Front Page Titles (by Subject) General Reflections. - 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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General Reflections. - 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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After this controversy to determine whether any wealth is derived from commerce, the question respecting its relative importance, as a source of production, is of some moment. If it is not altogether destitute of utility, in what degree ought it to be considered as valuable? Though Mr. Spence, who condemns it as entirely unproductive, is excluded from this inquiry, it is a subject on which our countrymen have need of much more instruction than it will be possible to give them in a few pages of this pamphlet.
A general idea of the value of commerce, as a source of wealth, may be easily derived from the doctrines which have been laid down in the preceding discussion. We have seen that the true conception of a nation's wealth is that of her powers of annual production. A nation is poor or is rich according as the quantity of property which she annually creates, in proportion to the number of her people, is great or is small. Now commerce tends to increase this annual produce by occasioning a more productive application and distribution both of the land and of the labour of the country. Instead of raising flax, for example, or hemp, on our land, we raise corn; with that corn we feed a number of hardware manufacturers, and with this hardware we buy a greater quantity of flax than the land which raised our corn, and fabricated our hardware, would have produced. This is exactly equivalent to an increase in the powers of our land; it is the same thing as if we had been enabled to make that portion of land which could only raise a certain quantity of flax, raise all that additional quantity which our hardware could purchase. In this instance, the increase in the productive powers of the country by the mercantile operations we have supposed, seems to be measured by the gains of the merchant. The gains of the merchant, however, may be considered in different lights. First he may be enabled to sell the whole of the imported flax at as high a rate as that at which the flax raised at home could afford to be sold. If he can sell it at this rate, his gains seem to measure the increase in the annual produce very exactly; they are the price of the additional quantity of flax which his hardware has purchased. But, secondly, if these gains are very high, competitors will be attracted, who will endeavour to share in them by reducing the price of what they import. In this case, if the quantity imported remained the same, the gains of the merchants being reduced, the increase of the annual produce would surpass the gains of the merchants. There is, however, a third light in which the subject is to be viewed; this reduction in the price of flax would render it impossible any longer to raise it with a profit on a considerable part of the land which had been formerly devoted to it; only such land as had a peculiar adaptation to the crop could now be cultivated for it; the quantity imported would therefore be increased; but though the profits of the merchants would thus be multiplied, a fresh addition would be made by every increase of the importation to the annual produce of the country, whence it would appear that in this case too the gains of the merchants would fall below the increase afforded to the nation. There is a fourth case, which requires no illustration, in which, by means of monopoly and bounties, the gains of the merchant may be very high, when those of the country are very low, in which the merchant may gain when the country loses. But in all cases in which trade is free, the gain to the country cannot be less than the profit to the merchant; in almost all such cases it must be greater.
From this view of the subject it will be seen that no exact estimate can be made of what any nation gains by commerce. It may, however, be safely concluded that its importance is in general greatly overrated. Every arm could be employed, and every article of the annual produce could be sold, if the country were surrounded by Friar Bacon's wall of brass, a thousand feet high. The labour of the nation would not be so productive; the annual produce would not be so large; the people would not be so cheaply, that is, liberally supplied with commodities; neither individuals, nor the government, could spend so much without turning back the progress of the country. But every labourer would find work, and every shilling of capital would find employment.
When we hear people, therefore, talk, as we do too often hear them, and in places too high, of commerce as the cause of our national grandeur; when we find it appealed to as the measure of our prosperity; and our exports and our imports quoted as undeniable proofs that the country has flourished under the draining of the most expensive war that ever nation waged on the face of the earth, we have reason to smile at the ignorance or the deceitfulness of the speaker. Further, when we find important measures of state embraced upon the allurements of these ideas, when regulations are formed to bend forcibly the national industry to a conformity with them; but above all, when wars are commenced, or peace is repelled, for the loss or gain, or rather much more frequently an absurd apprehension respecting the loss or gain of a branch of commerce, we ought to deplore the fate of the nation, and the unskilfulness of her rulers. We may assert, without an hyperbole, that the fee simple of our whole export commerce is not worth the expence of the last fifteen years war; that had it all been sacrificed, to the last sixpence, to save us from that expence, we should have been gainers by the bargain.* Had Mr. Spence then directed his efforts to moderate our ideas of the value of commerce, without teaching other doctrines which, first, were false, and next led to practical conclusions of the most dangerous tendency, he might have been of service to his country. It is but too true that the greater number of the persons with whom we converse seem to imagine that commerce creates wealth by a sort of witchcraft, as our financiers would sometimes persuade us that they can maintain fleets and armies by a juggle of figures. The truth is, that nothing creates wealth but the hands of our industrious countrymen, set to work by the means, and regulated by the skill and judgment of others. Commerce is only one of the causes, and one not very high in the scale, by which their industry is rendered more productive.
Mr. Cobbett's antipathy to commerce appears to me to be founded on juster views than the disapprobation of Mr. Spence. Little troubling himself about the subtle question of the origin of wealth, and unacquainted with the plausible and ingenious, but fallacious arguments of the Economistes, he yet saw clearly, and felt keenly, the injury which the country sustained from a policy guided by ideas of the boundless value of commerce. It is from topics of this sort that almost all his invectives against commerce are drawn. ‘Wars’, he cries,* ‘have been made over and over again for the sake of commerce; and when the rights and honour of the nation are to be sacrificed by a peace, the regaining or preserving of commerce is invariably the plea. To support commerce, the wars in Egypt were undertaken; the wars in India are carried on without ceasing; the war in South-America and in Africa are now undertaken. Oh! What English blood, and English labour, and English happiness, and English honour, has not this commerce cost!’ Thus again, he says,† ‘The fact is, that the means of supporting fleets and armies, the means of meeting all the squanderings that we witness, the means of paying the dividends at the bank, come out of the land of the country and the labour of its people. Nothing is more convenient for the purpose of a squandering, jobbing, corrupting, bribing minister, than a persuasion amongst the people, that it is from the commerce, and not from their labour, that the taxes come; and it has long been a fashionable way of thinking, that it is no matter how great the expences are, so that the commerce does but keep pace with them in every case. Nothing can better suit such a minister and his minions, than the propagation of opinions like these. But, gentlemen, you have seen the commerce tripled since the fatal day when Pitt became minister; and have you found that your taxes have not been increased? The commerce has been tripled, and so have the parish paupers. Away, then, I beseech you with this destructive delusion! See the thing in its true light. Look upon all the taxes as arising out of the land and the labour, and distrust either the head or the heart of the man who would cajole you with a notion of their arising from any other source.’ Once more, ‘If events,’ says he.* ‘proceed as, thank God, they are now proceeding, this so long deluded people uill think rightly upon the subject of commerce, and when they do, away go, in a very short space of time, all the locusts that now eat up our substance; that now degrade the country; that now barter its happiness and its honour for their own villainous advantage. England has long groaned under a commercial system, which is the most oppressive of all possible systems; and it is, too, a quiet, silent, smothering oppression, that it produces, which is more hateful than all others.’
But Mr. Cobbett should consider that commerce is entirely innocent of that political misconduct which excites his complaint and indignation. If an ignorant minister is deceived into absurd measures by overrating the value of commerce, or a deceitful minister screens his administration by disseminating exaggerated ideas of its value, the fault is with such ministers. How is commerce to blame? The argument which Mr. Cobbett uses against commerce is exactly the same with that which is used by infidels against religion. Because courts and ministers have so often founded on religious pretexts measures the most pernicious to human kind, they conclude that religion ought to be abolished. Their complaints run entirely in Mr. Cobbett's strain. What wars, say they, and bloodshed has it occasioned? What chains has it forged for mankind? True, we answer. The mischief which has been wrought, in the name of religion, has been infinite and detestable. The effects of religion, meanwhile, like the efforts of commerce, are all beneficent. But were both religion and commerce extinguished, can Mr. Cobbett, or the infidels, imagine that ignorant ministers would not still mistake their duty, and mercenary ministers not find pretexts to delude the people? Let us only consult the most vulgar experience. France has no commerce, nor Austria, the boasted value of which can impose upon the public. But are Austria and France governed with any more attention to the happiness of the people than England? and are ministers there without their pretexts to persuade the people that they are well government, as well as the ministers of England? Have not the rulers of France, the glory of the nation and its renown in arms, of which they make abundant use? This too used to be the boast of Austria. At present it is laid aside for a space. But the preservation of the in dependence of their country, the dignity of its royal family, and of its nobles, is still in Austria a source of triumph and a claim of merit. The fact is, that nothing is a security against deception, but the knowledge of the people, by which it is detected. As long as a people are ignorant enough to be easily deceived, it is not in the nature of human affairs that deception should not take place; it would be absurd to expect it. Let Mr. Cobbett rest assured that wherever a nation has been so far deficient in knowledge as to be deluded into the approbation of impolitic measures by boasts respecting commerce, it would have been no difficult matter to have found the means of deceiving it, had commerce not existed. I am far therefore from concluding with Mr. Cobbett that, were commerce gone, we should be delivered from ‘all the ‘locusts that now eat up our substance.’ Could the loss of commerce so enlighten us that we should be proof against delusion? Or are the means of deception so few that they are all summed up in commerce?
Mr. Cobbett appears to imagine that commerce has corrupted our government. It has subjected us, he says, to oppression. But as he does not explain how, it is not easy to reply to this objection. As Mr. Cobbett is far from supposing, that the popular part of our government has lately increased in power, commerce must have disordered the constitution, by increasing the power, either of the kingly or of the aristocratical part. This is directly contrary to the opinion of Mr. Spence, who explains at considerable length* the tendency of commerce to break the force of regal and aristocratical servitude. The regal and aristocratical power in this country has increased by the amazing increase of the share of the annual produce which is placed at the disposal of the executive government, and which is chiefly distributed among the great men. But it is the parliament by which this amazing increase has been voted. Now commercial men, though their number in parliament is considerable, form but a small proportion to the whole; neither have we ever heard that they were more forward in voting the taxes than the landlords and gentlemen. The fact is, that though rich merchants and manufacturers are by far too apt to ape their betters in a foolish predilection for arbitrary principles of government in regard to the great body of the people, yet their situation does lead them to an intercourse with the lower orders upon rather more liberal terms than the situation of the mere land proprietor. The persons employed by the merchant and the manufacturer are in general very independent of their employers, and if they meet with ill usage, will immediately change their masters. Those on the other hand, who fire under the land proprietor, are in general far more dependent upon him; and his situation in this manner generally creates in him a much more arbitrary temper and conduct. He is therefore almost always disposed to coercive and arbitrary measures of government; and were his prejudices to influence the tone of administration, absolute power would seldom fail to be the final result; Even some of the prejudices connected with commerce have been extremely favourable to liberty in this country. The supposition that the country depended in a great degree upon commerce, and the vast instrumentality of the lower orders in this department, have contributed greatly to the consideration of their interests in our course of legislation, Had the body of our population consisted entirely of the tenants and peasants of the landholders, and our legislature consisted of none but the latter, the more completely subservient the tenants and peasants could have been rendered to their masters, the more happy a situation of things it would have appeared. Mr. Cobbett's opinion is contradicted by the whole of our experience. All over Europe where the population has chiefly consisted of landholders and peasants, arbitrary power and poverty have invariably reigned. In Great Britain, where commerce has been established, much more freedom and opulence have been enjoyed.
Were our attention much more concentrated upon domestic industry, and a far less proportion devoted to foreign trade, Mr. Cobbett thinks the national interests would be promoted. There is reason, to some extent, for his opinion. Agricultural industry is not at the same height in England as commercial and manufacturing industry. But what is the reason of this? It is chiefly owing to the distribution of our landed property. The greater part of it is possessed in portions too large. A man of ample capital will never lay it out in cultivating another man's estate; because this employment is less independent; because it is a station of inferiority. He therefore, in preference devotes his fortune to trade. The cultivation of the ground is discouraged too, by the imposts of tithes, and of poor rates; which are taxes upon improvement. By these, and various other causes, capital is drawn from agriculture. But is this the fault of commerce? It only takes what impolitic and unnatural laws will not permit the other to employ.
Commerce, then, we may infer from all that has been said, is a very good thing when it comes spontaneously, but a thing which may very easily be bought too dear. The two main springs of national wealth and prosperity, are the cultivation of the land, and manufactures for home employment and consumption. Foreign commerce is a mere auxiliary to these two; and its sole utility consists in enabling the nation to obtain its supply to certain demands, at a less expence of land and labour than it could have supplied them at home. It may be clearly seen too, that it depends upon the circumstances of other nations, in what degree foreign commerce may be advantageous. When the nations which surround England, for example, are so situated that certain articles which England affords bear in them a very high price, while many other articles in them which England wants bear a very low price, it suits England to manufacture a great deal for foreign markets, because, with a small quantity of what she produces, she can supply herself with a great quantity of what they produce; But should those articles in the surrounding countries gradually become dearer, while the articles from England become cheaper, it would then become less and less the interest of England to manufacture for these countries; and if the articles which she wants should rise in them to the price at which she could provide them from her own land and labour, it would then become her interest to provide them at home, and manufacture for these countries no longer. The fluctuations then of foreign commerce, afford a very fallacious indication of national prosperity. The national prosperity may in some cases even be consulted by abstaining from it.
After forming these conclusions respecting the sources of production, one great branch of the subject of which we have treated in this pamphlet, some remaining reflections yet force themselves upon us respecting its other great branch, consumption; concerning which the misapprehensions of our countrymen are not less numerous, and are still more nearly allied to practice.
Notwithstanding the avidity for immediate gratification, with which the greater part of mankind appear to be inspired, the disposition to accumulate seems, from experience, to be a still more powerful propensity; and wherever men are secure in the enjoyment of their property, a great part of them always exert themselves to make what they get exceed what they spend. By means of this powerful principle it is natural for every nation, which has scope for its industry, to make continual advancement, to see the produce of every succeeding year surpass that of the year that went before it. One arrangement of society may be more favourable to this advancement than another. In one country the natural subdivision of property may be more counteracted than in another. But no arrangement of society, consistent with any tolerable degree of freedom and security, seems capable of preventing this wonderful agent from adding something every year to the fund of production, from continually increasing the annual produce. As it is this gradual produce on which the happiness of the great body of the people depends, we may reflect with satisfaction and wonder on the strength of the principle on which it is secured; on the provision which is laid in the original laws of human nature for the well-being of the species!
But when we contemplate this beneficent arrangement, and afterwards turn our eyes to the actual state of things among mankind, it is impossible not to be struck with grief and amazement. From the operation of so powerful and steady a principle we should every where have expected opulence and prosperity; we actually behold, almost every where, poverty and wretchedness! Where are we to find the solution of this strange contradiction in human affairs? By whom is that property devoured which mankind, in their individual capacity, have so strong an inclination to increase?
The general expensiveness of government, of which complaints are so common, and so well founded, will not account for the fact. All governments constantly spend as much as ever the people will let them. An expensive government is a curse. Every farthing which is spent upon it, beyond the expence necessary for maintaining law and order, is so much dead loss to the nation, contributes so far to keep down the annual produce, and to diminish the happiness of the people. But where a nation is considerable, and its industry improved and productive, the mere expence of government, however prodigal, cannot bear a great proportion to the whole of the annual produce; and the general savings of all the individuals in the nation can hardly fail to surpass the expences of the court. A country therefore can hardly fail to improve, notwithstanding the ordinary expence even of a wasteful government; it will only improve more slowly than it would have done had the government been more economical. The people may be still prosperous and happy, though they might have been a little more prosperous and happy, had the expence of the government been less.
To what baneful quarter, then, are we to look for the cause of the stagnation and misery which appear so general in human affairs? War! is the answer. There is no other cause. This is the pestilential wind which blasts the prosperity of nations. This is the devouring fiend which eats up the precions treasure of national economy, the foundation of national improvement, and of national happiness. Though the consumption even of a wasteful government cannot keep pace with the accumulation of individuals, the consumption of war can easily outstrip it. The savings of individuals, and more than the savings of individuals, are swallowed up by it. Not only is the progression of the country stopped, and all the miseries of the stationary condition are experienced, but inroads are almost always made upon that part of the annual produce which had been previously devoted to reproduction. The condition of the country therefore goes backwards; and in general it is only after the country is so exhausted that the expence of the war can hardly by any means be found, that it is ever put an end to. When the blessing of peace is restored, the country slowly recovers itself. But hardly has it gained its former prosperity when it is generally re-struck by the calamity of war, and compelled to measure back its steps. In this alternation between misery and the mere beginnings of prosperity, are nations for the most part, condemned to remain; the energies of human nature are exerted to no purpose; its beneficent laws are counteracted; and the happiness of society, which seems to be secured by such powerful provisions, like the water of Tantalus, is only allowed to approach the lip, that it may be immediately dashed away from it. The celebrated Vauban, the unrivalled engineer of Louis the 14th, whose profession made him locally acquainted with every part of his country, and who spoke the language of an honest observation, untainted by the prejudices of his education, or the course of his life, observed, Si la France est si misérable, ce n'est ni à I'intemperie de l'air, ni à la faute des peuples, ni à la stérilité des terres, qu'il faut I'attriboer; puisque l'air y est excellent, les habitans laborieux, adroits, pleins d'indnstrie et tres nombreux; mais aux guerres qui l'ont agitée depuis longtems et au defaut d'éeconomic que nous n'entendons pas assez.’*
In every country, therefore, where industry is free, and where men are secure in the enjoyment of what they acquire, the greatest improvement which the government can possibly receive is a steady and enlightened aversion to, war. While such a nation remains at peace, the faults of the government can hardly ever be so great, that the merits of the nation will not mere than compensate them, and that society from its own beneficent tendency will not improve. Nothing however can compensate the destruction of war. The creative efforts of individuals can never equal its gigantic consumption, and the seeds of prosperity are eaten up.
Clear and striking as these truths appear, we may surely indulge the belief that it is not impos sible to impress them pretty deeply both upon governments and people; for in the history of wars we seldom find that the people have been less infatuated, or less to blame than their rulers. If we analyse too the causes of all the wars which are on record, we shall find reason to conclude, that it is by no means so difficult a thing to avoid wars as it is generally supposed. In by far the greater number of cases, both parties have been to blame, and a little more wisdom on either side might have averted the calamity.
From these general considerations respecting war, our thoughts are forcibly attracted to a particular case, deeply affecting the interests of us all, the war in which we are at present engaged. The question which the foregoing reflections most particularly suggest is, “Whether we cannot now get out of it?” But were this question determined in the affirmative, a very difficult task would still remain, to persuade the people of this country that they might rely upon the demonstration. A portion of them, by no means inconsiderable either for numbers or influence, seem bent to believe, and government appears well disposed to encourage the belief, that we cannot bring it to a period. It is important however to ask these persons, whether they can point out a time when there is any probability that we can put an end to it more advantageously? If they shew us any certain object of great importance which by continuing the war for one year longer we may be sure of obtaining, we might listen to them, and weighing carefully the object to be-obtained with one year's expence of the war, determine whether it is worth that expence. With great assurance, however, might we determine that if the object were not one of the very greatest importance, as well as its attainment very certain, the question about continuing the war did not deserve a moment's consideration. But if no desirable object whatever can be pointed out for which we are called upon to fight; if we are called upon to fight not for one year or two years, but for any number of years, to obtain an indescribable something; if there is no probability that any number of years fighting, that can be named, can place us in a situation to obtain one object more than we can obtain at this moment; of what sort is the advice that would urge us to continue the war? When men engage in any scheme, they in general desire to know that the chance of gain is greater than the chance of loss; all serious undertakings which are not of this description every prudent man avoids; even the rashest men will not embark in a project in which they cannot persuade themselves that the chance of gain is at least equal to the chance of loss. A project in which the loss is certain, but in which an adequate gain is so far from certain, that there is no gain whatever of which even a hope can be formed, is not a choice for persons in the exercise of reason.
We confidently assume that the advocates of war can point out no time at which there is the smallest probability we can terminate the war with more advantage than we can at the present. Britain and France seem now to be come to that position in which neither can any longer do much harm to the other. France can do nothing to affect our maritime superiority, and we can do nothing to affect her superiority on land. The two countries may persist in wasting each other, and perpetuating the misery of their respective populations; they may render each other positively weaker as well as more wretched, but neither will have gained any relative advantage, because the causes of decline in both will operate equally. Can we land an army in Europe that shall beat in the forces of France, and reduce her boundaries to that circumference which suits our ideas of propriety? Is it recommended to us to continue warring with France till the moment we can atchieve this glorious enterprise? Is this what the advocates for war mean when they tell us we must fight till we can obtain a secure and honourable peace? It is of infinite consequence they should define to us their ideas. While men confine themselves to vague and general phrases, their meaning can never be known to others, and is seldom known to themselves. A secure and honourable peace may signify any thing. I can conceive a situation of circumstances in which it would be held to mean nothing less than the expulsion of Bonaparte from France, and the restoration of the Bourbons; I can conceive another situation of circumstances in which it would be made to signify the surrender of our fleet and the resignation of Ireland.
If the advocates for war would condescend to define, I believe they would not say that we ought to fight till we can send an army to the continent capable of vanquishing France; they would certainly on the other hand allow that the nature of our country, and the amount of its population, render the hope of such an event altogether ridiculous. If this prospect then is relinquished, to what object next shall we direct our expectations? Shall we wait till a general combination of princes on the continent, with an overwhelming force, has reduced the power of Bonaparte to a size which will let our fears go to rest? Long and obstinately have we adhered to this expectation. The course of events has at last, however, produced a state of things in which the most pertinacious must surrender this strong hold. It is impossible that experience can afford a demonstration more complete than it has afforded against any hope which can be raised upon a combination of princes against France. Four times within the last twenty years have formidable combinations of this kind been formed. Four times has France completely subdued them. At each time has she extended her influence over an additional portion of Europe. Nearly the whole of it is at last submitted to her imperial dictates. When the power of Europe was entire, and that of France was in its infancy, could France easily subvert the greatest confederacies? When the power of Europe is entirely broken, and that of France has grown to a gigantic size, are we to expect that she will suffer by them?
If we cannot entertain the hope of being able to terminate the war with more advantage, either from the ability of Britain to subdue Bonaparte, or that of a confederacy of European princes; to what other event are we to look? The death of Bonaparte? This will no doubt happen sooner or later. It may not, however, happen for thirty years to come. Bonaparte is yet but a young man. He enjoys good health. ‘He is extremely temperate, and takes a great deal of exercise. His mind has been subject to much agitation, but a period of calm may now be expected. Besides, it is not always found that agitation of mind has a tendency to shorten life. Aurengzebe, the celebrated emperor of Indostan, who had to wade, by usurpation, through the blood of his family, to the throne, who was a man of a weak constitution, and who continued engaged in an almost perpetual scene of war and disquietude, lived, in a climate not favourable to longevity, till beyond the age of eighty. Were we however assured that the life of Bonaparte would not be long, what assurance can we possibly have that the change would be in our favour? Let this point be thoroughly ascertained. The present is a case too serious to satisfy ourselves with childish suppositions. We ought to have proof, undeniable proof, that the change would be advantageous, highly advantageous; and also that it is near, before on such a plea, we consent to the lamentable consumption of a protracted war. On this subject again what is the lesson that experience, the true and faithful counsellor of nations, teaches? That the change would not be for our advantage. The government of France has undergone three or four changes since in 1793, we began to contend with it. Whatever was its existing state, we always hoped that the next change would bring some wonderful alteration in our favour. Change, however, succeeded change, and the same formidable aspect was still presented to us. If there are persons among us who will rest upon conjecturerather than experience, we must earnestly entreat them to reflect that the enormous expence of war is a price too high to pay for their pleasure of conjecturing.
The only remaining chance to which it seems possible that the war advocates can look for better terms of peace than may now be obtained, is a revolution, or a civil war in France. This too is a foundation on which we have most perseveringly built our hopes. This too is a subject on which the lesson of experience is clear and impressive. Has not one revolution followed another? Have we not still fancied that the next would be in favour of our expectations? Have we not still been disappointed? Is it likely that France, which, in the utmost turbulence of her furious and distracted revolution, was so easily united against all foreign aggression, will, after the firm establishment of a system of law and order, break herself, to pieces that her neighbours may obtain the advantage? Did not the government of Bonaparte disappoint all our hopes of insurrection in its infancy, when France was not accustomed to it, when he had done nothing which seemed in any peculiar degree to entitle him to that elevation, when among his brother officers he had many rivals whose merits and whose claims might appear not inferior to his own, when the-great powers of Europe still surrounded France in a formidable attitude, when the fever of change, in short, stilt raged in her veins? And are we now desired to found the most important of our national decisions upon the chance of insurrections against the government of Bonaparte, when it is confirmed by habit, when he has accomplished the most extraordinary events which are on the record of history, when he has covered France with that kind of glory which is most clear to the heart of a Frenchman, when the desire of change among Frenchmen has decidedly given place to the desire of security, when Bonaparte has had time to remove all the impediments, and establish all the springs of his clear-sighted and vigilant administration?
Astonishing indeed is the levity with which mankind allow themselves in general to decide upon national affairs. You shall find a man of information and influence, who will listen to the strongest arguments on this subject which you can adduce, who will not even inquire if these arguments are answerable, and who will only conclude with an oath against Bonaparte, and a declaration that we must nevertheless fight till we have humbled him. Yet this is a speech so extravagant and irrational, that if it were not so common, and did not harmonize with so many of our favourite passions, we could not believe would be uttered by any reasonable creature. Let us consider with due attention what it implies. We are as little able to humble Bonaparte, as Bonaparte is to humble us. There is hardly any human event that is less within the reach of chance than the humiliation of Bonaparte by the prolongation of our hostilities. This is a truth in which all men appear at last to be agreed; it is so evident that it seems to defy objection. To ask us therefore to fight for the humiliation of Bonaparte, is, according to the practical rules of human conduct, the same thing as asking us to fight for an impossibillty; it is the same thing as if we were desired to fisrht till we could make the vines of France grow spontaneously on the mountains of Scotland. Now did they only urge us to let our beards grow till this important event should be accomplished, and were they numerous and powerful enough to set the fashion, we might comply without much indignation. But when they require us to submit to the enormous and destructive consumption of war, when they require us to take the fund destined annually to increase the national produce, and support national happiness; nay to diminish annually the fund of production, to dwindle away the strength of our country, and spread poverty and wretchedness among our countrymen, and all this for an object, on account of which it would be irrational to require us to submit to the most trifling permanent inconvenience: no language can express the absurdity of the proposition.
It lessens not the absurdity to say that we shall not be in a satisfactory situation during peace. Because we cannot be as well as we wish, must we therefore resolve to be as ill as we can be? This is a favourite plea of the advocates of war; yet it is the same with that of the drunkard, who, full of disease by his intemperance, was advised by his physicians to abstain from drink. Shall I then, Doctor, cried he, be as well and vigorous as ever I was? No, said the physician, but you will be much better than you are now. Oh! then, said the drunkard, a curse upon temper ance! A short life and a merry! This is an exact parallel to the language of those who reply to all your remonstrances respecting war, with an oath against Bonaparte, and a decision that war must continue, however unavailing, and however expensive. What possible weight, in the deliberations of any rational man, ought it to have in the question of peace, that peace will not be so happy a condition as we could wish, when it is absolutely certain that by continuing the war we cannot make it better? If we can do any thing to render peace a happier condition, let us by all means do it. But what can induce you to urge a continuance in that which has no tendency to render that condition better? If a man is in disease, and if by wasting half his substance on physicians he can effect a cure, advise him by all means to persevere: but if, by fifteen years experience, and from a thorough knowledge of his distemper, it is perfectly evident that the physicians can do him no good, and that his restoration must be the slow result of time, if in these circumstances you advise him to waste the other half of his substance upon the Doctors, you resemble exactly the present advocates for the continuance of war.
Numerous, however, as are the subjects of wonder in the opposition to peace, nothing can excite more amazement than that any persons should be found so inconsiderate, and so transported by their passions, as to maintain seriously that war is at present a more desirable situation for us than peace. How differently do men determine concerning their own interests and those of their country! On the side of war, the evil is enormous, clear, certain. No one disputes that war is the greatest calamity with which a nation can be visited. In our case, the waste of the annual produce, the inroad upon the means of national prosperity, and national happiness, is extravagant beyond all former example. Such is the terrible weight placed in the one scale. In the other scale are placed such words as these; “Bonaparte's desire to subdue this country is inextinguishable; he is an artful man, and only desires peace the more effectually to accomplish his purpose.” Thus, to balance all the unspeakable mischiefs of war, we have only some vague and conjectural fears! For some vague and conjectural fears, we are called upon to endure these unspeakable evils, not for one year, not for two years, not for ten years, but for the life-time of Bonaparte; nay for an endless time, till something which we can neither foresee nor conjecture, shall happen in France, to allay our apprehensions! Is it possible that the mightiest interests of a nation can hang in suspense upon the determination of such a point as this?
Of such infinite importance, however, is this question, that unreal as any argument founded upon these fears appears to be, we will yet examine them with the utmost attention of which we are capable. In the first place we will allow all the premises of our antagonists, however assumed, all their suppositions, however gratuitous; we will yet deny that their conclusion is supported even by a shadow of proof; that it has in its favour so much as a remote probability. They assume that Bonaparte can never cease to plot the ruin of this country; they assume, that he desires peace in order to accomplish that ruin. Let us allow it; and only beg them with the utmost earnestness, as they value the dearest interests of their country, and the happiness of the great body of their countrymen, above their own prejudices and passions, to consider carefully what really ensues. Does it follow that because Bonaparte desires to ruin it in war surely as much as in peace. Has he been able to ruin this country, he will yet be able to ruin it? he desires to ruin it in war? Let him desire to ruin it in peace as much as he pleases, will that desire effectuate his purpose? It is a fact which would not be credible if we did not see it, that a great part of our countrymen seriously argue upon the supposition, that, because Bonaparte desires to ruin our country in peace, he will therefore be able to ruin it. They attempt not to demonstrate to us how he will be able. They assume the desire, and seem to think that the execution must follow as an undeniable conclusion. We beg them, however, to exhibit the proof. This is a question on which interests too momentous depend, to be determined by the unbridled licence of supposition.
What means does peace put into the hands of Bonaparte to ruin this country? None; absolutely none. Do not the advocates of war reflect that what renders a country secure in peace is its ability to carry on war; that what renders a country, on the other hand, insecure in peace, is its inability to carry on war? But we have confessedly the power to carry on war; therefore we are perfectly secure in making a peace.
Remarkable are the contrarieties of the human mind. It is in fact a pride, very ill understood, that is at the bottom of the greater part of our aversion to peace, yet the only humiliating confession of inferiority which any one has ever made, is that of those who are afraid to make peace on account of their apprehensions of the power of Bonaparte. Those are the men whose hearts fail them, and who despair of the power of their country. Wherever two countries are completely a match for one another, a peace made on equal terms cannot possibly render the one more preponderant than the other, Where one country is completely a match for another, it can boldly say, I am no more afraid to try with you the relations of peace than the relations of war. I prefer peace to war with all my neighbours. If you mean me well, I am desirous to meet you with corresponding sentiments. If you mean me ill, I am still able to meet and to baffle your malignity. Therefore you will always find me ready to close with you on any reasonable proposals of peace. When a man is conscious of being equal to his antagonist, he can afford to let him place himself in any fair position: when he is afraid that he is inferior, and thinks that in one position he has rather a greater advantage than in another., he stickles violently to retain that position, and by this very circumstance often loses the day. To say that we are a match for Prance in war, but not a match for her in peace, is to say that we are only half a match for her. Those among us whose opinion of their country has sunk so low, take counsel from their own timidity, not from a knowledge of their country. They are impressed with a mere habit of apprehending danger from,’ France, not actuated by a careful and rational consideration of the circumstances of the case. These afford the firmest grounds for erect and manly conclusions. The man, who can appreciate the advantages of this country, may with the utmost confidence pronounce her as able to guard against the designs of France in peace as in war; as so completely independent of the power of France, that she can assume with her the relations either of war or of peace, and find herself equally secure in either situation.
In what respect, let us ask our timorous friends, do they expect that the weakness of this country, and the power of France, will shew themselves in the time of peace? Let us suppose that the terms of peace have once been settled, and then let us endeavour to imagine in what way it is possible for Bonaparte to injure us. Will he prepare in secret the means of invasion, and come upon us unawares, like a thief in the night?’ This is the first, and the greatest of the dangers with which we can be threatened from France. But we may surely take it for granted that this danger, as it regards a time of peace, makes a feeble impression on the minds even of the most timid. In fact it is so seldom urged, that we may be sure it is held in low account. It would, indeed, be an ignorance truly lamentable, to suppose that preparations adequate to the invasion of England could, in a time of peace, be made in secret. Such preparations are not a trifle. Thay cannot be begun, carried on, and ended in an hour. In a time of peace, intercourse is free and rapid. Europe would ring with the noise of such preparations from one corner to the other, before they could be half accomplished. We have no occasion, on this score, to keep our suspicions awake. We might remain in perfect security till we receive intelligence of the fact from Constantinople. The concentration of such a number of troops as would be required, the conveyance to Boulogne of the magazines adequate to such an undertaking, the vast repairs which already must be demanded to the perishable craft of which the flotilla is composed, all this would cause in France such a scene of operation, as would excite the utmost surprise and agitation throughout Europe. Nor is any of these the most remarkable circumstance. We know how long and carefully the men were exercised in the management of the boats, and in the service of embarking and landing when this project was last in agitation. Without much practice of the same kind renewed, the expedition could scarcely be undertaken with less than the prospect of ruin. These extraordinary circumstances duly weighed, remove completely the fear of a sudden invasion in the time of peace, prove indeed the attempt to be so great an absurdity that it is unreasonable to suppose it could ever be meditated. A still more important consideration to the same purpose yet remains to be weighed. The attempt, supposing it to be made with every probable advantage, would as certainly be baffled in a time of peace as in a time of war. What is the main prop on which our minds have all along supported themselves in the prospect of invasion? What is the great object of dread by which Bonaparte has been deterred from executing his project? The determined and unconquerable hostility of our population. Bonaparte has many times triumphed over a standing army as good as ours; but he never yet encountered a population like ours; and of this he and those about him are thoroughly aware. They are not ignorant how much their progress has been aided by the apathy of the people in the countries which they have subdued. They are not ignorant how impossible it is, not perhaps to overrun, but certainly to subdue a great country, where the population is firmly united, and animated with the spirit of men who have a country to lose, animated with the spirit which they expect to meet in this country. This spirit they would find invigoraied and renewed in a season of peace, and raised to the highest pitch of ardour and determination by the unparalleled atrocity of a treacherous attack in the bosom of peace. The greatest body of men which Bonaparte, by the most favourable calculation, can be supposed capable of conveying to our shores, is 50,000 or 60,000 men. But an army approaching to this amount would not be very heavily felt as a peace establishment, at a time when all our garrisons abroad might be reduced to a very slender complement. As far as the protection from our navy goes, it may, with the utmost ease, be rendered more complete in the time of peace than in the time of war. As the great quantity of small vessels which are at present employed in protecting our trade from privateers will then be disengaged, a much greater number of them, (the fittest of all kinds of marine for committing havoc on the flotilla) then was ever in the hottest time of alarm opposed to it, may, at a very small expence be kept in such a state of preparation, that they could, in the time necessary, to bring the flotilla out of the harbour of Boulogne, be sailed to the coast of France to attack it. Enough then, and much more than enough, appears to demonstrate that there is nothing in the chance of invasion that renders peace formidable. But if the fear of invasion in the time of peace be something so very insignificant, surely to undergo the certain consumption of a wide-wasting war, for so trivial an object, would be a strange management of national affairs.
If then the most eager votary of war would not advise the election of its stupendous evils for the evanescent danger of invasion, what other hostile project on the part of Bonaparte is sufficient to counterbalance them? The article which presents itself as next in magnitude in our budget of apprehension, is the creation of a French navy in the time of peace. The advocates for war are fond of making suppositions. They suppose that if we continue the war a little longer, Bonaparte in the mean time may die, or a confederacy of European princes may rise against him, or a rebellion may break out in France; any one of which events would enable us to terminate the war with advantage. Now the creation of a fleet to match ours, even Bonaparte, and in a moment too of exaggeration, allowed would require ten years. We then request these gentlemen to make use of one of their own suppositions, and they will see that the naval preparations of Bonaparte will thus become quite harmless before the time of their completion; while we, in all the intervening years, may be enjoying the unspeakable blessings of peace.
If nothing were requisite to the creation of a fleet but the building of ships, it might be possible with all the resources of France to have, in twenty years, a fleet equal to ours. But if the ships of a fleet are merely the body without the soul, unless Bonaparte has the means of providing something much more valuable than the body, he will only build ships, as hitherto he has done, for the increase of the British navy. But our antagonists will assume that Bonaparte can provide sailors as well as ships in twenty years. Sailors, however, are not made by carpenters just as ships are. Austria will desire to make soldiers as earnestly as Bonaparte will desire to make sailors. If we allow that she will succeed as well, and that she will have an army ready to cope with that of Bonaparte, as soon as Bonaparte can have a fleet ready to cope with ours, here is a complete counterbalance prepared. We shall never have any thing serious to dread from the fleet of France, when Austria has an army perfectly equal to the armies of France. If we say there is something in the circumstances of Austria which will not permit her to form an army equally efficient with that of France, we may with infinitely stronger reason say that there is, in the circumstances of France, what must completely prevent her from forming a body of sailors equal to ours. Austria has a population not much inferior to that of France; the Austrians are a warlike people; the Austrian government is a military government as well as that of France; and in the powers of nature the Austrian territory yields not to the French. But France has no maritime population. She wants therefore the very circumstance on which the life and soul of a fleet depends. This is a point which our antagonists get over by their usual power of supposing, But if we can prove to them that the circumstances and situation of France necessarily prevent her from having a maritime population worthy of being compared with ours, they must then by compulsion allow that France can never have a fleet capable of contending with ours,
It is fortunate that a point on which so much of the stress of this important argument is placed by the advocates of war, seems capable of being determined by proofs uncommonly strong. A maritime population can only be supported by a maritime trade. This is a proposition of intuitive certainty. It does not admit of a question. But France never can have a great maritime trade. Her situation absolutely precludes it. The situation of Great Britain, on the other hand, by necessary causes, creates a great maritime trade. While she has any degree of prosperity she never can be without it. Of the circumference, or bounding line of France, about three-fourths is inland, and only one-fourth sea shore. Great Britain being entirely bounded by the ocean, cannot send an ounce of goods to a foreign country but by means of her sailors. Every part of her foreign commerce serves to create maritime population, But France from three-fourths of her circumference transmits by land the goods which she sells to her neighbours. It is remarkable that the countries which are connected with France by land, are the different countries of Europe; that she is not connected by the ocean with one rich and cultivated country, but Great Britain alone. It is evident, therefore, that supposing France to become a manufacturing country, by far the greatest part of her goods will go to the countries which more immediately surround her, by the great roads, canals, and navigable rivers of Europe, and will not give occasion to the maintenance of even a single sailor, It is worthy too of particular observation that the sea by which France is connected with some of the countries of Europe, is an inland sea, smooth, and tranquil, and totally unfit to form sailors qualified to contend with the hardy, daring, and dexterous sons of the ocean. It is indeed curious to contemplate in what manner this sea must contribute to preclude France from ever being the mistress of a maritime population. It connects her immediately with three quarters of the globe; with some of the richest parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. It thus opens to her a scope for a boundless commerce at her door. On the shores of the Mediterranean she can trade with advantages peculiarly her own. It will always be much more for the interest of her people to trade with countries where they have advantages over all rivals, than with countries where these rivals have advantages over, them. Let France, therefore, become a manufacturing and commercial country to any extent conceivable, her commerce will always be chiefly absorbed by the countries contiguous to her by land, or connected with her by the Mediterranean sea. Great Britain, on the other hand, can trade with no country upon earth, but by means of the ocean, Nor is this, probably, the most remarkable difference in her situation compared with that of France. A very great proportion of the home trade of Great Britain is carried on by the sea. A very insignificant portion of the trade of France can ever be carried on by that means. By reason of the insular situation of Great Britain, every part of it is pretty near the sea. Whenever goods, therefore, have to be transported from one place to another, at any considerable distance, it is always best to send them to the nearest sea-port, and ship them to the sea-port most contiguous to the place to which they are destined. Thus the goods of Manchester are sent to Liverpool, and thence conveyed by sea to London. It is a very small portion of France, however, that is near the sea; and therefore it is but a very small part of her home trade that can be carried on by sea. The small portion of goods which may be supplied from one place to another of a narrow slip of coast along her western frontier, is all the coasting trade she can ever possess. The immense supplies which are afforded from one part to another of her vast interior, must be all by inland carriage. The whole intercourse, on the other hand, in heavy goods between the distant parts of Great Britain, is a coasting trade, The proportion which the shipping employed In that trade bears to that in the aggregate trade of the nation is already very great, and as the parts of the country which are most distant from the centre of improvement advance, it is a trade which must greatly increase. Such are the causes, in the physical, and unalterable circumstances of the two countries, which must for ever prevent France from having any considerable maritime population, and must at all times secure a great maritime population in Great Britain. But if France can never have a considerable maritime population, and Britain must always have a great one, how is it possible that France can ever have a fleet which ought to be compared with that of Britain? France, besides, has always been a country bare of capital. After the expensive wars she has recently carried on, and the destruction occasioned by her revolution, she must, of necessity, be at present more deficient in capital than formerly. But whenever a country is deficient in capital, all that she makes is for a long time absorbed in her agriculture, and manufactures for home consumption; nor is it till after great accumulation, the slow offspring of time, that she has any thing to spare for foreign commerce; maritime commerce, therefore, in France, or the creation of a maritime population, are effects of a peace which there is not a shadow of reason to drezd. By consequence the danger of a fleet which can be formidable to ours, is imaginary.
It thus appears that the apprehensions of those among us who distrust the power of their country are altogether unfounded. The proof seems to be as complete, as the general nature of human affairs admits, that Bonaparte can neither openly subdue, nor secretly undermine our independence in the time of peace. The clanger of invasion is reduced to nothing; the creation of a navy comparable to ours is an impossibility; the sphere of French commerce, when her commerce begins, is totally different from the British? when she becomes rich and industrious she will widen the European market not contract it; she will create new scope for the British commerce, not annihilate the old. This is the irresistible nature of things, which no human power can controul. The government of France may prevent her from having any commerce, but no government can make commerce proceed in opposition to its own laws, A tyrant can make the blood cease to circulate in any of his subjects, but he cannot make it circulate in a course different from that which the laws of nature have ordained. It thus appears that we may put an end to the destructive consumption of war, without even the smallest risk. But so vast are the evils of war, and so mighty are the blessings of peace, lhat even a great risk would be wisely encountered for the attainment of the one, and deliverance from the other. How extraordinary then would be the impolicy of struggling without end in the present unavailing, and expensive contest?
Among the people, however, who have prejudices against peace, there are some, more rea sonable than others, who say that peace will deduct but little from the expence of the war; that were the peace which we should have, like an ordinary peace, when our naval and military establishments would be reduced, they would then be advocates for peace, as the blessings of such a peace would, in their apprehension, overbalance its risks; but as we must keep up our peace establishment to nearly the level of war, all that we should gain is hardly worth the trouble of change. The very circumstance on which the stress of this objection rests, is the circumstance which renders the reflecting mind most anxious to accelerate the period of peace. Such is the state of irritation and alarm in which we are placed with regard to France, that let peace happen when it will, we shall still imagine at first that we have occasion for a burthensome establishment. Time would gradually dispel our jealousies, on both sides; the inconvenience of such establishments would daily undermine them in both countries; and in the course of three or four years we should, in all probability, find them reduced to a pretty reasonable magnitude. But if we continue warring, for twenty years, the same objection to peace will still exist; the same course would still remain to be run. It is not in war that our mutual irritation and jealousies can subside. There is no probability that at the end of twenty years warring, France would to us be less formidable than she is at present. We should;;t the end of twenty years, then, have the same occasion for a large peace establishment as we have now; and as we can only hope to be delivered from this evil by the salutary operation of peace, the sooner peace arrives the more happy is the event. As it is a burthen which is sure to be attached to the first peace which we shall make, however distant, we shall only render ourselves the less ahle to bear it, by undergoing still longer the exhaustion of war.
Such is the view which presents itself of the policy of peace, even on the supposition that, the desirte of Bonaparte for our destruction is inextinguishable, even if we knew by a revelation from heaven that Bonaparte had sworn our ruin, and would never desist from his purpose, still we might fearlessly contract a peace, and defy his malignity; still it would be our wisdom to make peace, and maintain it with vigilance, temper, and constancy. This would be our most effectual course to defeat his plans. This view of the question I have been anxious to present fully, because our resentments run so very high against our enemy, that his insatiable malignity is a point which we can seldom permit to be doubted. As this argument, however, is finished, and is entirely independent of what follows, we may offer a few considerations towards the forming an estimate of the disposition of Bonaparte in respect to a peace. They may do some good, and can hardly do any harm, except that, perhaps, of drawing upon the author the charge of some zealot, that he has a desire for the ruin of his country. But this is a charge which is now so common, and has been laid upon so many good men, that he cannot feel it very heavily.
In the first place we can have no manner of doubt that Bonaparte would be very well pleased to subdue us, could that event be easily accomplished. We cannot help, too, perceiving certain circumstances in his situation which tend to make this desire stronger than is usual between belligerent countries. We have raised up against him extraordinary hostilities; he knows our hatred of him is intense; we are the nation which can oppose the chief obstructions to his designs. Thus far reason conducts us in supposing hostile intentions in the breast of Bonaparte; but not one step farther. If we suppose that he cannot make a distinction between what is possible, and what is impossible; if we suppose he cannot make a distinction between such desires as he can safely endeavour to gratify, and such as he cannot endeavour to gratify without a greater chance of evil than good, we draw our conclusions neither from the laws of human nature, nor from a knowledge of Bonaparte. Now Great-Britain, as appears from evidence much stronger than can in general be obtained on such subjects, it is impossible for France to subdue. Of this Bonaparte is much more completely aware than those of our countrymen who are so desperately afraid to make peace. Bonaparte, however, would be little an objeot of dread, were he foolish enough to endeavour to compass an impossibility. The monarch who threw chains into the ocean because it destroyed his boat?, was easily conquered. But, if it be impossible, or any thing near impossible, to subjugate Britain, the slightest reflection must convince Bonaparte, that the chance of evil to him is much greater than the chance of good in making any attempt to subdue it. Now it is one of the laws of human nature that a man always acquiesces in an impossibility, or any thing so difficult, that in his case it may be regarded as an impossibility. This is exemplified in the conduct of the most impetuous and wilful of mankind. Even Alexander the Great stopt short in the midst of the conquest of India, on which his heart seemed to be more strongly bent than on any other of his undertakings, when the difficulties of the country, and the reluctance of his army presented obstacles which he found it would be dangerous to encounter. This has been exemplified in a still more striking manner in the conduct of Bonaparte. At the moment when we enraged him so much by terminating the peace of Amiens, who doubts that his desire to subdue this country was then at its height? Such was at that time the opinion, almost universally entertained by us, of his impetuosity and resentment, that we assured ourselves he would make the invasion with headlong fury before the expiration of many months. Yet we saw him consume two whole years in preparation, and even after his preparations were made, by the exercise of a little more reflection, abandon the enterprise. Thus, in time of war, we have experimental proof that Bonaparte acquiesces in the impossibility of subduing this country. But we have proved that the impossibility is equal, nay greater, of subduing it in time of peace. There is the highest reason surely to conclude that Bonaparte will acquiesce in the one impossibility as well as the other. It is a conclusion founded upon the most steady and certain principle, from which we can reason concerning the actions of man; that a very clear, and very important interest must always determine his choice. This is the principle from which we conclude, that Bonaparte desires peace with this country, and that he will not desire to break it. We never can have a stronger security for the sincerity of the counter party in any treaty of peace.
To this powerful evidence what have our antagonists to offer in reply? They tell us, ‘that Bonaparte is ambitious, and that ambition is insatiable.’ Thus, by a mere common place, of the most vague, and unmeaning class, they would have us set aside evidence, founded upon the most invariable laws of human nature. Is not every passion insatiable, just as much as ambition is? Has not the moralist in all ages warned us against the insatiable nature of passion in general? Avarice, for example, is universally described as insatiable. The more the avaricious man has, the more he desires. But does this hinder him from distinguishing between the modes of gratifying this desire; from perceiving that by certain modes, he may gratify it with safety, by other modes, if he attempts them, he will incur mischief? Does the insatiable nature of avarice urge the avaricious man to try impudently to wrest his money from another man, or secretly to purloin it, when he knows that both his open, and his secret schemes will certainly be disappointed; and that he himself will be punished for the attempt? Does the insatiable nature of avarice make, in general, the avaricious man either robber or thief? Why? because the apparent evil of such undertakings is greater than the probable good. This is precisely the reasoning which we suppose to have an influence upon Bonaparte. We only suppose him to yield to the common, and strongest impulses of human nature. Nay more, all that we suppose him to do, is only to consult with the most ordinary prudence, the interests of that ambition itself, by which our controvertists suppose him to be entirely governed. The risk which he runs in attempting the subjugation of Britain, is all against his ambition. Nothing else, which can easily happen to him, would contribute so effectually to lessen, nay, to anihilate his power, as a failure in this momentous undertaking. As its failure, by every rule of human calculation, seems to be certain; unless Bonaparte means the death-blow to his ambition, he cannot be supposed to meditate so dangerous and hopeless a project.
Were we not resolved to interpret every thing according to our passions, the desire which Bonaparte has so often manifested to conclude a peace with Britain, could not have failed to make a strong impression. The clear certainty, that he can possess no advantage over us in peace, any more than in war, is the strongest proof which can be imagined, that he desires peace for the sake of peace, and its own fair and mutual advantages. In fact, if we examine the matter candidly, we shall perceive that the conclusion of peace is now almost the only thing which can add to the glory of Bonaparte, and the stability of his power. Whatever conquest can atchieve for him is done. From no external power has he now any attempt to fear, which can shake his throne. He has gratified Frenchmen to their hearts content with military renown, and placed himself infinitely above his late rivals. To give to Frenchmen the blessings of peace, and establish an interest in their gratitude, is all that now remains for him, to place his power on as firm a basis, as any newly acquired supremacy seems capable of attaining. Besides, Bonaparte now regards the empire of France as his, and as the patrimony of his family. He has, therefore, a natural interest in its prosperity. He regards its prosperity as his prosperity. It is not as when he was a mere adventurer, struggling to have the ascendency, and careless how much for that purpose he wasted a country, with which his connection at that time was very loose. But he sees, that war is inconsistent with her prosperity; that exhausted as she is, she has the most unspeakable need of the restorative blessings of peace. Is it then wonderful that he should wish for it? Is it extraordinary that he should desire an event so much calculated to add to the stability of his throne, and to the splendour of his government* ?
If we recollect the natural pride of the man, how much his unparalleled success has tended to blow it up, how necessary he accounts it not to lower his dignity with a country which has sought industriously for occasions to affront him, we shall be astonished at the lengths he has gone for the attainment of peace. I could earnestly wish, that every one who allows himself to talk upon this subject, and still more, every one whose sentiments will have any influence upon the national decision, would read with attention the collection of papers connected with the late negotiation, which was published by our own government. As any analysis of these important documents, would here occupy too large a space, I am happy to be able to refer to a tract, which I suppose is in the hands of most of my readers, and in which that analysis is exhibited in the most satisfactory form, The “Inquiry into the state of the British West Indies,” by Mr. Lowe* . It is not so much the favourable terms here offered to us, as the tone of the negotiation, which is the wonderful circumstance. On our side appear the utmost haughtiness and impatience. At every untoward incident were we for putting an end to the negotiation instantly; demanded our passports; and seemed to think it condescension to say to the French negociator, that we would meet him again upon the business† . The French even submitted to court us not to break off the negotiation; and offered such terms, as we should not beforehand have easily believed we could obtain. Hanover, Malta, the Cape of Good Hope, Pondicherry, Tobago, were all to be resigned. But on this circumstance, we have no occasion now to dwell, since his Majesty has declared, in his answer to the declaration of the Emperor of Russia, dated at Westminster, December 18th, 1807, that the terms which were offered to Great Britain, were perfectly satisfactory, and that it was on account of the interests of Russia solely, that the negotiation was broken off. This averment on the part of an administration, composed of the leading persons in the party which is most averse to peace, is in the highest degree important. “The Emperor of Russia,” says this royal declaration, “cannot fail to remember, that the last negotiation between Great Britain and France was broken off, upon points immediately affecting, not his Majesty's own interests, but those of his imperial ally.” This is a public, deliberate, solemn declaration, before all Europe, that Great Britain had nothing to fear from France, in a peace concluded upon the terms which were offered in the late negotiation, that the interests of Great Britain were completely secured by those terms; that the negotiation did not break off upon points affecting the interests of his Britannic Majesty. But if it was safe for Great Britain to make peace upon those terms then, it is safe, for her to make peace upon similar terms now. The question then about the advantage of a peace is decided by the authority of government itself; for there is not a doubt, that the same terms may now be obtained. The only new circumstance which it might have been feared would create materials of controversy, was the dispute about our maritime claims. But in the remarks which have been recently published in the Moniteur, upon that very paper which I have quoted above, Bonaparte has volunteered, in removing this difficulty per advance. He has declared, that our maritime claims will never come in question in the negotiation for peace. If then we may have the same terms of peace, which were offered to us in the negotiation conducted by Lords Yarmouth and Lauderdale, if those terms completely secured the interests of Great Britain, and if the negotiation was broken off upon questions solely touching the interests of Russia, what can hinder us from accepting of those terms now, when Russia has made a peace tor herself?
C. and R. Baldwin, Printers
[*]This may be rigidly proved by arithmetical demonstration. Let us take our commerce at its present standard. We export rather more than forty millions a year of British produce and Manufactures. Let us suppose that one-fourth of this is gain to the country, which is probably a good deal more than the fact. The annual gain of the nation by this trade is then £10,000,000. Now the most steady and flourishing kinds of business are seldom worth more than ten years purchase. But we shall make a much larger allowance. Land itself is only worth thirty years purchase even at its present elevated price; and commerce is surely worth one-third less than land. Let us suppose then that our commerce is worth 20 years purchase; while our land is worth 30. The whole of our commerce, even at this high estimate, would be worth only £200,000,000. But we have added by the war above £300,000,000 to the national debt. When we consider that the war taxes were taken at £21,000,000 in Lord Henry Petty's budget for one year only, we may be pretty certain we are below the mark, when we say at a venture that £100,000,000 more have been raised for the war by that means. It thus appears that the war with the French revolution has already cost us more than twice the worth of our whole commerce!
[*]Cobbett's Political Register, v. 12, p. 821.
[†]Ibid, pp. 822, 823.
[*]Cobbett's Political Register, p. 824.
[*]See Brit. Indep. Com. p. 20 to 26.
[*] Vauban Dixme Royale.
[*]The readiness, nay, the forwardness with which Bonaparte has on various, and very extraordinary occasions, acceded to proposals of peace, is one of not the least remarkable circumstances in his career. Let us just reflect on some of them. In the spring of 1797, he had advanced into the heart of Austria at tlie head of 80,000 men; a force which the Austrians had no means of opposing. Instead of pushing forward to the capital, he proposed terms of peace; the Austrians asked an armistice; and though it was entirely adverse to him, as it enabled the Austrians to concentrate their remaining forces, he consented to it, and the preliminaries of Leoben were signed.—In the next war, after the decisive victory of Hohenlinden, he offered to treat with the Emperor, on nearly the same terms as before.—Having overthrown an Austrian force of nearly 80,000 men at Ulm, he sent an urgent message to the Emperor Francis to make peace.—After the battle of Austerlitz, when Austria lay at his mercy, he immediately welcomed the proposals of the Emperor.—It appears from the official paper in the Moniteur, of 7th January, 1808, that a word from Lord Lauderdale, would have stopped the fatal march against Prussia in 1806. Bonaparte's letter from Genoa urged the King of Prussia to make peace before tha battle of Jena, and we now find, that he twice offered him a separate peace after that irretrievable disaster.—Towards this country, his declarations have uniformly, during the last four years, been pacific. In January, 1805, he made an overture for negociation; we refused it, and stirred up the Continent against him. In the spring of 1806, after conquering Austria, his language to his senate was; “I desire peace with England; no resentments of mine shall retard it.”
[*]See that work from p. 91 to p. 131. See also the supplement to the 3d edit, of the same work.
[†]Lord Lauderdale, in a letter to his government, giving an account of one of the last conferences he had with Mons, Champagny, thus writes; “After strong expressions of mutual regard, he attended me to the outer room, where he again proposed a renewal of our conferences, in case his government should give him new instructions. My answer was, that I had no choice in immediately applying for passports; but that, as long as I remained in this country, I never would refuse to see him.” See official papers.