« PreviousContinue »
doubt. Such an event would inevitably compromise the tranquillity of the country; nor do we conceive that any amount of profit would constitute an adequate compensation for the risk, to which such a state of things would expose the community.
But we must go deeper still. The increase of our manufacturing system has, unquestionably, effected already a considerable revolution in the morals and habits which had previously characterised the bulk of the inhabitants of this country; the confined and crowded state of manufactories has a decided tendency to shorten the average duration of human life, and to corrupt the feelings of the workmen employed in them. We, therefore, doubt whether any augmentation of profit to be expected from a great additional extension of our manufacturing system would, in the eye of an intelligent and humane legislator, compensate for the moral and social evils unavoidably connected with it.
Those who maintain the expediency of encouraging the importation of foreign corn on a great scale, would have us believe, that this supply could never be cut off, as it must always be the interest of other nations to furnish it. But without adverting to those directly hostile movements which interrupt the cominercial relations subsisting between two nations, other circumstances, of a less violent character, may deprive us of this supply. A deficient crop, or a bad harvest, is a calamity against which no foresight can guard : this would cause prices to rise very rapidly on the continent, and the clamours of the common people would speedily compel the continental governments to prohibit the exportation of corn. France has already organized a system of laws prohibiting the exportation of corn, when the market price of wheat amounts to about 49s. per quarter. It is not to be expected that any government will permit corn to be exported, when the market price indicates that the produce of the year is barely sufficient to supply the wants of the native population.
Another cause of more extensive operation would gradually diminish, and in the end cut off entirely the supplies which, under a free trade in corn, would be sent to the English market. We will suppose that Prussia should send into this country corn sufficient to maintain 20,000 workmen employed in manufactures; and that the Prussian government should eventually succeed in establishing manufactories at home, wherein this corn would be consumed in fabricating the wrought commodities which the Prussian people now obtain from abroad. The 20,000 workmen employed here to supply the manufactured goods required by Prussia, would then be thrown out of work, and cast upon the community in a state of destitution. This is an interruption of the foreign supply of corn, which does not in the least depend
upon contingencies arising from the caprice or ill-will of foreign governments: it is one which must inevitably spring from the gradual progress of society, and cannot be prevented by any foresight on our part: sooner or later, it must come. England cannot expect to continue, what for nearly a century she has been, a workshop, in which a great proportion of the surplus produce of the whole world has been converted into a manufactured state. As other nations which we have been hitherto accustomed to supply with manufactures advance in wealth and industry, they will unquestionably endeavour (as they ought to do) to fabricate at home the wrought commodities which they have been in the habit of exporting hence in exchange for the raw produce transmitted hither.
We may, in imagination, conceive this country to have become, under a system of free trade in corn, the general workshop of Europe-we may conceive our fields to be turned into manufactories and cabbage-gardens; growing no corn, but applied, from John o'Groat's to the Land's-end, to the production of beef, milk, and vegetables; the whole of our bread corn imported from foreign countries; and our population more than doubled; and while foreign nations should continue to take our manufactures in exchange for the corn sent hither, we may further conceive this country as enjoying a high state of prosperity. But this state of things could not endure-other nations would, sooner or later, turn manufacturers, and consume their corn at home; and the people in this country who depended upon this foreign trade, would, sooner or later, be thrown out of work, and reduced to a state of starvation. This is the species of retrogradation which proves most fatal to the happiness of communities. The distress thus occasioned is not confined to the particular class deprived primarily of employment; an excess of labour above the demand for it is thrown into the market at large, and the condition of the whole of the labouring classes is, in the issue, deteriorated.
This is the true reason of the declension of Venice, Pisa, Florence, and the Hanseatic Towns, in wealth and population. These were the workshops into which the surplus corn of Europe was poured to be consumed in manufactories. By degrees, the nations which sent their raw produce to these places, in exchange for wrought goods, began to manufacture for themselves ; in other words, to consume at home the surplus produce which they had been accustomed to export. The wealth of these commercial communities not resting, to any large extent, upon independent resources found within their own territories, when their foreign supplies were cut off, their prosperity began to decay, and in the end entirely vanished. The history of
the Netherlands presents also a striking illustration of the fate which must finally overtake every country which, even under the most favourable circumstances, habitually submits to depend upon a foreign supply for the subsistence of any large portion of its population. The whole quantity of corn exported from Great Britain alone between 1697 and 1771, inclusive, amounted to about thirty-four millions of quarters, being an average of exports amounting to about 450,000 quarters annually. Most of this corn was sent to the Netherlands, in exchange for wrought commodities. While this species of commerce continued, the Low Countries flourished greatly; an immense manufacturing population was created, depending for food upon the corn obtained from England and other countries. About the middle of the last century, however, the manufactures of this island took a start; and from a corn-exporting we became a corn-importing people. We consumed in domestic manufactories the corn which we had been in the habit of sending away to be converted into broad-cloth and linen, in the Low Countries; and other nations sent their corn to be turned into wrought goods, not in the Low Countries, but here. The distress into which this change of their commercial relations plunged the inhabitants of the Netherlands was terrible. Multitudes of the manufacturing population were, year after year, deprived of employment. Many of them, relinquishing the hearths of their fathers, emigrated into England and other foreign countries; and more became the victims of want and starvation at home. The dreadful scenes of misery and distress which the Low Countries presented at this crisis will not be lost upon those whose passions or interest do not render them blind to the instruction to be derived from history and experience. If we be wise, we shall take warning from the misfortunes of others. The Flemings of the eighteenth century will not have suffered in vain, if their fate should have the effect of deterring the legislature of this country from falling into the error which proved fatal to that industrious people, while pursuing, with impolitic and ill-regulated eagerness, the acquisition of uncertain and instable gain.
Nothing, indeed, seems to us to form a more singular feature of the clamour recently excited against the Corn-laws, than the blind zeal with which the manufacturing workmen have joined in the cry. It is alleged that the repeal of the Corn-laws would reduce the price of bread; and it is on this ground that the poor weavers have been prevailed upon to bellow for their abolition. But granting that this effect should result from the repeal of these laws, how would that benefit the labouring mechanic? Does he not know that it is a law of political economy, as unchangeable as any even of nature's laws, that the wages of labour must, upon an
average of years, bear an exact proportion to the market-price of corn? We will suppose that, for the last seven years, the average price of corn amounted to 60s. per quarter, and the average earnings of a manufacturing labourer, during the same period, to 20s. per week : the weekly earnings of the labourer would thus purchase the third part of a quarter of corn.
Let us now assume, that the most sanguine expectations of those who advocate the total repeal of the Corn-laws should be more than realized; and that the price of wheat should, on an average of the next seven years, be reduced from 60s. to 30s. per quarter : the labouring mechanic should not be suffered to remain in ignorance of the inevitable consequence—viz., that his wages would sustain a corresponding reduction, from 20s. to 10s. per week. That his average wages would fall in exact proportion to the average fall in the price of the necessaries of life, is a proposition as true as an axiom in mathematics : it is a consequence of the fall of prices, against which he can contend with no more success than he could resist the ebb or the flow of the tide. *
The cry of cheap bread' has imposed upon the understanding of our labourers. An extensive permanent importation of foreign corn would drive a greater number of our population into cotton-factories: it would subject a greater mass of them to the baneful influence which, in crowded manufacturing districts, affects their health and morals; but it would not secure to each individual more or better food than he can command at present. If, however, any political or natural contingency should cut off the foreign supply, upon which the population had become dependent, the unemployed and destitute workmen would be involved in all the wretchedness of starvation and want. It is, indeed, the darkest blot of a manufacturing system, which depends for its permanence upon a foreign supply of food, that its prosperity is almost as
* In order to show that this is not a mere theory unsupported by facts, we shall extract from a very sensible and practical pamphlet before us, the following table of weekly wages paid in a particular district, to agricultural labourers, for the greater part of the last thirty-five years, together with the annual average of the price of wheat, and the quantity of it that their weekly wages enabled them to buy :
Week's Wages in Week's Wages in Price of
Week's Wages in Week's Wages in Price of
Wheat. Wheat. 1790 10s. 62 Pecks 48s. 1818 18s. 63 Pecks
83s. 1795 16s. 71 71s. 1819 16s. 7
72s. 1800 21s. 64
658. 1805 18s.
to 12s. 5
to 71 54s. 1810 21s. 6.
105s. 1822 7s, 6d. to 10s. 54 to 74 43s. 1815 158.
64s. 1823 8s, to lls. 5 to 6 51s. 1816 16s. 62
62s. 1817 19s, 61 94s. 1825 14s.
66s. This table is given by Mr. Cayley, upon the authority of Mr. Robert Merry, a very intelligent practical farmer and landowner of Lockton, near Pickering.
fatal to the workmen employed as its decay. While the usual supply continues to arrive, they are stewed in manufactories ; when this supply is interrupted, or fails, they are starved in workhouses. The profit of an extension of this system would be entirely reaped by their employers, while the degradation and misery, inseparably connected with it, must fall exclusively to their lot.*
By way of reconciling the agricultural classes themselves to the projected alterations in the Corn-laws, it is contended, that a steady price is much more beneficial to the grower than a high price; and that a free trade in corn would be the means of preventing those fluctuations in the price of it which are found so detrimental to the interest of the farmer. It is asserted that these fluctuations recur less frequently in proportion to the extent of territory over which a free trade in corn is permitted ;—that when the crop proves deficient in one district, by an invariable law of nature it is found abundant in others; that a short
in England, for instance, is uniformly counterbalanced by a superabundant harvest in some other country; in a word, that whatever may be the character of the seasons, there is little or no variation in the amount of produce throughout the whole of Europe. This is a very pretty theory; but we are sorry to say it is one which has no foundation in fact. In his valuable work upon high and low prices, Mr. Tooke has set this part of the question completely at rest. This accurate and acute writer states it to be the result of his examination
• That seasons of a particular character for productiveness or unproductiveness are liable to occur in very different proportions in equal series of years at different intervals : as, for instance, in one interval,
* Speak not to me of swarms the scene sustains;
We banish rural life, and breathe unwholesome skies.'