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of the affairs of all the suspended houses ;-after all this, a Parliamentary inquiry.
We have taxed ourselves, and we have said-If we had the power of calling before us any man, and of asking him any question, whom should we call, and what question should we ask him, from his answer to which we should learn any fact material to our understanding the pecuniary state of England for some years past ?—and we have got no answer. At all events there must be two conditions precedent, if we are to have any confidence in the inquiry
1st. That no man shall be a member of the committee who has been a member of any previous committee on the subject, unless he can show that he has almost always voted in the minority.
2ndly. That no witness shall be examined by this committee who has ever been examined on this subject by any previous committee.
What is the use of Sir William Clay, and Mr. Samuel Jones Loyd, and Sir Charles Wood, and Mr. George Norman? They are effete--used up; the country has had what it can out of them they are done with. For nearly twenty years we have studied their doctrines—and have listened to their prophecies—and have been enlightened by their philosophy—and have shaped our legislation by their precepts—and the result has been a ludicrous failure. We do not include Sir R. Peel
We have no reason to think that his opinions have been or are more fixed on the subject of currency and credit than they have been on other subjects which have crossed his political career. We know nothing which should prevent Sir R. Peel from supporting free trade in credit, which is probably the next phase in which this subject will present itself seriously to the Legislature. On one point we must guard ourselves. We believe that Sir R. Peel will, under any circumstances, stoutly maintain the standard of 1819. If the effects of the measure of that year were such as Sir Robert Peel himself, in common with most other reasoners on the subject, has been accustomed to represent them, he cannot but be aware that the operation must have been attended with much injustice. This injustice arose solely from the circumstance—that, by a new law, pecuniary engagements were compelled to be liquidated by a standard which was not the standard by which the vast majority of them were entered into. There are those, indeed, who take a different view of the facts in connexion with the restoration of cash payments in 1819 from that taken by Sir Robert Peel, and contend that the standard of value was either not affected at all by that measure, or only in a very insignificant degree. Into that controversy we do not at present mean to enter. But how
ever the case may stand, there can be no doubt that the vast majority of unliquidated pecuniary engagements now existing have been contracted by the standard of 1819—and to compel the liquidation of them by a different standard would be to perpetrate deliberately the very injustice which, whether with or without exaggeration, has been ascribed to the Act of 1819. To this Sir R. Peel can never give his consent.
But the question recurs-Are these distressing fluctuations inevitable, or may they be prevented by legislation? It will assist us much in answering this question, if we understand exactly what it is which we want to effect. What we want to effect is, that there should be an uniform or nearly uniform return for capital in this country. Nothing short of this will do. Does any existing law prevent this from being the case? We are not aware of any
law which prevents a man from investing his capital regularly as he makes it, or which compels or encourages him to hoard or half-hoard it at one time, and to embark it in a rash speculation at another. If so, there is nothing to repeal. The effects, whatever they be, are produced by the spontaneous action of the public. We dare say our readers will some of them remember for how many years all the most renowned of our statesmen professed that the main object of a corn-law was to give a steady price of wheat, and that the amount of that price was comparatively an object of indifference. Many people say now that each of the laws passed with this object failed more than its predecessor. Without at present re-discussing this question, we may very safely say that no law has failed as much as the worst of them. We give an example not more for the facts than the feel. ing. An agricultural friend of ours, an old farmer aged seventy, grew in one field in the year 1845 a quantity of wheat, which he stacked on one frame in three partitions. July and the very beginning of August brought, in 1846, harvest even in the midland counties. Our friend said that there was a splendid harvest splendidly got, that the potato failure was a humbug, that he had been assured from Liverpool that the harvest in America was miraculous, and that wheat would be immediately 35s. per quarter. So he hustled out one-third of his stack, and sold it at 46s. But almost before he could deliver it, wheat had risen to 608 , which damped his ardour of selling. Between harvest and Christmas wheat crept on to 80s. Then it hung till in April we think it took that extraordinary jump which drove it up in some places to 140s. per quarter. Our friend got out another one-third of his stack, and sold it at 118s. per quarter. The purchaser pressed to have the remainder, but our friend said No! it was plain there was not food enough in the world; that they could not find it; that if he was
wrong he should hurt nobody but himself, and that if he was right they would be glad enough of his corn; that at all events he had once sold wheat at 160s. per quarter, and that he should like to sell it at that price once more before he died.' The last compartment of the stack he sold about harvest-time 1847, without any remark about markets, but saying that he wanted the frame to set his new wheat on. Could anything be more childish or absurd than our friend's reasons for selling on either occasion ? He did not invent them. God bless him! he never invented anything. He learnt them at the market-table. They were the concentrated wisdom of the Corn Exchanges of London, Liverpool, and Hull. Their all but universal acceptation was the reason why wheat was 46s. in July and 118s. in April. They were acted upon; and ruined a good percentage of the corn-trade. In investigating a matter of this sort philosophically, private feeling must be laid aside. When eighteen millions of people (we allow two millions for Ireland) carry on nearly half the commerce of the world, there must be many and most deplorable failures. But we know no people fitter to fail than these. They are exactly the men who create panics. We are afraid that on all such occasions very extensive failures are the only safeguard for the public. If for five years no fires should occur in London, all the insurance-offices would be shut up, the fire-brigade would be dismissed, or would have become inefficient, the engines would be out of repair, and on the first fire London would be burned down. If for five years in England there were no failures, if every man paid promptly twenty shillings in the pound, in the sixth year the whole city would go smash, and the public credit with it. We have thus insinuated a negative reply to the question, Can these fluctuations be put down by act of parliament? and we have suggested another question, Ought we to put them down if we could? to which, as we are convinced that we could not, we shall decline to give a direct answer.
Of the suspension by the Executive of the Bill of 1844, we will only say that we never could see its applicability to the evil which it proposed to remedy. What the gentlemen in London and Liverpool really wanted was, some one who would lend them money at rather less interest, would take rather worse security and rather longer dates. What the Chancellor offered them at 8 they got already at 6 or 7 per cent. No doubt the knowledge that Government had interfered would produce a very considerable effect. Many people would be ready to say, We have now to use a Lancashire phrase-taken stock of these gentlemen; we have got a measure of their timidity. This remedy will do nothing. Another turn of the screw, and they must try someVOL. LXXXII. NO. CLXIII.
thing else ; and it will take but a few turns before we come to paying our debts with less than twenty-three grains and a fraction of gold in the pound sterling.
One word as to the other expedients which have been proposed. The first was that all the cotton-factories should discharge their hands, and stop working for several weeks. Cotton was stated to be scarce, and an unwise competition was going on for its possession. Cotton was scarce, and all the cotton-spinning nations in the world were struggling for it; so the proposal of these wiseacres was, that we should withdraw from the contest, and allow the manufacturers of Lowell and Rouen to buy it at their own price!
The next proposal was, that all railway works in course of construction should be suspended. We will not enter into the contest between trade and rail. We are inclined to think that one party had the loudest of the outcry, and the other got most of the money. The complaint against railways was, that they fixed capital which ought to be left floating for the ' support the trade of the country'-—a wide phrase. What trade? Not the import trade. For what says the apostle of the crusade against railways? He tells us, in a solemn warning, that we have imported a great deal too much: that we have indulged in tea, and coffee, and sugar, and figs to a degree which we could not afford : that we must consume less: that we must reduce our expenditure-not, he says, our public expenditure—for that must be increased—but our private expenditure. So the support is not wanted for the import trade. It is not wanted for the cottontrade, for too fierce a competition already exists for the small stock which remains of the raw material. Surely it was not wanted to stimulate the iron-trade, when all railway works were about to be suspended. But we are falling into the case of a Scotch minister, who, having taken for his text, . Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah,' asked his congregation if they knew what this great fish was?' and, without giving them time to reply, indulged the humour which was in him by making several most improbable guesses— Aiblins (perhaps) it was a troot ? — Aiblins it was a sprat’
- Aiblins it was a saumont;' and by giving most conclusive reasons against each of them. An old woman, who could stand this trifling no longer, roared out from the middle of the congregation, • Aiblins, meenister, it was a wawl!' So we, without further trifling, must take the word out of the mouth of these advocates of trade, and say that the support wanted, and so clamorously demanded, was support to houses, who, carrying on their business either without capital, or with a capital totally incommensurate to the magnitude
of their engagements, were in danger of stopping the moment their credit was curtailed. And we are far from saying that this was an improper object. Our previous remarks will have shown our opinion that the system of using credit as capital has been carried to an outrageous and dishonest extent. We believe the only corrective to be, that the parties who have most transgressed should suffer, and be for an example. But we by no means think that the suddenness of the correction can with safety be made proportionate to the magnitude of the evil. We by no means say, that to divert the means by which many houses, even commercially unworthy, may, in a crisis like this, be propped and supported, is unattended with danger. Having given this opinion, we must state the strong case for a railway. The company have expended one million, for which, from the day their railway opens, they will receive a net income of 7 per cent. The return may be stated with confidence, for the calculations of respectable companies bave seldom been falsified. But before they can open, and receive one sovereign, they must lay out another halfmillion. We will not trouble our readers with the calculation, but they will find that, commercially, the railway company will be better off by giving 10 per cent. for half a million now than by waiting two years and then getting it at 5 per cent.; and this without making any allowance for the dilapidation which begins to take place on railway work the moment it is suspended. And what is the case of the country through which the railway passes? The roads and lands are cut into ribands : communications, water-courses, fences, everything is temporary, not meant to last for two years—in fact, altered from week to week as the work progresses.
Then everybody is preparing for the change. Coach-proprietors have been wearing out their carriages, and harness, and horses. Everything and everybody connected with the old communications is at the lowest ebb.
We must say that we think the claim for this half-inillion is irresistible.
We have thus stated the main facts of three great pecuniary struggles. We have hinted at the means by which the Legislature has endeavoured to anticipate or to combat them. We have also made some allusion to the remedies which have been recently, and may still be, floating in the public mind. We will now take one of these periods, and will briefly advert to what are the real dimensions of the evil. Of the ihree periods, that which, but for one circumstance, we should say, with some confidence, is now passing away, we believe to have been much the most severe.
Being also the most recent, we are of course best acquainted with the facts which have attended it. We say then, that this struggle, and its consequent suffering, has, as far as England is