THE CONDITION OF ENGLAND QUESTION.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR. 2d March 1843.
Snt—I feel greatly obliged by the insertion of my last letter, and flattered by the attention which you and Colonel TORRENS have thought fit to pay to it. In writing it I had no intention of entering upon a controversy, which, if carried out to any good purpose, would demand far more space than your pages could afford. I will, however, venture to offer a few words of remark and explanation, and then make my bow.
In my observations on the Letter to Sir ROBERT PEEL, I certainly kept in view the doctrines expounded in the Letters on the Budget, which are supposed, justly or not, to represent exactly Colonel TORRENS'S opinions. There, our difficulties are more than once declared to arise from the erroneous h gislation of the Whigs; and I certainly imagined that this erroneous legislation con- sisted mainly, according to the writer of the Letter, in their having adopted, however incompletely, the principles of Free Trade, and not encountered hostile tariffs by a tariff sufficiently retaliatory. But, It seems from Colonel TORRENS'S letter to you, that the abstinence from legislation on the Currency was a fault which falls to the charge of the late Government, and has had much to do with our present sufferings. Nobody laments more than myself the errors in our system of paper issues; but I do not blame the Whigs for not doing what I feel confident that they had not the power to do ; and I am grateful to them for their partial enforcement of publicity, and for those searching examinations before Committees of the House of Commons, which have to much contributed to the enlightenment of the public as to the character of our circulation. The present Government, with an overwhelming majority at its command, may take advantage of the mistake and unpopularity of the Joint Stock Banks, and the inability and possibly the unwillingness of the Bank of England to offer any resistance to a beneficial change, in order to introduce a searching reform into our currency. We shall see if the PEEL Cabinet will undertake a task in which it possesses so much advantage over its predecessor : it has been announced that the Circula- tion question will not be stirred during this session. I will now add a few words, in order to show that Colonel TORRENS advocates
a fiscal system, as respects international trade, almost identical with that of the old Mercantile school. It is true that the Mercantile school proposed to legis- late with a view to retain the largest possible quantities of the precious metals, because it was considered by them that gold and silver alone constituted wealth; and that Colonel TORRENS proposes to legislate with a view to retain large quantities of the precious metals, in order to maintain a range of high money-prices. The ultimate object the two parties seek, and the reasons by which they are guided, are in some respects different; but the means by which they propose to accomplish their objects is with both parties the same7viz, a legislative interference with trading operations, for the purpose of affecting the distribution of the precious metals. I do not, indeed, recollect, on the part of Colonel TORRENS, any advocacy of the propriety of introducing a protective system as respects internal produc- tions, excepting as a means of counteracting hostile tariffs. He does not pro- pose to commence hostilities, but only to give blow for blow : but whoever will look at the England and Cuba case in the Second Letter on the Budget, will, I think, perceive, that if the view which it exhibits be calculated to guide practically the measures of the legislator, it would lead him in every instance to discourage the importation of foreign goods, except perhaps certain articles of raw produce, whenever, either by force or diplomatic subtlety, he could escape from the danger of retaliation. If this be to advocate free trade, I have indeed laboured under a great mistake; having always imagined its practical rule, saving a few exceptions, to be, "Take care of the buyers, and let the sellers take care of themselves." This is the avowed doctrine of the Anti- Corn-law League ; it is directly opposed to that of Colonel TORRENS ; and although I may not approve of all the acts and language of that noisy and active association, yet on this point I consider them right. In short, I think that the England and Cuba case affords a very imperfect exhibition of the truth : that it neglects many causes affecting the distribu- tion of the precious metals' which are almost beyond the sphere of legislation— such as the operations of the smuggler, the shifting of capital, the expendi- ture of travellers, the purchase and sale of public securities, and the reciprocal action of the currencies of numerous coexistent countries, some of which produce the precious metals, on each other : that, practically speaking, it is impossible by any course of legislation to pen up in a given country an un- naturally large quantity of gold and silver, with a view to keep up high money- prices ; and that the attempt to effect this object is fraught with manly evils, among which may be enumerated the excitement of hostility on the pareef _ foreigners, and hot-house manufactures at home, like those of France, en- countered by the healthy breeze of external competition. My opinion, that the condition of Ilingland is by no means that of wide- spread ruin to the industrious classes—hopeless, indeed, excepting it be relieved through the medium of systematic colonization—is founded, among others, on the following facts and considerations. First, For many years pre- viously to 1837 or 1838, the working-classes generally were earning wages which gave them a command of necessaries and conveniences in greater amount than at any previous period. On this head, and generally as to a gradual im- provement -
provement n their condition, the original Report of the Poor-law Commis- sioners may be consulted. Secondly, During the above period, the rate of profit was notoriously sufficient to remunerate the capitalist Thirdly, The enormous accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals cannot be ac- counted for by considering it as representing merely the savings of mortgages, annuitants, land and house owners : great part must be derived from the eco- nomy of the industrious classes. Fourthly, The existing distress can be easily explained by referring it to temporary causes, without at all regarding it as a proof of national decay.
While I say this, however, I beg it to be understood, that in my view the condition of the masses can never be too good ; and that I consider that the greatest sagacity and purest benevolence can never be better employed than in endeavouring to improve the intellectual, moral, and physical state of the millions.
There are many points in reference especially to Colonel TORRENS'S Letter to which I should wish to advert ; but I have already occupied too much spoor; and in conclusion, I will only reiterate the declaration of my profound respect for the learning, the acuteness, and the power of exposition, which so highly distinguish Colonel TORRENS. There is probably no man alive who could so well serve the cause of Systematic Colonization as himself, if, putting aside all extraneous discussions, all party feeling, and a tendency to exaggerated views, which sometimes deter the reader from the ready admission or adoption of a principle in itself useful and true, he would inform us how the Wakefieldian system can best be carried into effect. The Whigs first called that system into actual operation in the management of our Colonies : the Tories are dis- posed to adhere to it : but in its application there are still many disputed points, many practical difficulties; and if Colonel TORRENS would lend his powerful aid in elucidating and removing these, he would indeed confer an enduring benefit on his country.
I now take my leave of him and you; and have the honour to be, Sir, your