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But, sir, before expressing my own opinion upon the several provisions of this Bill, I will advert for a moment to some other general topics. We have heard much of the policy of England, and her example has been repeatedly urged upon us, as proving, not only the expediency of encouragement and protection, but of exclusion and direct prohibition also. I took occasion the other day to remark, that more liberal notions were growing prevalent on this subject; that the policy of restraints and prohibitions was getting out of repute, as the true nature of commerce became better understood; and that, among public men, those most distinguished, were most decided in their reprobation of the broad principle of exclusion and prohibition. Upon the truth of this representation, as matter of fact, I supposed there could not be two opinions among those who had observed the progress of political sentiment in other countries, and were acquainted with its present state. In this respect, however, it would seem, that I was greatly mistaken. We have heard it again and again declared, that the English government still adheres, with immovable firmness, to its old doctrines of prohibition; that although journalists, theorists, and scientific writers, advance other doctrines, yet the practical men, the legislators, the government of the country, are too wise to follow them. It has even been most sagaciously hinted, that the promulgation of liberal opinions on these subjects, is intended only for a delusion upon other nations, to cajole them into the folly of liberal ideas, while England retains to herself all the benefits of the admirable old system of prohibition. We have heard from Mr. Speaker a warm commendation of the complex mechanism of this system. The British Empire, it is said, is, in the first place, to be protected against the rest of the world; then the British isles against the colonies; next, the isles respectively against each other-England herself, as the heart of the empire, being protected most of all, and against all.
Truly, sir, it appears to me, that Mr. Speaker's imagination has seen system, and order, and beauty, in that, which is much more justly considered as the result of ignorance, partiality, or violence. This part of English legislation has resulted, partly from considering Ireland as a conquered country, partly from the want of a complete union, even with Scotland, and partly from the narrow views of colonial regulation, which in early and uninformed periods, influenced the European states.
And, sir, I imagine, nothing would strike the public men of England more singularly, than to find gentlemen of real information, and much weight, in the councils of this country, expressing sentiments like these, in regard to the existing state of these English laws. have never said, indeed, that prohibitory laws did not exist in England; we all know they do; but the question is, does she owe her prosperity and greatness to these laws? I venture to say, that such is not the opinion of the public men now in England, and the continuance of the laws, even without any alteration, would not be evidence that their opinion is different from what I have represented it; because the laws having existed long, and great interests having been built up on the faith of them, they cannot now be repealed, without great and overwhelming inconvenience. Because a thing has been
wrongly done, it does not therefore follow that it can now be undone; and this is the reason, as I understand it, upon which exclusion, prohibition, and monopoly, are suffered to remain in any degree in the English system; and for the same reason, it will be wise in us to take our measures, on all subjects of this kind, with great caution. We may not be able, but at the hazard of much injury to individuals, hereafter to retrace our steps. And yet, whatever is extravagant, or unreasonable, is not likely to endure. There may come a moment of strong reaction; and if no moderation be shown in laying on duties, there may be little scruple in taking them off. It may here be observed, that there is a broad and marked distinction between entire prohibition, and reasonable encouragement. It is one thing by duties or taxes on foreign articles, to awaken a home competition in the production of the same articles; it is another thing to remove all competition by a total exclusion of the foreign article; and it is quite another thing still, by total prohibition, to raise at home, manufactures not suited to the climate, the nature of the country, or the state of the population. These are substantial distinctions, and although it may not be easy in every case, to determine which of them applies to a given article, yet, the distinctions themselves exist, and in most cases, will be sufficiently clear to indicate the true course of policy; and, unless I have greatly mistaken the prevailing sentiment in the councils of England, it grows every day more and more favorable to the diminution of restrictions, and to the wisdom of leaving much (I do not say everything, for that would not be true) to the enterprise and the discretion of individuals. I should certainly not have taken up the time of the Committee to state at any length the opinions of other governments, or of the public men of other countries, upon a subject like this; but an occasional remark made by me the other day, having been so directly controverted, especially by Mr. Speaker, in his observations yesterday, I must take occasion to refer to some proofs of what I have stated.
What, then, is the state of English opinion? Everybody knows that, after the termination of the late European war, there came a time of great pressure in England. Since her example has been quoted, let it be asked in what mode her government sought relief. Did it aim to maintain artificial and unnatural prices? Did it maintain a swollen and extravagant paper circulation? Did it carry further the laws of prohibition and exclusion? Did it draw closer the cords of colonial restraint? No, sir, but precisely the reverse. Instead of relying on legislative contrivances and artificial devices, it trusted to the enterprise and industry of the people; which it sedulously sought to excite, not by imposing restraint, but by removing it, wherever its removal was practicable. In May, 1820, the attention of the government having been much turned to the state of foreign trade, a distinguished member of the House of Peers brought forward a parliamentary motion upon that subject, followed by an ample discussion, and a full statement of his own opinions. In the course of his remarks, he observed, "That there ought to be no prohibitory duties, as such; for that it was evident, that where a manufacture could not be carried on, or a production raised, but under the pro
* Lord Lansdowne.
tection of a prohibitory duty, that manufacture, or that produce, could not be brought to market but at a loss. In his opinion, the name of strict prohibition might, therefore, in commerce, be got rid of altogether; but he did not see the same objection to protecting duties, which, while they admitted of the introduction of commodities from abroad similar to those which we ourselves manufactured, placed them so much on a level, as to allow a competition between them." "No axiom," he added, "was more true than this: that it was by growing what the territory of a country could grow most cheaply, and by receiving from other countries what it could not produce except at too great an expense, that the greatest degree of happiness was to be communicated to the greatest extent of population." In assenting to the motion, the first Minister of the Crown expressed his own opinion of the great advantage resulting from unrestricted freedom of trade. "Of the soundness of that general principle," he observed, "I can entertain no doubt. I can entertain no doubt of what would have been the great advantages to the civilized world, if the system of unrestricted trade had been acted upon by every nation, from the earliest period of its commercial intercourse with its neighbours. If to those advantages there could have been any exceptions, I am persuaded that they would have been but few; and I am also persuaded that the cases, to which they would have referred, would not have been, in themselves, connected with the trade and commerce of England. But we are now in a situation in which, I will not say that a reference to the principle of unrestricted trade can be of no use, because such a reference may correct erroneous reasoning-but in which it is impossible for us, or for any country in the world, but the United States of America, to act unreservedly on that principle. The commercial regulations of the European world have been long established, and cannot suddenly be departed from." Having supposed a proposition to be made to England, by a foreign state, for free commerce and intercourse, and an unrestricted exchange of agricultural products, and of manufactures, he proceeds to observe: "It would be impossible to accede to such a proposition. We have risen to our present greatness under a different system. Some suppose that we have risen in consequence of that system; others, of whom I am one, believe that we have risen in SPITE OF THAT SYSTEM. But, whichever of these hypotheses be true, certain it is, that we have risen under a very different system than that of free and unrestricted trade. It is utterly impossible, with our debt and taxation, even if they were but half their existing amount, that we can suddenly adopt the system of free trade." Lord Ellenborough, in the same debate, said, "That he attributed the general distress then existing in Europe, to the regulations that had taken place since the destruction of the French power. Most of the states on the continent had surrounded themselves as with walls of brass, to inhibit intercourse with other states. Intercourse was prohibited, even in districts of the same state, as was the case in Austria and Sardinia. Thus, though the taxes on the people had been lightened, the severity of their condition had been increased. He believed that the discontent which pervaded most parts of Eu* Lord Liverpool.
rope, and especially Germany, was more owing to commercial restrictions, than to any theoretical doctrines on government; and that a free communication among them would do more to restore tranquillity, than any other step that could be adopted. He objected to all attempts to frustrate the benevolent intentions of Providence, which had given to various countries various wants, in order to bring them together. He objected to it as antisocial; he objected to it, as making commerce the means of barbarising, instead of enlightening nations. The state of the trade with France was the most disgraceful to both countries; the two greatest civilized nations of the world, placed at a distance of scarcely twenty miles from each other, had contrived, by their artificial regulations, to reduce their commerce with each other to a mere nullity." Every member, speaking on this occasion, agreed in the general sentiments favorable to unrestricted intercourse, which had thus been advanced; one of them remarking, at the conclusion of the debate, that "the principles of free trade, which he was happy to see so fully recognised, were of the utmost consequence; for, though, in the present circumstances of the country, a free trade was unattainable, yet their task hereafter was to approximate to it. Considering the prejudices and interests which were opposed to the recognition of that principle, it was no small indication of the firmness and liberality of government, to have so fully conceded it."
Sir, we have seen, in the course of this discussion, that several gentlemen have expressed their high admiration of the silk manufacture of England. Its commendation was begun, I think, by the honorable member from Vermont, who sits near me, who thinks that that alone gives conclusive evidence of the benefits produced by attention to manufactures, inasmuch as it is a great source of wealth to the nation, and has amply repaid all the cost of its protection. Mr. Speaker's approbation of this part of the English example, was still warmer. Now, sir, it does so happen, that both these gentlemen differ very widely on this point, from the opinions entertained in England, by persons of the first rank, both of knowledge and of power. In the debate to which I have already referred, the proposer of the motion urged the expediency of providing for the admission of the silks of France into England. "He was aware," he said, "that there was a poor and industrious body of manufacturers, whose interests must suffer by such an arrangement; and therefore he felt that it would be the duty of parliament to provide for the present generation, by a large parliamentary grant. It was conformable to every principle of sound justice to do so, when the interests of a particular class were sacrificed to the good of the whole." In answer to these observations, Lord Liverpool said that, with reference to several branches of manufactures, time, and the change of circumstances, had rendered the system of protecting duties merely nominal; and that, in his opinion, if all the protecting laws which regarded both the woollen and cotton manufactures, were to be repealed, no injurious effects would thereby be occasioned. "But," he observes, "with respect to silk, that manufacture in this kingdom is so completely artificial, that any attempt to introduce the principles of free trade with reference to it, might put an end to it altogether. I allow
that the silk manufacture is not natural to this country. I wish we had never had a silk manufactory. I allow that it is natural to France; I allow, that it might have been better, had each country adhered exclusively to that manufacture in which each is superior; and had the silks of France been exchanged for British cottons. But I must look at things as they are; and when I consider the extent of capital, and the immense population, consisting, I believe, of about 50,000 persons engaged in our silk manufacture, I can only say, that one of the few points in which I totally disagree with the proposer of the motion, is the expediency, under existing circumstances, of holding out any idea, that it would be possible to relinquish the silk manufacture, and to provide for those who live by it, by parliamentary enactment. Whatever objections there may be to the continuance of the protecting system, I repeat, that it is impossible altogether to relinquish it. I may regret that the system was ever commenced; but as I cannot recall that act, I must submit to the inconvenience by which it is attended, rather than expose the country to evils of greater magnitude." Let it be remembered, sir, that these are not the sentiments of a theorist, nor the fancies of speculation; but the operative opinions of the first minister of England, acknowledged to be one of the ablest and most practical statesmen of his country. Sir, gentlemen could have hardly been more unfortunate than in the selection of the silk manufacture in England, as an example of the beneficial effects of that system which they would recommend. It is, in the language which I have quoted, completely artificial. It has been sustained by I know not how many laws, breaking in upon the plainest principles of general expediency. At the last session of Parliament, the manufacturers petitioned for the repeal of three or four of these statutes, complaining of the vexatious restrictions which they impose on the wages of labor; setting forth, that a great variety of orders has from time to time been issued by magistrates under the authority of these laws, interfering, in an oppressive manner, with the minutest details of the manufacture: such as limiting the number of threads to an inch; restricting the widths of many sorts of work; and determining the quantity of labor not to be exceeded without extra wages: that by the operation of these laws, the rate of wages, instead of being left to the recognised principles of regulation, has been arbitrarily fixed by persons whose ignorance renders them incompetent to a just decision; that masters are compelled by law to pay an equal price for all work, whether well or ill performed; and that they are totally prevented the use of improved machinery, it being ordered, that work, in the weaving of which machinery is employed, shall be paid precisely at the same rate as if done by hand; that these acts have frequently given rise to the most vexatious regulations, the unintentional breach of which has subjected manufacturers to ruinous penalties; and that, the introduction of all machinery being prevented, by which labor might be cheapened, and the manufacturers being compelled to pay at a fixed price, under all circumstances, they are prevented from affording employment to their workmen, in times of stagnation of trade, but are compelled to stop their looms. And finally, they complain, that, notwithstanding these grievances under which