Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: On the Security or Insecurity of the British Commerce. - Commerce Defended. An Answer to the Arguments by which Mr. Spence, Mr. Cobbett, and Others, have attempted to Prove that Commerce is not a source of National Wealth
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CHAPTER I.: On the Security or Insecurity of the British Commerce. - James Mill, Commerce Defended. An Answer to the Arguments by which Mr. Spence, Mr. Cobbett, and Others, have attempted to Prove that Commerce is not a source of National Wealth 
Commerce Defended. An Answer to the Arguments by which Mr. Spence, Mr. Cobbett, and Others, have attempted to Prove that Commerce is not a source of National Wealth (London: C. and R. Baldwin, 1808).
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On the Security or Insecurity of the British Commerce.
Both of these Authors preface their inquiries into the value of commerce, by an attempt to persuade us that the commerce of this country has become extremely insecure. This is not exactly the most philosophical course, as it is taking aid from our fears in support of their argument. Mr. Spence informs us,* that ‘the idea which a few years ago would have been laughed at, that any man could acquire the power of shutting the whole continent against our trade, seems now not unlikely to be realized.’ And Mr. Cobbett assures us, that the soldier is abroad, and will not return home till he hath acquired a share of the good things of the world. On this point, those two champions appear to be at variance. The soldier will certainly not get possession of any of our good things, by shutting them out from the Continent; and if he comes and takes them, we shall be in danger of losing our land as well as our commerce.
A calm and rational view of our circumstances, will probably soon convince us that neither the one bugbear of these authors, nor the other, ought in the highest degree to alarm us; and that it will be only by our own egregious misconduct, if we suffer any considerable disaster, from the efforts of our enemy either to invade us or to destroy our commerce. In regard to invasion, the experiment may be said to have been fairly tried, and to have failed; in the vast preparations made by Bonaparte, and the abandonment of the attempt to employ them. This danger then, especially as it seems to have little influence at present on the public feelings, we may pass without further notice. The experiment of excluding our commerce is now to be tried, and it may be regarded as a fortunate circumstance, that it can be tried so completely. When our enemy is thoroughly convinced, that neither his invading nor his excluding scheme, can be made the instrument of any serious injury to us; and when we ourselves are convinced that we have nothing either in peace or war to fear from him, the minds of both parties may decidedly incline to peace.
Let us only contemplate for one moment the vast extent of the habitable globe, and consider how small in comparison is that portion of coast over which the sway of Bonaparte extends; and we shall probably conclude with considerable confidence, that in the wide world channels will be found for all the commerce, to which this little island can administer. Let us look first at the United States of America. To these, we have for years sent more goods of British manufacture than to the whole continent of Europe. The vast commerce of the West India Islands, next comes naturally in view. The immense extent of Portuguese and Spanish America, whose communication with manufacturing countries, may in a great measure be confined to ourselves, will, notwithstanding the disadvantages under which they labour, furnish a growing demand for the produce of our industry. Even the coasts of Africa, miserable as their condition is, might present to the careful explorer something better for the commodities which he may offer, than their wretched population. The Cape of Good Hope itself, improved by British wisdom and British capital, opens a field of boundless extent. The vast shores of the Indian ocean, both continental and insular, with their unrivalled productions, are all our own. Whatever the ingenuity of the Indian, the Malay, and the Chinese can produce, or their various and productive soils can yield, is ready to be exchanged for the commodities which we can supply to the wants of that immense population.
This superficial review can hardly fail to satisfy the man, who knows hut the outline of geography, that, while Britain is mistress of the sea, she might have scope for a boundless commerce, though the whole continent of Europe were swallowed up by an earthquake. But in regard to Europe itself, it is only to the superficial eye, that the power of Bonaparte over our commerce can appear important. Not to mention the probability that the Baltic, the channel by which a great part of our commerce has for a number of years found its way into Europe, will not long be shut against us; the very notion of guarding the whole extent of European coast, from the mouth of the Elbe to the gulph of Venice, must appear ridiculous to all men of information and reflection. Let any man but consider the well known fact, that under the very eye of the most vigilant Custom House in the world, and where an actual army of Custom House officers is concentrated, contraband East India goods are regularly contracted for by the smugglers, to be delivered in any house in London, for 25 per cent. Even Hollands and brandy, which are not the most handy commodities, are currently landed in the Downs, in the presence of a British fleet. With a knowledge of these facts, can it be supposed, that any British goods which the Continent wants, will not find their way into it in spite of any regulations which Bonaparte can adopt? A line of soldiers regularly planted from one extremity of the coast to another, from the point of Jutland to the bottom of the Adriatic gulph, would not suffice to exclude our commerce.
An important fact is to be considered. The population of Great Britain take no interest in the success of the smugglers. The greater or at least the superior part condemn the traffic, and rather wish to obstruct it. The case is very different on the Continent. Even in France, the great mass of the people wish for British commodities, and condemn the policy which excludes them. But in what may be called the conquered countries, in Holland for example, and Portugal, the interests and the ancient hahits of the people of all ranks, give them the strongest propensity to elude, by every possible contrivance, the restrictive policy of Bonaparte. Where a whole people have the strongest interest in deceiving the government, in a case in which it can be so easily deceived as in the exclusion of British commerce from the Continent, we may confidently conclude that the public decrees will be very indifferently executed. If 25 per cent. can cover the expencc of smuggling in the Downs, we may be certain that one half of that sum will be sufficient to cover the expence of smuggling British goods on the coasts of Europe. Even from this expence are to be deducted the Custom House duties which must have been paid in the course of regular entry; so that in many cases, British goods will reach the continental consumer, loaded with an expence of probably not more than 5 per cent, above what they would have cost in the way of regular trade. But allowing their price to be enhanced at a rate of 10 or 12 per cent, the deduction which this can occasion from the quantity which would otherwise be sold, cannot bear a very great proportion to the general amount of the extensive, various, and unrivalled traffic of Great Britain.
The fact is, the British commerce has much snore to fear from the injudicious regulations of the British government, than from the decrees of Bonaparte. The great instrument of that species of traffic, which must now be carried on with the Continent, are neutral bottoms. It will not be very difficult, however, for our ministers to put it out of the power of the neutrals to serve us in this important capacity. The late orders of council are of a nature to give effect to the ‘decrees of Bonaparte, beyond any thing which the plenitude of his power could achieve. Instead of thwarting and restricting the intercourse of neutrals, Britain ought studiously to afford it every facility and accommodation. Wherever a neutral vessel obtains admittance into a continental port; means are afforded for introducing British goods. If the orders of the British council however serve to unveil the disguises, under which the neutrals might be enabled to cover our goods, this important resource may be in a great measure cut off, and the ingenuity of the merchants, so fertile in expedients for eluding the restrictions on trade, may be defeated.—We may perceive then, in the wide extent of the world, and its innumerable productions and wants, in our dominion of the seas, and in the impotence of all exclusive efforts, sufficient security for our commerce, if we exercise but common prudence, in spite of all external hostilities that can be waged against it.
[*]“Britain Independent of Commerce,” p. 7. It is necessary here to remark, that as nearly the whole of the present Tract was written before the 3d edition of Mr. Spence's pamphlet appeared, it is the 2d edition always that is quoted, unless when the 3d edition is actually named.