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(neither of which circumstances are improbable), the most serious and irremediable mischief might be induced by want of caution in so important a subject. It is very well known, and you candidly admit the fact, 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."
You lay great stress on the propriety of conciliating the good opinion of the manufacturing population, by acceding to an alteration in the corn-laws; and you apostrophise the agricultural community to agree to their wishes with a seriousness and pathos which are hardly justified by the benefit which you assume will be produced by such alteration. But are they not warranted in doing their utmost to prevent any changes being made in the present system, without a guarantee against the evils which may be produced by them? Is it not fair to expect that when their existence as an important part of society is at stake, something more than specious assurances should be afforded, that the changes so urgently demanded will not be injurious? A portion even of morbid apprehension may be excusable in men who still smart under recent suffering; and in whose minds, perhaps, a little dread may likewise be produced, on comparing the ardor with which changes are pressed with the small advantages which, according to ostensible calculations, they are likely to effect. They may be inclined to suspect some ulterior, unknown, and deleterious influence, beyond that which is represented to them; for I am inclined to think, that if a guarantee could be given that no more importation than 600,000 quarters would, under ordinary circumstances, take place, their fears would be considerably removed.
Now, with regard to the reasonableness of these fears, I would observe, that though great attention is due to the interesting information, which Mr. Jacob has furnished relative to the probable quantity of grain to be afforded by the Baltic, there are many circumstances which may affect its accuracy, and materially alter or modify the expected results.
In the first place, corn has always been capable of being procured in very much more than the ordinary quantity, when there was a great demand and a large price. In the years 1801, 1802, 1811, 1818, and 1819, the average excess of importation above exportation, exclusive of Ireland, was 1,283,941 quarters of wheat; though the average excess of importation above exportation for twenty years, from 1801 inclusive, was 543,179 quarters, and setting aside the five years of large importation, 369,976 only. The average price of the three first mentioned years was respec
tively, 113s. 7d., 118s. 9d., and 106s. 2d.; but of the year 1817, 94s. 9d., and of 1818, 84s. 1d. Here, therefore, was an example of a difference of no less than 34s. 8d. between the inducements thus afforded to the importation of corn into this country; and we are hardly capable of demonstrating, in such a way as to remove the necessity of caution, that after the long period at which importation into this country has been prevented, no glut could, under any circumstances, again overwhelm the English market; particularly if Mr. Jacob's calculations (as I have before observed) be a little erroneous, or the next harvest in this country be very favorable.
We do not hear unfrequently of goods being sold at a loss, under an urgent demand for money; and though this will not affect the general interests of trade, (for it is clear that no trade will be long-carried on without gain), yet it may have an unfavorable operation at a particular period. So it is with a trade in corn; and it is only by insuring, at the commencement of a new system, against an overwhelming glut, that any material changes in the corn-laws are admissible. Duties, in this case, ought to be viewed as experiments; but it would be very unphilosophical, in instituting experiments, to contemplate and to be prepared for one particular result only.
The Agricultural Committee of 1821, whose Report is distinguished by great judgment and moderation, were alive to the dangers of a glut of foreign corn, after the ports had been shut only thirty months. They have now been shut (except during a short period for oats) for more than three times that period; and the market price of any corn which may be accumulated in consequence, cannot now any more than at that time, as the Committee very properly observes, be considered "as the measure of the cost at which it has been produced, or of the rate at which it can be afforded by the foreign grower, but the result of a general glut of the article, of a long want of demand, and of the extreme distress and heavy loss on the part of those by whom it has been raised, and of those by whom it is now held, either in the warehouses of the Continent or of this country."
You consider the adoption of an improved principle in legislation as important; and you view as a public benefit, the dismissal from our code of certain laws which you regard as injurious, as contrary to common sense and sound judgment, and as deranging the natural and most beneficial order of things. It surely, then, can be of little moment, at what precise period, whether a year or two sooner or later, so salutary a change as that which you recommend in those laws comes into full and complete operation.
You admit that we are legislating "somewhat in the dark;" you allow that all calculations relative to the influence of certain changes on the price of corn "are liable to considerable error," and that "nothing but experience can decide the exact level at which prices would settle, after the existence of the trade for so long a period, as to have produced its full effects." I am justified, therefore, in the expectation, that in waiting for this experience the agricultural community shall not be placed in a state of unnecessary peril.
It is an ungracious sort of discussion to compare the respective importance of different classes of society. Both parties, perhaps, think too strongly on this subject, and magnify to an undue extent their own consequence. All, however, agree in considering our home trade as the most valuable to the country; and a very little consideration will evince to any one, who is at the trouble to examine the question, how much the prosperity of this trade is connected with the fair position in society of the landholder, farmer, and all who are connected with them in the various meanderings and ramifications, into which the landed interest is spread.
The merchant, manufacturer, and tradesman possess more rank and importance in this country than any other. Their talents and energy merit this distinction; but with the rise which they have obtained in the scale of society, it is no wonder that the Agricultural Committee, "looking to the institutions of the country, in their several bearings and influence in the practice of our constitution, should be in a high degree anxious to preserve to the landed interest, the weight, station, and ascendency which it has enjoyed so long, and used so beneficially."
It may be said, that the elevation of the agricultural interest, by the profits of land, has been, of late years, more in proportion than that of other 'classes. It is quite certain, that though it did not profit by the loans, contracts, and other good things, which have poured wealth so lavishly among mercantile men, and by almost the monopoly of the trade of the world, which the latter so long possessed, agriculturists enjoyed, for a few years, an important advantage in the high price of agricultural produce, and in the increased value which this, and an improved system of cultivation, afforded to them. But then high prices did not depend, in any great extent, as they have been supposed to do, on the protections afforded to them as a favored class of the community; for on this subject we are informed by Mr. Tooke, (who is the more unexceptionable authority, because he is exceedingly favorable to the commercial view of the corn-laws,) that he entertained doubts "whether the prices of corn, within the last twenty or thirty years, have been kept up so much by the protecting duties, as by the great expenses VOL. XXVIII. Pam. NO. LV. જ
attending importation, and by the prevalence of bad seasons, both here, and, I believe, taking the majority of years during the period alluded to, on the Continent." Bad seasons give a rise of prices; for what would otherwise compensate for the diminution of quantity in corn? But that good seasons alone will reduce prices, is proved, not only by the table of fluctuations which I have given at a former part of this letter, but, in an extraordinary manner, by the diminution from, I believe, 67. to 70s., in the autumn of 1813, which took place by mere exuberant production, independent of exportation, or any change, either in the value of money, or our external relations.
High rents to the landholder, and high gains to the farmer, have been for many years only a matter of history. The prices of late periods have been occasionally lower than even the average of prices so far back as the Commonwealth, and of Charles II., the former having been 48s. 1d., and the latter 43s. 7d.; and even at present, the price, 53s., does not greatly exceed that of the former of those periods, though the difference in the value of money is so considerable. Let not the landed proprietor, therefore, be lowered still more than the late reverses in agricultural affairs have depressed him; let not the cultivator of the soil, the manufacturer of corn, as he may be termed, be forced into the lowest class of our manufacturing population. The manufacturer can, as you very properly observe, apportion his supply to his demand; but uncertainty is the very essence of the farmer's profession.
Great, however, as the rise of agricultural produce, and consequently of the rents of lands had been, in the first twelve years of this century, that did not give the landholder an advantage, in the long run, over the possessor of personal property. Stockholders are said to have had their property reduced during the period of war, from high prices at which they may have purchased, to low ones at which they might be obliged to sell. But is it not apparent, that if there were persons who bought into the public funds at the highest, and were obliged to sell out at the lowest prices, there is an ample set-off in the great depression which has taken place in the value of land, between the prices at which numbers have invested money in the purchase of estates during high prices, and the trifling return with which they are now obliged to be satisfied, or the great reduction at which they may be compelled to sell them? Laws, it is obvious, cannot be accommodated to
But, in point of fact, the great mass of stock has been funded on advantageous terms to the possessor; some of it at a little more, and none of it at much less than five per cent. A rise, there
fore, from an average of sixty or sixty-five, gives an immense advantage to those who may choose to sell out at peace prices; while the alteration of currency which has of late years taken place, is a bonus of a very important character to all stockholders; and is a totally unexpected, and a somewhat unreasonable gain to those who have invested their money under a great depreciation of value.
There is, however, another circumstance relative to the comparative advantages of the possession of real and personal property, which does not appear to have been attended to.
If we suppose two persons who were possessed at any particular time say sixty years ago-of equal properties, for instance, 10,000l., which the one invested in land yielding three per cent, and the other on mortgage yielding five per cent, it is by many considered as a circumstance highly favorable to the possessor of land, that his property may now, or might some years since, be worth three times its original value. And this might certainly be the case; and the possessor of money, or his representatives, be still worth the identical sum which was originally possessed. But then the incomes, in the mean time, differed materially; and if, instead of spending 2001. per annum more than the landholder, the mortgagee (and the same reasoning applies to other possessors of personal property) had made a sinking fund of this extra income, he would have found that bis property would have been increased to full as great, or a greater extent, than any rise which could take place on land; and that the longer the period was, the greater would be the difference in his favor. In thirty years, his 2007. per annum would double his principal; and if, in the same time, land had a similar increase of value, the one would then possess 20,000l. in money, bearing an interest of 1000l. per annum; the other, land worth 20,000l., and producing a rent of 6007. per annum.
If the mortgagee, in the next thirty years, employed his extra income (which is now 400l. per annum above that of the landholder), he would find that at the end of that period his original 10,000l. had become 40,000l., and that he had an income of 2000l. per annum; of which, supposing that the estate had doubled likewise in value and rent, he would have an income above that of the landholder of no less than 8007. I am satisfied with leaving each of them with four times their original patrimony; but it is clear that the increase of the value of land has a limit, that of the prudent management of money has none. I do not mean to say, that there are not some circumstances in the possession of land which give it increased consideration with many; but still the question, at present, relates to comparison of pecuniary advantage.