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for the benefit of the community at large, but for the private advantage of the manufacturer. If, for instance, I am forced to pay ten pounds for silk dresses of English manufacture, when I could purchase the same article from abroad for only five pounds, I am taxed five pounds for the private advantage of individuals whom I care nothing about; whereas if I were permitted to import the foreign article, I should have so much more money to contribute to the wants of the state, and consequently in the same proportion that any foreign article is cheaper exclusive of duty, than a similar article manufactured at home, so much money is taken out of the pockets of the public for the private advantage of the manufacturer. A great many well-meaning persons make a point of purchasing British manufactured goods at a dear rate, when they might procure similar articles from abroad at half the price, under the impression, that by so doing, they are serving the interests of their country; whereas, in fact, they are merely encouraging a manufacture which is pernicious to the state, at the expense of some other manufacture which is beneficial to the state. Suppose, for instance, a joint-stock company were to introduce the cultivation of the vine in England, and could procure an act of parliament to prohibit the importation of foreign wine,-as there would be no other market to go to, this company would charge what profit they pleased on the sale of their wine, and consequently we should have to pay more for wine of the worst quality than we now pay for the very best. But the consequences would not end here: as we could no longer purchase wine from abroad, these wine countries could no longer afford to purchase our manufactures. The joint-stock wine company would, no doubt, be enriched by the monopoly, but the state would be impoverished, and thousands of individuals ruined by it. This I allow is an extreme case, but it is only in' degree that it differs from that of every other manufacture that requires to be protected by a tax upon foreign articles of a similar character. Reduce the price of labor in England, by taking off the excise duties and permitting a free importation of corn, and every manufacture that is really beneficial to the country, will be able to compete with foreign articles of the same sort; while all those that would not thrive under such circumstances, are injurious to the state, and ought not to be encouraged.
If it should be urged, that the taking off the duties on foreign wines and spirits, would injure our own staples of beer and cider, I answer that at the worst, the only effect it could possibly produce, would be to benefit the public at the expense of the beer and cider sellers, who, after all, would only be deprived of what ought to be taken from them. In the same proportion that the tax on beer was diminished together with the prices of malt and
labor, the brewer could afford to diminish his price, and this would effectually secure him against all foreign competition. Gentlemen would not drink less beer because wine was cheaper, and the small wines, which alone could come in competition with beer, as far as price is concerned, would not suit the palates of the laboring classes; while, as the brewer could afford to sell cheaper than formerly, the demand for his beer in the foreign market would most likely be increased. Cider I allow is at present much cheaper in France than it is in England; but, as the excise duty on cider would be taken off by this system, and the prices of rent, labor, and provisions, considerably reduced, the price of cider, as well as of beer, would be sufficiently reduced to enable the farmer to compete with the importer of foreign cider, who, in addition to his other expenses, would have to pay for its freightage and insurance against loss.
It will, perhaps, be objected to this system, that it may, in some way or other, be injurious to the interests of our colonies: that, if all the duties were taken off indiscriminately, the low price of East India sugar would ruin the West India planter; and the Canadian timber-merchant could no longer compete with the importer of timber from the Baltic.
All this may possibly be true; but it is the duty of a statesman to make laws for the good of the whole community, and not to enrich one part of it at the expense of the other. I can feel for the disappointment of the, probably, well-founded hopes of the West Indian as much as any one, but I do not see why his losses ought to be made good by a tax on the people of England, any more than the losses of the numerous unfortunate speculators of our own country. What, after all, are his claims, beyond those of the thousands and tens of thousands of our own countrymen whose speculations have not answered their expectations? and why is he alone to be indemnified? So long as there was a scarcity of sugar in the market, he took advantage of that scarcity to exact an enormous price for it; but the moment it is found that sugar can be procured from the East Indies at a cheaper rate, he calls on the legislature to lay a prohibitory duty on East India sugar, in order that his own high prices may still be kept up. Formerly, the profits of the West Indian planter were immense, and if owing to a change of circumstances they are now reduced to a more moderate scale, why are the people of England to be taxed in order to make good his losses? Suppose the corn lands, in the south of England, should from henceforth produce double crops, and the price of corn was lowered accordingly; every one would feel for the situation of the northern growers, who, without any fault of their own, would, by this stroke of Providence, be reduced from affluence to modest mediocrity; but no one surely would think of
keeping up the price of corn, to indemnify them, by destroying one half the southern crop; and by the same rule, the people of England are not bound to keep up the price of sugar, to indemnify the West Indian planter, when Providence has been kind enough to furnish us with sugar at a much cheaper rate.
Colonies, after all, are no benefit to a nation; or, at all events, the heavy tax which the people of England are obliged to pay for their protection, more than compensates the advantage we derive from them. They furnish a market for our manufactures undoubtedly, but so do the United States of North America, now they are no longer our colonies; and the two or three millions per annum, which we had formerly to pay for their protection, is now a direct saving to the country. Suppose the whole of our West Indian colonies, like the United States of North America, were to shake off their allegiance to us, what inconvenience should we suffer from it? We should have the same market for our manufactures, and should be able to purchase the same goods from them, at as cheap a rate, or very nearly so; while the two or three millions, which we are now called on to pay for their protection, might be converted into a fund for the payment of the national debt. All the money, which is now taken out of the treasury of England, for the maintenance and protection of our colonies, is so much money, I had almost said, uselessly thrown away; for, so long as our manufacturers can afford to undersell the manufacturers abroad, we shall be sure to command the best markets; but, if ever the time shall arrive when we can no longer compete with the foreign manufacturers, our colonies will hang like a millstone about our necks, and drag us down into irretrievable ruin. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the whole of the sugar plantations, all over the world, were in possession of France alone, and that we could procure no sugar but what came from her colonies,-in this case, France, in the first place, would be put to a very heavy expense in providing garrisons, fortifications, &c., for the defence of her immense territorial possessions; and in what way could she expect to be reimbursed? If she only permitted her colonists to grow as much sugar as would be necessary for her own consumption, her colonists would very soon be ruined, while the price of sugar would be so great, that very few of her own subjects would be able to purchase it; and if she permitted them to grow as much as they pleased, that overplus must be disposed of. Her colonists must either be permitted to export it, through France, into other countries, or directly from their own ports; and in either case, we should be gainers. If we imported it directly from these colonies, we should have it at the same price that we do now, while all the expense, that we are now put to for the defence of these colonies,
would be so much gain to us; and if we were obliged to import it from France, the expense of freightage and insurance across the channel, would probably be added to this sum, which, after all, would not amount to a tenth part of the expense we are now put to for their protection. Even in war, the advantage would be all on our side. France would be obliged to keep up an immense force for the protection of all her possessions, while a tenth part of that force, if we were the masters of the sea, would be quite sufficient to overwhelm any one point. We might, if we pleased, destroy or plunder the whole of her settlements in detail, or we might waylay and intercept her trade on the return home, and thereby cripple her resources; while the only chance of her being able to injure us, would be by the dangerous attempt at an in
As the people of England are charged with the whole expense of defending our colonies, it is very unfair to saddle us with the payment of a bounty to our colonists, in the shape of a heavier tax on the commodities of other countries, in order that they may keep up the price of their staples; but while we claim the right of purchasing the goods we stand in need of at the cheapest markets, we ought not to refuse them the same privilege; and, if it would benefit them to throw open their ports to the ships of all nations, it ought to be permitted with this proviso however, that all foreign ships, trading to our colonies, should be taxed a moderate sum per ton; because if foreign nations are to be permitted to share in the benefits of this trade, it is but fair that they should contribute their share towards the expenses of maintaining it.
I am prepared to be told that the throwing open our colonial ports to all nations, would be an infringement of the rights of the English shipowners, who claim peculiar privileges from the government, on the plea of their furnishing a nursery for British seamen; but, as I before observed, it is the duty of a statesman to legislate for the good of the whole community, and not to make invidious distinctions between fellow subjects. If the West Indian planter is obliged to transport, his sugars in British bottoms, at a more expensive freightage than would be charged by the foreigner, he is very unjustly taxed this overplus, not for the good of the whole community, but for the private benefit of the English shipowners; and, if we claim the right to go to the cheapest market for our sugars, he has certainly an equal right to dispose of his property in that way that is most likely to bring him in the largest return. The more we enrich our colonies, the more we increase their means of purchasing our goods; and, if the throwing open their ports would have this effect, it would be more to our advantage to permit it, than to keep them poor for the sole purpose of giving employment
to a few additional British seamen. This fact has been abundantly proved by the consequences arising out of the emancipation of our North America colonies. With a paltry absurd jealousy we kept them poor, in order that they might be obliged to apply to our markets for every thing they wanted; but the moment their ports were thrown open to all the world, and they were left to their own resources, they grew rich rapidly; and their demands for our goods, and the number of British seamen employed in that trade, have increased at least fourfold in consequence of that very circumstance, which, before it took place, every person dreaded as the greatest calamity that could possibly befall this country.
The British shipowners, by the way, will have, indirectly, a very great bonus in the taking off the excise, and permitting a free importation of corn, which, by lowering the price of labor and provisions, will enable them to compete with the foreign shipowner; and if they be allowed any other advantage, it must be to the detriment of the community at large. Every penny which our merchants are obliged to pay to British shipowners for freightage, above what they would have to pay to foreigners, is a tax levied on the public for the private benefit of individuals, and so far is injurious to the country. The best way to form a nursery for British seamen, is to allow every British subject every fair opportunity of getting rich as fast as he can in his own way. A rich trading country must necessarily employ a great many seamen, and will always be able to find them when they are wanted, but a poor country will want the means of providing for them when they are found.
I have now, Sir, I trust, fairly and candidly considered all the advantages and all the disadvantages of the system I wish to have adopted; and, if you will do me the favor to read this letter with attention, I am persuaded you will do me the justice to allow that I have completely made good all that I promised. As far as the community at large is concerned, this system would be attended with very important advantages, inasmuch as it would add at least three millions to the revenue of the state, and take off at least one million from the expense with which the public are now charged for the maintenance of the poor; but there are two classes of people, whose circumstances would be materially affected by this change in the mode of collecting the revenue, in whose behalf I wish to say a few words.
Though I cannot point out any one in particular, it is possible that there may be some manufactures in the country that would be ruined by the free importation of similar articles from abroad; 3 and though these manufactures, as I have already shown, are, in fact, pernicious to the state, it would be very unjust towards the