Front Page Titles (by Subject) EMANCIPATE YOUR COLONIES! ADDRESSED TO THE NATIONAL CONVENTION OF FRANCE, ANNO 1793. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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EMANCIPATE YOUR COLONIES! ADDRESSED TO THE NATIONAL CONVENTION OF FRANCE, ANNO 1793. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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EMANCIPATE YOUR COLONIES!
SHEWING THE USELESSNESS AND MISCHIEVOUSNESS OF DISTANT DEPENDENCIES to an EUROPEAN STATE
FIRST PUBLISHED FOR SALE IN 1830.
Jeremy Bentham to the National Convention of France.
Your predecessors made me a French Citizen: hear me speak like one. War thickens round you: I will show you a vast resource:—Emancipate your Colonies. You start: Hear and you will be reconciled. I say again, Emancipate your Colonies. Justice, consistency, policy, economy, honour, generosity, all demand it of you: all this you shall see. Conquer, you are still but running the race of vulgar ambition: emancipate, you strike out a new path to glory. Conquer, it is by your armies: emancipate, the conquest is your own, and made over yourselves. To give freedom at the expense of others, is but conquest in disguise: to rise superior to conquerors, the sacrifice must be your own.—Reasons you will not find wanting, if you will hear them: some more pressing than you might wish. What is least pleasant among them may pay you best for hearing it. Were it ever so unpleasant, better hear it while it is yet time, than when it is too late, and from one friend, than from a host of enemies. If you are kings, you will hear nothing but flattery; if you are republicans, you will bear rugged truths.
I begin with justice: it stands foremost in your thoughts. And are you yet to learn, that on this ground the question is already judged?—that you at least have judged it, and given judgment against yourselves?—You abhor tyranny: you abhor it in the lump not less than in detail: you abhor the subjection of one nation to another: you call it slavery. You gave sentence in the case of Britain against her colonies: have you so soon forgot that sentence?—have you so soon forgot the school in which you served your apprenticeship to freedom?
You choose your own government: why are not other people to choose theirs? Do you seriously mean to govern the world, and do you call that liberty? What is become of the rights of men? Are you the only men who have rights? Alas! my fellow citizens, have you two measures?
“Oh! but they are but a part of the empire, and a part must be governed by the whole.”—Part of the empire, say you? Yes, in point of fact, they certainly are, or at least were. Yes: so was New-York a part of the British empire, while the British army garrisoned it: so were Longwy and Verdun parts of the Prussian or the Austrian empire t’other day. That you have, or at least had possession of them, is out of dispute: the question is, whether you now ought to have it?
Yes, you have, or had it: but whence came it to you? Whence, but from the hand of despotism. Think how you have dealt by them. One common Bastile inclosed them and you. You knock down the jailor, you let yourselves out, you keep them in, and put yourselves into his place. You destroy the criminal, and you reap the profit, I mean always what seems to you profit, of the crime.
“Oh, but they will send deputies; and those deputies will govern us, as much as we govern them.” Illusion! What is that but doubling the mischief, instead of lessening it? To give yourselves a pretence for governing a million or two of strangers, you admit half a dozen. To govern a million or two of people you don’t care about, you admit half a dozen people who don’t care about you. To govern a set of people whose business you know nothing about, you encumber yourselves with half a dozen starers who know nothing about yours. Is this fraternity?—is this liberty and equality? Open domination would be a less grievance. Were I an American, I had rather not be represented at all, than represented thus. If tyranny must come, let it come without a mask. “Oh, but information.” True, it must be had; but to give information, must a man possess a vote?
Frenchmen, how would you like a parliament of ours to govern you, you sending six members to it? London is not a third part so far from Paris as London from the Orkneys, or Paris from Perpignan. You start—think then, what may be the feelings of the colonists. Are they Frenchmen?—they will feel like Frenchmen. Are they not Frenchmen?—then where is your right to govern them?
Is equality what you want? I will tell you how to make it. As often as France sends commissaries with fleets and armies to govern the colonies, let the colonies send commissaries with equal fleets and armies to govern France.
What are a thousand such pleas to the purpose? Let us leave imagination, and consult feelings. Is it for their advantage to be governed by you rather than by themselves? Is it for your advantage to govern them rather than leave them to themselves.
Is it then for their advantage to be governed by a people who never know, nor ever can know, either their inclinations or their wants? What is it you ever can know about them? The wishes they entertain? the wants they labour under? No such thing; but the wishes they entertained, the wants they laboured under, two months ago: wishes that may have changed, and for the best reasons: wants that may have been relieved, or become unrelievable. Do they apply to you for justice? Truth is unattainable for want of evidence: You get not a tenth part, perhaps, of the witnesses you ought to have, and those perhaps only on one side. Do they ask succours of you? You put yourselves to immense expense: You fit out an armament, and when it arrives, it finds nothing to be done; the party to whom you send it are either conquerors or conquered.—Do they want subsistence? Before your supply reaches them, they are starved. No negligence could put them in a situation so helpless as that in which, so long as they continue dependent on you, the nature of things has fixed them, in spite of all your solicitude.
Solicitude, did I say? How can they expect any such thing? What care you, or what can you care, about them? what do you know about them? What picture can you so much as form to yourselves of the country? what conception can you frame to yourselves of manners and modes of life so different from your own? When will you ever see them? when will they ever see you? If they suffer, will their cries ever wound your ears? will their wretchedness ever meet your eyes? What time have you to think about them? Pressed by so many important objects that are at your door, how uninteresting will be the tale that comes from St. Domingo or Martinique?
What is it you want to govern them for? What, but to monopolize and cramp their trade? What is it they can want you to govern them for? Defence? Their only danger is from you.
Do they like to be governed by you? Ask them, and you will know. Yet why ask them, as if you did not know? They may be better pleased to be governed by you than by anybody else; but is it possible they should not be still better pleased to be governed by themselves? A minority among them might choose rather to be governed by you than by their antagonists, the majority: but is it for you to protect minorities? A majority, which did not feel itself so strong as it could wish, might wish to borrow a little strength of you:—but for the loan of a moment, would you exact a perpetual annuity of servitude?
“Oh, but they are aristocrats.” Are they so? Then I am sure you have no right to govern them: then I am sure it is not their interest to be governed by you: then I am sure it is not your interest to govern them. Are they aristocrats? they hate you. Are they aristocrats? you hate them. For what would you wish to govern a people who hate you? Will they hate you the less for governing them? Are a people the happier for being governed by those they hate? If so, send for the duke of Brunswick, and seat him on your throne. For what can you wish to govern a people whom you hate? Is it for the pleasure of making them miserable? Is not this copying the Fredericks and the Francises?—is not this being aristocrats, and aristocrats with a vengeance?
But why deal in suppositions and put cases? Two colonies, Martinico and Guadalupe, have already pronounced the separation. Has that satisfied you? I am afraid rather it has irritated you. They have shaken off the yoke; and you have decreed an armament to fasten it on again. You are playing over again our old game. Democrats in Europe, you are aristocrats in America. What is this to end in? If you will not be good citizens and good Frenchmen, be good neighbours and good allies. When you have conquered Martinico and Guadalupe, conquer the United States, and give them back to Britain.
“Oh, but the Capets will get hold of them.” So much the better. Why not let the Capets go to America? Europe would then be rid of them. Are they bad neighbours? rejoice that they are at a distance. Why should not the Capets even reign, since there are those that choose to be governed by them? why should not even the Capets reign, while it is in another hemisphere? Such aristocrats as you do not kill, you yourselves talk of transporting. What do you mean to make of them when transported? Slaves? If you must have slaves, keep them rather at home, where they will be more out-numbered by freeman, and kept in better order. If you mean they should be transported without being enslaved, why not let them transport themselves?
Does your delicacy forbid your communicating with the degraded despots? You need not communicate with them: your communication is with the people. You take the people as you find them: you give them to themselves: and if afterwards they choose to give themselves to anybody else, it is their doing: you neither need, nor ought to have any concern in it.
“Oh, but the good citizens! what will become of the good citizens?” What will become of them? Their fate depends upon yourselves. Give up your dominion, you may save them: fight for it, you destroy them. Secure, if you can do it without force, a fair emission of the wishes of all the citizens: if what you call the good citizens are the majority, they will govern; if a minority, they neither will nor ought to govern: but you may give them safety if you please. This you may do for them at any rate, whether those in whose hands you find them submit to collect the sense of the majority or refuse it. Conclude not, that if you cease to maintain tyranny, you have no power to insure justice. Think not, that those who resist oppression must be deaf to kindness. Set the example of justice: you who, if you preferred destruction, might use force, set the example of justice: the most perverse will be ashamed not to follow it. How different are the same words from a tyrant and from a benefactor! Abhorrence and suspicion poison them in the one case: love and confidence sweeten them in the other.
Would you see your justice shine with unrivalled lustre? Call in commissaries from some other nation, and add them to your own. Do this; do it of your own accord: it will be certain you can mean nothing but justice. The cool and unbiassed sentiments of these strangers will be a guide to the judgment, and a check upon the affections, of your own delegates. They will be pledges and evidence, to you and to the world, of the probity of their colleagues. Think not that I mean to propose to you to crouch to the insolence of armed mediation, or to adopt the abominations of the guaranteeing system: think not that I am for acting over again the tragedies of Poland, Holland, or Geneva. The business to be settled is—not constitution but administration: not perpetual law but temporary arrangement. The mediators come only because you bid them, and they come unarmed.
Thus you may save the good citizens: for you may save everybody. Keep to the plan of domination, you save nobody. The first victims are the very persons you are so solicitous to save: so at least it is in two great islands: for there they are already overpowered. Then comes your armament, with double destruction at its heels: if it is repulsed, you are disappointed and disgraced; if it conquers, then come beheadings and confiscations. Such are the two plans. Which, then, do you choose? Universal safety, or reciprocal destruction?—abhorrence, or admiration?—the curses of your friends, or the benedictions of your enemies?
But suppose the colonists unanimous, and unanimous in your favour, ought you even then to keep them? By no means: they are a million or two: you are five or six-and-twenty millions. Think not, that because I mentioned them first, it is for their sake in the first place that I wish to see them free. No: it is the mischief you do yourselves by maintaining this unnatural domination; it is the mischief to the six-and-twenty millions that occupies a much higher place in my thoughts.
What if colonies, as they are called, are worth nothing to you? What if they are worth less than nothing? If you prefer injustice (pardon me the supposition,) are you so fond of it as to commit it to your own loss?
What, then, should they be worth to you, but by yielding a surplus of revenue, beyond what is necessary for their own maintenance and defence? Do you, can you, get any such surplus from them? If you do, you plunder them, and violate your own principles. But you neither do, nor ever have done, nor intend to do, nor ever can do, any such thing.
The expense of the peace establishment you may know: and I much question whether any revenue you can draw from them can so much as equal that expense. But the expense of defence in time of war you do not know, nor ever can know. It is no less than the expense of a navy capable of overawing that of Britain.
“Oh, but the produce of our colonies is worth so many millions a-year: it has been, and when quiet is restored will be again all this, if we were to give up our colonies, we should lose.” Illusion! The income of your colonies your income? Just as much as that of Britain is your income. Have colonists, then, no properties? If they are theirs, how are they yours? Are they theirs and yours at the same time? Impossible. If out of a hundred millions they spend or lay up a hundred millions, pray how much is there left for you? Can you take a penny of that income more than they choose to give you? or would you, if you could? We have no such pretension, unless it be over conquered colonies, in our land of what you call imperfect liberty.
“Oh, but of this income of theirs, a great part centres here: it comes to buy our goods: it constitutes a great part of our trade—all this at least we should lose.” Another illusion! Must you govern a people in order to sell your goods to them? Is there that people upon earth who do not buy goods of you? You sell goods to Britain, don’t you? And do you govern Britain? When a colonist sends you sugar, does he give it you for nothing? Does not he make you give him value for it? Give value for it then, and you will have it still. When he is his own master, will the sugar he cannot use be less a burthen to him than it is now? Will he be less in want of whatever it is he now buys with sugar? What you now sell to him, suppose you were to sell it to him no longer, would you be the poorer? Is there nobody else that would buy it? Is it worth nothing? What is it to you to whom you sell your goods? When do you know beforehand whether it is John or Thomas that will buy, or that will consume your goods? And if you did, what would you be the better? Are you then really afraid of not finding any thing to produce that shall find purchasers? Is it that what you can find to sell is worth nothing, and what you want to buy worth everything? If such be your danger, what is your colonist’s? What you want of him is luxury: what he wants of you is existence. Suppose he gets the article, whatever it be, corn or any thing; suppose he gets it for the moment from some other shop instead of yours. Is there a grain the more corn in the world to sell in consequence of this change of his, or a single mouth the less that wants corn, and has money or money’s worth to give for it? By buying at that other shop, does not he empty that shop of so much corn, which some other customer, who would otherwise have got it at that shop, must now directly or indirectly get of you?
I will tell you a great and important, though too much neglected truth—Trade is the child of Capital: In proportion to the quantity of capital a country has at its disposal, will, in every country, be the quantity of its trade. While you have no more capital employed in trade than you have, all the power on earth cannot give you more trade: while you have the capital you have, all the power upon earth cannot prevent your having the trade you have. It may take one shape or another shape; it may give you more foreign goods to consume, or more home goods; it may give you more of one sort of goods, or more of another; but the quantity and value of the goods of all sorts it gives you will always be the same, without any difference which it is possible to ascertain, or worth while to think about. I am a merchant, I have a capital of £10,000 in trade. Suppose the whole Spanish West Indies laid open to me; could I carry on more trade with my £10,000 than I do now? Suppose the French West Indies shut against me; would my £10,000 be worth nothing? If every foreign market were shut up against me without exception, even then would my £10,000 be worth nothing? If there were no sugar to be bought, there is at any rate land to be improved. If a hundred pounds worth of sugar be more valuable than a hundred pounds worth of corn, butcher’s meat, wine, or oil, still corn, butcher’s meat, wine, and oil, are not absolutely without their value. If, article after article, you were driven out of every article of your foreign trade, the worst that could happen to you would be the being reduced to lay out so much more than otherwise you would have laid out in the improvement of your land. The supposition is imaginary and impossible, but if it were true, is there any thing in it so horrible?
Yes; it is quantity of capital, not extent of market, that determines the quantity of trade. Open a new market, you do not, unless by accident, increase the sum of trade. Shut up an old market, you do not, unless by accident, or for the moment, diminish the sum of trade. In what case, then, is the sum of trade increased by a new market? If the rate of clear profit upon the capital employed in the new trade is greater than it would have been in any old one, and not otherwise. But the existence of this extra profit is always taken for granted, never proved. It may indeed be true by accident: but another thing is taken for granted which is never true; it is, that the whole of the profit made upon the capital which, instead of being employed in some old trade, is employed in this new one, is so much addition to the sum of national profit that would otherwise have been made: what is only transferred is considered as created. If after making 12 per cent. upon a capital of £10,000 in an old trade, a man made but 10 per cent. upon the same capital in a new trade, who does not see, that instead of gaining £1200 a-year, he, and through him the nation he belongs to, loses £200 by the change: and so it is, if instead of one such merchant, there were a hundred. Instead of this £200 a-year loss, your comités de commerce and boards of trade set down to the national account £1000 a-year gain: especially if it be to a very distant and little known part of the world, such as a southern whale-fishery, a revolted Spanish colony, or a Nootka Sound: and it is well if they do not set down the whole capital of £10,000 as gain into the bargain.
“Oh, but we give ourselves a monopoly of their produce, and so we get it cheaper than we should otherwise, and so we make them pay us for governing them.” Not you, indeed; not a penny: the attempt is iniquitous, and the profit an illusion.
The attempt, I say, is iniquitous: it is an aristocratical abomination: it is a cluster of aristocratical abominations: it is iniquitous towards them; but much more as among yourselves.
Abomination the 1st. Liberty, property, and equality violated on the part of a large class of citizens (the colonists) by preventing them from carrying their goods to the markets which it is supposed would be most advantageous to them, and thence keeping from them so much as it is supposed they would otherwise acquire.
Abomination 2d. One part of a nation (the people of France) taxed to raise money to maintain by force the restraints so imposed upon another part of the nation (the colonists.)
Abomination 3d. The poor, who after all are unable to buy sugar—the poor in France, taxed in order to pay the rich for eating it. Necessaries abridged for the support of luxury. The burthen falls upon the rich and poor in common: the benefit is shared exclusively by the rich.
The injustice is not such in appearance only: as it would be, if what is thus taken or meant to be taken from the colonists went to make revenue: it would then be only a mode of taxation. In France (it might then be said) people are taxed one way, in the colonies another: the only question would then be about the eligibility of the mode. But revenue is here out of the case: nothing goes to the nation in common; everything goes to individuals: if it is a tax, it is a tax the produce of which is squandered away before collection; it is a tax the produce of which, instead of being gathered into the treasury, is given away to sugar-eaters.
But even as to sugar-eaters, the profit, I say, is an illusion. For does the monopoly you give yourselves against the growers of sugar so much as keep the price of sugar lower than it would be otherwise? Not a sixpence. Lower than the price at which the commodity is kept by the average rate of profit on trade in general, no monopoly can reduce the price of this commodity any more than of any other, for any length of time: you may keep your subjects from selling their sugars elsewhere, but you cannot force them to raise it for you at a loss. Lower than this natural price, no monopoly can ever keep it: down to this price, natural competition cannot fail to reduce it, sooner or later, without monopoly. Customers remaining as they were, without increase of the number of traders there can be no reduction of price. Monopoly, that is, exclusion of customers, has certainly no tendency to produce increase of the number of traders: it may pinch the profits of those whom it first falls upon, but that is not the way to invite others. Monopoly, accordingly, as far as it does anything, produces mischief without remedy. High prices, on the other hand—the mischief against which monopoly is employed as a remedy—high prices, produced by competition among customers, cannot in any degree produce inconvenience, without laying a proportionate foundation for the cure. From high profits in trade comes influx of traders, from influx of traders competition among traders, from competition among traders reduction of prices, till the rate of profit in the trade in question is brought down to the same level as in others.
Were it possible for monopoly to keep prices lower than they would be otherwise, would it be possible for anybody to tell how much lower, and how many sixpences a-year were saved to sugar-eaters by so many millions imposed upon the people? No, never: for since, where the monopoly subsists against the producers, there is nothing but the monopoly to prevent accession of, and competition among the producers, competition runs along with the monopoly, and to prove that any part of the effect is produced by the monopoly and not by the competition, is impossible.
“Oh, but we have not done with them yet. We give ourselves another monopoly: we give ourselves the monopoly of their custom, and so we make them buy things dearer of us than they would otherwise, besides buying things of us which otherwise they would buy of other people; and so we make them pay us for governing them.” Mere illusion! In the articles which you can make better and cheaper than foreigners can, which you can furnish them with upon better terms than foreigners can, not a penny do you get in consequence of the monopoly, more than you would without it. You prevent their buying their goods of any body but your own people: true; but what does this signify? You do not force them to buy of any one or more of your own people to the exclusion of the rest. Your own people, then, have still the faculty of underselling one another without stint, and they have the same inducement to exercise that faculty under the monopoly, as they would have without it. It is still the competition that sets the price. In this case as in the other, the monopoly is a chip in porridge. It is still the proportion of the profit of these branches of trade to the average rate of profit in trade that regulates this competition: it is still the quantity of the capital which there is to be employed in trade that regulates the average rate of profit in trade.
In the instance of such articles as you can not make better or cheaper than foreigners can, in the instance of articles which you can not furnish them with on better terms than foreigners can, it is still the same illusion, though perhaps not quite so transparent. Not a penny does the nation get (I mean the total number of individuals concerned in productive industry of all kinds) not a penny does the nation get by this preference of bad articles to good ones, more than it would otherwise. In France, any more than anywhere else, people do not get more by the goods they produce than if there were no such monopoly: for if the rate of profit in the articles thus favoured were higher one moment, competition would pull it down the next. All that results from the monopoly you thus give yourselves of the custom of your colonies is, that goods of all sorts are somewhat worse for the money all over the world than they would be otherwise. People in France are engaged to produce, for the consumption of the French colonies, goods in which they succeed not so well as England for example, instead of producing for their own consumption, or that of some other nation, goods in which they succeed better than England. People in England, on the other hand, being so far kept from producing the goods they could have succeeded best in, are in so far turned aside to the production of goods in which they do not succeed so well: and thus it is all the world over. The happiness of mankind is not much impaired, perhaps, by the difference between wearing goods of one pattern, and goods of another, but, though much is not lost perhaps to anybody by the arrangement, what is certain is, that nothing is gained by it to anybody, and particularly to France.
Will you believe experience? Turn to the United States. Before the separation, Britain had the monopoly of their trade: upon the separation, of course she lost it. How much less is their trade with Britain now than then? On the contrary, it is much greater.
All this while, is not the monopoly against the colonists clogged with a counter-monopoly? To make amends to the colonists for their being excluded from other markets, are not the people in France forbidden to take colony produce from other colonies, though they could get it ever so much cheaper? If so, would not the benefit to France, if there were any, from the supposed gainful monopoly, be outweighed by the burthen of that which is acknowledged to be burthensome? Yes—the benefit is imaginary, and it is clogged with a burthen which is real.
Monopoly, therefore, and counter-monopoly taken together, sugar must come the dearer to sugar-eaters, instead of cheapered to a certain degree for a constancy, and much more occasionally, when the dearness occasioned by a failure of crops in the French colonies, is by the counter-monopoly against France prevented from being relieved by imports from other colonies, where crops have been more favourable.
If monopoly favoured cheapness, which it does not, it would favour it to the neglect of another object, steadiness of price, which is of more importance. It is not a man’s not having sugar to eat that distresses him: Croesus, Apicius, Heliogabalus, had no sugar to eating what distresses a man is his not being able to get what he has been used to, or not so much of it as he has been used to. The monopoly against the French colonies, were it to contribute ever so much to the cheapness of the price, could contribute nothing to the steadiness of it: on the contrary, in consequence of the counter-monopoly it is clogged with, its tendency is to perpetuate the opposite inconvenience, variation. Any monopoly which France gives herself against her colonies will not prevent any of those accidents in consequence of which sugar is produced in less abundance in those colonies than at others: and when it is scarce there, the monopoly against France will prevent France from getting from other places where it is to be had cheaper.
How much dearer is sugar in countries which have no colonies than in those which have? Let those inquire who think it worth the while. They will then see the utmost which in any supposition it would be possible for the body of sugar-eaters in France to lose. Not that this loss could amount to anything like the above difference: for, in as far as those countries get their sugar from monopolized colonies, which must be through the medium of some monopolizing country, they get it loaded with the occasional dearth produced thus by the effects of the counter-monopoly above mentioned, and loaded more or less with constant import taxes, besides the expense of circuitous freight and multiplied merchant’s profit.
May not monopoly, then, force down prices? Most certainly. Will it not, then, keep them down? By no means. If I have goods I can make no use of, and there is but one man in the world that I can sell them to, sooner than not sell them, though they cost me a hundred pounds to make, I will sell them for sixpence. Thus monopoly will beat down prices. But shall I go on making them and selling them at that rate? Not if I am in my senses. Thus monopoly will not keep down prices. Hence then comes all the error in favour of monopolies—from not attending to the difference between forcing down prices and keeping them down.
When an article is dear, it is by no means a matter of indifference whether it is made so by freedom or by force. Dearth which is natural, is a misfortune: dearth which is created, is a grievance. Suffering takes quite a different colour, when the sense of oppression is mixed with it. Even if the effect of a monopoly is nothing, its inefficiency as a remedy does not take away its malignity as a grievance.
What then do you get by the monopolizing system, take it altogether? You get the credit of this grievance; you get occasional dearth; you get the loss you are at by the armaments you keep up against smuggling; you get the expense of prosecution, and the waste and misery attendant upon fine and confiscation.
“Oh, but the duties upon the colony trade produce revenue to us.” I dare say they do: and what then? Must you govern a country in order to tax your trade with it? Is there that country that does not produce revenue to you? You tax your trade with Britain, don’t you? and do you govern Britain? You tax British goods as high as smuggling will permit: could you tax them higher if they came from the colonies?—would you if you could?—would you tax your own subjects higher than you would strangers?
I will show you how you may get revenue out of them: I will show you the way, and the only way in which, if you choose iniquity, you may make it profitable. Tax none of their produce, tax none of your imports from them; of all such taxes, every penny is paid by yourselves. Tax your exports to them: tax all your exports to them: tax them as high as smuggling will admit: of all such taxes, every penny is paid by them.
I will show you how much more you could get in this way from them than from foreigners. You could not, it must be confessed, get, unless by accident, more per cent. on what they took from you, than on what foreigners took from you: for smuggling, which limits the rate per cent. you could thus levy upon foreigners, limits in like manner the rate per cent. you could levy upon your vassals. Remote countries like the colonies might indeed afford less facility for smuggling out of France than contiguous countries, and so, the expense of smuggling being the greater, the tax would admit of being set higher without having the productiveness of it destroyed by smuggling: but whatever latitude is thus given, is given, you see, not by alienship but by distance.
You could not, I say, get more per cent. in this way from your vassals, as such, than if they were foreigners; but what you could get from them, is that same rate of profit, with greater certainty as to the extent of it. Foreigners might quit your market at any time, and would quit it, if, after the tax thus levied upon them, they could not get the goods they want, upon as good terms from you as elsewhere. Your own vassals could not quit your market, except in as far as smuggling would enable them; for by the supposition they have no other. Upon foreigners the tax is an experiment, and what you risk by the experiment is, the temporary distress to individuals proportioned to the decrease, whatever it be, of that branch of trade: for as to the absolute sum of trade, or, to speak more distinctly, of national wealth, it suffers nothing, as you have seen, beyond the amount of the relative and momentary decrease: so that the whole produce of this tax is so much clear gain to the revenue, for which nothing is paid, or so much as risked, beyond the above-mentioned momentary and contingent distress to individual traders. Upon your own vassals there is nothing for experiment to ascertain: you have them in a jail, and you set what price you please on their existence, only you must keep the door well locked, and if the jail be a large one, this may be no such easy matter. In Guadalupe, Martinico, and St. Domingo, what could the expense amount to—the prisoners all refractory, and making holes and beating down doors and walls, at every opportunity, with people on the outside to help them? Let those calculate who may think it worth their while.
In all this there are no figures—why? because nothing turns upon figures. Figures might show what the incomes of your colonists amount to; and what the incomes of your colonists amount to is nothing to you, for they are their incomes, and not yours. Figures might show the amount of your imports from your colonies; and it makes nothing to the question; for they do not sell it you without being paid for it, and they would not be the less glad to be paid for it for being free. Figures might show the produce of your taxes on those imports; and it makes nothing to the question, for you might get it equally whether the producers of those articles were dependent or independent, and it is your own people at home that pay it. Figures might show, what you sold in the way of exports to your colonists in this and that shape: and it makes nothing to the question; for consumption, not sale, is the final use of production, and if you did not sell it in that shape, you would sell it or consume it in another. Figures might show you the amount of the taxes you levy on those exports: and nothing turns upon that amount; for if the price of the article will bear the amount of the tax without the help of such a monopoly as subjection only can insure, you may get it from them when independent as well as from other foreigners, and if it will not, neither will they bear to see it raised so high, nor will you bear to raise it so high, as to pay the expense of a marine capable of blocking up all their ports, and defending so many vast and distant countries against the rival powers, with the inhabitants on their side.
“Oh, but they are a great part of our power.” Say rather, the whole of your weakness. In your own natural body, you are impregnable; in those unnatural excrescences, you are vulnerable. Are you attacked at home? not a man can you ever get from them; not a sixpence. Are they attacked? they draw upon you for fleets and armies.
If you were resolved to keep them, could you? It may be worth your consideration. Is it not matter of some doubt, even now when you have them to defend only against themselves: can there be a moment’s doubt, when the power of Britain is thrown into the scale? Five men of war, I think, or some such matter, you have ordered out to defend them against one another. Ask your minister of the marine, can he spare fifty more to defend them against their protectors? Fifteen thousand are bound for Martinico to fight aristocrats: ask your war-minister whether Custine can spare 30,000 more of his best men to fight Britons.
Do not feed yourselves with illusions. You cannot be everywhere: you cannot do every thing. Your resources, great as they are, have still their limits. The land is yours. But do you think it possible for you to keep it so, and the sea likewise?—the land against every body, and at the same time the sea against Britain? Look back a little. Could Spain, Holland, and America together, save you from the 10th of April? How will it be now? America is neutral. Spain and Holland are against you. Send as many ships as you can, England alone can send double the number, and if that be not sufficient, treble.
“Oh, but times are changed” I dare believe it. What superior bravery can do will be done. But how little does that amount to on such an element? Can bravery keep a ship from sinking? With skill anything like equal, can any possible difference in point of bravery make up for the difference between two and one?
Consider a little: a ship is not a town, that you can bombard it with orators, and decrees for the encouragement of desertion, and declarations of the rights of men; a ship is not a town, out of which the lukewarm can slip away, or into which a few friends can give you admittance. You are brave, but neither are English scamen remarkably deficient in point of bravery. If you have your lights, they have their prejudices, they may find it not so easy as you may think to comprehend the doctrine of forced liberty they may prefer a made constitution which gives tranquillity, to an unmade one under which security is yet to come: they may question the right of the thousands who address you, to answer for the millions who are bid to abhor you: they may prefer the George whom they know, to a Frost whom they never heard of.
Hear a paradox—it is a true one. Give up your colonies, they are yours: keep them, they are ours. This is what I most tremble at: excuse me—I am an Englishman—it touches me the most nearly.
“Oh, but the people of Bourdeaux.”—Well—what of the people of Bourdeaux? Are the passions of one town to set at nought the interest of the whole nation? Are justice, prosperity, possibility, to be fought with for their sake? Think more honourably of their patriotism. Address them, enlighten them, persuade them: and if you find a difficulty in bridling that speak on your own continent, think whether you will find it easier to master so many vast and distant islands, with Britain on their side.
To yield to justice is what must happen to the mightiest and proudest nations. Disgrace or honour follows, according to the mode. Britain yielded to America: Britain yielded to Ireland. On which occasion was her dignity best preserved?
Sitting where you do, call it not courage to drive on in the track of war and violence.
There is nothing in such courage that is not compatible with the basest cowardice. The passions you gratify are your own passions: but the blood you shed is the blood of your fellow-citizens.
Who can say what it costs you at present to guard colonies? Who can say what you might save by parting with them?—I should be afraid to say it—almost the whole of your marine? What do you keep a marine for but to guard colonies? Whom have you to fear but the English? and why, but for your colonies? To defend your trade, say you? Do us justice, we are not pirates. We should not meddle with your merchantmen, if you had not a single frigate: we should not invade your coasts, if you had not a single fort. We have ambition and injustice enough, but it does not show itself in that shape. Do we hurt the trade of Denmark, Sweden, Naples, any of the inferior powers? Never: except they carry your trade for you, when you are at war with us for colonies—What do I say? If we ourselves have a marine, it is not for trade, it is for colonies: it is because some of us long to take your colonies, all of us fear your taking ours.
Is consistency worth preserving? Is your boasted conquest-abjuring decree—that decree which might indeed be boasted of if it were kept—is that most beneficial of all laws to be anything better than waste paper? The letter, I fear, has been long broken: the spirit of it may be yet restored, and restored with added lustre. Set free your colonies, then everything is as it should be. “We incorporated Savoy and Avignon,” you may say, “because it was their wish to join us: we part with our distant brethren, because like us they choose to be governed by themselves. Mutual convenience sanctioned our compliance with the wishes of our foreign neighbours: mutual inconvenience, the result of unnatural conjunction—mutual inconvenience, as soon as it was understood, made us follow, and even anticipate the wishes of our distant fellow-citizens. Reduction of the expenses of defence was the inducement to our union with those whom we either bordered on or inclosed: the same advantage, but in a much superior degree, rewards us for the respect we show to the wishes and interests of the inhabitants of another hemisphere. To neutral powers we give much cause for satisfaction, none for jealousy. Our acquisitions are two small provinces: our sacrifices are, besides continental settlements in every quarter of the globe, a multitude of islands, the least of them capable of holding both our acquisitions.” Were such your language, everything would be explained, everything set to rights. While you take what suits you, keeping what does not suit you, you aspire openly to universal domination: with fraternity in your lips, you declare war against mankind. Shake off your splendid incumbrances, the sins of your youth are atoned for, and your character for truth, probity, moderation, and philanthropy built on everlasting ground.
In the event of a rupture with Spain, you have designs, I think, in favour of her colonies. With what view? To keep them? Say so boldly, and acknowledge yourselves worthy successors of Louis XIV. To give them independence? Why not give it then where it is already in your power to give it? Will you put your constituents to an immense expense for the chance of giving liberty, and refuse it when you can give it for a certainty and for nothing. Compare the pictures—liberty without bloodshed on the one hand; bloodshed, with only a chance for liberty, on the other. Which is the best present? Which of the two is most congenial to your taste? Is it the bloody one? Go then to those colonists—go with liberty on your lips, and with fetters in your hands—go and hear them make this answer: “Frenchmen, we believe you intend liberty for us strangers, when we have seen you give it to your own brethren!”
You who hold us so cheap, who look down with such contemptuous pity on our corruption, on our prejudices, on our imperfect liberty—how long will you take our example to govern you, and of all parts of it those which are least defensible? Is it a secret to you any more than to ourselves, that they cost us much, that they yield us nothing—that our government makes us pay them for suffering it to govern them—and that all the use or purpose of this compact is to make places, and wars that breed more places?
You who look down with so much disdain on our corruption, on our prejudices, on our imperfect liberty, how long will you submit to copy a system, in which corruption and prejudice are in league to destroy liberty?—a compact between government and its colonies, of which the mother country is the sacrifice and the dupe?
You have seen hitherto only what is essential—collateral advantages crowd in in numbers. Saving of the time of public men, simplification of government, preservation of internal harmony, propagation of liberty and good government over the earth.
You are chosen by the people: you mean to be so; you are chosen by the most numerous part, who must be the least learned, of the people. This quality, with all its advantages and disadvantages, you the children of the people, must expect more or less to partake of. Inform yourselves as you can, labour as you will, reduce your business as much as you will, you need not fear the finding it too light for you. What a mountain of arguments and calculations must you have to struggle under, if you persevere in the system of colony-holding, with its monopolies and counter-monopolies! What a cover for tyranny and peculation! Give your commissaries insufficient power, they are laughed at: give them sufficient, your servants become dangerous to their masters. All this plague you get rid of, by the simple expedient of letting go those whom you have no right to meddle with. Cleared of all this rubbish of mischievous and false science, your laws will be free to put on their best ornament: then, and not till then, you may see them simple as they ought to be—simple as those who sent you, simple as yourselves. Yes, citizens, your time, all the time you either have or can make, is the property of those who know you and whom you know: you have none to bestow upon those distant strangers.
Great differences of opinion, and those attended with no little warmth, between the tolerators and proscribers of negro slavery:—emancipation throws all these heartburnings and difficulties out of doors; it is a middle term in which all parties may agree. Keep the sugar islands, it is impossible for you to do right:—let go the negroes, you have no sugar, and the reason for keeping these colonies is at an end; keep the negroes, you trample upon the declaration of rights, and act in the teeth of principle. Scruples must have a term: how sugar is raised is what you need not trouble yourselves about, so long as you do not direct the raising it. Reform the world by example, you act generously and wisely: reform the world by force, you might as well reform the moon, and the design is fit only for lunatics.
The good you do will not be confined to yourselves. It will extend to us: I do not mean to our ministry, who affront you, but to the nation, which you most wish to find your friend. No, there is no end to the good you may do to the world: there is no end to the power that you may exercise over it. By emancipating your own colonies, you may emancipate ours: by setting the example, you may open our eyes and force us to follow it. By reducing your own marine you may reduce our marine: by reducing our marine, you may reduce our taxes: by reducing our taxes, you may reduce our places: by reducing our places, you may reduce our corruptive influence.
By emancipating our colonies, you may thus purify our parliament: you may purify our constitution—you must not destroy it. Excuse us, we are a slow people, and a little obstinate: we are used to it, and it answers our purpose. You shall not destroy it: but if purifying it in that slow way will satisfy you, we can’t help your purifying it.
A word is enough for your East India possessions. Affections apart, which are as yet unknown, whatever applies to the West Indies, applies to the East with double force. The islands present no difficulty: the population there is French: they are ripe for self-government. There remains the continent: you know how things are changed there:—the power of Tippoo is no more. Would the tree of liberty grow there, if planted? Would the declaration of rights translate into Shanscrit? Would Bramin, Chetree, Bice, Sooder, and Hallachore meet on equal ground? If not, you may find some difficulty in giving them to themselves. You may find yourselves reduced by mere necessity to what we should call here a practical plan. If it is determined they must have masters, you will then look out for the least bad ones that could take them: and after all that we have heard, I question whether you would find any less bad than our English company. If these merchants would give you anything for the bargain, it would be so much clear gain to you: and not impossible but they might. You know better than to think of obtaining for the quiet possession of these provinces anything like what would be spent at the first word for the chance of taking them by force: the pleasure of rapine, bloodshed, and devastation is not to be set at so low a price: but something surely they would give you. Though to you the country is a burthen, it does not follow that to them it might not be a benefit. Though even the whole of their vast possessions were a burthen to them, the burthen, instead of being increased, might be diminished by the addition: the expense of defence might be reduced: Pondicherry might be to them what Savoy is to you.
But enough of suppositions and conjectures. How you part with the poor people who are now your slaves, is after all a subordinate consideration: the essential thing is to get rid of them: You ought to do so if nobody would take them without being paid for it. Whatever be their rights, they have no such right as that of forcing you to govern them to your own prejudice.
“Oh, but you are a hireling: You are a tool of your king, and of his East India company: they have employed you to tell us a fine story, and persuade us to strip ourselves of our colonies, not being able to rob us of them themselves.”—O yes, I am all that: I have not bread to eat, and no sooner is your decree come out, than I get £50,000 from the company, and a peerage from the king—I am a hireling:—but will you then betray the interest of your constituents, because a man has been hired to show it you? It would be of use to England:—but are there no such things as common interests, and are you never to serve yourselves but upon condition of not serving others at the sametime? Is your love for your brethren so much weaker than your hatred of your neighbours? It would be of use to England:—but are England and king of England terms so perfectly synonymous, and do you of all men think so? The king’s interest would be served by it:—but by knowing a man’s interest, his true and lasting interest, are you always certain of his wishes? Is consummate wisdom among the attributes of his ministers? Have they no passions to blind, have they no prejudices to mislead them? Are you so unable to comprehend your own interest, that it is only from the opinion of others that you can learn it, and those your enemies? The king of England is your enemy:—but because he is so, will you put yourselves under his command? Shall it be in the power of an enemy to make you do as he pleases, only by employing somebody to propose the contrary? See what a man exposes himself to by listening to such impertinences! I am hired: but are not advocates hired, as often as a question comes before a court of justice? and is justice on either side, because men are paid on both sides? Legislators, suffer me to give you a warning—this is not the only occasion on which it may have its use. Those, if any such there he, who call attention off from the arguments that are offered to the motives of him who offers them, show how humble their conception is, either of the goodness of their cause, of the strength of their own powers, or of the solidity of your judgment, not to say of all three. If they practise upon you by suggestions so wide from reason, it is because they either fear or hope to find you incapable of being governed by it.
A word of recapitulation, and I have done. You will, I say, give up your colonies—because you have no right to govern them, because they had rather not be governed by you, because it is against their interest to be governed by you, because you get nothing by governing them, because you cannot keep them, because the expense of trying to keep them would be ruinous, because your constitution would suffer by your keeping them, because your principles forbid your keeping them, and because you would do good to all the world by parting with them. In all this is there a syllable not true? But though three-fourths of it were false, the conclusion would be still the same. Rise, then, superior to prejudice and passion: the object is worth the labour. Suffer not even your virtues to prejudice you against each other: keep honour within its bounds; nor spurn the decrees of justice because confirmed by prudence.
To conclude. If hatred is your ruling passion, and the gratification of it your first object, you will still grasp your colonies. If the happiness of mankind is your object, and the declaration of rights your guide, you will set them free.—The sooner the better: it costs you but a word: and by that word you cover yourselves with the purest glory.
Postscript, 24thJune 1829.
An argument, that had not as yet presented itself to the view of the author when penning the accompanying tract, is furnished by the consideration of the quantity of the matter of good, operating to the effect of corruption, in the shape of patronage.
As a citizen of Great Britain and Ireland, he is thereby confirmed in the same opinions, and accordingly in the same wishes. But, as a citizen of the British Empire, including the sixty millions already under its government in British India, and the forty millions likely to be under its government in the vicinity of British India, not to speak of the one hundred and fifty millions, as some say, or three hundred millions, as the Russians say, of the contiguous Empire of China,—his opinions and consequent wishes are the reverse. So likewise, regard being had to the colonization of Australia; especially if the account given of the intended settlement on the Swan River in the Quarterly Review for April 1829, and from it in the Morning Chronicle of 26th April 1829, be correct—In regard to Australia, it is in his eyes preponderantly probable that, long before this century is at an end, the settlements in that vast and distant country will, all of them, have emancipated themselves, changing the government from a dependency on the English monarchy, into a representative democracy.
Dilemma, applying to a distant dependency, this. Admit no appeal (judicial appeal,) you thereby, unless your government is purely military, establish independence: admit appeal, you thereby subject the vast many of those who can not afford the expense of the appeal, to slavery under the relatively few who can.
In most of the copies which, from time to time, were distributed in the way of gift, inserted in MS. at the bottom of the first page, in the form of a note to the title, was the memorandum following:—
“Anno 1793, written just before the departure of M. Talleyrand, on the occasion of the rupture between France and England. Copy given to Talleyrand’s secretary, Gallois, who talked of translating it.”