Page images

injury to the throwster. I should not trespass for another nioment on the patience of the house, but for the very extraordinary assertions which the honourable member for Worcester has been pleased to make on what he calls free trade. The honourable gentleman is not content with having so clearly demonstrated all the evils which have arisen to the unfortunate silk trade from this little deviation from prohibition; he is not satisfied with having so admirably illustrated his own love of exclusion, by shewing that, under the influence of the unhappy law of 1826, we have raised the consumption of raw silk in this country from 2,000,000 up to 4,000,000 lbs. ; he is not satisfied with proving that our weavers have nearly doubled in number, that our throwing-mills are half as many again; that, in addition to all this, we have imported, as he says, manufactured silks to the amount of L.1,500,000, all which must have been paid for in the produce of British industry and the employment of British capital; he is not satisfied with all these evils in the silk trade, but the honourable gentleman passes an indiscriminate censure-he vents all his wrath-he pours out the phials of his indignation on what he is pleased to call free trade. I really should feel obliged to the honourable gentleman to tell me where he finds free trade in this country? Alas! I search in vain through your Custom-House laws, and I can find no solitary instance of any article which is either produced or manufactured in this country on which a very heavy duty is not exacted. Free trade, indeed! why it is ludicrous to talk of it; and on the occasion, too, when we are actually debating whether the duty on the article which forms the subject of to-night's discussion shall be 35 or 25 per cent.!

"I wish that the honourable gentleman were more correct; I wish, with all my heart, that we were nearer that monstrous consummation of free trade which he so much dreads ; but though I fear we are still far, far from it, I will grant the honourable gentleman that we have made a nearer approach to it; and I contend, in answer to all his assertions, that in doing so we have conferred an essential benefit, and an incontrovertible one, upon the country. The proof of it lies upon your own table, and there too lies the contradiction to the ruin so much talked of by the honourable member for Callington. I know of no standard by which the increase or diminution of the wealth of any country can be estimated except its power for Consumption. If we find this increasing, its wealth must be also on the increase. If we find it diminishing, its prosperity may be said to be on the wane. If, then, the position of the honourable gentleman be correct; if, since the adoption of


these horrible measures by the legislature, the wealth of this country has fallen away, the effect must be clearly marked by the diminished power of all classes to consume. This is the test which I shall apply, and by it I wish the house to judge between the honourable gentleman and myself. I have selected, to form this standard, the returns of the principal articles which enter into the greatest degree of consumption of all classes in this country. I have taken them for the period of five years. If any of the regulations of the Customhouse have made a nearer approach to free trade, it is since the year 1825 that they have done so. I take, therefore, the two years previous and the two years succeeding that year, and that year, being a year of extreme speculation, is taken out of the way.

“ And let me entreat the house to look at the result. Has there been any symptom of the diminished power of consumption, which must have been the effect of waning prosperity ? Has there been no increase indicating a contrary effect? Why, not in one, but in every one of these articles there has been the most rapid, the most extraordinary increase !-In Sugar of 7 per cent., and this is worthy of remark, because the duty being the highest, the increase has been the least;-in Coffee of 90 per cent.-in Cotton of 34 per cent,-in Flax of 65 per cent. -in Tallow of 60 per cent. Here is ruin indeed! These are the mischiefs of the free trade system, introduced by modern theorists and philosophers—these are the disastrous and lamentable consequences of the measures of those men on the state of the productive industry of the country!

" There yet remains, however, one more argument which has been urged by some of the opponents of free trade. They are the most dangerous, because they are the most moderate and the most specious ;-because, whilst they grant the truth of the general principle in words, they depart from it in spirit

-because their argument is at once the most popular, the most apparently sensible, and yet the most fallacious,-I mean the argument of the absence of reciprocity, brought forward by the member for Kirkcudbright. We are friends,' say they, “to free trade—we grant all the benefit which you tell us will arise frovi an unrestricted interchange of commodities between different nations we agree to all your reasoning; but, in order that there should be a free interchange, it is necessary that the removal of our restrictive regulations should be met by corresponding measures on the part of other nations. If this be not the case, we are giving away the advantage which we possess of supplying at least ourselves with our own productions--we throw open our ports to receive the produce of the industry of foreign countries, whilst they shut their gates to ours; and we destroy our national industry in those articles in the production of which foreigners excel us, without their becoming, in their turn, customers for ours. The fallacy of such reasoning lies in this—these gentlemen misunderstand the nature of trade. In order to buy, we must also sell. We may open our ports to the silks and wines of France-to the corn of Germany and Russia-to the drugs of Asia and of India—but we can get no pound's worth of any commodity without giving in return a pound's worth of our own productions. Our manufacturers will give away nothing; they will not send their goods to foreign ports without getting an equivalent in return; and I will venture to say that the producers of foreign commodities, of French silks, and German cloths, with which, according to the statement of these gentlemen, this country has been and will be overwhelmed, are as little likely to make a present to the British consumer of their hardly-worked produce without taking in return the staple articles of British produce. Foreign nations may, as we have seen, and as we are told, be inclined to meet our liberal policy by tightening still more their restrictive system. The effect can only be the prevention of their own export trade, the curtailment of their own commerce, and the suffering of their own people. If by some magic wand the nations of the Continent could suddenly surround their dominions with the wall of brass fabled by Bishop Berkeley—if they could effectually exclude every article of British produce, whilst their ports opened to permit the free egress of all their own—not a vessel of theirs could find its way to our shores, or if it did, its cargo must be made a present of to our people. They would deprive their own subjects of the benefit of mutual interchangethey would deprive us likewise of it, but they could do no more. They would impoverish and ruin their own country -they would injure us in a less degree-they would reduce us to what I consider an unhappy condition, but which the honourable member for Coventry, and those who think with him, have described as a happy and a prosperous state—the necessity of producing within ourselves all that we stand in need of. But, thank God! it is not in the power of governmonts to carry into effect so desolating, so pernicious à principle. There is in economical as in political affairs a point beyond which it is not possible to go-a point at which legislation becomes ineffectual, and power powerless. Governments may enact laws, but mankind will successfully resist them. Thus it is with these attempts. The smuggler becomes, in such a case, the corrector of faulty legislation, and the friend and the

e whose camhose wordt principleated his decar

defender of mankind. Under his exertions, the acts of the legislature become void, and the laws of your ports and your custom-houses are dead-letters. Do we want the experience of mankind to illustrate the truth of this great principle? You have it within your own times. The man whose power was never surpassed in modern, and scarcely equalled in ancient times—he whose career of victory the bounds of Europe could scarce restrain-whose word was a law-in vain attempted to counteract this great principle. Buonaparte, when, at the height of his power, he fulminated his decrees from the palace of the Duomo of Milan, which was to annihilate his only rival, thought but little that his orders could be contested or his will disputed. And yet, what was the result? He, whose armies successively occupied every capital of Europewho made and unmade kings with a breathwas set at nought by the lowest of his subjects. The smuggler bearded him in the streets of his capital, and set his power at defiance in his own ports and cities. The goods which he refused to admit found their way through the Frozen Ocean into the heart of France. I speak from personal knowledge when I say that an uninterrupted line of communication was established between Archangel and Paris; and goods—even the bulky articles of sugar, coffee, and manufactures—were conveyed with as much ease and safety, though at a proportionally increased cost, as from London to Havre. Insurances were then as currently effected at Brody and at Leipsic as at Lloyd's or at New York.

“But need we go further than the very trade before us for an illustration of what I say? Do gentlemen, who make no difficulty respecting the importation of raw silk, (whatever they may think of thrown,) know that most of the states of Italy rigidly exclude all our manufactures from their ports ; and yet we take from them annually the value of L.2,000,000 sterling? How do we pay for it then? Their custom-houses are shut to our produce, and the objects of our industry are as strictly prohibited as the works of Voltaire or of Gibbon. I have had the curiosity to endeavour to trace this, and what will the house think of the result? Upon a careful examination of the bills which are drawn from Italy in payment of this silk, by several houses in the trade, I find at least three-fourths of them remittances from Austria and the German States, which have been made to Manchester and Glasgow for British manufacture. It is hopeless, then, for any nation to attempt to exclude the productions of another. They may injure their own subjects by enhancing the price, but exclude they cannot. But the advantage to a country in first adopting the principle of freedom of trade is not merely relative but positive. Under a system of restriction with us, other nations may make and uphold corresponding restrictions, but if we set the example of free intercourse they may make, but I defy them to uphold them. They may struggle for a time to comply with the wishes of the ignorant and interested producers in their own country, but they cannot do so long. The ruin of their own trade, the destruction of the property of all those who are not immediately interested in the monopoly, the outcry of the whole mass of consumers, will drive them into a better and wiser course. If we wait till they grant reciprocity we are the slaves of their will; if we give free admission to their produce they become the servants of ours.

“What is the case with France at the present moment ? No one can more deeply regret than I do the illiberal policy which guides, and, I fear, for some time must continue to guide, the commercial councils of that great people ; and I speak in sorrow, not in anger, when I refer to it. But I am induced to do so, not only because I think it a happy illustration of the errors of such a system, but because I find, if not in the speeches of honourable gentlemen, at least in the petitions of the silk-throwsters, especially that from Macclesfield, her example is quoted, and her conduct held up as wise and just, and worthy of imitation by us. She continues,' say the petitioners, wisely her prohibitive laws. Look,' they say, ‘at France : under her wise regulations her manufacture of cotton has increased tenfold, her industry has flourished, her prosperity has augmented.' How does the case stand ? I refer to it with deep regret-I lament it, because I consider her interests as identified with our own-because I think that we have run too long the race of competition in the arts of destruction because I think that the time is come when we should run that course for which nature intended usthe race of competition in industry, in wealth, and in civilisation-I lament it, because, from my soul, I believe that one country cannot improve without benefiting her neighbour-because I feel sure that no gale can pass over France, fraught with wealth, with prosperity, or with happiness, without bearing a portion of those blessings to Britain. I will not speak of her cotton mills she may raise printed cottons at a dear rate-she may raise iron instead of taking it from us at double the cost; but what effect does this have upon the general industry of the country? What do those classes of producers say to this system, who find that there is no longer any demand for their produce ? Are they satisfied ? Do they find that other nations can buy their produce of them, when France refuses to take anything

« PreviousContinue »