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Source: A Treatise on Political Economy; or the Production,
Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth, ed.
Clement C. Biddle, trans. C. R. Prinsep from the 4th ed. of the French, (Philadelphia:
Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1855. 4th-5th ed. ).
I, CHAPTER XIX. OF COLONIES AND THEIR PRODUCTS.
Colonies are settlements formed in distant countries by an elder nation, called the mother-country. When the latter wishes to enlarge its intercourse with a country, already populous and civilized, whose territory it has, therefore, no hopes of getting into its own possession, it commonly contents itself with the establishment of a factory or mercantile residence, where its factors may trade, in conformity with the local regulations, as the Europeans have done in China and Japan. When colonies shake off their dependence upon the mother country, they become substantive and independent states.
It is common for nations to colonize, when their population becomes crowded in its ancient territorial limits; and when particular classes of society are exposed to the persecution of the rest. These appear to have been the only motives for colonization among the ancients; the moderns have been actuated by other views. The vast improvements in navigation have opened new channels to their enterprise, and discovered countries before unknown; they have found their way to another hemisphere, and to the most inhospitable climates, not with the intention of there fixing themselves and their posterity, but to obtain valuable articles of commerce, and return to their native countries, enriched with the fruits of a forced, but yet very extensive production.
It is worth while to note this difference of motive, which has made so marked a difference in the consequences of the two systems of colonization. I am strongly tempted to call one the colonial system of the ancients, and the other the colonial system of the moderns; although there have been many colonies in modern times established on the ancient plan, of which those of North America are the most distinguished.
The production of colonies, formed upon the ancient system, is inconsiderable at the commencement; but increases with great rapidity. The colonists choose for their country of adoption a spot where the soil is fertile, the climate genial, or the position advantageous for commercial purposes. The land is generally quite fresh, whether it have been the scene of a dense population long since extinguished, or merely the range of roving tribes, too small in number and strength to exhaust the productive qualities of the soil.
Families transplanted from a civilized to an entirely new country, carry with them theoretical and practical knowledge, which is one of the chief elements of productive industry: they carry likewise habits of industry, calculated to set these elements in activity, as well as the habit of subordination, so essential to the preservation of social order; they commonly take with them some little capital also, not in money, but in tools and stock of different kinds: moreover, they have no landlord to share the produce of a virgin soil, far exceeding in extent what they are able to bring into cultivation for years to come. To these causes of rapid prosperity, should, perhaps, be superadded the chief cause of all, the natural desire of mankind to better their condition, and to render as comfortable as possible the mode of life they have adopted.
The rapid increase of products in colonies, founded upon this plan, would have been still more striking, if the colonists had carried with them a larger capital; but, as we have already observed, it is not the families favoured by fortune that emigrate; those who have the command of a sufficient capital to procure a comfortable existence in their native country, the scene of their halcyon days of infancy, will rarely be tempted to renounce habits, friends, and relations, to embark in what must always be attended with hazard, and encounter the inseparable hardships of a primitive establishment. This accounts for the scarcity of capital in newly-settled colonies; and is one reason why it bears so high a rate of interest there.
In point of fact, capital is of much more rapid accumulation in new colonies than in countries long civilized. It would seem as if the colonists, in abandoning their native country, leave behind them part of their vicious propensities; they certainly carry with them little of that fondness for show, that costs so dear in Europe, and brings so poor a return. No qualities, but those of utility, are in estimation in the country they are going to; and consumption is limited to objects of rational desire, which is sooner satisfied than artificial wants. The towns are few and small; the life of agriculturists, which they must necessarily adopt, is of all others the most economical; finally, their industry is proportionately more productive, and requires a smaller capital to work upon.
The character of the colonial government usually accords with that of individuals; it is active in the execution of its duties, sparing of expense, and careful to avoid quarrels; thus there are few taxes, sometimes none at all; and, since the government takes little or nothing from the revenues of the subject, his ability to multiply his savings, and consequently to enlarge his productive capital, is very great. With very little capital to begin upon, the annual produce of the colony very soon exceeds its consumption. Hence, the astonishingly rapid progress in its wealth and population; for human labour becomes dear in proportion to the accumulation of capital, and it is a well-known maxim, that population always increases according to the demand.
With these data, there is no difficulty in explaining the causes of the rapid advance of such colonies. Among the ancients we find that Ephesus and Miletus in Asia Minor, Tarentum and Crotona in Italy, Syracuse and Agrigentum in Sicily, very soon surpassed the parent cities in wealth and consequence. The English colonies in North America, which bear the closest resemblance of any in our times to those of ancient Greece, present a picture of prosperity less striking perhaps, but quite as deserving of notice, and still in the attitude of advance.
It is the invariable practice of colonies founded upon this plan, and without any thoughts of returning home, to provide themselves an independent government; and even where the mother-country reserves the right of legislation, that right will sooner or later be dissolved by the operation of natural causes, and matters be brought to that footing, on which justice and regard to its real interest should have prompted her to put them originally.
But, to proceed to the colonies formed upon the colonial system of the moderns; the founders of them were for the most part adventurers, whose object was, not to settle in an adopted country, but rapidly to amass a fortune, and return to enjoy it in their former homes.
The early adventurers of this stamp found ample gratification of their extravagant rapacity, first in the cluster of the Antilles, in Mexico and Peru, and subsequently in Brazil and in the Eastern Indies. After exhausting the resources previously accumulated by the aborigines, they were compelled to direct their industry towards discovering the mines of these new countries, and to turn to account the no less valuable produce of their agriculture. Successive swarms of new colonists poured in from time to time, animated for the most part with some hope of return, with the desire, not of living in affluence upon the land they cultivated, and leaving behind them a contented posterity and a spotless name, but of making inordinate gain to be afterwards enjoyed elsewhere: this motive led them to adopt a system of compulsory cultivation, of which negro slavery was the principal instrument.
But let me ask, in what manner does slavery operate upon production? Is the labour of the slave less costly than that of the free labourer? This is an important inquiry, originating in the influence of the modern system of colonization upon the multiplication of wealth.
Stewart, Turgot, and Smith, all agree in thinking, that the labour of the slave is dearer and less productive than that of the freeman. Their arguments amount to this: a man, that neither works nor consumes on his own account, works as little and consumes as much as he can: he has no interest in the exertion of that degree of care and intelligence, which alone can insure success: his life is shortened by excessive labour, and his master must replace it at great expense, besides, the free workman looks after his own support; but that of the slave must be attended to by the master; and, as it is impossible for the master to do it so economically as the free workman, the labour of the slave must cost him dearer.
This position has been controverted by the following calculation: The annual expense of a negro in the West Indies, upon the plantations most humanely administered, does not exceed 60 dollars: add the interest of his prime cost, say at ten per cent., for it is a life interest; the average price of a negro is about 400 dollars, so that, allowing 40 dollars for the annual interest, the whole expense of a negro to his owner is but 100 dollars per annum, a sum, doubtless, much inferior to the charge of free labour in that part of the world. An ordinary free labourer may earn there from a dollar to a dollar and a half per day, or even more. Taking the medium of a dollar and a quarter, and reckoning about 300 working days in the year, the annual wages will amount to 375 instead of 100 dollars.
Common sense will tell us, that the consumption of a slave must be less than that of a free workman. The master cares not if his slave enjoy life, provided he do but live; a pair of trowsers and a jacket are the whole wardrobe of the negro: his lodging a bare hut, and his food the manioc root, to which kind masters now and then add a little dried fish. A population of free workmen, taken one with another, has women, children, and invalids to support: the ties of consanguinity, friendship, love, and gratitude, all contribute to multiply consumption; whereas, the slave-owner is often relieved by the effects of fatigue from the maintenance of the veteran: the tender age and sex enjoy little exemption from labour; and even the soft impulse of sexual attraction is subject to the avaricious calculations of the master.
What is the motive which operates in every man's breast to counteract the impulse towards the gratification of his wants and appetites? Doubtless, the providential care of the future. Human wants and appetites have a tendency to extend—frugality to reduce consumption; and it is easy to conceive, that these opposite motives, working in the mind of the same individual, help to counteract each other. But, where there are master and slave, the balance must needs incline to the side of frugality; the wants and appetites operate upon the weaker party, and the motive of frugality upon the stronger. It is a well-known fact, that the net produce of an estate in St. Domingo cleared off the whole purchase-money in six years; whereas in Europe the net produce seldom exceeds the one twenty-fifth or one thirtieth of the purchase-money, and sometimes falls far short even of that. Smith, himself, elsewhere tells us, that the planters of the English islands admit that the run and molasses will defray the whole expenses of a sugar plantation, leaving the total produce of sugar as net proceeds: which, as he justly observes, is much the same as if our farmers were to pay their rent and expenses with the straw only, and to make a clear profit of all the grain. Now I ask, how many products are there that exceed the expenses of production in the same degree?
Indeed, this very exorbitance of profit shows, that the industry of the master is paid out of all proportion with that of the slave. To the consumer it makes no difference. One of the productive classes benefits by the depression of the rest; and that would be all, were it not that the vicious system of production, resulting from this derangement, opposes the introduction of a better plan of industry. The slave and the master are both degraded beings, incapable of approximating to the perfection of industry, and, by their contagion, degrading the industry of the free man, who has no slaves at his command. For labour can never be honourable, or even respectable, where it is executed by an inferior caste. The forced and unnatural superiority of the master over the slave, is exhibited in the affectation of lordly indolence and inactivity: and the faculties of mind are debased in an equal degree; the place of intelligence is usurped by violence and brutality.
I have been told by travellers of veracity and observation, that they consider all progress in the arts in Brazil and other settlements of America as utterly hopeless, while slavery shall continue to be tolerated. Those states of the North American Union, which have proscribed slavery, are making the largest strides towards national prosperity. The inhabitants of the slave states of Georgia and Carolina raise the best cotton in the world, but cannot work it up. During the last war with England, they were obliged to send it over land to New-York to be spun into yarn. The same cotton is sent back at a vast expense to be consumed at the place of its original growth in a manufactured state. This is a just retribution for the toleration of a practice, by which one part of mankind is made to labour, and subjected to the severest privation, for the benefit of another. Policy is in this point in accordance with humanity.
It remains yet to be explained, what are the consequences of the commercial intercourse between the colony and the mother country, in regard to production; always taking it for granted, that the colony continues in a state of dependence, for the moment it shakes off the yoke, it has nothing colonial but its origin, and stands in relation to the mother-country, on exactly the same footing as any other nation on the globe.
The parent state, with a view to secure to the products of its own soil and industry the market of colonial consumption, generally prohibits the colonists from purchasing European commodities from any one else, which enables her own merchants to sell their goods in the colony for somewhat more than they are currently worth. This is a benefit conferred on the subjects of the parent state at the expense of the colonists, who are likewise its subjects. Considering the mother-country and the colony to be integral parts of one and the same state, the profit and loss balance each other; and this restriction is nugatory, except inasmuch as it entails the charge of an establishment of custom or excise officers; and thus increases the national expenditure.
While, on the one hand, the colonists are obliged to buy of the mother-country, they are, on the other, compelled to sell their colonial produce exclusively to its merchants, who thus obtain an extra advantage without any creation of value, at the expense, likewise, of the colonists, by the enjoyment of an exclusive privilege, and of exemption from competition. Here, too, the profit and loss destroy each other nationally, but not individually; what a merchant of Havre or Bordeaux gains in this way is substantial profit; but it is taken from the pockets of one or more subjects of the same state, who had equal right to have their interest attended to. It is true, indeed, that the colonists are indemnified in another way; viz. either by the miseries of the slave population, as we have already explained; or by the privations of the inhabitants of the mother-country, as I am about to show.
So completely is the whole system built upon compulsions, restriction, and monopoly, that these very domestic consumers are compelled to buy what colonial articles of consumption they require exclusively from the national colonies; every other colony, and all the rest of the world, being denied the liberty of importing colonial produce, or subjected to the payment of a heavy fine, in the shape of an import duty.
It would seem that the home-consumer should at any rate derive an obvious benefit, in the price of colonial produce, from his exclusive right of purchasing of the colonists. But even this unjust preference is denied him; for, as soon as the produce arrives in Europe, the home-merchant is allowed to re-export and sell it where he chooses, and particularly to those nations that have no colonies of their own; so that, after all, the planter is deprived of the competition of buyers, although the home-consumer is made to suffer its full effect.
All these losses fall chiefly upon the class of home-consumers, a class of all others the most important in point of number, and deserving of attention on account of the wide diffusion of the evils of any vicious system affecting it, as well as the functions it performs in every part of the social machine, and the taxes it contributes to the public purse, wherein consists the power of the government. They may be divided into two parts; whereof the one is absorbed in the superfluous charges of raising the colonial produce, which might be got cheaper elsewhere; this is a dead loss to the consumer, without gain to any body. The other part, which is also paid by the consumer, goes to make the fortunes of West-Indian planters and merchants. The wealth thus acquired is the produce of a real tax upon the people, although, being centred in few hands, it is apt to dazzle the eyes, and be mistaken for wealth of colonial and commercial acquisition. And it is for the protection of this imaginary advantage, that almost all the wars of the eighteenth century have been undertaken, and that the European states have thought themselves obliged to keep up, at a vast expense, civil and judicial, as well as marine and military, establishments, at the opposite extremities of the globe.
When Poivre was appointed governor of the Isle of France, the colony had not been planted more than 50 years; yet he calculated it to have then cost France no less than 12 millions of dollars to be a source of regular and large out-going; and to bring her no return of any kind whatsoever. It is true, that the money spent on the defence of that settlement had the further object of upholding our other possessions in the East Indies; but, when we find that these latter were still more expensive both to the government and to the proprietors of the two companies, old and new, it is impossible to deny, that all we gained by keeping the Mauritius at this enormous expense was, the opportunity of a further waste in Bengal and on the coast of Coromandel.
The same observations will apply to such of our possessions in other parts of the world, as were of no importance, but in a military point of view. Should it be pretended, that these stations are kept up at a great sacrifice, not with the object of gain, but to extend and affirm the power of the mother-country, it might yet be asked, why maintain them at such a loss, since this power has no other object but the preservation of the colonies, which turn out to be themselves a losing concern?
That England has benefited immensely by the loss of her North American colonies, is a fact no one has attempted to deny. Yet she spent the incredible sum of 335,000,000 dollars in attempting to retain possession; a monstrous error in policy indeed; for she might have enjoyed the same benefits, that is to say, have emancipated her colonies, without expending a sixpence; besides saving a profusion of gallant blood, and gaining credit for generosity, in the eyes of Europe and posterity.
The blunders committed by the ministers of George III., during the whole course of the first American war, in which, indeed, they were unhappily abetted, by the corruption of the parliament and the pride of the nation, were imitated by Napoleon, in his attempt to reduce the revolted negroes of St. Domingo. Nothing but its distance and maritime position prevented that scheme from proving equally disastrous with the war of Spain. Yet, comparatively, the independence of that fine island might have been made equally productive of commercial benefit to France, as that of America had been to England. It is high time to drop our absurd lamentations for the loss of our colonies, considered as a source of national prosperity. For, in the first place, France now enjoys a greater degree of prosperity, than while she retained her colonies; witness the increase of her population. Before the revolution, her revenues could maintain but twenty-five millions of people: they now support thirty-two millions and a half, (1831) . In the second place, the first principles of political economy will teach us, that the loss of colonies by no means implies a loss of the trade with them. Wherewith did France before buy the colonial products? with her own domestic products to be sure. Has she not since continued to buy them in the same way, though sometimes of a neutral, or even an enemy?
I admit, that the ignorance and vices of her rulers for the time being have made her pay for those products much dearer than she need have done; but now that she buys them at the natural price, (exclusive, of course, of the import duties,) and pays for them as before with her domestic products, in what way is she a loser? Political convulsions have given a new direction to commerce; the import of sugar and coffee is no longer confined to Nantes and Bordeaux; and those cities have suffered in consequence. But, as France now consumes at least as much of those articles as she ever did, all, that has not come by the way of Nantes or Bordeaux, must needs have found its way in some other channel. France can not have bought in any other way, than as of old, with the products of her own land, capital, and industry; for, excepting robbery and piracy, one nation has no other means of buying of another. Indeed, France might have benefited largely by the trade which has supplanted her own colonial commerce, had not old prejudices and erroneous notions constantly opposed the natural current of human affairs.
Perhaps it may be argued, that the colonies furnish commodities which are nowhere else to be had. The nation, therefore, that should have no share of territories so highly favoured by nature, would lie at the mercy of the nation that should first get possession for the monopoly of purchasing the colonial produce would enable her to exact her own price from her less fortunate neighbour. Now it is proved beyond all doubt, that what we erroneously call colonial produce, grows everywhere within the tropics, where the soil is adapted to its cultivation. The spices of the Moluccas are found to answer at Cayenne, and probably by this time in many other places; and no monopoly was ever more complete, than the trade of the Dutch in that commodity. They had sole possession of the only spice islands, and allowed nobody else to approach them. Has Europe been in any want of spices, or has she bought them for their weight in gold? Have we any reason to regret the not having devoted two hundred years of war, fought a score of naval battles, and sacrificed some hundreds of millions, and the lives of half a million of our fellow-creatures, for the paltry object of getting our pepper and cloves cheaper by some two or three sous a pound? And this example, it is worth while to observe, is the most favourable one for the colonial system, that could possibly be selected. One can hardly imagine the possibility of monopolizing sugar, a staple product of most parts of Asia, Africa, and America, so completely as the Dutch did the spice trade; yet has this very trade been snatched from the avaricious grasp of the monopolist nation, almost without firing a shot.
The ancients, by their system of colonization, made themselves friends all over the known world; the moderns have sought to make subjects, and therefore have made enemies. Governors, deputed by the mother-country, feel not the slightest interest in the diffusion of happiness and real wealth amongst a people, with whom they do not propose to spend their lives, to sink into privacy and retirement, or to conciliate popularity. They know their consideration in the mother-country will depend upon the fortune they return with, not upon their behaviour in office. Add to this the large discretionary power, that must unavoidably be vested in the deputed rulers of distant possessions, and there will be every ingredient towards the composition of a truly detestable government.
It is to be feared, that men in power, like the rest of mankind, are too little disposed to moderation, too slow in their intellectual progress, embarrassed as it is at every step by the unceasing manœuvres of innumerable retainers, civil, military, financial, and commercial; all impelled, by interested motives, to present things in false colours, and involve the simplest questions in obscurity, to allow any reasonable hope of accelerating the downfall of a system, which for the last three or four hundred years must have wonderfully abridged the inestimable benefits, that mankind at large, in all the five great divisions of the globe, have, or ought to have derived from the rapid progress of discovery, and the prodigious impulse given to human industry since the commencement of the sixteenth century. The silent advances of intelligence, and the irresistible tide of human affairs, will alone effect its subversion.