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one sense this is undoubtedly true. It is certain that the most staunch Protectionists would never have objected to the largest importation of grain, and exportation of sovereigns, in a period such as that of severe and unlooked-for scarcity. It was the precise object of the sliding-scale to admit grain, in periods of scarcity, free of all duty. But what the Free-traders and Sir Robert Peel are chargeable with, is having established a system of currency so fettered and restricted by absurd regulations, that the exportation of sovereigns led necessarily and inevitably to a contraction of paper accommodation, and a shock to credit over the whole country; and aggravated the danger by a monstrous regulation, which exposed the bank to the risk of stopping payment when they had still £8,000,000 in gold-enough to have enabled them, perhaps, to go on-at one end of their establishment. They are responsible for the dreadful error of having not only done nothing to extend the currency and secure it from being exported or contracted, when they had added so enormously to the internal engagements of the kingdom, but of having done everything, by the establishment of a permanent system of free trade and a permanently fettered currency, to secure the return of such a crisis as the late one, on occasion of every future recurrence of an indifferent harvest, or any continuance of a great importation.
It is the consciousness of this terrible calamity impending over the nation, which terrifies all the directors of banks, and paralyses industry in so grievous a manner over the whole country. If you ask any moneyed man, what is the cause of the insecurity so universally complained of in money transactions over the country, and the reluctance of bankers to advance largely, even when their coffers are overflowing, to persons of the best credit ? they will invariably answer, that they are afraid of a commercial crisis ; they do not know when it may come on; and that they must be, at all times, prepared for a storm. It is this indefinite dread, the natural result of the catastrophe of 1847, which renders them so cautious, and keeps the nation starved of accommodation, at the very time that Lombard Street is overflowing with money seeking for investment. It is no wonder they are afraid. The sword of Damocles is suspended over their heads, and thence their terror. They know that the heary rains and consequent importation of grain, in 1839, into the British islands, forced the Bank of England to apply for aid to the Bank of France, caused the United States Bank of America to stop payment, and rendered threefourths of the traders in the United States bankrupt. The recollection of the dreadful crisis of 1847, brought on by the great importation of grain and exportation of sovereigns in that year, is fresh in their minds. They see the importations of food going on without intermission, in the face of exceedingly low prices, at the rate of fifteen millions of quartersa-year, being nearly quadruple that of 1839, which was 4,000,000 quarters.* They know that the grain countries will take our gold to any amount, but not our manufactures, because they do not want them, or are too poor to buy them; and they ask, How is all this grain to be paid for? In what is all this to end? How are the bills, drawn to pay for these exports, to be met ? So general is this feeling of dread, from the effects of a drain on our metallic resources to pay for the vast importations of grain going forward, that when the author, in the beginning of last autumn, said to the chief officer of one of the first banking establishments in Britain, that “three weeks' rain in August would render half the merchants in England bankrupt,” he replied—“Sir, three weeks' rain in August will make half the merchants in Europe bankrupt.”
That it is this fatal dependence of the currency, and consequent credit of the country, on the retention of its gold circulation, under circumstances when, from the vast importation of grain going forward, it is impossible to retain it, which is the real cause of the calamitous state of the country, for the last three years, and not either the potato rot or the European revolutions to which the Free-traders ascribe it
, is evident on the slightest consideration. The potato rot
All kinds of Imported, month Grain. ending
320,764 1,213,888 London Gazette, April 20, 1849.
Oct 30, 1849.
Aug. 20, 1849.
of 1846, which has been the sheet-anchor of the Freetraders ever since—the scapegoat which they hoped would answer for all their sins—was never, by the most determined of their party, set down as having occasioned a loss of above £15,000,000 sterling. Call it £20,000,000, to avoid cavil. The strength of the case will admit of any concession. Now, the value of the agricultural produce of the United Kingdom, prior to the free trade in grain, was generally estimated at £300,000,000.* A deficiency of £20,000,000, or a fifteenth part, might occasion, doubtless, the most acute local distress in the districts in which it was most severely felt ; but it could never, irrespective of its action on the currency, occasion a general monetary and commercial crisis. England and Scotland exported little or nothing to the men of Munster and Connaught, where the failure occurred. There is no more reason, had it not been for the currency laws, why a failure of the potato crop in Ireland should have produced a monetary crisis in Great Britain, than a failure in the potato crop of Norway.
Again, the revolutions in Europe in 1848, of which so much has been said to account for the distress, are equally inadequate to explain the phenomenon. They could, of course, affect the European market for our export goods only ; and they only amount in all, to the countries affected by the revolutions, to £13,000,000—little more than a fourth part of our exports, which vary from £51,000,000 to £60,000,000. Supposing a half of this export, or £7,000,000, had been lost, during the year 1848, by the French, German, and Italian revolutions; what is that amidst the mass, thirty-fold greater, of our total manufactures, which some years ago were estimated at £133,000,000 for the home market, and £50,000,000 for the foreign? They are now unquestionably for the home and foreign market together above £200,000,000 annually. But let it be supposed that the whole defalcation of our exports, from £60,000,000 in 1845, to £53,000,000 in 1848, was owing to the European revolutions, and none at all to the paralysis of domestic industry by the effects of free trade and a fettered currency-seven millions deficit
Viz.-19,135,000 arable acres, at £7 each,
27,000,000 acres of grass, at £6 each,
--PORTER's Progress of the Nation, 158; 2d edition.
, out of £200,000,000 annual produce of manufactures, is only a twenty-ninth part. Is it possible that so trifling a deficit can have been the cause of the terrible calamity which overtook the country in 1848 and 1849, the more especially as the harvest of 1847 was so good, that, by orders of Government, a public thanksgiving was returned for it? That calamity was unparalleled in point of extent, and has, in two years, swept away at least one half of the whole commercial and manufacturing wealth of the kingdom. The thing is perfectly ridiculous. The failure of an eighth part of our annual export, and a twenty-ninth part of our annual creation of manufactures, might occasion considerable distress in the particular places or branches of manufacture principally affected, but it could never explain the universal paralysis, affecting the home trade even more than the foreign, which followed the monetary crisis of October 1847.
Again, as to the European revolutions of 1848, although, undoubtedly, they largely contributed to interrupt the commerce of this country with central Europe, and may fairly be considered as the principal cause of the decline in the exports of that year, yet it may be doubted whether the influx of wealth from the distracted monarchies of Europe which they occasioned, did not more than counterbalance that disadvantage. England, during the convulsions of France, Germany, and Italy, became the bank of Europe. Wealth flowed in from all quarters, for investment in the only capital left which held out the prospect of security
. The solid specie which then was brought to London for purchase into the British funds, in the course of 1848, has been estimated, by competent authorities, at £9,000,000 sterling. Beyond all doubt, this great influx of the precious metals from continental Europe—at a time when it was so much required, in consequence of the enormous exportation of specie which free trade was inducing, and the monstrous monetary laws which contracted the paper circulation in proportion as the specie was withdrawn—had a powerful effect in counteracting the evils we had brought upon ourselves, and sustaining the currency and national credit
, which the Free
traders had done so much to destroy. And as this was an alleviation of the evil at its fountain-head, it is next to certain that the European revolutions of 1848, so far from having occasioned the distress in Great Britain in that year, had a material effect in abating it.
It is vain, therefore, for the Free-traders to push forward extraneous and separate events, as the cause of the dreadful calamities which have overtaken the country since October 1847; calamities which all the witnesses examined in both houses of Parliament, in the committees on commercial distress, described as altogether unparalleled. They arose, evidently, not from the failure of crops in a particular place, or the temporary stoppage in the foreign vent for a particular branch of manufacture—causes which only touched the extremities—but from some great cause affecting the heart of the empire, and which through it paralysed all its members. And when it is recollected that, after having landed the nation in extra domestic engagements, for the next four years, to the amount of £360,000,000, the Government adopted the most decisive and effective measures to contract the currency, and, after making it mainly dependent on the retention of gold in the country, they took steps which sent that gold headlong abroad—in exchange for enormously increased importations, the fruit of free tradeit is not difficult to discover what that cause was.
But all these evils, it is said, are over. We have passed through the desert, and arrived at the promised land. Free trade, disjoined from the extraneous circumstances which have hitherto concealed its real effect, is at length beginning to appear in its true colours. The Continent is pacified; the trade to France and Germany has revived ; the revenue is improving; the exports in September were £2,000,000 more than in the corresponding month of last year : wait a little and we shall soon be in Elysium, and free trade and a fettered currency will realise all their promised advantages. We are not unaware of the Io Pæans which are already sung from the Liberal camp on this subject, and it is precisely for this reason that, when FREE TRADE IS AT ITS ZENITH, we have taken the opportunity to examine its effects. We have seen that the prosperity from 1842 to 1845 arose from extraneous causes, with which the tariff of the first of