« EdellinenJatka »
the means of attack in the hands of our enemies. Not content with rendering us dependent for a large part of our bread on foreign nations, they are determined on measures calculated to deprive us of the means of maintaining our naval snperiority, or upholding the national independence. They are set upon saving the nation a few millions a-year in freight, though the consequence is, that we shall be alike unable to withstand a pacific blockade or hostile aggression.
Many estimable and thoughtful persons in the country, struck with astonishment at the adoption and determined adherence to such a suicidal policy-alike by our rulers and a powerful party in the country—in the face of the decisive evidence afforded by facts, and the universal distress of the nation, as to its ruinous tendency, have come to the opinion, that we have been struck with a judicial blindness, and that Providence, as a just punishment for our sins, and for the furtherance of its mysterious designs in the general government of mankind, has rendered our own infatuation the means of working out our destruction. They think it affords a marvellous proof of the weakness of the human mind, and the impotence of man against the arm of his Creator, that this vast empire, which has done such mighty things in the annals of history, and which has stood proof against the hostility of the combined world, directed by consummate ability, when its rule was that of justice, should thus crumble away and perish, not from external violence or foreign aggression, but solely from domestic infatuation, when that rule has passed away. And observing that this country has already suffered greater losses, and been more severely crippled in its resources by the effects of three years of free trade and fettered currency policy, than by the whole efforts of France during a war of twenty years, and that still the same course is blindly persevered in,--they draw the conclusion that the evil is irremediable by human means, and that the nation, if not absolutely shipwrecked, will approach as near the verge of ruin as the providence of God will permit human infatuation to effect.
Without denying that there is much truth in these observations, and humbly acknowledging a Divine superintendence alike in the rise and the decline, the prosperity and decay, of nations, it yet appears more reasonable to trace the
extraordinary obstinacy of the ruling party in the nation to the causes which, humanly speaking, seem to have been mainly instrumental in producing it. The fanaticism of the political economists, who, like all other fanatics, are inaccessible to reason or experience, is, without doubt, a main cause of the disastrous policy to which the nation seems now irrevocably pledged. But a still more powerful agent in producing the determined adherence to this system, in the face of the most conclusive evidence of its pernicious tendency, is to be found in the class government which it is now apparent the Reform Bill has imposed upon the nation. It is now unhappily proved that the trading interest, in whom a decisive majority both in the constituency and the number of seats in Parliament has been vested by the Reform Bill, are alive, like all other classes, mainly to the suggestions of their own advantage ; and that advantage they think is, to buy cheap and sell dear. Whatever we were in the days when Napoleon said it, we are now, if not a nation of shopkeepers, at least a nation ruled by shopkeepers. The colonies are entirely unrepresented. Schedules A and B, sixteen years ago, cut off all their representatives. The landed interest is in a minority, from two-thirds of the seats in the Commons being for boroughs; and those boroughs, owing to the depression of the producing classes by the currency laws, and the vast increase of the trading interests from the same cause, being for the most part under the direction of the commercial part of the community. It is in these circumstances that we are to look for the real causes of the adoption of free-trade principles of late years by our statesmen, and the determined adherence to it, in spite of all experience, by a majority of the House of Commons. Such conduct is the inevitable result of every uniform system of representation, because that lands the Government in the class government of the majority, composed of a particular interest. The evil was not felt under the old constitution, because it was not a class government, being based on a multifarious, not a uniform representation. Its defects, as they are now called, i. e. its nomination boroughs, combined with the extension of our colonial and shipping interests, had let in a most efficient representation of all the interests in the empire, as well as that of the
inhabitants of these islands, into the House of Commons. It is to this cause that the protection of all interests by the old House of Commons is to be ascribed. Doubtless, under the old system the Corn Laws would have been upheld ; but the West Indies would have been saved from ruin, domestic industry rescued from bankruptcy, and the Navigation Laws, the palladium of our national independence, preserved from destruction.
That the Navigation Laws have been a great advantage to our shipowners and seafaring interests is self-evident. They afforded superior advantages in conducting the trade of the empire to British over foreign shipowners; and they nursed up, accordingly, the immense and hardy body of British seamen, who have founded and protected our colonial empire, and rendered Great Britain the terror and admiration of the world. What, then, is the great benefit which is anticipated from the repeal of laws, the practical operation of which has been attended with such uniform and unparalleled benefits? The benefit is, that it will save our merchants some millions a-year in the payment of freights. It is calculated by the Free-traders that £30,000,000 yearly is paid by Great Britain for freights; and of this sum, it is thought a fourth, or £7,500,000 yearly, may be saved by the employment of foreign instead of British sailors in the conducting of our commerce, or the reduction of freight and seamen's wages in these islands, which will result from their unrestrained competition. This is the benefit to attain which our Navigation Laws, the nursery of our seamen, are to be sacrificed. And the question to be considered is, Is the gain real, or apparent only; and, supposing it is real, is it worth the risk with which it is attended ?
Is the advantage real, or apparent only ? Concede to the Free-traders all they contend for : call the saving to the nation annually in freights, to be effected by free trade in shipping, not $7,500,000, but £10,000,000 annually. The strength of the argument will admit of almost any concession. Admit this, and consider what it is worth, and on whom it is made. It is not worth a fiftieth part of the revenue of the nation, which, in the produce of land and manufactures alone, is above £500,000,000 annually. A
week of sunshine in autumn, a favourable set of Fall orders from America, the stoppage of a revolution in Europe, are each worth more to the nation. But, such as it is, from whom is it gained ? Why, it is all gained from our own people : it is a saving effected to one class of our inhabitants by impoverishing another class. If our merchants and the purchasers from them pay £20,000,000 a-year for freight of goods sea-borne, instead of £30,000,000 as formerly, undoubtedly there is a saving of £10,000,000 to them, or the consumers who buy from them. But from whom is this saving made ? From whom is it derived ? Is it not from our shipbuilders, shipowners, and seamen, who get so much the less : either by being driven out of the market by foreign mercantile navies, or by getting their own profits or wages reduced by external competition to that amount ? Ten millions now earned by shipowners and sailors in Great Britain, is, on the most favourable supposition for the Freetraders, taken from them, and given to the dealers in or consumers of the commodities which they transport. Is the nation, as a whole, any gainer by that transfer? If ten pounds are taken from John and given to James, are Jobn and James, taken together, any gainers by the transfer? And is not the great family of the nation composed of all its members, not of John only, but of John and James taken together? Is not the repeal of the Navigation Laws, in this view, robbing Peter to pay Paul ? This is the mighty advantage, for the attainment of which we are going to crush by external competition our mercantile shipping, and endanger the national independence by withering the nursery of the navy, by which it can alone be maintained ! Can there be a stronger proof of how completely, by the operation of the Reform Bill, we have fallen under the influence of class government; and how entirely such class government blinds the vision even of the most clear-sighted, to anything but the perception of its own immediate interests ?
The evidence taken before the Commons' committee, on the comparative cost of building and navigating ships in the north of Europe and in this country, comes to this, that both are about twice as expensive in this country as on the shores of the Baltic. A copper-sheathed vessel, which there
costs £4500, cannot here be constructed for less than £9000 : a master's wages there, which are £2, lls. amonth, are here £5 for the same period : seamen's, there 7d. a-day, besides provisions, &c., are here 1s. 2d. Everything else is in the same proportion. Shipbuilding and ship-navigating are twice as costly in Great Britain as they are in Norway and Denmark. How could it be otherwise, when they have the materials of ships and rigging at their doors, while we have to transport them to the British shores from Canada or the Baltic ; and they are the poor nations, whose money being scarce goes far, and we are the rich one, whose money being comparatively plentiful goes but a little way ? Compare the cost of living in London during the season, with what it is in Aberdeen or Inverness, and you will at once see the main cause of the extraordinary difference in the value of money, and consequently in the moneyprice of articles in the two situations. The difference in the cost of shipbuilding and seamanship, viz., one half, is nearly the same as the difference in the cost of raising sugar in our free labour colonies and the foreign slave ones, which is £10 a ton in the former situation, and £4 in the latter. And it is in the perfect knowledge of the entire ruin which the approach even to a free trade in sugar has brought, under these circumstances, upon the British West India islands, that Government are prepared to force a similar disastrous competition upon the British shipowners, and through them on the palladium of British independence, the royal navy
Mr Labouchere said, in the debate on this subject in the House of Commons, that the Protection Party seemed to consider every importation as in itself an evil, inasmuch as it displaced a corresponding amount of native industry ; but that till he found that goods were brought by merchants into the country for nothing, he never could see how importation did not encourage domestic industry as much as home orders. This is manfully spoken : it comes home to the kernel of the question. It is pleasing to have to contend with such an antagonist. We will answer him equally briefly, and, as it seems to us, decisively. The difference between home orders and foreign orders is this, that the one encourages industry at both ends, viz., in the consumers and