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likely to absorb the attention of the reformed parliament, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade naturally turned to those plans of reform which were more immediately connected with his own department. And those who recollect the inveterate persecution which, like his predecessor Mr Huskisson, he had for years endured, while attempting to carry out the principles of commercial policy which he believed to be essential to the prosperity, . even the safety of the state, ma perhaps sympathize with the human and natural feeling wit which he refers to these attacks, and to the position he then occupied, as his best and ample vindication from them. Those who have lived to the present day, to witness a claim set up to the early advocacy of these same principles on the part of the highest statesmen in the realm, as the main ground on which they can claim the confidence of the intelligent and well-formed classes, may perhaps be sensible of a still warmer feeling towards one whose advocacy of commercial freedom in those early times was not such as to leave any doubt on the minds of his hearers, who encountered willingly, and almost exclusively endured, the odium and hostility of those who thought their interests compromised by the threatened change of policy. n many other points of view likewise, the passage which follows from Mr Poulett Thomson's speech at Manchester in 1832, is still worthy of perusal.
sect. v.–MR Poule:TT Thomson's FIRST speech AT MANCHESTER, A VINDICATION OF COMMERCIAL REFORM, 27TH DECEMBER, 1832.
“Gentlemen, My excellent friend, our worthy chairman, has done me the honour, in proposing my health as one of your representatives, to allude to the particular subject to which I have always lent my best advocacy—the advancement of liberal principles of commercial policy. I feel that allusion under present circumstances in a way which it is vain for me to attempt to describe. I have been for years exposed to all the shafts which malice or ignorance could point against me for the devotion I have ever shewn to those principles. I have been marked out by every blockhead—ignorant of the most common principles of commerce—men whom not one of you would keep within your counting-houses in the most inferior capacity—men utterly unacquainted with any of those great principles which have been not only so eloquently developed within this country, but which have since been § to the practical test of experience, as the butt at which they
could aim their pointless sarcasms. I have been exposed for years to everything which malovolence or interest could suggest in the way of attack or vituperation. I have seen myself accused of being a hard-hearted theorist—a coldblooded political economist—willing to sacrifice at the shrine of his own fancy the best interests of his country and of his fellow-citizens. I have had this rung into my ears in speeches, and repeated ad nauseam by a portion of the public press. Still I have stood erect under it: my spirit has quailed, but it has not been broken—it has been bent, indeed, but I have still resisted. I have felt that the day of my triumph would come at last—it has indeed arrived. The confidence which you, the electors of this great metropolis of the manufacturing industry of the world have reposed in me, unsought and unsolicited—an honour which I never hoped to obtain, and which I should never have sought to achieve—is indeed the most convincing and irresistible answer to attacks of that description. %. have interposed a barrier under whose shelter I can proudly stand and defy the attacks of the ignorant or the scoffs and calumnies of the malicious. You have conferred upon me an armour which has rendered me
-impenetrable to the weapons of such foes. With a shield on
my arm, upon which stands engraved the word “Manchester,' I can encounter, as I did indeed before with trepidation, but now with confidence, all those who may seek to assail me. “But what, may I now ask, are those principles which I have ever thus advocated : They are the most perfect freedom of exchange—a fair field for our industry—and no restrictions, beyond what for fiscal purposes are necessary, upon the exertions of our manufacturers—in one sentence, to buy as cheap, to sell as dear as possible. Gentlemen, we have made some progress, I will not say a great progress, towards removing some of that faulty legislation, by which the industry of this country has so long been oppressed. We began, as we were justified—as indeed we should not have been justified in not doing—cautiously, slowly, and therefore prudently; but as success has attended our efforts, as all our attempts have shewn that the removal of prohibitions, the relaxation of what has been so falsely termed protection, tends to the augmentation of our industry and the increase of our wealth, we have a right to argue that we may proceed in the same course. And what is that which has so falsely been called protection | Let any man scan it. Is it anything but an attempt to do that which no laws but that of nature can do, to adjust the different degrees of advantage enjoyed by different branches of industry—a system for heaping upon what is already burthened an additional burthen—imposing shackles upon the free exercise of talent, and industry, and capital, oppressive to all, and really beneficial to none? But, say the advocates of this admirable recipe for getting rich by act of
arliament, protection is necessary to secure our industry from foreign competition. What are the effects it has produced in this respect in this country? You see it illustrated at home in a manner which cannot fail to have been present to every man's mind long ere, this. Let me ask you what protection has been given to that great manufacture which gives employment to hundreds of thousands—nay, to millions I may say—within the great district that encircles your city? What protection has the cotton trade had? I answer, none whatever! Unaided by any legislative enactment—unassisted by the fostering hand of power—unprotected by the customhouse book—this great manufacture has grown from an infant's condition until it has attained a giant's strength. We see it with one arm encircle the conquests of the new world, and with another shower its productions into the very heart of that country, the vast empire of India, which was formerly its successful rival, and extending and pushing forth the fruits of its industry even into the central regions of Africa, where no European foot was ever yet stamped. This, gentlemen, is the success which has attended a manufacture which was not the pet of the legislature. Let me now mark the course of another manufacture fenced round by protections of all kinds, equally a production of a foreign country—the raw material equally brought from a distance—and thus affording a fit comparison with that which I have named. What was the case with silk? Was protection wanting there? Were there no laws which restricted foreign competition—were there no penalties upon those who attempted to introduce it? And § all this protection, amounting to absolute and total prohibition, tend to make this branch of industry flourish and extend itself? Under the auspices of the coast blockade and the search warrant did it realize the theories of the protectionists? Was it found that that manufacture, rivalling and outstripping all its competitors in foreign countries, obtained an extension like its poorer and unprotected, but therefore more hardy brother? No such thing— not only did it not attain the vigour which would enable it to reach foreign climes, but, in spite of your prohibitory laws—in spite of your penalties exacted from the unfortunate smuggler, it was met even in this country at every turn by its foreign competitors. In these two branches then we may read the history of the fallacy of protection. My system, then, is this:
leave to industry a full and fair field—relieve us from our unwise protection—remove from us your well-meant but injudicious care—leave us alone, let our talent, our capital, and our invention follow their free course, and what I see before me to-day removes, if I ever had, any doubt that we shall then have no rivals to fear, no competitors to dread. “But, gentlemen, is this all : Do I take merely so narrow
a view of this great subject as that which I have presented to
ou? There are other and more important considerations involved in this question. By extending and developing our industry at home—by giving it its fullest extension as regards foreign countries, (and we can only give it that extension b consenting to receive from foreign countries that by which they are able to pay us,) we extend the benefits of a common bond of union. Mankind may be knitted together for a time in various countries by sympathies excited by accidental circumstances, but there can be no common bond of union between nations but one founded upon a feeling of common interest. Make foreign nations dependent upon you for some of their comforts and their conveniences, encourage them in the prosecution of their industry by becoming their customers, give to them the products of your own, in an exchange advantageous to both parties, and you raise up mutual feelings of affection and of sympathy, which will go farther than anything else to prevent that which in my mind has been, and is, the greatest curse that has ever afflicted mankind—war.
“I have perhaps, gentlemen, advanced a step further in
some respects than those who preceded me were willing to go; not in their acknowledgment of the principle, but in the avowal of my willingness to act upon it, and I have not hesitated to do so. I contend, and I have contended, that if we consent to take from foreign countries that which they produce, they must of necessity receive from us in payment our
roductions. They may raise up libraries of custom-house
ooks—they may surround their territories with custom-house officers—they may fill their seas with cruisers—but, if we are to take anything from them they must take from us in return. The principle, then, which I have advocated, is to follow out, straight-forwardly, our own course, to remove the unnecessary restrictions and prohibitions from the productions of other countries, and to trust to one of two consequences resulting; either a sense of their own folly, which will induce them to adopt a better system of legislation, or to that necessity which I contend must exist—if they wish to take advantage of us—that they should admit, somehow or other, what we can give them in payment.”
Mr Thomson's journal contained but a brief record of this brilliant event, but it is worth transcribing.
“Sunday night, 30th December 1832—This has been a week of prodigious excitement, and I have had no time to set down one word. Monday at the Exchange. Tuesday, Christmas day, quiet. Thursday, the dinner, the proudest day of my life. 1250 people sat down, Heywood in so chair. I spoke an hour and a-half, and, I think, well. Friday, dined at Heywood's, and Saturday night left for town, very ill." To-day sent for Copeland.”
SECT. WI.-Life OF POULETT THOMSON CONTINUED-ALTERATIONS in The customs duties.
In the course of the following session, many valuable alterations were effected by Mr Thomson in the customs duties. Besides the entire abolition of the duty on hemp, an absurd and mischievous burden on all British shipping, a great reduction was made in the duties on dye-stuffs used in our manufactures, and on medicines consumed largely by the poor. He likewise introduced for the first time a methodical and rational classification of all the customs duties retained in our tariff. At a later period in several successive years Mr Thomson carried out still further this simplification of the duties on imports, and their reduction where the revenue would admit of it. The attention of fiscal reformers had hitherto been directed principally, if not wholly, to a few of the larger articles, such as sugar, coffee, timber, wool, and cotton. But Mr Thomson saw clearly, that while considerations of revenue or of party policy might forbid the sound principles of finance being at once applied to these, it was yet in the power of government to afford extensive and very sensible relief, both to a variety of branches of native industry, and to the consumer at large, by reduction of the heavy duties imposed on some hundreds of small, and apparently insignificant, articles, which brought in little to the revenue, while the high duties on them were a grievous obstacle to their use in the arts of manufacture, or their direct consumption. In bringing before parliament these successive measures, Mr Poulett Thomson, with great tact and judgment, avoided any boasting display, anything like heralding them with a flourish of trumpets, which he rightly considered would only draw the attention of the combined monopolists, his habitual opponents, to their value, and lead them to thwart his scheme. He always confined himself on these occasions to a very brief