rose, pursuant to notice, to bring forward his motion relative to the effect which the Resumption of Cash Payments had had in producing the present agricultural distress. Such was his conviction of the calamity which the resumption of cash payments had produced to the agriculturists, and, he might say, to all the industrious classes in the country, that he could not help making every effort in his power to bring it before the House and the country. He felt, that he had not the wit or the eloquence to charm their ears or arrest their attention; but still he was anxious to lay before them the result of that investigation of the subject, upon which he had been induced to enter. The object of his motion, he would state at the outset was, to arraign the wisdom, the justice, and the policy of the measure passed in 1819 for the resumption of cash payments; but in arraigning that measure, he did not mean to censure the motives, or to cast any exclusive blame on the conduct, of his majesty's ministers. He knew that it was 878 the act of ministers, but in carrying it through, they were backed by majorities composed of the wisest and most independent members of both Houses. He allowed the fullest weight to their character, abilities, and knowledge of political economy; but he could not believe them infallible, nor could he refrain from saying, that in this instance they had committed a great and fatal error. On the most mature reflection which he could bestow upon it, he could not hesitate to declare that the act for the resumption of cash payments was one of the most impolitic, and mischievous measures that ever was adopted in this or any other country. When he thus spoke of the measure of 1819, he did not mean to limit his expressions exclusively to the act itself, but to apply them to that series of measures extending over a succession of years, of which that act formed the continuity and result. He not only arraigned the wisdom and policy of that act in speculation, but he would go farther and assert, that to it all the difficulties and distresses under which the country had since laboured were mainly to be ascribed. In making this assertion he begged not to be understood as denying that there were many other circumstances that contributed to the melancholy result. He knew that the weight of our taxes, even supposing it had not been increased by any change in the currency, would have been sufficient to press hard on the springs of industry, and to detract largely from individual resources. He was ready to admit, that our agriculture had suffered severely from the defective state of the laws intended for its protection. He was not unaware of the opinion that tithes operated grievously on the land, nor did he shut his ears to the complaints so generally uttered against the poor-rates. But all these caused of distress—all these grounds of complaint—had existed fro a long sucession of years, without leading to calamities like the present. Under their operation, the country had thriven and prospered; and but for this unfortunate measure affection the currency, would thrive and prosper still. This was the irresistible source of the general suffering. It pressed on every branch of industry; it affected every class of the community; it contracted every tendency to national improvement or prosperity. This position it would be one of his objects to support. If he could not make it appear that 879 it operated injuriously on manufactures, on commerce, on every species of industry, and every class of society, as well as upon agriculture and the landed interest—if he could not make it appear that every individual in the country, but fundholders and annuitants, suffered from the measure, he would then allow that he had taken up wrong ground. Nay, even on the interests of the fundholder and annuitant its tendency was injurious, as it affected the ultimate security of their incomes.—The dividend of the fundholder and the income of the annuitant were pawns upon the general capital and industry of the country. They received drafts by which they were entitled to a certain portion of the general prosperity, and could obtain a definite proportion of the national revenue. On that prosperity, therefore, they depended for their incomes; and every thing which affected it affected the security for their payments. If he could not only make out that it operated injuriously on all classes, but that even the distresses which at present afflicted Ireland were to be ascribed to it, he would surrender argument.
He would now briefly call the attention of the House to the very different effect in a moral point of view—to the very different amount of mischief—produced by lowering or raising the standard of money. If the standard was lowered, it was evident that in the same proportion the prices of articles would be raised, and the same nominal amount would not command the same quantity of commodities. On the other hand, as the value of money rose, prices fell. The fall of the one was equivalent to a rise in the other. He would take the instance of a man who had 1,000l. a year of income, and would suppose that his incumbrances were 500l. On the supposition that no change in the currency took place, he would have 500l. to spend. Suppose the value of the currency lowered 50 per cent, or one half, he would still have 250l. to devote annually to the supply of his wants. Suppose the value of the currency was again diminished one half, he would still have an income of 175l. which he could call his own; and if the circulation was still further debased, his revenue would suffer in proportion; but still he would have something, so long as money had any value. Take the reverse of this operation, and suppose that the standard of money is raised one half. The effect of the change would be very 880 different on a man in the same circumstances. Suppose him to have 1,000l. a year, and that he owed 500l. He would still have 500l. remaining for his support, on the hypothesis that the standard remained unaltered: but if the standard was raised one half, and he had still to pay the 500l. he would be deprived of the whole of his income, and be left entirely destitute. He (Mr. W.) had heard of many cases of this kind, and wished to bring them before the House in detail; but he had been restrained by the reflection; that similar cases must be known to most members of the House, and that it would be vain to endeavour to convince those who were not already convinced of the distress arising from this source. Instances had occurred, and must occur every day, in which the property of the industrious was thus entirely destroyed. Morally speaking, therefore, the injustice and mischief were less by lowering than by raising the standards. The former created mischief, and was accompanied by dishonesty; the latter cut up by the roots all the funds that were necessary for the maintenance of the industrious classes, and endangered even the ultimate security of payments to the annuitant and fundholder, who were at first the only gainers by the change. It pressed particularly hard on the labouring classes who had borrowed money, as by increasing the standard in which those debts were contracted, it proportionably diminished the reserved portion of their wages. Take the case of a labourer who had been obliged to borrow money to assist him in building his cottage. He was resolved to free himself from his in cumbrance by setting aside a portion of his wages for the payment of his debts. If the standard remained unaltered, this would be found to be practicable: but, on the supposition that it is raised one half, and that his wages fell from 15 to 8s. while his fixed payments remained the same, he must be deprived of the means of subsistence, and be driven for relief to the parish. This difference between the effects of lowering the standard and raising it should never for a moment have been left out of view.
He must now direct the attention of the House to the effect of the late act, in giving an increased value to the money raised in taxes, and thus augmenting the enormous burthens of the country in an exact ratio to the rise. Did not this require the most attentive consideration, 881 and was it not astonishing that it should have attracted so little notice? Did it not enter into the contemplation of those who passed the measure, that in one moment, and by a few lines of an act, they were adding to the public burthens, by the most moderate admission, 10 or 15 per cent. When they had deserted the ancient standard for 22 years, and had been imposing taxes during all that time in a depreciated currency, they ought to have reflected maturely on the addition which a rise in the value of the standard would make to the public burthens. He would now proceed to make a few observations on the late fluctuations of the currency; but the House needed not to be apprehensive that he was about to give a regular essay on the theory of money. He would only lay down some general principles on the functions and nature of money, and a metallic or mixed currency. The generality of writers had described money as a medium of exchange and a measure of value. Now, though according to this definition, it formed no part of the real wealth of a country, it was essential to its character and functions that its value should remain as invariable as possible. The precious metals had been adopted as money, because, in addition to their other advantages of minute divisibility and universal estimation, they were more invariable in their value than other commodities. They were not, however, altogether invariable. Their value might be affected by the greater or less productiveness of the mines, by the discovery of new mines, or by other natural causes. They were likewise variable from other causes—the state of demand and supply. If the demand for gold increased while the supply remained the same, its value must rise. It might also be variable from other causes, such as the invention of a substitute for it in circulation. That substitute for a portion of it which might otherwise be required was found in a credit currency. If a credit currency were adopted, and ally a portion of gold used for exchanging commodities, its value must decline in proportion to the amount of the paper. It was an undeniable principle, that as soon as a credit currency became a part of the aggregate currency of the country, the value of the gold must be affected by it, as by this means the demand for gold would be lessened. Had it not been for the existence of the paper, a greater quantity of the precious metals 882 would have been required for effecting the business of exchanges, and thus the demand for them would have increased. This increased value would have created an additional burthen on all the industrious classes of the community. He would read two extracts, one from Mr. Locke and another from Dr. Adam Smith, which proved the invariability of a metallic standard, and even alluded to other commodities as being less variable than it. The hon. member read the following extract from Mr. Locke:—
"That supposing wheat a standing measure, that is, that there is constantly the same quantity of it in proportion to its vent, we shall find money to run the same variety of changes in its value as all other commodities do. Now, that wheat in England does come nearest to a standing measure, is evident by comparing wheat with other commodities, money, and the yearly income of land in Henry the 8th's time and now. For supposing that primo Hen. 7, N. let 100 acres of land to A. for 6d. per annum per acre, rack rent, and to B. another 100 acres of land, of the same soil, and yearly worth, with the former, for a bushel of wheat per acre, rack rent (a bushel of wheat about that time being probably sold for about 6d.), it was then an equal rent. If, therefore, these leases were for years yet to come, 'tis certain that he that paid but 6d. per acre, would now pay 50s. per annum, and he that paid a bushel of wheat per acre would pay about 25l. per annum, which would be near about the yearly value of the land were it to be let now. The reason whereof is this, that there being ten times as much silver now in the world (the discovery of the West Indies having made the plenty) as there was then, it is nine-tenths less worth now than it was at that time; that is, it will exchange for nine-tenths less of any commodity now, which bears the same propotion to its vent as it did two hundred years since, which of all other commodities wheat is likeliest to do; for in England, and this part of the world, wheat being the constant and most general food, not altering with the fashion, not growing by chance, but as the farmers sow more or less of it, which they endeavour to proportion (as near as, can be guessed) to the consumption, abstracting the over plus of the precedent year in their provision for the next, and vice versa; it must needs fall out, that it keeps the 883 nearest proportion to its consumption (which is more studied and designed in this than other commodities) of any, thing, if you take it for seven or twenty years together. Though perhaps the plenty or scarcity of one year, caused by the accidents of the season, many very much vary it from the immediately precedent, or following. Wheat, therefore, in this part of the world, and that grain, which is the constant general food of any other country, is the fittest measure to judge of the altered value of things in any long tract of time; and therefore wheat here, rice in Turkey, &c., is the fittest thing to reserve a rent in, which is designed to be constantly the same in all future ages. But money is the best measure of the altered value of things in a few years, because its vent is the same, and its quantity alters slowly. But wheat or any other grain cannot serve instead of money, because of its bulkiness and too quick change of its quantity. For had I a bond, to pay me one hundred bushels of wheat next year, it might be a fourth part loss or gain to me; too great an inequality and uncertainty to be ventured in trade; besides the different goodness of several parcels of wheat in the same year."—In another extract, the same distinguished authority gives—
"That if in any country they use for money any lasting material, whereof there is not any more to be got, and so cannot be increased, or being of no other use, the rest of the world does not value it, and so it is not like to be diminished; this also would be a steady standing measure of the value of other commodities.—That in a country Where they had such a standing measure, any quantity. Of that money (if it were but so much that every body might have some) would serve to drive any proportion of trade, whether more or less, there being counters enough to reckon by, and the value of the pledges being still sufficient, as constantly increasing with the plenty of the commodity." The opinion of Dr. Adam Smith was not less strong on the same subject. He said, "the rents which have been reserved in corn, have preserved their value much better than those which have been reserved in money, even where denomination of the coin has not been altered. By the 18th of Elizabeth it was enacted, that a third part or the rent of all College leases should be reserved in corn, to be paid either in kind, or according to the current 884 prices, at the nearest public market. The money arising from this corn rent, though originally but a third of the whole, is, in the present times, according to Dr. Blackstone, commonly near double of what arises from the other two-thirds. The old money rents of colleges must, according to this account, have sunk almost to a fourth part of their ancient value, or are worth little more than a fourth part of the corn which they were formerly worth. But since the reign of Philip and Mary, the denomination of the English coin has undergone little or no alteration, and the same number of pounds, shillings, and pence, have contain very nearly the same quantity of pure silver. This degradation, therefore, in the value of the money rents of colleges, has arisen altogether from the degradation in the value of silver. And a little further on, Dr. Smith added, that "though the real value of corn rent, it is to be observed, however, varies much less from century to century than that of a money rent, it varies much more from year to year." He would now say with respect to other commodities, and he would contend, that the increase in their price, and particularly in the price of wheat, arose almost solely from the alteration in the value of the currency. He would beg leave first to state what was the effect of the diminished value of money. And here he would observe, that he was not amongst those who thought that, during the restriction of cash payments this country had acquired merely a fictitious prosperity. He admitted, that, during that time, it had acquired a vast increase of real and substantial wealth, and with these an increase of the population in a ratio beyond all former periods. He admitted, that during 20 years of the war, the country had made most rapid strides in its agriculture, commerce, and manufactures, and that in every circumstance the increase of its real wealth had been greater than in other periods of its existence. This prosperity could not be called fictitious, because, at the end of the war, there did not remain in the country an extensive metallic currency, for a country might be very rich, and prosperous with out it: but it could not be denied, that an increase had taken place in the wealth of the country and the comforts of the people, with an unexampled rapidity during the war, and that at the end of it there remained a vast accession of wealth, available for every purpose. He could 885 not then make a calculation as to how far this might have been produced by the altered state of the currency; but it was a fact, that a vast increase of credit currency had had the effect of giving a great stimulus to industry, at a period when the produce of that industry could be most advantageously applied. Without entering into any inquiry how far the increase of the currency of a country was calculated for its benefit, he would only say that it was a fact well known in history, that soon after the discovery of the gold and silver mines of America (though it produced a diminution of the value of money much greater than that which we experienced during the late war,) there had been a vast increase in the national wealth, and in the prosperity and comforts of the people. He would shew how the effect of that stimulus was estimated, by no less an authority than sir Francis Bacon. That great man published his work towards the close of the reign of queen Elizabeth, in answer to a libel published at that period:—
"There was never the like number of fair and stately houses as have been built and set up from the ground since her majesty's reign; insomuch that there have been reckoned in one shire, that is not great, to the number of 33, which have been all new built within that time, and whereof the meanest was never built for 2,000l. There were never the like pleasures of goodly gardens and orchards, walks, pools, and parks, as do adorn almost every mansion-house. There was never the like number of beautiful and costly tombs and monuments which are erected in sundry churches in honourable memory of the dead. There was never the like quantity of plate, jewels, sumptuous moveables and stuff, as is now within the realm. There was never the like quantity of waste and unprofitable ground, inned, reclaimed, and improved. There was never the like husbanding of all sorts of grounds by fencing, manuring, and all kinds of good husbandry. The towns were never better built nor peopled; nor the principal fairs and markets ever better customed or frequented. The commodities and ease of rivers rent by hand, and brought into a new channel; of piers that have been built; of waters that have been forced and brought against the ground were never so many. There was never so many excellent artificers, not so many new handy crafts used and exercised; nor 886 new commodities made within the realm, sugar, paper, glass, copper, divers silks, and the like. There was never such complete and honourable provision of horse, armour, weapons, ordinance of the war. The fifth blessing bath been the great population and multitude of families increased within her majesty's days; for which point I refer myself to the proclamations of restraint of building in London, the inhibition of inmates of sundry cities, the restraint of cottages by act of parliament, and sundry other tokens of record of the surcharge of people.'"
This description of Sir F. Bacon, he (Mr. W.) felt to be an exact picture of the actual effects experienced in this country during the restriction on the Bank, during the period when what was called a fictitious currency gave a similar energy to the powers of this country. It was not competent to him to specify the precise proportion in which the increased currency contributed to that effect, but that it possessed a powerful and preeminent influence in producing it, he had no doubt. The amount of depreciation could not be measured by the difference existing between paper and the price of gold. The right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel), the introducer of the bill for the restoration of cash-payments, had himself admitted, that the depreciation was to be estimated, not alone by difference between paper and gold, but in combination with the extent of the credit currency, which was co-existent.—The hon. member next observed, that in order to show how the price of corn had been affected by the alterations in the currency which he had described, it would be necessary for him to go back to its price for a long series of years. He had made calculations of the average prices at periods of five and ten years within the last century and a half; but, not to fatigue the house with such lengthened detail, he would state the averages for periods of 50 years. The average price of wheat in the first 50, ending in the year 1695 was, 44s. 9d.; that of the next 50 years was 38s. 1d.; and that of the third, up to 1793, wad 44s. 2d.; this last differing from the first only in the number of pence. Let the House now look at the difference in the averages since 1793. The average price of the first 10 years, ending in 1803, was 79s. 11d., or in round numbers he might say 80s.; from 1803 to 1813 it was 99s. The highest price at any of the periods he had 887 mentioned before the restriction was 52s. whilst, within the first 10 years after, it rose to 80s. Now it could not be said that this increase was to be attributed to the war hiving increased the demand; and he would prove that it could not, by showing what the prices were at several periods of war and in the years immediately preceding and following those wars. The average price in the 5 years before the war of 1756, was 34s.—during the war it was less. In 1763, the price was 37s.; 1764, it was 41s.; in 1765, it was 48s., and the average of the five years after the war was 45s. He would now come to the period of the American was, and it would be seen that the average price of the years immediately preceding was greater than that of the war itself. In the five years before the war the average price of wheat was 51s. the quarter. During the war, it was 46s.. In the first year after the war, it was, 52s.; and the average of the five years after peace had been concluded, was 48s. 2d. From these circumstances, it was, clear that the price of corn did not necessarily increase-with a war. The demand, it was true, would be likely to be increased, but there were a variety of circumstances by which the effect of that might be counterbalanced; whether by taking the gold cut of the country or not, he would not say, but that the fact was so could not be denied.—He now came to another fact, which he derived from returns laid on the table of the House, of the quantity of wheat corn sold in the London market in the years 1812 and 1821 respectively. The result of those returns went strongly to corroborate the views which he took of this question, because, in the London market, the supply and the demand did not vary much from time to time. Now it was well known, that the population had increased in London since the year 1812, and therefore the demand must be supposed to have had a proportionate increases. Now what was the fact with respect to the quantity sold at the two periods, and to its price? In 1812, there were 386,921 quarters of wheat sold in the London market at an average price for the year of 325s. per quarter. In 1821, there were 385,535 quarters sold, at an average for the year of 50s. the quarter. Here then, we had the extraordinary fact, that in the same market, with an increasing demand, one would suppose from an increased population, 888 there was a less quantity of wheat, sold in 1821, at 50s. quarter, than in 1812 at 125s. a quarter. Now he should be glad to learn from what cause this difference proceeded, if it was not from the alteration in the state of the currency. He knew what had been, and would still be said, about a redundancy of corn in the market; but he attached no sort of weight to this assertion, for there was no evidence of the existence of any such redundancy as could produce the vast difference in the price which he had mentioned. He contended, that it arose from a scarcity of the currency, and not from a redundancy of the commodity. That it could not arise from a redundancy of the corn was evident from this fact—sthat a corresponding reduction had taken place in all other commodities, in most of which it was not pretended that any redundancy had taken place.
He had shown what the effect of the restriction for twenty-three years had been. He had now the disheartening duty to review the effects of the repeal of that restriction. When the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Peel) introduced that measure, he had adverted to the precedents established in the reigns of Edward 1st, of Elizabeth, and of William 3rd. At the time this argument had been used, it was met and refuted by such clear reasoning, that to attempt to repeat or enforce the same reasoning at the present moment would be taking up the time of the House in a very useless manner. There was no analogy whatever between the two periods. The reign of Edward 1st went back so many hundred years, and there existed such a difference in the situation of the country at that time and the present, that to attempt to draw any line of comparison would be quite absurd. The standard of the currency was restored in Edward the First's time, because the country was inundated with counterfeit money. In the reign of Edward 6th, the currency had become so debased, from the violent alterations which it had undergone in the preceding reign, that some measure for its restoration became absolutely necessary. The cause of the violence used towards the currency was well known, ands was described in the diary of Edward 6th, as having been done for the purpose of paving the king's (Henry 8th's) debts, and, of cheating his creditors. This fact was also stated by several writers of that period, who all 889 concurred in their description of the extreme difficulties which existed at the time of settling any regular standard: but it should be considered, that this state of things did not exist for more than five or six years, and that it could not have had any very great effect upon general contract debts. It had not to operate upon an overwhelming debt of 800,000,000l.: but when the evil had arisen to its height in the 5th of Edward 6th, the ministers of that day were obliged to remedy it, and establish a regular standard; which continued, with little variation, down to the period of the suspension of cash payments by the Bank. But let the House look to the manner in which that restoration had taken place. In regulating the standard, the ministers of Edward 6th did not think of bringing it back to that state from which a departure had taken place 25 years before. By the 18th of Henry 8th, the pound of silver, or very nearly the pound—11 ounces 2 pennyweights of pure silver—was to be coined into 49s. From this, in the subsequent, part of Henry's reign and the beginning of that of his successor, a great departure had been made; but when the currency was restored to a regular standard, it was not attempted to bring it back to its former state. The restoration was properly suited to the circumstances of the times; and instead of 40s., the pound of silver was coined into 60s., which was nearly continued down to the present day. Now, what did William the 3rd do? He did not alter the currency. There was a great quantity of debased currency in the country, which was called in; but even after the proclamation for calling it in, it was received in payment for taxes. Was there any analogy between that, and what had recently taken place with respect to our currency? He maintained that it was puerile to make the comparison. Was there any analogy between the alteration of William 3rd and that which we had recently witnessed—when 800,000,000l. of debt, contracted for the most part in diminished currency, was required to, be repaid in one of increased value, and at the expense of the most laborious industry, and, be would add, the best blood of the country? He maintained, that if the ancient metallic standard of currency had been adhered to, it would have been impossible for ministers to have continued to wage a most expensive war, on which so many 890 millions of our national wealth had been exhausted. It would have been impossible for them to have been so prodigally profuse of the public treasure as they had shown themselves to be. Looking at the restriction merely in this light, he would say, that it was most ruinous; but when he took in its other effects, he did not hesitate to call it one of the most destructive measures that had ever been resorted to by any set of ministers in any country; and he was sorry to find that its pernicious effects were every day becoming more visible, It was undertaken by ministers in ignorance of the consequences which it was calculated to produce, and he regretted to observe, that they had proved themselves equally ignorant in the attempts which they had recently made to remedy their own evils. They bad, in endeavouring to restore the currency to its ancient standard at once, brought about evils much greater than could have arisen from a continuance of the depreciated standard. He contended, that, if the House, now that it saw the dreadful effects which the measure had produced, from a feeling of false pride refused to enter into a farther investigation of it, it would be guilty of betraying the dearest and most important interests of the country. It was a very remarkable circumstance, that those two great writers, Locke and Hume, in considering the consequences, which they anticipated from increasing the standard value of the currency by diminishing its amount, had exactly described the state of things which at present existed. He would read one extract from Mr. Hume, which was singularly clear on the particular effects, in progress:—"For the exigencies and uses of money not lessening with its quantity, and it being in the same proportion to be employed and distributed, still in all the parts of its circulation, so much as its quantity is lessened so much must the state of every one that has a right to this money be the less, whether he be landholder for his goods, or labourer for his hire, or merchant for his brokage. Though the landholder usually finds it first, because, money failing and falling short, people have not so much money as formerly to lay out, and so, less money is brought to market, by which, the price of things must necessarily fall. The labourer feels it next; for when the landowner's rent fall, he must either bate the labourer's wages, or not employ, or not pay him, 891 which makes him feel the want of money. The merchant feels it last; for, though he sell less, and at a lower rate, he buys also our native commodities, which he exports at a lower rate too; and will be sure to leave our native commodities unbought, upon the hands of the farmer or manufacturer, rather than export them to a market which will not afford him a return with profit."—Mr. Locke bore out the same opinion, particularly as it affected the condition of the labourer, who, by such a course, was likely to be driven into a state that would deluge the country. What would have been the opinions of these great authorities, if they had viewed that question under the overwhelming pressure of the taxation of the present day. It was not by payments in money that that pressure could be fairly estimated. We were now paying a taxation amounting to 60,000,000l. per annum. It was not by pounds, shillings, and pence, that any man could form a just estimate of the pressure of such an amount of taxation. It must be estimated by the price of commodities, on the sale of which the power of paying it depended. In that view he should make a conversion of these 60 millions of taxes into the amount paid according, to the value of commodities or of labour, and from thence be should establish the proof, that in 1821, to meet 60,000,000l. taxation, we were paying nearly double m the article of corn that, which we were paying in 1813, to meet a taxation of 74,674,798l. He begged pardon while he read what appeared to him a clear statement, in confirmation of this argument, taken, from official documents:—
"That it appears from the Financial volume of 1813, that the taxes levied in that year, in the United Kingdom, amounted to 71,674,798l. and that the price of wheat being that year 108s. 9d., 13,733,296' quarters were sufficient for the payment thereof.
"That, upon the supposition of the price of wheat being 81s. 4d. which was the average of the period from 1798 to 1816, 18,362,625 quarters of wheat did suffice to pay that amount of taxes.
"That, from the Financial volume of 1821, it appears, that the takes amounted to 60,671,825l.; that the price of wheat was 55s. 4d.; and that, to discharge the payment of these taxes, it requires 21,863,720 quarters of wheat, or nearly 892 one-half more than in 1813; the taxes then being 74,674,798l.
"That the price of wheat of the present year is 45s., at which price 26,965,255 quarters are required to pay the present amount of taxes, or very nearly double the number of quarters which were sufficient to pay 74,674,798l., the amount of taxes in 1813.
"That in 1813, the price of gold being 77s. 6d., 15,657,245 ounces are necessity, to discharge taxes to the amount of 60,671,825l.
"That in 1813, the price of labour being 16s. per week, the labour of 5,000,000 of persons in 18 weeks, 4 days, did then suffice to pay the taxes of that year, being as above stated, 74,674,798l.
"That the price of labour being now 9s. per week, it requires the labour of 26 weeks and six days, to accomplish the payment of the present amount of taxes, viz. 60,671,825l. or nearly one half more than was sufficient in 1813. That at 8s. per week, it requires 30 weeks and two days, or nearly double the labour requisite in 1813.
"That upon the supposition that all commodities have fallen 40 per cent, only within the last seven years, takes require an increased quantity in that ratio for their discharge; so that 60,671,825l. require as many commodities as would have sufficed seven years ago to discharge 84,940,555l.
"That in 1813, the taxes, county assessments, and poor-rates, together, amounted to 83,063,772l. which were paid by 15,276,096 quarters of wheat, or by 15,102,504 ounces of gold.
"That in 1821, the taxes, county assessments, and poor-rates together amounted to 69,171,825l., which require 24,926,784 quarters of wheat, or 17,850,793 ounces of gold; being half the quantity more in wheat, and 2,748,229 ounces of gold, in 1821 than in 1813. In 1822, the quantity of wheat required would be more than double.
"That the amount of money expended for relief of the poor in 1813, was 6,294,584l. being equivalent to 1,157,625 quarters of wheat at the average price of that years, viz. 108s. 9d. and to 1,171,085 ounces of gold at 110s. Whereas in 1821, estimation the amount of money expended for relief of the poor, at 7,000,000l., being 329,594l. below the average of 1821, viz. 55s. 6d. will be 2,400,000 893 quarters, and in gold at 77s. 6d., 1,871,000 ounces."
From the same process of calculation it could be clearly shown, that the amount of taxation in 1813, ought to have been 110,000,00l. before it could be said to equal the pressure of the present taxes. It was therefore evident, that the value of the articles which had been introduced into those calculations had been reduced at least 40 per cent. He had various documents to illustrate his position. The first document which he would quote, was a return of the official and declared value of various articles. The House was aware, that what was called the official value was a value laid on articles about a hundred years ago, and which served at present rather to declare the quantity of those articles than any other purpose. In 1814, the declared value exceeded the official in a sum of 8,758,555l. In 1821, the official value exceeded the declared by 4,500,000l. In 1814, the declared value exceeded the official by 30 per cent. In 1821, it was lower than the official value by 12 per cent, which evidently showed that a depreciation had taken place of 42 per cent. The effect of the alteration of the value of the currency in this country was felt in other countries. At Bourdeaux, the prices had fallen 15 per cent; at Amsterdam 25 per cent; and in England 40 per cent. All this depreciation, with the evils arising out of it, were fairly attributable to the price which money now bore; or, in other words, to the operation of the restored ancient standard. To this was to be attributed, that the commercial world was engaged in mercantile pursuits, from which they obtained no remuneration for risk or the use of their capital, and that, the manufacturing world, though enabled again to occupy the usual hands, was content to be at work without profit, rather than let their machinery lie idle.
He should next proceed to consider what was the present situation, and what would be the situation of the public creditor, if the act for restoring the ancient standard of the currency had not passed. By the parliamentary accounts, it would appear, that in the 25 years subsequent to 1793, not less than 670,376,000l of public debt had been incurred. The average price of wheat, in the year subsequent to 1793, was 78s. 5d. The consequence of which was, that, at the rate of stock in 894 that day, the fundholder could only get 25½ quarters of wheat for his 100l. 3 per cents. But if stocks were, as they were now, at 80, they would receive 67 quarters of wheat for 100l. stock; if at par, 79½ quarters. The average for 25 years had been 78s. a quarter; so that during all these years, the public creditor had been receiving 34 quarters of wheat for his stock, whenever he chose to sell it, which, when he bought, it was only worth 25½ quarters of wheat. By comparing the average prices of the years immediately following 1797 and the three last, and taking into consideration the annual public charge of the two periods, it would be found, that we were paying 62 quarters of corn to the fundholder for every 29 quarters we had received when the debt was created. He thought these calculations would show that it was open to the House to return to the standard adopted after 1797, or at least to some other remedial measure, with a view to decrease our present difficulties, without violating the national faith to the public creditor.—In the next place, he thought it would not be difficult to prove, that the poorer and lower classes sustained as great injury by the measure of 1819, as the more wealthy and opulent. This was capable of being proved on simple and natural grounds. He would admit, that the amount of the poor-rates had decreased of late, as to their nominal amount; but he would show, that they were in point of fact doubled seeing that they now required double the money produce of the quarter of wheat to what they did in the year 1813. The amount of the poor-rates in 1813 was such, that it required 1,157,000 quarters of corn, at the price of that day to pay their amount; whilst, in 1821, it required the produce in money of 2,500,000 quarters of wheat to pay them. Who, then, would tell the farmer that the poor-rates were decreased, or the burthen lightened, seeing that it took from him now double the quantity of the produce of his farm to pay those poor-rates, than it did in former years? The effects of the return to cash payments might be traced even in the increase of crime. In the year 1819, the years after the passing of this act, the number of criminals had increased in a frightful proportion to the state of dire distress which followed. It was in vain to ascribe the prevailing 895 public distress to any other cause than the operation of this bill. There was an abundance of every kind of produce in the country; but the real and unfeigned source of the evil, as it was at present strikingly displayed in Ireland, was the want of an adequate remunerating price for labour. How could the industrious labourer go on when his employer was ruined? The fate of the former was necessarily involved in that of the latter, and the ruin fell alike upon both.
It was the vast importance of the subject, the calamitous consequences which were involved in it, that alone compelled him to trespass upon the attention of the House. The measures which parliament bad pursued respecting it, had led to a course of unprecedented difficulty. It was true, that when the change was wrought, the situation in which the country was placed, was altogether novel: they had at the time no precedent to guide their steps, and thence they had fallen upon peculiar and calamitous difficulties. These they must now face: towards them they must steadily direct their views, and not basely turn their backs upon the danger. For his part, he had done his duty by summoning parliament to a consideration of the subject. The country demanded the inquiry; for it now felt the condition in which it was placed, and could trace the source and progress of the evil. There were many who now admitted it, though at the time they had not foreseen the consequences of the step which had been taken; and which, if unchecked, must lead to the utter ruin of the country. There were, he knew, many who did not foresee the consequences of resuming the ancient standard of value, from which the country had for so long a period departed—who had not brought their minds to the deep consideration of the inevitable effect of the resumption of cash payments, in the manner in which the bill had effected them. That deep consideration wholly escaped the attention of parliament at the time. What had exclusively occupied their inquiry was simply the capacity of the Bank to fulfil its engagements, and pay its notes in specie—that was the basis of the investigation, and nothing further was comprehended in the inquiry. The Bank, indeed, gave some broad hints of what might be the result; but, generally, that branch of the consideration was overlooked by the committee. There never 896 was an instance in which a country, after so long a departure from its ancient standard, had recurred to it in the manner this country had done, under the provisions of the right hon. gentleman's plan. For a period of 22 years the ancient standard had been departed from to such an extent, that immense contracts had been made through a different medium—a debt of 800 millions had been incurred during that time, and operations of credit had been simultaneously conducted to an unheard-of extent. Notwithstanding these impediments, they had reverted to the ancient standard, which it was quite impossible, under the change of circumstances in the country, they could persevere in maintaining. He was not insensible to the risk and possible danger of revising this standard: he knew that difficulties must attend the subject in any way in which it could be taken up: but they had only a choice of difficulties, and must at once make their selection: they must take that course which was likely to create the least injury, and best suit the ultimate attainment of the country's prosperity. The course which he meant to recommend would, he had no doubt, conduce to that result—the public creditor would have his dividend duly paid—the burthens of the people would be lightened—and the general prosperity of the country would be established. By what process did he mean to accomplish such an object? Only by the substitution of a system which should give to the products of industry of every description, the same relative money price, which they commanded during the suspension of cash-payments, and secure a fair and reciprocal remuneration for the general industry of the country. With a view of bringing about so desirable an object, he would now move, "That a Committee be appointed to consider of the effects produced by the act of 59 Geo. 3rd c. 49, intituled, "An act to continue the restrictions contained in several acts on payments in Cash by the Bank of England, until the 1st of May, 1823, and to provide for the gradual resumption of such Cash payments, and to permit the exportation of Gold and Silver upon the Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce, of the United Empire, and upon the general condition of the different classes of society."
§ The motion having been put by the Speaker,897
§ Mr. Huskisson
spoke in substance as follows:—
The subject which the hon. gentleman has brought under the consideration of the House is one of the greatest magnitude. It involves nothing less than an alteration of that standard of value by which all property is secured, and all pecuniary contracts and dealings measured and ascertained. The course suggested for the attainment of this object is pregnant with consequences of the most fearful importance. These considerations—the magnitude of the subject, and the alarming consequences to be apprehended from the present motion—will, I trust, be sufficient to induce the House to afford a patient hearing to the discussion, without any personal appeal to their indulgence, even from an individual standing so much in need of it as myself.
I have listened with every attention in my power to the statements and doctrines of the hon. member, during his long and elaborate, but able speech. Some parts of it I have heard with surprise; other parts, I must candidly confess, with regret;—surprise, at the view which he has taken of the subject, and the extraordinary positions which he has laboured to establish;—regret at some of his inferences and suggestions, which appeared to be incompatible, with every principle not only of private right and individual justice, but of, public honour and national faith: although I feel perfectly assured, that, in all the relations of public or private life, there is no man more incapable of countenancing any, wrong doing than the hon. member for Essex.
It was my lot to be a member of the House of Commons, in the year 1797, when cash payments were, for the first time, suspended. I have continued to enjoy the honour of a seat in this House for the long series of years which has since elapsed. During that period I have not been an inattentive observer of the proceedings in parliament, and of the effect of those proceedings, in respect to the Currency. In my opinions upon this subject, it was my misfortune, in.1810, to differ, from some distinguished members of this House to whom I was, personally attached, and in whose political views I had generally concurred; but having formed those opinions deliberately and conscientiously, I could not honestly withhold them from the public. I shall not at present 898 advert more particularly to those differences, or to the measures adopted by this House after the report of the bullion committee; but I own that if I had been uninformed of all that had passed on this subject since the suspension, the speech of the hon. gentleman this evening would have led me to infer that it had been something of this sort.—First, that the liability of the Bank to pay all its notes on demand in the legal coin of the realm having been suspended in 1797, a difference had ensued between the nominal value of those notes and the real value of the coin which they purported to represent:—and Secondly, that this difference had been acknowledged by the legislature and acted upon by the public;—that it bad been allowed and compensated for in the adjustment of all pecuniary contracts made prior to the suspension;—that all dealings since had been made in reference to that difference;—and, consequently, that it was a difference, which, however fluctuating in its degree, was at any time capable of being ascertained by exact measurement, and set right by specific adjustment.
I should further have been led to infer, from the reasoning and statements of the hon. member, that at some period of this long suspension (perhaps about 1811, when the difference between the nominal value of the paper and the real value of the coin was very considerable), an attempt had been made in parliament to prevent that difference from being any longer acted upon in the adjustment of pecuniary contracts; and that, for this purpose, it had been proposed to enact, that all such contracts should be satisfied by a tender of Bank notes at their nominal value, and to inflict penalties upon any one who paid a guinea for more, or received a Bank note for less, than its denominative amount. But I should have felt quite sure, that this attempt, whenever made, had been rejected with scorn and indignation by the House, and particularly by the landed interest:—that the leading members of that interest had vied with each other in denouncing the iniquity of a proposal calculated to defeat the just claims of age and infancy—to rob a parent of a part of that dower which had been allotted to her, in the old standard of the realm, long before the suspension of cash payments—to defraud orphan brothers and sisters of a considerable portion of those fortunes, which the will 899 or marriage settlement of their father had assigned for their education, and maintenance in the world;—or if there was no widow to be curtailed of a part of her jointure—no orphans to be stript of a share of their inheritance—was there no unfortunate mortgagee (possibly a near relation or friend) to be deprived of a part of that interest which he bad stipulated to receive in the same standard of value in which he had advanced the money for his mortgage? What! could it be expected that the great land owners would suffer such a proposal as this to be entertained, doing such violence to their love of justice, so offensive to their best feelings as men, at a moment, too, when they were conscious that their estates, whether liable to the portions of younger children, or charged with dower, or incumbered with mortgage, had doubled in rent since the commencement of the suspension?—and if their personal feelings revolted at a suggestion which was calculated to injure those who were near and dear to them, their public feelings were surely equally repugnant to the idea of a measure not less fraught with injustice, and calculated to blight our national character, in the instance of the public creditor.
This is the supposition which, in ignorance of all that had really taken place, I should have drawn from the general tenor of the hon. member's speech; but it would even have led me one step further I should also have imagined, that the ancient standard of value being now restored, some of those same creditors who, had been so equitably dealt with during the departure from it, were at this moment claiming the higher nominal payments which they had received during the depreciation, and that the hon. member had come forward this evening, very properly, to claim the interposition of the House against such an unfair demand on their part.
But, Sir, instead of this having been the real state of things, what is the course which has been pursued since the suspension of cash payments? Did the legislature recognize a difference between paper and coin? Were pecuniary transactions adjusted with a reference to that difference? Were dealings entered into, or contracts made, under stipulations founded on that difference? Did not the law, on the contrary, compel every creditor, whether public or private, whether his contract was 900 prior or subsequent to the restriction, to accept payment in Bank notes, according to their denominative value? Did not that same law prohibit him, under severe penalties, from having reference to any other than the nominal value of the currency in the adjustment of any pecuniary transactions, either retrospective or prospective? If these were the regulations in force during the depreciation, what is proposed now that money is restored to its former value? Why, that having had hitherto one measure of justice for the creditor, we should now have another measure of justice for the debtor:—that the latter having been protected by our law in paying according to the nominal value, when that value was less than the standard in which he had contracted, he should now—and for no other reason than because that standard is restored—be protected by another law in paying less than that nominal value? It is no sufficient answer, to state—"that most of the pecuniary contracts now in force have been entered into since the year 1797, and that they were contracted in a depreciated currency." Be it so for the sake of argument.—But then all contracts prior to 1797 have been liquidated in that same currency. By what rule of right can you allow for its depreciation in the one case, and not in the other? By what designation would any impartial man describe that equity which should grant an abatement of interest upon the debt of 1811, and refuse a compensation for interest paid short upon a debt prior to 1797?
This, however, is the new principle of equity which the speech of the hon. member inculcates, and which it is the object of his present motion to establish, as a remedy for all the injustice of depreciation, and all the evils which now press upon the country. He has taken a distinction between the interference of the state to decrease, or to increase, by artificial means, the denominative value of money;—and what is that distinction?—Is the one course more moral or more just than the other? This indeed is not the position of the hon. member,—but that it is politically, more expedient. A constantly progressive depreciation of money, is, according to the doctrines of the hon. member, the great secret of public prosperity. This is no new theory. He only proposes to revive the scheme of the famous Mr. Law in a more mitigated shape. If once adopted by any country, it must end, as 901 his scheme ended. You may retard its progress to maturity, but you cannot perpetuate the delusion. You must either retrace your steps, or the bubble must burst at last. This was the fate of Law's scheme, as it must be of any project founded on the principle now recommended to the House. During the existence of that scheme, what country was apparently so prosperous as France, what financier so popular as Mr. Law? Exultingly mentioned by a French political writer of that clay, in the following terms "a minister far above all the past age has known, that the present can conceive, or that the future will believe."—Mr. Law, it is true, outlived his popularity and his scheme. He brought distress and ruin upon thousands, and died himself in misery and want. The more wary theorists of the present day might prolong the duration of artificial excitement, but they could not prevent the final decay and overthrow of the system; There is no escape from this result in any country that has once, through inadvertency or a temporary necessity, lost sight of a fixed standard of value, except by its restoration.
This restoration, I know, cannot be effected without pressure and difficulty. But I cannot admit the justice of the distinction which the hon. member has taken between the loss to the land-owner by an increase in the value of money, and the loss to his creditor by its decrease. The hon. gentleman's illustration was this—"By decreasing the value of money to one half," he said, "you reduce the creditor of 500l. a year to 250l., and again by decreasing that sum to one-half, to 125l., but still he is left with some income. Now, on the other hand, a man who purchased an estate having a rental of 1,000l. a year, when the value of money was decreased one-half, is reduced to nothing if money is restored to its former value, and the purchaser has to pay 500l. a year out of the estate."
Passing by, for the present, the right of any government in which the nature of property is understood, and the principles of justice respected, artificially to raise or lower the standard of value, let us examine a little more closely this practical illustration. Let me for a moment reverse the data of the hon. member's comparison, which, ingeniously enough for his purpose, assumes the land owner to be in debt, and the monied man without any 902 similar demand against his income. Let me suppose on the one side, a land owner with an estate unincumbered, and his rent doubled from 500l. to 1,000l. a year during the depreciation, and on the other, a monied man, who, with 500l. a year in the three per cents purchased at 90, had borrowed one-half of the purchase money, and found himself compelled to repay it when the price had fallen to 50l.;—or, to come still nearer to the hon. gentleman's comparison, take the case of an income of 1,000l. a year, liable to an -obligation to pay abroad an annuity stipulated for in some foreign currency. If that annuity had been satisfied with 500l., when the exchange with such foreign country was at par, it would have required the whole income, when by depreciating our own money one half, the same exchange was turned in that proportion against us. But I must protest against this description of argument altogether. The price of land may rise or fall from natural causes, as may the price of commodities. Every holder of the one or the other is liable to such fluctuations; but that which is the common and fixed measure of all price is not to be tampered with and adjusted, to countervail these fluctuations. In this country, where told is the standard of value, what is it which the parties stipulate for, and the state guarantees, in every contract for a money payment? Why, that the sum tendered, in satisfaction of such payment, shall not be less in weight and fineness than is required by the standard; but the contract does not stipulate, neither does the state guarantee, that the quantity of gold contained in that sum shall bear at all time to come the same value, in relation either to land or to other commodities, as it did at the time when the parties contracted together. It is among the highest and first dudes of the state, in relation to property, to maintain that guarantee inviolate and immutable, and it is because we have neglected that duty, that we are now suffering all the evil consequences of that neglect.
But, admitting that a certain quantum of injustice has been done to one class of the community during the suspension, and that now by its removal, a consequent degree of injury and hardship is inflicted upon another, does it follow that we are either to perpetuate and aggravate the first injustice, or that it is wise or practicable to attempt to 903 revise and re-adjust all the pecuniary transactions of the last twenty-five years? The hon. member, indeed, seems to think that nothing is more simple than the first of these courses, but he only looks at one side of the question. He puts the case of hardship to the land-owner who encumbered his estate during the depreciation; but let me let me ask him to recollect the mortgagee who let his money before that event. Let me suppose the hon. members himself (and there is no man to whose candour and sense of justice I would with more confidence apply myself in this illustration) to have two mortgages upon his estate—the one dated ii 1796, and the other in 1811. How has he hitherto settled with his two creditors, and how does he propose to settle with them now? Has he two measures of justice and value,—one for the creditor of 1811, and another for the creditor of 1796? What the hon. member now says to the mortgagee of 1811 in substance is this, "When I signed your mortgage the currency was depreciated 40 per cent, and my rents have since fallen in nearly the same amount: if, therefore, I now reduce your claim in that proportion there can be no real injustice." Against the fairness of this proposal what says the mortgagee? "I lent my money," he replies, "without reference to that difference, and I produce that act of parliament which prohibits any such reference:—I further appeal to the repeated and solemn declarations of the legislature, that cash payments should be resumed on the restoration of peace. I ask, if the depreciation had increased from 40 to 60 in the first years after our contract, and from 60 to 80 in the year following, would you (the mortgager) have compensated me for these differences; or would you not, if it had suited your convenience, have paid me off without any such compensation? If you did not pay me off, it may be, because you assumed that the value of money would go no further diminishing from year to year, but you had no right to assume that it might not be the other way; and, at any rate, you were distinctly fore warned that, in one contingency, which from the nature of things could not be very remote, the ancient standard was to be restored." Notwithstanding this answer, conclusive, I conceive, as to the strict legal right of the creditor, it many be said, that the case of the debtor may be such as to entitle 904 him to an equitable consideration. Be it so. But then what becomes of the other mortgagee who had lent his money in 1796? Has he been paid during the Whole of the suspension in depreciated money? In 1811, for instance, did his debtor force him to accept payment in the currency of that year? Did he tender to him Bank notes, depreciated, as he says, forty per cent, together with the act of parliament which prohibits any reference to that depreciation?. Against such a tender, backed by such a law, what would the mortgagee of 1796 have to urge? Might he not say,—"At the period when I made this advance, I relied on the public faith. The money which I lent you was of due weight and fineness; according to that standard which had remained unaltered since the reign of Elizabeth. To preserve that standard for ever inviolate, I knew was the declared policy of the state, and that parliament, in each succeeding reign, had passed laws for that purpose. Resting upon an unbroken pledge of near three centuries upon the positive enactments of law, upon the universal understanding of the country, upon the obvious justice of the case, upon the avowed intention of parliament, recorded in every statute that imposed or continued the suspension,—that cash payments should be resumed as soon as possible, and upon the implied assurance, involved in this declaration, that it was not intended, by these temporary suspensions, to alter the standard of our money;—upon all these grounds, I claim to be paid with reference to the existing difference between Bank notes and that standard." "No!" replies the mortgager, "Here is a law which forbids that reference; and by that law I will abide, whether the difference be 40 or 80 per cent, whether the rent of my estate upon which your mortgage is secured, has been doubled or tripled in consequence of that difference."
Now, I ask of the hon. member, in; these two cases, could he claim an equitable adjustment in the one, and refuse it in the other? Could he require an abatement upon one mortgage, without accounting for the arrear due upon the other? If the two mortgages were held by different persons, I will not say that the man does not exist (certainly not the hon. member,) who might, and perhaps would, contend with each separately for such an arrangement; but, if both securities were held by one and the same indi- 905 vidual, it would require no small share of ingenuity to satisfy him, that he was about to receive an equal measure of equity in both instances. For my own part, I should as little envy the casuistry which could countenance, as I should the justice which could award, such a decision.
But, whatever may be the difficulty in respect to mortgages, would an equitable adjustment be more easy in other pecuniary contracts, for instance, with the public creditor? Far from it. Here the principle is the same, but the difficulty would be a thousand fold. In the mass of the public debt, can we distinguish each separate loan, and the original subscribers to that loan; and if we could, can we hope to trace, and unravel, and identify, every separate purchase and sale connected with that debt, between the year 1797, and the present time? How should we distinguish the bona fide holders prior to 1797,—those who became holders during the depreciation, and during each different stage of it,—and those who have become holders since the year 1814 or 1819?—and if we could distinguish them, must we not trace the money of each purchase since 1797, through all its previous career? Can we hope to follow every Bank note through all the transactions, and to fix the date of each, in which it has formed a part? It may, for instance, happen that the present holder of any given quantity of three per cents, purchased when paper was at its greatest depreciation, had made that purchase with money received in discharge of some old mortgage. Is he to be amerced, or is the loss to fall upon the seller of the stock who received that money, or upon the mortgager who paid it? or are we to trace this particular sum in all its component parts, divided and re-united in a thousand different ways, through all its prior and subsequent combinations, and to follow it up through all their ramifications? To attempt such a task would be as hopeless as to endeavour to identify, in the great mass of waters, the particular share of each tributary stream which has emptied itself into the ocean, for the last twenty years.
The same difficulties would occur the revision of all the private transactions of the community; and if we are to engage in this undertaking, we shall not satisfy the equity of the case, unless it embrace, not only all pecuniary contracts existing prior to 1797, and all which have been 906 made since, and which are still in force, but likewise, all which have been closed and settled. Surely, every man must see that this is impracticable; that it cannot be entertained without involving all the dealings of the community in inextricable confusion, and that any partial application of a principle, which nothing but a general re-adjustment could justify, would only tend to destroy all confidence and credit, and to aggravate all the evils which it is intended to remedy.
In arguing upon an assumed depreciation of 40 per cent, I am anxious to be understood as not admitting, that, upon an average of the whole period, or indeed at any part of it, the depreciation actually reached that extent. The hon. member says, the depreciation is not to be measured by the difference between the mint and the market price of gold. I should wish to ask him by what other test be would determine its extent? If, in 1811, it was open to any man, in any part of Europe, England excepted, to have bought 100 guineas (or 105l.) with 130l. in Bank notes, how can it be contended that the difference between the nominal value given and received, was not the measure of the depreciation of the paper? I can conceive no other measure; although I not only admit, but have uniformly maintained, that, having once parted with all our coin, we could not again resort to a metallic currency, without, in some degree, raising the value of the precious metals all over the world. This is a good reason, as I have stated before to this House, for using them as sparingly as possible, and for maintaining the circulation with as small a proportion of gold as is consistent with the preservation of a metallic standard. But, in as much as any diminution in the value of the precious metals, either from natural causes, such as an abundant supply from the mines, or from legitimate causes, such as the substitution of paper, really pay, able on demand, or the other contrivances, of credit—involves no breach of his contract, however prejudicial to the creditor; so, on the other hand, an increased demand for the precious metals, in this or in any other country (for the effect would be the same should the demand arise else, where), or a diminished supply from the mines, affords no ground for the interference of the state with the conditions of that contract, by, which it would be violated for the benefit of the debtor.
907 I trust that I have satisfied the House, that retaining the present standard of value, an adjustment between debtor and creditor, to be equitable, must embrace all contracts as well prior as subsequent to 1797, and that such an adjustment is impracticable. I would next enquire what would be the effect of altering that standard, without any reference to such an adjustment? An extensive alteration to this effect, I take to be the plan of the hon. member for Essex. In the first place, it is evident, that such an alteration would be nothing less than a direct breach of faith to all creditors generally, without any discrimination between debts contracted before the period of the depreciation, or during that period, or since the restoration of the currency. Is the House of Commons prepared to sanction such a sweeping and monstrous principle as this? Is it prepared to say to the old creditor—the full measure of injustice which you suffered for many years, we are now about to acknowledge, not for the purpose of repairing, but of perpetuating, that injustice:—and to all creditors who have entered into contracts since the restoration of the standard—we are about to rob you of 40 per cent of your property, because there are other creditors in this country who made their contracts when the currency was depreciated to that amount. Can any legislature, not lost to all regard for character, and to every feeling of common honesty, listen for a moment to such morality and such proposals as these? But, apart from these considerations, let us examine this proposal on the narrower grounds of policy and expediency:—if, indeed, the House can allow itself to suppose, that the present case may be an exception to the general rule—that the interests of the state can never be promoted by the violation of public justice, and the forfeiture of public honour. How strange must be the condition of this country, if it can only prosper by a violation of national faith and a subversion of private property. If it can only be saved by a measure, reprobated by all statesmen and all historians;—the wretched but antiquated resource of barbarous ignorance and arbitrary power, and only known among civilized communities, as the last mark of a nation's weakness and degradation. Does not the hon. member see, that such a measure would he the death blow to all public credit, and to all confidence in 908 private dealings between man and man? Does he not see, that if you once lower your standard, it will become a precedent that will be resorted to on every future emergency or temporary pressure—resorted to the more readily, as credit and every other more valuable resource, on which this country has hitherto relied, will be at an end? Does he not see, that the expectation of such a recurrence will produce much of the mischief of its reality?—that when men find, that, in England, there is no security in pecuniary contracts, they will seek that security elsewhere?—If we once embark in this career—if once openly and deliberately we avow and recognize this principle, England, depend upon it, will rapidly descend, and not more rapidly in character than in wealth, to the level of those countries, in which, from ignorance and barbarism, such expedients are not yet exploded.
But, Sir, whatever fallacious expectations of relief to the country the hon. gentleman may have conceived from a plan so pregnant with mischief and disaster, fortunately there is little danger of its being adopted. In the mysterious councils of despotism, such a project may be so matured as to burst by surprise upon the country. Here it must be discussed in parliament, and would be examined and understood by the public long before it could be ripe for execution. I will venture to say, that if this House were even to entertain such a proposition by a vote, the country would be in alarm and confusion from one end of the kingdom to the other. All pecuniary dealings would be at an end; all pending transactions would be thrown into disorder; all debtors would be called upon for immediate payment; all holders of paper circulation would insist upon its being converted into coin or bullion; and all the coin and bullion so withdrawn, whether gold or silver, would be hoarded. Neither the Bank, nor the London bankers, nor the country banks, could survive the shock. Every man would be struggling to call in credits, whether in public or private hands, and either by converting those credits into goods, or by sending them abroad, to place them beyond the reach of the hon. member's bill. What a scene of strife, insolvency, stagnation of business, individual misery, and general disorder would ensue!—All this would precede the passing of the hon. gentleman's bill, whilst it was proceeding in its 909 several stages in this, and the other House of parliament. It would be a waste of the time of the House, to follow the measure in its effects, when it should have become the law of the land, because such an event is happily impossible. Let the House give the hon. member his committee, after the speech in which he has proposed it to night, and I am perfectly sure, that this first step, in furtherance of his object, would, even to-morrow, create such a commencement of stir and alarm in this metropolis, and very soon in every part of the country, as would induce the hon. gentleman, himself, to be among the first to proclaim his abandonment of all such desperate expedients. The House, I am sure, must be satisfied of the dangerous principle, and immediate tendency, of such a proposal; but, it may not be altogether inexpedient to examine, a little, the extent to which, as I understand the hon. member, he would be disposed to go in the execution of his purpose.
That extent I take to be, in substance, this:—that he would lower the standard of the currency in, or nearly in, the proportion of the difference between the average price of wheat taken for the period between 1797 and 1719, and the average price between 1719 and the present year:—for instance, if the average price in the latter case should be 45, and in the former 80 shillings; he would provide that, henceforward, 45 shillings should pass for 80 shillings; and, consequently, that, for every debt or contract now existing, a tender in this proportion should be. a payment in full.
The hon. gentleman, in order to pave the way for this proposal, has laboured hard to prove that corn is a better standard than gold. Like most gentlemen who claim to be exclusively practical men, and who rail at those whom they are pleased to designate as theorists, and political economists—for no other reason than because they argue from principles which their adversaries cannot controvert, and proceed by deductions which they cannot refute or deny—the hon. member has, himself, launched into some of the wildest theories, and drawn his inferences from some of the most extravagant positions, which were ever Promulgated in this House.
As the foundation and ground work of his plan, he lays down in principle, "that the standard of value in every country, should be that article which forms the 910 constant and most general food of its population;" and, therefore, it is that he fixes upon wheat. It follows from this principle, that wheat could not be the standard in Ireland. There potatoes must be the measure of value. This indeed is a novelty even in theory! We beard a great deal in 1811, of fanciful standards—the ideal unit—the abstract pound sterling—and so forth; but who ever heard before of a potatoe standard? What a beautiful simplicity of system, and what facility it would afford to the settlement of all transactions between the two parts of the same empire, to have a wheat standard for the one, and a potatoe standard for the other!
I will admit to the hon. member, that there is no positive and absolute disqualification, either in wheat or potatoes, to prevent the one or the other being a standard of value. Wheat, like any other commodity, possessing value, is capable of being made the common measure to which the relative value of all other commodities shall be referred, and the common equivalent or medium by the intervention of which, they shall be exchanged the one against the other. But this is only saying, that a given measure of wheat, a bushel for instance; instead of a given quantity of gold, a sovereign for instance, shall be the money and legal tender of the country. For such a purpose, for reasons obvious to all who have ever turned their attention to the subject, wheat is one of the commodities the least adapted, always how ever with the exception of the new Irish standard, potatoes. But the hon. member, I shall be told, does not propose to make wheat the currency, but only the standard. I am aware of it, but how does this help his theory? How can a given weight of gold, of a given fineness, and of a certain denomination, which in this country is now the common measure of all commodities; be itself liable to be varied in weight, fineness, or denomination, according to the exchangeable value of some other commodity, without taking from gold the quality of money, and transferring it to that other commodity? All that you do is in fact, to make wheat money, and gold the representative of that money, as paper now is of gold. But to say, that one commodity shall he the money, and another the standard of that money, betrays a confusion of ideas, and is little short of a contradiction in 911 terms. As well might you propose, that the Winchester bushel should be the measure of corn, and the price of a yard of broad cloth, the standard by which the contents of that bushel should be determined. What the hon. gentleman, therefore, aims at, as I conceive, is, not that wheat should be either money or standard; but that the standard of money, instead of being fixed, once for all, should be varied, from time to time, according to the price of wheat; so that if wheat, upon an average of ten or twenty years, should fall, the standard should be lowered, or, what is the same thing, the denomination of our money be raised, and, vice versa, if wheat should rise, that the standard should be raised. This appeared to me the hon. member's general doctrine, but perhaps I have mistaken the application of it: for although he certainly would suggest the lowering the standard when the price of wheat falls, I heard nothing about raising it when the price rises:—and, certainly, to do the latter, however called for by reciprocity and justice, would militate against his other leading principle—that the prosperity of a state depends on the gradual but constant depreciation of its currency. One thing, indeed, would rather confirm my suspicion that this reciprocity forms no part of his plan; for, during the twenty years which preceded 1819, we never heard from him, or any other practical gentleman, a proposal to revise the standard, by a comparison of the average price of wheat for ten or twenty years preceding: the result of which might have been, that every debtor, instead of' discharging a debt of 80s. by the payment of 45s. would have had to pay nearly 80s. for every 45 of his debt, during 10 or 20 years to come, according as the one or the other of those terms might have been fixed upon for the periodical revision of the standard.
Without stopping to enquire, on the one hand, what would have been the effect of such a plan since the discovery of the mines of America, or how it might be affected hereafter by the future productiveness of those mines;—and without adverting, on the other hand, to the obvious objection, that, in this attempt to adjust the standard of money by the price of corn, the precious metals may have been stationary in their relative value to other commodities, whilst the variation in respect to corn, may have arisen from 912 peculiar circumstances bearing upon the price of that commodity,—such as the growth of wealth and population in any particular country,—its state of dependance or independence of foreign supply,—the state of its corn laws,—its state and relations of peace or war,—the fluctuation of the seasons for a given number of years,—and a variety of other circumstances of which we have witnessed the powerful effects during the late war, and since the restoration of peace. I say, without dwelling on these considerations, I would ask what would be the condition of a civilized and opulent country in which every pecuniary contract was to be revised and altered every ten, or every twenty years? The wit of man, I am sure, could not devise a scheme better adapted to destroy all confidence and credit. Suppose they could survive it, (which however is impossible) to what speculations, and struggles, and devices, would not the system give rise, to raise or depress the price of corn, according to the conflicting interests of the parties? If a corn law now agitates the country from one end to the other, what would it do then? with what anxiety would the averages be watched in the last year of the term, and if their fairness be called in question now, what would be the suspicions at a time when every pecuniary contract for a pound sterling might be lowered to 15s., or raised to 25s. for the next term, according to the striking of that average? Is this the visionary plan which the member for Callington (Mr. Attwood) propounds, which the member for Essex inculcates, whilst they are branding their opponents as theorists; because they maintain the good old principle,—that the standard of money once fixed ought to be immutable; because they consider it as the guarantee, not only from the state to its own creditors; but the pledge, as far as the power of the state can extend, that, in pecuniary dealings between man and man, property shall be respected, and that all contracts, entered into with sincerity, shall be settled in good faith, and executed in justice?
The first essay of this notable plan would be founded on an average taken from a period of war, during which the country did not grow corn enough for its own consumption, during which it was afflicted with several harvests calamitously deficient, and forced to draw corn from abroad under every disadvantage of 913 freight and expense, and during the greatest part of which period, too, Ireland was excluded from our market;—compared with an average taken from years of peace and general abundance, and when that abundance, joined to the immense produce of Ireland, has created a glut in ail the markets of the empire.
Several other strange theories and positions were laid down by the hon. member in the course of his elaborate speech; but as they do not appear to me to have much connexion with the immediate object of his motion, I shall not waste the patience of the House by observing upon them at any length. There is one, however, which I cannot help adverting to; because it is a point to which he seemed to attach great importance, and to illustrate by many calculations. That point, if I understand the hon. member is this, that we ought to measure the pressure of taxation by the price of corn. "In 1813," says the hon. member, "the price of wheat being 108s. 9d., and the taxes 74,6741,798l.—13,733,296 quarters of wheat were sufficient for the payment thereof: in the present year, the price of wheat being 45s.—very nearly double that amount of quarters are necessary to pay the taxes thereof." I wonder, when he was making these comparisons, that he did not extend them to a few other years. If he had, he would have found in 1812, for instance, that the taxes being 70,435,679l. and wheat at the moderate price of 125s. 5d.—11,224,809 quarters of wheat were sufficient for the payment thereof. In 1815, that the taxes being 79,948,670l., and the price of wheat only 64s. 4d.—24,854,508 quarters were requisite for the payment thereof. But, then, 1817 was again a prosperous year; for the taxes being reduced to 55,836,259l., and wheat having risen to 94s. 9d.—11,786,017 were sufficient for the payment thereof. Now, according to this statement, the years 1812 and 1817, must have been those of the lightest pressure, and 1815 and 1821, those in which that pressure was most severe. If distress bordering upon famine, if misery bursting forth in insurrection, and all the other symptoms of wretchedness, discontent, and difficulty, are to be taken as symptoms of pressure upon the people, then I should say, that 1812 and 1817, were two years of which no good man can ever wish to witness the like again; but if all the usual consequences of general ease in the great 914 masses of our condensed population, and all the habitual concomitants of contented industry, are indications of a better state of things, then I should say, that 1815 and 1821—periods of the severest pressure of taxation, according to this new measure of its pressure—are among those years, in which, judging from their conduct, the labouring parts of the community have had least reason to complain of their situation.
The high price of the necessaries of life is, at all times, a delicate topic for public discussion, from the misconceptions to which it is liable. I am not one of those who are indiscriminate advocates for cheap bread; on the contrary, I am ready to maintain, that a price moderate and reasonable, but, above all, as steady as possible, is most for the interest of the consumer; but I cannot admit, that the amount of the public burghers, in any particular year, is in the inverse ratio of the price of corn, or that a scarcity price is a fair test, either of relief generally, or of the alleviation of that particular pressure. This forms no part of my creed of political economy. Indeed, I should think I was much nearer the truth in contending, that such a price of corn as that of 1812, instead of mitigating the pressure of the taxes, had a tendency to abridge the profits of capital and the comforts of the people, in much the same way as they would certainly be abridged by any great addition to the amount of the previously existing taxes.
The hon. member, however, is so convinced that, whatever inconvenience the consumers may have experienced from the extreme dearness of corn, they are suffering still more severely from its present cheapness, that he did not hesitate to offer, in support of this inference, a comparison between the quantity of corn imported into London in the years 1812 and 1821. In 1812, he says, "the quantity imported was 386,921 quarters; and in 1821, 565,535 only. Here," says the hon. member, "it is undeniably proved that with an increasing demand, we should suppose, from a generally increased population, there was a less consumption in 1821, at 50s. a quarter than in 1812, at 125s. a quarter." The quantities may be correct, but the explanation is obvious. In 1812, the country districts, as well as the metropolis, were fed in a great degree by foreign corn imported into the port of London. In 1821, all the country markets 915 were glutted with corn of our own growth, and the demand in Mark-land being supplied from those markets, it was, of course, limited to the consumption of London. This is the simple solution of the hon. gentleman's paradox; and I really believe, that the inference which he had drawn from it is entitled to about as much weight as his unqualified assertion—that misery and distress are rapidly increasing among all ranks of the people, not excepting those in humble life; and that the proofs of it are to be found in the great increase of bankruptcy and crime.
Except in the increase of the revenue, I have not the means at hand of refuting, by documents and figures, the gloomy statements of the hon. members; but the revenue had certainly increased in all the articles of consumption, and is, I understand, sill increasing. The hon. member must either disprove this fact, or explain how it happens, that universal distress leads to an increased consumption of commodities, most of which constitute the comforts and luxuries of the middling and inferior classes of the community. I believe him to be mistaken in respect to the increase of insolvency and crime. Sure I am, that Great Britain, as far as I can judge, appears to be more quiet and easily governed than at almost any period, which I can recollect, of those halcyon days when money was depreciated, and when, from that depreciation, among other evils which it inflicted on the labouring classes, the necessaries of life were not only generally rising, but liable to great and rapid fluctuation, within short intervals of time, to which the price of labour could not accommodate itself.
Let it not be supposed, however, that I am insensible to the magnitude of the pressure which bears upon other classes of the community. It is, as I have said before in this House, the inevitable consequence of having tampered with the currency. It is an evil which had visited all classes in succession; and from the experience of which, I trust, future times will take a salutary warning. But the hon. member seems to think it had fallen with disproportionate severity on the landed interest. This I cannot admit. It appears to me that its operation, in this respect, is rather a question of time than of degree, by a comparison with other interests. During the progress of depreciation the evil did not reach the land- 916 owner with an unincumbered estate. In the rise of his rents, he found a full compensation for the cheapness of money, aye, more than a compensation, by the excessive speculation to which the stimulus of that cheapness gave rise. If his estate was incumbered, it is obvious, that he was relatively still more benefitted. By the fall of rents the incumbered estate, in its turn, feels that fall more severely; but it is as debtor, in common and in the same degree only with all other debtors, that the interest of the land-owner is affected. Taking the land-owner, therefore, abstractedly from any pecuniary engagements, he has been the most favoured class of the community. During the depreciation he was compensated to its full amount; and he is no loser if he gives up that compensation, now that the evil which it countervailed no longer exists. To this extent a fall of rent is to him no injury, although it will diminish the nominal nett income paid into his banker's hands. On this point of rent, I know what prejudices and alarms exist at this moment; I know that it is a tender subject in this House; I know by how many other circumstances, independent of depreciation, the rents of land may be varied; and I also know the inconvenience of indulging in predictions on public matters; but I feel the opinion so confidently that I will not hesitate to state it—that, after the struggle incident to the present re-adjustment of rents shall be over, the result of that re-adjustment, speaking generally, will be a very considerable permanent increase upon the rental of 1797:—and I state this opinion, with the more assurance of its being realized, because such an increase is the natural consequence of circumstances unconnected with depreciation, and over which the return to cash payments can have no control. Taking, therefore, the land-owner, simply as such, with his income doubled during the war, to meet depreciation; and with his income when that depreciation ceases, considerably larger than when it began, is there any other class which has escaped with so little injury? It is no answer to this question, to talk of increased taxation, and the local burthens upon the land. These are evils greatly to be lamented, but the comparison is between the nett money income of the landlord, available for his own purposes after all local burtherika have I been paid, and the nett income of another 917 member of the community, for instance, the annuitant. Both are liable to the same general taxation, and the 100l. received from land, or the 100l. derived from the funds, have no preference or distinction in this respect.
There is indeed, I state it with deep regret, another class, connected with the land, whose losses are more severe, and whose reverse of fortune is one of the greatest calamities which the depreciation, in its consequences, has inflicted upon the country. I mean the tenantry. For that most meritorious body of men, I feel the greatest compassion. But here again the same distinction applies as in the case of the landlord, between the tenant carrying on business upon his own capital, and the tenant under pecuniary engagements. Suppose the former to have commenced business in the year 1797, with a stock of his own worth 1,000l., and that money, at the end of ten years, from that time, had been depreciated 50 per cent, at the rate of five per cent each year, his stock would then be nominally worth 1,500l., but, in fact, he would not be one penny the richer, all other commodities having risen in the same proportion: and, if money had then been restored to its former value, his stock would again have become nominally 1,000l. without his being in reality one penny the poorer. But if he had borrowed that 1,000l. and at the end of ten years reckoned himself (as ho had a right to do) worth 500l. more than he owed, that gain is now lost, though the capital in both cases remains the same. Still worse if he borrowed the 1,000l. during the depreciation, he is now insolvent. In this illustration, the House will trace the progress of the evils growing out of a depreciating currency. The man who has borrowed 1,000l. and finds it increase to 1,500l. naturally concludes that he has been very successful in business.—He enlarges his expenses, and style of living—his neighbour, who witnesses his prosperity, is tempted to follow his course, and hence arises a spirit of competition which raises the rent of land far beyond even the quantum of the depreciation. The same state of things which led to this eager disposition to borrow, created also an unbounded facility to lend. What was the result upon the moral habits and feelings of the community? The sober expectations of industry, together with the old maxims and prudent courses by which 918 those expectations have heretofore been realized, were neglected and exploded.—Profit from depreciation became confounded with the legitimate return of capital and, in too many instances, the ancient spirit of the British tenantry degenerated into dashing speculation, and consequent extravagance. But will any man say, that the gain arising from a constantly growing depreciation is the fair profit of industry, that it is the profit which the law intended to countenance, or encourage, or that such a principle, if once avowed, would not soon defeat or destroy itself? Can there be a man so short-sighted as to believe, that, in the state in which we found ourselves at the close of the war, we could content ourselves with doing nothing? There was no alternative between resorting again to a fixed standard of value, or going on in a career of constantly increasing depreciation, which must have hurried the country at last to a general catastrophe: for, I believe, there is no instance of an opulent country led away by such a delusion, where it has not ended in a convulsion of the property, and generally of the power of the state.
Having to make an option between these opposite courses, parliament in 1819, resolved to return to the ancient standard of value. It is this decision which the hon. member arraigns, and proposes to you to rescind. It would be difficult for him to contend, that it was not the most manly and the most honest course, and, I think, he has failed to prove that it was not, under all circumstances, the wisest and the best. Could I entertain a doubt in that respect (which I own I do not), it would by no means follow that we ought to undo in 1822 that which we had done in 1819; and when we have undergone all the sufferings and privations incident to the restoration of health, that we should again plunge into all the vicious indulgences and irregularities which had first brought on the disease.
In deciding upon a matter of state policy, of this complicated and delicate nature, we cannot do better than to take experience for our guide; because in looking to the opinions of the wisest philosophers, and the proceedings of the greatest statesmen of former days, under similar circumstances, we may at least be sure that we are resorting to authorities entitled in all respects to the greatest deference, but, above all, from their being 919 free from the possible suspicion of their judgments being influenced by the prejudices, the passions, and the interests of the present day. I feel it necessary, on this occasion, to resort to these authorities, not on these grounds only, but because I have heard again from the hon. member to night, an assertion which astonished me when it was first made, in a former debate, by the hon. member for Westminster (sir F. Burdett), "that nothing like this depreciation and restoration of the currency ever occurred in any country before"—an assertion which astonished me the more, as, if my memory does not deceive me, that hon. baronet referred, on the same occasion, to the occurrences of king William's reign. Now, Sir, I affirm, without fear of contradiction, first, that the state of the currency in king William's time, prior to the year 1696, was, in principle, exactly similar to the state in which it was prior to the year 1819. Secondly, that the restoration of that currency in the year 1696, was a measure precisely similar, in principle, to the present restoration of our ancient standard of value. Thirdly, that it brought upon the country difficulties precisely of the same nature: and lastly, that the remedies then proposed for those difficulties, and rejected by parliament, as I trust the remedies now proposed will he rejected, were exactly the same as those which are in the contemplation of the hon. member.
No man can read the writers and historians of those days, or the Journals of parliament, without being aware that the currency was then greatly debased; so much so, that the current price of the ounce of silver (in the silver coin of the realm, then the only legal tender), fluctuated from 6s. 3d. to near 7s., whilst the standard or coinage price was 5s. 2d. Is not this in principle, the same depreciation as that which we have witnessed in our time? In this state of things, parliament in the month of December 1695, addressed the king to take measures for the restoration of a sound currency. What were those measures?—the calling in of all the clipped coin (which, having lost nearly half its standard weight, till then had passed at its full nominal value), and re-coining it of full weight according to the ancient standard. Again, is not this, in principle, precisely what we have lately done? To show that the currency was then as much depreciated as I have stated 920 (a depreciation at least equal to any which we have experienced, taken at its most exaggerated estimate), it is sufficient to mention, that it appears, by a return made from the Mint at that time, that 572 bags of the silver coin called in, which ought to have weighed 221,418 ounces, did actually weigh only 113,771, leaving a deficiency of 107,617, or very nearly one-half.
In respect to my third position, that this restoration of the standard by king William, brought upon the country difficulties of a similar nature to those which are now complained of, I might content myself with referring to historical memoirs, which have been long known to the world. But the recent publication of a most interesting correspondence, between king William and his minister the duke of Shrewsbury, so strikingly displays the extent of those difficulties, and so directly proves, at the same time, and in the most authentic manner, my last position—that the remedies suggested were similar to those which are now proposed;—that I am sure the House will permit me to read to them a few short extracts from that correspondence. For its publication the world is immediately indebted to arch-deacon Coxe, who introduces this part of it with the following statement. Speaking of the year 1696, he writes as follows: "The evils arising from the dilapidated state of the coinage had been so long and deeply felt, that in the preceding year, an act had passed for the immediate recoinage of the silver money which was clipped, and otherwise much decreased in value. The measures, however, which were adopted to accomplish so desirable a purpose, created a great, though temporary aggravation of the evil: for such a check to the circulation immediately ensued, that all the operations of trade were cramped, the collection of the public supplies was suspended, guineas were raised to the value of 30 shillings, and paper currency was reduced to an alarming discount: Bank notes falling 20, and tallies and other government securities 60 per cent. By these causes the army was deprived of its regular pay and supplies; and the letters of the king feelingly detail the mischievous consequences which ensued." Here we see, that the evil, like the depreciation which it has fallen to our lot to remedy, had been of long standing, and I think this description of its effects, does not fall short even of the 921 most desponding and exaggerated pictures of our present difficulties. In fact the fall of prices was upon the then restoration of the standard quite as great as upon the present occasion. The guinea, which was then a commodity, fluctuating in its current value according to the price of bullion, fell from 30s. to 21s. 6d.—wool from 36s. to 20s. a tod, and all other commodities in nearly the same proportion. But let us refer to the correspondence itself. On the 15th of May 1696, we find the duke of Shrewsbury writing to the king as follows; "Upon the receipt of your majesty's commands this morning, I engaged the rest of the justices to represent the case of the army abroad, to my lord Godolphin; but found your majesty's new letter to him, had made him sufficiently sensible of their condition. We discoursed this morning with several of the most eminent goldsmiths, and with some of the Bank, and had the dismalest accounts from them of the state of credit in this town, and of the effects it would soon have upon all the traders in money: none of them being able to propose a remedy, except letting the parliament sit in June (an inconvenience it would seem much dreaded by our ancestors in this House, but to which we submit with resignation), "and enacting the clipt money to go again, the very hopes of which locks up all the gold and good money, and would be to undo all that has been done."
Enacting the clipt money to go again! undoing all that has been done! Is not this precisely what the hon. member points at by his motion of this evening?
I shall now read a very short extract from a letter of the king to the duke of Shrewsbury, written after he had received a communication from the lords justices to the same effect as the above. "Camp of Altere, 20th July, 1696. The letter from the lords justices, of the 14th, has quite overcome me, and I know not where I am, since at present I see no resource which can prevent the army from mutiny, or total desertion." On the 28th July, after holding another council, the duke of Shrewsbury writes to the king as follows: "It was universally the opinion of all here, that a session in your absence, and in the divisions the nation labours under now, would produce nothing but heat among themselves, and petitions from all the counties about the state of the money; that they could afford little help as to a present supply, but by the expectation they 922 would raise, that clipt money should be current again, or a recompense allowed for it; that the standard should be advanced, and the price of guineas improved." Would not the House almost suppose, that instead of reading a dispatch dated in 1696, I was describing, from some letter written during the present session, the feelings which parts of the country have expressed, and the advice which the weakness of some individuals has suggested for our present difficulties? I will only read one short extract from the answer of king William to this letter; it is dated, "Camp at Altere, 6th August, 1696." "May God relieve us from our present embarrassment; for I cannot suppose it is his will to suffer a nation to perish, which he has so often almost miraculously saved."
When we reflect that thi6 extract is not taken from a speech to parliament, or any document intended to meet the public eye, but from a confidential letter from a king to his minister and friend, the pious confidence which it breathes, and the beautiful simplicity of the language in which that confidence is expressed, are equally calculated to raise the general character of that great prince in our estimation. But let us see a little, immoral immediate reference to the present subject, under what circumstances this affecting letter was written. It was written at the head of his army by a king not insensible to military glory. But was military glory all that king William had then at stake? Was he not at the head of that army to defend his native land from the encroachments of an ambitious and too-powerful neighbour? Was he not engaged in a struggle for the liberties of this country—for the liberties of Europe—and (as far as a personal object could weigh with him in such a struggle) for the crown of England, which had been placed upon his head by the Revolution of 1688? It was in order to procure the pecuniary means of sustaining this struggle, that in the spring of 1696, he had sent the earl of Portland to England. After long consultations with the ministers, with the Bank, with the monied interest, that noble person returned to the king, confirming the reports of his council, that no mode of extricating him from his difficulties could be suggested, except that which we have already seen described, namely, "the re-issuing of the clipped money, and the undoing all that has been done." Did king William listen to this suggestion, 923 and dishonour his reign by lowering the standard of our money? No, Sir. He was a man that knew how to meet adversity. His life had been one continued struggle with difficulties; but it had been the fixed rule of that life to encounter them with an unshaken fortitude, and a rigid adherence to what he considered to be right. This was the quality of his mind without which his other virtues would have lost all their lustre, a quality which did not forsake him on this most trying occasion.
Instead of re-dispatching the earl of Portland to England to concert measures "for undoing all that had been done," he sent him privately to sound Louis 14th, and to endeavour to bring about a negotiation for peace; and coming himself to England, he met his parliament on the 20th October, 1696. In his speech from the throne on that day, he earnestly called their attention to the state of the currency, and the difficulties in which the country was, in consequence, involved. At that period, this subject agitated the country from one end to the other. The secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Lowndes, had recommended the lowering the standard from 5s. 2d. to 6s. 3d. the ounce of silver—an operation equivalent to the lowering of the gold standard, at this time, from 3l.17s.10½d. to 4l. 14s. 6d.,—a degree of depreciation which, to begin with, would, I believe, almost satisfy even the hon. member for Callington. The popular feeling was all on the side of this advice. That feeling was manifested in petitions from several counties, and most of the great towns. But did parliament adopt this advice? Far from it. With true wisdom, on the very first day of the meeting, immediately after voting an address in answer to the speech from the throne, on that same 20th of October, 1696, Mr. Montague, the then chancellor of the exchequer, proposed, and parliament adopted, the following resolution:—"That this House will not alter the standard of the gold and silver coins of this kingdom in fineness, weight, or denomination." The circumstance of coming to a resolution of this importance, on the very first day of the meeting, is the more remarkable, as in those times, the address, in answer to the speech, was sometimes not voted till some days after the opening; but the ministers of king William felt the great importance of removing all doubts, and of at once settling the public mind on this point. We know 924 what followed. The ancient standard was maintained; the difficulties gradually subsided, and every thing finding its proper level, all the transactions of the country were restored to their former facility. "The receiving (i. e. the calling in) the silver money," says a writer of that period, "could not but occasion much hardship and many complaints among the people; yet the greatest part attributed this to the necessity of affairs, and began to hope, both from the prospect of a peace, and wisdom of those at the helm, that they should enjoy more favourable times."
We are now fortunately in the enjoyment of a peace dictated by ourselves, and I trust likely to be durable; but it must be admitted (the Shrewsbury Correspondence leaves no doubt upon the subject) that the peace of Ryswick, a peace by no means of the same lofty character, was hastened by the difficulties incident to the restoration of the currency. By that peace most of the objects of the war were either sacrificed or postponed. It was considered at the time as little better than a hollow truce, submitted to from necessity. But this only confirms the paramount importance which the government of king William attached to the restoration of the currency. Their view of the peace of Ryswick was certainly a just one, and we all know that, after a few years of a feverish armistice, it was followed by a long and arduous war. If I refer at all to that war (the war of the Succession) it is to recall the recollection of the great share and the glorious exertions of England in that contest; and to satisfy the House, that whatever were the streights to which the country was reduced in 1696, the firm and wise resolution which was then adopted was not incompatible with the speedy restoration of prosperity and power. If, in 1696, this House, having then so recently restored the antient land marks of property, refused, under the strongest inducements, both from the state of war and from popular feeling at home, again to alter them, shall we, after those same land marks have now been replaced for three years, adopt a measure which would be as fatal to our national character as it would to the security of individual possession, to the maintenance of credit in private dealings, and to the very existence of the public credit of the state?
When projects of this nature are afloat out of doors, and when they are now 925 propounded to this House, shall we, with such mighty interests at stake, hesitate to manifest our firm determination to maintain the present standard of value? Shall we shrink from the precedent of 1696? I am as little disposed as any man to call upon parliament to bind itself to any general or abstract principles, but I own this appears to me an occasion for such a proceeding. Under that impression, however conscious of the humble station which I hold in this House and in the country, and of its immeasurable distance from that held by the great man by whom the resolution of 1696 was moved, but with the same feelings for the honour and best interests of my country, which actuated his bosom on that occasion, I shall conclude (thanking the House for their indulgence) by proposing to amend the motion of the honourable member by substituting for it the resolution of 1696; viz., "That this House will not alter the standard of gold or silver, in fineness, weight, or denomination."
§ Lord A. Hamilton
expressed his surprise that the right hon. gentleman should have assumed throughout the whole of his speech, that the country was in a prosperous condition. He was inclined to support the original motion, because it was represented that the change which had been made in the value of the currency was operating ruin towards a large portion of the country. He protested against the doctrine laid down by the right hon. gentleman, that every member who supported the motion must therefore be supposed to entertain the same opinions as the hon. mover of it. He agreed in many of the arguments made use of by his hon. friend; but he could not admit that by doing so he implied his approval of an alteration of the standard, or a repeal of the bill of 1819. If his hon. friend had proposed to repeal that bill without inquiry, he would have opposed such a proceeding. If he were to admit that much of the argument of the right hon. gentleman were true, still it would not induce him to withhold his support from the motion. The right hon. gentleman asserted, that by acceding to the proposition of his hon. friend, the House would commit great injustice towards debtors. Now, it formed one of the grounds of complaint against the bill which provided for the return to cash payments, that it oppressed the debtor and benefited the creditor. The right hon. gentleman had asked, what was to be done with respect 926 to the national debt? Now, he would ask, what was to be done with respect to the payment of that debt? The paying of the interest of that debt was causing the ruin of a large class of the community. As a proof of this, he would refer the right hon. gentleman to the report of the agricultural committee, of which he was generally deemed the author, in which it was stated, that tenants were at present compelled to pay out of their capitals. The resumption of cash payments had done, was doing, and must continue to do, great injury to a large portion of the community. The only object of the motion was, to inquire, how the people might sustain the least quantity of damage from that measure. The right hon. gentleman bad spoken of the dangers which he anticipated from the House agreeing to the motion. Among other misfortunes the right hon. gentleman dreaded an immediate convulsion. But, if the bill which was passed in 1819 continued in force, a total change in the whole property of the country would be effected. A few evenings since, the hon. member for Wiltshire had declared, that the lands throughout the country were mortgaged to the public creditor. If those words meant any thing, they meant that, if the interest of the debt could not be obtained by the product of taxation, the public creditor might foreclose and seize upon the land.—The noble lord expressed his regret that the country had not vet had the benefit of trying the propositions of the hon. member for Portarlington. He thought that the Bank had always acted unwisely with respect to the measures which they had adopted upon the subject of the resumption of cash payments. He warned the House not to continue its support to the present system, merely because it was sanctioned by high authority. Great men had bestowed their approbation upon some of the most destructive measures which had ever been produced in this country. Individuals of high reputation had supported the Bank Restriction act. But that measure had only been sustained from month to month; and even its most strenuous advocates had not ventured to propose its continuance for more than six months. A few years after came that second gross and mischievous resolution with respect to the value of the pound note. That resolution declared a pound note and a shilling to be equal in public estimation to a guinea; and immediately after came a bill into the House to prevent 927 the sale of guineas at 26s. each. The right hon. gentleman had asked, with a sort of taunt, why had not gentlemen on his (lord A. H.'s) side of the House come down at that moment of depreciation to adjust, or suggest an adjustment of the difference of value. Why, if he (lord A. H.) and his friends had taken that course, they would have been met and confronted with the very resolution to which he now referred. The right hon. member for Liverpool, (Mr. Canning) it would be recollected, had opposed that resolution at the time of its being brought forward, and the right hon. gentleman had written a most able pamphlet against it. They had now, however, joined administration, and he could not, of course, expect their assistance. But the principle which he himself had come to was this—the first step that the House must take towards wisdom would be to stultify its own past conduct. The corn-laws, and the resolutions as to the currency which the House had passed, justified him in taking that ground. To the principle of the bill called Mr. Peel's bill he was not hostile. It had been intended, no doubt, as a cure for the then existing evil. But the remedy was sometimes worse than the disease; and, looking at the circumstances under which the bill bad come into operation, and at the manifest mischiefs likely to result from it, he was not sure that he should not have to throw something like that reflection upon it. Before he sat down he wished most strongly to impress upon the House that the situation of the country was such as to threaten mischief. Instead of growing better, matters were daily growing worse. And if a time should come—an event far from unlikely—when the manufacturing interest should be subjected to one half the extent of suffering and privation which the agriculturist were enduring at the present moment, that time would bring with it a difficulty not easily to be got over. If the manufacturers were pressed with any thing like that degree of distress, they would not be answered as the agriculturists had been, with "Some part of the country must suffer. Parliament imposes the burthen upon you; and you must bear it and be silent." That language, if it had pacified the agriculturists, would not do with the manufacturers. He was not prepared to vote for a change in the standard of the currency: but he did think that some means might be devised of throwing the existing mass of calamity 928 more equally over the country. When opinions upon the state of the currency were so various—when the noble lord opposite admitted that 70s. now was equal to 80s. before the passing of the bill—when the hon. member for Portarlington put the change in value at from 7 to 10 per cent; and when some hon. members put it so high as 30 or 40 per cent, surely it was worth while to institute some inquiry into the subject. He was not sanguine as to the adoption of any remedy, still less as to the adoption of any adequate remedy; still, the pressure of the evil was so great, that he was willing to take every chance; and he should therefore support the motion.
§ On the motion of Mr. Bennet, the debate was adjourned till to morrow.