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the higher parts of the edifice : its equilibrium is unstable, and a rude shock would precipitate the whole into the dust, never more to arise.
Now, one of the first effects of the passing of the Reform Bill, of course, will be the repeal of the Corn Laws. There is no man in his senses who can hesitate a moment as to that consequence. Ministers make no secret of their intention to propose it, among the first measures, to the Reformed parliament; and it will be one of the numerous subjects on which such peremptory pledges will be exacted from the member as to render its passing a matter of moral certainty. When it is recollected that 300 English members of the Reformed house are to be for the boroughs, and only 150 for the counties, it may easily be anticipated that this effect is certain. And in vain will the House of Peers strive to resist such a result : their power must have been so completely extinguished before the Reform Bill is past, that any resistance on their part would be speedily overcome.
This first and unavoidable consequence of this great change will at once set the manufacturing classes at variance with the agricultural interest; and then will commence that fatal war between the different classes of society, which has hitherto been only repressed by the weight and authority of a stable, and, in a certain degree, hereditary government, composed of an intermixture of the representatives of all interests. When it is recollected that wheat can be raised with ease, in Poland, at prices varying from 17s. to 20s. a quarter, and that it can be laid down on the
any harbour in Britain at from 33s. to 40s., it may easily be anticipated what a revolution in prices will
, in the first instance, be effected by this measure. We say in the first instance—for nothing seems clearer than that the ultimate effect will be, by throwing a large portion of British land out of cultivation, and in its stead producing a more extensive growth of grain on the shores of the Vistula, to restore the equilibrium between the supply of corn and its consumption, and, by means of destroying a large portion of British agriculture, raise the prices again to their former standard.
The Reformers will observe, that even this first effect of lowering prices is not to be deprecated, because it is in truth
depriving, in their elegant language, the borough-mongers of the means of enriching themselves on the labour of the people. We agree in this position, so far as the interests of the landlords are concerned : because nothing is clearer than that no one class should be permitted, by monopoly, to enrich itself on the industry of their neighbours. But if the ultimate effect is to be, that, after the lapse of a few years, and the destruction of a large part of our agriculture, prices are to be restored to their former level, and the monopoly quietly handed over to the foreign cultivator—by reason of his permanent and indestructible advantages in the price of labour, the absence of taxes, and the richness of soil—then the question comes to be, whether this temporary reduction of price is worth being purchased at the price of the misery and confusion which it would produce ?
Now, the misery arising from the reduction of the resources of the farmer could not be confined to his own class in society ; it would immediately and seriously affect the manufacturing and commercial interests. The great trade of every country, as Adam Smith long ago remarked, is between the town and the country : by far the greatest part of the produce of our looms is consumed by those who, directly or indirectly, are fed by the British plough. Not the haughty aristocrat only, who spends his life in luxurious indolence among his hereditary trees, but the innumerable classes who are maintained by his rents and fed by his expenditure—the numerous creditors who draw large parts of his rent through their mortgages, and live in affluence in distant towns upon the produce of his land—the farmers, who subsist in comparative comfort on the industry which they exert on his estates--the tradesmen and artisans, who are fed by his expenditure or the wants of his tenantryall would suffer alike by such a change of prices as should seriously affect the industry of the cultivators. Every shopkeeper knows how much he is dependent on the expenditure of those who directly or indirectly are maintained by the land, and what liberal purchasers landlords are, compared to those who subsist by manufactures ; and it is probable that the first and greatest sufferers by the repeal of the Corn Laws would be many of those very persons whose blind cry for Reform had rendered it unavoidable.
Now, the discouragement of British agriculture consequent on a free trade in corn would be permanent, although the benefit to the inhabitants of towns could only be temporary. After the destruction of a large portion of British agriculture had been effected, by the immense inundation of foreign grain, prices would rise again to their former level, because the monopoly would then be vested in the hands of the foreign growers ; and the bulky nature of grain renders it physically impossible to introduce an unlimited supply of that article by sea transport. But the condition of British agriculture would not be materially benefited by the change; because prices would rise solely in consequence of the British grower being, for the most part, driven out of the field ; and could be maintained at a high level only by his being kept from an extensive competition with the foreign cultivator. Should the British farmers, recovering from their consternation, recommence the active agriculture which at present maintains our vast and increasing population, the consequence would be, that prices would immediately fall to such a degree, as speedily to reduce them to their natural and unavoidable state of inferiority to the farmers of the Continent.
In considering this subject, there are two important circumstances to be kept in view, proved abundantly by experience, but which have not hitherto met with the general attention which they deserve.
The first of these is, that, in agriculture—differing in this respect from manufactures—the introduction of machinery, or the division of labour, can effect no reduction whatever in the price of its produce, or the facility of its production ; and perhaps the best mode of cultivation yet known is that which is carried on by the greatest possible application of human labour, in the form of spade cultivation. The proof of this is decisive. Great Britain, with the aid of the steamengine, can undersell the weavers of Hindostan with muslins manufactured out of cotton grown on the banks of the Ganges; but it is undersold in its own markets by the wheat grower on the banks of the Vistula, or in the basin of the Missis
sippi. It is in vain, therefore, for a state like England, burdened with high prices and an excessive taxation—the natural consequence of commercial opulence—to hope that its industry can, in agriculture as in manufactures, withstand the competition of the foreign grower. Machinery, skill
, and capital can easily counteract high prices in all other articles of human consumption ; in agriculture, they can produce no such effect. This is a law of nature which will subsist to the end of the world.
The second is, that a comparatively small importation of grain produces a prodigious effect on the prices at which it is sold. The importation of a tenth part of the annual consumption does not, it is calculated, lower prices a tenth, but a half—and so on with the importation of smaller quantities. This has always been observed, and is universally acknowledged by political economists. Although, therefore, the greatest possible importation of foreign grain must always be a part only of that required for the consumption of the whole people, yet still the effect upon the current rate of prices would be most disastrous. The greatest importation ever known was in 1801, when it amounted, in consequence of the scarcity, to an eighteenth part of the annual consumption ; but the free introduction of much less than that quantity would reduce the price of wheat in the first instance, in an ordinary year, to 45s. the quarter.
The repeal of the Corn Laws, therefore, is calculated to inflict a permanent wound on the agricultural resources of the empire, and permanently injure all the numerous classes who depend on that branch of industry, and confer only a temporary benefit, by the reduction of prices, on the manufacturing labourers.
The benefit is temporary, and mixed up, even at first, with a most bitter portion of alloy ; the evil lasting, and unmitigated by any benefit whatever.
But it is precisely because this repeal is calculated to effect this temporary and immediate, however ultimately ruinous, reduction of prices, that its adoption may be calculated upon as a matter of perfect certainty by the Reformed Parliament. Great bodies of men never look beyond the immediate consequences of their actions. If it was otherwise, vice, improvidence, and intoxication would be banished from the world—for nothing is more certain than that all these things are ultimately hurtful to those who indulge in them ; notwithstanding which, the march of intellect has effected no diminution whatever in their indulgence. If men had looked beyond the immediate effects of present objects, the Reform candidates would never have been supported at the recent elections by the rural freeholders ; for nothing is more certain than that, in bringing them into the legislature, they were laying the surest foundation for their own ultimate ruin. But men never do this. History, equally with recent experience, demonstrates that large bodies, even of the most intelligent men, never look beyond present consequences; and it is not to be supposed that the £10 householders will form an exception to the general rule.
But if the argument of the Reformers were really well founded, that the repeal of the Corn Laws, which they so strenuously support, would permanently and materially lower the price of grain, the consequences would be still more disastrous ; and such a consummation would hasten a catastrophe, which it is much to be feared no human efforts, under the new constitution, will be able permanently to avert.
Let it be conceded that the hopes of the Reformers are realised ; that, by drawing our supplies from the shores of the Vistula and the Seine, instead of those of the Thames and the Forth, the price of wheat is permanently lowered from 60s. to 30s. a quarter, or about half its present standard. Let it be supposed that the stagnation, want of employment, and misery, consequent upon a large portion of our agricultural labourers being thrown out of employment, is got over ; that funds destined for the payment of our mortgage creditors are somehow or other provided from other sources; and that the tradesmen and artificers who now depend on the land for their employment, have contrived to get other customers, who have supplied the place of those whom they have lost. Let all this be supposed, and then let it be coolly considered what effect such a change must have on the engagements of individuals and of the state.