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preface before us, and Mr. Gladstone has employed it repeatedly in his speeches; and no doubt upon the occasion of the approaching Budget, with the election full in view, he will make the same boast again. The prosperity of the country has been increasing steadily for a great number of years past; but it has specially increased since the year 1840. It is also true that since that time a large portion of our modern free-trade measures have been passed. It is inferred that the Ministers who passed those free-trade measures are the authors of the prosperity we now enjoy. The claim might be plausible if no other cause of equal or greater magnitude had been in operation at the same time. It might be sustainable in argument, if the prosperity had been confined to the countries in which the policy of freetrade has been adopted. In either of these cases the boast might have enjoyed the benefit of some doubt; but as matters really stand, the case is too clear for argument. Two classes of causes have been in operation since the year 1840: on the one side, a certain number of Excise and Customs' duties have been abolished or reduced ; on the other, nearly the whole of our vast railway system has been created, and the gigantic gold discoveries of California and of Australia have been made. The question is, to which of these two classes is the enormous increase of England's material wealth during the last quarter of a century to be ascribed? There is no comparison between the power of the two. One of them affects only a limited number of articles, and a comparatively small section of trade ; the other affects the whole internal, and very much of the external, commerce of the kingdom. The modern facilities of conveyance have added practically twenty-four hours-often much more—to the commercial day; and, of course, the yearly profit of capital employed in trade has increased in the same proportion. The discoveries of gold have added some five hundred millions to the wealth of the world, and they have performed a service more important still. They have enormously extended the scope of an undepreciable circulation ; and, in proportion as they have done this, they have taken the heaviest strain off confidence and credit, and have emboldened timid capital to many a remunerative enterprise, from which, without such an encouragement, it would have shrunk. These two causes combined have at once accelerated and facilitated the operations of commerce, and furnished in unexampled abundance the material symbol of exchange, by whose instrumentality alone it could be securely carried on. These causes, wide in their working as trade itself, and introducing into the machinery of barter new conditions of security and speed, must have had an effect in quickening the accu
mulation of wealth, which it is ridiculous to compare to the effect of a slight remission of taxation, and the removal of some restrictions upon a few isolated articles of commerce. But the question is not left to be decided by theoretic calcudation. One of these two causes has been confined in its operation to England alone; the other has extended to the whole civilised world. The question, therefore, to which of them the increase of England's material prosperity is owing, is simply answered by ascertaining whether it has been confined to England or not. If so, it is clearly due to the cause which is confined to England. If, on the other hand, it appears that the prosperity of other countries has increased even more rapidly than that of England, it is evident that the cause to which it is to be ascribed is one that extends to them also. This has actually been the case.
Let us take the ten years from 1847 to 1856. It is a fair test period. It commences immediately after the full development of Sir Robert Peel's free-trade policy, and it includes several of the measures of Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone. In those years the imports of this country increased from 90,000,0001. to 172,000,0001.--at the rate of 90 per cent. Those of France, in the same period, increased from 955,000,000 francs to 1,872,000,000 francs, or at the rate of 96 per cent. English exports, during the same period, increased from 58,842,0001. to 115,826,0001., or at the rate of 96 per cent. But the exports of France, during the same period, increased from 719,759,000 francs to 1,865,800,000 francs, or 159 per cent. The exports of Austria during the same ten years increased 124 per cent. The growth of trade in Austria and France has, therefore, in recent years, been more rapid than the growth of trade in England, in the proportions respectively of 12, to 96 and 159 to 96 ; and the prosperity of Austria and France, at least, are not due to the patriotism of Sir R. Peel and Mr. Gladstone. Lord Russell arrays the modest sum of our exports in 1842, by the side of the gigantic totals to which we are accustomed now, and concludes his review of the whole subject with the magniloquent exclamation, 'So much do the strengthening breezes of freedom prove better nurses of hardy offspring, than the confined atmosphere of monopoly and restriction!' A very fine sentimentvery! It seems almost cynical to mar it by any prosaic reference to facts. But still there the awkward fact is, that the confined atmosphere' in two other large countries has produced a more Tapid growth than the strengthening breezes ' in our own.
It is natural that men should exaggerate the importance of the affairs in which they have themselves been concerned, and the efforts in which they have borne a part. Captain Marryat tells
us that it was a fixed persuasion among the Barbadians that the staunchness of Barbadoes was the one thing which enabled England to brave with success the perils of the Revolutionary war. Mr. Gladstone looks upon the energy and the industry of Englishmen from a point of view very similar to that of the gallant Barbadians. Englishmen may be deluded enough to think that if they have multiplied forges and factories, mines ani docks—if they spread their commerce over every sea, and filled every market with their industry - if they have accumulated unexampled wealth — the result is owing to the happiness o their invention, the boldness of their enterprise, the tenacity of their perseverance, and the bounty of Nature, which all thes qualities have turned to the best account. Mr. Gladstone and Lord Russell know better. It is due to their wisdom in taking off the duty on corn in 1846, the duty on soap in 1853, and the duty on paper in 1861. We are far from contesting the
. salutary nature, speaking abstractedly, of these and of some other similar changes which have taken place in the levy of Customs and Excise duties. They may have been made hastily, sometimes with undue partiality to special interests, and to the neglect of other remissions which had a preferable claim. But in principle they were sound, and, so far as they went, have been beneficial in their operation. But it is ridiculous to suppose that they have added any appreciable volume to the vast and swelling stream of English commerce.
The detailed narrative of what are called Liberal triumphs is evidently meant by Lord Russell to serve another purpose.
The policy that was pursued in years gone by under one set of circumstances, has very little bearing upon a different policy, to be pursued under different circumstances in years that are to
But Liberal politicians, for want of a better, frequently have recourse to the argument, that as the Liberal measures of the past have not fulfilled the sinister predictions with which their passage was accompanied, it is safe to despise the fears with which the democratic proposals of the present day are received. At best, the argument is a curious perversion of analogy. Even if it be true that the measures proposed by Liberal politicians were passed, and that they have been innocuous in their results, it by no means follows that other measures passed by Liberal politicians would be innocuous too. There is a certain power of resistance to noxious agencies which all organised bodies, physical and corporate, possess; and its vigour under the severest trials often surpasses the most sanguine expectations. A man may live in an unwholesome atmosphere, or persevere in injurious habits for a certain
Be number of years, and no apparent barm may come of it; but it 2 by no means follows that he can, with equal impunity, continue
to do so for twice the same number of years. A three-bottle man may laugh at the warnings of his doctors for a long time, but if he acts upon the Liberal theory, and argues that what has
done no harm once can do no harm again, the gout will find 2001
him out at last. The British Constitution has considerable stamina, and can throw off one or two doses of democracy with no evil consequence beyond a temporary uneasiness. But it would not be safe to infer that the experiment could be repeated without more serious consequences. Had the Reform Bill, therefore, been a much more extreme measure than it actually was, the fact that it has not been the ruin of England would be no argument for passing a second. But the fallacy is still more extravagant, if the Reform Bill is to be considered as having been a drastic, but exceptional remedy for a condition of unusual disorder. Strong remedies may have been on one occasion salutary for a patient who was diseased, but their probable efficacy, or even harmlessness upon a second application, can well be inferred when the renewed presence of the disease has been established.
There are other considerations which make the argument as to future policy from
the result of past Liberal measures perfectly untrustworthy. Those measures were compromises after all. The warnings of opponents, which are said to have been stultified by events, were in effect not wholly futile at the time. In no case was all accorded for which the mass of the Liberal party clamoured. Numbers of measures which were urged by large sections of those who supported the ministries of Lord Melbourne and Lord Grey, have been successfully resisted up to this time. The Reform Bill itself was moderate compared to the changes which had been demanded by many Liberals for upwards of half a century; and the Reform Bill did not pass as its authors introduced it. The Chandos clause, which has had so powerful an effect in modifying its democratic tendencies, was introduced at the instance of those very opponents whose opposition is said to have been stultified by events. But for that opposition the proposals of Lord Grey's Government would neither have been so moderate as they were, nor would any corrective amendments have been introduced. The assertion that our subsequent prosperity proves the opposition of that time to have been unreasonable, is very like the cry we sometimes hear that the peace we now enjoy with France
proves that the armaments of 1860 were a useless expenditure of public money. Both lines of reasoning deserve to be compared in point of wisdom with those of the householder who took down his lightning-conductor because, he said, his house had never been struck for thirty years, and it was evident that all the talk about lightning was a foolish panic.
Yet modified as the Reform Bill was both by the powerful opposition which it was necessary to disarm, and by the amendments that were introduced into it as it passed through, it is early yet to boast of its success. The adverse predictions that were made concerning it amounted to this, that it would ultimately destroy the constitution by weakening the monarchical and aristocratic parts of it. Whether these predictions will be fulfilled or not, it is still for the future to disclose. Our present prosperity and quiet cannot be taken as a conclusive answer. We have been threatened now for fifteen years past with constant schemes for still further weakening the influence of property. They have received the sanction of Governments and the support of the majority of the House of Commons. They have been resisted up to this time with unexpected success; but this success has been due more to the blunders of our chief Radicals and to the lesson which America has been reading to us, than to the vigour or resolution of the defenders of the Constitution. The struggle will no doubt continue for some time, and no man can foresee the result. No one can yet tell whether the disintegrating elements that were introduced into the Constitution by the Act of 1832, will or will not crumble its fabric into dust. It is idle to boast before the battle is lost or won. But if the issue should be disastrous, it will be slender comfort to remember that the errors to which our ruin was due did, before that ruin was consummated, secure to us a brief lull of deceptive peace.
Whatever the ultimate success of the Reform Act may be, and whatever our destiny in respect to that question, there can be no doubt that the Tory party showed far less power of resistance to the popular storm when it came, than those who had seen it at other critical junctures had reason to expect. This is an important point, because it affects materially the policy of resistance. Resistance is folly or heroism- -a virtue or a vicein most cases, according to the probabilities there are of its being successful. The perils of change are so great, the promise of the most hopeful theories is so often deceptive, that it is frequently the wiser part to uphold the existing state of things, if it can be done, even though, in point of argument, it should be utterly indefensible. But the condition is essential. It is true in political resistance, as in other things, that nothing succeeds like success. A Government which is strong enough to hold its own will generally command an acquiescence which, with all but very speculative minds, is the equivalent of contentment.