Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 63, No. 387, January, 1848
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"Experience," says Dr Johnson,"is the great test of truth, and is perpetuallycontradicting the theories ofmen." "If an empire," said Napoleon,"were made of granite, it wouldsoon be reduced to powder by politicaleconomists." Never was therea period when the truths stated bythese master minds were so clearlyand strikingly illustrated as the present;never was there an epoch whenthe necessity was so fearfully evincedof casting off the speculative dogmasof former times, and shaping ourcourse by the broad light which experiencehas thrown on human transactions.If this is done, if wisdom islearnt by experience, and error expelledby suffering, it is yet possibleto remedy the evils; though not beforea frightful and yet unfelt amountof misery has been encountered by thepeople.
For the last thirty years, the liberalparty have had the almost uncontrolleddirection of the affairs of thenation. One by one, they have beatdown all the ancient safeguards ofBritish industry, and given effect tothe whole theoretical doctrines of thepolitical economists. So complete hasbeen their ascendency in the nationalcouncils—so entire in general the acquiescenceof the nation in theirdirection, that without one single exceptionALL their doctrines have beencarried into practice; and the year1847 exhibits a fair, and it may bepresumed average result of the liberalsystem when reduced into execution.The result is so curious, its lessons sopregnant with instruction, its warningof coming disaster so terrible, that wegladly avail ourselves of the openingof a new year, to portray them in afew paragraphs to our readers.
The first great change which tookplace in British policy was in 1819, bythe famous Bank Restriction Act,passed in that year. Everyone knowsthat the obligation on the Bank ofEngland to pay in specie, was suspendedby Mr Pitt in February 1797;and that under that system the empirecontinued to rise with all thedifficulties with which it was surrounded,until in the latter years ofthe war it bore without difficultyan annual expenditure of from£110,000,000 to £120,000,000 annually.But under the new systemintroduced in 1819, the currency wasrestricted by imposing on the bank theobligation of paying its notes, whenpresented, not in gold or silver, but inGOLD ALONE. The currency wasbased on the article in commercemost difficult to keep, most easy oftransport, most ready to slip away—themost precious of the preciousmetals. The result has been that thenation,—which, with a population of18,000,000 of souls, raised withoutdifficulty £71,000,000 annually bytaxes, and from £30,000,000 to£40,000,000 annually by loans in1813, 1814, and 1815, of which atleast a half was sent abroad, and[Pg 2]wholly lost to the nation—is now, witha population of 28,000,000, not ableto raise in round numbers above£51,000,000 on an average of yearsby taxation, and is brought to theverge of ruin by the purchase of£33,000,000 worth of foreign grainin 1846 and 1847, and the expenditureof £35,000,000 in 1846, and£25,000,000 in the first six monthsof 1847 on domestic railways, everyshilling of which last sum was spentat home, and puts in motion industrywithin the nation.
The next great change was madein the year 1821, when the reciprocitysystem was introduced by MrHuskisson. This subject has acquiredgreat importance now, from theavowed intention on the part ofgovernment, scarcely disguised in theopening speech of this session of Parliament,to follow up the labours ofthe committee which made such laboriousinquiries last session, by a billfor the total abolition of the NavigationLaws. We shall not enlarge onthis subject, the vastness and importanceof which would require a separatepaper. Suffice it to say, therefore,that here too, experience hasdecisively warned us of the pernicioustendency of the path on which wehave entered, and of the truth ofAdam Smith's remark, that "thoughsome of the regulations of this famousact may have proceeded from nationalanimosity, they are all as wise as ifdictated by the most deliberate wisdom.As defence is of much more importancethan opulence, the act of Navigationis perhaps the wisest of all the commercialregulations of England." Itappears from the parliamentarytables compiled by Mr Porter, that,while the British tonnage with theBaltic powers had increased from1801 to 1821, under the protectivesystem, to a very considerable degree,theirs with us had declined during thesame period; under the reciprocity system,our tonnage with them had on thewhole decreased to a third of its formeramount, while their shipping with ushad, during the same period, quadrupled.It further appears, from the sametables, that the great increase whichhas taken place during the same period,has arisen from the prodigious growthof our colonial trade, or increase ofthe countries with whom we hadconcluded no reciprocity treaties, butleft them on the footing of the protectionof the old Navigation Laws. Andthough the profits of shipping of all sortshave received a vast addition, from theenormous importations consequentupon Sir R. Peel's free-trade measures,yet the returns of these yearsprove that the greater part of this[Pg 3]increase has accrued to foreign statesand powers, which may at anytime turn the maritime resourcesthus acquired against ourselves.Suffice it to say, as an example ofthis truth, that of the ships which,in 1846, imported four million ninehundred thousand quarters of corninto the British harbours, no lessthan three-fourths were foreignvessels, and only one-fourth British.Nevertheless, so insensible arepolitical fanatics to the most decisivefacts, when they militate againsttheir favourite theories, that it is inthe full knowledge of these facts thatgovernment are understood to be preparedto introduce, even in thissession of parliament, a measure forthe abolition, or at least the essentialabrogation, of the Navigation Laws.
The third great change made duringthe last quarter of a century has beenin the government of Ireland. Here,if any where, the liberal system hasreceived its full development, andhas had the fairest opportunity fordisplaying its unmixed blessings.The Catholic disabilities, which wehad been told for thirty years werethe main cause of its distressed condition,were repealed in 1829. Alarge measure of parliamentary reform—largerthan the most vehementIrish patriots ventured to dream of—wasconceded in 1832. Corporatereform succeeded in 1834; the Protestantcorporations were dispossessedof power; the entire management ofall the boroughs of the kingdom was putinto the hands of the Romish multitude;and a large portion of the countymagistracy were, by the appointmentof successive liberal Lords Chancellor,drawn from the better part of those ofthe same religious persuasion. TheProtestant clergy were deprived of afourth of their incomes to appease theRomish Cerberus; and, to avoid thevexation of collecting tithes frompersons of a different religious belief,they were laid directly as a burden onthe land; Maynooth was supported byannual grants from government; thesystem of national education was modifiedso as to please the Roman Catholicclergy. Monster meetings, wheresedition was always, treason often,spoken, headed by O'Connell, wereallowed to go on, without the slightestopposition, for two years; and whenat length the evil had risen to such aheight that it could no longer beendured, the leading agitator, afterbeing convicted in Ireland, was liberated,in opposition to the opinion ofa great majority of the twelve judges,by the casting-vote in the House ofPeers of a Whig law-Lord. Britishliberality, when the season of distresscame, was extended to the famishingIrish with unheard-of munificence;and while the Highlanders, who sufferedequally under the potato failure,got nothing but from the never-failingkindness of British charity, Ireland,besides its full share of that charity,received a national grant of TEN MILLIONSSTERLING, of which no less thaneight millions were borrowed by GreatBritain.
What have been the results? Hascrime decreased, and industry improved,and civilisation advanced,under the liberal system? Has attachmentto the British governmentbecome universal, and hatred of thestranger worn out, in consequence ofthe leniency with which they havebeen treated, and the unparalleledgenerosity with which their wantshave been supplied? The facts arenotoriously and painfully the reverse.Hatred of the Saxon was never sogeneral or so vehement; idleness andrecklessness were never so wide-spread;destitution was never so universal;life and property was neverso insecure,—as after this long systemof concession, and these unparalleledacts of private and public generosity.The Irish Repealers declare, thatthough Ireland, like England, hasbeen blessed with an uncommonlyfine harvest, there are four millionsof persons in that country in a stateof hopeless misery; and supposing,as is probably the case, that thisstatement is exaggerated, the authenticreports to Parliament on the stateof the poor prove that there are abovetwo millions of paupers, or a fullfourth of the population, in a stateverging on starvation. A new so-calledCoercion Bill has been brought intoParliament in consequence of the greatincrease of crimes of violence, and,above all, of cold-blooded murders;and on the necessity that existed forits introduction the present Secretary[Pg 4]of State must speak for himself. SirGeorge Grey said, on November 30,1847, on moving the first reading ofthe Coercion Bill, that during the sixmonths ending October 1846, theheinous crimes of violence over Irelandstood as follows:—
|Attempts upon life by firing at the person,||55|
|Robberies of arms,||207|
|Firing into dwelling-houses,||51|
For the six months ending October 1847,the number increased to—
|Attempts upon life by firing at the person,||126|
|Robberies of arms,||530|
|Firing into dwelling-houses,||116|
It would thus be seen that there was afearful increase in the amount of thesefour classes of crime. The whole ofIreland was implicated in the shame anddisgrace consequent upon this largeincrease of crime. Looking at the policereturns for the month of October, (forfrom that period it was that those crimescommenced to increase at such a fearfulrate,) he found the following results forthe whole of Ireland:—
|Firing at the person,||32|
|Firing into dwelling-houses,||26|
|Robberies of arms,||118|
|Making a total of cases,||195|
Looking at the districts in which thesecrimes were committed, he found thatthe total number of all those crimes committedin three of the counties of Ireland,i.e., Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary, wasto the whole of Ireland as 139 to 175, orthat 71 per cent of the whole amount ofcrime was committed in those three counties,which did not include more than 13per cent of all Ireland."
Such has been the result of liberalgovernment during twenty years inIreland. And it is particularly worthyof notice, that the three counties inwhich this unenviable pre-eminenceof atrocious crime exists, viz., Clare,Limerick, and Tipperary, are preciselythose in which the Romishfaith is most inveterate, and theauthority of the priesthood mostunbounded.
The next great change introducedby the liberal party, was by the carryingthrough of the Reform Bill, andsettling the constitution upon anentirely new basis by the act of1832. We do not propose at presentto resume any part of that greatdebate, in which at the time this Magazinetook so prominent a part. Wehave seen no cause to change any ofthe opinions then expressed, and onlypray God that the predictions thenmade may not be too faithfully verified.As little shall we inquire whetherthe changes which have sinceensued, and under which the nation isnow so grievously labouring, are orare not to be ascribed to the constitutionof government as then framed,and the urban ascendency which thebestowing of two-thirds of the seats inthe House of Commons upon townsnecessarily occasioned; we are contentto accept the constitution, as new-modelledby the Reform Bill, as theconstitution of ourselves and ourchildren, and to support it as such.We know that by it the governmentof the country is substantially vestedin the majority of eight hundred thousandelectors. We aim only at explainingfacts