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We have been at some pains to make the proper inquiries, and we have learned, that the statements in an address published last August, by the frame-work knitters of Nottingham, and of which the following is an extract, are not in the slightest degree exaggerated. After working from 14 to 16 hours a
day, we only earn from 4s. to 7s. a week, to maintain our • wives and families upon; and we farther state, that although
we have substituted bread and water, or potatoes and salt, for
that more wholesome food an Englishman's table used to • abound with, we have repeatedly retired, after a heavy day's
labour, and been under the necessity of putting our children • supperless to bed, to stifle the cries of hunger. We can most
solemnly declare, that for the last eighteen months we have scarcely known what it was to be free from the pains of hunger.'
The population of the manufacturing districts cannot be estimated at less than two and a half, or three millions; and certainly it could not previously have been supposed, that so very numerous a body should have been cast down from their former comfortable condition, to that pitch of misery and wretchedness we have just described, without occasioning much more violent commotions than have actually taken place. The folly and the guilt of those who have had recourse to violence and depredation, cannot indeed be palliated; and must be repressed by suitable punishment. But the root of the distemper is not in the depraved character of the people, but in the miseries of their condition. The severe pressure of positive want and famine, and not the circulation of a few miserable pamphlets, has been the cause of all the discontent and disaffection of which we have heard so much. Give the weavers bread, or the means of acquiring it, and the traitorous schemes of the Radicals will vanish like the baseless fabric of a vision.' The distresses, and not the evil inclinations of the people, induced them, like drowning men, to catch at a straw, and to believe that the venerable Major's radical pill would purge away all their misery. * Had the lower classes been always familiar with workhouses, rags, and wretchedness, such privations might be submitted to in siIent despair. But the greater number of them have seen better days; and the change is consequently most hard to be borne.
* This is the opinion of the Manchester Magistrates themselves. In a communication to Lord Sidmouth, dated 1st July 1819, they state, that the manufacturing classes are involved in deep distress”; and when the people,' they observe,' are oppressed with hunger, we do not wonder at their giving car to any doctrines which they are told will redress their grievances,
If, therefore, Government be really desirous of restoring prosperity and tranquillity to the country, and of saving the great bulk of the people of Britain from all risk of being permanently reduced to the same hopeless and desperate condition as their brethren in Ireland, they must lose no time in adopting a different system from that on which they have hitherto acted. It is not by laws of additional severity, por by adding to the already enormous amount of the standing army, that the peace of society can be effectually restored. Harsh and coercive measures, by alienating the affections, and degrading the character of the people, may annihilate even the possibility of future improvement; but it is not in the nature of things, that they should mitigate or remove the real evils of which the people have at this moment so very great reason to complain.
But the mischief will not stop here.-Should the present system be persevered in, it will do more than perpetuate the discontents, and degrade the condition of the labourer. Neither the country gentlemen nor the fundholders must flatter themselves with the vain and delusive idea, that they shall be able to perpetuate their existence, and to continue quietly to enjoy their fortunes, in a country in which the greater portion of the inhabitants are poor and miserable, and where a compulsory provision for the support of the poor has been long organized. If the wealthier classes would save their fortunes from destruction, they must lend all the assistance in their power to those who are urging the necessity of abandoning that factitious and unnatural system which has caused so much misery. Nor is there a moment's time to be lost. The evils under which we now suffer will soon become incurable; and, ere long, the utmost efforts of the Government and the
people will be unable to stop the torrent of pauperism, and the efflux of capital. During the last fifteen years, the assessments for the support of the Poor have increased from four to TEN or TWELVE millions : But the cry for relief is notwithstanding louder and more pressing, at this, than at any former period. Far, indeed, from there being any ground whatever for considering this frightful progression as having approached its termination, it cannot fail to have been prodigiously accelerated. Paupers and Poor-laws act and react, produce and reproduce each other, in a geometrical progression. If this system be not effectually counteracted, or, which is the same thing, if the Poor be not enabled to provide for themselves, it will in a very few years infect all classes with the plague of universal poverty, and sink both high and low below the level of what was
originally lowest. Ministers, the other day, took it into their heads to suspend the Habeas Corpus act, because a cobler of the name of Spence had the temerity to affirm, that the land
the people's farm.' But the measures which they have supported and proposed will, much more than the eloquence of the renowned son of St Crispin, contribute to carry this levelling doctrine into effect. The paupers and tenants of workhouses, already share with the landlords of England, to the extent of nearly a half of the net rental of that kingdom : And, if matters are permitted to go on for the next seven years, as they have done for the last seven, none will be found hardy enough to deny the perfect accuracy of Spence's position; and Ministers will then be able to boast, that they have established a perfect agrarian system,--destroyed the inequality of fortunes, -and converted this once flourishing kingdom into one mighty workhouse!
This statement is not liable to the charge of exaggeration; though, if it were, the long continued and general distress to which the labouring classes in every part of the kingdom have been, and still are exposed, ought to be a sufficient reason to induce the Government and the other classes, instantly to come forward to assist them. The only difference of opinion that can possibly exist on the subject, must be confined to the question, of the manner in which this relief should be afforded. But we do not think that, even on this head, there is much room for controversy. Except as a temporary resourse, and we think it might be very advisable to afford some assistance in this way, no scheme for the relief of the Poor deserves one moment's consideration, if it has not for its object to render them independent of relief. Although ten or twenty millions were gratuitously distributed among the distressed workmen, it is clear, that if they are forced to spend it' as revenue, and are not enabled to invest it in any department of industry in which it will reproduce itself, their necessities must very soon be as great or greater than ever. Neither can the real wages of Jabour be increased, by any effort on the part of the State, to provide employment for the whole, or a part, of the unemployed workmen. On the contrary, such an attempt, however advantageous it might at first sight appear, could not fail to be most pernicious, and ultimately to increase the very evil it was designed to remedy. We may depend upon it, whatever capital is employed by the State, would have been employed in some other manner, had it been left in the possession of the individuals from whose funds it must of necessity have been de
rived. The only effect of the interference of Government in the employment of labour, is to give a factitious distribution to capital; and, consequently, to invest it in a less profitable manner, than if it had been left to be disposed of by its natural
But although Government cannot possibly increase the demand for labour, by interfering with the natural distribution of capital, we must not, therefore, give ourselves up to despair. There are other methods by which Ministers may accomplish this great object. It is universally admitted, that a falling off in the foreign demand for British manufactured produce, is the immediate cause of the present want of employment, and, consequently, of the low wages of the manufacturers. If the foreign market could not be extended, it is not easy to divine how we could escape from the abyss of poverty and misery into which we are fallen :--But, fortunately, we have this completely in our power.
Whatever obstructions the illiberal jealousy of foreign States may have thrown in the way of our in- . tercourse with them, and certainly we have no wish to underrate their importance, there can be no manner of doubt that we have suffered infinitely more from the officious and improper interference of our own Government. In regulating our intercourse with foreign countries, our rulers appear to have entirely forgotten, that there can be no selling without an equal buying: and by endeavouring to prevent the importation of comparatively cheap foreign commodities, for it is such only that either can or will be imported, they have effectually prevented the exportation of those which would have been exchanged for them. The time is now come when we must either abandon this exclusive and unnatural system, or submit to be deprived of that widely extended commerce which has hitherto afforded the means of subsistence to so large a proportion of our population, and been the main source of all our wealth and prosperity. The artificial protection which had at first been granted to a few branches of industry, has been urged as a valid reason by those engaged in other branches, why they should be placed in the same favoured situation. In this way, the restrictive and prohibitive system has at length interfered with the freedom of commerce in almost every department. We could fill half a dozen of
with the mere names of commodities whose importation is entirely prohibited; and as many more with the names of those, on which duties amounting in effect to a prohibition, and intended to act as such, have been imposed. When• ever,' said one of our most accomplished and intelligent mer
chants, the assistance of Government is called for by any class
of traders or manufacturers, it is usual to make the most splen• did display of the importance of that particular branch to the “ nation at large. The West and East India interests, the ship• owners, the manufacturers, the American merchants, &c. &c,
have all made these representations; but it should be recol• lected, that it is contrary to sound policy to advance one be
yond its natural means, and still more so when that must be • done at the expense of the others. If every law of regulation, • either of our internal or external trade, were repealed, with the • exception of those necessary for the collecting of the revenue, it
would be an undoubted benefit to commerce, as well as to the
community at large. An avowed system of leaving things to • their own course, and of not listening to the interested solici. tations of one class or another for relief, whenever the impru• dence of speculation has occasioned losses, would, sooner than
artificial remedy, reproduce that equilibrium of demand • and supply which the ardour of gain will frequently derange,
but which the same cause, when let alone, will as infallibly restore.
If any thing besides the distress and misery of which it has already been so productive, were wanting, to induce us to abandon our prohibitory system, and to consent gradually to recur to the sound principle of a free trade, it would be found in the effect which it has had on the policy of other nations. Instead of ascribing the commercial superiority of Great Britain to its true causes-to the comparative freedom of our constitutionthe absence of all oppressive feudal privileges, and our perfect security of property, our foreign rivals have re-echoed the sentiments of ministers, and contend that it has resulted entirely from the protection granted to our merchants and manufacturers, and urge our example to stimulate their respective governments to secure them against the effects of British competition. Nor have these applications been without effect. In 1817, the American legislature passed an act, copied to the very letter from our famous Navigation Law, with the avowed intention of its operating as a retaliatory measure against this country; and they have just passed another act prohibiting, under heavy penalties, all intercourse between the United States and the British West India Islands, because, as one of their orators expressed it, Great Britain would not allow a cock-boat, or any vessel belonging to
* Inquiry into the Causes and Consequences of the Orders in Council, by Alexander Baring Esq., M. P. p. 135.