« PreviousContinue »
on the East India charter, taking a very diligent share in that important investigation. Upon the dissolution of parliament, owing to the death of the King and the accession of William IV., Mr Thomson had again to contest his seat for Dover with his former opponent, Mr Halcomb. The expenses of these frequent contests were dispiriting, and appear to have led him to think seriously of retiring from parliament; but his friends were now convinced that the path he had selected for himself was one in which he was well qualified to shine, and they dissuaded him from abandoning it.
The interval between the general election in August and the meeting of the new parliament at the end of October was passed by Mr Thomson in Paris, where events of such extraordinary interest and importance had so recently occurred. During this absence from Britain the death of Mr Huskisson having caused a vacancy in the representation of Liverpool, some of the party by which that statesman had been returned, turned their attention to Mr Thomson, as among public men the best fitted to be his successor. It was, however, found that the personal friends of Mr Ewart, as resident on the spot, had began so early and active a canvass as to make the attempt hazardous, and it was desisted from.
When the division on Sir H. Parnell's motion for inquiry into the civil list caused the resignation of the Duke of Wellington, and Earl Grey was intrusted by the sovereign with the formation of a new administration, the office of Vice-President of the Board of Trade, with the treasurership of the navy, was proposed to Mr Thomson, and accepted by him.
By this time, indeed, he had established for himself a reputation of no common order. The part he had taken in the debates of the house and in the proceedings of its committees, on questions connected with commerce and finance, had proved him to possess not only a clear practical acquaintance with the details of these subjects, but also principles of an enlarged and liberal character, and powers of generalisation and a comprehensiveness of view, rarely found combined with the former qualities in the same individual. The loss of Mr Huskisson had been severely felt by the public, and especially by those who looked for the further extension of those enlightened principles he had begun to introduce into our commercial legislation; and in Mr Poulett Thomson they thought they saw (and his further career justified the expectation) one imbued with the same enlarged views and liberal principles, with natural sagacity, energy, activity, and habits of business, fully equal to those possessed by Mr Huskisson, together with an intimate knowledge of commercial concerns, acquired from opportunities of practical insight and foreign travel, advantages which that statesman had never possessed.* Added to which there were indications of a firinness and determination of character, coupled with tact and discretion, the want of which in Mr Huskisson was perhaps more injurious to his successful career than any of the external circumstances he had to contend against.
It was natural, therefore, that in the new arrangements Mr Poulett Thomson's aid should have been called for; to Lord Althorp, perhaps, chiefly belongs the merit of that just appreciation of Mr Thomson's abilities and powers of usefulness which secured his valuable services to the public at this critical period. There could be little hesitation as to the department of the government for which he was peculiarly qualified; and his conduct at the Board of Trade for nine years proved the soundness of the judgment then displayed.
This appointment rendered it necessary for Mr Thomson to withdraw from the commercial firm with which he was connected, in the business of which he had continued to take an active share, even while devoting by far the largest portion of his time to parliamentary labours. A dissolution of partnership accordingly took place in November. He was once more re-elected for Dover, this time without a contest.
SECT. IV. -LIFE OF MR THOMSON, FROM HIS ACCESSION AS PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE TILL HIS ELECTION FOR MANCHESTER.
Mr Poulett Thomson had now attained a position which enabled hiin to introduce into practice those improvements in the fiscal policy of the government which he had advocated while out of office; and to this task he applied himself with that remarkable diligence and perseverance which distinguished his character.
One of the first steps taken by him, immediately on his attaining office, was the revival of the office of InspectorGeneral of Imports and Exports, which had been abolished for the sake of a petty economy two years before;-a change of great value to all statistical investigations, and, indeed,
• Mr Huskisson must have been long at a disadvantage in not being practically acquainted with mercantile affairs; yet though all his fame is founded on such knowledge as he by inquiry and observation obtained, his family biographers have been at pains to prove that he was bred up a gentleman—that no connection with business dishonoured him in early life! How strangely they mistake the sources of honour !
essential to a clear and correct understanding of the financial and commercial position of the country, upon which our system of legislation and taxation is professedly baged.
He took the earliest possible opportunity to carry into effect a reduction of the duty on barilla, by which the manufacture of soap was impeded, and its cost greatly enhanced to the consumer, for the supposed object of bolstering up the kelp fishery of the north coast of Scotland, though that branch of industry, which had grown up during the war, when foreign alkalis were almost inaccessible, had no chance whatever of prolonging its existence under any circumstances, the progress of chemistry having superseded the weak alkali made from kelp by a far stronger one manufactured from salt.
The Scotch landlords, however, could not be persuaded that their own product should not still be protected from every other competing article, and Mr Thomson had, very early in the session, to resist repeated attacks from this quarter, which were countenanced far more than could well be justified by some of the members of the preceding government, although, in fact, a similar measure to that introduced by Mr Thomson had been prepared by themselves before they left office.
When Lord Althorp, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, brought forward his budget on the 11th of February, it was very generally supposed (and, perhaps, not without good grounds for the belief, from the well-known confidence entertained in him by that high-minded and amiable nobleman) that Mr Thomson was the author and adviser of some of the principal features of the scheme; and, when it turned out that two of the proposals introduced into it—the tax on the transfer of stock and the timber duties—were such as the House of Commons would not sanction, the discredit attached to these unlucky portions of the budget was currently thrown on the shoulders of Mr Thomson, who had inherited from Mr Huskisson, together with his official duties and the task of advocating free trade principles, all the hatred and malice of those numerous and loud-tongued parties among the press and the public, who considered every removal of a restriction on commerce as a blow aimed directly at their monopolies, and resented it as a robbery. The fact, however, we believe to be that for the first of these suggestions, viz.-the tax of one-half per cent. on the transfer of stock in the funds, he was in no degree responsible, and, on the contrary, had remonstrated against it. It was otherwise with the important mutation proposed by Lord Althorp in the amount and mode of collection of the duties on timber--a proposal which, it was shewn on calculations never since impugned, would, if carried into effoct, have improved the revenue by a sum of L.600,000, (to which extent other taxes were to be remitted,) while the consumer would, at the same time, be greatly benefited by obtaining a better article for his money. The change was successfully opposed by a combination of class interests with the party which had been just driven from office. The shipowners and colonial interests, uniting with the landowners, the silk and glove traders, and all others who dreaded the approach of principles of free competition in their own cases, proved too strong for even the reform ministry—even for Lord Althorp's influence; and, on a division on the 18th of March, the timber duties were lost by a majority of 236 to 190. The justification of the proposal then made is to be found in its reproduction ten years later by Mr F. Baring, in his budget of 1841; and, though even then the same failure attended it as on the previous occasion, from a similar combination of the anti-commercial classes, but especially through the resistance of the powerful agricultural party to the proposed change in the corn laws, by which it was accompanied, yet the unbiassed opinion of future financiers and of intelligent and well-informed persons in general, may not improbably give the palm to this proposed arrangement of the wood duties to that which was, in its stead, carried into effect by Sir Robert Peel, and by which a sum of L.600,000 is anticipated to be lost, instead of being gained, (making a calculated difference to the revenue of L.1,200,000 between the two arrangements,) whilst, as far as can be hitherto seen, the consumer will benefit in no proportionate degree.
• Mr Poulett Thomson took little part in the animated debates of this or the succeeding session, on the great question of the reform bill. He had ample employment in the preparation, production, and defence of measures of financial and fiscal policy. He felt, notwithstanding, the deepest interest in the progress of that question; and the confidential terms upon which he lived with the leading framers of the measure, especially with Lord Althorp and Lord Durham, gave him many opportunities to impress upon them his strong convictions on the subject. Again, in the exciting events of the next year, when at one moment the fate of the monarchy appeared to tremble in the balance, the advice and remonstrances of Mr Thomson were, it is well known, not wanting, with his more prominent colleagues to support them in that course of bold and determined policy, which proved ultimately successful in rescuing the country from the extraordinary difficulties of that trying occasion.
shewn on calculations never since impugned, would, if carried