Sivut kuvina

of others. The deficiency in the two islands has been stated variously, at from £16,000,000 to £20,000,000 worth. Take it at the larger sum to avoid all idea of misrepresentation, what is this to the total agricultural produce of Great Britain and Ireland ? That is estimated by Mr Porter on very rational grounds at £300,000,000 annually, in produce of all kinds. The subtraction of £20,000,000 worth-a fifteenth part, at the very utmost, could never account for the prodigious rise of prices from 49s. a quarter to 110s., which wheat rose to in March 1847. It was the impulse given to speculation in grain, by the sudden throwing open of the ports by Sir Robert Peel's free-trade measures, which really occasioned the prodigious importation, so much exceeding what was required, which actually took place. The defalcation occasioned by the Irish potato-rot, and the deficiency of the oat-crop in Great Britain, was at the very utmost a fifteenth part of the annual supply. But the grain imported in the first nine months of the year has exceeded 10,000,000 of quarters, being a full sixth part of the annual consumption of the nation, which for the use of man and animals together is estimated at 60,000,000 quarters. And hence the rapid fall of prices which followed the fine harvest of 1847, from 100s. to 50s., which has involved in ruin so many houses concerned in the corn trade.

But what is particularly worthy of notice, and what we in the most earnest manner beg to impress upon our readers as by far the most luminous and important fact which the recent discussions in Parliament have elicited, is this. It is stated, as has been already noticed, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the sum paid for foreign grain in the three months ending 30th November, 1847—that is, in the months of September, October, and November, 1847—bad reached the enormous and unprecedented amount of £14,240,000! The same statement was made by Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer added, that, to be sure of the figures, he had them remitted to and corrected by Mr Porter. Now, this immense importation, be it recollected, took place in the FACE OF THE FINEST HARVEST KNOWN FOR YEARS, and for which a public and solemn thanksgiving has just been returned. We say nothing of the prospects of foreign

importation which this fact opens to our agricultural interests, --that furnishes ample subject for future consideration ; what we pray the public attention to, is the warning which it gives of the effects of free trade upon the monetary concerns of the nation, and above all on the credit of the trading and commercial classes. This is the importation, in an uncommonly fine season, with a noble harvest in both islands just reaped! The dreadful monetary crisis of October 1847, which rendered the suspension of the Bank Charter Act, on the 25th of that month, indispensable, was evidently owing to the prodigious importation which all the fineness of the preceding harvest could not check. The crisis of April 1847 may with justice be ascribed to the failure of the potato crop in Ireland, and would probably have come on, though not with the same intensity, though the change on the corn laws had been made by Sir Robert Peel in the July preceding. But it is rather too much to go on talking, in December 1847, about the failure of the

crop of 1846 in Ireland, four months after one of the finest crops in the memory of man had been reaped in the British dominions.

This points to one great and lasting truth, the due appreciation of which by the people of Great Britain is of such paramount importance, that it will be cheaply purchased even at the cost of all the misery and destruction of property which the late crisis has occasioned in the British empire. This is, that the great importation of grain, and consequent abstraction of the precious metals consequent upon the free-trade system, may be expected to be permanent. We have repeatedly warned the nation in every possible form that this would be the case, but our warnings during the free-trade mania met with no attention. Now, however, it has been proved by the event that they were too well founded. The old and rich state will always be undersold by the young and poor one in the supply of grain for its own market. The grain-growing state never will take manufactures to any proportional extent, but always will take gold in exchange. This was the case with Rome in ancient days; this is the case with England in these times. The steam-engine and machinery do little or nothing for agriculture, though everything for manufactures. The great grain states are always those nations in which the labouring-class are poor, or have few artificial wants, and consequently take few or no manufactures. Poland, the Ukraine, the valley of the Mississippi, are examples. Gold is what they want, and what they will have ; for it is the cheapness of their production which enables them to export to advantage. So universal is this truth, of such paramount importance is it upon the fortunes of an old and highly civilised state, that, it may safely be affirmed, its existence in its old age depends on the requisite safeguards against the danger thence arising being established. Such are the effects of the constant drain of gold and importation of grain on such a state in its advanced stages, that even the strongest nation will sink in time under the strain, as Rome did, if nothing is done to avert the danger.

The present dreadful crisis under which the nation is labouring, therefore, is not owing to a want of capital for all its undertakings, nor to any present deficiency in our native supply of food. It is in vain that Sir R. Peel, to throw the blame off the Bank Charter Act, says it is all owing to a deficiency of capital to carry on our undertakings. Has the Right Hon. Baronet forgotten that, so recently as March last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer borrowed £8,000,000 for the destitute Irish at £3, 7s. 6d. per cent ? Was this like a nation whose capital was exbausted ? Has he forgotten that, till within these few months, the funds were from 88 to 90, and interest generally at 3 or 31 per cent? What has come of all this capital since August last ? Has it vanished before the genial showers and bright sun which gave us so fine a harvest ? But if deficient capital has been the cause of our disasters, how has it happened that Lord John Russell's letter of 25th October, authorising the Bank to make advances beyond what the Act allowed, has already had a sensible effect in arresting the disorder, at least in the metropolis ? Can it be said that that letter added one pound to the realised capital of the country ? It might as well be affirmed that it added a cubit to every man's stature in it, or a quarter to the produce of every field it contained. Then how has it to some degree arrested the panic in London, raised the 3-per-cents from 79 to 86, and lowered the interest of money from 8 or 9 to 6 or 7 per cent ? Evidently by its effect upon CREDIT ; because it begat a hope— not likely, we fear, to be realised—that Government had at last become sensible of the ruinous effect of the Bank Charter Act, and would speedily restore the circulation of the country to that amount which the magnitude of its population and transactions imperatively required.

To illustrate the terrible and all-powerful operation of this deplorable Act on the best interests of the country, let it be supposed for a moment that the whole currency of the country, without any change in its laws as affecting debtor and creditor, were to be withdrawn. What would be the result? Evidently that every man and woman it contained, from Queen Victoria and the Chancellor of the Exchequer downwards, would become bankrupt. A nation possessing real property, as the income-tax and poor-rate returns show, of the value of £3,000,000,000 sterling, and movable property of £2,000,000,000 more, would, without the exception of a single living creature in it, become bankrupt, because £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 was withdrawn from its circulation, while its laws remained unchanged. By these laws, every debtor must discharge his liabilities in money ; and, therefore, if the whole money was withdrawn, no debt could be discharged at all, and universal bankruptcy would


When money

Now, the contraction of the currency to any considerable extent operates, so far as it goes, in just the same way on general credit and the national fortunes. becomes scarce, no one can, without difficulty, discharge his obligations, because the banks, which are the reservoirs from which payment of all considerable transactions are drawn, cannot afford the usual accommodation. Those who are not in first-rate credit can get nothing from them at all, and at once become bankrupt. The sum-total of difficulty and embarrassment thus occasioned, is not to be measured by the amount of specie or bank-notes actually withdrawn from circulation by the Bank of England, though that on occasion of the present crisis has been very considerable. It is to be measured by the shock given to credit; the increase in the practice of hoarding, which a feeling of general insecurity never fails to engender; the reluctance in the country banks to make advances; the universal effort made to recover debts at the very time when the means of discharging them have been rendered most difficult ; the rapid diminution in the private bills put in circulation from the experienced impossibility of getting them discounted. The contraction of the currency on the part of the Bank of England, from July 1846, when it was £21,000,000, to September 1847, when it was only £17,840,000, was no less than £3,160,000. Including the simultaneous and consequent contraction by the country banks in Great Britain and Ireland, the diminution of the paper currency was above £5,000,000. But this, considerable as it is, was but a small part of the evil. The bills in circulation in Great Britain in 1839 were estimated by Mr Leathem, a most experienced Yorkshire banker, at £130,000,000. In 1845, it may safely be assumed that they had reached £160,000,000 or £170,000,000. Without a doubt this immense sum was reduced by at least a fourth, probably a half, from the contraction of the currency consequent on the Bank Act of 1844. It is this prodigious contraction, the necessary consequence of the banks having been rendered unable or unwilling to discount bills, which is the real cause of the present universal distress and general stoppage of all undertakings. And it was the more ruinous from the circumstance, that it occurred at the very time when, from the vast encouragement given by government to domestic railways by the bills they passed, and to foreign trade from the abolition by them of the main duties protective of industry, the nation was landed in transactions of unheard-of magnitude, and producing an unparalleled strain upon its metallic resources.

This last is a consideration of such paramount importance, that it is of itself adequate to explain the whole phenomena which have occurred; and yet, strange to say, it has hitherto met with very little attention either in or out of Parliament. . The point to which we allude, and to which we crave, in an especial manner, the attention of the nation, is the progressive and now alarming disproportion between the money value of our imports and our exports which has grown up ever since Sir Robert Peel's tariff was introduced in 1842, and which has now, from the action of the free trade in corn, risen to such a height as to be absolutely frightful. The declared or money values of our total exports and

« EdellinenJatka »