Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

us plenty, derived from domestic production, and consequent general and increasing manufacturing as well as rural prosperity.

It is in vain, therefore, to say that cheap prices are a blessing in themselves, and the consumers at least are ever benefited by a fall in the cost of grain. Cheap prices are a real blessing if that effect consists with prosperity to the producer, as by improved methods of cultivation or manufacture, or the benignity of nature in giving fine seasons. But cheap prices are the greatest of all evils, and to none more than the consumers, if they are the result, not of the magnitude of domestic production, but of the magnitude of foreign importation. It was that sort of cheap prices which ruined the Roman empire, from the destruction of the agriculture of Italy ; it is that sort of cheap prices which has ruined the Indian weavers, from the disastrous competition of the British steam-engine; it is that sort of low prices which has so grievously depressed British shipping, from the disastrous competition of the Baltic vessels under the reciprocity system. It is in vain for the consumers to say-We will separate our case from that of the producers, and care not, so as we get low prices, what comes of them. Where will the consumers be, and that ere long, if the producers are destroyed? What will be the condition of the landlords if their farmers are ruined ? or of bondholders if their debtors are bankrupt? or of railway proprietors if traffic ceases ? or of owners of bank stock if bills are no longer presented for discount ? or of the 3 per cents if Government, by the failure of the productive industry of the country, is rendered bankrupt? The consumers all rest on the producers, and must sink or swim with them.

THIRTY YEARS OF LIBERAL LEGISLATION

(BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE, JANUARY 1848]

- If

EXPERIENCE," says Dr Johnson, “is the great test of truth, and is perpetually contradicting the theories of men.” an empire,” said Napoleon, “ were made of granite, it would soon be reduced to powder by political economists.” Never was there a period when the truths stated by these master minds were so clearly and strikingly illustrated as the present; never was there an epoch when the necessity was so fearfully evinced of casting off the speculative dogmas of the times, and shaping our course by the broad light which experience has thrown on human transactions. If this is done, if wisdom is learnt by experience, and error expelled by suffering, it is yet possible to remedy the evils; though not before a frightful and yet unfelt amount of misery has been encountered by the people.

For the last thirty years, the Liberal party have had the almost uncontrolled direction of the affairs of the nation. One by one, they have beat down all the ancient safeguards of British industry, and given effect to the whole theoretical doctrines of the political economists. So complete has been their ascendency in the national councils—90 entire in general the acquiescence of the nation in their direction, that, without one single exception, all their doctrines have been carried into practice ; and the year 1847 exhibits a fair, and it may be presumed average result of the Liberal system when reduced into execution.

The result is so curious, its lessons are so pregnant with instruction, its warning of coming disaster is so terrible, that we gladly avail ourselves of the opening of a new year to portray them in a few paragraphs to our readers.

The first great change which took place in British policy was in 1819, by the famous Bank Restriction Act, passed in that year. Every one knows that the obligation on the Bank of England to pay in specie was suspended by Mr Pitt in February 1797; and that under that system the empire continued to rise with all the difficulties by which it was surrounded, until in the latter years of the war it bore without difficulty an annual expenditure of from £110,000,000 to £120,000,000 annually. But under the new system introduced in 1819, the currency was restricted by imposing on the bank the obligation of paying its notes, when presented, not in gold or silver, but in GOLD ALONE. The currency was based on the article in commerce most difficult to keep, most easy of transport, most ready to slip away—the most precious of the precious metals. The result has been that the nation—which, with a population of 18,000,000 of souls, raised without difficulty £71,000,000 annually by taxes, and from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000 annually by loans in 1813, 1814, and 1815, of which at least a half was sent abroad, and wholly lost to the nationis now, with a population of 28,000,000, not able to raise in round numbers above £51,000,000 on an average of years by taxation, and is brought to the verge of ruin by the purchase of £33,000,000 worth of foreign grain in 1846 and 1847, and the expenditure of £35,000,000 in 1846, and £25,000,000 in the first six months of 1847, on domestic railways, every shilling of which last sum was spent at home, and puts in motion industry within the nation.

The next great change was made in the year 1821, when the reciprocity system was introduced by Mr Huskisson. This subject has acquired great importance now, from the avowed intention on the part of Government, scarcely disguised in the opening speech of this session of Parliament, to follow up the proceedings of the committee which made such laborious inquiries last session, by a bill for the total abolition of the Navigation Laws. We shall not enlarge on this subject, the vastness and importance of which would require a separate paper. Suffice it to say, therefore, that here, too, experience has decisively warned us of the pernicious tendency of the path on which we have entered, and of the truth of Adam Smith's remark, that “though some of the

» *

regulations of this famous act may have proceeded from national animosity, they are all as wise as if dictated by the most deliberate wisdom. As defence is of much more importance than opulence, the Act of Navigation is perhaps the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England." It appears from the parliamentary tables compiled by Mr Porter, that, while the British tonnage with the Baltic powers had increased from 1801 to 1821, under the protective system, to a very considerable degree, theirs with us had declined during the same period ; under the reciprocity system, our tonnage with them had on the whole decreased to a third of its former amount, while their shipping with us had, during the same period, quadrupled. It further appears, from the same tables, that the great increase which has taken place during the same period, has arisen from the prodigious growth of our colonial trade, or increase of the countries with whom we had concluded no reciprocity treaties, but left them on the footing of the protection of the old Navigation Laws. And though the profits of shipping of all sorts have received a vast addition from the enormous importations consequent upon Sir R. Peel's free-trade measures, yet the returns of these years prove that the greater part of this increase has accrued to foreign states and powers, which may at any time turn the maritime resources thus acquired against ourselves. Suffice it to say, as an example of this

* Wealth of Nations, vol. ii. b. iv. c. ii. p. 195.

+ Table showing the British and Foreign tonnage with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Prussia, since the Reciprocity treaties with these powers in 1821.

SWEDEN.

NORWAY.

DENMARK

PRUSSIA.

British Foreign British Foreign British Foreign British Foreign
Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage. Tonnage.

[blocks in formation]

truth, that of the ships which, in 1846, imported 4,900,000 quarters of corn into the British harbours, no less than threefourths were foreign vessels, and only one-fourth British. Nevertheless, so insensible are political fanatics to the most decisive facts, when they militate against their favourite theories, that it is in the full knowledge of these facts that Government are understood to be prepared to introduce, even in this session of parliament, a measure for the abolition, or at least the essential abrogation, of the Navigation Laws.

The third great change made during the last quarter of a century has been in the government of Ireland. Here, if anywhere, the Liberal system has received its full development, and has had the fairest opportunity for displaying its unmixed blessings. The Catholic disabilities, which we had been told for thirty years were the main cause of its distressed condition, were repealed in 1829.

A large measure of parliamentary reform -larger than the most vehement Irish patriots ventured to dream of—was conceded in 1832. Corporate reform succeeded in 1834 ; the Protestant corporations were dispossessed of power ; the entire management of all the boroughs of the kingdom was put into the hands of the Romish multitude; and a large portion of the county magistracy was, by the appointment of successive Liberal Lord-Chancellors, drawn from the better part of those of the same religious persuasion. The Protestant clergy were deprived of a fourth of their incomes to appease the Romish Cerberus; and, to avoid the vexation of collecting tithes from persons of a different religious belief, they were laid directly as a burden on the land; Maynooth was supported by annual grants from government; the system of national education was modified so as to please the Roman Catholic clergy. Monster meetings, where sedition was always, treason often, spoken, headed by O'Connell, were allowed to go on, without the slightest opposition, for two years; and when at length the evil had risen to such a height that it could no longer be endured, the leading Agitator, after being convicted in Ireland, was liberated, in opposition to the opinion of a great majority of the twelve judges, by the casting-vote in the House of Peers of a Whig law-Lord. British liberality, when the season of

« EdellinenJatka »