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the committee to state at any length the opinions of other governments, or of the public men of other countries, upon a subject like this, but an occasional remark made by me the other day, having been so directly controverted, especially by Mr. Speaker, in his observations yesterday, I must take occasion to refer to some proofs of what I have stated.
What, then, is the state of English opinion ? Every body knows that, after the termination of the late European war, there came a time of great pressure in England. Since her example has been quoted, let it be asked in what mode her government sought relief. Did it aim to maintain artificial and unnatural prices? Did it maintain a swollen and extravagant paper circulation? Did it carry further the laws of prohibition and exclusion ? Did it draw closer the cords of colonial restraint? No, Sir, but precisely the reverse. Instead of relying on legislative contrivances and artificial devices, it trusted to the enterprise and industry of the people, which it sedulously sought to excite, not by imposing restraint, but by removing it, wherever its removal was practicable. In May, 1820, the attention of the government having been much turned to the state of foreign trade, a distinguished member * of the House of Peers brought forward a Parliamentary motion upon that subject, followed by an ample discussion and a full statement of his own opinions. In the course of his remarks, he observed, that there ought to be no prohibitory duties, as such; for that it was evi. dent, that, where a manufacture could not be carried on, or a production raised, but under the protection of a prohibitory duty, that manufacture, or that produce, could not be brought to market but at a loss. In his opinion, the name of strict prohibition might, therefore, in commerce, be got rid of altogether; but he did not see the same objection to protecting duties, which, while they admitted of the introduction of commodities from abroad similar to those which we ourselves manufactured, placed them so much on a level as to allow a competition between them.” " No axiom,” he added, “ was more true than this: that it was by growing what the territory of a country could grow most cheaply, and by receiving from other countries what it could not produce except at too great an expense, that the greatest degree of happiness was to be communicated to the greatest extent of population."
* Lord Lansdowne. 10
In assenting to the motion, the first minister of the crown expressed his own opinion of the great advantage resulting from unrestricted freedom of trade. “Of the soundness of that general principle," he observed, “I can entertain no doubt. I can entertain no doubt of what would have been the great advantages to the civilized world, if the system of unrestricted trade had been acted upon by every nation from the earliest period of its commercial intercourse with its neighbors. If to those advantages there could have been any exceptions, I am persuaded that they would have been but few; and I am also persuaded that the cases to which they would have referred would not have been, in themselves, connected with the trade and commerce of England. But we are now in a situation in which, I will not say that a reference to the principle of unrestricted trade can be of no use, because such a reference may
correct erroneous reasoning, but in which it is impossible for us, or for any country in the world but the United States of America, to act unreservedly on that principle. The commercial regulations of the European world have been long established, and cannot suddenly be departed from.” Having supposed a proposition to be made to England by a foreign state for free commerce and intercourse, and an unrestricted exchange of agricultural products and of manufactures, he proceeds to observe: “ It would be impossible to accede to such a proposition. We have risen to our present greatness under a different system. Some suppose that we have risen in consequence of that system; others, of whom 1 am one, believe that we have risen in spite of that system. But, whichever of these hypotheses be true, certain it is that we have risen under a very different system than that of free and unrestricted trade. It is utterly impossible, with our debt and taxation, even if they were but half their existing amount, that we can suddenly adopt the system of free trade."
Lord Ellenborough, in the same debate, said, “ that he attributed the general distress then existing in Europe to the regulations that had taken place since the destruction of the French power. Most of the states on the Continent had surrounded
• Lord Liverpool
themselves as with walls of brass, to inhibit intercourse with other states. Intercourse was prohibited, even in districts of the same state, as was the case in Austria and Sardinia. Thus, though the taxes on the people had been lightened, the severity of their condition had been increased. He believed that the discontent which pervaded most parts of Europe, and especially Germany, was more owing to commercial restrictions than to any theoretical doctrines on government; and that a free communication among them would do more to restore tranquillity, than any other step that could be adopted. He objected to all attempts to frustrate the benevolent intentions of Providence, which had given to various countries various wants, in order to bring them together. He objected to it as anti-social; he objected to it, as making commerce the means of barbarizing, instead of enlightening, nations. The state of the trade with France was most disgraceful to both countries; the two greatest civilized nations of the world, placed at a distance of scarcely twenty miles from each other, had contrived, by their artificial regulations, to reduce their commerce with each other to a mere nullity.” Every member speaking on this occasion agreed in the general sentiments favorable to unrestricted intercourse, which had thus been advanced ; one of them remarking, at the conclusion of the debate, that "the principles of free trade, which he was happy to see so fully recognized, were of the utmost consequence; for, though, in the present circumstances of the country, a free trade was unattainable, yet their task hereafter was to approximate to it. Considering the prejudices and interests which were opposed to the recognition of that principle, it was no small indication of the firmness and liberality of government to have so fully conceded it.”
Sir, we have seen in the course of this discussion, that several gentlemen have expressed their high admiration of the silk manufacture of England. Its commendation was begun, I think, by the honorable member from Vermont, who sits near me, who thinks that that alone gives conclusive evidence of the benefits produced by attention to manufactures, inasmuch as it is a great source of wealth to the nation, and has amply repaid all the cost of its protection. Mr. Speaker's approbation of this part of the English example was still warmer. Now, Sir, it does so happen, that both these gentlemen differ very widely on this point from the opinions entertained in England, by persons of the first rank, both as to knowledge and power. In the debate to which I have already referred, the proposer of the motion urged the expediency of providing for the admission of the silks of France into England." He was aware," he said, " that there was a poor and industrious body of manufacturers, whose interests must suffer by such an arrangement; and therefore he felt that it would be the duty of Parliament to provide for the present generation by a large Parliamentary grant. It was con formable to every principle of sound justice to do so, when the interests of a particular class were sacrificed to the good of the whole.” In answer to these observations, Lord Liverpool said that, with reference to several branches of manufactures, time, and the change of circumstances, had rendered the system of protecting duties merely nominal; and that, in his opinion, if all the protecting laws which regarded both the woollen and cotton manufactures were to be repealed, no injurious effects would thereby be occasioned. “But," he observes, “with respect to silk, that manufacture in this kingdom is so completely artificial, that any attempt to introduce the principles of free trade with reference to it might put an end to it altogether. I allow that the silk manufacture is not natural to this country. I wish we had never had a silk manufactory. I allow that it is natural to France; I allow that it might have been better, had each country adhered exclusively to that manufacture in which each is superior; and had the silks of France been exchanged for British cottons. But I must look at things as they are; and when I consider the extent of capital, and the immense population, consisting, I believe, of about fifty thousand persons, engaged in our silk manufacture, I can only say, that one of the few points in which I totally disagree with the proposer of the motion is the expediency, under existing circumstances, of holding out any idea, that it would be possible to relinquish the silk manufacture, and to provide for those who live by it, by Parliamentary enactment. Whatever objections there may be to the continuance of the protecting system, I repeat, that it is impossible altogether to relinquish it. I may regret that the system was ever commenced; but as I cannot recall that act, I must submit to the inconvenience by which it is attended, rather than expose the country to evils of greater magnitude." Let it be remembered, Sir, that these are not the sentiments of a theorist, nor the fancies of speculation; but the operative opinions of the first minister of England, acknowledged to be one of the ablest and most practical statesmen of his country.
Gentlemen could have hardly been more unfortunate than in the selection of the silk manufacture in England as an example of the beneficial effects of that system which they would recommend. It is, in the language which I have quoted, completely artificial. It has been sustained by I know not how many law's, breaking in upon the plainest principles of general expediency. At the last session of Parliament, the manufacturers petitioned for the repeal of three or four of these statutes, complaining of the vexatious restrictions which they impose on the wages of labor; setting forth, that a great variety of orders has from time to time been issued by magistrates under the authority of these laws, interfering in an oppressive manner with the minutest details of the manufacture : such as limiting the number of threads to an inch, restricting the widths of many sorts of work, and determining the quantity of labor not to be exceeded without extra wages; that by the operation of these laws, the rate of wages, instead of being left to the recognized principles of regulation, has been arbitrarily fixed by persons whose ignorance renders them incompetent to a just decision; that masters are compelled by law to pay an equal price for all work, whether well or ill performed; and that they are wholly prevented from using improved machinery, it being ordered, that work, in the weaving of which machinery is employed, shall be paid precisely at the same rate as if done by hand; that these acts have frequently given rise to the most vexatious regulations, the unintentional breach of which has subjected manufacturers to ruinous penalties; and that the introduction of all machinery being prevented, by which labor might be cheapened, and the manufacturers being compelled to pay at a fixed price, under all circumstances, they are unable to afford employment to their workmen, in times of stagnation of trade, and are compelled to stop their looms. And finally, they complain, that, notwithstanding these grievances under which they labor, while carrying on their manufacture in London, the law still prohibits them, while they continue to reside there, from employing any portion of their capital in the same business in any other part of the