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THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW,

JUNE, 1816.

N. LII.

Art. I. The Speech of Charles C. WESTERN, Esq. M. P.

vil moring that the blouse should resolve itself into a Committee of the whole Ilouse, to take into Consideration the Distressed State of the Agriculture of the United Kingdom, March 7th,

1816. London, Budd. 1816. The Speech of H, BROUGHAM, Esq. M. P, in the IIouse of Com

mons, April 9th, 1816, upon the State of the Agriculture of the Crited Kingdom. London, Longman & Co. 1816.

A

t no former period of the history of this country, was so

great and so general a distress ever known to prevail, as that which has lately visited us, and of which the pressure unhappily still continues. The sufferings of the people during the scarcities of the years 1796 and 1800 were partial, and of short duration; and it provisions were dear, work was not scarce, nor was the charity of the upper orders of society cramped in the means of relieving the wants of the poor. The distresses of 1810 were confined to the class of mercantilé men; and, even among them, those persons only suffered who, bad indulged more or less in speculation. The exclusion of our manufactures from the Continent in 1812, and the rupture with America, produced a more general depression in publick affairs : But the jand did nog snífer immediately and directly ; and the revoca. tion of the Orders in Council, and the abandonment of the sys

. tem out of which they sprung, operated an almost instantaneous relief; which being followed by an abundant harvest, and the destruction of the French continental system, effectually relieved the labouring state of our national resources,

During the last twelve or eighteen months, however, the coun. fry has been suffering severely in every direction; in its agricul. VOL. XXVI. NO. 52,

R

ture and its manufactures; its home trade and foreign commerce. The return of peace, after unexampled victories, has brought no relief, but has rather confirmed our apparent ruin ; and all classes of men more or less feel the effects of some hidden rottenness in our system, the causes of which no one seems able to discover, much less to remove. Perhaps we should sufficiently prove the unprecedented nature and amount of these distresses, by merely stating the known fact, that they have, for the moment, silenced all party differences, and presented the spectacle of statesmen, generally opposed to each other in the most hostile attitudes, laying aside for the moment all animosity, and joining in the attempt to probe and heal, in the State, wounds equally painful and dangerous to its inhabitants of whatever description.

But although these considerations may suffice to evince the general extent of the evil, we conceive that a more particular illustration of it may form an acceptable introduction to an article, professing chiefly to treat of its nature and causes, with a view of calling the attention of the publick to the remedies that have been proposed. The admirable speech of Mr Western, contains the most striking details upon this part of the subject. The county of Norfolk, as he justly observes, from the excellent state of its agriculture, has probably suffered less than many others. He adds, that it may perhaps be taken as a fair average of the whole kingdom. This we think very probable, from considering, that if, on the one hand, its agriculture be highly improved, -on the other, its soil is by no means of a rich description. Now, in that county, 540 bailable writs were issued in 1814, and 670 in 1815; and the number of executions during the same period, rose from 96 to 174. In Suffolk, the number of bailable writs and executions increased during the same period from 430 to 850. In Worcestershire, they rose from 640 to 890; and of the 216 parishes in that county, 186 were in arrear for property and assessed taxes during the currency of the year 1815. In one of the hundreds of the county of Sussex, 26 parishes out of 32 were in arrear; and in another hundred, 15 out of 20. The remaining four hundreds, of which Sussex consists, were believed to be nearly in the same predicanent. But the Isle of Ely exceeds all other districts, in the dreadful augmentation of its distresses. One of the hundreds into which it is divided, occupies about a third part of the Isle. The number of arrests within its bounds, in 1812 and 1813, were fifty; in 1814 and 1815, two hundred and three. In the same period, the number of executions had increased from seven to sixty; and the sums for which the process was issued, from 7651. to 18,5221., besides distresses for rent-taxes to the amount of 11,000l. To this

*

must be added the fact, that in the Isle and adjoining parishes, there are now nineteen farms untenanted. But, it must be observed, that these statements are almost altogether derived from tbe proceedings in the Sheriff's office, which are very far from giving a complete view of the effects produced by the agricultural losses. Distresses come not within that department, unless where goods are replevied, which of late has seldom been done, from a conviction, that the delay of a sale could do but little good. Farmers, too, being rarely within the bankrupt laws, * generally settle their debts when they become insolvent, by deeds of trust and composition, of which no record is to be found, except perhaps in provincial papers. Still further accounts of distress in the same county, from which the worst of these details are taken, that of Cambridge, have recently come before Parliament. It appeared from a petition, referred to in Mr Brougham's Speech, that, in one parish, every individual, with a single exception, was wholly ruined ;that this gentleman had to pay the whole poor-rates of the parish, and that his income was accordingly entirely absorbed. In some parts of the West of England, particularly Devonshire, whole districts are reduced to misery; and, in Ireland, the evil exceeds even the worst examples known in Great Britain. The tenants are there throwing up their farms in bodies ; selling their little stock, and quitting the country. Large tracts of country are literally laid waste, as if the ravages of pestilence, or famine, or war, had swept every thing away before them; and proprietors, who used to receive thousands a-year of rent, have now not nearly so many hundreds, and, in some cases, scarcely any thing at all. Upon the causes of the evil, men may dispute ;-of its terrible extent, no one can entertain a doubt.

It is a judicious remark of Mr Western, (to whose industry and perseverance the country is so much indebted for bringing the subject forward, thoroughly acquainted as he is known to be with all its details), that we shall in vain look for those causes, if we are resolved to find a single principle only; for several circumstances have undoubtedly concurred in producing the existing state of things. We shall now, as briefly as the nature of the subject will permit, explain the history, and, in doing

* It is one of the inconsistencies of the English law, that a farmer cannot be made a bankrupt, as such, because his dealings are supposed to be more beyond the reach of change than those of a merchant, who yet depends on the same winds and weather. To say, that the farmer does not gain his living by buying and selling, as much as the manufacturer, is a mere absurdity,

so, exhibit, we think, the cause of the evil complained of;-premising, that as we hold it at all times our duty to shun every thing like party violence, (and the offence we have occasionally given to both the regular parties of the country, is some proof of our success in the pursuit of moderation and impartiality), so do we feel the present to be an occasion that calls more especially for the utmost calmness and candour. The Parliamentary leaders, who have treated this momentous question, have indeed set a signal example of those qualities to their followers out of doors, and have carried on their inquiries rather after the manwner of scientific investigation than political discussion.

We conceive, that much of the misconception prevalent with respect to the causes and nature of the present distresses, arises from the belief, that they have suddenly come upon the country at . the return of peace : But nothing, in cur apprehension, is more evident, than that the evil was gradually preparing, and that its approach was only accelerated by the course of events. We must recur to a somewhat more distant period to trace its origin and progress.

The war which broke out in 1793 produced the usual effect of all such political changes, by checking for a while the commerce and manufactures of the country, impairing its credit, and to a certain degree impeding the progress of its agriculture, which like every cther parsuit had begun to flourish during the former years of peace, and had partaken in the progress then made by all the sciences and arts. But in no other war did these effects last a shorter time; and they were succeeded by a very unusual stimulus to every branch of industry, afforded by the distressed state of the Continent, and the immense naval superiority which our arms soon obtained. These circumstances gave us a sort of monopoly which we had never before enjoyed, at least in any thing like the same degree-and our manufactures very soon advanced, instead of suffering or remaining stationary through the war. It was not, however; during the first two or three years that the principal effects were perceived. Our attention should rather be directed to the period between 1797 and 1808, in order to have a clear view of the progress which the country made both in trade and agriculture. And we are now to trace the peculiar circumstances, some of them novel in their kind, many of them unexampled in degree, but at all events new in their combination, which concurred to promote the cultivation of the country during those ten remarkable years. We have already adverted to the progress of our arms.

The victory of Lord Howe in 1794, the neglect of the French navy during the confusion of the Revolution, and the loss of the coIonies by conquest and internal commotion, had gone far to destroy the enemy's commerce. Holland had fallen under his dominion, and Spain followed her example. The defeat of the Dutch fleet in 1797, and the capture of the settlements in Guiana, as well as of Ceylon and Trinidad, with the interruption of all direct commerce between Europe and the Spanish main, soon ensued; and our trade and manufactures gained in proportion as our competitors were driven from the market. The progress of our manufactures produced its usual and natural effect upon cultivation.

The scarcity of 1796, and the still greater and more general scarcity of 1800, gave a stimulus to farming which it is impos=* sible t) overlock, and would be difficult to exaggerate. The High price of wheat after the former bad harvest, and of all kinds of grain after the latter, occasioned a vast portion of land to bc thrown into cultivation which had before been untilled, either in grass or in waste. And when the subsequent progress of enclosures still further increased the cultivated portion of the country, it only slowly replaced the proportion of grass lands ploughed up between 1797 and 1802. The effects of these two bad seasons have been compared to the corresponding effects produced by the destruction of the French colonics, upon the cultivation of sugar.

We have formerly explained this at great length, in our Numbers for November 1807 and January 1809; but we may, for the sake of illustration, here remind the reader how the sugar market was affected by the events now alluded to. After St Domingo was destroyed in 1793, and Guadaloupe partially ravaged soon after, so large a part of the whole sugar grown in the world was taken out of the market, that prices rose to an extravagant height; and this tempted every one who had land fit for producing the article, to avail himself of the facilities afforded by the African slave trade, and break it up into cane pieces. The proprietors of old plantations, in like manner, bestirred themselves to increase by all means their producer-until in a few years the thing was prodigiously overdone, and not only the blank was supplied, but a great deal more was produced than the demand, now much diminished by the events of the war, could carry off. The consequence was, a fall of prices as much below the ordinary standard as they had in 1794 and 1795 been above it. The ruin of many planters, and the distress of all, ensued. The inferior lands were thrown out of cultivation, and the excessive culture of the others was restrained, until, the supply being considerably reduced, the prices attained the level necessary for repayment of the expenses of cultivation and the subsistence of the cultivator,

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