Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER XVI.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity
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LETTER XVI.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity 
Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prsoperity (Edinburgh: the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
November 22. 1796.
Among the various sources of public expenditure, war, and the preparations for war, are perhaps the most important. Not only is the state occasionally put to an enormous expence during the continuation of hostilities, but, even during peace, armies must be disciplined, fortifications erected, navies repaired, and ambassadors sent to every nation in Europe, to give instant information of whatever occurrence may threaten to disturb the general tranquillity. Part of those expences would, indeed, be unavoidable, in whatever way the property was distributed among the inhabitants of the state, but part also arises from excessive inequality.
Although an opulent nation might hold out an equal temptation to the avarice of her neighbours, whether her riches were in the hands of many or of few, yet her condition for defence, which, by counteracting this temptation, might secure her from attack, is, in the two cases, widely different. When the property is engrossed by a few, then are but a few interested deeply in the national defence; the rest, having little to lose by being conquered, have in reality no stake in the country. Many of the people are sunk by ignorance, and its inseparable vices, to that degree of depravity, which extinguishes every generous feeling, and almost justifies the contempt with which they are treated; while the more virtuous, sensible that their utmost exertions are requisite to support and educate their families, apply to some simple and uniform branch of manual labour, with a constancy and regularity, which enervate their bodies, and too often debase their minds. Men, reduced to this condition, are unwilling to change their accustomed habits, or to expose themseves to unusual fatigues and dangers, in defence of a country to which they have few motives of strong attachment; and, even if they were willing, they are incapable of that bodily exertion, that patience under hardships, that endurance of fatigue, which are necessary in war. Such a nation becomes an easy and tempting prey to her more warlike neighbours, unless she trusts her defence to mercenary forces, which must be supported at an enormous expence even during the most profound peace, and too often are made use of to overturn that freedom which was the origin of her prosperity and wealth.
Of all causes of war, however, mercantile disputes are now the most frequent. People are convinced, by fatal experience, that no acquisition of territory will ever repay the charges of conquest; but there is reason to fear that the jarring of commercial interests, and the illiberal monopolising spirit of merchants, may continue, for some time longer, to drench Europe in blood* . But the frequency of such commercial disputes arises altogether from inequality of property. If riches, instead of being consined to a few, were more equally diffused, no individual could either have any interest in establishing a monopoly against foreign nations, or possess sufficient influence to make his private emolument be confounded with the advantage of the state. The competitions of different nations in branches of trade, which, from the moderate stocks with which they can be carried on, are accessible to all the inhabitants of each state, seldom occasion any very serious disputes. The merchant, whose stock is moderate, will find the derangement of his trade, during the war, a certain hardship, which it is not likely that his future profits will repay. Even if his nation is successful, even if a monopoly is established, he is fully sensible that the stock of other merchants will be allured from less lucrative employments, and that his profits will soon be reduced, by this competition, to their former level. So far from advancing contentious or unjust pretentions, his interest will lead him, by reasonable and candid concessions, to endeavour to prevent the miseries of war. But it is otherwise with the great capitalist: He can afford to live a few years on the interest of his stock, or even to consume part of his stock itself, when he has reason to expect that his present loss will be more than compensated by the enhancement of his future profits. However great those profits may be, if they are drawn from distant speculations, in which large capitals are necessary, they will not, at least for a considerable time, be reduced, by a competition with those small capitals which might be drawn from other employments. He is completely secured from competition at home, and has only to guard, by a monopoly in favour of his own nation, against that to which he is exposed from the great capitalists abroad. He is, therefore, tenacious of all the unjust preferences which his nation at present enjoys, and indefatigable in his attempts to establish new monopolies no less iniquitous. His supposed knowledge of trade gives weight and currency to his opinions; he succeeds in representing his private interests as those of the state; he takes advantage of national prejudices and dislikes; he employs all his influence with the government; he endeavours to rouse a false sense of national honour; and, by clamour, deception, and intrigue, he plunges his country into war. Unmindful of the miseries he occasions, he follows his own interests with an eagerness unchecked by the feelings of humanity, with a constancy too often successful.
Wars at the same time, independently of their objects, are, by inequality of property, rendered desirable to many classes of the inhabitants. All the younger sons are disinherited, to support the fancied consequence and lazy pride of one of their brothers; from their education, they have imbibed the most unconquerable prejudices against the useful professions; and the army is almost their only resource against that idleness, poverty, dependence, and contempt, to which, by the injustice of the law, they seem irrevocably doomed. All who, having once been opulent, have been led, by the vain folly of emulating the expences of others, to squander their fortunes, are in a situation still more deplorable. Too proud to be industrious, too old to learn any useful occupation, too luxurious to live in contented poverty, they have before them a long prospect of misery, embittered by the reflection, that it arises from their own misconduct. To such men, war is an occupation which may relieve their troubled thoughts; it gives them opportunities of still attracting the regards of mankind, perhaps of acquiring glory; it even flatters them with prospects, distant indeed, but not altogether visionary, of re-establishing their bankrupt fortunes.
To the great capitalists, war furnishes many opportunities of increasing their opulence. The loans, which are necessary to the state, yield a large and almost certain profit; while the fluctuations in the public funds may be considered as establishing an immense lottery, in which the most valuable prizes are drawn by the fortunate, the intelligent, and the artful. Another numerous class of capitalists, employed as contractors, agents, and commissaries, partly by a species of monopoly which they enjoy, not unfrequently by expedients which in other transactions would stamp their characters with infamy, succeed in raising immense riches, on the foundation of national distress.
These different classes, younger brothers and bankrupts; capitalists, stock jobbers, and contractors, with all their train of dependants, relations, and friends, from a very large body of the people, who have a direct interest in war, who languish during the prosperity of their country, and fatten on the miseries of mankind. It would require the utmost exertions of pure and disinterested patriotism, to counteract so formidable a combination; but the corruption, which inevitably arises from great inequality of property, not only roots up all public spirit from the minds of public men, but destroys, in the great body of the people, the very belief of its existence. The friends of peace are disjoined, disheartened, and suspicious of each other. No effectual opposition can thus be made; and, while contention is essential to the interests of so many, and such powerful individuals, can we wonder, that pretences are easily discovered, and that nearly as many years behold the cruel ravages of war, as smile upon the quiet and blissful arts of peace? I am Sir,
[* ]The present war is, no doubt, a pious crusade, in desence of religion and peace; but unless the landholders had been alarmed by wonderful stories of dividing property, and the merchants seduced by the flattering hopes of acquiring a monopoly of West India commodities, I doubt much whether the nation would have been casily persuaded to have taken the cross, and to have engaged in this holy warfare.