2 JANUARY 1841, Page 13




THE subjects of the Supplement published with this number of the Spectator, are not held to be so popularly attractive as per- sonal lists or tales of scandal; but they are of far more importance. Their object is to increase the material wealth of the country—to give everybody more, and to take less from each : they concern the public revenue of the state, and the private income of the indus- trious classes ; neither of which wears a promising aspect to those politicians who look beyond the immediate present.

After a peace of a quarter of a century, the public income is not sufficient to meet the current' expenses of the year. The additional expenditure which the wars and preparation for wars of the new Whig-Palmerston policy have occasioned are officially mystified, but it is questionable whether five or six millions will cover the deficiencies of the last few years. Nor if the "armed peace" were at an end, and its cost added to our permanent debt, would the financial promise be altogether fair. The expansive power of British tax-paying seems to have worn out. We believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer's last shift of a new percentage on old taxes, slight in amount as it sounds, and imperceptible as it may be in the price of many articles, will disappoint his ex- pectations in an extraordinay degree. But the fact of this diminution is even less important than the inference it suggests—it "indicates," as we had occasion to

remark in 1838, "something wrong in the vital springs of our prosperity" ;* that the employments of industry, and the rewards of industry are less than they were. Part of this indeed is more than indicated. The preeminence of some of our great staple manufactures is trembling :in the balance, if the scale is not already turned. The Americans, the Saxons, the Swiss, and the Belgians, meet our cottons in foreign markets ; and where the bulk of the material is great, or the manufacture peculiar' un- dersell us. In our once chief staple, the woollen trade, we have successful rivals. France and Germany produce the coarser cloths at a price which is slowly driving the English woollens out of the markets of Italy and Egypt. But more than this : "I found in all parts of Germany," says Mr. M4GREGOR, "that Americans and other purchasers for South America and Cuba came to the fairs of Leipzic and Berlin, and also to Vienna, to purchase woollens and cottons at those markets for the markets of South America, Cuba, and the United States, which we used entirely to supply before." Brazil is our customer to the extent of some five millions a year. But our productions are admitted under treaty which terminates shortly ; and to this period the Brazilians are looking forward, when they threaten to prohibit our manufactures if we continue to pro- hibit their sugars and coffee.

What is to be done to obviate two of the greatest evils that can befall a commercial nation—a declining revenue, and a auccessful competition that threatens to shake the mainsprings of its indus- try? The Report from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Import. Duties, and still more the Evidence attached to it, prove that much may be done to increase the produce of the taxes by reducing their rates ; that considerable relief may be af- forded to our national industry by relieving the merchant and manufacturer from fiscal burdens, and trouble as heavy as burdens; whilst a reduction may be made in the public expenditure by the establishment of a simpler system. The principles propounded in this valuable document have not indeed the attraction of mere novelty : the important feature of the Report is that it emanates from Parliamentary authority—of the Evidence, that it is the con- fession of official men, whose lives have been devoted to the sub- ject, who are familiar with its details, who are convinced of the safe and practical workings of the changes suggested, and who may be held to represent the knowledge and reflection of the two great Government Boards of Trade and Customs.

The Customs are the taxes levied on importations : and -so de- pendent are we on Foreign trade, so inadequate is our own soil directly to supply our wants—that the meanest old woman who clothes herself in worn-out cotton and vegetates upon weak and half-sweetened tea—the mechanic whose subsistence is derived from working up raw materials which this country cannot produce at all or produces in insufficient quantity—the middle-classes, who dine upon "mahogany "—the rich who indulge in champagne, and whose rooms are ornamented by costly furniture of precious woods—the merchant, whose argosies exceed in number the navies of some lesser states—and the manufacturer, whose workshops rival palaces in ex- tent and neatness—are equally indebted, in their several ways, to foreign trade. Necessaries, comforts, luxuries—the metals which serve as a medium of exchange—the raw materials which construct our houses, and form the bases of our manufactures—the shipping, at once the sources of our wealth and our defence—are all created or sustained by importation.

Nor is it less important to the public revenue. The annual pro- duce of the Custom-duties is 22,962,610/. Of this sum, 21,700,630/. is produced by seventeen articles of consumption, and 898,661/. by twenty-nine articles; leaving only 363,319/. to be extracted from "almost every article which the mind of man could conceive, with a particular duty attached to it, (1,150 in number,) and then, with * Spectator, No. 517, 26th May 1838; article "'Whig Administration of the Finances." vie,vr to obtain a duty upon any articles which may not have been siatianial, the table winds up with two general charges which are known by the name of the unenumerated duties."t Of these petty duties, which yield an average of little more than 30/., some are i unproductive because there s only a limited demand for the foreign article, or no demand at all; and some because the duty Is designedly so high as to prohibit importation. The pro- duce of several of the more productive articles is diminished by high duties imposed in financial ignorance, or for purposes of pro- tection; some articles of prime necessity are prohibited altogether— as malt, meat, cattle, sheep, and swine ; others, by some fiscal con- trivance—as the sliding scale of corn—are rendered all but useless for purposes of revenue. The plan of the official witnesses, to in- crease the revenue by some millions, to induce a general cheapness of commodities, to give the manufacturing interests a better chance cfcompeting with foreigners by relieving their materials from taxa- tion, and to open up fresh markets for their manufactures, is reducible to two heads,-1. To abolish the duties on all the unproductive arti- cles, some eleven hundred in number, retaining only a nominal duty for statistical purposes, (the merchants being greatly guided in their apeculationsby the ascertainable quantities of any article imported): 2. To abolish all prohibitions and protective-duties, imposing cus- toms only for purposes of revenue ; the exceptions to the rule being the case of home manufactures subjected to a particular tax— as glass, paper ; or Colonial produce where some legislatorial act has interfered with the means of production—as West Indian sugar. The money gain by abolishing the smaller duties will be indirect : the loss of revenue will shortly be replaced by the saving in the expenses of the collection and of keeping the accounts : its benefits will be felt in the relief afforded to the merchant and the manu- facturer. The greatest effects of the second plan will also be in- direct, but their palpable results will be sufficiently attractive. MtGazeon, the present Secretary to the Board of Trade, cal- culates that under a reformed system the Customs might be made to produce six millions more than their present amount. But it must be steadily borne in mind, that large results can only be pro- duced by a comprehensive and thorough change. It is not by peddling like Pouserr Tnomsces with duties on currants, and duties on drugs, that great effects can be achieved. The most authoritative witnesses lay it down as an axiom, that small reforms will neither relieve the revenue nor the foreign trade, whilst they will be unjust to the classes affected. It is obvious that if a man has been tempted into a particular trade by a protective-duty, it would be a great injustice to abolish his protection leaving his raw materials taxed, the food of his labourers taxed or pro- hibited, and the productions of his fellow-manufacturers pro- tected against him. But the cycle-like character of partial in- terference will be best exhibited in the West Indies. The chief solid food of the Negroes is salt provisions ; to give the agricul- turists of this country and Canada a monopoly of the supply, a duty of twelve shillings the hundredweight is imposed upon foreign beef and pork, (the Irish growers using the West Indies as "their market for their measly hogs "1.) ; there is also a heavy duty upon flour; salted and dried fish from a foreign country are prohibited ; and every article of provision is prohibited, or heavily taxed. Timber, and various articles going under the name of lumber, all necessary in the economy of the plantations, can be procured most cheaply and conveniently from the United States ; but fiscal regu- lations compel the West Indies to buy of our Northern Colonies. The West Indians cannot send their produce where they please ;

it must all be brought to Britain in British ships. § In short, they are not allowed to buy or sell—to deal in any way with foreigners. Isla- is this all : they are prohibited from refining their own sugar ; those who drink "white lump" must import it from England ; and there is now the extraordinary spectacle of the Free-labour Colonies sending their raw sugar to England for us to pay for at ' protective prices, whilst they import for their own use Slave- labour sugar, which has been sent to England from Cuba and

Brazil, refined under bond for exportation, and reshipped to Jamaica. But the circle is not yet at an end : the Abolition Act has entirely deranged the labour-market, and the tendency of the protection is against its righting itself. " With respect to food," says the Secretary of the Board of Trade, "the planters complain that they are forced to get labourers from other countries, especi- ally from the United States of America, who are accustomed to be fed differently from Negroes under the Slave system ; and that they consider it a hardship not to be able to get their food at the lowest price." Now there is no doubt that by admitting slave- grown sugar at a duty equal to that on West Indian, a great relief would be afforded to the British public ; a fresh stimulus would be given to the Brazilian trade ; and a large increase of revenue would take place, which Mr. M‘Gaeooe estimates at three millions a year. But to make such a change after shaking the whole labour system of the West Indies, and continuing the whole of their restrictions and prohibitions, would not merely be unjust, but a destruction of pro- perty by an arbitrary act of power. Yet touch these West Indian restrictions per se, and you have upon you the North American Colonial interests, the Shipping interests, the Irish "measly pork" t Mr. DEACON Busses evidence.

Question 1426.

.§ Since the abolition of slavery, and the increase in price caused by the di- isamished production, this is practically of no consequence, the Brazil and Cuba sugars being so much cheaper. The same remark applies to the refining. But should the West Indian prosperity revive, these restrictions will be felt as severely as ever. interests, and a variety of other interests ; whilst, being partial, no counterbalancing interests would be raised up; and being limited, the public interest could not be excited to overcome all selfish interests of every kind.

To the first head of the proposed reform a certain class of reasoners may object, that the abolition of the smaller duties will be so limited in the result, as to be scarcely perceptible to the public. If this were true, the change should still be made ; for the duties are an evil, and a useless evil—worse in one sense than tax- ation without representation, for they are taxation without money, their produce being absorbed in the cost of their collection. But the statement is a fallacy : few taxes that there is any possibility of

repealing can benefit the people directly. How can the millions, for example, profit by the reduction of the duty on Wines ? what did they gain by a repeal of the House-tax ? what would they gain

by a repeal of the Window-tax? Yet the repeal of these petty duties would do what the repeal of the House-tax did, benefit large classes ; and that not in their capacity of consumers or annuitants, but of producers. The duties, trifling in yield, are not always trifling in the proportion they bear to the value of the commodity. To fix this amount is a trouble to the merchant, always involving attend- ance and attention, frequently disputes with the Customhouse- officers, and sometimes appeals to the Commissioners. Not long since, the dealers in cochineal were "harassed with prosecutions on account of some fractional differences between the deliveries from the warehouses and the returns " ;* yet the whole produce of cochineal was only 5,000/. a year. These disputes are not the only source of expense : when a commodity is charged with a duty of any

consequence, the importer warehouses it, and draws it out as he-

sells it, instead of carrying it home ; because if he removes it at. once, he must pay the duty in a lump—if the article remains in the custody of the Customhouse-officers he pays it by driblets; each of these driblet removals requiring processes to be gone through in taking out the goods, and in paying the duty, as well by the public officers as the merchant.

But, putting these things aside, the repeal of the proposed duties will be felt where it is not perceived. Many of them being taxes- on materials, their effect is to increase the wholesale price of ma-

nufactured goods : the great object proposed in their repeal is to- stimulate the foreign trade, by enabling the manufacturer to reduce the price of his exports. Trilling, as regards the commodity,

these taxes often are not ; but if they were, it is trifles that are driving us from foreign markets. Three per cent, is the advantage-

of the American over the British manufacturer in the coarser cot- ton articles, which are superseding ours nearly all over the world._ In a yard of cotton, this is so small that no fraction of a coin can express it—we must resort to the decimal parts of a thousand to present it to the eye. But to the foreign merchant, who buys. hundreds of thousands of yards, three pounds, or even three shil- lings, will turn the scale against us. Nor must we always judge of the habits of other nations by our own. An English beggar would not stoop to pick up half-a-dozen cowries or a Turkish asper ; but

cowries and aspers will influence a retail purchase, in countries- where they circulate, though we cannot express them in any figures of account.

It may be said that it will be difficult to deal with so large a question ; more especially with the fixed tax on Corn, a revisal of the Timber-duties, and a proper countervailing duty on foreign Sugar. Who doubts it ? What in this world, worth having, can be acquired without difficulty ? It is difficult to learn a profession ;, it is still more difficult to get on in it ; it is difficult to form a con- nexion in business ; it is difficult to gain a living anyhow ; and many, after struggling with all sorts of difficulties, cannot even earn.

their daily bread. Are Ministers of State, who receive 5,000/. per annum out of the taxes, and who distribute the whole patronage of the public service as if it were their private property, to be the only persons who are not to encounter difficulties ? But there are no difficulties, beyond the difficulty of dealing with impudent selfish- ness, in any thing save the Sugar-duties ; and those, difficult as they undoubtedly are, admit of settlement. If the public bestir- themselves, no matter who is in or out of place, difficulties will be got over. What difficulties were there not talked of in reference to Cheap Postage ? The Ministry all shook their heads and. lengthened their faces ; the leader of the Opposition looked black enough too : but the constituencies told their Members, " Cheap Postage, or your seat !" and we had Cheap Postage in despite of difficulties. And this economical reform touches the race of mo- nopolists nearer than they think : let us go on in finance for a few years longer as we have been going on for the last few years, and there will be nothing for it but a Property-tax.

The reader who would prepare himself for a question which in some form or other must shortly make itself heard, will find in our Supplement the pith and most of the striking points of upwards of three hundred folio pages. Those who would thoroughly study the subject must refer to the original. In either case,.

they will find much information, and more interest than they perhaps expected. The best of the witnesses are, no doubt,. the official men, as regards the number of their facts, the largeness of their views, and the logical correctness of their conclusions. The facts of many of the lesser witnesses are very curious, and have the freshness of original observation, though the inferences they draw are not always so obvious to others as they appear to themselves. But the most valuable and important testi- mony is that of Mr. DEACON HUME, of the Board of Trade an

* Question 1107.

the Customs, and the well-known author of the Digest of the Customs-Laws. Choke in its facts, broad in its views, and sound in its principles, a rationale of Free Trade and of Importation and Custom-duties might be digested from his evidence. We will quote a few examples.


"I conceive that no general measure could be more beneficial to the country than a removal of all protections, prohibitions, and restrictions. I cannot conceive that a country exporting forty millions' worth of its industry in the par can effectually and beneficially for any length of time protect any partial interest whatever. If the protection is effectual, it can only be so in come- (pence of the prosperity of the country arising from other means; but if once the country should cease to be prosperous, in consequence of being unable to find markets abroad for this enormous amount of exportation, then the parties making those goods that had before been exported would apply themselves to the manufacture of the protected articles, and thus bring them down to their own level very quickly. Spitalfields was invaded by Manchester before it was by Lyons. Daring the war, and for a great number of years, while the cotton- trade was entirely or nearly our own, there was little attempt to make silk goods in our provincial manufacturing towns, and Spitalfields had the trade nearly to itself: but the first distresses of Spitalfields after the war closed arose from home competition, and not from the importation of foreign goods."


"There is a duty of 55s. a load on foreign oak; that must raise the price in a great measure, if not entirely, by 558. for every load of oak that is cut in this country.. The shipowner cannot build so cheap, in consequence of this high price of oak. I can remember, if I might be allowed to state the circum- stance, that some fifteen years ago, by the direction of Mr. Buskisson, I pro- posed to the shipowners, as from him, that a drawback should be given upon foreign timber used in the building of ships, in the same manner as the duty is given back for the building of churches; and it was presumed, that with that example before us, surveys might be made of the ships before their frames were entirely closed up, and the amount ascertained ; but it was objected to by the shipowners of that day. It was offered to them, as far as the offer could be made by a Minister, that this boon should be granted to them ; but they objected to it, because they said it would lead to the building of much cheaper ships afterwards, and that that would be an injury to the shipowners, with their pre- sent shipping."


"You have often heard it stated that the people of England being higher taxed than they are in any other country, would be unable, as regards the price of food, to compete with other countries if the Corn-laws were taken off?"' —" L have heard that argument, but have always been surprised at it ; because it appears to me, that the very circumstance of our being so highly taxed for the good of the state, is a reason why we should not be taxed between our- .selves." • • "If the question means the general taxation of the country falling on the subsistence and expenditure of the people, then I must beg to submit in the strongest terms in which I can possibly give any opinion, that the general taxation of the country is no ground whatever for protection ; any attempt to relieve any interest from any portion of that general taxation by raising arbi- trarily the price of the article which they make, is only a violent manner of shifting their share of the burden to other shoulders. If on account of the general taxes upon subsistence paid by any class of people you forcibly raise to the consumer the price of the article which that class produce., you then relieve them from taxation, supposing you measure the matter fairly and correctly; and I have never been able to see the least ground whyany one class of the people should be relieved from taxation, and why the other parts should be compelled to pay their proportion for them as well as their own."


"Do you consider that those principles which you have laid down ought to apply equally to articles of food of this country, a great portion of which are now excluded ?"—" I conceive myself, if I were compelled to choose, that food is the last thing upon which I would attempt to place any protection." "That is the first thing upon which you would remove the prohibition and protective duties? "—" Yes. It is very clear that this country stands in need of a vast deal of agricultural produce beyond its production; which is not to be measured merely by the quantity of corn which we occasionally import, because we habitually import very largely of those articles that are the produce of land, and suited to be raised in this country, besides corn, and which shows that the power of supply is very much strained. Although we view it chiefly in the article of corn, we import a very large quantity of other commodities, commonly and habitually, such as are the produce of our own soil or fit to be so : and this proves clearly that we want more than we can produce. The exclusion of supply in such a case is creel privation."


"I know that there are a great many charges which the landed interest con- ceive to be peculiar on them, and to fall upon their productions ; hut as far as I have been able to investigate those charges, I think they have services in re- turn for them, and they do not go to the public revenue. They are of a local nature ; and I think the farmers are so much better off and so much more en- abled to raise the commodity with advantage by reason of those local charges, since they have facilities in return equal to the payment ; and I do firmly 'be- lieve that any country that has not the system of raising funds for the purposes for which those local funds are raised, would be at a great disadvantage in the production of agricultural produce."


"If the Corn-laws were totally abolished, and consequently that part of our provisions and food were brought in from other countries, do you agree with those who think that a great deal of land would be thrown out of cultiva- tion ?"—" By throwing land out of cultivation, I presume is meant converting arable into grass land, it is a wrong term, I think, to use, though I know it is a common term. I believe that much land would be thrown out of arable cultivation, and I believe that one of the great evils of our agriculture is the misappropriation of the soil ; I believe there is a great deal too large a pro- portion of land under the plough, and too small a portion under grass. The difficulty of raising lean stock in this country for the purpose of fattening is so great, that it is the chief cause of the high price of meat ; and Lam quite persuaded that if a very large breadth of that arable land which can scarcely ix cultivated to advantage were turned back to grass, the effect would be, to reduce the quantity of corn produced in this country, so much as to make it impossible for the foreigner to fill the vacuum at a low price, and that the ge- neral result would be, that it would produce a lower price of meat ; there being a power of increased consumption, in the present state of the country, in the article of meat, that is almost immeasurable. When we reflect upon the ex- tremely small portion of meat eaten every day by the most robust labourers in the country, who are of course by far the most numerous portion of the popu- lation; if we are only to suppose them to have every day a fair moderate meal of meat, the increase of demand for meat, and for inferior meat (for cattle not Bitted to the highest pitch of perfection, such as would be suitable to the pro- duce of land of inferior qualities) would be so great, that there would be no

want of good employment for any of the land that we pos., oar boundaries."



"Is the abolition of the Corn-laws inseparable from the opiu:. ru enter- tain that the removal of import-duties ought to take place? ' —` a■■r SO; thlIS is the great article ; and I conceive that otherwise we should expo., ar manu- factures to the most unfair competition with foreigners, not of the light taxes which foreigners pay, but because of the general chea.,f living, from having corn and other provisions upon better terms than we have. I think that the first necessaries of life should be the first articks to be set free."


"I understand you to say, that if there is any difference in the cost of living in this country and in other countries, or that we are under disach uncap in competition with them, it chiefly arises from the protective system 1 "—" That is my opinion. With our great command of trade, our navigation, our capital, and our geographical position, if trade in this country was perfectly free, and we were enabled to obtain ira the cheapest markets, upon even terms, all the commodities we want, Lean see no reason why this should not be one of the cheapest countries to live in that any civilized populous country can be. There are many matters in which density of population leads to cheapness."

It is impossible to peruse the evidence delivered before the Committee without being forcibly reminded of the total failure of the Whig "Reform." The rational object of the people in seeking Reform, was improvement of their condition. Compare the amount of the public debt in 1830 and 1840, or of the gross public ex- penditure, or the surplus of the annual balance-sheet, for one an- swer as to the result. Look to the debates in Parliament, or to the fiscal statutes, to find what has been attempted. With a majority "too strong," as Lord BROUGHAM expressed it, the Reform Mi- nistry began with doing nothing, and with attempting nothing, to relieve the bulk of the people. What they did in the way of wil- lingly repealing taxes, was done whilst warm in office and before the passing of the Reform Bill. Since that epoch, they have done nothing of their own accord but add to the debt, and increase the expenditure, till those who look before them can see no means but a loan to pay off scores contracted, and fresh taxes to meet the increasing charge. Nor, were ignorance an excuse, can they plead ignorance ; for, if the then POULETT Thomson's word may be taken, he was as well aware of the justice and policy of fiscal re- form as anybody. Nor were they thwarted by subordinates, or de- ficient in assistance ; for we find the standing staff of the Board of Trade coming forward to urge the "putting an end to the bad sys- tem," which will otherwise in the closing words of Mr. DEACON HUME, "put an end to itself some day or other, and to the pros- perity of the country with it." And, be it remembered, these are no hasty notions or newfangled views of new men.' What their politics may be does not appear, but they are not Reformers born of the Reform Bill. Mr. NPGREGOR has been engaged in official business since 1823; Mr. HUME reckons his public service by half a century, carrying his early experience back to the time of Prrr, and in his maturity assisting HUSKISSON. Amid the treachery of political leaders, and the supineness, prejudice, and corruption of constituencies, it is consoling to reflect that truths are independent of men or of parties and their eventual triumph sure. Immediately on the passing of the Reform Bill, we set about preparing a series of detailed expositions of matters which, in our simplicity, we deemed it the first business of a Reformed House of Commons to investigate and improve. One of those expositions was devoted to TAXATION ; in which we took a survey of the whole of our system, and, as regards the Customs, recommended, in a series of tabular details, the plan now pro- pounded, of the repeal of unproductive duties, the abolition of the protective system, the remission of taxes on materials of manufac- ture, so far as the public necessities would permit, and the revision of the larger items of taxation in order to increase their produce. The endeavours of Earl GREY to uphold his "order," the struggles of his successors to maintain their places, the fears of aristocrat lip Reformers in Parliament, and party brawls amongst the com- munity, prevented any attention being paid at the time to Fiscal Reform. But, after the lapse of seven years, the question appears again, in a more authoritative shape, and with a pinching stimulus. To be opposed, doubtless, and, unless its advocates be active, put aside for a season: but there are elements at work in our social economy that will again and again, and with more rapid recur- rence, compel its reappearance, till at last particular "interests" will be left to shift for themselves, and the sole rule in public legislation will be the public good. The question arises' what Minister is to do this thing ?—for it is a purely Ministerial duty ; nor can any but a Minister attempt it with success. PITT could and would have done it, were he living; so would CANNING, as soon as he had comprehended and mastered the subject ; HUSKISSON could have done it had he conquered a constitutional backwardness. But those statesmen have passed away, and left no successor. In looking over the Ministerial or Opposition ranks, no one can be found from whom the nation might trustingly expect a measure so large and useful, and so greatly contributive to its material wellbeing. The nation must therefore do it for itself. It is unquestionably not a desirable thing for a people to be constantly distracted front their affairs, and driven to usurp the functions of legislation and government, carrying measures by dint of direct "pressure from without" instead of the quiet operation of opinion. But we are fallen upon an age of small men, where there is no greatness but aggregate greatness. We have men of title, and men of money, and men of speech ; but the men of lofty purpose, and large views, and unyielding determination as a principle of action, and not as

a temporary spurt—the men qualified, in short, to be the leaders of a great people, and the champions of a cause—are no more. Strange, that human things should run in cycles till they meet again after the lapse of ages ; that the bonds of brotherhood, which our Saxon ancestors found necessary for defence in the dawn of government and civilization, should be equally necessary in their de- cline for the purposes of advancement. If this great fiscal reform is to be carried, it must be carried by such an application of public will as shall overcome the vie inertia of timidity, littleness, and sloth. And though agitation is good for this, a systematic and organized agitation is better—such an agitation as might be raised 4f the Anti-Corn-law League were swallowed up in a Free Trade League.