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PRELIMINARY ESSAY. - Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi, Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government 
Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government; A Series of Essays selected from the Works of M. de Sismondi. With an Historical Notice of his Life and Writings by M. Mignet (London: John Chapman, 1847).
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The Corn Laws are repealed. After years of strenuous exertion on the part of those who considered that by these exertions they were forwarding the best interests of all classes of society, the period of their complete extinction is fixed. The consequences remain to be experienced. Will they he advantageous to all the different interests in the community, as is expected by those who have carried this great measure; or will they be, as the protectionists aver, destructive of the welfare of one great and most important class, without a commensurate advantage to any other! Will an unlimited trade in corn put an end to those manufacturing crises which have so frequently, during the last half century, been a source of such wide-spreading misery, and of so much degradation to the working classes? Will it increase the comforts and be a lasting benefit to this most important class? Can it, on the other hand, throw our land out of cultivation, make agriculture unworthy attention, and render England, with her generally favourable soil and climate, her skill, science, and industry, unable to compete with those countries where the serf scrapes a seldom renewed soil with miserable implements; or even with those more luxuriant but more distant regions, from which the expense of transit is much greater; and where the more lucrative the growing of corn becomes, the more will be retained at home, to feed not only the cultivators, but all the increasing population which collects around successful agriculture? for the more profitable any production becomes to the great mass of producers, the more will be retained at home for the benefit of those who can, on that account, afford to purchase it. It may safely be assumed that the repeal will neither produce the extent of good on one side, or of evil on the other, that is prognosticated.
One happy consequence, however, there can be no doubt, has arisen from the long discussion on this subject. It has instructed the whole community. It has penetrated the lowest depths of society with a knowledge never before extended to them; it has inspired every thinking mind with a deep interest in the science of political economy, one of tile most important of the social sciences, if it be not confined to that comparatively low object of how wealth may bc best obtained and secured; but extended to the wider and more philanthropic investigation of how it may, by its acquisition and distribution, produce the least degree of suffering and the greatest of happiness to the whole of the community.
In the study of this most important subject, no man's opinions can be entitled to more earnest consideration than those of the late M. de Sismondi: not only from his possessing the most profound and extensive knowledge of European history of any man of his age; from his having studied the tenures, constitutions, and social relations and opinions of different nations, with the great object of discovering how far they added to or diminished general prosperity and happiness, but also from having had more practical knowledge, both of commerce and agriculture, than can often be acquired by studious men; all his studies and all his opinions being imbued, at the same time, with the most tender and intense interest in the happiness of his kind.
The evils of the system of restriction and monopoly, which had been so long acted upon, were so strongly pointed out by Adam Smith, and the school of political economy of which he was the founder, that it seems to have been thought by his followers that nothing but advantage would result from going as far as possible to the opposite extreme, and little attention has been paid to the consideration of the evils which might attend this also. M. de Sismondi saw them strongly, and had long foretold them, but he might not perhaps allow sufficient weight to their compensating advantages, as, from having witnessed much of the happiness produced under the old system, he was perhaps too unwilling to admit its evils. It is, however, most important in every step of progress, to hear the opinions of wise men taking different views.
It is not possible to read the works of the most eminent prolessors of the science of political economy without being struck, not only by the different sense frequently attached to the terms they use, but also by the great difference of opinion in regard to its principles, their application, and their results. By the term political economy is, however, generally understood that science which teaches how best to increase and secure the prosperity of a nation by increasing and securing its wealth. And its great maxim to attain this end is by non-interference, what the French economists call laisser faire, et laisser passer; that every man should be left at liberty to increase his own wealth by the means which appear to him to be the best, and that in this way the interests of the whole community will be best promoted. M. de Sismondi, however, founds the science upon quite another basis. He affirms that the object of the political economist should be, to ascertain how the happiness and well-being of the whole community are affected by the creation and distribution of wealth, not abstractedly how wealth may be created and preserved; that the principles of political economy should be extended to embrace all subjects which relate to the social welfare of man, and that this ought to be considered as the end, to which the increase and security of wealth is but a means; that the purely economical mode of considering the means apart from the end, the calculating theories in which men are too often reckoned as figures, and considered as means of production, have led to a disregard of their value as men: also, that the theories of political economy, and the legislation founded on them, tend to make the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer. Thus the amount of a nation's wealth being taken as the test of its prosperity, without regard to its distribution, it will be considered prosperous if some of its members are immensely rich; if there is below these a large middle class commanding all the material enjoyments of life, and by commerce and manufactures increasing their own possessions, and employing large numbers, to their mutual advantage; even though by far the majority of its population are earning, by daily labour, an insufficient and precarious subsistence; and there should be still lower a very large and often unheeded class, who, living in vice and misery, have no visible means of subsistence. M. de Sismondi contends that one of the main objects of political economy should be to regulate this very unequal distribution of wealth, which is not only frequently a source of injustice, and a cause of misery to the lower classes, but which causes national insecurity, by tending to produce those revulsions which affect the stability of private fortunes, and by continually adding to that dangerous though despised class who, at any time of difficulty or trouble, are ready to revenge their own sufferings by attacking property and institutions which have afforded to them neither advantage nor protection.
However those who would restrict the science to the limits they have assigned to it, may object to M. de Sismondi including his considerations under this term, they will not, at least, deny their extreme importance. In what way the acquisition, distribution, and employment of wealth affects the comforts, happiness, and morality of the community, is a subject than which few can be more worthy the earnest attention of the legislator, the philanthropist, and the Christian.
M. de Sismondi eloquently points out many of the evils springing from too universal an application of the non-interference doctrine: indeed it is scarcely possible, even were it desirable, to act upon this principle, apart from the considerations of justice, morality, or even benevolence. Slavery itself is only the extreme form of the influence and the power of property, and one can hardly see how he who says you may take advantage of a glut of labour to pay a man less than his labour is worth, and to gather to yourself an undue share of profit, can deny that you are justified in availing yourself of the condition of the slave. Neither slave nor labourer are in their natural position; but alike in one regulated by the laws of property of the country in which they live.
If, in such an extreme case as that of slavery, government would be justified in departing from the non-interference principle of political economy, are there no others in which it may be set aside from considerations of morality and humanity? In all the variety of cases which come under the strictest definitions of political economy, may it not sometimes be called on to protect the poor against the rich, the employed against his employer, ignorance and weakness against skill and power, the rights of man against the rights of property?
And yet in our own country, infringements of the law of liberty, scarcely less cruel than those of slavery, become possible under those ruthless laws which seem to hold life of small importance, in comparison with an uncontrolled exercise of the laws of property.
In the clearances in Scotland, and evictions in Ireland, which have occasioned such dreadful suffering, the principles of political economy were professedly acted upon. The cruelty and oppression, which in such violent proceedings must take place, arose from no ill-will to the poor people who were cleared out; on the contrary, something was occasionally done to lessen their sufferings; and those by whose power and authority these clearances were made, not only considered that they were exercising undoubted rights, but that they were doing what was wise and just, and what would eventually result in the greatest good to the whole community.
But surely we ought most seriously to consider the truth and the certainty of the ultimate benefit to result from principles which justify acts so contrary to the dictates of God and of natural feeling, as those of driving human beings from their homes to scoop out a shelter in the sand, and maintain a precarious subsistence on shell-fish and wild vegetables, or at best by begging; or even those of transplanting whole villages into new situations, breaking local attachments, and forcing the inhabitants upon a mode of life entirely contrary to their habits, for the sake of improving the property of one man, by adopting new modes of cultivation. The efforts made in England to drive the poor from cottages, in order to evade the law of settlement, are in the same spirita . It may be said that the evils are great which it is attempted by these means to put an end to; in some cases they are, in others it is very doubtful; but if these evils have arisen from defects in legislation, bad social arrangements, a false system of political economy, or even from the ignorance and recklessness of the poor tenants, is therefore the whole weight of suffering to fall on their unprotected heads?—while those who, from their power and influence; are mainly responsible for the existence of these evils, take no share in the inconveniences of a reform, while they reap the whole benefit of it.
The whole system of the tenures and letting of land is one great hindrance to the improvement of Ireland; tending to create a large and destitute population, producing no more than suffices for bare subsistence; and in times when this fare subsistence at all falls short, entailing immense expense, totally without returns, on the English and Irish nations; fostering, also, that recklessness and idleness in the Irish character, which is the great bar to improvement. Yet, give an Irishman the conviction that he runs no risk of losing the benefits of his labour, bring him to England, and give him a motive to save, and he will work as well in proportion to his strength and skill as an Englishman; and often save more. Above all, were there given him but a corner of his beloved country which he might call his own, and did the right to possession depend on the attention paid to its cultivation, the Irishman would devote to it all his energies of body and soul. Thus, the thousands of acres of waste land in Ireland might be cultivated like a garden. Yet all legislative interference with the modes of letting, and tenures of land, is contrary to the maxim laisser faire, et laisser passer, and an infraction on the rights of property. But why does not the government buy up some of these waste lands, and let them in lots to the evicted poor, at a low fixed rent, allowing them after this had been paid for a certain number of years, to become purchasers of the land, by means of yearly payments, if their improvement of the soil proved them worthy to become proprietors?—instead of this, while their native soil lies uncultivated at their feet, they are encouraged at great expense to leave it, and go to reclaim land in far distant countries.
O'Connell calls himself, and is considered by the Irish as a benefactor; but if, instead of abstracting large sums from the poorest and the most miserable, with the vain hope of obtaining what are considered political rights, some of which, if obtained, would probably only make Ireland more miserabte than she is, he were to let his estates on a just system, beneficial to tanant as well as landlord, and to use his vast power and influence to counteract the national sin of idleness, to induce his tenants to employ improved systems of cultivation, on a security that their hard earned gains would not be wrested from them, thus showing to Ireland an example of an industrious, contented, and improving peasantry, and proclaiming to the legislature, and to English and Irish landlords, what are the real evils of Ireland, and what their cure, he would be a true benefactor and liberator; a liberator from the worst of all evils—moral evil, and physical degradation.
Unlimited speculation, too, if it be not the direct result, is certainly a vice fostered by the maxims of political economy, and one in which they will not admit of legislative interference. That the spirit of enterprise and speculation has been productive of many advantages cannot be denied; but the evils, both moral and economical, which are also consequent on it, have not, perhaps, been sufficiently attended toa . In a great, perhaps the greatest, proportion of speculations, no real wealth is created; what is gained by one is simply taken from others; and often with this additional evil, that the loss to the losers involves a loss to many who are dependent on their industry for their daily bread.
In times of speculation we hear much of the fortunate makers of fortunes: we hear little of the numbers who suffer loss, except when some immense failure precipitates hundreds into distress and ruin, or when some pistol shot reveals the mental distraction of a gambler, not less one because he plays with cotton or shares, instead of dice. The late rage for railway speculations might teach us the evil of the temptation held out to acquire wealth by fortunate chances. Probably but a small proportion of these speculations have been founded on well-considered calculations of the real profits a railway was likely to afford; but the good fortune of some speculators has tempted many to forsake the slow profits of regular business, risking their own property and that of those who depend on them. They have also been a snare to the integrity of numbers, tempting them to defraud their employers, in order to engage in speculations no less dangerous and vicious than if they had carried the money to the hazard table.
But in a prosperous country where wealth abounds, the wave soon passes over those who are ruined by dishonest or hazardous speculations; they are not seen, the nation forgets them, but they are not forgotten before God, who will, in the undoubted and unvarying course of his justice exact a fearful, though it may be long delayed, retribution from all persons and nations who sacrifice moral ends to the pursuit of material wealth.
Any legislative interference in what arc called the rights of labour, is also strongly deprecated by the political economists. Any restriction on the manner in which a man may employ his labour, the person to whom he may offer it, the time he may choose to devote to it, or the remuneration he may be satisfied to take, is condemned. So many evils have for so many hundred years arisen from too much interference on these points, and they have been so ably exposed by the writers on political economy during the latter half of the last century, that it was thought that nothing was required to secure the well-being of the working man, but to act on a totally contrary system. Now, however, it is beginning to be felt that evils, neither small nor few, have been the consequence of a strict adherence to the maxim of non-interference, and some steps have been taken in a contrary direction, as in the Factory Bill, the Twelve Hours' Bill, and the Bill to prevent women and children working in mines; all opposed as being contrary to the acknowledged principles of political economy, and all attended with some inconvenience, even to those they are intended to protect, by lessening for a time the products of labour; but all affording hope that the longer they are persevered in, the more it will be perceived that the permanent benefit will outweigh the temporary inconvenience.
Doubtless, legislative interference in private concerns is a great evil, so great that it never can be justified except to avert greater; this must in every case be a question of experience and expediency. It is the part of a good government to weigh each case with wise deliberation; to consider in what way the class which most requires protection may be relieved from any pressure from which it cannot relieve itself; but to be careful not by a rash legislation, founded even on the most benevolent principles, to hazard injuring the real and permanent interests of those it seeks to defend, or to interfere unjustly with the rights of those whose mistakes it would rectify, even should its object be to restrain cupidity, selfishness, and oppression.
The question of legislative interference with the hours of labour was ably argued, on both sides, in the debate on Mr. Fielden's bill, to limit the hours of working in factories to ten hours a day for women, and for children under eighteen. Much was said, and no doubt very truly, on the evils of legislative interference between the employer and those he employs; on the hardships of not allowing a man to make the most of his labour, and to give as much as he pleases of it for his own benefit; on the hindrance to industrial labour if any of those who co-operate in it are limited as to hours; on the impossibility of competing with foreign nations, where it was said the workmen give from twelve to sixteen hours a day to labour; on the loss of profit to the manufacturers. Most of these arguments assume that labour has it in its power to make a fair and just bargain with property for their mutual advantage. But the fact is, that under our present social arrangements and condition, the balance of power is so much in the hands of capital, that labour has no power to make a just bargain. Capital will take every advantage of labour, when unprotected, to buy it at the cheapest rate—a rate often much below its true value; and whenever labour, feeling itself oppressed, has endeavoured to obtain better advantages for itself, it has generally betrayed either its ignorance or its weakness, and the results have been disadvantageous to the employed, as well as to the employer. In many eases, especially in manufactories, the individual operative cannot apportion the number of hours he devotes to work, to his strength, or to the gains sufficient for his wants or his wishes, as is the case in professions, and many kinds of business, which were unfairly compared to the working in manufactories, as affording instances of harder and more continued labour. Had each individual the power to make his own bargain, or to combine with others to work shorter hours, it seems certain by the statements of the operatives themselves, that numbers would find it advantageous to take shorter hours, even with diminished wages. Much would be saved by less sickness, by lengthened life, by more economy in domestic arrangements; and it may be said by more time being given to mental and moral improvement, producing more prudence and self-restrainta But in most manufactories men are bound by imperious necessity all to work the same hours, or the work could not go on; and not only that, but all manufactories of the same kind must work the same, or nearly the same number of hours, or some would be distanced in the race of competition. This, then, is one of those cases in which man not being a free, agent, the interference of the legislature is called for to preserve his rights, his happiness, his life, from being sacrificed to the interests of comparatively a few individuals. The objection to restricting the hours of labour for women and children to ten hours was, that it must necessarily limit those of the men to the same time. Perhaps twelve hours a day, dinner included, is not too much for an adult man in health, and would allow time for rest and improvement; but it is far too much for women and children; and it seems a strange subversion of the order of nature, that they must be overworked, in order that men may be sufficiently worked; it would seem more natural that men should work more, in order to allow of their wives and children working less; and it must be considered as a great deduction from the advantages of any industrial employment, when such an inversion is necessary a . No married woman should be regularly absent from her family above six hours a day. Have our political economists calculated the waste of public wealth by the sickness, loss of infant life, vice, and crime, occasioned by the want of attention to children, want of economy, severance of family ties, and demoralization consequent on a woman's being absent from her family thirteen or fourteen hours a day—for this it amounts to with meals, and time lost in going and coming?
When the danger of the competition of foreign nations is spoken of, is it meant as regards the interest of the workmen, or the masters? If the superiority in this competition can only be obtained by thousands, millions of human creatures being born to such continuous labour as shortens life, prevents all moral and intellectual improvement, takes away all power of enjoyment except of the lowest kind; this unremitting toil producing often only the bare necessaries of life, not allowing enough to lay up a provision for old age; if, indeed, such labour should ever give a hope of attaining to it—can such a life be spoken of as a benefit, or is life itself worth having on such terms?
As regards the real and permanent interests of the employers also, it is probable that the unlimited command of labour has led to that over-production which has of late years caused so many gluts, and so much consequent distress. Ruin to our manufacturing interests has been always predicted, when any legislative interference between the employer and the employed was proposed, even when it was to protect young children from virtual slavery and the greatest hardships; but the evils foretold not having resulted, we may trust that neither would they from a little more restriction. And as it was said by the opponents of the Corn Laws, that there would be no fear of land falling out of cultivation as long as it would maintain the cultivators, whatever became of rent and profit; so may we not say that manufactures will be carried on as long as they will give subsistence to the operatives, a moderate interest on capital, and small but probably steadier profits, instead of the large but uncertain ones now expected?
Should restrictions on the hours of labour diminish the present tendency to over-production, and prevent persons with small or no capital extending their business beyond their means, and have the effect also of creating a smaller but more prudent population, who would therefore have it more in their power to make their own terms, and to obtain their due share of the profits of manufactures; it is manifest that this would be greatly advantageous to the majority, even should individuals no longer be able to make immense fortunes, or to engage in extensive, often ruinous speculations.
An argument much insisted on in favour of the facility which our present system affords of accumulating large fortunes in few hands is, that large profits as well as high rents are necessary to enable the country to pay the interest of our immense debt. On the contrary, a more equal distribution even of less profits would make this more easy; for the more widely wealth is distributed, the greater is the proportion of it which willbe paid to the revenue. All the returns show that the great amount is not paid by the rich, or even by the middle classes of society, but by the poor and those just above them. All attempts at taxation on luxuries have failed in productiveness: the only sure returns are from those which are laid on the necessaries and comforts of life, affecting the poor in a much greater proportion than any other class; and the state of the revenue depends mainly on the power of that class to purchase these necessaries and comforts.a
By the wealth of a nation are we to understand only its material riches, or is it to he generally taken as meaning prosperity; and if so, must not the physical strength of those through whose means these riches have been created, and by whom, if attacked, they must be defended, be taken into the account? Will it be said that, according to the principles of political economy, the West Indies in their palmy days were in a prosperous state, because immense wealth was obtained by means of a population so rapidly diminishing that, to maintain its numbers, continual supplies were required from abroad; and will the cutting off of those supplies be in contradiction to the principles of political economy, because it has for the present caused embarrassment, and diminished the aggregate of wealth?
But if political economy will in no case defend slavery, will it defend the principle of non-interference in its fullest extent, where great material wealth is created by the employment of men in a manner, or to a degree, which produces suffering, disease, and deprivation; in which early marriages and early deaths produce a young, sickly, and deteriorating population?
In this country it appears that there is a great excess of birth sover deaths, and that the chances of life are considerably increased. This last is calculated upon an average of the whole population, and may be accounted for by the much greater knowledge of, and attention to, the means of preserving health, together with the great number of persons, especially in the higher and middle classes, and many of the lower, employed in occupations which have not a tendency to shorten life; though in one large and important portion of the whole community, the working class in large towns, the chances of life have diminished.
As to the excess of births, it is found that where, from the nature of the employments, from the modes of life, from a degraded state, there is a rapid mortality; yet if it be possible to obtain the means of subsistence of the poorest kind, and there be no prudential considerations, and no wish or power to rise above a state of indigence, there will be an excess of births and an increasing population; but it will be young and weak. Now it is not in the number born, but in the number which arrive at man's estate, that the strength of a nation consists. It is well known, that in our large towns the number of persons between the ages of ten and twenty-five is much larger than the natural proportion, to that of those between twenty-five and fifty.
This is also an economical question. The sanatory inquiries have established two facts: 1st, that a high preventible mortality leads to a greater increase of births than a lower rate of mortality; 2nd, that a high rate of mortality is the cause of an increase of cost and waste to the whole community. “In the manufacturing districts, where peculiar causes operate in producing an excessive mortality, an excessive proportion of births is also observed. Early marriages are in proportion; and thus an unhealthy and feeble population is produced, still more liable to be affected by the causes of mortality.”a It has been generally supposed that the mortality caused by destitution, or by unhealthy employments and modes of living, was necessary to restrain an excessive increase of population. The attention, however, which has of late been given to the statistics of these questions shows that sanatory improvements, and whatever tends to lengthen life, are the most effectual means of restraining a too great increase of population. As to the cost of excessive mortality, Mr. Slany states, as the result of his investigations, that “It is within the truth to lay down as a rule that, wherever the mortality closely approaches three per cent., the annual cost, direct and indirect, to the community, of the want of proper sanatory regulations, exceeds one pound per head on the whole population, or ten shillings in the pound on the rental of all the houses;”and this vast annual outlay, with the incalculable amount of suffering and guilt, he believes. may be prevented by proper regulations, wisely directed and firmly enforced.
Political economy, in pursuing its narrowest object of increasing the material wealth of a country, necessarily allies itself with morality. All vice, all dishonesty, all idleness, all imprudence, all want of truth—nay, even all want of wisdom, his a waste of the wealth and resources, not only of individuals but of the nation. No subject can be more important, in an economical as well as in a moral point of view, than to discover how to keep down the fearful increase of that class which is in the lowest state of destitution, which subsists entirely either on public or private charity, or by fraud and robberya Even when the subsistence of this class is provided for by the least objectionable means, where what is taken from the rich is given to the poor, where it is merely money changing hands, it is utterly unproductive; it does not increase the wealth of the country, nor does it go to afford leisure for that mental cultivation, which is the greatest advantage of a non-producing class. On the contrary, it physically, mentally, and morally, debases those who receive it. It is true that as long as bad economical systems and social institutions lead to the formation of a class of persons without either the wish or the power to raise themselves above their degraded state, or to provide for their own wants, their subsistence must in some way be provided for; but the question is, whether such a reform in our economical and social systems be not possible, as may very much lessen, or entirely do away with, a class mainly dependent on others for support; so as to restrict what is called charity to the relief of accidental evils, giving freer scope to the sweeter charities of life, sympathy and disinterested intercourse between the rich and the poor, and affording much larger means for bestowing that only really good gift, education, in the most extended sense of that word.
At this time, when the Corn Importation Bill gives reason to hope for an improvement in the profits of labour, and for a lower price in the means of subsistence, which it is expected will be advantageous to every class, it would be a proper time for a benevolent and enlightened legislature to consider whether it would not be possible to devise some mode of relieving the poor more efficacious and less fraught with evil than the present poor law; a heavy tax on the whole community, and more particularly on the proprietors and holders of land, involving by the mode of collecting and distributing it, expenses very heavy in proportion to the benefit conferred; a source, too frequently, of injustice and oppression to those for whose relief it was established; punishing unavoidable poverty as if it were a crime; tending to widen that gulph between the rich and the poor so much to be deplored; and ever affording a ready excuse to those who, from carelessness, hard-heartedness, or want of generosity, are unwilling to inquire into the condition of their fellow-creatures; having especially the most injurious effects on the character of the poor themselves, by teaching them that there is something to depend on besides their own industry and good conduct, and by accustoming them to claim assistance as a right, and to receive it without gratitude. It is also very reasonably felt as a great hardship by that class of the poor, whom it should be the first object of a wise legislature to encourage; those who, from a noble spirit of independence, are working night and day to keep themselves above the pauper class; that they should, even by these laudable endeavours, be placed in circumstances in which they are called upon to pay poor rates for the relief of distress, too often, they are well aware, brought on by idleness, vice, intemperance or extravagance. It is a cruel injustice, too, that the poorest should pay a much larger proportion of their means towards this tax than any other class of the community; nor can anything be more abort-sighted in its consequences than the pressure thus inflicted, often reducing men fr'om the condition of rate-payers to that of paupers. A man can support himself; but because he cannot help to support paupers also, he himself becomes a pauper, and others must support him; and thus he increases the burden on those left, drags others after him, and the evil continually increasesa
The poor rates also fall very unfairly on the other different contributors. Land is burdened with poverty produced by checks to our manufacturing and commercial, prosperity, often caused by ruinous or even dishonest speculation, or by the gluts of over-production. In times of agricultural depression, field labourers flock into the towns, hoping to get work which may afford them that subsistence which a total want of employment or very insufficient wages, deny them in the country, being, at the same time, in general the most reckless and idle of the country population. In both these cases, large bodies of men, many of the individuals of which are in very straitened circumstances, arc called upon either as ratepayers, or in the form of private charity, to relieve distress caused by reverses in the agricultural or manufacturing interests which they had no share in producing, as on the other hand, they had derived little or no advantage from their previous prosperity.
Might it not be possible to substitute for this a system by which the onus of providing against the destitution of those they employ, should be thrown on all employers of large or small bodies of men on daily, weekly, or monthly wages, whether agricultural, commercial, or industrial in every form?
The first Essay in this series, the Preface to the Second Edition of one of M. de Sismontdi's early works on tile subject of political economy, has been inserted, because it was thought that it would be interesting to see the impression which the state of this country made on M. de Sismondi when he visited it soon after the crisis of 1826. In some points he may be a little mistaken in his view of England; and some of the evils which he points out have been rectified, or may be in the process of amendment. There is still, however, notwithstanding our outward prosperity, a mass of evil arising from our economical system, the causes of which political economists seem at a loss to ascertain, and the remedies for which they appear unable to suggest, differing as they do on both these points. They seem generally agreed, however, that the chief remedy is still to be sought in carrying out farther the great principle of each one being allowed to do the best he can for his own interest with his skill, capital and labour, and that this will result in the greatest advantage to the whole community.
Have, however, these principles, as far as they have hitherto been carried out, produced the expected advantage to the most numerous and most important class? On the contrary, has not our progress in wealth, and in material prosperity, been attended with the increase, in a greater proportion, of indigence and pauperism? The very depressed state of the agricultural labourer has, it will be said, taken place during a system of protection. It scarcely, however, can be said to have its origin in that system, but in whatever has tended to the accumulation of large properties in few hands, and to the extinction of the yeomanry, of small proprietors and tenants on long leasesa very much also to the different mode of paying farm servants, which has obtained of late years a We have at this time a starving agricultural population, who only want to be allowed to gain their bread by the sweat of their brow; land which wants cultivation; and capital which wants investment. Can political economy tell us why these things are so, and how they can be brought to bear on one another for their mutual advantage? Much is said of the evils of a redundant population, and of colonization as a remedy for it. And yet the emigration reports show, to take a few instances, that “In Bilsington parish, Kent, there ere 2,700 acres, and a population, in 1827, of 335, being rather more than eight acres to each individual. And yet the number receiving parochial relief was then 129, being more than one-third of the whole amount.”Again, it is stated in the Report, that at Palborough, in Sussex, there are 6,000 acres, and a population of 2,000; and yet, though this is three acres each, Mr. Burrell, the witness examined, says, that the poor rates are about 23s. a head. At Mildenhall, in Suffolk, it is stated that there were 268 persons paying rates, and 315 unable to pay, with 124 paupers, making 707; and that the number of acres in this parish was 16,000, being rather more than 22 acres to each.
Now, it has been calculated that an acre, properly managed, will maintain five persons; but taking half of this, Mildenhall, instead of being burdened with 707, would afford sustenance to 40,000 persons; and Palborough, instead of 2,000, to not less than 15,000. It is probable that since these reports were published, some difference in these proportions, and in the rates, may have taken place; it is not, however, at all likely that the agricultural population should be in a less distressed state, or that since so much has been done to drive the labourors from the soil, there should be more in proportion to the number of acres. It should also be observed, that the greatest redundancy of population is found where the number of persons is fewest in proportion to the number of acres. The only way in which these redundancies of land, capital, and labour could be brought together, would probably be by giving more facilities to the acquisition of small properties. Yet the views of political economists are in favour of large farms. No doubt they have many advantages, generalty those of more skill and capital, but the much greater good will and industry with which a man cultivates land in which he has a direct interest, than that on .which he is only a day-labourer, might compensate for these. Nothing tends to form a happy, contented, hard-working peasantry, attached to their country, its institutions, and its aristocracy, so much as a direct interest in the soil they cultivate.
Nor does even the present condition of our manufacturing and commercial interests, though in some respects they are prosperous, indicate a steady advance to that state which produces the greatest well-being to the greatest number; with crises occurring at periods of about six years, when a sudden stagnation comes upon manufacturing prosperity, and indeed on business of every kind, shaking the stability of the largest concerns, ruining numbers of those below them, and bringing destitution and starvation on those they employ. The cause of these crises does not seem satisfactorily explained. They have been partly accounted for by glutted markets, and over-speculation; but a deficiency in that staple article of food, corn, has been most generally contemporaneous with them, forcing the poor, the great consumers, to spend so much less in manufactured articles, and what may be called luxuries. As regards also this numerous and most important part of our population, is it, as a whole, so happy, so healthy, so well fed, and so well clothed, as it was 80 or 100 years ago? No doubt the working classes, when they are in full employment, have more luxuries in their food, dress in finer if not better clothes, and have more comforts than were thought of at that time; but the much larger proportion of the utterly destitute, and the immense amount of suffering which results from any check or depression in commerce, manufactures, or agriculture, felt still more keenly by those who have been accustomed to comfort, if not luxury, more than compensate for these advantages. And unquestionably the price of provisions is higher, in proportion to the rate of wages, than it was at that time. The great question still remains; can that country be in a sound economical state, in which 8 per cent. of the whole population is mainly maintained by public or private charitya ? To this waste must be added that of fraud and crime, of which it is the fertile source.
Our material prosperity, no doubt, blinds us to the many evils attendant on it. We see, belonging to the aristocracy, splendid mansions and magnificent domains, we see the elegant houses of the middle class scattered over the country, or forming part of small towns and villages, we see substantial farmhouses and cultivated fields; we do not see the miserable cottages of the labourers where a man and his family subsist or starve on 108., 8s., 7s.a a week, with no hope, either by industry or economy, of improving their condition.b We do not attend to the rows of miserable houses springing up in large and small towns, where those who have been driven from the fields by the large farmers or landowners, live or die no one knows howa ; so that if the state of the poor in any town in England be inquired into, the answer will generally be, we have more poor here than formerly, and the poor are worse off. We see a large and industrious population, with full employment and good wages, we forget the large proportion who are very insufficiently remunerated b and those who have not the means of procuring employment, or who, from being long accustomed to seek subsistence by other means, have lost the wish to find it. We see large and increasing towns bearing every outward mark of opulence, crowded ports, and markets filled with all that can minister to the senses or gratify the taste; we do not see, or we do not heed, the heaps of human misery, of destitution, of every form of physical and moral evil, a mass of corruption in the social body hidden by this splendid and prosperous exteriora . On the occurrence of a crisis, all this is immeasurably increased; then the cry of starvation strikes our ear, and we say, what can be done to save these people? But it passes away, returning prosperity blinds us to its causes and effects, and we do not reflect that in its progress it has caused numbers to fall back on the large and fearfully increasing class of those who have no visible means of living.
M. de Sismondi, seeing these evils strongly, has perhaps underrated the value of manufacturing prosperity, and of the manufacturing population, which he places below the agricultural in morality and intelligence. In this country at least, it is acknowledged to be unquestionably superior; and operatires, working on weekly wages, will probably be found to be so everywhere, when compared to field labourers paid in the same way.
If large towns produce vice, they also give birth to many virtues which can only be there practised. There is also less ignorance, that great source of crime, in large towns. And never ought this country to forget, that in the last crisis, when one of our largest towns was actually in the hands of a mob, when the country seemed to be on the brink of the most dreadful of all insurrections, that caused by hunger and misery, she was saved by the morality, fortitude, and patience of a starving population. Nor has M. de Sismondi done full justice to the higher class of our manufacturers and merchants, than whom there are probably no men who conduct business on higher and more honourable principles, and among whom are many greatly interested in the welfare of those they employ, and anxious to promote it by every means in their power. It is, however, to be feared, that there is also a very large class employing great numbers of persons who are amenable to all M. de Sismondi's remarks a It also appears on any great depression of the manufacturing interest, how little can be done under the present system, by even the most generous and considerate masters, to relieve evils from which they are themselves suffering.
What then can we look to as the remedy for our social evils? Would M. de Sismondi have us go back, would he stop progress? It always gave him much pain to be so misunderstood, as to have it supposed that he would stop progress, even if he did not know it to be impossible. But he was anxious to show that progress may be too rapid, and must be attended with its disadvantages, as well as its advantages; that if monopoly in labour had its evils, yet that the unlimited power of every man to employ his capital, skill, and labour, in the way that appears to him most advantageous to his own interest, instead of being, as was said and expected, a great advantage to labour, by setting it free from all restrictions, has, in fact, given so great a preponderance to capital and skill, that its tendency is to add to the wealth of the rich, and to the destitution of the poor; encouraging the accumulation of property in few hands, and presenting obstacles to its formation among the lower and middle classes. He saw, too, what few sufficiently consider, that no steps can be made in advance, without bringing ruin and suffering to some. The advantages of progress are obvious, as in railways. All see the facilities to commerce, the many social benefits of increased locomotion, the number of persons employed, the towns rising where stations are established. Little attention is paid to the great shock to existing interests, to the loss of capital invested in roads and canals, to the number of persons thrown out of employment, to towns fallen away, rents diminished. These are not reasons for stopping progress, even if in a free country it were possible; but they are reasons for considering that an advance is not productive of unmixed good, and should lead a beneficent legislation, and all wise and good men to watch progress with a prudent regard to the interests of every branch of the community, so as to direct and soften its consequences, that they may be attended with the least possible amount of evil. The improvement of machinery is the greatest step in progress which has been made during the last hundred years; attended, no doubt, with many and great advantages, contributing to the more general diffusion of many comforts and luxuries, producing great wealth to some, and adding generally to the prosperity of the country, but by its immense power of production leading to overstocked markets, one cause, no doubt, of the frequent stagnation of business. It has also been the means of producing what may be called a glut of populationa so that in the best times it is difficult for all to find employment; and a check in any branch of business throws numbers out of employment, which they vainly seek elsewhere. Before they can find it, many have recourse to pauperism, and others fall into the lowest and most destitute class.
There can be little doubt that we are rapidly advancing to a perfect freedom from restrictions on trade, which, with the cheaper and more regular supply of food consequent on the repeal of the Corn Laws, is looked to a as the great cure for our social evils; but may it not be well seriously to consider that even were trade as free as the winds to every corner of the earth, yet if merchants and manufacturers look upon markets as unlimited, or only limited by the wants of the consumers, not by their income or means of payment, more will be produced than can be sold and consumed in a sufficiently short time to produce profitable returns; markets will be overstocked; and there is too much reason to apprehend that the commercial and manufacturing interests will still be liable to convulsions and crises, more appalling in their effect in proportion to the greater number of persons brought into the world by the extension of trade and manufactures. May there not also be just reason to fear that free trade will tend to foster the eager desire after wealth, and that anxiety to make large profits, and yet to undersell in foreign markets, which can only be done by producing at the least cost, and must therefore lead to efforts to cheapen labour to the lowest degree that the amount of population and the cost of subsistence render possible?
From this the operatives can alone protect themselves. It is by personal independence only that men can put themselves on an equal footing with their employers, so as to obtain fair and just wages; and a working man can attain independence through prudence, economy, and good conduct alone.
Though labour ought, on true economical principles, to afford sufficient for a man to maintain himself and make some provision for the future, or for a family, yet it has been found that a high rate of wages, particularly if uncertain, has been more generally productive of vice and extravagance in the workmen, than of any provision against an evil day, or of any improvement in the condition of those who obtain them. So that those, who, when business is prosperous, can get from one to even five pounds a week, which the most skilful operatives in the Birmingham manufactures sometimes do, will not be found at a time of depression to be at all better off than those who only get from twelve to twenty shillings. Frequently, indeed, the economy which is forced upon the latter, and the less power they have of indulging in vice and luxuries, will place them in a better situation. This recklessness is much increased by a dependence on public and private charity, and by there being so little stability in the rate of wages. It might be hoped that the very severe sufferings caused by the crisis of 1842 would teach the operatives a lesson of prudence, but it is very doubtful whether this has been the case, and whether, were the same depression to recur, it would not produce as much misery. Could, therefore, the request of a fair day's wages for a fair day's work be granted on the moment to all men willing and able to work, this alone would not prevent the recurrence of want and misery, unless with this they were more strongly impressed with a sense of their own responsibilities, made to feel that, in regard to all the ordinary circumstances of life, they must depend only on themselves, and taught that they must apportion their outlay to their means, and provide not only for present expenses, and for the future ones which they may bring upon themselves, but for contingencies and old age; unless, in a word, means are provided, not only for instruction, but for education, in all knowledge which tends to make men wiser, happier, and better.
It is to be hoped that one of the best effects of the repeal of the Corn Laws may be, that it will tend to relieve the present very depressed state of the agricultural interest, involving all those who combine to form it; landed proprietors, farmers, and labourers. Certainly protection exercised no beneficial influence for it.
It does not seem possible to point out one period since the Corn Laws were laid on, in which there were not complaints of the small profits, even losses, of farming. Probably this may in a great degree be attributed to the undue expectations which the Corn Law was calculated to excite. Landowners let their land on the high rents which it was expected a high price of corn would afford, and proportioned their expenses to these expectations; which being disappointed, has no doubt led to so much of the land being mortgaged, and to small proprietors being obliged to sell their estates. Farmers took land on the same expectation; those who had capital lost it, and persons who had knowledge and capital not being willing to engage in unprofitable concerns, tenant farming has been more generally undertaken by a lower class, without capital, whc, not improving in the science of cultivation, and not able to calculate what rent farm profits would enable them to give, have incurred such great losses, that generous landlords have been continually giving back part of the rent agreed on. To all this must be added the system of tenants at will, adopted for the sake of obtsining political power. Short leases, uncertain tenures, and small capital, must necessarily lead to farming on a system of small yearly profits, without regard to the permanent interest of the land; now, in such an old country as this, its fertility can only be kept up by a system of cultivation which looks forward, by laying out money, the profit of which can only be reaped in the course of a few years. Land, therefore, becomes deteriorated, and each succeeding tenant will give less for land in a worse state of cultivation. All this presses most heavily on the labourers, fewer of whom are employed in cultivation at lower wages, and who are driven more and more from the fields. The repeal of the Corn Laws must lead to such contracts between landlords and tenants as will probably result in greater ultimate advantage to both. Men with more ski]! and capital will be induced to take land; at least there will be an end to uncertain and over-estimated expectation. It might, perhaps, be worth considering on this subject, whether a small share in the profits of agriculture, instead of mere weekly wages, if it could be arranged, might not be made to do away with much of that want of honesty and want of industry which is often complained of in farm labourers, and in agents and overlookers a
Notwithstanding, however, the many evils end sufferings of our social state, we are a wealthy, prosperous, intelligent, and, on the whole, moral people. To what do we owe these great advantages? They existed before the introduction of those theories and maxims of political economy which have only been discovered and acted upon during the course of the last hundred years, and which, though they have brought to light many errors, and relieved the country from some evils, have no doubt, as far as they have been followed out, been productive of others. It is not to them, then, that we owe our advantage, but first to the superiority of our race, combining more intellectual and physical power than any other nation in Europe, and next, to our having enjoyed for so much longer a period than any other country the blessings of freedom, personal, political, and religious. M. de Sismondi has shown in his Introduction, that the sufferings and low state of the working classes in the middle ages were owing to personal and political oppression, rather than to any defect in the system of political economy. When relieved from this political oppression, the middle and lower classes rose in importance, and acquired wealth with a rapidity and to an extent not known in our days.
It may perhaps be permitted here to advert to some other evils in this country, which seem caused, in some degree at least, by an undoubted confidence in, and great admiration for, the principles of political economy. As the wealth, the prosperity, the happiness of a nation must be made up of the aggregate wealth, prosperity, and happiness of individuals, each individual will consider that in whatever degree he acquires any of these, he is adding something, however small it may be, to the wealth, prosperity, and happiness of the nation. If wealth be taken as the test of a nation's prosperity, as the sign of her greatness, there will be added, in the minds of many men, to the strong natural love of acquisition, the idea, that by a man's increasing his wealth he is performing a duty to his country, adding to her glory and prosperity; or should this be too far fetched a consideration to influence men individually, yet there can be little doubt that wealth being taken as the great sign of national prosperity, has led to the very high estimation in which it is held in this country. It was said by a wise man, Sydney Smith, that in England, “poverty is infamotls.”; Without going so far as to say that it is a crime to be poor, yet it cannot be denied, that in this, morc than in any other country, respectability is almost universally connected with the idea of wealth; that to want riches according to the station in which a man lives, is to want consideration. To this may be added a very generally received idea, that in this free country, if a man does not improve his fortune it is his own fault. From this arises tim unceasing struggle through all classes of society, except those whose immense possessions place them above it, or whose degradation puts them below it, to become rich, or to appear to be so. The respect and consideration of our fellow-men is one great source of our happiness, a natural and laudable object of our desires; what wonder then at the eager pursuit of what most certainly and universally obtains it. Next to being really possessed of wealth, it is important, for the same reason, to seem to command it. To this may be in a great degree attributed the taste for show, luxury, and expense, the continual competition, the eager desire to outvie others and to step into a higher station, the vexation at not being able to make the same appearance as others, the mortification at being obliged to descend, the cruel neglect with which this is often visited, even where it was not occasioned by any fault. How little in proportion do men generally spend on their own tastes, or even on their own comforts, still less to promote their own real happiness, or that of others; how much to purchase consideration! The highest will not be surpassed or equalled in splendour by those they consider as inferior in wealth and station, and if they see themselves approached, increase their expense to keep in advance; though there is perhaps less of this feeling among the nobility than in any other class; having a dccided position, they less require the adventitious circumstance of wealth. The lowest imbibe a taste and value for that show which they are taught by the example of their superiors to consider as all-important. This eager pursuit after wealth leads men to the very verge of dishonesty, too often beyond. It might almost be thought, that the great maxim of political economy is, “Be rich, honestly if you can, at all events, be rich.” The anxious desire to be so has often led to fraud and dishonesty, spreading wide ruin and desolation, and producing a great waste of real wealth. The necessity, at all events, to appear rich, is one source of the very prevalent and wasteful system of credit, The merchant, the manufacturer, the tradesman, too often, in the eagerness to be rich, engages in business far more extensive than his means and expectations will justify, and then adds to his embarrassments, and the loss entailed on others, by living in a style which he has no fortune to support, in order to keep up appearances; and not only this, but in every class of society how many are there, who, for the sake of external show, are in debt for the very necessaries of life; not few, it is to be feared, who maintain a brilliant exterior on the simple system of never paying a debt when it can be avoided. It were vain to calculate the immense extent of loss, ruin, and misery consequent on the very extended system of credit pervading all transactions of business and private life in this country, a system in which it may be said that those who will so extensively give credit, are often as mueh to blame as those who require it.
It has been argued that a taste for luxuries is a benefit to the community. Luxuries are no benefit, but an injury, when they are indulged in at the expense of more important considerations; when they lead to expenses beyond means, to deferred payments, to undischarged debts. Besides, the supply of luxuries to the rich employs a very small portion of the working classes of the community; it is the supply of necessaries and comforts to the middle and lower classes which is the great benefit to the producers. In proportion to the greater quantity of these which those classes can command, is the prosperity, not only of commerce, manufacture, and agriculture, but also of the revenue.
The narrow principles of political economy have had another bad effect on our social state. They are applied in every detail of actual business, and men are led to conceive that they are acting according to broad and true principles, and benefiting the community, in seeking their own pecuniary advantage by means which, if deprived of the sanction of this system, would be acknowledged to be harsh and oppressive. Labour is a purchasable commodity, to be purchased according to its value in the market. No doubt, following the strict principles of political economy it is; but by accustoming men to consider it in this abstract point of view, apart from the human beings whose only possession it is, they are led to think they have a right, a right which they can justly and innocently exercise, to take advantage of those who are forced by the most imperious necessity to dispose of this possession, in order to obtain it at the lowest price, and to employ it solely for their own advantage in enriching themselvesa . This idea has been acted upon in this country to an extent involving extreme cruelty and oppression, the grinding down the most defenceless of our species in manufactories and in trades, to the lowest wants of subsistence b
The dreadful sufferings consequent on this system which have of late years been brought to light, have led to the attempts to lessen them which are objected to on the ground that all interference between the employer and those he employs are contrary to the principles of political economy, and derange the labour market— the labour market! Alas! by this term are we not too often reminded of the slave market? For though these poor creatures are not slaves bought with money, they are often as completely in their employer's power, shackled by that inost imperious of all masters, hunger? It should never be forgotten that the labour market is essentially different from all other markets; as regards every other commodity, it is more or less at the option of the seller whether he will dispose of it or not; if he does not think a just price is offered, he can refuse, or he can wait; but the commodity which the working man brings is life; he must sell it or die. Why, then, it is said, limit the quantity of this commodity which a working man has to dispose of; why prevent his obtaining as much as he can, by selling all he can find a purchaser for? Because it has been found by experience, that from this simple reason of being obliged to sell it at any rate, a working man has not the power to make such a bargain as will secure an advantage proportionate to the quantity he disposes of. Because it has been found that many men, still more women and children, have consented to work fourteen, even sixteen hours a day, for bare subsistence; and if the legislature steps in and forbids their working more than twelve or ten hours a day, they must gain bare subsistence or they could not work at all. But then, say the political economists, men must be taught not to produce so much of a commodity as materially depreciates its value. Is it possible to make this abstract proposition intelligible to the minds of working men, and if it were, would it not be more impossible to make them act upon it? Was any man, high or low, ever deterred from marrying by the idea that he might reduce the value of the labour market? Besides, this comes with an ill grace from those whose extensive undertakings, and sometimes ruinous speculations, have led to that excess of population, which, when it has served its purpose, or can no longer be employed, is cast aside like a worn out machine. Men, however, may be taught that they bring misery on themselves and others, if they marry without a reasonable prospect of maintaining a family; that a man ought to provide for his wife and children, and not, as is too often the case, depend on their labour for his support; and much may be done to encourage a desire for respectability, and to remove many of the causes which prevent the attaining it.
Probably the present phasis of human affairs, the money making, the wealth creating, if it may be so called, is a necessary step in human progress, as war seems to have been in former times. Till the human mind has made great progress, some strong excitement appears to be necessary to call forth its energies and develop its intellect. For many ages, war, and the love of power, were the exciting principles; gradually the love of money, and of what money will command, have been taking their place. War, with all its evils, had its mission, no doubt. It cultivated that great quality of the human mind, courage, so necessary to the growth of all other high and valuable qualities, and to the defence of all that is dear to man. It sharpened the intellect, it quickened invention. By its conquests it mingled nations together, thus often producing a finer race of men, and developing arts which either nation singly would have been incapable of. It made man of value. Men were important as means of attack and defence, and to be secure of men, a certain portion of property was given to them. This is the principle of feudalism, military service in exchange for territorial rights. The requirements of war also led to the invention and protection of many of the arts. The importance of those who invented or improved, and who were occupied in making arms, armour, &c., enabled them to obtain privileges in the towns where they were settled, and this was the origin of municipal rights. Nor was the age of war without its virtues, patriotism, heroism, self-devotion, loyalty, fortitude, the defence of the weak, all those qualities of which chivalry is the beau ideal, and which shows the estimation in which they were held, though so seldom carried out in practice. It is not uninteresting to observe, in reading the histories of the Middle Ages, that periods of peace were in general periods of greater suffering to the lower classes than those of war. Those chiefs who were not called to distant wars, employed their exuberant activity in quarrels with their neighbours, productive of more suffering to their immediate dependants, than when a large body of restless spirits were drawn off and concentrated at one distant point for aggression or defence. When there were no wars, the amusements of kings and princes, and of the high aristocracy, both in large and small states, were more cruel and oppressive to their subjects than their wars. In the short intervals of peace also, men being of less importance, their rights were more wantonly trampled on. Wars of principles, religious or political, led to an inquiry into principles, a self-devotion in their defence, which perhaps no gentler touch could have brought forth. Even the desolating wars of the French revolution, and the flood of Napoleon's victories passing over Europe, have done much good which will be felt when the evils they caused are forgotten. Old institutions which had hung like a dead weight on the progress of society were overthrown. A shaking of heaven and earth, an upheaving of the depths of society, took place, which has taught all governments to have more regard for the interests of the governed. Much remains still to be done, but a fearful storm has cleared the path and brightened the sky.
With those wars, the age of war seems to have passed away; it does not appear probable that Europe can ever again engage in extensive wars: kings may wish it, but nations are opposed to it. Another spirit, not less powerful to excite the mind of man, has taken its place, stimulating exertion, forcing upon almost all men the obligation to labour of different kinds, giving birth every day to new discoveries in science, new inventions in art, opening new roads to intercourse with distant nations, and carrying many blessings, though not unmixed with evils, on the wings of commerce. But this state has also its attendant sufferings; the thousands who die on a field of battle are counted, and the evils of war are proclaimed aloud. The thousands who die in infancy from want of care, in manhood from over work, the devastations of anxiety, destitution, degradation, vice and misery, are not counted, and are generally unnknown. The human sacrifices to the love of money may not be quite so great as those to the love of glory, but the worshippers of both consider themselves not only as totally guiltless with respect to the suffering caused by their pursuit, but as deserving the approbation of their country; and that country generally unites in admiring those who have advanced far on the career of fortune, as well as on that of glory, and thinks little of those who have fallen a sacrifice to the pursuit of it.
To what, then, must we look as a counteraction to the evils and sufferings which have seemed necessary to the progress of man? To that spirit of love which was manifested to the world more than 1800 years ago: which, even in the darkest periods of modem history, in the most cruel wars, has produced some alleviations, some gentle virtues, some fruits of love; and in later times has so modified even the spirit of war, that it bears a different aspect to what it did in ancient times. So now only to Christianity can we look to remedy many of the evils of the spirit of this age; of those consequent on the economical principles carried to their full extent. It must penetrate where legislation cannot go; it alone can lead to a full and conscientious discharge of what is due from man to man in every relation of life; it only can insure justice from employers to employed, truth and honesty in the latter, and prevent in every class the sacrifice of these to the pursuit of gain.
We have at the present time every reason to hope that this spirit of love, pervading more and more the whole of society, will eventually prove a remedy for many of its evils. That the well-being of the whole community, and most particularly of that class which is too powerless to assist itself, ought to be the great object of the legislature, is acknowledged on all hands a . How that class can be relieved from the state of destitution, of physical and moral evil into which it is so deeply fallen, is engaging tile earnest attention of society at large. Much is done or attempted wisely, but much more, it is to be feared, with the best intentions, mistakenly. The mistakes seem mainly to arise from our not having yet fully entered into the true spilit of the Christian command, “Do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you.”Do justice: not giving to others of our abundance, not placing ourselves in the superior station of benefactors, and others in the lower one of recipients of our bounty: this is not what we should wish others to do to us. We are still too apt to regard those below us as fellow beings to whom we must show kindness, not as fellow men to whom we must grant rights. If, as was well said, property has its duties as well as its rights, labour has its rights as well as its duties. Tile greatest benefit which can be conferred on the lower classes, is to teach them how, in a truly Christian spilit, to obtain and to use these rights. Let us not deceive ourselves: the age of protection on one side and dependefice on the other; the age of alms on one side and humble gratitude on the other; the age of family attachments from the lowly to the great, is passing away. These things in their season brought forth many beautiful fruits, and gave rise to many virtues and good feelings; but any attempt, however benevolent and well-intentioned, to bring them back, is utterly vain. It is an economical age, an age of free exchanges, in order to produce tile greatest advantage to both parties. Let it not be supposed that it must therefore necessarily be a cold and calculating age, in which Christian love will die. Does not the purest love, the sweetest affection, spring up where there is equality? not equality of rank, or of wealth, or of intellectual gifts or acquirements, but of Christian men, where assistance from those who have to those who want, will be given and received in love; not as now, when alms being too often given in place of the performance of the higher duty of granting rights, and a general, though perhaps undefined impression of this, having arisen among the lower classes, they are too much received as a right, instead of being accepted as the gift of love.
We already begin to see another field for the exercise of human energy spreading wider and wider every day; another object destined probably to supersede the necessity of the excitement by the love of war, and the love of gain, and to carry on the progress and education of the human mind: another war, affording a grander scope for human effort; another object, demanding as much activity, prudence, and reflection as the love of gain: the war against moral and spiritual evil, conquering the kingdoms of this world, to become the kingdoms of God and of Christ; that combat which was begun by him, and has been carried on by his followers, with varying numbers, and varying success, to the present time; but now the numbers of those engaged in it, and their success, are increasing day by day. Many are making it the great object of gain, to win souls from sin, to produce good out of ceil, to carry treasures of moral and intellectual and spiritual light to the dark places of the earth, bringing back no returns, but the sweet hope of having been the means of diminishing human vice and suffering, of having been fellow-workers with Christ.
In the mean time it is well worth serious consideration, whether a stricter application of Christian principle might not be advantageous in an economical as well as a moral and benevolent point of view: whether, instead of the present reckless pursuit after wealth, making it the great object of human energy, more moderation in the desire for it, more conscientiousness in the means by which this desire is to be gratified, might not advance individual as well as national prosperity, with a steadier and more real, if perhaps apparently slower progress; besides diffusing the means of comfort and enjoyment among a far greater number, if in smaller proportions, and saving an immense aggregate of suffering, not only to those who are crushed beneath the wheels of the idol wealth, but to those who, in the rapid race, suffer the alternations of hope and fear, and too often risk all they have on the most uncertain chances: whether greater consideration for the moral and physical welfare of those employed in the creation of wealth would not produce a great advantage to the employer, in work being performed more carefully and industriously, and with a more conscientious regard to his interest, and a saving also to the nation of the great waste caused by vice, destitution, and early death: whether, in short, for nations as well as for individuals, “godliness be not profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, as sC;ell as of that which is to come.”;
[a]“Among the many evils which at this time tend to depress the agricultural poor, the law of settlement is exercising a very unfavourable influence. Settlement, as regards the labouring poor, being now practically confined to the place of their birth, the owners of property are exerting themselves to throw the burden off their own estates, and to fix it upon others. If they can drive the poor from the parishes in which their own property lies, they calculate that they shall be exempted from the pressure of poor's rates. In this object the farmers unite heartily with their landlords, for the payments are made by them, and the occupier is equally interested with the owner in keeping down the burden upon land. There is no settled purpose in all this of oppressing the poor: it arises from selfishness—the caring for none but themselves. But the consequences to the poor are grievous. If cottages are pulled down instead of being built up, if no harbouring is provided for the labouring poor in those parishes where their settlement is, they must either go to the workhouse or find shelter elsewhere. As long as they have health and strength, we know that our industrious labourers will strain every nerve to maintain their families in independence. Hence, they seek the nearest village to their own, where shelter is to be found, however exorbitant the rent. Wherever there are small freeholds in a parish, there speculators will be found to reap a profit from the necessities of these homeless families. Streets of miserable dwellings are erected, where £5, £6, £ 7, are charged for only two or three small rooms. These villages are perhaps from three to six miles from their own parish, where alone they can find employment; and this distance have these poor men to walk morning and night, in addition to their day's labour, for no allowance is made by the farmer for the distance which his labourer has to come to his work, and unless he is there to his appointed hour at all seasons, he will employ him no longer.”—Times.
[a]Some curious accounts of speculation in the iron trade, I received from a gentleman in that business. The iron trade is always a fluctuating one; but in this, as in other trades, when the price rises unreasonably there is a check; persons will not buy at a price beyond bounds, partly from prudence, partly to resist imposition. When so many railways were proposed, it was calculated that it would be impossible to make the quantity of iron required, in any time approaching to that in which it would be wanting. Iron rose. The trade is considered in a prosperous state when it is nine or ten per cent. above the medium price; it rose to thirteen and fifteen. Seven gentlemen came to Liverpool to make sudden fortunes by speculating in iron; they expected to make thirty Per cent. on the usual price. One of them was offered a price by which he would have cleared £40,000: he scorned it, and said he should make £80,000; the rest acted on the same principle. Iron did not rise above fifteen per cent. Six of the seven were bankrupts, and one cecsped simply from refusing to fulfil any bargain that was not advantageous to himself.
[a]At a meeting of the factory operativea, Manchestor, December 3,1845, Mr. J. T. Collins said he had worked in the mill many year, and from sad experience he did not hesitate to declare that the present factory hours were too long for human nature to endure. Such was the state of weakness to which he was reduced by twelve hours' labour in the mill, that he had no taste for learning, or time for the performance of those domestic duties which are so dear to every Englishman.
If public parks and pleasure grounds were now open to the inhabitants of Manchester, they would be a dead letter to us without a reduction of the hours of labour.
[a]The returns of the factory commissioners show that of 220,134 persons employed in cotton factories, only about one-fourth of the whole were males above eighteen years of age.
[a]Of the excise and customs, two thirds, or nearly half are paid by the industrious classes.
[a]Supplementary Paper to the Report on the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts, 1842.
[a]In 1836 a Committee of the Liverpool Corporation made a report on the number and earnings of criminals in that town, from which it appeared that £ 734,240 were annually obtained by unlawful means—National Distress, its Causes and Remedies, by Samuel Laing, Jun., p. 21.
[a]At the fête given by the mill people in the employ of Messrs. Courtauld, Taylor, and Co., to their employers, there walked in the procession a handloom weaver, getting from ten to thirteen shillings a week. By denying himself from time to time his half pint of beer, he made up his threepence weekly subscription during the three months which his fellow workmen devoted to plan and preparation.
[a]I am now an old man, and I have been all my life a Norfolk farmer. I have lived in the times when farms were of a moderate size, and when there existed a respectable class of people called small farmers, who formed a link between the yeomen of the county and the agricultural labourer, but these have all been swept away.
[a]Unhappily, while other classes were progressing, the moral and physical condition of the labourer was retrograding. In order to understand this retrogression, and its effect upon agriculture, and a naturally honest and industrious class, we must go back 40 or 50 years, when occupations were not so extensive, when the demand for labour was above the supply, and production more adequate to consumption. At that period most of the farm servants were lodged in the houses, the master and servant often worked together, and hence arose mutual respect and attachment, which mutual dependence and mutual aid almost universally create. The system of weekly wages was the first blow towards weakening the ties which had hitherto bound the farm servant to his employer. Expelled from the long cherished “home of the estate,”and thus cut off both from those social communications which insure confidence, and that supervision which imposes a wholesome restraint, the labourur sought a new dwelling, too often an improvident marriage, and his interest centered in his own hearth. As a natural consequence population increased, not at first perhaps, in proportion to the demand for labour, but certainly beyond the rate of wages, which underwent no addition correspending to the rise of prices in the necessaries of life. In almost all the inquiries which have been made on this point, we have almost invariably found the rate of wages higher in proportion when the price of corn was low, than when higher prices have been obtained. Bacon's Report on the Agriculture of Norfolk.
[a]By the estimate of the Commissioners for England and Wales, the number of paupers relieved was 1,300,928 in 1831; per centage of pauperism to Population, 9.5. Taking the population in 1841, at 15,911,725, as given by the census, this gives an actual per centage of official pauperism to population of 8¼ per cent., or nearly one person out of twelve.
[a]See Letters from Dorsetshire in the Times of July and August, 1846.
[b]The meeting at Goatacre has attracted considerable attention, and informed the country of the state of the agricultural population in Warwickshire. Their state in Oxfordshire may not be so, well known. Mr. Ferguson, the minister of the Independent Church st Bicester, says, in a letter to the Patriot, Feb. 28th, 1845,—.
Thus seven persons must be content with less than a loaf and a half each for seven days; or, if they should get more, the baker must suffer; they sometimes leave him and the landlord unpaid to have a few pence to buy beer to drown their sorrows, or a few yards of cotton to hide their nakedness. Many labourers, particularly in the winter half-year, have only a day's work now and then. A gentleman told me, a few days since, that there are 'thousands starving in Oxfordshire.' ”
[a]In the back streets of Blandford, I am credibly informed, there are living at this time as many as 90 labouring families who have been driven into the town from the impossibility of procuring dwellings in the country. In the Blandford Union, the average weekly cost per head of the in-door paupers, (men, women, and children,) for the quarter ending March, 1846, was, food, 2s. 2¼d.; dress, 5¼d.—2s. 7½d. Now this, for four persons, (and a married labourer's family would not average lower,) amounts to 10s. 6d.,no house rent included.—Letter to the Times, July 2nd, 1846.
[b]The following may be taken as a fair and impartial general statement of the condition of the population of above two and a half millions, who appear form the returns to derive their subsistence directly from manufactures, under ordinary cireumstances, and in an average state of trade:—about one-third plunged in extreme misery, and hovering on the verge of actual starvation and one-third or more earning an income something better than the common agricultural labourer, but under circumstances very prejudicial to health, morality, and domestic comfort; viz., by the labour of young children, girls, and mothers of families in crowded factories; and, finally, a third earning high wages, amply sufficient to maintain them in respectability and comfort.—Laing, p. 27.
[a]An enlightened and philanthropic foreign writer, (Eugène Buret—“La Misère des Classes Labourieuses,”) in describing the results of his personal observation in England, says: “That by the side of an opulence, activity, elegance, and wide spread comfort, of which the world has no example, every great city contains a real ghetto, a curesd quarter, a hell upon earth; where the reality of misery, depravity, and every hideous form of human suffering and degradation surpasses any thing that the imagination of a Dante ever conceived in describing the abode of devils.”
[a.]The following account, taken from the report of F. Tancred, Esq., will serve as an illustration of the fundamental truth, which can never be too frequently or too forcibly impressed on our minds, that increase of wealth is not necessarily increase of happiness; and that avarice, or, as it is now christened, accumulation of capital, when it gets an undue ascendancy aver moral considerations, invariably produces misery.
[a]“Capitalists and speculators without capital, in the pursuit of wealth, congregate in vast masses the vital materials which produce wealth, without taking any care for, the moral or physical being of these essential implements. Whenever such accumulations become pestilential, or otherwise dangerous, they are rooted out by a summary process under the authority of parliament, which, while it will not be slow in honouring the principles involved in such measures, will employ month after month, in determining on rival schemes of unprincipled pillage, or in some speculation. The great living mass, who are the creators of wealth, are in its pursuit trampled down with as much indifference as so many weeds.”—Times, Dec. 8th, 1844.
[a]“A still more important consideration is, that a repeal of the Corn Laws, even if it were to be attended with all the consequences which the most sanguine of its advocates predict, would evidently, in a few years, bring us back to the point from which we started, with an increased population, and all our difficulties on an enlarged scale, unless the system on which we have been proceeding for the last fifty years is radically altered. The rapid increase of manufacturing industry during the war did not prevent, if it did not rather occasion, the misery and distress under which we are now suffering. All the worst evils of ignorance, demoralization, infant and female labour, increase of destitution, grew up simultaneously with a more rapid advance of manufacturing wealth than it is possible to expect from a repeal of the Corn Laws. The temporary prosperity of the period from 1833, to 1836, when profits were high, food cheap, and when our export trade took a new and extensive development, terminated in the crisis of 1837, and the lingering decline under which we have been since suffering.”—Laing, p. 95.
[a]If, on a subject on which almost every thinker has his Utopia, we might be permitted to hare ours; if we might point to the principle on which, at some distant date, we place our chief hope for heating the widening breach between those who toil and those who live on the produce of former toil, it would be that of raising the labour from a receiver of hire, a mere bought instrument in the work of preduetion, having no residuary interest in the work itself, to the position of being in some sort a partner in it. The plan of remunerating subordinates in whom trust must be reposed, by a commission on the returns instead of only a fixed salary, is already familiar in mercatile concerns, on the ground of its utility to the employer. The wisdom, even in a worldly sense, of associating the interests of the agent with the end he is employed to attain, is so universally recognised in theory, that it is not chimerical to expect it may one day be more extensively exemplified in practice. In some form of this policy we see the only or the most practical means of harmonizing the right of industry and those of property; of making the empleyers the real chief of the people, leading and guiding them in a work in which they also are interested; a work of co-operation, not of mere living and servitude; and justifying by the superiors capacity in which they contribute to the work, the higher remuneration which they receive for their share of it.
[a]The Birmingham Pilot gives a long report of an important public meeting, upwards of one thousand persons being present, lately held in that town, to hear an exposition of the grievances which oppress the journeymen tailors from the unjust and inadequate wages they receive from their employers. The following remarks are judicious, and cannot be too widely disseminated: “The superabundance of labour in the market, no doubt, in some measure accounts for the present depressed state of the tailors' trade, but it cannot be denied that the mammon-worshipping hearts of not a few of the employers are more disposed to screw a penny out of the poor man's labour than a shilling out of the rich man's purchase. The labourer, with a starving wife and family, can ill afford to stand out for a fair price if it be grudged, while the rich man, with his golden purse, can shake it in the merchant's face and beat him down to within an inch of the poor marr's life. Bad as trade is, and keen as competition has become, we verily believe that, until the avarice by which our capitalists are now actuated be uprooted, the rich man will get richer, and the one shuts himself up in himself, and leaves the other to realize that oppression which drives even wise men mad.”— Extracted from the Patriot, March, 1845.
[b.]At the meeting on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Distressed Needlewomen, the Chairman, Lord Ashley, in his speech said, he “would press on the attention of the meeting the very great evils arising in all directions from the constant and unceasing efforts to obtain every thing which could be made or executed by a human creature at the very lowest minimum of remuneration upon which it was possible for that mortal and immortal creature to exist within the limits of this side the grave. How did this system work upon this wretched class of persons? He knew one instance of a poor woman having toiled consecutively, day after day, for 20 hours, without intermission, and she desisted only because nature would hold out no longer”
[a]“My earnest wish has been, during my term of power, to impress the people of this country with a belief that the legislature was animated by a sincere desire to frame its legislation upon the principles of equity and justice. I have a strong belief that the greatest object which we, or any other government, can contemplate, should be, to elevate the social condition of that class of the people with whom we are brought into no direct relationship by the exercise of the elective franchise.