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condition of the people. The quantity of the means of subsistence consumed, or, to make use of a phraseology better suited to the condition of our own people, the quantity of the comforts of life enjoyed, is one of those means. It so happens, indeed, that it is not so easy in this country as elsewhere to ascertain facts of this sort with accuracy. Where most of the articles of subsistence and most of the comforts of life are taxed, there is, of course, great facility in ascertaining, from official statements, the amount of consumption. But in this country, most fortunately, the government neither knows, nor is concerned to know, the annual consumption; and estimates can only be formed in another mode, and in reference only to a few articles. Of these articles, tea is one. It is not quite a luxury, and yet is something above the absolute necessaries of life. Its consumption, therefore, will be diminished in times of adversity, and augmented in times of prosperity. By deducting the annual export from the annual import, and taking a number of years together, we may arrive at a probable estimate of consumption. The average of eleven years, from 1790 to 1800, inclusive, will be found to be two millions and a half of pounds. From 1801 to 1812, inclusive, the average was three millions seven hundred thousand; and the average of the last three years, to wit, 1821, 1822, and 1823, was five millions and a half. Having made a just allowance for the increase of our numbers, we shall still find, I think, from these statements, that there is no distress which has limited our means of subsistence and enjoyment.
In forming an opinion of the degree of general prosperity, we may regard, likewise, the progress of internal improvements, the investment of capital in roads, bridges, and canals. All these prove a balance of income over expenditure; they afford evidence that there is a surplus of profits, which the present generation is usefully vesting for the benefit of the next. It cannot be denied, that, in this particular, the progress of the country is steady and rapid.
We may look, too, to the sums expended for education. Are our colleges deserted? Do fathers find themselves less able than usual to educate their children? It will be found, I imagine, that the amount paid for the purpose of education is constantly increasing, and that the schools and colleges were never more full than at the present moment. I may add, that the endow. ment of public charities, the contributions to objects of general benevolence, whether foreign or domestic, the munificence of individuals towards whatever promises to benefit the community, are all so many proofs of national prosperity. And, finally, there is no defalcation of revenue, no pressure of taxation.
The general result, therefore, of a fair examination of the present condition of things, seems to me to be, that there is a considerable depression of prices, and curtailment of profit; and in some parts of the country, it must be admitted, there is a great degree of pecuniary embarrassment, arising from the difficulty of paying debts which were contracted when prices were high. With these qualifications, the general state of the country may be said to be prosperous; and these are not sufficient to give to the whole face of affairs any appearance of general distress.
Supposing the evil, then, to be a depression of prices, and a partial pecuniary pressure, the next inquiry is into the causes of that evil; and it appears to me that there are several; and in this respect, I think, too much has been imputed by Mr. Speaker to the single cause of the diminution of exports. Connected, as we are, with all the commercial nations of the world, and having observed great changes to take place elsewhere, we should consider whether the causes of those changes have not reached us, and whether we are not suffering by the operation of them, in common with others. Undoubtedly, there has been a great fall in the price of all commodities throughout the commercial world, in consequence of the restoration of a state of peace. When the Allies entered France in 1814, prices rose astonishingly fast, and very high. Colonial produce, for instance, in the ports of this country, as well as elsewhere, sprung up suddenly from the lowest to the highest extreme. A new and vast demand was created for the commodities of trade.
These were the natural consequences of the great political changes which then took place in Europe.
We are to consider, too, that our own war created new demand, and that a government expenditure of twenty-five or thirty million dollars a year had the usual effect of enhancing prices. We are obliged to add, that the paper issues of our banks carried the same effect still further. A depreciated currency existed in a great part of the country; depreciated to such an extent, that, at one time, exchange between the centre and the North was as high as twenty per
cent. The Bank of the United States was instituted to correct this evil; but, for causes which it is not necessary now to enumerate, it did not for some years bring back the currency of the country to a sound state. This depreciation of the circulating currency was so much, of course, added to the nominal prices of commodities, and these prices, thus unnaturally high, seemed, to those who looked only at the appearance, to indicate great prosperity. But such prosperity is more specious than real. It would have been better, probably, as the shock would have been less, if prices had fallen sooner. At length, however, they fell; and as there is little doubt that certain events in Europe had an influence in determining the time at which this fall took place, I will advert shortly to some of the principal of those events.
In May, 1819, the British House of Commons decided, by a unanimous vote, that the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England should not be deferred beyond the ensuing February. The restriction had been continued from time to time, and from year to year, Parliament always professing to look to the restoration of a specie currency whenever it should be found practicable. Having been, in July, 1818, continued to July, 1819, it was understood that, in the interim, the important question of the time at which cash payments should be resumed should be finally settled. In the latter part of the year 1818, the circulation of the bank had been greatly reduced, and a severe scarcity of money was felt in the London market. Such was the state of things in England. On the Continent, other important events took place. The French Indemnity Loan had been negotiated in the summer of 1818, and the proportion of it belonging to Austria, Russia, and Prussia had been sold. This created an unusual demand for gold and silver in those countries. It has been stated, that the amount of the precious metals transmitted to Austria and Russia in that year was at least twenty millions sterling Other large sums were sent to Prussia and to Denmark. The effect of this sudden drain of specie, felt first at Paris, was communicated to Amsterdam and Hamburg, and all other commercial places in the North of Europe.
The paper system of England had certainly communicated an artificial value to property. It had encouraged speculation, and excited over-trading. When the shock therefore came, and this violent pressure for money
acted at the same moment on the Continent and in England, inflated and unnatural prices could be kept up no longer. A reduction took place, which has been estimated to have been at least equal to a fall of thirty, if not forty per cent. The depression was universal; and the change was felt in the United States severely, though not equally so in every part. There are those, I am aware, who maintain that the events to which I have alluded did not cause the great fall of prices, but that that fall was natural and inevitable, from the previously existing state of things, the abundance of commodities, and the want of demand. But that would only prove that the effect was produced in another way, rather than by another cause. If these great and sudden calls for money did not reduce prices, but prices fell, as of themselves, to their natural state, still the result is the same; for we perceive that, after these new calls for money, prices could not be kept longer at their unnatural height.
About the time of these foreign events, our own bank system underwent a change; and all these causes, in my view of the subject, concurred to produce the great shock which took place in our commercial cities, and in many parts of the country. The year 1819 was a year
of numerous failures, and very considerable distress, and would have furnished far better grounds than exist at present for that gloomy representation of our condition which has been presented. Mr. Speaker has alluded to the strong inclination which exists, or has existed, in various parts of the country, to issue paper money, as a proof of great existing difficulties. I regard it rather as a very productive cause of those difficulties ; and the committee will not fail to observe, that there is, at this moment, much the loudest complaint of distress precisely where there has been the greatest attempt to relieve it by systems of paper credit. And, on the other hand, content, prosperity, and happiness are most observable in those parts of the country where there has been the least endeavor to administer relief by law. In truth, nothing is so baneful, so utterly ruinous to all true industry, as interfering with the legal value of money, or attempting to raise artificial standards to supply its place. Such remedies suit well the spirit of extravagant speculation, but they sap the very foundation of all honest acquisition. By weakening the security of property, they take
away all motive for exertion. Their effect is to transfer property. Whenever a debt is allowed to be paid by any thing less valuable than the legal currency in respect to which it was contracted, the difference between the value of the paper given in payment and the legal currency is precisely so much property taken from one man and given to another, by legislative enactment.
When we talk, therefore, of protecting industry, let us remember that the first measure for that end is to secure it in its earnings; to assure it that it shall receive its own. Before we invent new modes of raising prices, let us take care that existing prices are not rendered wholly unavailable, by making them capable of being paid in depreciated paper. I regard, Sir, this issue of irredeemable paper as the most prominent and deplorable cause of whatever pressure still exists in the country; and, further, I would put the question to the members of this committee, whether it is not from that part of the people who have tried this paper system, and tried it to their cost, that this bill receives the most earnest support? And I cannot forbear to ask, further, whether this support does not proceed rather from a general feel. ing of uneasiness under the present condition of things, than from the clear perception of any benefit which the measure itself can confer? Is not all expectation of advantage centred in a sort of vague hope, that change may produce relief? Debt certainly presses hardest where prices have been longest kept up by artificial means. They find the shock lightest who take it soonest; and I fully believe that, if those parts of the country which now suffer most, had not augmented the force of the blow by deferring it, they would have now been in a much better condition than they are. We may assure ourselves, once for all, Sir, that there can be no such thing as payment of debts by legislation. We may abolish debts indeed; we may transfer property by visionary and violent laws. But we deceive both ourselves and our constituents, if we flatter either ourselves or them with the hope that there is any relief against whatever pressure exists, but in economy and industry. The depression of prices and the stagnation of business have been in truth the necessary result of circumstances. No government could prevent them, and no government can altogether relieve the people from their effect. We have enjoyed a day of extraordinary pros