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on the 6th of March 1816, computed that the annual receipts of farmers throughout England and Wales, had suffered a diminution of seventy millions in 1815, compared to 1812, the greater part of which would have been expended in the maintenance of laborers and artisans, and might therefore be regarded as so much withheld from them. The laboring part of the community might therefore be considered as starving in the midst of plenty, as Mr. Western expressed it, being much less able to maintain themselves now than when bread was one third dearer. This blindness was not confined to that class of the community who have ignorance and want of education for their excuse. The measure was opposed by some of those belonging to the superior classes, both in and out of parliament, who pertinaciously resisted, and effectually defeated it in 1813 and 1814, and it passed after considerable opposition in 1815. These incidents have had the good effect at least of proving the reasonableness and efficacy of protecting the domestic production of corn, which is certainly as well entitled to such protection as certain other branches of manufacture of much less importance. They also illustrate the mutual dependance which all ranks of society have upon each other. What can be more obvious than that the surplus production of the farmer could not be disposable uniess there were artisans and manufacturers to consume it, and that the latter could not exist without that large branch of consumption depending on the profits of farmers and the income of landlords.'
1 Some eminent political economists regard mere consumers as a burden to the community. The Roman Poet might very justly stigmatise his rich countrymen by the epithet of fruges consumere nati, for they supported their luxury by plunder and extortion in subjugated countries, and from the same resources, corrupted the populace by largesses and shows. On the other hand, the luxury, or rather the liberal indulgences, the becoming elegance and splendor of the nobility and gentry of England, is a necessary part of that economical machinery which maintains the circulation and mutual dependance of these two great departments of productive industry, agriculture, and manufactures. It is this state of society, and not the other, which is so aptly characterized in the fable of the belly and the limbs, by which, in the purer ages of the Roman Republic, a dangerous sedition was appeased. If one were called upon to name who was the father and founder of the science of political economy, one would name neither Sir W. Petfy, nor M. Quesnoy, nor M. Mirabeau, nor Adam Smith, nor Sir James Stewart, nor any modern author, but Menenius Agrippa, the author of this most ingenious and very apposite apologue, which if it had been equally well understood by the high and low vulgar of this metropolis, as it was by the popnlace of Rome, we should not have seen the corn bill twice defeated, nor would this city have been disgraced by the scandalous riots of 1814, nor polluted by the still more audacious and seditious outrages of the 2d of Dec. 1816. It has been disputed whether ignorance, faction, or intimidation, had the greatest share in defeating the corn bill. This is a question which the writer of this does not feel himself called upon to decide, nor would it become him to impute motives to any one. But ought not we of this age which calls itself enlightened, and enjoying the boasted benefit of the press in diffusing knowledge, to take some degree of shame to ourselves, that we are less intelligent and more deaf to reason, than the common people of Rome in an early and unlettered age of that state. No science has been more cultivated in the last forty years, than that of political economy, but no subject has been less generally studied and understood, none has produced fewer practical and useful results.
What has been said of agricultural distress applies to the manu facturer's distress. The like sanguine spirit of enterprise brought on the one as it did the other. It appears from preceding statements, that the exports of 1814 and 1815, greatly exceeded those of former years, but the foreign markets were so glutted that great loss was incurred by these adventures. It has already been remarked, how much the distresses of this class were aggravated by the domestic consumption being diminished in consequence of the deficient income from agriculture.
It has not been universally believed nor admitted, that excess of production has been the main cause of the late distresses. Some other causes have been much more insisted on, such as the transi tion from war to peace, the deficiency of circulating medium, the want of foreign vent for commodities, on account of the Continent having been so recently exhausted and impoverished by war, and from other sources of supply being opened by the peace.
With regard to the first of these, it seems equally irreconcilable to chronology as to truth and reason to maintain it. We have seen that the great fall of the price of corn took place in 1813, before there was either peace or the prospect of it.' It is true that the quarter of wheat fell a few shillings lower in 1814, the year of the peace, but this was the necessary consequence of the increased importation. It was plausibly alleged, that the diminution of demand, in consequence of the cessation of the government contracts, had the principal share in it. But besides this being inadmissible in point of time, it has been shown at page 278 what an insignificant proportion the consumption of soldiers, sailors, and prisoners of war, bears to that of the whole community. But it has been farther alleged, that the agents of government being conspicuous persons in markets, their absence would tend to depress prices, and that markets, when fully supplied, fall greatly upon very small additions, just as when the scales of a balance are nicely poised, a single grain sinks one of them deeply. All this is admitted, yet it is quite plain, that whatever secondary causes there may have been, the main cause, whatever it was, must have been in full operation before the peace or the prospects of it, and that this cause could be no other than a redundant supply.
Nor is it historically true, that similar distress has usually occurred on the event of a peace. I can find no traces of any such thing after the treaties of Utrecht nor Aix la Chapelle, nor after the seven years war. On the latter event in 1763, this was so far from being the case, that the London merchants were in the highest state of prosperity, and stepped forwards to prop the tottering
* There were certainly very sanguine hopes entertained by many of the fall of Buonaparte, after the battle of Leipsic on the 18th of October of this year, but the contest continued dubious till the capture of Paris in the beginning of April
credit of some of the foreign Banks. After the close of the American war, there was very considerable distress in consequence of a very bad crop in 1782, by which, some of the districts of the northern parts of the island were brought to the brink of famine, and a few persons were said to have died of want. Whatever partial distresses there might be at these periods from the state of commerce, they were confined to merchants, bankers, and stockjobbers, and did not in the least partake of the nature of the calamity, which since 1813 has pervaded the body of the population. The most serious mercantile distresses in the last fifty years, have occurred in time of profound peace, that is in the years 1771 and 1792, originating in an excess of speculation.2
And with regard to the deficiency of circulating medium, this will certainly not apply to the country at large in a year in which there are proofs of more floating and disposable, as well as circulating money, than ever was before known in this, or probably any other country; for the sum total of the taxes in 1813 amounted to 62 millions, and the sum of two loans contracted for in the same year was 43 millions, which was obtained at a very moderate interest. But it may be alleged that, however this might be, the farmers found actually greater want of money than in former years, and were compelled to bring their grain to premature markets, and to dispose of it at inadequate prices. These facts are incontrovertible, but they were the effect and not the cause of the distress; for in consequence of the sudden and unexpected fall of the price of agricultural produce, the farmers could not make the usual deposits with the provincial bankers, who were thereby in their turn incapable of furnishing the usual accommodations to the farmers.j
The remedies which have been proposed for these evils may be classed under the three heads of the benevolent, the spontaneous, and the legislative. od 199 or moo girot to proe's ging 1. The relief best adapted to an evil in its nature. temporary seems to be that of individual benevolence. However much the labouring class may be blameable for their improvidence, it beSee Chalmers's Estimate. d o1 bawells
2 It is remarkable that these three great epochas of commercial distress, namely, 1771, 1792, and 1813, have fallen out at exactly the same interval of time from each other, that is twenty-one years. Is this merely casual, or is there a sort of cycle in human affairs like certain periodical revolutions in nature?
The reader may possibly expect that the author should not here pass entirely unnoticed certain political causes to which the distresses of the country have been imputed; but as he knows of no process of reasoning which can induce a conviction, or even a suspicion in any rational mind, that parliamentary reform, or sinecure places have any connexion with the present question; it is impossible to combat such gratuitous assumptions by serious argument, and he can only deplore in common with every one who values the public peace, or feels for the honor of the age and country in which he lives, that such assertions should have been employed to excite the late tumultuary and seditious outrages, and still more, that such sentiments should have been entertained and acted upon by certain corporate bodies. See the Address of the City of London, December 9, 1816.
comes the opulent, in such moments of distress, to come forward with voluntary and gratuitous relief, a species of relief recommended by its being an exercise of the best affections of the heart, and by its superseding such legislative relief as might lead to permanent evil and inconvenience, as has been strongly adverted to in the text, in the scarcity of 1800. The generosity of landlords in remitting rent has been very efficient in relieving the farmers, and the ample pecuniary subscriptions now on foot will go far towards the relief of the other classes. A fine example of the wisdom and efficacy, as well as of the practical philanthropy of this species of bounty came last summer before the Committee of Education in the examination of Mr. Robert Owen, superintendant of the Cotton Works near Lanark, on the river Clyde. When the rupture with America occurred in 18:2, there was a suspension of these works, in consequence of the cessation of the demand. The operative people, of whom a great proportion was very young persons, were retained and supported at the expense of the owners till the return of employment. The expense incurred by this was £7000, and the owners declared that they never expended the like sum more to their advantage and satisfaction.
2. There is in the body politic, as in the natural, a certain selfhealing principle, by which its disorders are removed by spontaneous processes. If the author is right in assigning an exuberant supply as the main cause of distress, the evil necessarily leads to cure itself by continued consumption, and has already, in a great measure, done so. That principle also, by which every derangement of supply and demand tends to correct itself through the operation of the natural propensities and fair self-interest of mankind, has already been fully adverted to. It will now be said, perhaps, by the adversaries of the corn-bill, that the country is fortunate in possessing a store of foreign corn to meet the present exigency of a short crop. But on the other hand, may it not with more reason be alleged, that the native cultivation has been discouraged and abridged, not less by the inundation of foreign corn thrown into the market than what was allowed to be warehoused duty free, thereby damping the prospects of the English farmer. Had not this been the case, the domestic production would have compensated the bad harvest. At the period of ploughing and sowing the bad season could not be foreseen.
3. Of the legislative means of relief, the act for prohibiting importation, till wheat should be 80 shillings the quarter, was the measure most calculated to mitigate the general calamity. Much censure was cast on the Government by those who conceived the distresses to arise from a scarcity of circulating medium, for not stepping forward with pecuniary relief to the farmer. This is certainly not without precedent; for in the year 1792 the Grenada merchants were accommodated with five millions in Exchequer
Bills; an operation which succeeded perfectly by relieving these merchants, and proving no loss to Government. But the magnitude and universality of the present distresses are plainly such as to render this sort of relief hopeless and impracticable. The only other substantial relief afforded by the legislature, besides the corn act above-mentioned, was a repeal of the war duties on malt, as proposed by Mr. Western, who proved that these duties had been raised so high as to diminish the cultivation of barley. There was also a protecting duty imposed on foreign butter and cheese. The other means of relief proposed by him were chiefly, the repealing the act for warehousing foreign corn, a bounty on exportation, a high duty on certain articles, such as rape, seed, and tallow imported, as they depreciated the same articles of domestic production. And he alleged, that as the tithes and poor's rates were paid almost exclusively by those engaged in agriculture, the land ought to be relieved as much as possible from other burdens.
It has been found that the power of the legislature in such a matter is extremely limited, and it will be seen from the next illustration that it is as apt to do too much as too little, by its interference.
After the publication of this letter in 1800, the principal measures which were taken by Parliament, with a view to the farther alleviation of the public distress, were
1. On the 15th of December an additional bounty was granted on the importation of corn and flour, ensuring the importer against a fall of the market, by making up to him as much as the market price should fall below 100 shillings, and as much as the sack of flour should fall below 70 shillings.
2. An act passed for the suspension of the distilleries, and of the manufactory of starch, from the 8th of December, 1800, to the 1st of January, 1802.
3. A bounty was granted on the importation of rice and Swedish herrings.
4. A law passed on the 31st of December, 1800, restricting the miller from grinding any flour except what is used in making the wheaten standard bread, that is, the whole grain except the bran and pollard, and prohibiting the baker from baking any bread of pure fine flour, from the above date till November, 1801.
All these measures proved salutary, except the last, which was found so impracticable and detrimental, that it was suspended on the 9th of February following for six weeks, and at the end of that time it was repealed. This, like the importation by Government in 1795, and the Bread Company of 1800. both of which proved either detrimental or nugatory, affords a proof of that coincidence of public and private interest, to illustrate which has been one of the principal objects of the preceding letter. The reasons