MR. BROUGHAM’S MOTION ON THE DISTRESSED STATE OF THE COUNTRY 11 February 1822 - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 1815-1823.
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MR. BROUGHAM’S MOTION ON THE DISTRESSED STATE OF THE COUNTRY
11 February 1822
Mr. Brougham moved ‘That it is the bounden duty of this House, well-considering the pressure of the public burthens upon all, but especially the agricultural classes, to obtain for the suffering people of these realms such a reduction of the taxes as may be suited to the change in the value of money, and may afford an immediate relief to the distresses of the country.’ The Marquis of Londonderry opposed the motion.
Mr. Ricardo denied that taxation was the cause of the present agricultural distress. A country might, he said, be totally without taxes, and yet in the exact situation that England was at present. It was consistent enough in those who thought that the restoration of the currency had made a change of 50 or 56 per cent. in the value of money, and had consequently increased the actual value of the taxes in that proportion, though their nominal amount still remained the same, to say that taxation was the chief cause of the distressed state of agriculture; but it was impossible for those who held that the restoration in the currency had not created any thing like so great a change, to accede to such a statement. From the line of argument which his hon. and learned friend had pursued in one part of his speech, he was afraid that his hon. and learned friend was going to prove, that the very taxation which he wished to reduce was a source of benefit to the nation. His hon. and learned friend had stated, that the manufacturers of leather, on account of the tax on it, largely increased its price to the consumer, and derived so much benefit thereby as to be ready to represent it to parliament as a very useful and beneficial tax. Surely, by a parity of analogy, the agricultural interest, burdened as it was by taxation, might petition parliament against a reduction of it, since it was as much in their power as in that of the leather-manufacturer, to make it useful in enhancing the price of their commodity to the consumer. His hon. and learned friend had, however, drawn a very nice distinction—so nice indeed, that, for his own part, he was not gifted with ability to discern it—between the circumstances in which the leather-manufacturer and those in which the agriculturist was placed. He had said, that, in the case of the manufacturer, the taxation was paid by the consumer; but that in the case of the agriculturist, it was paid by the seller, and could not be charged to the consumer. He could wish his hon. and learned friend had stated to the House his reasons for such an assertion. If he were to be called upon to declare what he conceived the cause of the present depressed state of agriculture, he should say, that the cause of it was the abundance of produce now in hand, arising from the late abundant harvest, the quantity of land recently brought into cultivation, the importation of corn from Ireland, and various other causes, which it was not material for him at that time to mention. Indeed, the House would deceive both itself and the country, if it should come to a resolution that taxation was the cause of the distresses of the agricultural interest. He perfectly concurred in the opinion of his hon. and learned friend, that the present state of things could not last long: that was an unnatural state of things, in which the farmer could not obtain a remunerative price for his produce, and the landlord could not obtain an adequate rent from his tenant. His hon. and learned friend had stated, that unless something were done to relieve the farmer, much of the land would be thrown out of tillage. He said so too; and it was to that very circumstance that he looked forward as a remedy. His hon. and learned friend, among the other observations which he had made, had made some upon a set of individuals whom he stated to be anxious to transfer the whole landed property of the country into the hands of the public creditor. For his own part, he could not help observing, that he knew of no persons who entertained such wishes; neither could he imagine any cause which could, under such a measure, be necessary. He himself thought that the landholder might be enabled to receive an adequate rent, without any breach of faith being committed towards the stock-holders. With regard to the stock-holders, it might be supposed, from the language which had been used that evening, that it had been proposed to transfer to them the property of the land-holders, and to leave the land-holders entirely without resources. Now, such a proposition never had been, and never could be, seriously propounded. But though he said that, he was prepared to assert, that it would be most advisable, both for the land-holder and stock-holder, that the former should surrender to the latter a part of his property, in liquidation of the debt that had been contracted. Indeed, as the stockholder received, in the shape of interest, taxes from the landholder, it might be said that a part of the land did at this moment absolutely belong to him. [Cries of “Hear” from both sides of the House.] He would suppose, that during the war the ministers had come into the House, and, after stating the necessity of the case, had called upon the country gentlemen to give up a certain portion of their property in a direct manner to the exigencies of the state. Must they not, in that case, have absolutely parted with a portion of it? And if at that time others advanced for them that capital which they had not in an immediately tangible shape, was it not right that the capital so advanced should now be repaid to them? He was not demanding for the stock-holder more than he was entitled to receive; he was merely demanding that, in a compact such as he had described, the terms should be fairly and honourably fulfilled towards him. If the alteration in the value of the currency had given to the stock-holder more than he was entitled to, which he (Mr. R.) did not believe, let it be shown and let the deduction be made openly and without disguise. These were all the observations which he should obtrude at present upon the House. On a future occasion, he should explain the reasons why he thought that the alteration produced in the value of money by the restoration of the currency, had been greatly over-stated; and then he should endeavour to show, that if proper measures had been taken at the time of passing Mr. Peel’s bill, the resumption of cash payments would have produced no greater effect on the price of corn and other agricultural produce, than a fall of five per cent; whatever greater fall might have taken place, would have been attributable to other causes.
Mr. Brougham replied that he had been misrepresented. What he had said was, that the large capitalists interested in the leather trade derived a benefit from the tax on leather because it prevented men with small capitals from competing with them.
The previous question being put the House divided: for Mr. Brougham’s motion, 108; against it, 212. Ricardo voted with the minority for the motion.