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Source: Editors' Introduction to The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 5 Speeches and Evidence 1815-1823.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SPEECHES IN PARLIAMENT
Summary. I. Entering Parliament, p. xiii. II. Ricardo in Parliament, p. xix. III. Committees on which Ricardo Served, p. xxiii. IV. How the Speeches were Reported, p. xxvii. V. The Speeches in the Present Edition, p. xxxi.
I. Entering Parliament
Ricardo entered Parliament in the early part of 1819 after he had retired from the Stock Exchange and had written his main works on Political Economy. He remained a member of the House of Commons until his death in September 1823, after five years of active parliamentary life marked by constant attendance and frequent speeches.
The first suggestion that Ricardo should enter Parliament is in a letter from James Mill in the autumn of 1814, urging him to place himself ‘in that situation in which his tongue, as well as his pen might be of use.’ This was at the time when Ricardo had just acquired Gatcomb Park with the intention of giving up business activity in the City. This intention could not be immediately carried out because of ‘the immense concerns in business’ which entirely occupied him in the spring and early summer of 1815. In August of that year Mill writes again: ‘You now can have no excuse for not going into parliament, and doing what you can to improve that most imperfect instrument of government.’ He adds, ‘in a short time you would be a very instructive, and a very impressive speaker.’ Ricardo’s reply was characteristic: ‘Your parliamentary scheme is above all others unfit for me,—my inclination does not in the least point that way. Speak indeed! I could not, I am sure, utter three sentences coherently’.
In October 1816 Mill reverted to the subject, when, in connection with the absence of Francis Horner from Parliament, which he deplored, he wrote: ‘You ought indeed to be in parliament, and you must at any rate make arrangements for it at the general election.’ At the end of November of that year Ricardo declined ‘an earnest invitation to become a candidate for the representation of Worcester’, where a vacancy had occurred. Confronted with the need to answer by return of post, and with the danger of being ‘hurried into all the horrors of a contested election’, his ‘decision was as prompt as the occasion required’ and Mill in reply expressed full agreement with the decision to decline the offer. ‘If I were in your situation (Mill wrote), the rottenest Borough I could find would be my market, with nothing to do but part with a sum of money.’
A year later, in December 1817, Edward Wakefield, a friend of Mill who acted as land agent to Ricardo, was negotiating for the borough of Portarlington: the seat for which Ricardo was eventually returned in 1819. This was a typical pocket borough in Ireland, in the patronage of the Earl of Portarlington. Ten years earlier, on 28 April 1807, when a General Election was imminent, we find Wellington, then, as Sir Arthur Wellesley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, writing from Dublin Castle: ‘Lord Portarlington is in England, and the agent who settled for that borough upon the last general election was Mr Parnell. We have no chance with him, and it would be best to arrange the matter with Lord Portarlington. I heard here that he had sold the return for six years at the last election, and if that should be true, of course we shall not get it now.’ In fact, at the General Election on 23 May 1807 William Lamb (afterwards Lord Melbourne) was returned for Portarlington as an opposition member; but appears to have ‘lost his seat in 1812 for his support of catholic emancipation’. At the General Election of 1816, however, another oppositionist, Richard Sharp, a close friend of Ricardo, was returned for the seat and still held it at the time of Wakefield’s negotiations.
The approach to Wakefield had been made by an agent of the Earl of Portarlington with the object of raising a loan on the security of the Portarlington estates including the borough. The Earl had already borrowed large sums on annuities, and his estates had been assigned to trustees, one of whom was Sir Henry Parnell, his brother-in-law and an opposition member of Parliament. It was intended to use the proposed loan to pay off the annuities encumbering the estates. The amount required was ‘from 10 to £20,000’. Wakefield offered to lend the money on condition that he could nominate the member for the borough at ‘the market price of the day’, this price to be determined by ‘some distinguished and honourable member of the house ... —say such a person as Mr. Grenfell’. He thereupon wrote to Ricardo that, if these terms were accepted, the seat would be placed at his service.
The Earl’s agent, however, proceeded to enquire whether Ricardo, if elected, would vote with the Ministers; and on receiving Wakefield’s reply that ‘politics must not be named— but perfect freedom’, the negotiations came to an end, on the ground that ‘Lord Portarlington found there was nothing to be got by returning an opposition man’. The fact, noted by Wakefield, that the Earl’s agent (N. Kirkland) was cousin of Charles Arbuthnot, Patronage Secretary in the Government, suggests that it was he, even more than Lord Portarlington, who was anxious to secure the return of a ministerialist.
A number of other seats were also considered about this time. Nothing resulted, however, from these negotiations, and by the time of the General Election Ricardo had become reconciled to having no seat. He writes to Malthus on 24 June 1818: ‘I believe it is now finally settled that I am not to be in Parliament, and truly glad I am that the question is at any rate settled, for the certainty of a seat could hardly compensate me for the disagreeables attending the negociation for it’; and to Trower on 27 June: ‘My own endeavors to get a seat in the House have not been attended with success, but I believe that amongst all those who are disappointed, in a similar manner, there is not one more resigned than I am. I could meet with nothing where I should not have had a contest, which I was exceedingly unwilling to encounter’. At the General Election, on 11 July 1818, the sitting member, Richard Sharp, was again returned for Portarlington.
Soon after the General Election independent negotiations were started by Brougham; and although these were again for the Portarlington seat, they do not seem to have been connected with the previous negotiations of Wakefield. The first that Ricardo heard of it was at the end of August 1818, when after a visit of Mill to Gatcomb they went to Gloucester together, where Mill received a letter from Brougham containing a definite offer in connection with the seat. To this Ricardo promptly consented, on ‘the terms proposed’, subject only to his solicitor seeing that ‘all is right and secure’. On receipt of Ricardo’s answer Brougham wrote: ‘I have arranged all about Ricardo’. He had seen Sir Henry Parnell and ‘we settled everything as he (R) could wish—The titles will take some little time—but all is sure.’ The terms were that Ricardo should make a loan of between £20,000 and £36,000 against a mortgage on the Portarlington estates, and should pay £4,000 for the seat ‘secured for four years’ (implying the right of re-election in the event of an early dissolution) and in addition ‘a chance of sitting 7 years’ (in case of there being no dissolution and Parliament lasting its full term). There seems to have been some misunderstanding as to whether Ricardo was to receive the maximum rate of interest fixed by Irish law (6 per cent) or by English law (5 per cent). In the event, the loan was of £25,000 and the interest 6 per cent.
While Ricardo was not actually seated until February 1819, the delay was not due to the disagreement about terms or to the long drawn-out difficulties over the security for the loan. As Brougham had promised Mill, Ricardo was seated ‘the very first day that the forms of Parliament will admit’, or very nearly so. For a new writ could not be issued until the new Parliament had met and the fourteen days allowed for presenting election petitions had expired. Parliament was opened by the Regent on 21 January 1819, and the first writs for new elections in vacant seats were issued on 5 February. The writ for the return of a member for Portarlington, in the room of Richard Sharp who had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, was issued on 8 February. Ricardo was returned to Parliament on 20 February 1819, and took his seat on the 26th.
The arrangements for the loan to Lord Portarlington took a long time to complete. When at last all the legal documents seemed to be in order, difficulties arose on account of the encumbrances which had to be removed to give priority to Ricardo’s mortgage: some of the annuitants refusing to be paid off or to assign their annuities. It was not until the autumn of 1820 that these difficulties were finally overcome, and the £25,000 paid over.
Within a year of this Lord Portarlington was applying to Ricardo for a further loan of £6,000. This was in order to buy another estate, or more precisely, as Ricardo’s solicitor Crosse put it, ‘to replace a sum given by the Honble Mrs. Damer to his Lordship to purchase the estate but which he diverted to another purpose.’ Ricardo seems to have regarded the estates which were already mortgaged to him as adequate security for the additional loan, but Parnell urged that he should take a security on the new estate, ‘as otherwise it will enable his Lordship to Mortgage it and procure a further loan from some other person.’
At the time of the General Election of 1820, which followed the death of George III, there were reports that Ricardo was to contest the County of Gloucester; but these he denied, saying that he would never have consented to ‘embark on so perilous an undertaking’ as that of contesting a county with ‘an old and powerful family’ (namely, that of the Duke of Beaufort). As he wrote to Trower: ‘My late constituents at Portarlington appear to be a very good tempered set of gentlemen, and will I am sure elect me without hesitation to the next Parliament.’ He was, in fact, returned again for Portarlington on 27 March 1820.
Ricardo in Parliament
‘If I could, without much trouble, get into the New Parliament I would’, Ricardo had written to Trower in 1818. ‘I should neither be Whig nor Tory but should be anxiously desirous of promoting every measure which should give us a chance of good government. This I think will never be obtained without a reform in Parliament.’
His attitude in the House on political questions was summed up after his death by the Globe and Traveller newspaper as follows: ‘Mr Ricardo was generally regarded as a moderate oppositionist. He was, however, the most decided and thorough Reformer within the walls of Parliament. With respect to government he had embraced the principles of Bentham. He was invariably found at his post on the Opposition benches, and, on every division, he voted on the side of the people.’ On these subjects his speeches were few, the principal ones being that on Lord John Russell’s motion for a Reform of Parliament on 24 April 1823 and his last speech for Free Discussion of Religious Opinions on 1 July 1823.
It was to economic subjects that most of his speeches were devoted. He entered on his parliamentary career with a considerable reputation as the originator of the currency plan embodied in Peel’s Bill of 1819; and on the occasion of his first important speech, which was on the Resumption of Cash Payments, ‘he did not rise until he was loudly called upon from all sides of the House.’ However, following his proposal of a tax on capital to pay off the national debt, which was regarded as a ‘wild sort of notion’ even by his own friends, the attitude of the House towards him underwent some change, and he came to be looked upon as a theorist. As he wrote to McCulloch in the summer of 1820: ‘I am treated as an ultra reformer and a visionary on commercial subjects by both Agriculturists and Manufacturers. Do you not observe that even Mr. Baring, the professed but I think lukewarm friend of free trade, did not nominate me on his committee.’
With the growing severity of the depression in agriculture his speeches became increasingly concerned with the relation of Peel’s Bill (and of the monetary policy that had followed it) to agricultural distress. Here he frequently found himself on the same side as the Government in his speeches, in repelling the attacks of the country gentlemen who attributed the depression to the effects of that measure and to the burden of taxation. At the same time, he opposed the Ministers when they found a remedy for the situation in protection. In the later years of Ricardo’s parliamentary career there was a gradual transition of the Tory Government towards a more liberal commercial policy, under the auspices of Wallace, Huskisson and Robinson, and with it the removal of a number of restrictions on trade; as a result at this stage Ricardo is found speaking more frequently in support of government measures.
It may be noted that shortly before his death Ricardo had promised his friend Joseph Hume that he would assist him in his proposed motion against the laws restricting the emigration of artizans, the exportation of machinery and the combination of workmen. And when Hume introduced the motion on 12 February 1824, he opened his speech with a commemorative passage on Ricardo, with which Huskisson associated himself; this is quoted on p. 332 below.
The record of Ricardo’s votes is necessarily incomplete. At that time (and until 1836) only the numbers in divisions were recorded officially, while the names were ignored. On questions of special interest, however, it was usual for members of the opposition to give their list to the reporters, thus securing publication of their own names in the newspapers and in Hansard. During Ricardo’s period in Parliament (from 26 Feb. 1819 to the end of the Session of 1823) Hansard records 224 such opposition lists, and Ricardo appears in 167 of them. In a contemporary analysis of the lists of the minorities on 36 questions (selected as being of particular importance) divided upon in the Sessions of 1821 and 1822, Ricardo appears in 28—only six members appearing more frequently.
These figures probably understate Ricardo’s regularity in attendance, since there were occasions, however rare, when he refrained from voting with the Opposition. Of 9 questions on which, exceptionally, both majority and minority lists were recorded in 1821 and 1822 Ricardo appears in all of them on the side of the Opposition, with the exception of one (the vote on the Roman Catholic claims, discussed below) in which he is not included in either list.
His votes at the end of the debates in which he took part (when known) are as a rule recorded in this volume at the end of each speech. Some of his votes on other occasions are also of interest. His first recorded vote in the House (on 2 March 1819) was in support of Mackintosh’s motion for reducing the number of offences subject to capital punishment; and he voted again for similar motions on 23 May and 4 June 1821 and 21 May 1823.
He also voted for Bennet’s motions for the abolition of punishment by flogging (30 April and 7 July 1823). Throughout the special session called after Peterloo in 1819 he voted against the measures known as the ‘Six Acts’, in addition to speaking against one of them; and later (on 8 May 1821) he voted for the repeal of another, the Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act. He supported Sir Francis Burdett’s motion, on 16 May 1821, for an investigation into the Peterloo massacre. He voted against the Irish Insurrection Bill on 7 and 8 February 1822 and against its continuance on 8 July of the same year and on 12 May 1823; and he seconded Hume’s motion for abolishing the office of Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland on 25 June 1823. On foreign affairs he voted for Mackintosh’s motion (21 February 1821) on the action of the Powers of the Holy Alliance with respect to the revolution in Naples; for Lord W. Bentinck’s motion (21 June 1821) concerning the affairs of Sicily; and for Hume’s motion (14 May 1822) on the state of the Ionian islands where martial law had been proclaimed. He voted against the Foreign Enlistment Bill (on 3 and 10 June 1819) and against the renewal of the Alien Bill (on 7 July 1820 and again on 1 July 1821).
The fact that Ricardo does not appear in the list of members who voted on Plunket’s motion for the Roman Catholic claims which was adopted on 28 February 1821 (either in the majority or in the minority which in this case are both given) is curious: the more so since we know from a letter to Trower that he was present at the debate and that he was unreservedly in favour of the motion. Professor Cannan, in his essay on ‘Ricardo in Parliament’, has conjectured that he remained neutral, and asks: ‘Can it have been due to some compact with the power which gave him his seat for Portarlington?’ It is true that some members for Irish constituencies, in fear of offending their Protestant patrons, refrained from voting for the Catholic claims, or if they voted felt that they did so ‘at the imminent hazard of their seats’; and it was in fact the seat of Portarlington which, as we have seen above (p. xv), William Lamb lost in 1812 for supporting Catholic emancipation. All this lends plausibility to Cannan’s suggestion. On the other hand it is clear from what we know of the negotiations by which Ricardo acquired his seat that there were no political conditions attached. The financial situation of Lord Portarlington had disastrously deteriorated since 1812, and Ricardo had been able to negotiate from the strong position of the lender of a large sum. But the decisive consideration is that during the period 1819–1823 Hansard did in fact give on a second occasion the list of those voting for the claims of the Roman Catholics, and Ricardo’s name appears in this list (namely that on Brougham’s motion of 26 June 1823 in support of a petition ‘from the Roman Catholics of Ireland complaining of the Inequality in the Administration of the Law’).
A more probable explanation is that the omission of Ricardo’s name in the case of Plunket’s motion was due to a mistake in the division list. We have seen above that these lists were entirely unofficial; they were also often inaccurate, and on the occasion in question there were said to have been several omissions.
Committees on which Ricardo Served
While he was in Parliament, Ricardo was a member of several Select Committees, which are listed below. He was appointed to the first of these within a few days of taking his seat, but after that for nearly two years he was not on any other committee. (As we have seen above, Baring refrained from nominating Ricardo for his Foreign Trade Committee in 1820; and although nominated for the Agricultural Committee of 1820, he was not in fact appointed to it. ) In his last session, however, we find him so busy with committees every morning that these, together with his regular attendance in the House, (as he wrote to Trower in July 1823) ‘fully occupied’ his time.
Poor Law Committee. The Select Committee on the Poor Law was appointed on 9 February 1819. Ricardo was added on 1 March. Chairman, Sturges Bourne. It heard evidence between 19 March and 28 June from 3 witnesses. Reported on 30 June1819. The immediate recommendations of the report were limited to the removal of impediments to ‘the free circulation of labour’ and emigration; it also recommended, however, that ultimately parishes should be freed from ‘the impracticable obligation of finding employment’ for all who need it, and that relief should be confined to those unable to work.
Agricultural Committee 1821. The Select Committee on Petitions complaining of the Depressed State of Agriculture was appointed on 7 March 1821. Chairman, T. S. Gooch. Sat for 14 weeks and heard 42 witnesses. Reported on 18 June1821. The examination of the agricultural witnesses ‘was throughout conducted with great ability by Mr Ricardo, Mr Huskisson, and others’, according to the Scotsman (2 June1821). Ricardo’s letters contain many references to this. He ‘worked very hard’ in the Committee ‘against a host of adversaries, in the shape of witnesses, as well as members’. Regarding one witness, Thomas Attwood, he says, ‘his claims to infallibility have been sifted by Huskisson and myself’; and of another, William Jacob, ‘I ... persevered in my questions to him, till I believe he thought me rude’. He himself called two merchants as witnesses, Thomas Tooke and Edward Solly. The report was drafted by Huskisson but considerably altered in Committee in a protectionist direction. Ricardo’s opinion of it will be found below, pp. 151–2, and is summed up in a letter to McCulloch with the words: ‘considering the composition of the committee it is better than could be expected’. The report was not debated in the House but referred to the Agricultural Committee of the following year.
A glimpse of what went on inside the Committee is given by two entries in J. L. Mallet’s MS Diary:
‘7 May 1821. Ricardo in the Agricultural Committee. I dined yesterday at Ricardo’s. There was a good deal of conversation upon the agricultural Committee. Ricardo says that they look upon him as a mere Theorist, but that they are very civil and allow him to take his own course with a view of establishing his principles by evidence. As to opinion the Committee is a perfect Babel. There are not two men agreed.
‘10 May 1821. Agriculture Committee. Ricardo is left very much to himself in the Agricultural Committee. Baring who promised to assist him has not taken any share in the proceedings. Huskisson has been of service; and the Government are evidently on his side and wish to resist these greedy and unreasonable Lords of the Soil, as Cobbet calls them; but it is a dangerous task. Lord Londonderry spoke yesterday for an hour in the Committee, and Ricardo says that he would have defied any man to have made a tolerable grasp of the real opinion of His Lordship. This is a most happy faculty in Lord Londonderry.’
Agricultural Committee 1822. The Select Committee on the Allegations of the several Petitions presented to the House in the last and present Sessions of Parliament complaining of the Distressed State of Agriculture was appointed on 18 February 1822, largely with the same membership as the Committee of 1821: Huskisson although a member did not attend. Chairman, Lord Londonderry. The Committee took no evidence and reported on 1 April 1822. The report which was strongly protectionist gave rise to a prolonged debate in the House which ended in the passing of the new Corn Law (see below, p. 148 ff.). Ricardo discusses this report and contrasts it with that of the Committee of the previous year in Protection to Agriculture, above, IV, 244 ff.
Committee on Public Accounts. The Select Committee on the Public Accounts of the United Kingdom annually laid before Parliament was appointed on 18 April 1822. Chairman, Lord Palmerston. The Committee took no evidence. Reported on 31 July 1822. The report recommended that the accounts should be simplified so as to present as in a balance sheet the income and expenditure of each year. (An attempt had already been made by the Government in this direction at Ricardo’s suggestion; see below, p. 145.)
Committee on Stationery. The Select Committee on the Printing and Stationery supplied to the House of Commons and to the Public Departments was appointed on 14 May 1822. Chairman, Lord Binning. It heard evidence from 54 witnesses. Reported on 30 July 1822. The Committee considered complaints of corrupt practices in the Stationery and Printing Departments and recommended, inter alia, the stamping of all paper used in public offices with ‘a peculiar mark’ to prevent theft.
Committee on Sewers. The Select Committee on the powers vested in and exercised by the Commissioners of Sewers in the Metropolis was appointed on 25 February 1823. Chairman, Peter Moore. It heard evidence from 4 witnesses between 5 March and 19 June. Reported on 10 July 1823, reporting only the evidence, without offering any opinion.
Committee on Law Merchant. The Select Committee on the state of the Law relating to Goods, Wares, and Merchandise intrusted to Merchants, Agents, or Factors was appointed on 15 May 1823. Chairman, John Smith. It heard evidence from 52 witnesses. Reported on 13 June 1823. The Committee’s main recommendation was: ‘That a person possessing a bill of lading, or other apparent symbol of property, not importing that such property belongs to others, shall be considered as the true owner, so far as respects any person who may deal with him, in relation to such property, under an ignorance of his real character.’ (This corresponded with Ricardo’s opinion as expressed in a speech on 12 May 1823, below, p. 293.)
Committee on the Labouring Poor in Ireland. The Select Committee on the condition of the Labouring Poor in Ireland, with a view to facilitating the application of the Funds of Private Individuals and Associations for their Employment in Useful and Productive Labour was appointed on 20 June 1823. Ricardo was added to the Committee on 23 June. Chairman, Spring Rice. It heard evidence from 18 witnesses between 23 June and 4 July. Reported on 16 July 1823. The appointment of the Committee arose from a petition from Ireland, presented on 18 June 1823, praying the House to consider how far ‘Mr. Owen’s plan for the employment of the poor ... could be applied to the employment of the peasantry of Ireland’. The report, while admitting that Owen’s plan might be suitable for private experiment, regarded it as not a ‘fit subject of legislative assistance’. Ricardo comments on the subject of the enquiry in a letter to Trower, below, IX, 313–14.
How the Speeches were Reported
Parliamentary reporting in Ricardo’s time was something very different from the official shorthand reporting of the present day. The whole business was a private venture of the newspapers, and their reporters had only recently gained even a bare toleration in the House. One cannot form an estimate of the authenticity of Ricardo’s speeches as they have come down to us without some idea as to how they were recorded.
The pioneer in the reporting of debates was the Morning Chronicle, which was founded in 1769 and conducted by William Woodfall. At a time when the taking of notes by strangers in the House was strictly prohibited, Woodfall was enabled by an extraordinary memory to write up a whole debate after listening to it from the Strangers’ Gallery. When in 1789 James Perry took over the editorship from him, he introduced the system of ‘division of labour’: this consisted in employing a team of reporters, each of whom sat in on the debate for a ‘turn’ of three-quarters of an hour and then, on being relieved in the Gallery by a colleague, left to write up his report at the office. From that time onwards, even though the system came to be universally adopted, the Morning Chronicle ‘was distinguished by its superior excellence in reporting the proceedings of Parliament.’
Towards the close of the eighteenth century, when ‘the use of notebooks and pencils by “strangers” was still an unholy sight in the eyes of the Speaker’, the reporters established the practice of taking seats in the back row of the Strangers’ Gallery where, ‘sitting remotely in the shadows’, they could take notes ‘without being observed from the Chair’; and a few years later the Speaker acknowledged their right to the exclusive occupation of the back row. This position, however, ‘not only did not facilitate their hearing what was said by the members when addressing the House, but exposed them to great annoyance from the talking of the strangers on the five or six rows of seats before them.’ As late as 1819, ‘they were still forbidden to take notes anywhere save on the back row’; and in that year one of the reporters of the Morning Chronicle, Peter Finnerty, was brought to the Bar of the House and reprimanded for having persisted in taking notes while sitting in the front row of the Strangers’ Gallery.
Apart from these handicaps, there was among the reporters themselves a general prejudice against verbatim reporting. This was based on the idea that shorthand writers are incompetent to report a good speech, because ‘they attend to words without entering into the thoughts of the speaker.’ At the same time it was held that the reporter taking down a speech in long-hand was obliged to ‘clothe the idea in his own phraseology’ and to endeavour to ‘make the style as correct and elegant as possible.’ As it has been tersely put, he ‘gave eloquence to the stammerer and concentration to the diffuse’.
This type of reporting, however, required that ‘the reporter must thoroughly understand the subject discussed, and be qualified to follow the reasoning ... of the speaker.’ Ricardo’s matter did not easily lend itself to writing-up by reporters, and as he says in a letter to Trower, ‘It is a great disadvantage to me that the reporters not understanding the subject cannot readily follow me—they often represent me as uttering perfect nonsense.’
The Parliamentary Debates, printed by, and ‘published under the superintendence of’ T. C. Hansard, was also a private concern, and while it had by this time gained a definite ascendancy, short-lived rivals still appeared from time to time. Hansard had no reporters of his own, and his publication was compiled by collation of various newspaper reports or from copies supplied by the speakers or published by them in pamphlet form. By advertisements in the press and in his own publication he invited the ‘communication’ of speeches for his work.
Hansard however was far from being a complete record: some speeches and even whole debates were not reported in it at all, even though they had appeared in the newspapers. Omissions were no doubt in many cases caused by the inadequacy of newspaper reports and the difficulty of securing better ones, but in others they were probably due merely to the need to limit the size of the volumes.
Two or three volumes of Hansard were devoted to each session, and these appeared after considerable delay: thus the volume containing the debates of the first three months of 1821 was not advertised as ‘ready for delivery’ until nearly a year later; and it was announced that the volume covering the following period, up to the close of the session on 11 July 1821, would be published in October 1822.
The editor of the Parliamentary Debates since its foundation in 1803 was John Wright. The method by which he proceeded in his work can be seen from a letter which he wrote to Ricardo to obtain a report of his speech of 11 June 1823:
WRIGHT TO RICARDO
112 Regent Street. August 20. 1823.
As I am very desirous that a correct report of your Speech on Mr Western’s motion should be preserved in The Parliamentary Debates I beg leave to say that I shall be very glad if you could find leisure to furnish me with such report in the course of ten days. I enclose the Newspaper reports which you will find very scanty— so much so, that I think it would be less trouble to write out the whole, than to attempt to correct what is printed. I shall be glad to be favoured with a line on the subject, and am, Sir,
Your faithful humble Sert.
David Ricardo Esq.
Ricardo complied with this request, as appears from the note attached to the speech in Hansard (see below, p. 309).
The way in which Ricardo on a similar occasion used the newspaper cuttings which were sent to him is graphically shown by the facsimile of the original report, which he prepared for Hansard, of his famous speech of 24 May 1819 on the Resumption of Cash Payments (below, facing p. 332).
So much care in securing a full record from the speakers was apparently used by Wright only for major speeches, and the quality of the rendering in their case is markedly superior to that of the lesser ones. In other cases he probably contented himself with making a compilation from the newspaper reports.
Thus, from the picture that we have of parliamentary reporting at that time, it seems clear that we cannot read Ricardo’s speeches with the same confidence in their authenticity as we can his writings, or even his evidence.
There is, however, one speech of which we are now able to read Ricardo’s own report, undoubtedly written within a day after the debate; that is the speech on Mr Western’s Motion of 10 July1822. The original transcript, hitherto unpublished, was found in the Mill-Ricardo papers and is given in the present volume instead of Hansard’s version, of which it is four times as extensive. This report, having been written by Ricardo himself so soon after delivering it, has an authority unequalled by any others, even by those of which we know, or can guess from their quality, that they were revised by him, since this revision would normally be carried out months later, owing to the delays in the preparation of Hansard. One can therefore take the report of the speech of 10 July 1822 as a standard by which to judge the quality of the others.
The Speeches in the Present Edition
In the present edition Ricardo’s speeches have been reprinted from The Parliamentary Debates (referred to throughout as Hansard ). However, in every case in which Hansard’s report seemed doubtful for one reason or another, it has been collated with the reports in the newspapers; and whenever one of the latter seemed more plausible, this has been given as an alternative in a footnote. Extensive, though not systematic, collation of a general kind with newspaper reports has also been carried out; and in many cases this has made it possible to add in footnotes passages from the newspapers where these are fuller. Moreover, a dozen of Ricardo’s parliamentary speeches, which have been found in the newspapers but are not reproduced in Hansard, have been included, and the fact noted.
The titles of the speeches are those given by Hansard to the respective debates. Each of Ricardo’s speeches is introduced by summaries or brief quotations from previous speakers, which indicate the subject of the debate or are referred to by Ricardo. At the end of each speech is given the result of the division, if any, on the question under consideration; and occasionally extracts from subsequent speakers who replied to Ricardo. This and other editorial matter is throughout distinguished by smaller type.