AGRICULTURAL CONVERTS TO FREE TRADE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Fife. 9th January 1843. Sta—Although a landlord, I am a subscriber to and constant reader of your paper. For however Ultra-Liberal your opinions may be, they are always main- tained with talent and with a total absence of party-spirit ; and it is refreshing, in this age of faction, to read a newspaper, whatever may be the colour of its politics, in which opinions are supported on their own merits, without being made subservient to the party-interests of any set of men. But I do not address you on the present occasion for the purpose of compli- menting you, but to put you right with regard to some statements of yours in which I conceive you to b (mistaken. You have declared yourself strongly in favour of a free trade in corn, and have written perhaps seine of the ablest arti- cles which have yet been published on the subject. With your sentiments on this question 1 am not going to find fault. I am far from saying that you may not be right, and that justice to the great body of the people may not require the abolition of the Corn-laws. But what I complain of is, your at- tempting to prove to us, the landlords, that we will actually be gainers by the abolition of those enactments which render the produce of our estates of greater value in the market. Cheap corn, you say, will make trade flourish, and render the country pros- perous ; and the landowners will gain thereby. There is no doubt that the landlords have always hitherto gained by every increase to the prosperity of the nation and the numbers of the inhabitants; for the simple reason that this, everything else remaining the same, has always been attended by an awg- mentation in the price of the produce of their estates. But to tell us that a prosperity to be brought about solely by lowering the value of that produce on which rent depends will be advantageous to our pecuniary interests, is to treat its like fools, and in a manner to add insult to injury. It is the same thing when you would endeavour to persuade us, that although corn may fall 25 per cent, we will receive compensation in the increased price of pot-herbs ; as if the millions of acres of which Great Britain and Ireland are composed could be converted into a great kitchen-garden. I, Sir, one of the interested class, can assure you that all such attempts as this are looked upon by us as mere cajolery and humbug. Point out to us the injustice of the Corn-laws, the njury they do to trade, and the impossibility, of our retaining them for any length of time against the growing conviction of the great majority of the people as to their inexpediency and injustice, and we will listen to you with attention and respect ; the more especially as the tone of the Spectator is so very different from the journals in the pay of the League, the vulgar and unjust personalities of which have done great injury to the Anti-Corn-law cause, by adding to the resistance naturally arising from self-interest, that springing from indignation at seeing ourselves so unfairly and rancorously treated by the organs of the manufacturers. But do not imagine you will ever persuade us that rents will rise by the fall in the price of corn, or that we are not ourselves the best judges of what will most contri- bute to our own interests.
You, Sir, will probably point, in support of your opinion that the Corn- laws are of no advantage to the landlords, to the speeches which have lately been delivered at the politico-agricultural dinners, by a number of the Con- servative Members of Parliament, and other gentlemen connected with the agricultural interest. It was principally with the object of remarking on those epeeches;that I was induced to address you in this letter. It appears to me that you have not exercised your usual sagacity in giving those gentlemen credit for sincerity. I think 1 shall be able to convince you that such speeches are naturally prompted by an interested motive—the desire of keeping up rent. Almost all the farmers in Scotland, and I believe 1 may also say most of those in England, are in arrears to their landlords. On every term-day there is a contest betwixt the tenant on the one band and the proprietor on the other, with regard to the sum to be paid—the tenant always claiming deductions, and the landlord endeavouring to get the whole amount stipulated for in the lease. In fact, from the circumstance of the farms throughout the country being so much overlet—although a fixed sum is put down in the lease, this is merely a nominal sum—there is nearly as much higgling with regard to what is to be paid on the rent-day as if that was the subject of a new bargain. On this occasion every pretext is laid hold of by the tenant to claim deductions. " His offices are out of repair; his land has not been drained, and the season has been wet ; the price of cattle has been low," &c. &c. Do you not thus at once per- ceive a motive, and a strong one, why country gentlemen should come forward at public meetings and tell the farmers that the late alteration in the Corn- laws has done them no harm, and that the present low price of grain has been caused, not by this, but by an abundant harvest ? Let it be but once admitted that prices have fallen from the legislative measures of last session, and I think I may say, that there is not a landlord, from the Land's End to John o' Groat's House, who would not feel the effect of such an admission in a diminution of the rent paid by his tenants. You thus see, Sir, that it is in no way surprising that the same men who were the most determined oppositionists to every alteration in the Corn-law code, should, now that an alteration has been made, come forward and declare it has done no harm. It is the same motive which has prompted them to both those different lines of action—viz. the desire to keep up rent. This, Sir, is the "mot de l'enigme." I shall now conclude, by informing you what is the real opinion among agri- culturalists as to the effect of the Coro and Tariff Acts of last session. We have not the slightest doubt on this bead, that those measures have very much tended to lower the price of agricultural produce; and in so far to injure the landed interest, whatever benefit they may have confined on the other classes of the community. And although we do not consider it necessary to declare this to our farmers, we have no hesitation in saying it to each other. Indeed, I have frequently beard it canvassed among the most Conservative of our pro- prietors, whether it would not have been better for the landed interest to have still had the Melbourne Administration at the head of affairs, as it was quite evident that Cabinet had no real desire to alter the Corn-laws, and, in fact, never would have altered them, but would have contented itself with bringing forward its Eight-shilling-fixed-duty measure year after year, like another Appropriation-clause to be rejected by the Lords; whereas PEEL, in the very first year of his administration, brings in and carries a most important alteration in the Provision-laws, and threatens us with further changes.
Yours, &c. A SCOTCH COUNTRY GENTLEMAN.
[It is impossible to reargue the details of this question with every corre-
spondent who takes up isolated points of it. The whole bearing of the Corn- law and of Corn-law Repeal upon the landlords, we discussed in the autumn of 1841, in a series of papers, which our present correspondent either has not read or has forgotten. By referring to them, he will see that it has not been our practice to found upon the cheapness of corn. With the motives of the Free-trade agriculturists we have no concern : their statements and arguments have been taken just on the same footing as those of other writers or talkers on the subject.—En.]