhabitants, dated last October, and stating the poor and destitute to amount even then to eleven thousand odd hundreds; receiving, and mainly subsisted by, charity. 1282 The merits of a system are to be judged by its fruits. Suppose any honourable member, having an estate at a distance, was to receive a letter from his agent in the spring, announcing that all classes of his people were in the greatest prosperity; and another in the summer, stating that this prosperity was still increasing; and that a short time afterwards, a third letter should reach him from the same quarter, stating that his people were all ruined; that an army was collecting to keep them down, and a subscription to keep them alive; that "they were within forty-eight hours of a state of barter;"* would not such a person think it due to his suffering dependants to institute a serious inquiry into the cause of so much misery and ruin, in order to provide against a recurrence? With what countenance, then, did the stewards of the public meet their constituents? With acknowledgments of past errors and inconsistencies? No! they accused the ruined merchants with having produced their own destruction, by speculating with the means which were put into their hands; the country was, forsooth inundated with paper money— the speculative matter—and the parties were expected not to avail themselves of it!!
I do not defend the speculators; but I do say, that to accuse men for buying that which they could not afterwards sell, owing to your tampering with the currency, is to add a cruel insult to an irreparable injury.
When the country banks were suddenly thrown upon their securities, with what face can they be reproached with a misfortune only brought on them by their belief in the boasts of the ministers? Moreover, if all are to blame who cannot withstand the simultaneous rush of their creditors requiring gold in payment of their deposits as well as of their notes (demands which the currency of no country can satisfy), on what footing stands the debt due from the government to the Bank of England? Could that be paid in gold on demand? I apprehend not; and yet the government will hardly plead guilty to those charges of "speculation, insecurity," &c. which they so lavishly deal out against these more feeble, but not more faulty, establishments.* See Mr. Huskisson's Speech, early in 1826.1283 The country banks have been the natural channels through which the industry of the country has been, of late years, fed; when those channels are choaked up, production, the source of consumption, ceases, and the consequence is, an apparent, though not real, redundancy; and it ill becomes those who have withdrawn the stimulus from labour to complain of the languor consequent upon their own acts. You have, as it were, mutilated half the labouring population, and then complain of over-population, and talk of exporting the excess to Canada; but I advise my right hon. friend, the Colonial Secretary, whose zeal has, in this respect, I think, outrun his better judgment, to arm his emigrants with shuttles instead of shovels, as I have some reason for believing, that they will prefer the factories of the United States to delving in the wilds of Canada.
On February 2, 1826, the King's Speech notices, "the temporary check which commerce and manufactures may at this moment experience;" why, Sir, this temporary check is not over yet: and lord Liverpool states afterwards, in debate, that the convulsions in the pecuniary transactions of the country "had not been unexpected (curious circumlocution) by him and other members of his majesty's government." He assigns all the mischief to "speculation," and, of course, is not willing to trace the disaster to its source; namely, to Mr. Peel's bill operating on those measures which he and his colleagues adopted to relieve agricultural distress in 1822.
In their correspondence with the Bank, the ministers say, "there can be no doubt the principal source of it (the distress) is to be found in the rash spirit of speculation which has pervaded the country for some time, supported, fostered, and encouraged by the country banks." In reply to which, Mr. Attwood observes, "The failure at once of six or seven London bankers, from whatever cause it had arisen, was indeed a circumstance of great importance, and was well worthy the serious inquiry of parliament. No instance of a similar event was to be found in the pecuniary history of the country. Those houses held in their hands the active capital, the reserve for payments, the cash and funds of various kinds, of more than a hundred country banks. And, was it a matter of surprise that, under 1284 circumstances so calamitous, many of those establishments had themselves failed in the regular discharge of their engagements? It was rather matter of surprise that no greater number had failed, and that of those who had been compelled to do so, the circumstances of so few were found in such a state as that their creditors could sustain any loss [hear, hear!]. These events afforded a proof, not of the unsound character of the country circulation, or of the necessity of legislative interference with it, but, on the contrary, that the country bankers were, as a body, as he was satisfied was the case, men of solid property, whose affairs were, in general, conducted with prudence. And, what had been the course of the right hon. chancellor of the Exchequer? On the first night of the session, he had stated, with great confidence, that their distress had arisen out of the wild, extravagant, and unmeasured manner in which the issues of the country bankers had been of late years increased. Did he mean to say, that the country-bank circulation in the agricultural districts, the mining, the manufacturing districts, had any connexion with those speculations, or those speculations with the country circulation? They were confined to London, to Liverpool, where no country notes existed; to Glasgow, where the Scotch system existed in all its perfection [hear, hear!]. Consider, then, the consistency of the right hon. gentleman. He finds the country ruined by over-trading. That was the idea of the President of the Board of Trade. A great empire brought to the brink of ruin by speculations in pepper, spice, dry goods, and all the balderdash of the retailer; and on these grounds he proposes two measures—to do what? one to establish Scotch banks, the greatest incentives to over-trading ever invented [hear!]; over-trading going on more widely in Scotland than even in England, and the distress there being as great; and the other to destroy one-pound notes; the distress of Lancashire, where none of them existed, being greater than in any other part of England, and which description of paper, only three or four years ago, he himself proposed, or supported, a bill to continue, on the ground of its utility [hear, hear!]."
Mr. Thomas Attwood,
also, in his correspondence with sir J. Sinclair, gives a good account of the inconsistencies by 1285 which it was attempted to conceal the truth from the public. "Over-population, and too many mouths, to-day; over-farming, and too many loaves, to-morrow; over-trading, while half the population are but half employed, and their houses and persons half naked—too much paper to-day, too little paper to-morrow, too much paper again, almost before the morrow is gone! Speculation! fictitious capital! Change from war to peace, although the peace opened twenty nations to our trade. It is thus, from too much inattention to 'speculative matters,' that we have been bandied about from error to error, and from delusion to delusion."
Will it be believed that, with a full knowledge of the evils of such a system, the owners of land, or of any other commodity, will suffer their property to be any longer sported with at the pleasure of ministers and Bank directors? Is the industry and food of the people to be sacrificed every two or three years at the shrine of the Bank Charter? So long as this system lasts, I should object to any increased severity being used towards bankrupts; for how can you, with justice, act severely towards men who are exposed to sudden ruin, by a process probably beyond their comprehension, but certainly beyond their control. So long as such a system lasts, I venture to assert, that no man can tell either what he possesses or what he bequeaths.
It is enough for me to expose the dangers of such a system; I have nothing to do with the remedy. Whether you reduce your taxes or your standard, or fix the amount of your paper, to me is personally a matter of supreme indifference. His majesty's ministers have, gratuitously, brought the state vessel into peril, and with them rests the fearful responsibility of her safe extrication. If, however, we are to embark on a voyage of short allowance, one thing is indispensable; namely, that we should all share alike; there must be no Benjamins in the mess. We cannot restore millions of property confiscated from farmers and merchants, but we can restore to the country that portion of official salaries which was added expressly on account of a depreciation of currency, now no longer existing: and, if we have the currency and the prices, we must have a nearer approximation to the wages, of 1792.
I have here a slight specimen of the 1286 alteration which has taken place in the rewards of offices, since that time:—
ORDNANCE.—FULL PAY. 1792. $nbsp; 1822. Secretary to the Board £.510 … £.1,693 Chief Clerk to Surveyor-General 437 … 1,135 Assistant Ditto 200 … 825 Chief Clerk to Clerk 300 … 1,035 Ditto to Principal Store Keeper 200 … 935 Ditto to Clerk of Delivery 200 … 935 Ditto to the Treasury 200 … 737 Ditto to Board of Ordnance 200 … 1,177
This is a mere sample. Whenever these salaries (as, if the present rigorous course continues, they most undoubtedly shall) come under revision, it will be for ministers to show by what right they have given a small measure to the public, and kept the large one for themselves. It will then be for the late Secretary for the Home Department to explain why he made himself and his colleagues, and underlings in office, exceptions to that desolating distress which his measures have scattered over the rest of the community; why, professing to restore the ancient standard of value, that standard, severe as it was, has been exacerbated to the public to the amount of ten or more per cent., by depriving us of the option of paying in silver, and also of that law which (whether good or bad, is not the question) gave us facilities in the price of commodities, by restraining the melting or exporting the coin of the realm. It will be for him then, perhaps, to state why he and his colleague, the President of the Board of Trade, have not redeemed their pledge made to the member for Callington, to consider his suggestion about silver, and which seemed to flash upon his mind as a new idea—the restorer of our currency, the rival of Elizabeth and Edward 3rd, was, in 1826, to "consider" the silver standard!
If I am asked whether there are no means of alleviating the suffering condition of the people, I answer, confidently, that there are. That by restoring to the public the option of paying in silver, and either the law or (if the law be bad) an equivalent for it, which clogged the export of the precious metals, a great relief would be obtained. If palliatives will not avail, you must resort to stronger measures; but do what you will, reduce your standard or raise it—make but your currency invariable, not overflowing one day and exhausted the next—put it on a stable footing, so 1287 that we may know how to deal with one another—how to pay you, and what taxes to levy on the people, and I shall be satisfied.—The hon. gentleman concluded with moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the causes of the severe Distress which has afflicted the Commercial and Industrious Classes of the Community during the last and present years."
rose to second the motion, because he considered an inquiry most necessary; whether he regarded the true cause of the distress, or the many supposed causes to which it had been ascribed. In his judgment the distress was attributable to the viciousness of our pecuniary system—to the faultiness of the law, in inundating the country with a profusion of small notes—to the faultiness of the law, in not checking the mismanagement of the Bank of England—to the faultiness of the law, in calling into existence a sinking fund. If he was right in attributing the prevalent distress to these sources, it was consolatory to reflect that, by a change of the system, the evil might be remedied. One judicious correction had been already made; namely, the suppression of one and two pound notes. But three essential improvements remained to be effected. First, the five and ten pound notes should be placed under some restraint; secondly, the Bank should be compelled, under a penalty, to contract its issues, in proportion to the state of the exchanges; and thirdly, the coup de grace should be given to the Sinking-fund. Now that it was down let it be kept down.
trusted, that, if a committee were appointed, the deplorable condition of the population of Ireland would not be overlooked. Much of the distress of the country generally was to be attributed to the measure which had been called a return to cash payments—a course which amounted to little else than a robbery upon the purse of every man in Great Britain. He congratulated the country upon the late change of administration, which he considered to have been, not the triumph of any party, but of principle and of public opinion.
§ Mr. Fyler
said, that the real remedy for the distresses which existed was a wise regulation of the Corn-trade. High prices of corn made high prices for every thing else. He deeply regretted the manner in which the Corn-bill had been treated in 1288 the other House. The cup of hope which had been held up to the lips was, for the present, dashed to the ground.
Sir F. Burdett
observed, that the subject was of the very greatest importance; and, if it were necessary to enter upon the consideration of it without delay, he should not think that it was a good objection, that the proposition came at so late a period of the session; for, if it were of paramount importance to enter upon the consideration of the subject immediately, the duration of the session ought to be extended, in order to afford the opportunity. But, whether the matter should be taken up this session or not, the hon. gentleman who had brought forward the proposition had done good by calling the attention of the House, and the ministry, particularly, to the subject. He did not concur in the opinions which had been expressed by his hon. friends who had spoken on the question; but that was only an additional reason for entering upon the inquiry. It was a great fallacy to imagine that the question had been set at rest. The evil had been brought upon us by mal-legislation; and the question would never be set at rest, until the matter should be settled on the true and right basis. The subject had been at first taken up by Mr. Horner, and several other persons of great talent and industry. An elaborate report had been produced, and upon the whole, there had been no want of attention to it. It, nevertheless, still required examination. When the bill of 1819 was under discussion, it was said, by several persons, that it was impossible the Bank could pay in gold. But he had then stated, that the question was not whether the Bank could pay in gold, but whether the country could bear that it should. It now appeared that it could not at that time immediately resume the cash payments without great injury to the country. It appeared that the resumption was a great deal too sudden. There was a period during the war, before the death of Mr. Pitt, when the cash payments might have been resumed without injury to the country; but that period had not been taken advantage of. Mr. Pitt, like many others, was in a great error on this subject, and thought that the question depended on the balance of trade, and that cash payments could never be safely resumed till a period of peace. These notions bad been now exploded; but, such being Mr. Pitt's opinion, that 1289 accounted for the fact, that there was no serious attempt to return to cash payments during the continuance of the war. The issue of too great a quantity of paper had been an evil; but the increase had taken place so gradually, that the people were not aware of it. A rash step had been taken in the sudden resumption of cash payments; and those who proposed it, and many other able men, such as Mr. Ricardo, had no idea of the extent of evil which was to follow upon it. They said, that the change would not make a difference of more than five or ten per cent. But the difference was much greater; for, when you contracted your currency by five millions, this made a difference in the state of prices to the extent of fifty millions. Prices were diminished, and incomes were diminished, and a very serious injury was done to many classes of the community. After the state of society produced by the high prices, the idea of payments in gold at length produced sensations similar to what the sight of water occasioned in cases of hydrophobia. He did not mean to say, that. we ought always to rest contented with a depreciated currency. He only said, that the return to cash payments had been too sudden; that the first efforts ought to have been, to prevent the currency from being further depreciated; and that the return to cash payments ought to have been much more gradual than it had been. The mischief had certainly not arisen from over-production, or too much wealth. Up to the close of the war, commerce and manufactures had flourished in a very high degree. What was it, then, which brought on the distress? Nothing but the sudden alteration in the state of the currency. It was then that the agriculturists were reduced to the greatest distress, and did not know the cause. They felt quite out of their element, and were like fish in the channel of a river, from which water had been withdrawn—gasping for breath. Then they solicited Corn bills, as a remedy for their distress; but no relief could be afforded by such means. A free trade in corn, while it would be advantageous to all, would be particularly so to the agriculturists. It was, indeed, a great absurdity to talk about prices at all, until the currency should be settled on a proper and permanent basis.—The hon. baronet then referred to the Letter lately published by one of the Bank Directors, recommending the 1290 substitution of Bank of England notes for those of country banks. Great fault had been most unfairly found with this gentleman, because he had put forth this paper, with the view of feeling the sentiments of the country as to his proposition. Now, he could not conceive how blame could attach to this proceeding of the Bank Director, if that gentleman thought his plan likely to prove useful to the country. The paper itself was very ably written, and full of sound sense. For his own part, he was of opinion, that it would be a happy circumstance if the paper currency could, by such a plan as this, be secured from those perilous incidents to which the paper of the country bankers was liable; and this advantage would be still further augmented, by substituting the paper of the Bank of England, the circulation of which was immediately under the control of parliament. The country bankers issued with reference to no principle but their own private interests. But the connexion of the Bank of England with the government necessarily compelled it to regard higher considerations than those of its own immediate benefit. The objection taken to this plan, on the ground of monopoly, was misapplied. Where, for the sake of abundance of supply and lowness of price, competition was desirable, monopoly was undoubtedly mischievous. But, in this case, the object was a small supply and a high price; which were the very reverse of what was wanted in ordinary cases. The restoration of the metallic standard had produced, not only distress in agriculture, but in all the classes who were dependent on prices. By the contraction of the currency they had been as much defrauded as the fund-holders would if the interest of the National Debt had been reduced. He agreed that no effectual remedy could be devised to remove the distresses of the population of England, while the excessive influx continued from Ireland; nor was he altogether friendly to the scheme of emigration, by which the most skilful, enterprising, and industrious portion of the population was carried out of the country. Upon the whole, as there were so many topics, of the deepest interest to the public welfare, which might advantageously be investigated, he should support the motion.
was of opinion, that no sound system of currency could be established, while the Bank of England had 1291 the power of contracting and enlarging the circulation at pleasure. He trusted this question would be fully considered before the Bank charter was renewed. Looking at the course recently followed by the Bank, it was, he thought, quite clear that one of two things must soon occur—and perhaps before the next session—either the metallic currency would be discontinued, or we should have another Restriction act. In 1825, it was known that the Bank were very nearly driven to that measure; they had hardly the means of keeping open their doors for six hours.
§ Mr. Pearse
said, he had no apprehension that the Bank would be obliged to suspend cash payments. The circumstances which led to the restriction in 1797 could not take place in peace, when the balance of trade would necessarily be in our favour. He maintained, that the circulation of the Bank had never been either more or less than the wants of the country required.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, that the motion was for a committee to inquire into the causes of the difficulties which had affected the industrious classes of the community during the last and present year; and, in making that motion, the hon. member had gone into almost every topic of political economy which could afford matter for discussion, there, or in any other place. To these topics every other gentleman who had addressed the House had added almost every other topic which could by possibility engage the attention of parliament. One of the subjects adverted to by the hon. mover was, the measure passed by parliament, which went to the abolition of one and two pound notes. The hon. seconder praised that measure. On many other points the opinions of the hon. mover and seconder were wide as the poles asunder. Another hon. gentleman speaking of Ireland, wished this committee, on the 14th day of June, to inquire into the state of the population of Ireland—into the relations between the landlord and tenant in that country—into the mode in which the landlord oppressed the tenant. The question of emigration, in all its branches, was also to occupy the attention of this committee. Another question which was to be submitted to it, on the 14th of June, was, whether it would be expedient to abandon the Canadas, and separate them from the dominion of the Crown? The Sinking Fund, the Catholic question, and every 1292 other possible practical and theoretical question that could occupy the attention of parliament, were also to be submitted to this committee. Considering the very opposite sentiments of the gentlemen who spoke in favour of this committee, it would be extremely difficult, however desirable it might be, for them to come to a satisfactory decision on the various questions which were to be brought under their consideration. He well remembered the period to which the hon. mover had alluded; when he (Mr. H.) was regarded as a wild theorist, and a dealer in abstract doctrines, on subjects connected with the currency. In the year 1811, he was in a very small minority, which voted, that the currency was in a state of depreciation; and it was a little singular, that those who now pressed upon them the consequences of that depreciation, and who exaggerated the effect it had produced on the rent of land, and on the interests of the landowner, were among those who did not, at that time, believe in the existence of the evil. The rent of land had doubled in the last ten years; yet those gentlemen did not, in the year 1811, believe in the diminution of the value of money, but denounced him (Mr. H.), and all those who maintained that doctrine, as visionary theorists, and as men altogether unworthy of the respect or notice of the public. It was certain that the men who now considered themselves infallible, were not among those who perceived the depreciation of the currency, which led to the consequences which had since ensued. The hon. gentleman wished that the salaries of those whose labours and talents were devoted to the service of the public should be reduced to the standard of 1792. But if a direct tax were to be levied upon the income of the country, it would at least be just to levy it equally and impartially upon every species of income. The hon. gentleman had adverted to the low amount of the incomes of persons at that time connected with the Board of Ordnance, as compared with the present salaries. Now, he believed there was not one of the gentlemen connected with that department, who would not be glad to be placed in the situation of those who held similar situations in 1792. The fact was, that although the salaries in 1792 were small, the emoluments derived from fees, which were now abolished, were so considerable, that the whole remuneration greatly exceeded the existing fixed salaries. 1293 The motion before the House was in reality an attempt to renew the motion made by the hon. member for Essex (Mr. Western) in 1822. He (Mr. H.) had at that time assigned at so much length the grounds upon which he opposed that motion, that he should not trouble the House with a repetition of the arguments which he had then used. If it was wrong in 1822 to depart from the system by which the currency was settled in 1819, it would be much more so to attempt to unsettle that system in 1827. There was no part of his public life upon which he looked back with more satisfaction, than the occasion on which he had opposed the attempt of the hon. member for Essex to break in upon the system adopted in 1819; by which parliament was pledged not to make any alteration in the fineness, weight, and denomination of the currency. Five years had elapsed since the House had come to that resolution; and they would now, in his opinion, be guilty of something which would almost amount to insanity, if they were to attempt to alter it. He should therefore give his decided opposition to a motion, of which the object substantially was, to introduce a doubt, whether parliament ought to adhere to the standard of currency adopted in 1819. No measure, in fact, would create more alarm throughout the country than one which suggested the probability of an attempt, on the part of the legislature, to alter that standard. It was a proposal fatal to all the landmarks of property, and calculated to destroy all the securities upon which the interchange of property was founded. If the hon. baronet, the member for Westminster, could persuade the manufacturing and labouring classes, that in proportion as corn was dear their prosperity would increase, and, at the same time, persuade the agriculturists, that a free trade in corn, without any restrictions or protecting duty, would give them high prices, he would accomplish a very desirable object, and save the House, if not in this, in a future session, a great deal of laborious discussion on a subject upon which all were not likely to agree. Upon these grounds, he should oppose the motion for going into a committee—a motion, in fact, which could hardly be seriously made, considering the short time likely to intervene between the present period and the prorogation of parliament; and of which, if the inquiry were at this time practicable, the only effect would be 1294 to throw the whole country into confusion.
§ Mr. Western
defended the course which he had taken in 1822, and at other periods, with regard to the currency. He attributed all the difficulties of the country to the measure of 1819, by which the currency was erroneously said to be settled. The currency had not been settled by the measure of 1819, it was still in a fluctuating state; and he was satisfied that the prosperity of the country would never be permanently restored until parliament retraced its steps.
said, it had not been his intention to offer any observations on the present motion, nor should he have done so, except for the unsatisfactory grounds on which the right hon. president of the Board of Trade had rested his opposition to it, and the inconsistency and want of candour which marked that opposition. The right hon. member said, that a motion similar to the present was proposed in 1822, and rejected by a considerable majority, and therefore he called on the House to reject the measure now before it. But he also stated, in almost the next sentence of his speech, that, at an earlier period, in 1810 or 1811, on this same subject of the currency, he had himself voted in a minority; and the opinion declared by the majority on that occasion, he treated as preposterously false. The argument of the right hon. gentleman, therefore, amounted to this: that when an opinion of a majority of the House fell in with his own, it must be received as an authority; it was to guide their future proceedings; but when an opinion so expressed differed from his, did not in fact suit his views, it became no authority at all, and was fit only to be treated with contempt. Many members cheered the right hon. president when he adduced the authority of a majority in 1822 as a ground for their present vote, and he (Mr. Attwood) therefore thought it necessary to point out to them, what was the value of the argument they so approved, even in the opinion of him who resorted to it, and the consistency of the guide they followed.
The right hon. member had adverted to the declaration of the hon. mover; that, if the present measure were rejected, he should bring forward a motion for reducing public salaries to the scale of 1792. In reply to this declaration he had argued 1295 as though there were something absurd in proposing to cut down public salaries to the level of 1792, when the general wealth, and the income of all classes had greatly increased since that period. But his hon. friend had been guilty of no absurdity of this kind. His argument was, that the rejection of this motion carried with it the preservation of the present system of currency, and of the old standard of 3l. 17s. 10d½., of which the right hon. president spoke in terms of so much satisfaction. But his hon. friend contended that this standard, existing as the right hon. president said for two hundred years, but which had been abandoned for the twenty years during which the present salaries had been fixed, would, by its re-establishment, reduce the monied income of the country at large to the level of 1792. He contended that monied prices depended on money. That money of the standard prior to 1792, would support no higher scale of prices than the one then existing; would give no higher price for corn than that which existed before 1792; no higher rent in consequence to the landlord, no higher profit to the farmer, or wages to the labourer: that, the incomes of all the productive classes would be reduced by this old standard; and, on that ground it was, of the effect of the old standard to bring back all productive income to the old level, that his hon. friend insisted, that the incomes of all public servants ought to be so brought back also. This was the argument of his hon. friend; and the right hon. president well knew it, though, instead of meeting that argument, he had, in the most uncandid manner, argued against a view of the subject opposite to that which his hon. friend had taken. The real argument of his hon. friend on this part of the subject he had never attempted to meet; and he (Mr. Attwood) would tell him further, that, preposterous as he might represent the proposition to reduce the salaries of public servants to the level of 1792, if the old standard of 1792 were persisted in, and no corresponding reduction of these salaries were in consequence effected, those salaries which had been raised to meet the debasement of one standard; if they were not again reduced, with the re-establishment of another and a higher standard, he would tell the right hon. gentleman, that no grosser or greater fraud, had been ever effected by any government, 1296 than would be practised by this juggle on he people of this country.
Into the question at large he (Mr. A.) again said, he should not enter; but he was satisfied, that all the distress which the country had experienced in the last twelve years was essentially connected with it. Every alternation of adversity and success, which had been felt since the war, had been owing to corresponding alterations in their monied system; arising out of the attempt to re-establish at the peace, the old standard of value. Three different times, during this period, the old standard had been seen to be re-established; and money of that ancient and high value had circulated as the measure of modern debts and engagements; and as often had the country been involved in ruinous embarrassment. Now, what was the nature of the operation, by which the old standard was introduced? Parliament deciding that the paper of the Bank of England should be made payable in gold of the old standard of 3l. 17s. 10½d., left to that body to make the necessary preparations. The Bank commenced those preparations, by a reduction of the amount of its notes in circulation. The quantity lessened, those that remained assumed a higher value. They circulated at par with gold of the old standard; but, then, was it found that an advance in the value of money, was a reduction in the price of commodities? With the fall of prices, fell also rents, profits, wages. Commercial, agricultural, manufacturing, and financial distress followed, and a scene of universal national embarrassment. Three different times all this had been witnessed; accompanied, or followed, by intervening short periods of prosperity, occasioned by fresh issues of Bank notes, inconsistent in their amount with the old standard. He referred the right hon. president to his own argument with the ship-owners. They complained of the distress they had experienced since 1825, and ascribed it to the encouragement given to foreign vessels. His answer to that statement appeared adequate. He shewed that foreign shipping was reduced in quantity as much as British shipping, and had not therefore supplanted it. Was it not plain also, that, during this same period, all other interests had undergone a revulsion as severe as that of the shipowners, and that this must have been the effect, not of any particular, but of some general, cause? But, if it were not 1297 foreign competition which ruined the shipping interest, to what cause was their distress owing? The right hon. president told them to over-trading. Over-trading had destroyed at once the prosperity of this great branch of national wealth, and of all other great interests. But, if the right hon. gentleman would refer to the tables which he had appended to his own speech on the shipping question, he would perceive that another revulsion, fully as severe as the present, had distressed the shipping interest no later than in the years 1819, 1820, and 1821. The extent of the present revulsion as measured by these tables, showed a reduction of tonnage of about from 1,700,000 tons, to about 1,400,000 tons. The reduction in tonnage from 1818 to 1821 was from about 1,500,000 to 1,000,000 tons. And to what origin was the distress of that period ascribed, extending to all other great interests, as well as to the shipping interest? They were not then told of over-trading: that was not the prevailing theory of the day. Over-production was the solution which the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues generally, had applied to that difficulty. The right hon. gentleman appeared to contradict this; but he (Mr. A.) would be greatly mistaken, if he had not heard speeches of the right hon. gentleman, in which he had maintained that theory, as well as his colleagues. A universal rage, it was thought, had suddenly seized all the productive classes, of producing greater, and of consuming lesser, quantities; and thus were all markets overstocked with commodities, and a general glut occasioned. But if they looked still further back, they would almost immediately arrive at another period of similar distress, shipping, agricultural, and commercial, and, in short, general, falling on the years 1815 and 1816. And what was the theory by which the members of government explained the distress of that period? That ruin, it seemed, had sprung from a transition, at it was called, from war to peace. Transition, over-production, over-trading, those were the miserable theories, absurd it themselves, inadequate, inconsistent, and irreconcilable with one another, by which the right hon. gentleman and his colleagues had accounted for calamities and a condition of distress, which, amidst all the elements of prosperity existing around them, had crushed the power and exertions o the people, and had three times placed the 1298 country on the verge of irretrievable ruin. An inquiry, such as that now proposed, whenever fully and fairly gone into, would end for ever these absurdities; and would demonstrate, that all these revulsions had been occasioned by one plain, adequate, and consistent cause. During the war, they had eased the burthens which supported it, as fast as they were imposed, by a continual depreciation of the monied standard; the weight of these burthens was not therefore then felt; but at the termination of the war, when the attempt commenced of discharging its engagements, together with all existing private engagements, all contracted in money of a low and depreciated standard, when all these were attempted to be discharged in money of a higher value, then it was that the burthens of the war came to be fully felt; they were found to be disproportioned to the strength and resources of the people, and to spread universal embarrassment over all public and private interests. And what was now their condition? They were told of symptoms of returning prosperity. But would any gentleman venture to assert his confidence in the permanence of that prosperity? It could exist only to such a degree, as would be accompanied with increased issues of paper money; and those issues, inconsistent with their present monied standard, that standard would drive in again, and new embarrassments succeed. Was not this, then, a fit subject for their inquiry? It was the only great national object to which their inquiries could be usefully directed. A committee, it seemed, was to be proposed in the next session for the purpose of going through a general examination of the whole system of finance. Such a committee, if it did not take for the basis of its inquiries the operation of their monied system on their finances; if the committee should, as similar committees had done, cautiously avoid entering on this subject, its labours would be worse than useless. On their monied system, they would find that the receipts of their revenue would mainly depend; and to that system, disguise the matter as much and as long as they pleased, must their expenditure, be first or last, brought to conform. With that conviction on his mind, he trusted that when the committee of finance should be proposed, his hon. friend (Mr. Davenport), or some other hon. member, would again bring this question 1299 before the House; and that task he would himself discharge if it did not fall into other, and abler hands.
§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he never had, as the hon. member had accused him of doing, treated the majorities of that House with contempt. He would, however, treat with sovereign contempt the tissue of misrepresentations which made up the speech of the hon. member, and would not trouble himself to contradict them.
retorted upon the right hon. gentleman the expressions which he had applied to his observations, desiring to assure the right hon. gentleman, that there was no degree of contempt which he had thought proper to express, that he (Mr. Attwood) did not equally feel towards the statements of the right hon. gentleman.
§ Mr. E. Davenport,
in reply, said:—It is rather hard that I should be reproached by the ministers for a delay which has only occurred in compliance with their special request, and to be taxed with recommending a reduction of the standard; whereas I merely showed that the abuses of the system, expressly guarding myself against making any remedial proposition, it being matter of perfect indifference to me, personally, whether the system of the standard, or the ratio of taxation is changed, and one or other must be. The member for Coventry says, high-priced corn caused the distress of the people, but he seems to forget, that all the working classes were in full employment in 1825, when, although wheat was 15s. the quarter higher than at present, the master manufacturers gave enormously high wages, and the men worked three or four days only in the week, and drank during the rest of it. The object of my motion is to enforce the attention of the government to the subject. I perfectly acquit the president of the Board of Trade of having being able to comprehend the drift of a portion of my speech, inasmuch as he was more agreeably employed than in attending to it, by talking with his friends. He alludes to the discrepancies of those who followed me in the debate, as if the mover was accountable for the different views taken by all who think proper to deliver their sentiments upon the subject; but he has not answered the principle allegations, whether against the system, or those who mismanaged it.—He argues that, because the House negatived the proposition of the 1300 member for Essex, in 1822, therefore it is bound to do the same by all future propositions, in spite of all the mischief that can possibly occur at any subsequent period. He has not answered to the charge of ignorance and inconsistency preferred, and, as I conceive, demonstrated, against the government — he has not accounted for neglecting to redeem his own pledge, made last year, to take the restoration of the silver standard under his consideration—he has neglected to show by what process a permanently higher range of prices can be maintained here than on the continent, so long as we employ the same medium of value. He has spoken of the currency as finally settled in 1819, whereas it was tampered with by a change in the one-pound note act in 1822, and again in 1826; and whereas there is a tampering with the currency constantly going on, by means of Exchequer bills; every manœuvre in which, upon a large scale is, as regards the commerce of the country, a virtual alteration of the standard during the period of its operation. Neither has he explained to the House why he and his colleagues have kept the large measure for their salaries, after giving a small measure to the public which pays them. I have brought on this motion, and, I fear, wearied the House, from a strong feeling that such was my duty. My friends and supporters are of opinion that it is useless to press it. I shall therefore withdraw the proposition, reserving to myself the power of renewing it at some more convenient opportunity.
The motion was then withdrawn.