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GEORGE WEBB HALL, Esq.
THE station you fill in society, as an active, intelligent, stirring agriculturist, and as Chairman to the General Committee of Management for the Agricultural Associations of Great Britain, seems to give you a claim to be heard. Aware of this, and backed by the suffering farmers of these Islands, and by the recollection of "upwards of 280 petitions, signed by upwards of 100,000 known occupiers of land, occupying not less than 4,000,000 of acres," you have forsaken the active habits of your ordinary life, and have come forth as an economist, with a view to school the minister, as to the only mode by which that ruin may be averted, which, in common with your brethren, you already feel to a considerable extent, and an increase of which you evidently apprehend.
To this end you addressed a letter to the President of the Board of Trade, in November last; and to give additional effect to your representations, the letter was officially laid before the Bath and West of England Society, at their last annual meeting; which operation was regularly announced in their public report.
Now, Sir, if your doctrines are founded in reason and truth, this wide spreading of the knowledge of your Panacea must be of essential service; but if they are unsound, in the same proportion will be the mischief.
I know you to be an estimable man, and a zealous, able, and useful agriculturist. I am therefore persuaded you mean well, and that you act under a conviction that you are right; but it
must not be forgotten that you, and those for whom you act, do not propose to the minister to proceed ad inquirendum, but on the contrary, you and your association, call upon him to proceed at once upon the facts you state, or rather the assertions you make your minds are perfectly made up; you represent our difficulties as clearly defined; dangers, miseries, and apprehensions that puzzle some of the most powerful of our statesmen, and alarm them all, are at once to be cured by the nostrum in the possession of your General Committee; would to God it were so !
You write, Sir, under a conviction that you understand the great question in all its bearings, and although an agricultural advocate, you persuade yourself that you are in reality advocating the interests of all classes; but I suspect you have described yourself and your associates, when you intended to speak only of others. In alluding to the many prejudices existing against you on the question, you observe," The great misfortune in all conflicting interests is, that mankind are generally so blinded and prejudiced by what they conceive to be their own immediate interests, as altogether to lose sight of principles and facts, on which their ultimate and permanent good principally depends." This perhaps was written when your bailiff reported the price of wheat to have fallen to 6s. 6d. the bushel.
You have thrown down the glove, as the decided advocate of the land-occupiers, the land-owners, and their doctrines: I, Sir, have picked it up, and in proceeding to the discussion of this question, a question on which the quiet and well-doing of our own, and other countries, depend, I propose to dispense altogether with assertions, and to proceed arguendo upon facts, and necessary deductions from those facts. In this I understand the superiority of the modern philosophizing to consist, as compared with that of the ancients dictum should be admitted into any system or science, which cannot be proved.
The best mode of bringing the whole question, which now agitates the country, clearly before us, will be to have a right understanding as to our distresses.
Speaking, or rather writing, of Mr. Robinson's means of ascertaining the true state of the country, you observe, "You can neither know, nor conceive one half the embarrassments and difficulties which some of the most skilful, and once affluent cultivators of the soil are now enduring, by the degradation of their capitals from, &c." And in speaking of the sacrifice which you think has been made of agriculture, on the shrine of commerce and manufactures, you observe, "Which in six short years has reduced and degraded all to
a point which the most melancholy alarmist we have upon record has never ventured to predict."
And you represent that these gloomy bodings are set forth in 280 petitions to the House of Commons, which are signed by more than 100,000 occupiers of land, and which proceeded from every county, two only excepted, from several Welsh, and many Scotch
Upon this sad subject let us further take the evidence of Mr. Curwen, the representative of a northern county; I know no better authority. "When he looked to the state of agriculture, he would ask, could the noble lord be really ignorant that the agricultural interests were in so wretched a condition, that even no abatement would after some time induce the cultivators of the land to go on with their labors? knowing as he did their privations, their disappointments, their sufferings, he could not but call upon every mind to admire their exemplary patience."3
Now let the Agricultural Association of Huntingdonshire also be heard; they have published an address to the " occupiers of land;" their knowledge of political economy seems to be about upon a par with that of the association of which you, Sir, are the head, and organ of speech; their object, their views, are also the same; they write, "You (the occupiers of land,) will no doubt think it high time loudly to call upon the legislature to take your grievances into their most serious consideration, under the pressure of which, if not speedily redressed, you must soon sink to rise no more" they then propounded a string of questions, evidently intended, like the drum made of old Zisca's skin, to stir and animate the farmers; but we may safely pass them by without any apprehensions that we are losing opportunities, either of knowledge or improvement. Amidst some observations, in the way of conclusion, they encourage the agriculturists to come boldly and, respectfully before the legisla ture for a redress of grievances, as the only rational mode of “averting the ruin that will speedily overwhelm them;" these gentlemen, although bad economists, are nevertheless the best witnesses as to the state of the country.
The distresses that have come upon us were fully admitted and recorded by the Bath and West of England Society, at their last annual meeting. And the report of the last meeting of the Kent Agricultural Society, uses the language of despair as to rural affairs. From these sources evidence of great distress is collected; from the north, from the centre, from the west, from the east. The truth is, that our distresses have been progressive from the
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time we began to enjoy the blessings of peace; the fatal errors of our system began then to show themselves.
But we shall see that these distresses are not confined to agriculture" By the Manchester magistrates we are informed, that the Secretary of State was fully apprized of the deep distresses of the manufacturing classes of that extensive population;" and fur ther: "When the people are oppressed with hunger, they do not wonder," &c. Again: " In Yorkshire too we learn from the Lord Lieutenant, that the Mayor of Leeds believed that the mass of the population, within his jurisdiction, was by no means seditiously disposed, but that they were suffering most cruel privations through want of employment.' "The weavers of Westleigh are represented as suffering most cruel privations from the lowness of wages," And the state of Glasgow and Paisley is stated " to exhibit a scene of wretchedness unparalleled in the history of any civilized country."
Now, Sir, I am of opinion that these reports and remarks, taken, as they are, from various persons of credit and station; applying, as they do, to different and remote sections of these Islands; speaking, as they do, a common language upon the subject of distress, are quite enough for our purpose; and paint, in colors not to be misunderstood, the real state of the country; that is, the real state of its agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing concerns, which concerns constitute the vitals of a nation. Almack's and the Opera, the splendor of our balls, the luxury of our dinners, have not perhaps yet visibly declined.
If we can suppose an inhabitant of Loo-choo to be made acquainted with these matters, he would immediately inquire for a cause; are you, he would ask, embroiled in war? No, we have been six years at peace; so have also our neighbours. Have you been lately desolated by disease? No, there is no country under heaven better peopled, or where the people are more vigorous, more active, and more healthy. Have you been depopulated by one of those terrible scourges of Omnipotence-hurricanes, earthquakes, or the like? No, never; from such visitations we are wholly free; and we are equally removed from the terrible effects of heat within the tropics, and the chilly effects of the frigid zone. Then your people are bad farmers! quite the reverse, in no nation on earth is the science so well understood, or pushed with such vigor and success. Then your institutions are despotic, and the energies of the people cramped in proportion! here again you are wrong; no nation has institutions so well adapted to promote the happiness of man.
The man of Loo-choo, unable to comprehend how people can
Protest by Lord Lauderdale, against going into a committee on the Seditious Meetings Bill,
starve in the midst of plenty, would retire from the inquiry in despair. And surely you, Sir, who have looked only at the surface, must, if you think with attention, be astonished at the miserable state of your country, in profound peace, enjoying all nature has to bestow; (physically at least,) a country, according to your own account, "the fertility of whose soil is boundless, and the industry of whose people is interminable."
The solution of the great question is variously given by different people; and it must be admitted that in general it is sufficiently childish, and in nearly all cases arrived at through the passions and the prejudices.
Amongst these solutions, head and foremost comes "transition from war to peace;" but we have been nearly six years at peace and are etting worse. The clergy attribute our calamities to the wide pread of blasphemy. The loyal and the timid to the Radical press; and the agricultural community to the importation of a little food. If the reverend politicians are right, the great, the noble, the ancient institutions of these realms are at the mercy of Mr. and Mrs. Carlile. If the loyal are right, we are in the power of Messrs. Hone, Wooler, and Dolby. And if you are right, we have more to fear from smugglers than from armies.
Now, Sir, if you will travel onwards with me, and will exercise a little patience, we shall presently see a cause more adequate to the effect. But I ask you to look again at the picture of distress we have drawn, and then at the causes set forth; and then say, whether it be possible for such a gigantic effect to be produced by so pigmy a cause.
But before we go into the real cause, (for you know that from the days of Newton, all effects are known to have causes,) let us inquire a little into that so zealously urged by you and your Com
Your doctrine is this: "The admission of foreign commodities, (grain,) duty free, tends to paralyse every effort of body and mind, and it is a thing with which no human frame can compete." You also observe," Wheat can be bought in foreign countries, on an average, for less than 40s. a quarter; in this country it cannot be grown for less than SOs. a quarter."3 Indeed! I should like to have been at hand when you wrote this last quoted sentence, merely to have asked the cause of the difference; depend upon it, Sir, the answer to this short sentence is of more importance to our country, than any thing that has occurred to it. You proceed: "A duty of 40s. a quarter is necessary to countervail this difference in wheat, and so' in proportion for every other production of our soil." Bravo! a request, certainly modest enough; a duty of cent. per cent. on an
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