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ELECTORS OF BRIDGENORT IT,
By W. W. WHITMORE, Esq. M.P.
GENTLEMEN, On public as well as private grounds, I am anxious to address you respecting the present state of the corn laws.-On public grounds, because I am well aware how much apprehension exists in the minds of the agriculturists on this subject, and how necessary it is to allay the fears and satisfy the judgment of this most important class of the community, previous to such alterations being effected in those laws as shall make them square better with the present policy and the essential interests of this country. The subject has been so frequently discussed, and the leading arguments so repeatedly stated, that I cannot hope to introduce much of novelty in my present consideration of it. All I propose to myself is, sim, ply to bring again under your notice the leading topics of the disa, cussion, with some facts and calculations which, though they pos. sess not, perhaps, the merit of novelty, have not been sufficiently enforced, and the repetition of which will, in my opinion, be productive of advantage.
In all great questions of internal policy, and more especially in those affecting the pecuniary interests of individuals, it is curious to remark how soon arguments are forgotten, and how easily, the human mind abandons its judgment to listen only to its feelings and apprehensions of injury. That such is the case with respect to this great question, every one who mixes with the agricultural interest must be well aware. A few common-place cries against political economy,—of the wisdom of our ancestors,—the danger of innovation,--and the great importance of the agricultural interest to the state--are the changes perpetually rung on this question, and are generally sufficient to close the judgment against any fur. ther argument on it. Most assuredly I do not mean to undervalue these considerations; I do not close my eyes to the danger and in
convenience of changes in our internal policy; I am far from being an advocate for change, merely because a theory requires it, or because some possible advantage may accrue from it, but of which we have no certainty from experience ; neither can I, as one of the landed interest, be supposed indifferent to the welfare of the agriculturists. If I have labored with some degree of assiduity in this cause, it is because I am convinced of the necessity of the change; it is because the interests of agriculture as well as all other interests, in my judgment, require it; it is because our present law does not agree with, but totally differs from the ancient policy of this country; it is because experience has demonstrated the advantage of a more free intercourse with foreign countries, with respect to agricultural produce ; it is because a re-establishment of this branch of commerce is absolutely essential to enable Great Britain to continue to hold the prominent station she now occupies amongst the manufacturing and commercial nations of the world. I will proceed as concisely as the nature of the subject will admit to establish these positions. Before I do so, however, permit me to say a word on the private motives to which I have alluded as urging me to this course. I am well aware how much of odium I have incurred amongst the agriculturists, by the line of policy I have felt it my duty to pursue, and I have had recent proofs of its amount. Contrary to former precedent in this neighborhood, I have seen the agricultural interest exerting themselves strongly in favor of a stranger, in opposition to one of their own body, a neighbor in point of residence, and a friend in inclination. Far be it from me to complain of this. You, Gentlemen, are at perfect liberty to act as you please; to speak of your independence were almost an insult to you, it were to suggest a doubt of that which is clear, palpable, unquestionable. If
you were of opinion that I harbored a hostile feeling to your interests, or that I was mistaken in my views respecting it, you were bound, in my opinion, to act as you did on the occasion to which I allude. But suspecting, as I am induced to do, that this feeling has arisen from an erroneous view, as well of my intention as of the policy I have thought it my duty to recommend; it is not unnatural that I should wish, and will not, I hope, be considered objectionable by you that I should endeavor to set myself right in your opinion. Placed too, by the result, in the distinguished situation of your representative, it is accordant with my own feelings, and not inconsistent with sound constitutional usage, that I should explain to you the motives which have led me to pursue the course I have done on this question. I am of opinion that the intercourse between the constituent body and the representative should be frequent, and without disguise that while the latter is unshackled in his opinions, he should clearly ex
plain his views on all questions of vital importance. This will, I hope, sufficiently account for my present step, and induce you to lend a patient attention to the statement I am about to make to you on the vital question of the corn laws.
In order clearly to understand the question, and its bearing on the interest of the country, it is necessary to keep in view the situation in which a country, at different stages of its progress, finds it. self placed, with respect to agricultural produce. At one period it exports, at another it imports corn: such, at least, is the course which nature dictates, and which prevails where injudicious laws do not interfere to derange this natural and most beneficial branch of commerce. The reason why a nation finds it most advantageous to do this, is that at one period its population is small in proportion to the quantity of fertile soil it possesses, and that this soil yields a larger produce than can be consumed at home. The expense of cultivating land of higher degrees of fertility is trifling, and it can, therefore, be afforded at a price so low as to induce foreigners to purchase it notwithstanding the increase of cost generated by the conveyance of so bulky an article to any considerable distance. It is paid for generally in manufactured produce. A nation becomes an importer of corn, when its population has so increased as to consume not only the produce of its better soil, but that of some of inferior quality; the expenses of cultivation are thereby increased, the price is raised, and an importation of foreign corn, grown at a cheap rate, becomes a profitable business. The former was the situation of Great Britain up to the middle of the last century; its exports exceeded its imports of corn ; but about the year 1773 it gradually became an importing country, and would have still continued constantly increasing its imports, had not laws been passed, in latter times at least, which impeded its progress in this respect. The advantages which accrue from this intercourse with foreign states are, that a regular supply of food is obtained ; that the fluctuations of seasons are much less felt, than where a nation is dependent on a limited territory for its supply, that the price of labor, by which the beneficial employment of capital is regulated, is kept more nearly on a par with that of foreign countries that a trade advantageous to both parties is carried on, each parting with its surplus produce to the furtherance of their mutual inter, ests; and that kindly feelings, and what may be termed natural alliances, are formed between foreign and independent states redounding to the benefit of each. Where the intercourse is inter, rupted by law, the reverse of this takes place; the supply is rendered precarious; the fluctuations of seasons are felt with accumulated pressure; the price of labor is interfered with raised at home and depressed abroad, trade is checked, and feelings of hos
tility take place, leading to such retaliatory laws as still further tend to derange its operation, while no reliance can be placed on the assistance, so valuable in times of war, and which may naturally be expected between foreign nations, where a beneficial commercial intercourse is carried on.
This is not theory only, but abundantly established by the experience of the last fifty years in this country. I have already stated, that our present system of corn laws is not an adherence to an ancient scheme of policy, but a flagrant deviation from it. A cursory view of the former law will establish this position. The principle of the law regulating the import of corn which continued in force from the year 1773 to 1815 was as follows: there was one high duty of 24s. 3d. per quarter, and two low duties, one of 2s 6d. and the other of a 6d. per quarter. These were payable by that law in the following ratio : the high duty while the price at home was under 44s. per quarter, the first low duty from 44s. to 48s., and the second low duty when it had reached 48s. This law continued in force until 1791, when the duties remaining the same, the rate at which they came into force was changed, substituting 50s. for 44s., and 54s. for 48s. Wheat, therefore, would be imported on the payment of 2s. 6d. per quarter, when its price had reached 50s. and at 6d. when it rose to 545. In 1804, these prices were again raised to 60s. and 63s. This law, it appears, never prevented an import of wheat into Great Britain, except, perhaps, for three or four years in the earlier part of the period alluded to. The price always rose up to that at which the low duties were payable, and virtually gave us a free trade in corn, subject to a duty of 2s. 6d. per quarter at most, and generally of only 6d. It is thus clear, that the present system, which consists of prohibition to import foreign corn, except at prices rarely obtained, and which may, in truth, be considered as those of scarcity, is an innovation on the former system of our corn law. It remains to be seen how far this innovation is or is not a beneficial one. But first let us pause, and consider whether there ever was a period in the history of this or any other country exhibiting a greater degree of prosperity than Great Britain enjoyed during the forty-two years I have mentioned. When has capital so increased ? when have manufactures so multiplied? when has a revenue, and a revenue too paid with equal ease to the people, been so augmented; when have works of art, roads, bridges, eanals, harbors, been constructed with equal facility ? when has military glory and political ascendancy been carried to so high a pitch? and when, and this is perhaps the main point in the present inquiry, when has agriculture florished to a similar extent ? - Look at the wastes inclosed, at the draining effected-consider the vast improve
ments which have taken place in husbandry, and calculate the prodigious augmentation of rents, and then say, whether or not this was a period of great and general national prosperity. I wish not to carry my argument too far, and I will admit that an impediment to import corn arose in the later years of the late war, from its extent and its peculiar features. I will admit, that this and the variations of the currency will explain, in some measure, the high price of agricultural produce, and the consequent high rents : but, making every deduction on these heads, I am clearly of opinion that the period I have named was one of great agricultural prospe, rity, and this prosperity was in no measure owing to the laws respecting the admission of foreign corn: it sprung from that source from whence alone real agricultural prosperity can spring, namely, the healthy and prosperous state of the other interests of the coun, try—from increasing capital and augmenting population.
But it is time to consider the effects of the present law. The principle of the law passed in 1915 was, that all intercourse with foreign countries in grain should cease, unless the prices rose 50 high as to evince the necessity of foreign supply ; that the trade in corn should not be, as it had been heretofore, the rule, but the exception; that the home demand should, except in extraordinary cases, be supplied by the home produce. Now, this it had been found could only be accomplished by the existence of high prices; and notwithstanding the parade of patriotism then put forth by the advocates of this system, it was obvious that high prices and high rents were the objects sought to be obtained by this law. Never, perhaps, in an enlightened country, was an order of things establîshed more at variance with common sense and sound policy than the one introduced by this law. It established a monopoly, but failed in producing that essential ingredient of all monopolies, a limitation of quantity of the article monopolized; an omission which would be utterly destructive of any monopoly, but which, as I shall endeavor to show, was pre-eminently absurd and vicious in the commerce of grain. Practical men will surely allow the necessity of such limitation. The object of monopoly is to raise the price of a given article beyond the rate at which it would be sold without it. Price, however, is regulated by the demand and the supply. It is obvious that, in order to realize your object, you must not allow the supply to exceed the demand; if you do, no law
you can pass will be effectual for its accomplishment. Prices must fall: and it has been proved, that a very trifling excess of the supply over the demand will effect it. I say practical men cannot but accede to the truth of this obvious proposition), and it is always acted on. The Dutch merchants destroyed a portion of the spices grown in the Eastern Archipelago, in order to secure to themselves