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ART. VII. The Radical Cause of the present Distresses of the
West India Planters pointed out, and the Inefficiency of the Measures which have been hitherto proposed for relieving them demonstrated, Sc. &c. By William Spence, F.L. S. Second Edition. Svo. pp. 105. London, Cadell & Davies. 1808.
An Inquiry into the Policy and Justice of the Prohibition of the
Use of Grain in the Distilleries, including Observations on the Nature and Uses of a Vent to superfluous Land-Produce, and a particular Application of the General Question to the present Situation of the Colonial Interests. By Archibald Bell Esq. Advocate. 8vo. pp. 116. Edinburgh, Constable & Co, London, Murray. 1808.
TT is now some time since we called the attention of our read
ers to the alarming state of colonial affairs; and endeavoured to trace to their true source, evils, the existence of which no man can deny, whatever difference of opinion may prevail as to their causes, or their extent. We were led, by these inquiries, to a demonstration as rigorous as the nature of the subject would allow, that the slave traflic alone is the cause of the distresses in question ; that the consequences of that long course of crimes which men have, by a singular perversion of language, been accustomed to call a branch of commerce, are now felt in their full force; and that our mercantile interests are at length suffering most severely for our long neglect of humanity and justice. The subject has, since the publication of those remarks, undergone a gre.it deal of discusson, both in Parliamentary committees and out of doors. The West Indians have asserted, that their cas? was not fairly before the public when we last considered its and they have attempted to make it better, by bringing more of it forwarit. We are therefore reduced to a necessity, which, without any affectation, we must term a very unpleasant one, of going over the whole question in detail, and sifting the arguments and calculations of those who maintain doctrines opposite to our own, with a minuteness, not the less tiresome because it is indispensable. We have to apologize to our readers for leading them over so much dy and tedious matter ; but the subject is highly important; and it is in vain to meet particular estimites, and brinute details of sums and dates, by any general or theorerical views. Such views are; no doubt, to guide us through the details; and, if rightly applied, they render the deductions of political arithmetic as certain as the demonstrations of the mind mathematics;--we ought, perhaps, rather to say, of the oiker branches of the mixed mathematics. We must premise a few remarks on the two very valuable tracts now before us.
Mr Spence's name is sufficiently known to the public by his former work. We had the fortune to dissent from the doctrines of that work very widely ; but, unless in so far as he undervalues colonial possessions, we find nothing in the present pamphlet which does not command our implicit assent. Indeed, there is so remarkable a coincidence between his views of the subject, and those advanced in our former Number, that we cannot but feel highly flattrered at receiving such respectable support. The two arguments were published nearly at the same time; and not the smallest reason exists for suspecting any previous communication. Both parties may therefore feel the more confident in the accuracy of their reasonings. The coincidence alluded to is so close, that it would be quite superfluous to give any abstract of Mr Spence's tract ;--we should only be repeating our owa statements. For the same reason, we dare not express our whole opinion of Mr Spence's merits, lest we might be accused of indirectly extolling our own.
The · Inquiry' of Mr Bell is a work of great value. It contains a clear, just, and faithful examination of the whole of the principles upon which the question of the distilleries must be discussed. The author's doctrines are uniformly sound; and his views are those of a political economist, more than commonly skilful in the application of his science to practice. It might perhaps have been better, if, taking the question up in its most general form, he had treated of the plan for substituting rum for British spirits, and thus transferring the home distillery to the West Indies. The question of substituting sugar for grain in the liome distillery, is to be determined by the same views; and differs from the former only in certain special circunstances, of which some weaken, while others strengthen the application of the general argument. As we shall treat this matter at length in the sequel, it is unnecessary to present our readers with any abridgement of Mr Bell's very able and judicious performance. Our views will be found to agree precisely with his, as far as the topics coincide; and we shall considerably abridge our discussion of the points touched upon by him, in the full confidence that, by referring to his tract, the deficiency will be most amply supplied.
The only objection which we think it necessary to state to cither of these works, is common to both ; and we consider it as a charge of some moment. Mr Spence clearly traces the distresses of the planters to their overtrading; and shows, that no remedy exists for the evil but a decrease of sugar. Mr Bel ex ?inines one of the remedies proposed,--demonstrates its impolicy Bb 4
phole evil, save their com as a cores, for
and injustice, and admits, that the evil originates in overtrading. But neither of these authors has stated to what cause this overtrading was owing. Neither of them (and on Mr Spence it was peculiarly incumbent) has denounced the African slave traffic as the root of the whole evil. Their deductions are thus mate, rially defective ; for they leave their reader to wonder, how so strange a thing can have happened as a continued supply of rude produce all over the tropical colonies, for years exceeding the demands of the market; and, unless this difficul. ty is clearly explained, many thinking persons will be slow of believing the positions which involve it. But how immeasur, ably more important, even than this, was the benefit derived to the cause of sound principles, by showing mankind that their advocates, after being ridiculed as fanatics, or at best pitied as mere theorists, are in the end borne out triumphantly, by the testimony of facts; and that, in the most famous instance in which the claims of justice and of policy were ever attempted to be contrasted, they have been found wholly to coincide !
Before proceeding to examine the state of this important case, as it is now given to the public, we must recal to the recollection of our readers, in a very few words, the doctrine which we maintained when the question was formerly under discussion; because we shall be obliged to show, how all the attempts to overthrow it have terminated in placing it upon still firmer ground, and because there is no one part of the controversy which may not be molt fpeedily decided by an appeal to that doctrine.
The West Indian body ascribed their distresses to the excess of sugars in the British market; and the more independent members of their class imputed this, in a great degree, to the absurd system of capturing sugar colonies, into which the war waged by England had for many years degenerated; while the rest traced it only to the difficulty of reexporting produce to the Continent, and the cheap fupply of the foreign markets by neutral carriage. In opposition to this statement, we endeavoured to show, that there was an excess of sugars, not merely in the British market, but in the market of the world ; that' America made more sugar than Europe and America together could consume; that, although the various effects of the war might cause this glut to affect the different colonies somewhat differently, the evil was general and independent of the war; and that, although some palliatives might be admi.. nistered, the only radical cure was to be found in a diminished culture of the sugar cane all over the West Indies. For the proofs by which there positions were maintained, we refer our readers to the Ninth article of the Twenty-first number. Since the publication of that article, another committee has
quarter,%, that the refpect of the
been appointed by the House of Commons to inquire into the pro. per means of relieving the West Indian body. It was an obvious remark upon the proceedings of the former committee, that they had avoided the material part of the question; and, without intending the slightest disrespect towards them, we took the liberty of suggesting, that their inquiries had never been pointed towards this quarter, where they had every reason to expect their adversaries would be eager to meet them. It is certainly very poslible, that the West Indians should not have anticipated the arguments by which they were affailed; but it would have been much more in the common course of things, if some one of the many acute and indefatigable persons, who do honour to that large and respectable class, had thought fit to insert, in the multiplicity of depositions and documents, a folitary question or account illustrative of the state of the Continental sugar market. Such a statement could not have greatly extended a report, already sufficiently volumi. nous. It would have borne, even in the eye of a careless inquirer, a more obvious relation to the question at issue, than nine tenths of the evidence which the committee amassed; and its production would have removed all grounds for cavil and suspicion,perhaps have precluded the neceflity of further investigation. But after the public had been fairly put in possession of the argument against the planters,--when a further inquiry was found to be absolutely requisite, because of the imperfect manner in which the first had been conducted, --we surely had fome right to expect, from the new committie, a full production of every attainable piece of evidence, and more especially of that information which most immediately bears upon the chief, nay the only point at iffue. We lament exceedingly to find, that this expectation is disappointed. A volume of above four hundred folio pages, clofely printed, * has been the fruit of the committee's labours. Much information, of very great value, as we shall speedily show by pointing out its application, is no doubt contained in this book. The talents and practical knowledge exhibited by the witnefles, are highly creditable to them; and are such, indeed, as only the merchants of the first commercial country in the world could have displayed. The industry of the committee is also very commendable ; for, besides collecting papers, and preparing some very able reports, they appear to have continued fitting to hear evidence upwards of two months. Yet, itrange to tell, with the omissions of their predecessors before their eyes, as the very cause of their own appointment, --with the question before their eyes, whether
* This includes the two Reports of 1806 & 1807, on the Distil. leries and the State of the West Indies.
the glut of sugar is general or topical ?-(for this question they have plainly gone out of their way to avoid, after having given it an indirect answer)--with the knowledge which they must have had, that this question could only be fettled in the planter's favour by proving the Continental market to be understocked with the fullest powers of ' sending for persons, and calling for papers,'— they have actually left the direct evidence where they found it, after a few arguments from accounts formerly produced ; and have given us not one tittle of new proof, either that the general supply of sugar is less, or the general demand for it greater, than their adversaries had maintained it to be. What is the obvious inference from this omiffion? That no such proof exists. • In cur former article upon this question, we brought direct proofs of the contrary positions; and although we are far from supposing, that the members of the committee ever cast their eyes over these humble pages, we are quite confident that the West Indian body are aware of every argument adduced against them; and would have contrived means, in the course of their depositions before the committee, to discredit our evidence, or to rebut it by counter-proofs, had it been possible. As we certainly have no right to offer strictures upon the proceedings of a parliamentary committee, we trust no one will suspect us of any such intention. We confine ourselves entirely to the statements of the West Indians; and if we take these from the reports of the committee, it is only because we there find them brought together in the most convenient form.
The only argument advanced by the West Indians, which even profeffes to meet the doctrine maintained by us, is drawn from a comparison of the import with the export of sugar during a series of years. This has been brought forward with much triumph, and has received, we are rather surprised to observe, the fanction of a committee, said to have been constituted purposely, of such a variety of classes, as must confine the West Indian interest 10 that influence alone, which their evidence and reasonings fhould beftow. We shall therefore examine it with some attention. The average annual importation of sugar, say they, into the United kingdom, for five years ending 1785, was 131,600 hogtheads of 12 cwt. each. * The average exportation, for the same period, was 13,100 hogsheads, leaving for the annual home consumption 118,500. The average home consumption of 1802 and 1803, ob
* Through the whole of the calculations in this article, we reduce the cwts. of the Report, and other statements, to hogsheads of 12 evt. ; and, in general, neglect the figures in the two right hand places. Refined is of course always reduced to saw, by the uspar proportion.