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MR HUSKISSON'S SPEECH ON THE SHIPPING INTEREST.
Ir the interests of the Shipowners had nothing to do with the interests of the empire, we know not that we could employ our pen more meritoriously, than in taking their part in the question between them and the Government. When a very large number of his Majesty's subjects complain, that mea sures of the Ministry have reduced them to distress and ruin, and pray for permission to prove the truth of their complaints to Parliament; the Press is bound, by the principles on which its existence as a good is defended, to constitute itself their ad
But the interests of the Shipowners are the interests of the empire. If the question raised upon them, did not involve the distress of a single soul, it would nevertheless be one of the very highest national importance. If it did not affect individual fortune-if it did not touch the bread of industry-if it had no connexion with the sources of trade and riches-it would still be this question-IS THE BRITISH EM
PIRE TO RETAIN ITS SUPREMACY ON THE OCEAN, AND TO BE PRESERVED FROM DISMEMBERMENT?
Such, we say, is the question which the Shipowners have raised, separating it wholly from their personal interests. When, in addition to this, it maniVOL. XXII.
festly involves the fortunes and bread of a large portion of the community, and has powerful direct bearing on the commerce and wealth of the nation, it will be readily conceded, that a more important public question could not be propounded.
The Shipowners consist of men of all parties and creeds, and no party could benefit itself by espousing their cause. They have, therefore, been strictly confined to merits. They have not been able to appeal on party principles to the Whigs, or the Tories; the Catholics or the Protestants. They have been bound to a plain recital of facts, a description of the causes and extent of their distress, and a prayer, not that Parliament would act upon their mere assertions and opinions, but that it would receive such proofs of the truth of their allegations as they were prepared to offer, and then act according to its own judgment.
The circumstance, that the Shipowners were thus demonstrably separated from party feelings and interests, ought to have gained them the attention of all parties. But it unfortunately happened that their distress overthrew the doctrines which all parties had sanctioned. Every party, therefore, had an interest in opposing them.
The Press, which is at present both a disgrace and a scourge to the country, has heaped a mass of scurrility on the Shipowners, because they have been actuated by personal interest. They have been so actuated undoubtedly, but for what object? To obtain deliverance from loss and distress-to save their property from destructionto preserve themselves and their families from ruin. Because they have been incited by personal interest to labour to do this, they have been stigmatised as men destitute of principle, and utterly unworthy of being listened to by Parliament and the country. This very personal interest formed the most powerful, equitable, and constitutional claim they could have had on the Legislature for attention and relief.
themselves against the Shipowners; or to admit that they had promulgated erroneous principles, and assisted to make destructive changes.
The Ministry and House of Commons were, of course, accused parties, instead of being disinterested judges. Personal interest commanded them to decide against the Shipowners, without any reference to the merits of the question; no matter how true and just the complaints of the Shipowners might be, they had a powerful personal interest in pronouncing them to be false and unjust.
The Press-the polluted and unprincipled Press-had a mighty interest in taking the part of its disciples and masters. The Visionary could not do otherwise than defend his own ruinous doctrines-the Party-tool could not resign the benefits he drew from party-the Sycophant could not sacrifice the dinners and promises of his patron-the Adventurer could not so far forget himself as to draw his pen for the Shipowners from whom he could gain nothing, when, by so doing, he would give mortal offence to official men and party leaders, who had everything to bestow. Lord Goderich lately thought good to boast of the independence of the Press; he might as well have boasted of the independence of the galley-slave; for the one is as independent as the other. The Press is not the less bought, because it is not bought as cattle are in Smithfieldmarket. Where is the publication which dare follow principle to the injury of its sale? Where is the writer who dare sacrifice the favour of the public men on whom he depends for preferment? Where is the scribe, who is sufficiently honest to render himself obnoxious to the leaders of every party, to resign his ambition, and to cast from him his only hope of making friends and bettering his fortune,-merely for the sake of his country? Such publications and writers exist, but they form the trifling exception. The officer who hazards his life for his country in the army, or navy, can hope for the reward which virtuous ambition may justly pant for; but the political writer, who ha zards what is dearer to him than life for his country against party, is sure, by so doing, to blast his prospects, and to close to himself every avenue to
And now what is the character of that interest by which their opponents have been influenced? The existence of their distress proved that Ministers had acted very unwisely; if their allegations touching the causes had been proved before Parliament, this would have proved that Mr Huskisson, and his colleagues, had inflicted a vital injury on the empire, and were utterly unfit to remain in office. Mr Huskisson, and his official brethren stood, as public men, in the situation of him who is arraigned at the Old Bailey for a capital felony. The distress, and the evidence touching its causes, formed a charge, which, if substantiated, would have been sufficient for depriving them of official reputation and existence. They were therefore impelled by personal interest to underrate the distress, conceal the causes, and resist inquiry, to the utmost. The personal interest which influenced them, was of so vicious a character, that Parliament ought to have taken nothing from then upon trust-it ought to have been satisfied with no defence save one composed of unassailable proofs.
The parties of which the House of Commons consists, were committed with the Ministry. They had supported the abolition of the Navigation Laws; they had sanctioned the Reciprocity Treaties. In doing this, the Whigs and Radicals had been the foudest. They were therefore put upon their defence, as well as the Ministry. They were compelled to array
doned by every member of this House, and we shall now attempt to discharge it.
honours and preferment. For such a writer, his country can do nothing; party-favour must raise him, or partyhostility must ruin him. It unfortunately happens that the temptations and rewards, the pains and penalties, all combine to drag the political Press from honesty and patriotism. Speak ing generally, this Press, from its very nature, is made by trading profit, introductions, dinners, promises, and obligations, the unprincipled slave of party-leaders. When all party-leaders arrayed themselves against the Shipowners, it of course did the same; its interests imperiously commanded it to do so; by acting differently, it would have hazarded everything, with, out the hope of gaining anything.
The influence of personal interest was therefore as powerful on the one side as on the other. The Shipowners were the accusers, complaining of grievous wrongs;-the Ministry, Parliament, and the Press, were the accused, put upon their defence. It was ludicrous enough for Mr Huskissonthe Minister who would have been annihilated by public indignation if the allegations of the Shipowners had been established before Parliament-to declaim against the Shipowners for being actuated by interest, just as though he had been a judge perfectly disin terested and impartial.
General Gascoigne's motion came on at a very unfortunate moment. The new Ministry had just been formed, and it was felt by itself and its friends, that the smallest concession to the Shipowners would injure its character and go far towards its annihilation. The heads of the new Opposition were pledged against the motion. Party excitement was at the highest pitch, and it was wholly in favour of the Ministry. The hearty zeal of General Gascoigne, and the manly, independent conduct of Mr Liddell deserve the highest praise; but they had no supporters. We wish heartily, that the ability displayed by Mr Liddell had been reserved for a reply to Mr Huskisson. The House of Commons, as a whole, desired no discussion-it desired to hear Mr Huskisson, and him only-and it was prepared to believe everything he advanced. He spoke, and, of course, his speech was uproar iously applauded as unanswerable. The duty of examining it was aban
Before proceeding to the case of the Shipowners, the Right Honourable Gentleman adverts with great triumph to the condition of the Silk Trade. He states that notwithstanding the predictions which were put forth touching the ruin of this trade, "The House (last year) resolved to abide the result of the alteration which was then about to take place"-that the new law came into operation-that notwithstanding this the Silk Trade suffered less from the distress of the times than any other extensive manufacture, and is now in prosperity. His assertions are, in substance, that not the least change was made in the law which was attacked and petitioned against; they will bear no other meaning.
The plain, naked facts of the case are these.
In 1824, a law was passed which permitted foreign wrought silks to be imported for home consumption into every port in the kingdom at an ad valorem duty of thirty per cent. This law, we say, was then passed; it was placed in the statute book as a finished law, but it was not to come into operation until July 1826.
It was this law, this passed and finished law, which was attacked by the silk manufacturers, ourselves, and others.
This was the law against which the motion of Mr Ellice was directed in the session of 1826. Mr Huskisson met this motion with a negative; he declared the allegations of the silk manufacturers to be untrue, and covered them with insult. Mr Canning proclaimed, that those who had taken the part of the silk manufacturers were utterly destitute of both reason and honesty. The House of Commons decided by an immense majority, that the law should not be altered.
Immediately after, Mr Huskisson cast this law-this law which had been so long passed and finished-to the winds. He actually abolished it, and substituted for it a new one. The new law PROHIBITED Continental silks from entering every port in Great Britain, save London, for a year; by altering the mode of levying the duty, it raised this duty on different articles to 35, 40, 15, and 50 per cent. This
bankruptcy of two or three silk ma nufacturers; the manufacturers generally were sustaining heavy losses; immense numbers of the workmen were wholly deprived of employment; those who could obtain work could barely earn what would preserve them from famishing. The Silk Trade was brought to the condition which had been predicted.
What was the cause? At the moment when the ruin and distress began, the silk-mercers suspended their purchases. They did this solely on account of the expected change. Up to the time for the admission of foreign silks, they bought only from hand to mouth, that they might be out of stock when such silks were admitted. For a long time before this admission, the consumers of silks suspended their purchases as far as possible, solely on account of it. Under any circumstan ces, if the country had generally been in the greatest prosperity, this would have been sufficient to involve the Silk Trade in ruin and distress.
When this new law was in progress through Parliament, Mr Huskisson stated that the Silk Manufacturers were satisfied with it-that his alterations had removed their objections.
Nevertheless he labours to make the country believe, that the law now in operation, is the one which was attacked and petitioned against: he labours to make the country believe that the predictions touching the first law have been falsified, when it was never suffered to have operation, but was replaced by one which carries restriction to the verge of prohibition.
But have the predictions respecting the ruin and distress been falsified?
When it is said that a trade will be ruined by any particular measure, no one understands this to mean, that every member of it will be ruined, and that the trade will be annihilated in a few weeks, or months. The meaning intended and understood is, that many members will be ruined, that the whole will be distressed, and that the trade will be grievously reduced -will be prevented from being ever again prosperous-will be brought to comparative ruin. An extensive trade, in being brought to this, will generally have occasional revivals; the work will be one of some years.
It is notorious, that, for more than a year, the Silk Trade was involved in ruin and distress. For several months, almost every gazette announced the
When foreign silks were admitted, prices and wages in this country had sustained a reduction of one third from the ruin and distress. Notwithstanding this, and the increased duty on foreign silks, our manufacturers could barely compete with the foreign ones; in some articles they were undersold by the latter. If the foreign silks had entered the market under the first law, or if they had entered it under the existing law, when the trade was in reasonable prosperity, and when prices and wages were what they had always been in times of reasonable prosperity, they would have brought as much ruin and distress upon the trade as it has suffer ed. If they had entered the market under the first law, they would speedily have destroyed the valuable branches of the trade.
Mr Huskisson asserts, that the Silk Trade suffered less distress than any other extensive manufacture; we are convinced that it suffered far more. Our conviction is grounded on the following fact. In 1824, there were cleared for home consumption 3,518,117 lbs. of raw silk; but in 1826, there were only cleared 1,964,188 lbs. The falling off in thrown silk, not dyed, was in a greater proportion. This is decisive, particularly when it is remembered that the distress existed