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The peace, by opening the market, and reducing the cost of culture and management, has since still further relieved the West Indian body: but those who were incumbered with debts, and had to pay a fixed pecuniary interest; and those who had bad lands, lands producing inferior sugars, or lands peculiarly expensive to cultivate, suffered most severely, and, in very many instances, were wholly ruined. In this, as in several other respects, the case of the colonial distresses very closely resembled the present sufferings of the agricultural interests at home.
About the same time with the scarcities of 1795 and 1800, the vast expenditure of the Government produced a similar effect in augmenting the prices of corn, and encouraging cultivation. It is true, that the money raised by taxes, and spent in war, would, if left in the pockets of the people, have ultimately reached the same point through different channels; nay, it would have raised to a greaetr amount the capital of the country, and thus given a still more extensive impulse to its manufactures and its productions. But the operations of finance and war brought capital much more suddenly into play, and compelled a far larger sum to be expended yearly in the purchase of agricultural and manufacturing produce, than would have gone naturally to that quarter, had their savings been left in the hands of individuals. The gradual increase of capital, and consequently of expenditure in the natural way, operates equally upon all branches of industry; and, if it raises the amount of production in a given time, it likewise creates a permanent extension of the demand for produce. When so many millions are at once raised by taxes, and spent in consumption, a great stimulus is rapidly applied, and a great increase of production follows; while the termination of the war leaves a large part of the supply without any demand. Besides, the expenditure of Government is always wasteful, and tends to raise the market in a much greater degree than the same sums spent by private individuals.
The progress of agriculture, which was urged forward by these circumstances, was still further precipitated by the state of the circulation subsequent to 1797. The stoppage of the Bank of England was followed by the extension of paper credit all over the country. New banks were everywhere established, and the old ones greatly increased their discounts, thus affording to farmers and speculators in land, a facility of carrying on their schemes wholly unknown in former times. No class of the community received so large a share of this accommodation as the agriculturist, whose security was better, and whose habits were less adventurous.
At the same time with the powerful encouragements already mentioned, there happened two events, operating in the same direction, the extension of our colonial possessions,
and the completion of our commercial monopoly ; events resulting from the war, and tending powerfully to augment the cultivation of this island, now become the great emporium of trade, and the spot where much of the colonial rents ultimately centered. It is unnecessary to enlarge on this tendency; every one knows how directly the agriculture of any district is promoted by the existence in its neighbourhood of any great town, which serves as a place of transit for the traffic of other districts; and, by the war, England had become such an entrepôt for the rest of the world. Every one is aware how speedily the rents of foreign possessions, received in any district, find their way to the improvement of that district ; and England had now become, by conquest, the intermediate receiver of almost all colonial rents, and the ultimate receiver of money from the residence of some planters in this country, as those of Tobago and the Dutch settlements, and nearly all the mortgagees of those colonies.
It deserves to be added here, that partly from the general progress of arts and sciences, and partly from the peculiar incentives to agricultural pursuits already enumerated, vast improvements in every thing connected with farming took place about the period to which we are referring. There would be no end of enumerating the inventions for economizing labour, and increasing production, to which the last twenty years have given birth. But we shall close this branch of the subject with stating the general result of all the particulars mentioned, from Mr Brougham's Speech.
· The improvements in most parts of the country have been going on so visibly, that the most careless observer must have been struck by them. Not only wastes have disappeared for miles and miles, giving place to houses, fences, and crops; not only have even the most inconsiderable commons, the very village greens, and the little stripes of sward by the way side, been in many places subjected to division and exclusive ownership, and cut up into corn fields in the rage for farming ; not only have stubborn soils been forced to bear crops by mere weight of metal, by sinking money in the earth, as it has been called, but the land that formerly grew something has been fatigued with labour, and loaded with capital, until it yielded much more. The work both of men and cattle has been economized, new skill has been applied, and a more dexterous combination of different kinds of husbandry been practised, until, without at all comprehending the waste lands wholly added to the productive territory of the Island, it may be safely said, not perhaps that two blades of grass now grow where one only grew before, but I am :sure, that five grow where four used to be ; and that this kingdom,
p. 14, 15.
which foreigners were wont to taunt as a mere manufacturing and trading country, inhabited by a shopkeeping nation, is, in reality, for its size, by far the greatest agricultural state in the world.
We are now to enter upon a new period, and to trace the cperation of causes similar in their kind, but opposite in their tendency. The declension of agriculture produced by these, is the evil at present complained of. The effects of the over cultivation now began to be felt. The enclosures and improvements of the preceding years had come into play—the land was yielding its full crops when there happened some of the best harvests that had ever been known. Of this description were the
years 1812, 1813 and 1814. As the operation of the political circumstances tending to quicken agriculture, had, in 1795, 1799 and 1800, been accidentally aided by the scarcities of those years, so, the effects of the political circumstances now beginning to depress agriculture, were assisted by the accident of extraordinary abundance in 1812, 1813 and 1814. The discomfiture of the French arms at this period, and the certainty of peace in the course of a few months, operated most remarkably upon prices, In 1813, wheat and flour fell about one half between January and November ; partly, no doubt, owing to the excellent harvest, but, in a great measure, to the events on the Continent, which, during the autumn of that memorable year, rendered the prolongation of hostilities beyond a few inonths eminently improbable. Peace then came; and the Government expenditure was suddenly diminished by about fifty millions a year. If any example were wanting to illustrate the effects of this change, we might appeal to the state of Ireland, the great market for victuailing the navy. No part of the empire has suffered so much; and the catile which used there to furnish the ships' provisions, have, since the peace, been poured over into this couniry, so as to affect, for the first time, the rents of districts dependiny wholly upon grazing, and which had hiiherto kept up at their usual rate.
Nor are the commercial difficulties of the country to be overlooked, in tracing the retrogradle steps which agriculture was now fated to make. If the monopoly of war. had rapidly extended our trade, the cessation of that monopoly must now have cramped it, at least until new channels could be found into which it might fow, after the confusion ever attendant upon a change, whether from peace to war, or from war to peace, should have subsided. But, indeed, long before this change happened, our mercantile affairs had begun to suffer the most serious embarrassments. The distresses of 1810 had never been recovered ; and the complete execution of the enemy's project, of excluding us from the Continent, effacted by the cooperation of our own wretched policy, bad, in 1812, increased those distresses to a still more alarming degree. The American war, which followed, added to the mischief; and subsequent events have done nothing to repair the injuries then inflicted upon our commerce. Indeed, the sudden opening of the Continent in 1814, produced a scene of speculation almost equalling the most famous commercial delusions recorded in history. The following sketch of it is extracted from Mr Brougham's Speech.
• After the cramped state in which the enemy's measures, and our own retaliation, (as we termed it), had kept our trade for some years, when the events of spring 1814 suddenly opened the Continent, a rage for exporting gools of every kind burst forth, only to be ex. plained by reflecting on the previous restrictions we had been labouring under, and only to be equalled (though not in extent) by some of the mercantile delusions connected with South American speculations. Every thing that could be shipped was sent off; all the capital that could be laid hold of was embarked. The frenzy, I can call it nothing less after the experience of 1806 and 1810, descend. ed to persons in the humblest circumstances, and the furthest removed, by their pursuits, from commercial cares. It may give the Committee some idea of this disease, if I state what I know to have happened in one or two places. Not only clerks and labourers, but menial servants engaged the little sums which they had been laying up for a provision against old age and sickness ; persons went round tempting them to adventure in the trade to Ilolland, and Germany, and the Baltic; they risked their mite in the hopes of boundless pro. fits; it went with the millions of the more regular traders: the buh. ble soon burst, like its predecessors of the South Sea, the Mississippi, and Buenos Ayres; English goods were selling for much less in Hol. land and the north of Europe, than in London and Manchester ; in most places they were lying a dead weight without any sale at all, and either no returns whatever were received, or pounds came back for. thousands that had gone forth. The great speculators broke; the middling ones lingered out a precarious existence, deprived of all means of continuing their dealings either at home or abroad; the poorer dupes of the delusion had lost their little hoards, and went upon the parish the next mishap that befel them ; but the result of the whole has been much commercial distress—a caution now abso. lutely necessary in trying new adventures a prodigious diminution in the demand for manufactures, and indirectly a serious defalcation in the effectual demard for the produce of land.'
' The peace with America bas produced somewhat of a similar. eifect, though I am very far from placing the vast exports which it occasioned upon the same footing with those to the European markes the year before ; both because ultimately the Americans will pay, which the exhausted state of the Continent renders very unlikely ; and because it was well worth while to incur a loss upon the first ex. portation, in order, by the glut, to stifle in the cradle those rising manufactures in the United States, which the war had forced into existence contrary to the natural course of things. But, in the mean time, the enormous amount of, I believe, eighteen millions worth of goods were exported to North America in one year ; Í am informed nearly sixteen millions went through the port of Liverpool alone ; and, for a considerable part of this, no returns have been received, while still more of it must have been, selling at a very scanty profit. The immediate effect has been a sensible increase of the difficul. ties which I have already described as flowing from the unexpected opening of the European market in the impoverished and unsettled state of the Continent.
p. 22–24. With the period of greatest agricultural supply, of extreme commercial depression, and of sudden diminution in the demands arising from government contracts and war expenditure generally, an event coincided, which was calculated to increase all the burthens now pressing so heavily upon the cultivator ; we allude to the rapid change in the state of the currency, and the consequent stoppage of all accommodation. The Bank of England almost at once drew in its issues of paper, to the amount of three millions below what they had been upon an average of some years ; for, at one period, they had been six millions higher. The country banks, now under the influence of alarm,-lessened in a much greater degree their usual discounts. All classes of speculators felt this sudden and unexpected change severely; but most especially speculators in land, who had been led into their operations and supported in them by the extreme facilities afforded by dealers in money dit during the late times.
• The improver of land (Mr Brougham observes) has to deal with property not easily convertible into money, and his adventures extend necessarily over a long course of years. Persons in this si. tuation soon found their borrowed capital withdrawn ; when the fall of produce made it difficult for them to pay the interest, they were suddenly called upon for the principal ; they had gotten into a situ. ation which no prudence could have enabled them to avoid, because it was the result of events which no sagacity could have foreseen ; they had for many years been tempted to speculate by a facility of obtaining capital or credit, which in a month or two was utterly withdrawn; and before the least warning had been given either by the course of events, or by the dealers in money and accommodation, a support was removed which the most cautious of men might well have expected to be continued indefinitely, or, at any rate, to be gradually removed. I beg leave, in illustration of this matter, to remind the Committee how those undertakings have been carried