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Part III: america. - Richard Cobden, The Political Writings of Richard Cobden, vol. 1 
The Political Writings of Richard Cobden, with a Preface by Lord Welby, Introductions by Sir Louis Mallet, C.B., and William Cullen Bryant, Notes by F.W. Chesson and a Bibliography, vol. 1, (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1903).
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It is a singular fact that, whilst so much of the time and attention of our statesmen is devoted to the affairs of foreigners, and whilst our debates in Parliament, and the columns of our newspapers, are so frequently engrossed with the politics of petty States, such as Portugal, Belgium, and Bavaria, little notice is taken of the country that ought, beyond all others, to engage the attention, and even to excite the apprehension of this commercial nation.
A considerable portion of our countrymen have not yet reconciled themselves to the belief that the American colonies of 1780 are now become a first-rate independent power. The more aged individuals of this party, embracing, of course, a considerable section of the House of Peers, possess a feeling of half pique and half contempt towards the United States, some-what analogous to that which the old Scotch Jacobite lady described by Burns indulged with reference to Great Britain more than half a century after it had rebelled, as she persisted in designating it, against the legitimate rule of the Stuarts.
We have met with persons of this very respectable and influential party who believe conscientiously that the Americans threw off the yoke of the mother country, merely with a view to escape the payment of certain sums of money due to English creditors; ∗ and that they have ever since been struggling after a dubious kind of subsistence by incurring fresh debts with us, and occasionally repaying our credulity in no very creditable coin. If these be told that the people of the United States constitute our largest and most valuable commercial connection—that the business we carry on with them is nearly twice as extensive as with any other people, and that our transactions are almost wholly conducted on ready money terms—they will express surprise; but then they will predict that no good will arise ultimately from trading with Yankee Republicans.
If a word be said about the well-known religious and moral character of the Americans, these worthy people with stop you with the exclamation of, “How can there be religion or morality in a country that maintains no established church?”
Offer to enter into an argument with these spirits of olden time, or to adduce evidence in reference to the present condition of the American States, and ten to one, you will find that they have read the works of no authors or travellers upon that country, with the exception of those of Moore, Mrs. Trollope, and Basil Hall. If the news-rooms and the libraries that are under the direction of this prejudiced party be consulted, the former will be found to contain no specimens of the millions of newspapers that issue, cheap as waste paper, from the press of the United States: whilst, from the shelves of the latter, all books ∗ calculated to give a favourable picture of the state of its flourishing community are scrupulously excluded.
Should we look into the periodical journals which are under the patronage of the same class, we shall find the United States' news but rarely admitted to their columns, unless it be of a nature that tends to depreciate the character of Republican institutions, or serves as an occasion for quizzing the social peculiarities of American society.
Yet it is to the industry, the economy, and peaceful policy of America, and not to the growth of Russia, that our statesmen and politicians, of whatever creed, ought to direct their anxious study; for it is by these, and not by the efforts of barbarian force, that the power and greatness of England are in danger of being superseded; yes, by the successful rivalry of America, shall we, in all probability, be placed second in the rank of nations.
Nor shall we retard, but rather accelerate this fate, by closing our ears, or shutting our eyes, to all that is passing in the United States. We regard it as the first duty of every British statesman, who takes an enlightened interest in the permanent grandeur of his country, however unpalatable the task may prove, to weigh, in comparison with all the features of our national policy, the proceedings in corresponding measures on the other side of the Atlantic. Possibly we may not, after all, be enabled to cope with our more fortunate rivals in the energy or wisdom of their commercial legislation, owing to the embarrassments and burdens with which we are encumbered; but still, it only the more becomes the character for high moral courage that belongs to us to strive to understand from which quarter danger is the most to be apprehended.
By danger we do not, of course, allude to warlike hostilities. England and America are bound up together in peaceful fetters by the strongest of all the ligatures that can bind two nations to each other, viz., commercial interests; and which, every succeeding year, renders more impossible, if the term may be used, a rupture between the two Governments. This will be sufficiently apparent when we state that a population of upwards of a million of the inhabitants of this country, supported by the various branches of the cotton industry, dependent for the supply of the raw material upon the United States, ∗ would be deprived of subsistence; at the same time that a capital of thirty millions sterling would for the moment be annihilated—if such a catastrophe were to occur as the suspension of the commerce between England and the United States; whilst the interests of the Americans would be scarcely less vitally affected by the same circumstance.
But we allude to the danger in which we are placed, by being overshadowed by the commercial and naval ascendancy of the United States. It has been through the peaceful victories of mercantile traffic, and not by the force of arms, that modern States have yielded to the supremacy of more successful nations. Thus the power and civilisation of maritime Italy succumbed to the enterprise of Spain and Portugal; these again were superseded by the more industrious traders of Holland; who, in their turn, sank into insignificance before the gigantic growth of the manufacturing industry of Great Britain; and the latter power now sees, in America, a competitor in every respect calculated to contend with advantage for the sceptre of naval and commercial dominion.
Whether we view the rapid advance of the United States, during the last forty years, in respect of population or wealth, it is equally unparalleled in any other age or country. The past history, however, of this country is so well known, indeed, it is compressed into so short a space of recent history, that it would be trite to dwell upon it: our object is to draw a short comparison between the future prospects of the two countries.
The population of the United States was, at the first census, taken in 1790, found to be 3,929,328; and, in 1830, the number had, according to the fifth Government return, reached 12,856,171, exhibiting an increase, during the last ten years, of thirty-three per cent.; that is, doubling itself in rather less than twenty-five years. ∗ In 1831, the population of the British Islands amounted to 24,271,763, being an increase of about fourteen per cent. upon the enumeration for 1821. † Looking, therefore, to the present proportionate increase of the two countries, and considering the relative circumstances of each, it may be predicted that, in thirty years, the numbers of the two people will be about equal; and we further find that, at the same ratio of augmentation, and making no allowance for the probable increase of emigration from Europe, the population of the United States will, in seventy years from this time—that is, during the lifetime of individuals now arrived at maturity—exceed one hundred million.
These circumstances demonstrate the rapid tendency towards a superiority, so far as numbers go; but we apprehend that, in respect to the comparison of our commercial prospects with those of America, the position of Great Britain does not, according to facts which we have to state, wear a more flattering aspect.
We find, by a table in the “American Almanack” for 1835, that the exports from the United States for the year ending the 25th September, 1833, amounted to 90,140,000 dollars, or about twenty millions sterling of our money.
The British exports for the same period were £47,000,000, of which thirty-six millions were of home commodities or manufactures, whilst the remaining eleven millions consisted of foreign and colonial produce. But it will be proper to exclude the colony trade from the question altogether, unless, in order to state the matter fairly, we agree to take into account, at the same time, the inhabitants of our dependencies, which would not improve our case.
Now, in order to institute a fair comparison between the respective trades of the two countries, it will be necessary to bear in mind that, at the above period, the population of America was about fourteen millions, whilst that of the British empire may be reckoned to have been twenty-five and one-half millions.
We arrive, then, at this result, that, whilst our population, as compared with that of the United States, is as 25 ½ to 14, ∗ our commerce bears the proportion from 36 to 20. Further, if we compare the mercantile navy of Britain with that of America, we find the tonnage of the former, in 1832, to have been 2,261,860; whilst that of the latter, in 1833, amounted to 1,439,450 tons; by all which it appears clear that America is, in proportion to its population, at this moment, carrying on as extensive a commerce as England, or any other State in the world.
But we should take a very inadequate view of the comparative progress of the two nations, unless we glanced at other circumstances, which will effect very oppositely the career of England and the United States in their future race of commercial rivalry.
This Republican people presents the only example of past—as we believe it will prove of future—history, in which a nation has honourably discharged its public debt; and the greatest financial pressure its Government will in future have to contend against, singular as the fact may appear to us, is the difficulty of applying its surplus treasure impartially to the services of the separate States. The time is gone by, we believe, when people could be found to argue that a national debt is a national blessing. † Sure we are that, in our case, no person possessing sound reason will deny that we, who find it necessary to levy upwards of thirty millions annually upon the necessaries of life, must be burdened with grievous disadvantages, when brought into commercial competition with the untaxed labour of the inhabitants of America.
But it is not only the load of debt, heavy as that is, that we have to contend with; our oppressive public establishments are, throughout, modelled, unnecessarily, we believe, for the service of the commonwealth, upon a scale enormously disproportioned to those of our more economical rivals. We will pass by the whole of our civil expenditure, because we have not space for the detailed notice of its individual items; and we shall proceed to notice, as more connected with the design of this pamphlet, our army and navy, as compared with the military and naval forces of the United States.
We find, from a table in “Reuss's Statistics of the United States,” that the number of seamen in the American mercantile navy is estimated at 86,000; whilst the States Government employs, in vessels of war, 6,000 ∗ men. The British merchant service, exclusive of the colonial registry, supports 140,000 sailors; and the number voted for the royal navy, in 1833, was 27,000 men. Thus, then, we arrive at the unsatisfactory result that, whilst in America the Government, as compared with the merchant service, contains in the proportion of hands rather less than one in fourteen, the number of men employed in the royal navy of Britain, in comparison with the quantity supported by the merchant service, is nearly in the ratio of one to five.
The royal navy of England actually in commission at this time (see the United Service Magazine for February) consists of one hundred and forty-eight vessels of war, of which there appear to be, according to the same authority, forty-six in the different harbours of Great Britain, thirty-three in the Mediterranean, thirteen on the coast of Africa, ∗ twenty-seven in the West Indies, and the remainder in various other destinations.
We find, in the American Almanack of 1835, the United States navy given as twenty-one ships of war, of the following descriptions:—One line-of-battle ship, three frigates, ten sloops, seven schooners. †
It appears, then, that our royal navy contains, as nearly as possible, seven times as many ships as are to be found in the Government service of America.
Now, whatever objections may be urged with respect to other branches of expenditure, against a comparison of our burdens with the corresponding economy on the other side of the Atlantic, we think no reasonable mind will deny that it is by reference to the commerce of a people alone that we can form a correct judgment of their policy, so far as the marine service is concerned, and judge of their ability to support permanently their naval establishments.
The disadvantageous nature of our position, in comparison with that of America, will be better understood, if we repeat in two words, as the substance of what we have proved from the foregoing figures, that, whilst the population, exports, tonnage, and mercantile seamen of Great Britain are not double those of the United States, our royal navy is about six times as great as the corresponding Government force of that country.
But, if we proceed to a comparison of the land forces, we shall find them of exhibit a yet more striking disproportion in the burdens of the two nations.
The entire military service of America comprises rather less than 7,000 men. In 1833, the Parliament of Great Britain voted 90,000 soldiers for the army of this country. Here, then, we perceive the odds are—still bearing tin mind the population, &c., of the two countries—as nearly as possible six to one against us.
If we had the space, however, to allow of our entering into a comparison of details, we should find that the proportion of our officers greatly exceeds the above ratio. It will suffice to prove this, when we add, that the number of our commissioned officers, alone, at this time, exceeds the entire amount of the army of the United States; and of these we see, by the Army List for1835, that 2,087 ar field-officers of and above the rank of major!
To render the comparison of the respective burdens of the two people more simple and complete, we shall add their expenditure under these heads.
In the budget of 1833, the army and navy estimates of Great Britain were as follows:—
making a total of £13,146,313, for these warlike purposes.
In 1832, according, to the American Almanack for 1835, the military service of the United States, including fortifications, arsenals, armouries, ordnance, internal improvements, &c., cost £1,134,589, whilst the navy estimate was for £817,100, making a total of £1,951,689.
Thus, it appears, that our gross expenditure, under the United States heads, is in the ratio of six and a-half to one, as compared with that of America—a country, be it repeated, whose population, trade, and registered tonnage are more than the half of our own—a country , too, whose public debt is cancelled, whilst ours amounts to nearly eight hundred millions!
But it will be said that our local position making it necessary to guard our shores with this demonstration of power, and our colonies calling for a vigilant protection, render unfair a comparison of this kingdom with the United States. We believe it might be shown that the dependencies of Great Britain are, at this moment, and in future are destined still more to be, the source of a considerable amount of taxation and pecuniary loss to the mother country; and we trust that some abler pen will be applied to the elucidation of this important question.
With respect to our proximity to the Continent, we recommend the experiment to be tried, whether that need necessarily embroil us in continental politics. Let us imagine that all our ambassadors and consuls were instructed to take no further share in the domestic concerns of European nations, but, throwing overboard the question of the balance of power—as we have long done that equally absurd bugbear of our ancestors, the balance of trade—to leave all those people to their own quarrels, and to devote their attention, exclusively after the example of the Americans, to the commercial interests of their country. This might prevent our diplomatists displaying their address in finessing with Metternich or Pozzo di Borgo; it might save the bones of our couriers, who now scour the continent of Europe, carrying despatches and protocols; and it might enables us to dispense with the services of one half of he establishment at the Foreign Office. But will any one who understands the subject pretend to tell us that our trade would suffer by such a change?
Or if we imagine that our army and navy were reduced one-half, in consequence of this improvement of our policy, does any person seriously apprehend that these islands would be in danger of being molested by any European power? If such there be, let him recollect that the British Empire contains a population of twenty-five millions of free people, compressed within a space of little more than three hundred miles square—probably a denser crowd of human beings than was ever found upon a similar area; and, further, let it be borne in mind, that railroads are now in progress for connecting one extremity of England with the other, in such a way, that not only any required force of men, but the entire munitions of war, may be transported, in twelve hours, from Lancashire or Yorkshire to the coast of Sussex of Kent—thus converting, as it were, the entire island into a fortified position of such wonderful strength that the genius of Vanban or Marlborough could not have conceived anything so formidable. Which is the power of the Continent that will make a descent upon a people placed in such an attitude?
But supposing even that such a scheme should be contemplated, it will be owned, we suppose, that some preparation for so mighty a conquest would be necessary, which must afford us the necessary time for preparations of defence. No one will content that a fleet and an army of sufficient magnitude to pounce upon England for its prey, could be conjured up on the scene, like the creations of harlequin's wand, without the spectators knowing, or caring to know, that the machinery for so grand a performance had been long in contrivance.
Besides, is it not apparent that henceforth the pressure of their own domestic affairs will engross the resources, and will impair the external power of all the Governments of Europe? Reform Bills will be demanded by their people, but they will not be obtained without bloodshed; and all must foresee that the struggle between the antagonist principles of feudalism and constitutionalism is inevitable throughout the whole of the Continent.
But to recur to the subject of America. It might be said that the primary cause of all the prosperity and happiness of its people is to be found in the wisdom of that advice which we have prefixed for the motto of this pamphlet. Happily for that nation, this precept has been religiously obeyed; for never have the political concerns of other States been suffered for one hour to divert the United States' Legislature from the pursuit of the just interests of its own people. The results may be seen, not only in unparalleled advances in wealth and civilisation at home, but in the fact we have just demonstrated, and which, we doubt not, will surprise most of our readers, that even the foreign commerce of this people is, in proportion to population, as great, or greater, than our own, notwithstanding our battles by land and by sea, and notwithstanding those expensive fruits of our victories, the colonies, that east, west, north, and south own our dominion!
It is question of very considerable interest to us, whether America will continue her career as a manufacturing country, after the protective duties, which have professedly created her present cotton and other interests, shall have, in pursuance of the recent tariff law, been partially repealed.
It is the opinion of some writers, whose works are entitled to deference, that the United States cannot for centuries become our rivals in manufactures. They argue that, with an unlimited extent of unsettled territory to tempt the inhabitants to engage in the natural labour of agriculture, they will not be induced, unless for much higher wages than in England, to follow the more confined and irksome pursuits of the factory or workshop.
But does not the present industry of the population of the New England States tend to prove that there is a disposition, in the people of the older portions of this country, to settle down into the pursuits incident to towns at an advanced stage of society, and leave to agriculture the natives of the newer States? We shall find that the exports from Boston comprise—among other articles of domestic manufacture equally unconnected with the system of factory labour—annually, about 3,500,000 pairs of boots and shoes, 600,000 bundles of paper, together with a large quantity of cordage, nails, furniture, &c.
We are inclined, however, to view the natives of the maritime portion of the Union, but particularly the inhabitants of the New England States, as eminently commercial in their tastes and characteristics; and, as such—looking to the amount of capital at present embarked in their cotton manufacture, as well as to the circumstances of the raw material being the produce of their own soil, and bearing in mind the prodigious increase that is taking place in the numbers of their people—we profess to see no prospect of this our own staple industry being abandoned; and, if not given up, we may expect, from the well-known and well-deserved panegyric paid by Burke to the enterprise of the New Englanders, in prosecuting the whale-fishing, that the competition on the part of such a people will be maintained with energy.
The capital employed in the various branches of the cotton manufacture in the United States is, according to a calculation for 1832, in “Reuss's Statistics of America,” in amount about £11,000,000; and the consumption of raw cotton is estimated at 173,800 bales, or about one-fifth of all the growth of the country, and, as nearly as possible, a fifth of the quantity worked up, during the same year, in Great Britain.
The greater portion of all the products of this labour is consumed at home: the rest is exported in the shape principally of heavy calicoes, that have sustained a competition with our own fabrics in the Mediterranean and the East.
Some occasional shipments of low yarns have been made to this country; but these transactions have not been of considerable magnitude.
Bearing in mind that the supply of the raw material of nearly one-half of our exports is derived from a country that threatens to eclipse us by its rival greatness, we cannot, whilst viewing the relative positions of England and the United States at this moment, refrain from recurring to the somewhat parallel cases of Holland and Great Britain, before the latter became a manufacturing State, when the Dutchman purchased the wool of this country, and sold it to us again in the form of cloth. Like as the latter nation became at a subsequent period, we are now overwhelmed with debts, contracted in wars, or the acquisition of colonies, whilst America, free from all burdens, as we were at the former epoch, is prepared to take up, with far greater advantages, the fabrication of their own cotton as we did of our wool. The Americans possess a quicker mechanical genius than even ourselves (such, again, was the case with our ancestors, in comparison with the Dutch), as witness their patents, and the improvements for which we are indebted to individuals of that country in mechanics—such as spinning, engraving, &c. We gave additional speed to our ships, by improving upon the naval architecture of the Dutch; and the similitude again applies to the superiority which, in comparison with the British models, the Americans have, for all the purposes of activity and economy, imparted to their vessels.
Such are some of the analogous features that warrant the comparison we have instituted; but there are other circumstances of a totally novel character, affecting in opposite degrees the destinies of these two great existing commercial communities, which must not be lost sight of.
The internal improvement of a country is, undoubtedly, the first and most important element of its growth in commerce and civilisation. Hence our canals have been regarded by Dupin as the primary material agents of the wealth of Great Britain. But a new invention—the railway—has appeared in the annals of locomotion, which bids fair to supersede all other known modes of land transit; and, by seizing at one, with all the energy of a young and unprejudiced people, this greatest discovery of the age, and planting, as it were, its fruits first throughout the surface of their territory, the Americans have made an important stride in the career of improvement, in advance of every nation of Europe.
The railroads of America present a spectacle of commercial enterprise, as well as of physical and moral triumph, more truly astonishing, we consider, than was ever achieved in the same period of time in any other country. Only in 1829 was the experiment first made, between Liverpool and Manchester, of applying steam to the navigation of land, so to speak, by means of iron railways, for the conveyance of passengers and merchandise: and now, in 1835, being less than seven years after the trial was first made and proved successful, the United States of America contain upwards of seventeen hundred miles of railroads in progress of construction, and of which no less than one thousand miles are complete and in actual use. ∗
The enthusiasm with which this innovation upon the ancient and slower method of travelling was hailed in America—by instituting a newspaper expressly for its advocacy, and by the readiness of support which every new project of the kind encountered—evinced how well this shrewd people discovered at a glance the vast advantages that must accrue to whichever nation first effected so great a saving in that most precious ingredient of all useful commodities, time, as would be gained by the application of a discovery which trebled the speed, at the same time reducing the money-cost, of the entire intercourse of the community.
Already are all the most populous districts in the United States intersected by lines of railroads; whilst, amongst the number of unfinished, but fast advancing undertakings, is a work, now half completed, for connecting Baltimore on the Chesapeake with the Ohio river at Wheeling, a distance of more than two hundred and fifty miles.
Not content, however, with all that has been done, or is still doing, a scheme is at present favourably agitated in the public press of that country, that shall connect Washington city with New Orleans, by a series of railways, which, with those already in progress between New York and Washington, will join the Atlantic at the mouth of the Hudson and the Mexican Gulf; a project which, if completed, will enable a traveller to visit New York from New Orleans in four days—a transition of scene that may be better appreciated when it is remembered that a person might pass in winter from the frozen banks of the Hudson into the midst of the orange and sugar regions of the Mississippi in about ninety hours ! Other plans, of even a more gigantic character, are marked out as in contemplation, upon the latest map published of the United States ∗ —plans that nothing but the prodigies already achieved by this people prevent us from regarding as chimerical.
It demands not a moment's reflection to perceive the immense advantages that must ensue from these improvements to a country which, like America, contains within itself, though scattered over so wide a surface, all the elements of agricultural and manufacturing greatness. By subjecting this vast territory to the dominion of steam, such an approximation of the whole is attained, that the coals and iron of Pennsylvania, the lead of Missouri, the cotton of Georgia, the sugar of Louisiana, and the havens of New York and New England, will all be brought into available connection with each other; in fact, by the almost miraculous power of this agent, the entire American continent will, for all the purposes of commercial or social intercourse, be compressed into an area not larger than that of England, supposing the latter to possess only her canals.
Nothing more strongly illustrates the disadvantages under which an old country, like Great Britain, labours in competing with her younger rival, than to glance at the contrast in the progress of railroads in the two empires.
At the same time that, in the United States, almost every day beheld a new railway company incorporated, by some one of the State's legislatures, at the cost only of a few dollars, and nearly by acclamation, the British Parliament intercepted by its votes some of the most important projects that followed in the train of the Liverpool railroad.
The London and Birmingham company, after spending upwards of forty thousand pounds, in attempting to obtain for its undertaking the sanction of the Legislature, was unsuccessful in the House of Lords. The following characteristic questions are extracted from the evidence taken before the committee :—
“Do you know the name of Lady Hastings' place?—How near to it does your line go?—Taking the look-out of the principal rooms of the house, does it run in front of the principal rooms?—How far from the house is the point where it becomes visible?—That would be about a quarter of mile?—Could the engines be heard in the house at that distance?—Is there any cutting or embankment there?—Is it in sight of the house?—Looking to the country, is it not possible that the line could be taken at a greater distance from the residence of Lady Hastings? * * * * * * *
“Was that to pass through Lords Derby and Sefton's land?—Yes, they both consented. They threw us back the first year, and we lost such a line as we could never get again. Since which they have consented to the other line going through their property. * * * Supposing that line as easy for you as the present, was there any objection arising from going through anybody's park?”
The following question, put on the same occasion, by a peer to a shopkeeper, is one that probably would not have been asked by any other person but a hereditary legislator :—
“Can it be of any great importance whether the article goes there in five or six hours, or in an hour and a half ?”
The Brighton and several other railways were abandoned, through dread of the expensive opposition that was threatened in parliament; amongst which the Great Western line was successfully opposed by the landowners, seconded by the heads of Eton College, under the plea that it would tend to impair the character of the scholars ! And a large party, headed by the Marquis of Chandos, actually met in public to celebrate, with drinking and rejoicing, the frustration of this grand improvement. Yet this nobleman has since had the offer of a voice in the cabinet council of the king : and, but that he is as honest as he most assuredly is unenlightened and prejudiced, he might now be one of the ministers of this commercial country !
But to recur to the consideration of affairs on the other side of the Atlantic. There is another peculiarity in the present attitude of the American people, as compared with our own, that is probably more calculated than all others to accelerate their progress towards a superior rank of civilization and power. We allude to the universality of education in that country. One thirty-sixth portion of all public lands, of which there are hundreds of thousands of square miles unappropriated, is laid apart for the purposes of instruction. If knowledge be power, and if education give knowledge, then must the Americans inevitably become the most powerful people in the world.
Some writers have attempted to detract from this proud feature in the policy of the United States, by adducing, as examples, the backwoodsman and his family, and holding up their uncultivated minds, as well as their privation of Christian instruction, as proofs of the religious and moral abandonment of American society; forgetting that these frontier sections of the community are thinly spread over an inhospitable wilderness, where it must be acknowledged that no State provision for mental improvement could possibly embrace all their scattered members. When a man is placed at the distance of perhaps ten miles from his next neighbour, he is driven, as Dr. Johnson observes, to become his own carpenter, tailor, smith, and bricklayer; and it is from no fault in the laws, but owing to the like unavoidable nature of things, that the same solitary individual must also be left to act the part of teacher and pastor.
But, by referring to the last message of the Government of New York to the legislature of that state, which happens to be before us, we are able to exhibit to our readers, by a very brief quotation, the state of education in that most populous division of the union.
“In the whole range of your duties,” says this most enlightened address, “there is no subject in which the interests of the people are more deeply involved, or which calls for higher efforts of legislative wisdom, than the cause of education. The funds already provided by the state for the support of common schools is large, but not so ample as the exceedingly great importance of the object demands.” After some other details, it goes on to say— “Eight hundred and thirty-five towns and wards (the whole number in the state) have made reports for the year 1833. There are nine thousand eight hundred and sixty-five school districts; the whole number of children, between the ages of five and sixteen years, in the state, was five hundred and thirty-four thousand and two; and the number instructed in the common schools in 1833 was five hundred and thirty-one thousand two hundred and forty. * * * The whole amount expended during the year 1833, on the common schools, cannot fall short of one million two hundred thousand dollars.” ∗
Bearing in mind that this refers only to one State of the Union, containing rather less than two millions of inhabitants, could we imagine a more striking contrast to the above statement than in the fact that, during the corresponding session of the British Parliament, a sum of £20,000 was voted towards educating the people of England, whilst, in close juxtaposition to this, was a grant of £60,000 for the purpose of partly furnishing Buckingham palace ! †
The very genius of American legislation is opposed to ignorance in the people, as the most deadly enemy of good government. Not only are direct measures, such as we have just quoted in the case of New York, taken to instruct the poor throughout the United States—not only are all newspapers and advertisements untaxed—but care is used, by excepting from fiscal burdens the humblest ingredients of the materiel of printing—such as paper, rags, type, &c.— to render knowledge as cheap and accessible as possible.
The newspaper press forms a distinguishing and rapidly improving feature in the economy of the United States. In 1834, according to the American Almanack for 1835, the aggregate of newspapers published under different titles in America was 1,265, of which ninety were daily journals; and the entire number of copies circulated during the year is estimated at ninety millions. ∗
In the British Islands three hundred and sixty-nine news-papers are published, of which seventeen only issue daily. † The annual sale of these is estimated at about thirty millions.
If , therefore, we compare the newspaper press of America and England together, allowing for the disproportion of inhabitants in the two countries, we shall be compelled to acknowledge that there is more than six times as much advertising and reading on the other side of the Atlantic as in Great Britain.
There are those who are fond of decrying newspaper reading. But we regard every scheme that is calculated to make mankind think— everything that, by detaching the mind from the present moment, and leading it to reflect on the past or future, rescues it from the dominion of mere sense— as calculated to exalt us in the scale of being; and whether it be a newspaper or a volume that serves this end, the instrument is worthy of honour at the hands of enlightened philanthropists.
We know of nothing that would tend more to inform the people of England, and especially of Ireland, than removing the excise fetters from our press. Independently of the facilities to commerce, and the benefits which must ensue to temperance and morals generally, a free press would, by co-operating with a good government (and henceforth it is our own fault if we have a bad one), assist essentially the efforts of those who desire to reduce the expenditure of the State, and help us to dispense with that costly voucher of our ignorance, the standing army of this country.
We have thus hastily glanced at a few of the points of comparison to be found in the prospects of Great Britain and America at this moment. To what shall we liken the relative situations of these two great commercial and naval rivals? We will venture on a simile.
Such of our readers as remember the London tradesman of thirty years ago, will be able to call to mind the powdered wig and queue, the precise shoes and buckles, and the unwrinkled silk hose and tight inexpressibles, that characterized the shopkeeper of the old school. Whenever this stately personage walked abroad on matters of trade, however pressing or important, he never forgot for a moment the dignified step of his forefathers; whilst nothing gratified his self-complacency more than to take his gold-headed cane in hand, and leaving his own shop all the while, to visit his poorer neighbours, and to show his authority by inquiring into their affairs, settling their disputes, and compelling them to be honest, and to manage their establishments according to his plan. His business was conducted throughout upon the formal mode of his ancestors. His clerks, shopmen, and porters all had their appointed costumes; and their intercourse with their chief, or with each other, was disciplined according to established laws of etiquette. Every one had his especial department of duty, and the line of demarcation at the counter was marked out and observed with all the punctilio of neighbouring but rival States. The shop of this trader of the old school retained all the peculiarities and inconveniences of former generations; its windows displayed no gaudy wares to lure the vulgar passer-by, and the panes of glass, inserted in ponderous wooden frames, were exactly constructed after the ancestral pattern. Such were some of the solemn peculiarities of the last generation of tradesmen.
The present age produced a new school of traders, whose first innovation was to cast off the wig, and cashier the barber with his pomatum-box, by which step an hour was gained in the daily toilet. Their next change was to discard the shoes and the tight unmentionables— whose complicated details of buckles and straps, and whose close adjustment occupied another half-hour— in favour of Wellingtons and pantaloons, which were whipped on in a trice, and gave freedom, though perhaps at the expense of dignity, to the personal movements during the day. Thus accoutred, these supple dealers whisked or flew, just as the momentary calls of business became more or less urgent; whilst so absorbed were they in their own interests that they scarcely knew the names of their nearest neighbours, nor cared whether they lived peaceably or not, so long as they did not come to break their windows.
Nor did the spirit of innovation end here; for the shops of this new race of dealers underwent as great a metamorphosis as their owners. Whilst the internal economy of these was reformed with a view to give the utmost facility to the labour of the establishment, by dispensing with all forms, and tacitly agreeing even to suspend the ordinary deferences due to station, lest their observance might, however slightly, impede the business in hand— externally the windows, which were constructed of plate glass, with elegant frames extending from the ground to the ceiling, were made to blaze with all the tempting finery of the day.
We all know the result that followed from this very unequal rivalry. One by one the ancient and quiet followers of the habits of their ancestors yielded before the active competition of their more alert neighbours. Some few of the less bigoted disciples of the old school adopted the new-light system, but all who tried to stem the stream were overwhelmed; for with grief we add, that the very last of these very interesting specimens of olden time that survived, joining the two generations of London tradesmen, and whose shop used to gladden the soul of every Tory pedestrian in Fleet Street, with its unreformed windows, has at length disappeared, having lately passed into the Gazette, that Schedule A of anti-reforming traders.
That which the shopkeeper of the present day is to him of the last age, such, comparing great things with small, is the commercial position of America as contrasted with that of Great Britain at the present moment. Our debt may be called the inexpressibles or tights, which incessantly restrain us from keeping up with the nimble pace of our pantalooned rivals. The square-toed shoes ∗ and the polished buckles may be compared to the feudal laws and customs which, in competition with Wellington-booted brother Jonathan, impede the march of improvement and the enterprise of Englishmen. The powdered wig and queue we shall liken to our Church Establishment, which, although very ornamental and imposing in appearance, does yet engross a great share of the time and attention of our Parliament to adjust it properly, † all of which the legislature of our straight-haired competitor has been enabled to apply to the encouragement of a more prosperous trade. The untaxed newspaper of America, with their wide expanses of advertisements, contrasted ‡ with the stamped sheets of this country, are the new and old-light windows of the two generations of shop keepers. The quickened gait of the trader of to-day, and the formal step of his predecessor, are the railways of the United States in competition with our turnpikes and canals. And to complete the simile, if we would see in the conduct of the two nations a resemblance to the contrast between the policy of the dealer of the old school, who delighted to meddle in the concerns of his neighbours, and that of the reformed tradesman, who rigidly confined his attention to the duties of his own counter—let us picture England, interfering with and managing the business of almost every State in Europe, Asia, and Africa, whilst America will form no connection with any one of them, excepting as customers.
What! Shall we consign Old England, then, to ruin? Heaven forbid! Her people are made of tough materials, and he would be but a dastardly politician that despaired of them even yet. We say not, then, that this country will, like the antique establishment of the individual trader, perish at the feet of its more youthful and active competitor; but we fervently believe that our only chance of national prosperity lies in the timely remodelling of our system, so as to put it as nearly as possible upon an equality with the improved management of the Americans.
But let not be misconstrued. We do not advocate republican institutions for this country. We believe the government of the United States to be at this moment the best in the world; but then the Americans are the best ∗ people; and we have a theory that the government of every State is always, excepting periods of actual change, that which is the best adapted to the circumstances and wants of its inhabitants.
But they who argue in favour of a republic, in lieu of a mixed monarchy, for Great Britain, are, we suspect, ignorant of the genius of their countrymen. Democracy forms no element in the materials of English character. An Englishmen is, from his mother's womb, an aristocrat. Whatever rank or birth, whatever fortune, trade, or profession may be his fate, he is, or wishes or hopes to be, an aristocrat. The insatiable love of caste that in England, as in Hindostan, devours all hearts, is confined to no walks of society, but pervades every degree, from the highest to the lowest. ∗ Of what conceivable use, then, would it be to strike down the lofty patricians that have descended to us from the days of the Normans and Plantagenets, if we of the middle class—who are more enslaved than any other to this passion—are prepared to lift up, from amongst ourselves, an aristocracy of mere wealth—not less austere, not less selfish—only less noble than that we had deposed. No! whatever changes in the course of time education may and will effect, we do not believe that England, at this moment, contains even the germs of genuine republicanism.
We do not, then, advocate the adoption of democratic institutions for such a people. But the examples held forth to us by the Americans, of strict economy, of peaceful non-interference, of universal education, and of other public improvements, may, and, indeed, must be emulated by the Government of this country, if the people are to be allowed even the chance of surviving a competition with that republican community. If it be objected, that an economical government is inconsistent with the maintenance of the monarchical and aristocratic institutions of this land, then we answer, let an unflinching economy and retrenchment be enforced—ruat cœlum!
Of the many lessons of unsophisticated and practical wisdom which have—as if in imitation of that arrangement of perpetual decay and reproduction that characterises all things in material nature—been sent back from the New World to instruct the Old, there are none so calculated to benefit us—because there are none so much needed—as those maxims of providence and frugality to which Franklin first gave birth, and which, gaining authority and strength from the successive advocacy and practice of Washington, Jefferson, and now of Jackson, have at length become identified with the spirit of the laws and institutions of the United States.
An attempt has been made latterly by that class of our writers ∗ denominated conservative, to deride this parsimony of the Franklin school as unworthy of the American character. But we are, at this present moment, writhing beneath the chastisement due to our violations of the homely proverbs of “Poor Richard;” and it is only by returning within the sober limits of our means, and rigidly husbanding our time and resources, and by renouncing all idle pomp and luxury—it is by these methods only, and not by advocating still further outrages of the laws of prudence, that this nation can be rescued from the all but irretrievable embarrassment into which its own extravagance and folly have precipitated it.
The first, and, indeed, only certain step towards a diminution of our government expenditure, must be the adoption of that line of foreign policy which the Americans have clung to, with such wisdom and pertinacity, ever since they became a people.
If ever there was a territory that was marked out by the finger of God for the possession of a distinct nation, that country is ours; whose boundary is the ocean, and within whose ramparts are to be found, in abundance, all the mineral and vegetable treasures requisite to make us a great commercial people. Discontented with these blessings, and disdaining the natural limits of our empire, in the insolence of our might, and without waiting for the assaults of envious enemies, we have sallied forth in search of conquest or rapine, and carried bloodshed into every quarter of the globe. The result proves, as it ever must, that we cannot violate the moral law with impunity. Great Britain is conscious that she is now suffering the slow but severe punishment inflicted at her own hands—she is crushed beneath a debt so enormous that nothing but her own mighty strength could have raised the burden that is oppressing her.
Again we say (and let us be excused the repetition of this advice for we writer with no other object but to enforce it), England cannot survive its financial embarrassment, except by renouncing that policy of intervention with the affairs of other States which has been the fruitful source of nearly all our wars.
We trust that this opinion will be generated throughout the population of this country, and that the same spirit will be reflected, through its representatives in Parliament, upon the Government.
In future, it will not be sufficient that no question concerning the State policy of other nations is allowed to occupy the attention of our legislature, unless it be first shown that our own honour or our interests are involved in its consideration—it will not be enough that our fleets and armies are not permitted to take a part in the contentions of other nations; all this will not avail unless our diplomatists and foreign secretaries are jealously restrained from taking a share, either by treaties or protocols, according to the invariable wont of their predecessors, in the ever-varying squabbles of our continental neighbours. By this course of policy, and by this alone, we shall be enabled to reduce our army and navy moke nearly to a level with the corresponding burdens of our American rivals.
May we be allowed, once more, to refute the objection which will be urged, that our numerous fleets are necessary to the defence of our commerce? Then, we ask, does any one deny that the persons of American merchants, or their vessels, are as safe in every quarter of the world as our own? We have seen to how great a proportion of our tonnage the American mercantile navy now amounts; we have seen how vast an export trade they carry on; and we have seen with how small a Government force all this is protected; may not an unanswerable argument, then, be found here, in fovour of dispensing, henceforth, with a portion of our enormous naval and military establishments?
Hitherto, whenever a war has at any time been threatened between two or more European States, however remote or however insignificant, it has furnished a sufficient pretence for our statesmen to augment our armaments by sea and by land, in order to assume an imposing attitude, as it is termed—forgetting, all the while, that by maintaining a strict neutrality in these continental brawls, and by diligently pursuing our peaceful industry, whilst our neighbours, were exhausting themselves in senseless wars, we might be growing in riches, in proportion as they became poorer; and, since it is by wealth after all that the world is governed, we should, in reality, be the less in danger from the powers on the Continent, the more they indulged in hostilities with each other.
It is a common error with our statesmen to estimate the strength of a nation—as, for instance, is the case at this moment, in their appreciation of the power of Russia, Prussia, or Austria—according to the magnitude of its armies and navies; whereas there are the signs, and, indeed, the causes, of real poverty and weakness in a people.
“Our public debt is cancelled,” said Mr. Benton, a speaker at the dinner lately held at Washington to celebrate the extinction of the American debt—“our public debt is cancelled; and there is more strength in those words than in one hundred ships of the line ready for battle, or in a hundred thousand armed soldiers.” And, to exemplify the truth of this sentiment, we have subsequently beheld this very people, with only a few schooners and frigates, and seven thousand troops, menacing the French Government, steeped in debt, at the head of its million of fighting men, and its three hundred vessels of war.
To remove, if possible for even the extravagant chimera that haunts the Government and the people of this country, of our being in danger from any possible combination of continental hostilities, let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Russia were to invade Turkey—or that France were again to cross the Rhine, having first seized upon Holland and Belgium, and attack Prussia and Austria—or that the Spaniards should seize upon Portugal—or that the Austrian Government were to invade Naples or Sardinia—or, if such a supposition be possible, let us imagine these powers to be engaged in a battle-royal all together; now, does any sober and reasoning mind believe that Great Britain, who, we will presume, had wisely availed herself of the opportunities afforded by her insular position to remain neuter, would be selected by any one of these powers, in addition to the enemies already opposed to it, for the object of gratuitous attack? Does any rational person think that we should, under such circumstances, be in greater jeopardy than the Americans from these contentions?
Having already demonstrated that even Napoleon, with Europe at his feet, was powerless in his attacks upon our exports, we are afraid of being tedious in recurring to that subject.
Were a war once more to break forth over the Continent of Europe, and were we to stand aloof from the conflict, our commerce and manufactures, instead of receiving injury in any quarter, would be thereby benefited; for, besides the well-known facilities which a state of warfare would give to the smuggler for supplying those very belligerents themselves with the products of our labour, it would, at the same time, put an end to the competition which we now sustain, in other parts of the world, from our manufacturing rivals of Europe. Germany, France, Switzerland, and Belgium, and, indeed, almost every nation of the Continent, for whose independence and existence we fought so long and arduously, have profited by the peace, to exclude our fabrics from their markets, and, in mistaken policy, borrowed from our own restrictive code, to raise up, at great sacrifices of national wealth, a manufacturing industry for themselves.
Thus we find that, at this moment, Prussia is completing a wall of tariffs, which she has been sedulously constructing for many years, and which will, more effectually than did Napoleon, exclude us from the German market—Prussia, for whom we bled, and for whose subsidies we are still taxed! Austria, another of our costly allies, whose disasters our most renowned statesman ∗ would not outlive—Austria has, ever since the peace, sealed her territory against our merchandise. Naples—that unworthy protégé, in behalf of whose court England's greatest hero † sullied his otherwise untarnished fame—Naples repays us with an impost of cent. per cent. upon our manufactures; whilst France has, since Napoleon's fall, been a less profitable customer to England than she was during the time of his extremest enmity towards this country.
True, at the close of the war, our ministers might have stipulated for, and might have commanded a trade with all Europe, as some indemnity for our expenditure; but the warriors and statesmen who represented us at Vienna, and who took pains to forward such measures as the military occupation of France, or the erection of fortresses in Belgium, or the binding us to become guarantee for the permanency of the union of the Netherlands, forgot to utter one word about our merchants. It was unbecoming the dignity of our gallant and noble plenipotentiaries to stipulate for the welfare of the artisans and manufacturers of Great Britain. Compare this with the results of the cheap diplomacy of the Americans.
Alas! by what numberless arts, neglects, and caprices (to say nothing of crimes) have the interests of this industrious and greatly-favoured people been victimised!
Before closing this pamphlet, we will offer a few remarks as to the course which it behoves Great Britain to pursue, for the future, upon an important question of commercial policy.
With a view to enlarge, as much as possible, the capabilities of this people to support the burden of debt and taxation with which they are destined to be permanently loaded, every possible facility must be given to the increase of population, by the expansion of our foreign trade, and which can only be accomplished by repealing the protective duties on corn.
We shall be here met with the cry, that we are desirous of converting England into one vast manufactory, that we advocate the interests of our order, and so forth. Far from nourishing any such esprit de corps, our predilections lean altogether in an opposite direction. We were born and bred up amidst the pastoral charms of the south of England, and we confess to so much attachment to the pursuits of our forefathers (always provided that it be separated from the rick-burnings and pauperism of modern agriculture), that, had we the casting of the rôle of all the actors on this world's stage, we do not think we should suffer a cotton-mill or a manufactory to have a place in it; not that they remind us of “billyrollers,” “straps,” and “infant martyrdoms,” for we never saw such; but we think a system which draws children from home, where they formerly worked in the company of parents, and under the wholesome restraint incident to disparity of years—nature's own moral safeguard of domestic life—to class them in factories, according to equality of age, to be productive of vice. But the factory system, which sprang from the discoveries in machinery, has been adopted in all the civilised nations of the world, and it is in vain for us to think of discountenancing its application to the necessities of this country; it only remains for us to mitigate, as far as possible, the evils that are, perhaps, not inseparably connected with this novel social element.
The present corn laws are founded on the principle of limiting, as far as possible, the growth of the population of Britain, within the means of the soil to supply it with subsistence. No candid advocate of a protective duty will deny that it must have this tendency; nor will he dispute that, to restrict the import of corn into a manufacturing nation, is to strike at the life of its foreign commerce.
It is objected by the landowners of England that, if the duty on grain were to be reduced, it would operate unfavourably upon their interests, and they claim a protection at the hands of the rest of society. Now, without entering at all into the question of the right which belongs to such pretensions, we shall content ourselves with taking our stand upon the simple ground of necessity, and declare that the people of this country are in an emergency that precludes the possibility of their ministering to the selfishness of any one class in the community.
The interest of the public debt cannot be paid except by the co-operation of our foreign commerce; and this cannot be preserved permanently, unless the price of that first element of the cost of our manufactures, food, be the same here as with our competitors abroad. We are surprised that the question has not before been placed in this point of view by the advocates of a free trade in corn, since it withdraws the subject altogether from that invidious position which it has hitherto held betwixt the rival contentions of agriculture and commerce, and places it under the control of inexorable State necessity.
We have been amazed (if anything could astonish us from this unintelligent party) to find that the national debt is one of the leading arguments made use of by the economists of the Sadler school, in advocating a restrictive duty on corn. A brief appeal to a very few simple facts will, we believe, not only deprive them of this argument, but, in the opinion of all unprejudiced minds, place it on the opposite side of the question.
Our public debt, funded and unfunded, amounts to about eight hundred millions. Let this sum be more fully appreciated, by bearing in mind that it exceeds the aggregate of all the debts of the whole world, including that of the East India company, amounting to one hundred and fifty millions. Here, then, we have the British Empire, with only its twenty-five millions of population—possessing a territory of only ninety thousand square geographical miles, and containing only forty-five millions of acres of cultivated land (about two-thirds of the area of France), supporting an annual burden for the interest of the national debt, equal to the taxation borne, for the same purpose, by all other States. How, then, can a country, of so confined a boundary, and with no greater population than we have named, find it possible to endure so great a disproportion of taxation? If it be asked, how does France meet her public expenses, we can answer, by pointing to the superabundant production of wine, oil, silk, tobacco, fruit, and corn, yielded throughout an expanse of territory so wide as to ensure an almost perpetual harvest to its people. If we inquire, how does Russia maintain here government burdens—the surplus timber, corn, hemp, and tallow of that country must be the reply. Would we know by the resources Italy, Spain, and America discharge their respective national encumbrances—the excess of the produce of silk, oil, fruits, cotton, and tobacco, over and above the wants of the population of those countries, solves the mystery.
But we demand to know by what means Great Britain can sustain an annual burden, for interest of debt, exceeding that of these and all other States together. Is it out of the surplus production of its corn? Her soil has not, for the last forty years, yielded sufficient to supply the necessities of her population. It this enormous demand satisfied by the yearly excess of her wines, silk, oil, fruits), cotton, or tobacco? The sterile land and inhospitable climate of Britain are incapable of producing any one of these. Where, then, lies the secret of her wealth? Is it in her colonies? How, if we are prepared to prove that these are at this moment, and, in future, are still more destined to become, a severe burden to the people of these realms?
Our mineral riches are the means by which alone we have been enabled to incur this debt, and by whose agency only can we at this moment discharge the interest of it.
To satisfy ourselves of this, let us examine the year's return of our revenue, and we shall there discover nearly twenty millions of income under the head of customs duties. How are the commodities, on which this amount of taxation is levied, obtained from foreigners? Are they received in exchange for our agricultural produce? By looking over the list of articles exported, we shall, on the contrary, find that out of thirty-six millions of home products not one million is the unmixed growth of the soil.
These commodities are purchased by our cottons, woollens, ∗ hardware, and the other articles produced by the manufacturers of this country; the growth, to use the term, of the coal and iron of Great Britain—which are, we repeat, the primary sources of all her wealth and power, and the want of which alone prevents other nations of Europe from rivalling her in manufacturing greatness. Of course it is known that our agricultural labour supplies a great portion of the food of our weavers and other artizans, and, therefore, mixes with the results of their industry; but when it is recollected that the cost of food here is from fifty to one hundred and fifty per cent. dearer than in other States, it will be admitted that it is not owing to the cheap price at which the farmer supplies the corn of the manufacturer that the latter is enabled to undersell his foreign competitors.
To come to the point with those who advocate a restrictive policy on our foreign trade, by a protection, as it is called, of our agriculture, we ask, in what way do they propose ever to pay off the national debt, or permanently to discharge the interest of it, out of the indigenous wealth of these islands?
The whole area of cultivated land in this monarchy is, as we have before stated, estimated at about forty-five millions of acres: at twenty pounds per acre, the fee simple of the soil of these islands (we, of course, leave out the houses, &c.) would very little exceed the amount of our debt. There is an end, therefore, of the idea of discharging the principal out of the real property of the country; and by what means would they who obstruct a foreign commerce profess to pay the interest of the debt without the assistance of that trade? Supposing that our exports were diminished, and that, owing to the consequent falling off in our imports, our customs were sensibly reduced, from what articles of our agricultural produce would these advocates of a Japanese policy raise the deficient revenue? In France (where the prohibitive system, which has long reigned supremely, is drawing fast to a dismal end) the customs duties amount to about one-fifth of our own, and the great bulk of the revenue is levied from the land. But provided that a reduction of our foreign trade rendered such a step necessary, we ask again and it is an important question, involving the whole gist of our argument), upon what branch of British agriculture could an augmented impost be levied? May not the recent almost fanatical outcry against the malt tax, the only burden of any magnitude borne directly by the land in this country, serve as a sufficient answer to the inquiry?
The question of the repeal of the corn laws, then, resolves itself into one of absolute state necessity; since our foreign trade, which is indispensable to the payment of the interest of the national debt, cannot be permanently preserved if we persevere in a restrictive duty against the principal article of exchange of rude, unmanufacturing people. To prohibit the import of corn, such as is actually the case at this moment, is to strangle infant commerce in its cradle; may, worse, it is to destroy it even in its month's womb.
We recommend the landowners, but especially the great proprietors who constitute the upper house of legislature, to reflect upon this view of the corn laws.
But we have remarked an inclination in a part of the landed interest to slight—to use the mildest possible term—the public creditor; a feeling that shone forth in the motion of the Marquis of Chandos to remove the malt tax—thus aiming at the insolvency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—without caring first to inquire by what fresh imposts he should meet the engagements of his country. These unreflecting minds are, we apprehend, quite incapable of estimating the consequences that will ensue if ever we should be found unable to meet the interest of the debt—in other words, if the British nation should be declared bankrupt! Let us for one moment contemplate the results that would follow from such an event.
We find, from a statement in “Porter's Official Tables,” that there are 250,000 persons receiving dividends, of and under the amount of £200 a year. Presuming the families or dependents of them to average ∗ two each, then we shall have here half a million of individuals looking to the public funds for support. Moreover, we find the total amount of the deposits in all the savings' banks of the kingdom to be £13,500,000; and the number of depositors, according to the same authority, is 412,217, averaging £33 each; taking the families or dependents of these at the same average as before, and it gives three-quarters of a million more. Then there is an immense amount of the public debt owing to charities,—including insurance offices, benefit clubs, schools, &c., involving the interests of an incalculable multitude of necessitous persons. Guessing these to amount to only the same total as the last mentioned (for it is impossible to form a correct estimate on the subject), then we arrive at an aggregate of two millions of the middle and lower classes, who are, directly or indirectly, claimants on the national debt.
Now, no one capable of thinking upon such a subject at all will for a moment believe that, if we were driven to such an extremity as to rob these two millions—comprising so many of the labourers, the small traders, the orphans and widows—of their subsistence, that the pomp of the court or the wealth of the clergy, or the privileges of our nobles, would be more secure than the bread of these humble annuitants.
No rational mind can suppose that lords in waiting, grooms of the stole, gold sticks and silver sticks, would be maintained—that bishops and prebends would still be found in undisturbed possession of their stalls and revenues—or that the peers would retain their law of primogeniture, or the right of hereditary legislation, whilst desolation and misery overspread the land with horrors at terrible as any it could undergo from the ravages of half-a-million of Cossacks. †
The cleverest of our journalists has said—and the words have passed into a proverb—“Before you rob the public creditor, send your throne to the pawn-shop.” And nothing can be more certain than that the national debt (which ought never to have been incurred, and the authors of which some future generation will probably deem to have been madmen) must be borne by the people of England, entire and untouched, so long as they can stand beneath its burden. If ever the day should come that sees this mighty fabric crush the nation to the dust, it will bury in its ruins the monarchy, Church, and aristocracy, with every vestige of our feudal institutions, and every ancestral precedent—leaving the state, like Mr. Courtenay's sheet of blank paper, upon which the then existing generation will have the task of inscribing a new constitution, borrowed from the freest and most flourishing community of that day, and which, in all probability, will be found on the continent of America.
From such a catastrophe there is no escape but in either honestly paying off the principal of the public debt, or in continuing to discharge the interest of it for ever. The ravings after an equitable adjustment, and other like expedients, are but the impracticable schemes of those who would wish to precipitate such a calamity as we have been describing.
If ever house in England were converted into a Court of Chancery, and if all the men between twenty and sixty were constituted Lord Chancellors, there would not then be a sufficient quantity of equity courts and equity judges to effect such an equitable adjustment of the national debt as is meant, during the life-time of an entire generation.
The national debt, then, is inviolable; and this recalls us to the inquiry of how it is to be permanently supported; which brings us again to the question of the corn laws.
The only way in which we can lighten the pressure of the debt is by adding to the population and wealth of the country. The agricultural districts have, we suspect—so far as the middle classes are concerned—already experienced that dull state incident to the stationary period of society; whilst, under the present amended poor laws, we believe that the farther increase of the pauper population will be effectually checked. The sole way, then, of adding to our numbers, is to give the freest possible development to the only present superabundant contents of the soil—the mineral products of Great Britain.
By repealing the present corn laws, and putting only a fixed duty of such an amount as would bring the greatest revenue (we object no more to a tax on corn than on tea or sugar, for the purpose of revenue, ∗ but we oppose a protective duty, as it is called), which, probably, might be found to be two shillings a quarter, such an impulse would be given to the manufactures of this country, whilst so great a shock would be experienced by our rivals, from the augmented price of food all over the world, that a rapid growth of wealth and increase of numbers must take place throughout the coal and iron districts of England, Wales, and Scotland.
The population of Staffordshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lanarkshire, and of counties adjacent to these, might be trebled in the course of a couple of generations; and there would be no limit to its increase but in the contents of our coal mines, to which geologists assign a duration varying from two to three thousand years!
It will be asked, what would be the effects of such a change upon the agriculture of the country? The best way of replying to this question is to consider what must have been the consequence to all interests in this country if, in lieu of the restrictions put upon the import of corn in 1816, a law had been passed, imposing only such a moderate duty as would ultimately produce the greatest revenue, and which, in our opinion, would be found to be two shillings a quarter. The factory system would in all probability not have taken place in America or Germany;—it most certainly could not have flourished, as it has done, both in those states, and in France, Belgium, and Switzerland, through the fostering bounties which the high-priced food of the British artisan has offered of the cheaper fed manufacturer of those countries.
Our belief, after some reflection upon this question, is (having already very far exceeded the intended limits of this pamphlet, we are precluded from going into details), that, had a wise modification of our corn laws been effected at the close of the war, the official value of our exports would have exceeded by one-third its present amount. This is, of course, presuming that our manufacturing population had augmented proportionately;—we believe that, under such circumstances, the before-mentioned counties would have now sustained upwards of a million more than their present numbers; but, as the increase of their inhabitants would not have been equal to the demand for labour, a great immigration must have taken place from the agricultural districts. This would have saved those quarters that frightful ordeal of pauperism and crime with which they have disgraced our modern history. The farmer would, by the offer of other resources for his family and dependents, have been saved from the state of servility into which he is plunged. Instead of the rent of the tenants being dictated by the landlords, the former would, under this more favourable state of things, have been the arbiters of the incomes of the latter. In short, the buyers—i.e., the farmers—would, in this case, as the purchasers do in dealing with all other commodities, have decided the prices of their farms—they would not have been as at present, determined by the sellers, i.e., the landowners.
Under such an assumed state of things, this country would, we believe, by this time have acquired an increase to its present wealth to the extent of 350 ∗ millions—nearly one-half the amount of the national debt.
The immediate effects of all this to the landed proprietor would clearly have been a reduction of rent; or where the property was heavily encumbered, his estates would have passed into other hands.
We should not, in such a case, have heard of those displays of wanton extravagance that tend so much to demoralise all classes. Instead of the exhibitions of prodigality and insolence abroad, with which some of those proprietors affronted the nations of the continent, and disgraced at the same time their native country—instead of their contribution at home to raise and support a palace for Crockford—instead of their dispensing with all decorum, and herding with grooms and black-legs at Newmarket or Doncaster—instead of the necessary consequences of all this, the subsequent ruin and exile of such wastrels † —in place of these things, we might have beheld a provident and virtuous proprietary residing principally upon and managing their estates; and who, we verily believe, would, under this supposed state of things, have become richer in wealth, as well as honour, than they are at this day.
But selfishness, which is ever short-sighted, has hitherto governed supremely the destinies of this empire; and we have seen how disastrous has been its rule, not only to its own interests, but to the prosperity of the nation at large. Should the same misgovernment from no better motives be persevered in with respect to the corn question, the effects will be still more calamitous for the future. The public debt, “that eternal ally of truth and justice” (to use the words of a famous political writer, without adopting his malignancy), will visit with terrible reprisals the monopolists who shall persist in upholding the present corn laws.
We cannot do better than conclude with the words of an intelligent American, as they were addressed to an English traveller. The extract is taken from the preface to “Ferguson's Tour in Canada and a portion of the United States.”
“Even with your present burden of debt, if your Government were to renounce all interference with the affairs of the continent, and keep no more force, land or naval, than is necessary for your own security, have no more wars, and diminish the expenditure as much as possible, you will grow so rapidly in the next fifty years that your debt would cease to be of any importance. I earnestly hope that the passage of the Reform Bill may be only the prelude to an entire change of system; and that your successors may feel, as we do here, that wars do not promote the prosperity of a nation, and have the good sense to avoid them.”
|Baltimore and Ohio (from Baltimore and Pittsburgh) .||250|
|Massachusetts (from Boston to Albany) . . .||200|
|Catskill to Ithaca (State of New York) . . . .||167|
|Charleston to Hamburgh (South Carolina) . . .||135|
|Boston and Brattleboro'(Massachusetts and Vermont) .||114|
|Albany and New York . . . . . . .||160|
|Columbia and Philadelphia (from Philadelphia to New York) . . . . . . . . .||96|
|Lexington and Ohio (from Lexington to Cincinnati) .||75|
|Camden and Amboy (New Jersey) . . . .||60|
|Baltimore and Susquehanna (Maryland) . . .||48|
|Boston and Providence (Massachusetts and Rhode Island)||43|
|Trenton and Philadelphia . . . . . .||30|
|Providence and Stonington . . . . . .||70|
|Baltimore and Washington . . . . . .||38|
|Holliday's Burgh and Johnstown (Pennsylvania) . .||37|
|Ithaca and Oswego (New York) . . . . .||28|
|Hudson and Berkshire (New York and Massachusetts).||25|
|Boston and Lowell (Massachusetts) . . . .||24|
|Senectady and Saratoga (New York) . . . .||21½|
|Mohawk and Hudson (New York) . . . .||15|
|Lackawaxen (from Honesdale to Carbondale, Pennsylvania) . . . . . . . . .||17|
|Frenchtown to Newcastle (Delaware and Maryland) .||16|
|Philadelphia and Norristown (Pennsylvania) . .||15|
|Richmond and Chesterfield (Virginia) . . . .||12|
|Manch Chunk (Pennsylvania) . . .||9|
|Haarlem (from New York to Haarlem) . . .||8|
|Quincey (from Boston to Quincey) . . . .||6|
|New Orleans (from Lake Pontchartrain to Orleans) .||5¼|
The extent of the railroads forms an aggregate of one thousand seven hundred and fifty miles. Ten years hence this amount to miles will probably be doubled or trebled; so that scarcely any other roads will be used than those on which steam-carriages may travel.”—Arfwedson's Travels in 1834. [Note to the Sixth Edition of “England, Ireland, and America.”]
[It may be stated on the authority of Mr. Robert H. Berdell, President of the Erie Railway Company, that thirty-five thousand miles of railway are now in operation in the United States, and that nearly three thousand millions of dollars are invested in these gigantic enterprises.]
[∗]By Amos Lay.
[∗][Mr. Bright, in the speech which he delivered at Birmingham on the 13th December, 1865, said :— “I have just seen a report of a speech delivered last night by Mr. Watkin, who has recently returned from the United States. Speaking of education, he says that, taking the nine Northern States to contain ten millions and a half of people, he found there were 40,000 schools, and an average attendance of 2,133,000 children, the total cost of their education being 9,000,000 dols. In the four Western States, with a population of 6,100,000, there are 37,000 schools, with an average attendance of nearly one million and a half scholars, at a cost of 1,250,000 dols. Thus, in a population of sixteen millions, there are 77,000 schools, to which every poor child can go, at a cost of £2,000,000 a year. He thought this highly to the credit of our American cousins, and I perfectly agree with him on that point.”]
[†][This was written before the date of the education movement, in which Mr. Cobden from an early period took a conspicuous part. According to the last Report of the committee of Council on Education, the sum of £8,087,296 Is IId. has been expended on Parliamentary grants from 1839 to 31st December, 1864. “The expenditure rom Education grants,” in the latter year, amounted to £655,041 11s. 5d.]
[∗][The census of 1860 states that 4,051 newspapers and periodicals were then published in the United States, of which 3,242 were political, the remainder being devoted to religion and literature. The annual aggregate circulation of copies was estimated at 927,951, 548.]
[†][From “Mitchell's Newspaper Directory” for 1865 it appears that 1,271 journals are now published in the United Kingdom, exclusive of 554 Reviews and Magazines. There are no trustworthy statistics of the circulation of these publications.]
[∗]There is scarcely a large town in England whose prosperity and improvement are not vitally affected by the operation of our laws of entail. In the vicinity of Manchester scarcely any freehold land can be bought; Birmingham is almost wholly built upon leasehold land, Wolverhampton has long been presenting a dilapidated aspect, in the best part of the town, in consequence of the property required for improvement being in the hands of the Church, and consequently inalienable. In many parts, manufactures are, from the like obstructing causes, prevented extending themselves over our coal-beds. The neighbourhood of Bullock Smithy might be instanced, for example.
[†]It would form an instructive summary to collect from our parliamentary history, for the last three hundred years, details of the time spent in the vain endeavour to make conscience square with Acts of Parliament. —See the debates in both Houses on Ireland in 1832 and 1833, for example.
[‡]It is not uncommon to find two thousand advertisements, principally of merchandise, contained in a single copy of a New York journal. We have counted no less than one hundred and seventy announcements in one column or compartment of the New York Gazette. Of course the crowded aspect of one of these sheets, in comparison with a London newspaper, is as different as in one of the latter in contrast with a Salisbury or any other provincial journal.
[∗]We mean individually and nationally, As individuals, because, in our opinion, the people that are the best educated must, morally and religiously speaking, be the best. As a nation, because it is the only great community that has never waged war excepting in absolute self-defence—the only one which has never made a conquest of territory by force of arms (contrast the conduct of this government to the native Indians on the Mississippi, with our treatment of the aborigines on the Swan River); because it is the only nation whose government has never had occasion to employ the army to defend it against the people; the only one which has never had one of its citizens convicted of treason; and because it is the only country that has honourably discharged its public debt.
The slavery deformity was forcibly impressed upon this people in its infancy by the mother country. May the present generation outgrow the blemish.
[∗]A diverting specimen of aristocracy in low life is to be found in an amusing little volume, called, “Mornings at Bow Street.” A chimney-sweep, who had married the daughter of a costermonger, against the latter's consent, applied to the magistrate for a warrant to recover the person of his wife, who had been taken away from him by her father did not object to the charater of the husband, but protested against the connection as being “so low,”
[∗]Basil Hall's spending class.
[†]Nelson, Lady Hamilton, Prince Caraccioli.
[∗]We have the testimony of the Leeds manufacturers, in their evidence before the legislature, that foreign wools are absolutely indispensable to our Yorkshire industry.
[∗]To avoid exaggeration, we have named a lower average than we are entitled to quote.
[†]Here let us remark, in reference to the absurdest of all absurd chimeras with which we haun ourselves, of this empire being in danger from the assaults of Russia—that we are convinced there is, at this moment, ten thousand times more cause of apprehension from the financial evils of Great Britain than from all the powers of the world.
[∗][Mr. Cobden soon afterwards acknowledged his error. See Prentice's History of the League, vol. i., p. 194.]
[∗]It is estimated that our annual loss on corn alone is nine millions.
[†]Wastrel, in Lancashire phrase, an idle, debauched, and worthless spend-thrift—a word that may be useful in London.