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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 prosperity, 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 country-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 1815 was, that all intercourse with foreign countries in grain should cease, unless the prices rose so 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 established 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 ne cessity 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
the advantage of the monopoly they possessed in this article. The fishmongers of London have often pursued the same course. At the period of agricultural distress in 1821 or 1822, a proposition was made at one of the county meetings held generally at that period, to destroy, in some way or other, a portion of the surplus produce then in the farmers' hands. I have no recollection how this was proposed to be accomplished, and I cannot be supposed an advocate for so singular a proceeding; but I have no hesitation in saying, that if it had been possible, it was a more sensible proposition than those commonly adopted at such meetings-more sensible, at least, if the monopoly system was to be preserved. If I were an advocate for its continuance, I should be most anxious to see a burning clause added to the law, that should consign to the flames the excess, when the supply exceeded the demand, because in that way only can I see the possibility of the object being attained.
The distress of the period I have alluded to was, if not produced, fearfully aggravated by the system established by that law; and if it be allowed to continue in existence, it is, I think, obvious, we shall again, at no distant period, be exposed to a similar calamity. The state doctors have in truth thrown their patient, the agriculturist, into a state much resembling an ague, subject to hot and cold fits, and, in mockery, they miscall it protection:—a fatal misnomer, which, carrying with it, as it does, the force of an argument, has done more mischief to the world than any other single word ever used. Protection forsooth! can that be protection which strips the industrious farmer of his hard-earned capital? can that be protection which exposes the mass of the people to famine? can that be a beneficial system which deranges the trade of the whole world, and exposes to hazard the wealth, the power, the importance in the scale of nations of this, with all its faults, the most virtuous and the most blessed of any country in existence ?
But I have said this abortive attempt at monopoly is more injurious in the corn trade than in any other. It is so, because corn is itself in a great measure the regulator of its own cost; a high price of corn leads to high rents, high tithes, high rate of labor, high poor rates; it demands more capital to stock a farm. All the various charges incurred by the farmer are, as all farmers know, augmented by the price of corn continuing high for a period of two or three consecutive years. This extra-expense has been incurred previous to the fall in price occurring consequent on an abundant harvest; it cannot be checked at once, and even if it could, there is nothing wherewith to indemnify the farmer for the money already expended in producing his crops. He calculated on a continuance of high price; his agreements of various kinds
were contingent on it-they are binding on him, though the data on which he entered into them are totally changed. The consequence of which is, that one season of agricultural distress sweeps off numbers of the poorer farmers, and that if it continue beyond that period, as it most commonly does when it once begins, the whole farming body feel it most severely.
It cannot be too often repeated, that great fluctuations in price are injurious to no interest more than to the agricultural. A monopoly in any other article, if it fail, is productive of injury to the persons engaged in its production; but they have the power of control; they can cease to produce until the excess is worked off: nor does the high or low price of the produce affect, as in the case of the farmer, the price of labor and the other charges incident to such production.
If the manufacturers of cloth or hats possess the monopoly of the home market, and that, owing either to competition or false calcu lation, the market is overstocked, all they have to do is to limit their manufacture until the excess is worked off, and prices have attained their former level. But the farmer cannot do this, or at least he cannot do it with any thing like the same facility; his produce depends on seasons, over which he has no control; his capital must be employed; it consists in part of live stock, which must be fed whether they tend to further production or not. He has engagements to meet, which allow not of any diminution of his produce, however low it may be sold; and the first effect of a change from low to high price, is a greater, and not a lessened growth of grain. It is in this way the poor farmer tries to meet his engagements; he finds himself on the brink of ruin, he disregards the common maxims of prudence, and he breaks through all his covenants, to save himself and his family from being precipitated from the respectable station of an English farmer into the class below him, if not into the abject condition of a pauper.
I shall be charged perhaps with attributing all fluctuations in price to the law, overlooking those which arise from natural causes. I am far from doing so, it is because the farming business is exposed more than any other to these natural fluctuations, that I especially complain of those factitious ones introduced by the law. Almost all great evils which afflict particular interests in a state, spring from a complication of causes,-erroneous legislation then only produces its full effect, when it acts in conjunction with some of the various changes to which the affairs of men are exposed, as in the human body the sufferings are the most acute, and the danger the greatest when natural weakness has been increased by accident, or exasperated by injudicious treatment: and, in the case before us, it is the height of folly to aggravate by law the flucVOL. XXVIII. Pam. NO, LV.
tuations to which the agricultural interest is, under all circumstances, exposed. There is, too, this distinction to be drawn between the two cases, fluctuations in price, arising from natural causes, carry with them a certain principle of compensation: if, in a natural state of things, prices fall on account of abundance, there may be distress amongst the farmers; but there is the additional quantity of produce in his hands to mitigate the evil. This fall, too, is from a less height; but if you have by law screwed up prices to an unnatural elevation, and they suddenly fall, it is clear you aggravate the evil in a tenfold ratio. He may have, as in the former case, the additional produce; but the compensation for the greater fall will be sought for in vain by this advantage. The fall of price from 80s. per quarter to 40s. is a very different thing from the fall from 60s. to 40s., and the difference constitutes often the ruin of the farmer. Besides, this fluctuation of price may arise without there being an abundant produce: suppose speculation, founded on erroneous data, to have raised prices to the import price, it is clear that the warehouses would be emptied of all their foreign grain, and that large imports would take place, and the larger because the time is limited by law for its admission, unless the high price continues what would be the result? A great fall in price, without any compensation to the farmer for increased produce. An error or a fraud, in taking the averages by which the import price is fixed, might produce a similar result. It is proper to mention, that the law passed in 1815 has already been changed to a certain extent. It has fixed 70s. instead of 80s. as the import price, but it has added high duties which did not exist before; and when the actual state of the currency, compared with that of 1815, is taken into account, the present can hardly be considered a more favorable law to the country than that of 1815. The principle of excluding foreign corn, except in seasons of scarcity, still remains unchanged.
If such then be the consequences of the low fit of the ague to the agriculturists, what are those of the high fit?-periods, I mean, of high price. No doubt, the landlord and clergy are benefited. by it; and great, if this state were permanent, I admit, would be the benefit to them; but do the other classes constituting the agricultural interest participate in it? This is much more questionable. How stands the case with respect to the farmer at rack-rent? During the period of the rise he is benefited; but no sooner has it taken place, than all his charges, as I have before stated, rise in exact proportion to the elevation which prices have attained. It is a flagrant error to imagine that his net profits are at all greater under a high than under a low price; indeed, if the subject were accurately investigated, I am convinced the very reverse would be found to be the fact. A permanent rise in the price of food leads,
as a necessary consequence, to a rise in that of labor, and a diminution of profits, in which the farmer, as a capitalist, participates. But this is rather an abstruse point; and as my wish is to consider this subject at present plainly and practically, I will not pursue it. The interest, too, of the landlord is contingent on the permanency of the high price; and if it be true that this system subjects the country to great fluctuation of price, the question assumes a very different shape. Whether I understand my own interest or not, I will not decide; but, as a landed proprietor, I hesitate not to affirm that it is not advanced by high prices, when with those high prices a principle of fluctuation is also introduced. High price gives me higher rent it is true, but then I have to pay dearer for nearly every article of my consumption; and I pay away with one hand a considerable portion of what I received with the other. This is an important consideration. The balance of advantage is, however, I own, on the side of the landlord; but then comes a period of agricultural distress, arising from a considerable fall of prices. What is the result? Why, great arrears, great abatements, considerable deterioration of property, and those embarrassments which arise from an anticipation of income to meet engagements already contracted. Perhaps there is nothing more injurious to an individual than the being led to calculate on a larger income than he actually receives; it almost invariably gives rise to great pecuniary embarrassment, and this is the consequence of prices high generally, though liable to great variations. The clergy are in some respects placed in a similar condition to the landlord; but with this essential difference, that they feel not, in any thing like the same degree, the consequences of the deterioration of land contingent on periods of agricultural distress. Buildings, gates, hedges, as we well know, suffer at such times from neglect, and these fall entirely on the landlord.
There is another point, too, in which the interest of these classes is like that of the rest of the community, seriously affected by the system pursued with respect to corn, and that is, its effect on the burden of taxation. I mean not the amount of revenue collected, but the pressure with which it falls on individuals: that pressure is clearly dependent on the wealth of the people, in other words, on the amount of capital a nation possesses. Ireland, with a popu lation of six or seven millions, groans under a taxation of three or four millions; Great Britain, with a population of at most fourteen millions, pays, without difficulty, fifty millions. Why is this? Because Ireland is miserably poor, and Great Britain very rich. Supposing it necessary to keep up the same amount of revenue, how can the pressure be lightened to the tax payer? Clearly in no other way than by augmenting the wealth of the