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cannot reach— that we are already arrived at the zenith of our power and grandeur, and must begin to descend.
It will be seen, that our view in this second place of this treatise is to confine within very narrow limits, in point of time, the extent of credit to middle dealers, or forestallers, of all alimentary articles of the first necessity, and what is generally understood by raw produce, if possible to their utter discomfiture; because this class of beings, if they are suffered to infest the markets, must live, and increase the price of articles in proportion to the means of their living, generally obtaining credit of which they are undeserving, and might turn their industry to a much better account. While to raise the price in the market, acknowledged to be a real gain, to the public in the hour of scarcity, there are enough to be found, in a country where capital is not wanting, who regulate their affairs on solid principles, and with a view to their own interests, spin out the supply, without the superfluous assistance of the former group, who neither produce nor improve any thing which passes through their hands, and require to be hunted like drones from the ranks of society ; but it must be done with caution: their army is in full march: already we descry its centre and the two wings, if they are not supported by a corps of reserve. The centre is the most formidable, and has marked on its banners liberty or death; therefore, in order to preserve the peace, it becomes us to produce such arguments as will be convincing, that they may treat us, at least in this respect, as faithful allies to their sacred cause. The right wing supports the evasions, which may be set up as likely to be practised by the designing in opposition to our theory; and the left the narrowness of the accommodation, which might perhaps put some of the first purchasers of raw materials for the purpose of manufacture to inconvenience.
It is our business, therefore, in the first place, to impose a sufficient guard upon ourselves not to infringe on the liberty of the subject; in other words, to allow the enjoyment of as little control as is consistent with our relations in civil society. Something, it is an acknowledged principle, we are compelled to sacrifice, to preserve public peace; and among the rest such as the various laws, many of great antiquity, called statutes of limitation, which on so many accounts have been provided by the wisdom of our ancestors, and had even been introduced under the Athenian commonwealth. In case of an “assumpsit,” or promise to pay money to the plantiff, they may plead “non assumpsit infra sex annos,” he made no such promise within six years, which is an effectual bar to the complaint. This law, however, was enacted to prevent perjuries, which might ensue, if a man were allowed to bring an action for any injury committed at any distant time, and it must be seen does not apply precisely to our case ; but as far as it is demonstrable, that statutes of limitation have abundant precedents, and having been advantageously enacted, avowedly for the protection of the public peace, they may with as much reason be shortened in their periods, to insure a regular supply of food, on reasonable terms, as it would be difficult to point out any effect more likely to produce general tranquillity. · We have laws for preventing debts contracted by minors from being recovered; and they are almost as much children in domestic economy as minors, who do not pay in ready money for the necessaries of life. · Entertaining the most liberal views as to the rights of the subject, and going even beyond Adam Smith, we think with Turgot and the most decided of the French economists, that even the laws of usury may be dispensed with without danger. The same with monopoly; and we profess ourselves friendly even to the principle of non-interference in its fullest extent. Yet monopolies, which are not conducted with discretion, are ruinous in their effects; call them forestalling, regrating, or engrossing; where the parties have not sufficient capital to protect themselves, therefore, though the law may not oppose them, they deserve not the protection of the law : it is an extremely different thing to wink at the licence and to lend it support. We have the authority of Lord Coke for saying, that “monopoly was without law, but never without friends.” And it has too many; but, like usury, we ourselves conceive it imprudent to have laws to restrain it.
We are not making new laws, but withdrawing the protection of those at present existing in certain cases. We hope we are improving in morality, at least in a sense of honor and a horror of shame. This state of feeling stamps the character of an Englishman's transactions with the world, and makes repeals more wise than adding to our numerous statutes, which generally violate the constitutions of free státes. · We dislike the interference even in France, which however is conducted on a principle less inimical to approved maxims than most of our excise laws. We have numerous restraints on pawnbrokers, publicans, brewers, and many others. The customs alone confine a variety of channels, which would otherwise be open to general commerce; and so jealous is the common law of England, that it attempts to prevent the spirit of engrossing corn by suffering it not to be sold in the sheaf.
However, it is not our business to overturn any prevailing system, by the slightest renewed attack on individual liberty, Under these several considerations it is our purpose to propose, that the courts of law or equity take no cognizance of actions for debt a month after the delivery; either of articles of food of in
digenous or foreign growth or manufacture, of any of the produce of a farm, or of any raw produce used in our manufactures.
Trifting and daily occurrences of this nature will still be under the regulation of courts of requests, and as far as the jurisdiction of magistrates extends.
We are far from taking credit to ourselves, of which we should be undeserving, were we to claim originality in introducing this measure; it is to Mr. Playfair that we are indebted for the idea in a more confined sense, and also for some of our remarks upon it, in a work accompanying his ingenious tables on this subject.
Under such a regulation can the rich suffer? No; only the necessity of putting a little more order into the management of their affairs; what they had eaten must be paid for, or they would have no more to eat. Would the poor feel much distress from it? No; those who trust them a few days, as good neighbours, will not require the protection of law. How is it between seller and buyer? It certainly narrows the market ;' that is, it makes fewer engaged in raising prices on the consumer: but all business would be done on solid principles, and abundant trouble saved to all parties, as transactions would generally be completed at the time of delivery, or while in memory, as far as respects the articles in question, which form a material part of our intercourse with each other
Having endeavoured to establish a rule, and reasoned a little on its advantages, we must next consider the evasions which may be practised in opposition to our theory; and we really think they can hardly be numerous, or very available. The temptations would be greatest, where the intercourse takes place between the cities and the provinces; but which, by means of bankers or agents, would be generally very easily removed. Some inconvenience, however, will occasionally arise among a certain class of traders, who have not this resource, and where the waggoner or coaster are only known between the parties; and were these cases more numerous, they chiefly occur as to manufactured goods and luxuries, on which long credits are still allowed to be extended and have legal protection ; and where this is not the case, remittances to a certain extent for the most part are, or ought to be, in every tradesman's power worthy of credit. However, to remedy as much as possible the inconvenience in this respect, it might not be imprudent to afford the protection of the laws to an extension of credit in distant transactions.
1 Which a certain Scotch peer will complain of: in short, nothing but a system of loans, from Government down to the pauper, can widen the markets to his taste. He happily stands alone in this opinion; and having already one leg in the grave, the other will hardly advance another step to save his country. Such ideas are of a piece with his profound ideas on the sinking fund, hitherto considered as “ a new way to pay old debts,” but according to him “the devil to pay."
It is easy to see, that a dealer who gives no credit with his corn, his bread, his meat, or his cotton for manufacture, may lend money to an equal amount to pay for them, and thereby give the same accommodation to his customers, and thus evade the want of protection from the law in so doing ; but it leaves him open to proofs, which may make it appear a manoeuvre between the parties, by which they may incur a certain expense on both sides, and where redress would be ineffectual. We possibly open a door to many artifices not to be foreseen, at least by a common observer; but it may be safely left to ministers, who are no novices in matters of detail, to provide the remedies.
As to the first purchasers of raw materials being put to inconvenience by the necessity of paying too soon for the articles they work up, if it produces only less speculation to their injury, they will reap, in this respect, an important advantage from it: they have country banks generally at their elbow, whose business it is to furnish accommodation on easy terms; and when we sit ourselves down to consider, how small a proportion the price of the raw materials bears to manufactured goods, in iron, in cotton, or even in wool or in silk, with those who have capitals at their disposal to pay for work weekly, can the credit which they obtain with the raw material afford the slightest argument, except in very few extraordinary cases of real necessity, and here it is better on all accounts that the transaction should not take place? for where means are so cramped, trade is seldom successful.
This digression, in a work more properly confined to the four ordinary departments of the public service, it is hoped we shall be pardoned for introducing in the form of this third chapter.
Our design has been, we hope not fruitlessly, to tender our feeble services in opposing the three tried enemies of peace and plenty, the corn-bill, the middle-dealers, and excessive taxation. The first by recommending its repeal; the second by no coercive measure, but simply withdrawing our protection from unproductive labors; the third by suitable bounties.
Hence we flatter ourselves it will be seen, that we advocate the more than fashionable cause of non-interference in its utmost latitude: but, to enjoy all the advantages of it in common with our neighbours, it is necessary to remove or remedy the obstructions peculiar to our own case, which are, the weight of burdens, less felt by our neighbours, and that noble and generous confidence, as far as it is mischievous, which the sons of liberty and glory inspire in each other.