THE GROWTH OF ENGLISH INDUSTRY AND C OMMERCE.* THIS volume
forms the second and concluding portion of Dr. Clunningham's admirable treatise on the economic history of England. Pursuing the same line of thought as in his first volume,t Dr. Cunningham insists on the point that the economic life of a nation must be looked upon as subordinate to and depending on its political life. The former has been constantly ordered and controlled in the interests of the latter, and hence, in order to follow the course of its economic and industrial progress, the policy of a country must be kept steadily in view, and the aims of the Government be studied and understood. This is the case even when it is the policy of the Government to avoid interfering directly with the conduct of business ; but how much more is it important and necessary with reference to the period reviewed in these pages, a period during which it was the special aim and desire of politicians to organise and control every branch of the production and distribution of national wealth. Such regulation would be scouted in the present day as iniquitous and not to be borne ; and it is an easy matter to blame and scotf at what seems to us misguided and absurd. But Dr. Cunningham sits not in the seat of the scornful. On the contrary, he maintains the same spirit of judicious sympathy with the objects and desires of the actors during the times whereon he writes, which formed so marked and so admirable a feature of the former half of his work. Excellently and forcibly he writes in his preface as follows :— "There is much in the past which we cannot but condemn, especially in the light of after events ; we need not condemn it less decidedly when the reasons which brought it about become intelligible. But we cannot understand the economic measures of bygone days, unless we examine the evidence patiently, and try to read it in the light of contemporary thought and opinion. We are doomed to failure if we are content to take the attitude of doctrinaire economists, and explain the course of our history on the assumption that it has been dominated by the economic motives of self-interested individuals. Until we are prepared to look behind the greed' of capitalists and the 'tyranny' of land- lords, potent though these may have been, we cannot hope to understand the stops by which English industry and commerce attained supremacy. There always have been landowners and monied men, and even Magistrates and Members of Parliament, who tried to do their duty, and who were not without influence on the course of our national life. It is easy to play the part of a shallow cynic and ignore these elements, as if they had never existed. It is by no means so easy to try and [sic] take systematic account of all the various factors that have combined to shape
the course of our economic progress, and to assign to each its due importance."
The object of this volume is not merely to state what has occurred, but to show how it has come about. Its charac- teristic feature is the study of economic aims and opinions, side by side with an examination of the events of our com- mercial history. From the mass of evidence before him—a mass so enormous as to be overwhelming—Dr. Cunningham has taken for the basis of his fabric the carefully sifted pro- ceedings of Parliament as to industry and commerce, supple- menting these by abundant incidental evidence from other sources. The volume is, in fact, a history of the rise and fall of the Mercantile System,—a scheme under which national power developed exceedingly, securing to this country a great position abroad, and the preservation of social order at home. When Elizabeth came to the throne, with which event the book opens, the economic progress of England was behind that of other nations. But her accession marks the important era in that progress when the organisation of industry and commerce took place " in complete accordance with modern political conditions and social ambitions." The old order of things had passed away. "Consideration of plenty," as Bacon says, had given way to "consideration of power ; " and this idea, the beginnings of which arose in Richard Il.'s reign, was greatly fostered by the Tudor Sovereigns. Bullion was brought into the country ; prices rose steadily ; business was conducted with success and became attractive. The ■ Tho Growth of EHgIIth industry and commerce in Modern Times, By W. Cunningham, D.D. earnbridg,o University Press,
t Spectator, October 10th, 1891.
general formation of capital, as distinguished from stook- in-trade, first became possible, and with its accumulation, the mediaeval ideas of the wrongfulness of usury naturally changed. So also did the ideas which regulate prices. In modern times, prices, which greatly affect wages, are chiefly determined by the utility of the products, whilst in mediaeval times it was the cost of making the article and the considera- tion of the wants of the producer which fixed the price. In other words, " mediaeval economy with its constant regard to the relations of persons, was giving place to modern economy, which treats the exchange of things as fundamental." With this change, the economical structure of society became greatly simplified ; the intricate arrangements of municipal and manorial life passed away, and industrial society ranged itself in the three classes of Labourers, Capitalists, and Landowners.
Elizabeth's legislation provided " a sort of systematic code," and was attended with remarkable success. This was owing to its flexibility. Room was afforded for constant modification, and so wisely adapted was the national machinery then created and established by Parliament that it lasted with but little organic change until the latter part of the last century. It was minute in its application and far-reaching in its action, and shows how close are the ties between the development of agriculture and commercial prosperity ; "while the intimate relations between industry and foreign trade are everywhere apparent." In a series of most instructive chapters, the pro- gress of economic events and the rise of the Mercantile System during " the spacious days of Great Elizabeth " is set forth. In all that was attempted, the increase of national power was the ultimate aim, although the accumulation of treasure was in moat cases the immediate object in view. As Dr. Cunning- ham tersely puts it :-- " The rationale of the whole was the deliberate pursuit of national power ; the means of obtaining this end had been made the subject of repeated experiment, and now they were organised by statute. Treasure was the direct means of securing power, and industry and trade were to be so managed that treasure might be obtained ; but the power of the English nation was almost equally dependent upon shipping ; hence the navigation laws, and the care for fisheries and for the supply of naval stores. The management of industry, especially the planting of new manufactures, rendered our trade more profitable for the purposes of acquiring treasure ; together with tillage it gave employment and the necessary conditions for regular life to the population, and thus favoured the security of the realm from internal dis- order. The Corn Laws, by encouraging tillage, had similar effects ; they also helped to provide suitable conditions for con- stant supply of food. The punishment of those who would not work, and the support of those who could not, were subordinate points in this great scheme of national regulation, which aimed at directing the industry and trade of each so as to promote the power of the nation as a whole."
The chief monument of Elizabeth's economic legislation was the Statute of Labourers, which, it is to be noted, was an enactment to adjust wages so that the labourer might have sufficient whereon to live when prices were high. All previous statutes tended to reduce wages. It provided an excellent scheme of technical education, well fitted to the wants of the day, and was a protection to labourers at a time when com- bination was illegal, and was so wisely framed that it lasted until 1813.
As Spain was the object of England's rivalry during Eliza- beth's reign, so under the Stuarts, the Dutch, whose success had aroused the jealousy of other nations, and who, like ourselves, had held their ground against Spain, became the examples and rivals of England. " The one dominant idea of our economists and statesmen seemed to be to learn lessons from the Datch,to imitate their practice, and, if possible, to outvie them." The lines of Elizabeth's policy were followed, and in spite of the tur- moil and loss of the Civil Wars, steady progress was made. Whichever side they took, Englishmen still wished to see their country great; " the means which would render her a great monarchy were precisely the same as those which would render her a great commonwealth." As a source of national power the pursuit of wealth continued, untouched by the struggle; and the minds of men began to be opened to the fact that the pursuit of wealth need not be complicated by direct reference to State policy. This idea in the next century was to bear much fruit. Dr. Cunningham holds that the whole tone of industrial and commercial life was lowered by Puritanism, and traces three positive evils to the tendency to discard New Testament teaching for that of the Old,—viz., the degradation of the labourer, the reckless treatment of native races, and the fostering of the worst forms of slavery.
During the eighteenth century, the Mercantile System flourished with unabated force. The policy of developing the industry of the country was pushed in every possible direc- tion. Agriculture was encouraged by bounties on corn, and made great advance. Capital was brought into it ; the in- creased returns being looked for from the sale of produce, not from higher rent. Corn was grown for export, and this employed English shipping; whilst food was moderate in price, and thus industry was encouraged. This development of agri- culture was, Dr. Cunningham remarks, original to England. The Dutch fostered shipping, but neglected industry ; France did the reverse. English statesmen strove to build up shipping, industry, and agriculture. They succeeded in their aims ; and made England mistress of the sea and the workshop of the world. What, then, led to the collapse of the Mercantile System P It was due in a very great measure to the rise of industrial invention and the introduction of machinery, which induced a condition of things never dreamed of under the old regulations, whilst the loss of the American Colonies changed the whole character of our shipping trade, and hence " another great branch of the Mercantile System had to be recast." Added to this, the writings of Adam Smith drew attention to the mischief caused by the endeavours to regulate trade. It began to seem more desirable to leave trade alone, rather than to replace the old regulations with new. Thus, by degrees, they came to be discarded. Nor could British agriculture, with the aid of Protection, supply the nation with sufficient food on moderate terms. Hence they were completely condemned, and " with the repeal of the Corn-laws the last element of the Mercantile System was swept away."
Dr. Cunningham divides the period of which he writes— viz., from 1558 to 1846—into six parts, and under each division he gives us chapters on such subjects as Com- merce, Plantations or Colonies, Agriculture, Industrial Pro- gress, Shipping, the Poor, Taxation, and Financial Affairs, supplementing these by an essay on the Economic Doctrine of the sub-period. His volume contains much that is very attractive and informing, and is a most welcome production. Let it not be said that the great system described so excel- lently in these pages was a failure. It may have been full of crudities, and may have comprised many blunders, bat it cannot be denied that under it England maintained her- self against a Continent—nay, against a world—in arms, established her Colonies, and won at Waterloo. Our policy to-day is a complete reversal of the Mercantile System, and we have returned to that of Edward III. To quote once more from our author :—" We reverted from the pursuit of power in our economic policy to the pursuit of plenty ; we can but trust that by pursuing plenty, we may find that we are supplied with the sinews of power when we come to need them." To which we can only say " Amen."