« AnteriorContinuar »
The commercial character of the past year presents some remarkable features. Though generally prosperous, it was marked by unusual fluctuations in the money market. There were no less than twelve changes in the Bank rate of discount, against five in 1862. At the beginning of the year the rate was only three per cent. At the end of January it was five. In April it was again three. In May, four, at which rate it continued until November, when it was increased to six. In December it rose to seven, and for a short time to eight, but was reduced again to seven before the end of the year. The principal causes which produced the drain of the precious metals and necessitated this high rate of discount, have been already particularized in connexion with the history of the cotton famine. The variations in the prices of the public funds were not great. The difference between the opening and closing quotations of the year showed a decline of only 14 per cent. The extreme range of Consols was 3%, the lowest price being at the beginning of December. Foreign stocks and railways, however, did not exhibit a corresponding reduction with the public funds; some of these securities having increased in value during the year. In English railways an average advance was established of about five per cent. The year was marked by an unusually small number of commercial failures. Indeed, it is remarkable to how slight an extent the operations of trade appear to have been affected by the enhanced value of money. The expansion of our foreign commerce, notwithstanding the drawback of the American Civil War, was beyond all precedent. The Board of Trade tables of exports for eleven months of the year show the enormous value of 132,135,368l., being an increase of nearly seventeen per cent. upon 1862, and about eight or nine per cent. in excess of any amount before recorded. The Public Revenue tables likewise exhibited at the termination of the year a very satisfactory result. There was indeed a small aggregate decrease of somewhat more than half a million, but this arose only upon those two branches of revenue on which a remission of taxation had been made, viz., the income tax and the customs, the latter being affected by the reduction of the tea duties. Every other branch of the national income showed an increased return, and in the two excepted cases the amount of the deficiencies was below the estimate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The increased energy, alike of the productive and consuming forces of the country, had thus far compensated the loss of the reduced taxes.
Most remarkable, however, among the commercial features of the year were the extent and variety of the new investments to which British capital was committed, and the extraordinary development of the joint-stock principle under the condition of limited liability, which received this year a greater impulse than it had ever before experienced. In addition to a considerable number of foreign loans which were brought upon the English
market from Turkey, Denmark, Brazil, Portugal, the Confederate States of America, and other quarters, a variety of companies, no less than 263 in number, offered an outlet in many diversified forms for the surplus income of the nation. The total nominal capital of these investments, loans, and new companies together was stated at no less than 144,128,000l. But from this sum, large enough to excite serious alarm in the minds of all prudent persons, large abatements must be made if we wish to estimate fairly the real extent of the drain upon the disposable capital of the community. In the first place, a considerable deduction must be made for abortive schemes; next, a large portion of the capital, even of those undertakings which are likely to proceed, is not intended to be called up; and, lastly, many of the undertakings represent only a transfer of capital, under the new law of liability, from private partnerships to joint-stock associations, and the sums, which now figure as shares, were equally invested formerly in another shape as commercial capital. Thus the many new jointstock banks which, stimulated by the great profits realized by similar institutions, came this year into existence, in effect only took the place of those private banking firms which they appear likely in course of time to supersede, and to this extent the change of system operates as a transfer rather than an addition of liabilities. Another class of enterprises, such as the Financial Associations recently formed upon the model of the Credit Mobilier and Credit Foncier of France, are designed rather to encourage other undertakings—which, if judiciously selected, will tend to increase the wealth of the country—than to absorb or sink capital on their own account. These considerations may qualify the alarm felt in some quarters at the immense amount to which the disposable capital of the country would seem at first sight to be committed by the vast crop of joint-stock associations which sprung into being during the year 1863. On the other hand, if there is no ground for morbid apprehension, there is at least enough in the commercial and political aspects of the times to justify caution and sobriety in speculative enterprise. Experience has proved that this country is liable at no distant intervals to the recurrence of a speculative mania, which outruns all limits of reason and prudence, and ends by involving a large part of the community in serious distress. It is at seasons of high commercial prosperity that the temptations are most strongly felt, and it would seem to require nothing less than actual and personal suffering to teach wisdom in such cases. Individuals, indeed, must be left to the consequences of their own conduct—against the dangers of indiscretion it is beyond the power of any Government to protect them; the law has done all that it undertakes, or can reasonably be expected to perform, if, abstaining from all direct encouragement to improvident transactions, it secures to all its subjects the unfettered exercise of their own industry and intelligence, and leaves a free field for the development of the resources and energies of the nation.
Reception of the Diplomatic Body—Speech of the Emperor at the opening of the
ON the 1st of January the Emperor received at the Tuileries the
“As we now meet for the last time, it is advisable to cast a retrospective glance upon what we have done together during the last five years; for it is only by taking a connected view of a period of years that a correct judgment can be formed of the consequent spirit with which the affairs of the country have been managed. “It is a usual thing to suspect in the acts of Sovereigns some secret motive or some mysterious combination. Yet my policy has always been simply to increase the prosperity of France and her moral preponderance without abusing and without weakening the power placed in my hands; to maintain abroad, within the limits of right and of treaties, the legitimate aspirations of nations towards a better position; to develope our commercial relations with those countries towards which we are drawn closer by a greater community of interests; to erase from diplomatic parchments the old questions of litigation, so as to obviate all pretexts of misunderstanding; to insist, finally, upon a full reparation for any insult offered to our flag, for any prejudice against our countryInern. “It is thus that, according to circumstances, I have been enabled to carry out these principles. “In the East the national wish of the Danubian Principalities to form only one people could not find us unconcerned, and our support has contributed to cement their union. “We have given our support to what we thought justifiable in the grievances of Syria and of Montenegro, and of the Christians of Syria, without disavowing the rights of the Ottoman Porte. “Our arms have defended the independence of Italy without tampering with revolution—without altering after the day of battle our friendly relations with our adversaries even for a day—without abandoning the Holy Father, whom our honour and our past engagements bound us to support. “We have suppressed the causes of misunderstanding which might have arisen with Spain, either from the non-delimination of the frontier line, or from the old debt of 1823; and with Switzerland the difference respecting the Walley of the Dappes. “Commercial treaties have been, or are on the eve of being, concluded with England, Belgium, Prussia, Italy, and Switzerland. “Finally, expeditions to China, Cochin-China, and Mexico prove that there are not any countries, no matter how far distant, where any attempt against the honour of France remains unpunished. Such facts . not be accomplished without complications. Duty always advances through danger. Nevertheless, France has been increased by two provinces. The barriers which separated us from our neighbours have been removed; a vast territory has been thrown open to our activity in the far East; and, what is better than conquests, we have acquired claims to the sympathy of the inhabitants, without losing the confidence and the esteem of the Governments.
“During the years recently passed, I have been enabled to have personal interviews with most of the reigning Sovereigns, and from those interviews friendly relations have arisen which are so many guarantees for the peace of Europe. This peace cannot be disturbed by the events which have just taken place in Greece.
“This brief sketch of the past is a guarantee to you for the future, and, despite the pressure of counteracting events and of opposing opinions, I hope that you will admit that I have always unflinchingly followed the same line of conduct. As more particularly regards our position at home, I have endeavoured, on the one hand, by a complete amnesty, to obliterate, as far as I could, the remembrance of our civil discords; and, on the other hand, to increase the importance of the great bodies of the State.
“I have called you to take a more direct part in the Government. I have given to your deliberations all the guarantees which freedom of discussion could claim. I have relinquished a prerogative, hitherto deemed indispensable, so as to allow the Legislative Body to control the expenses in a more absolute manner, and to give more solidity to the bases upon which public credit rests.
“To reduce our expenses, the army and navy estimates have been considerably diminished. The floating debt has been reduced, and by the success achieved by the conversion of the Rentes a great step has been taken towards the settlement (unification) of that debt. The indirect revenues show a continual increase of prosperity, and the condition of the empire would be flourishing if the war in America had not dried up one of the most fruitful sources of our industry. The forced stagnation of labour has caused in many districts an amount of destitution which deserves all our solicitude, and a grant will be asked from you for the support of those who with resignation submit to the effects of a misfortune which it is not in our power to put a stop to. Nevertheless, I have made the attempt to send beyond the Atlantic advices inspired by a sincere sympathy; but, the great maritime Powers not having thought it advisable as yet to act in concert with me, I have been obliged to postpone to a more suitable opportunity the offer of mediation, the object of which was to stop the effusion of blood, and to prevent the exhaustion of a country the future of which cannot be looked upon with indifference.
“I shall not now enter into details respecting various administrative improvements, –such as the creation of an army reserve, the remodelling of the fleet, institutions for the benefit of the poor, great public works, encouragement to agriculture, to science, and to art, the maintenance of the prosperity of our colonies despite the suppression of the emigration of the blacks, the consolidation of our possessions in Africa, by our care in gaining the affections of the Arab population and of protecting our settlers. The report upon the condition of the empire will give you all these measures in detail.
“Useful work is still in store for the conclusion of your labours, *