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Corn-laws-Debate on Mr. Villiers' Amendment - General Character
of the Discussion which occupied five nights-Speeches of Mr.
duties, it might have seemed Corn-laws should not continue ; equally illogical and superfluous and they would no longer brook afterwards to discuss a proposition, the protracted refusal of all change of which the affirmative had been with which they had hitherto been involved in the preceding decision, met. And to what a monstrous viz., whether corn should be sub- anomaly in the condition of Engjected to any duties at all. The land had the law given birth! Å motion to that effect, however, of territory unexcelled in the abunwhich Mr. Villiers had previously dant resources of nature and accugiven notice, he did not now think mulated wealth, yet labouring proper to withdraw, and after four under such a weight of distress nights of debate upon Lord John that Government had admitted it Russell's amendment, the whole could not be exaggerated! Food subject was re opened, and five was becoming scarcer, and the more evenings employed in a dis- people were every hour sinking cussion of the conflicting argu- in the scale of human beings ; yet ments for protection or free-trade. the food which they demanded It cannot be deemed surprising they could not have, because the under these circumstances, that owners of the soil had established this second stage of a conflict de barriers between our island and prived of all its interest by the the two civilized continents beanticipated certainty of its result, tween which it is placed, so that was marked by an unusual degree they should not aid us in our of flatness and repetition. It hopeless distress. The cause of would be an useless task to exhibit the distress, however, was even a condensed summary of the exposed, in spite of every effort to speeches addressed to the House, divert attention from the enquiry; during the week thus occupied, and within the year two different by the host of Members who suc Governments had been obliged to cessively challenged the attention concede to the general expression of the Chair. We shall endeavour, of opinion: one had sacrificed after giving a short sketch of the office on that account; the other line of argument adopted by the had found it proper to admit, what mover of the amendment, to record it previously denied, that the law the few striking or original pas must be changed. He objected, sages which the debate produced, however, to both their projects; or such as derived importance from for there was no ground for the the situation or character of the maintenance of the Corn-law; and individual speakers. Mr. Villiers he had not heard of any writer on thus opened his case: He said that ethics who justified the modificafor four centuries the proprietors tion of wrong. Some, indeed, of the soil had been attempting to conscientiously held that a total legislate for the purpose of raising change
change of the law would be prethe value of their properties, and judicial to agriculture; but he the result of all their efforts had defied proof that the fear rested been to prejudice those properties, on any valid ground, and the and greatly to lower the owners in highest authorities were opposed the estimation of the country. The to it. Here Mr. Villiers quoted great majority of the people had Lord Grenville, the London Mernow made up their minds that the chants' Petition of 1820, the Select,
Committee of 1821, the Committee is not uniformly or necessarily a of 1836 and the evidence given benefit to the people. When you before it, the pamphlet of “A suppose that a man has but 401. Cumberland Landowner,” Mr. a year for the support of himself, Whitmore’s “ Letter to the Agri- his wife, and children, it appears culturists of Salop," Mr. Tooke, monstrous to argue that an outlay Mr. M'Culloch, the evidence of of 301. for corn is not a matter in statesmen, landed proprietors, the which he is deeply interested. I oretical writers, and farmers. Of am now only putting the prima the peculiar burthens pleaded by facie case. How is it met by the thie landed interest, the highway. Government? Why, the right rate alone was exclusively borne honourable Gentleman declares, by them; and that was as much against the universal sense of all an investment as any other outlay ages and nations, that cheapness of to give value to their lands, and as food is not necessarily a benefit to justly borne by them as local rates a people. His argument, if I by a town. in fact, nothing but rightly understood it, was simply vague generalities had been brought this—there are countries where forward to sustain the plea. The food is cheap, and the people are competition among farmers for not so well off as the people of land showed that they could only England ; and the countries which obtain the current rate of profit on he particularly cited were Prussia their capital ; the monopoly, there- and Belgium. If the right honfore, did not benefit them; and ourable Gentleman used any other the paramount interest of labourers argument on this head, it escaped always lies in procuring cheap my attention. Now, Sir, is that food. The forced maintenance of argument absolutely worth anythe Corn-laws was making all thing—is it even a plausible argumen in the country politicians, ment? If, indeed, any person and driving the middle and work were so egregiously absurd' as to ing classes to think that they were argue that cheapness of food is the mis-represented. He concluded by sole cause of national prosperity, moving “ that all duties payable and that trade and manufactures, on the importation of corn, meal, and a long course of successful or flour, do now cease and deter events have nothing to do with it, mine."
I could understand the exposure After several speakers had ex- of the fallacy which pointed out pressed their opinions for other countries where the necesagainst the amendment, Mr. T. B. saries of life were extremely cheap Macaulay declared his intention of but the condition of the people voting on neither side, agreeing not proportionably benefited. But with Mr. Villiers in wishing a all we have argued is, that cheaptotal repeal of duties, but objecting ness of food is a blessing to a to an immediate withdrawal of nation, exactly in the same sense protection. He would omit the as health is a blessing to an indiword “ now" from the resolution. vidual. Of course, a man in ex. He thought Sir Robert Peel was cellent bodily health may, from wrong in his fundamental prin- family afflictions and pecuniary ciple.“ His principle is, that the difficulties, be on the whole worse cheapness of the necessaries of life off than the invalid ; but that
does not shake the truth of the coal-mines ; and, disregarding all principle, that health is good for these ingredients in a nation's man-that the healthy man would prosperity, he sets up his declarabe better off than the valetudi- tion against the general sense of narian, if his circumstances were mankind in all ages and in all flourishing-or that the misery of nations. Take one single point of the man in health would be difference-I shall not go through aggravated by having the addic the others-between England and tional affliction of ill health. The Prussia or Belgium. Reflect upon right honourable Baronet's argu- what we owe to our insular poment goes to prove that there is sition and our maritime power. no such thing as a blessing vouch. We never saw an enemy in this safed by Providence to man. Fer- country; our fathers never saw tility of soil even cannot, with his It is not until we go back to views, be considered a blessing to '46, when some Highland clans a country. Suppose he had an marched to Derby and back again, opportunity of making the moun that England was conscious of tains and moors of Scotland as having a foreign enemy within her fertile as the richest part of the dominions. But take the case of vale of Taunton, he would say such a country as Prussia : in the such a power ought not to be memory of men now living, fifty exercised. If you are desirous, he pitched battles have been fought would argue, of your land ac within her territory, and in one quiring fertility, look to India: province 13,000 houses have been there there are three harvests in laid in ashes. Is it to be wondered the year, and food costs little or at, after such scenes, that the peanothing: does the Bengal la- sant of Prussia is not as well off bourer enjoy half the luxuries, as the peasant of England ? or can half the comforts, half the neces the inferiority of his condition be saries of the labourer of England ? converted into a proof that cheap Certainly not. But you cannot bread is no blessing to a people? stop here; you must show that by The right honourable Gentleman's making food as cheap in Scotland -induction is based on too narrow a as in Bengal, the people would be ground. It is perfectly true that subjected to continual dearth ; or cheap corn and low wages go tothat, if you were to transfer the gether in Prussia ; but it is equally skill and industry which supply true, that on the banks of the Ohio the comforts of the Scotch to Bene food is cheaper than either in gal, the misery of the people of the Prussia or Belgium, but wages are latter country would be the con- twice as high.” sequence. The right honourable With respect to the question of Baronet's argument consists in independence of foreign supply, it leaving entirely out of the question might be logically proved to be the important considerations of impossible. “It is estimated that good government, security of pro- the people of this country consume perty, internal order, the immense annually 25,000,000 quarters of mass of our machinery, the exist corn. It is quite certain, that ence of civil and religious liberty, even on an average year you must our insular situation, our great sow such a quantity of seed as mines of iron in the vicinity of our will give you something more than
and in abundant As for the Government scheme, years you will produce a great it seemed to be without any defi. deal more. It follows of necessity, nite purpose.
“ One object is, from the very nature of the product to prevent certain frauds in the and the change in the seasons, averages; but is it clear that that you can never rely with frauds are committed ? No; the certainty on bringing to market right honourable Baronet is in 25,000,000 of quarters ; neither doubt upon the point, and says more nor less. If you want that if they are committed, he is 25,000,000 of cotton stockings, sure the representations upon the you may order them, and ma- subject are greatly exaggerated. chinery will supply you with The right honourable Baronet said, neither more nor less; but if you he would like to see the price of want to have a certain fixed quan- corn in this country at between tity yielded by the land, you cannot 54s. and 58s.; but he gave no make any arrangements which will reason for fixing upon that price insure such an object. If corn is more than another; all his argucheaper abroad than in England, ments upon that point were exyou must export you surplus pro- tremely vague. To be sure, it is duce at the price which the corn a difficult thing for a statesman to of the surrounding countries brings say at what price any article ought in their own markets. Therefore, to sell; but that is the reason why whatever you produce over a fixed all wise statesmen refuse to state quantity will be sold at such a loss it; that is the reason why all as must prove ruinous to the Eng. wise statesmen leave the price to lish grower, and must ultimately be settled between the buyer and induce him to withdraw his land the seller. Taking the right honfrom such cultivation ; and expe- ourable Baronet's plan at his own rience confirms the justness of this valuation--taking it at his own speculation." Sir Robert Peel statement-it is a measure which had admitted that we must be settles nothing; it is a measure casually dependent on other coun. which pleases nobody; it is a tries; but Mr. Macaulay preferred measure which nobody asks for, constant to casual dependence, for and which nobody thanks him for; constant dependence became mu
it is a measure which will not ex. tual dependence. Such a country tend trade; it is a measure which as this should be dependent on the will not relieve distress." whole world. As to war inter Mr. J. S. Wortley vindicated rupting our supplies, a striking Sir Robert Peel's arguments instance of the fallacy of that against the misrepresentation which, assumption was furnished in 1810, he said, Mr. Macaulay had given during the height of the Conti- of them. He had never denied that nental system, when Europe was cheap food was a blessing to the against us, directed by a chief who people. If the question were prosought to destroy us through our posed abstractedly, “ Is cheap food trade and commerce. In that a blessing to the people?" it would year, 1810, there were 1,600,000 admit but of one answer.
But a quarters of corn imported, one general principle, however correct, half of which came from France must sometimes, in application, be itself.
qualified by particular circum