The Continental System: An Economic Interpretation

Heckscher, Eli F.
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Harald Westergaard, ed. C. S. Fearenside, trans.
First Pub. Date
Oxford: Clarendon Press
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FINALLY, it seems expedient to give a rapid summary of the most important materials that throw light on the Continental System itself. The present writer's studies as regards the sources themselves, as well as the works in which those sources have been worked up, were necessarily limited to what was accessible in Swedish libraries, since it was practically impossible to obtain books from abroad during the period in which this book was in preparation; nor had the writer either time or opportunity to visit foreign libraries. On the whole, the Swedish libraries cannot be regarded as poorly equipped for a subject such as the present one; but the lack of contemporary British and American publications was nevertheless strongly felt. Consequently, in this book remarks to the effect that information of one sort or another was inaccessible mean simply that sources containing it were unknown to the author. The more important collections, in so far as they are known to the author, are included herein.



Mr. Dunan's bibliography contained in Revue des études napoléoniennes, vol. III (Paris, 1913), merits study owing to its freshness and searching appreciation of the various works (it even contains corrections of mistakes in detail); but it is far from complete as regards the several countries, particularly as regards British and American literature. This, to a certain extent, is supplemented by a valuable article by Dr. Lingelbach in the American Historical Review (January 1914), vol. XIX, containing a discussion principally of manuscript sources, with copious extracts. An extensive and more comprehensive, but less copious, bibliography, together with a criticism of the manuscript sources, forms an introduction to the Russian work mentioned below, i.e., Tarle, Kontinental'naja blokada (Moscow, 1913).



The collection of original documents which must always remain the principal source for the history of the Napoleonic age is Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, published on the initiative of Napoleon III in two parallel editions, both in thirtytwo volumes, which are quite identical as to contents (Paris, 1858-69 and 1870, respectively). To facilitate the use of either edition, Napoleon's letters are referred to by number in the preceding pages. In the first fifteen volumes of the Correspondance practically everything of interest has been included; but after that a selection was made out of regard to the prestige of the empire, a selection which applied especially to the letters written to Napoleon III's father, King Louis of Holland. This has led to a number of collections, among which the collection issued by Lecestre in two volumes, Lettres inédites de Napoléon Ier (Paris, 1897), would seem to be the only one offering anything of importance for the history of the Continental System. That collection includes certain of the most characteristic letters of Napoleon, but the general impression created through them is too one-sided and violent owing to their being compressed into two small volumes.


Besides these must be mentioned the well-known work of Martens, Nouveau recueil de traités, which in its first part, for 1808-14 (Göttingen, 1817), contains a fairly abundant collection of the various blockade decrees. Of perhaps greater value, however, are the documents collected in different parts of the original Recueil, including earlier declarations and instructions which are less accessible. The American official publication, American State Papers (Foreign), vol. III, is also supposed to contain a collection of the most important laws and regulations of all the belligerents governing neutral trade.



These are not very numerous and are of less value than might be expected. The first of a serious tendency appears to be Kiesselbach's Die Continentalsperre in ihrer ökonomischpolitischen Bedeutung (Stuttgart & Tübingen, 1850). It is very far from impartial and is sadly confused on the economic side; but a large number of what have been taken to be recent discoveries will be found there, especially in regard to the matters treated in part I, chapter IV, of the present work. The book is throughout dominated by the ideas of Friedrich List and advocates the necessity of combating England in order to free the Continent from the bondage of the 'agricultural state'. I know only by name the next work, by Sautijn Kluit, Geschiedenis van het Continentaal stelsel (Amsterdam, 1865). An Italian work by Baron Lumbroso, Napoleone I e l'Inghilterra: Saggio sulle origini del blocco continentale e sulle sue conseguenze economiche (Rome, 1897), should properly come next in chronological order. It is a somewhat undigested collection of abstracts and information gathered from different sources. Quite recently two general surveys on a fairly large scale have been attempted. One of them is a German-Austrian work by Peez and Dehn, Englands Vorherrschaft, vol. I, Aus der Zeit der Kontinentalsperre (Leipzig, 1912), an uncritical and biased work, mainly directed against England, which, however, does not lack information of value and may lead a critical reader to more authentic accounts. Of quite another kind is Tarle's Kontinental'naja blokada (Moscow, 1913), which is based on exhaustive studies, especially in the French archives, and contains a great mass of material; but the first part of it—and the only one that has so far appeared—treats of nothing but French commerce and industry. Owing to the language in which it is written I have been able to use the text only to a very limited extent, but the notes and appendices are accessible to everybody and contain an abundance of valuable information. Last in time probably comes the work of Dr. Frank E. Melvin, Napoleon's Navigation System (New York, 1919); but it had not reached me at the time of writing. There is yet another work, however, which, though dominated by a somewhat antiquated conception of history, as well as by a very obvious pro-British and anti-French bias, may probably be regarded as containing the best survey that has so far appeared of the ideas of the Continental System and their application, namely, the last three chapters of Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire, 1793-1812, vol. II (London, 1893). Despite its weaknesses, this work is still well worth reading. Its general thesis has several times been discussed in the preceding pages.


Of general historical surveys of the time, two should be named in this connexion, namely, Sorel, L'Europe et la révolution française, vols. I-VIII (Paris, 1885-1904), which has been sufficiently characterized in the preceding pages; and Thiers, Histoire du Consulat et de l'Empire, the twelfth part of which (Paris, 1855) contains bk. XXXVIII, entitled Blocus continental, which despite a highly uncritical admiration of Napoleon—particularly surprising with regard to the Trianon policy—is based upon materials which still give value to an unusually absorbing account.


A contemporary source of great value in regard to commercial conditions, especially in the north of Europe, is Oddy, European Commerce, showing New and Secure Channels of Trade with the Continent of Europe (London, 1805), published little more than a year before the Berlin decree. The full and greatly needed particulars of the commerce and economic character of the northern countries, particularly Russia, are supplemented by a lengthy section on Great Britain, which is, however, more in the nature of an economic pamphlet, and besides, distinctly inferior to the rest.



With regard to source publications, of course, we have here to take into consideration the Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, the Bulletin des lois, &c., and Le Moniteur, all of them very helpful. A contemporary, secondary, though very abundant source is Chaptal, De l'industrie françoise, vols. I-II (Paris, 1819). It suffers from the very obvious vanity and prejudices of its author, who, however, probably had a better acquaintance than most of his contemporaries with the economic life of France under Napoleon. Of the almost innumerable memoirs of the Napoleonic age scarcely more than two bear on the question in hand, both by ministers of Napoleon, namely, Mollien, Mémoires d'un ministre du trésor public, vols. I-III (1845—here used, Gomel ed., Paris, 1898); and Chaptal, Mes souvenirs sur Napoléon (Paris, 1893), of which the former is beyond comparison both the more useful and the more trustworthy. Chaptal's reminiscences have the same weaknesses as his book, and also exhibit a rancour toward Napoleon that is difficult to explain. Of Mollien, on the other hand, the words of Macaulay in reference to George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, hold good to an unusual extent, namely, that he saw the events of his own day 'from the point of view from which, after the lapse of many years, they appear to the philosophic historian'.


Of secondary works we must first refer once more to Tarle's book, which in the volume so far published chiefly falls under this section. A detailed survey of the economic history of France throughout this period is given in Levasseur, Histoire des classes ouvrières et de l'industrie en France de 1789 à 1870, 2d ed., vol. I (Paris, 1903). Darmstädter, who would seem to be the foremost living German authority of the administrative history of the Napoleonic age, has treated the economic life of France under the Continental System and during the crisis of 1810-11 in the first of his two treatises, Studien zur napoleonischen Wirtschaftspolitik in Vierteljahrschrift für Social- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. II (Leipzig, 1904). The only thing lacking there is a thorough grasp of the deeper economic character of the question in hand. An excellent monograph on one particular problem is Roloff's Die Kolonialpolitik Napole[???]ns I. (Historische Bibliothek, vol. X; Munich and Leipzig, 1899). Moreover, the periodical Revue des études napoléoniennes (Paris) contains several minor contributions to the history of the Continental System in France. The periodical Revue Napoléonienne, edited from Rome by Baron Lumbroso, also contains some studies which bear on the subject, as does even more the Revue d'histoire des doctrines économiques et sociales (later called Revue d'histoire économique et sociale).


The literature concerning the various incorporated territories is treated below under the countries to which they belonged just before the World War of 1914.



With regard to published sources there is a very perceptible scarcity of all collections. Naturally enough there is nothing corresponding to Napoleon's correspondence; but there is not even any collection of official documents or legal enactments other than statutes. This makes Hansard's Parliamentary Debates (after 1803) our main source in a very high degree, because it contains, in addition to the debates themselves, a number of official papers which otherwise appear only in the London Gazette, which was rather inaccessible to me. Besides Hansard, however, there is, so far as I can judge, very comprehensive and useful material in the great collection of Blue Books or Parliamentary Papers, of which, however, very few were accessible to me. The same is the case with the pamphlet literature of the period. Among the writings falling under this head is Stephen's War in Disguise: or the Frauds of the Neutral Flags (London, 1805; reprinted in 1917), which has been repeatedly cited in the preceding pages and needs only to be mentioned here. The many accessible volumes of Life and Letters, Memoirs and Correspondence, &c., which largely have the character of sources, owing to the number of original documents included, have proved to contain very little material of importance for the history of the Continental System.


As regards secondary works, the foremost place must be given to those of Dr. J. Holland Rose, of which, however, only the articles Napoleon and British Commerce (1893), Britain's Food Supply in the Napoleonic War (1902), both reprinted in his collection of essays, Napoleonic Studies (London, 1904), contain a somewhat detailed discussion of the problems that concern us; and even these are based mainly on politicohistorical studies. On the other hand, there are abundant economic materials, though but little worked up, in three books: Smart, Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century, vol. I, 1801-20 (London, 1910), which, as the name implies, is a purely chronological account of the more important economic events, based mainly on Hansard; Tooke, A History of Prices, and of the State of the Circulation, from 1793 to 1837, vols. I-II (London, 1838), in which the indispensable material is made to support certain rather dubious economic theories of the author; and finally Porter, The Progress of the Nation (many editions). The English work corresponding to Levasseur's work is Cunningham's Growth of English Industry and Commerce, vol. II, In Modern Times, 3d ed. (Cambridge, 1903); but this fundamental work gives much less on the Continental System than Levasseur's, simply because that incident takes a far more humble place in the economic history of Great Britain than in that of France. There is, therefore, really no comprehensive summary for the United Kingdom. A special problem is treated in Miss Audrey Cunningham's British Credit in the Last Napoleonic War (Girton College Studies, vol. II, Cambridge, 1910), which has been sufficiently discussed in the preceding pages. Two valuable short studies on the currency problems of the time have been published by Mr. R. G. Hawtrey in The Economic Journal, vol. XXVIII (London, 1918), and reprinted in the volume Currency and Credit (London, 1919); of these the Bank Restriction of 1797 bears more directly upon the problems treated in this book.



Here we find by far the greatest flood of literature; but the political conditions in Germany during that period rendered possible only investigations for particular areas so that many of the volumes are far too special to find a place here. There is no comprehensive survey of the economic history of Germany as a whole in modern times. Curiously enough, Prussia seems to be the important territory in Germany whose position with regard to the Continental System has been least fully treated.


A sort of substitute for a comprehensive survey is offered by the work which has been frequently cited in the preceding pages, namely, König's Die sächsische Baumwollenindustrie am Ende des vorigen Jahrhunderts und während der Kontinentalsperre (published in Leipziger Studien aus dem Gebiet der Geschichte, vol. v: 3, Leipzig, 1899). This has developed into a very detailed and useful study of the history of the Leipzig Fair during this period, based on excellent archive materials; and owing to the importance of the Leipzig Fairs in the economic life of Germany, it contributes greatly to our knowledge of the position of the whole of Central Europe during the self-blockade. According to an announcement published in German periodicals, the Saxon Royal Commission for History at the end of 1915 awarded a certain sum to Dr. König for a work which he submitted on the influence of the Continental System on the industry of Saxony; but of the fate of this work I have been unable to obtain information. With the work of König we may connect an article by Tarle, Deutsch-französische Wirtschaftsbeziehungen zur napoleonischen Zeit in Schmoller's Jahrbuch für Gesetzgebung, &c., vol. XXXVIII (Leipzig, 1914), which is also based on valuable archive material, with sections on Hamburg, the Grand-Duchy of Berg, and the rest of Germany.


For the Hanse Towns, which are the most important in this connexion, there is a particularly copious literature, of which we may mention: Servières, L'Allemagne française sous Napoléon Ier (Paris, 1904), a work which, despite its comprehensive title, deals only with the Hanse Towns, but which, though written by an historical dilettante, is valuable owing to its employment of much French archive material; Wohlwill, Neuere Geschichte der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg, insbesondere von 1789 bis 1815 (Allgemeine Staatengeschichte. Dritte Abt., Deutsche Landèsgeschichten, 10. Werk, Gotha, 1914), a comprehensive account by the leading authority on the modern history of the Hanse Towns, and especially Hamburg, but meagre in the sphere of economics; Vogel, Die Hansestädte und die Kontinentalsperre in Pfingstblätter des Hansischen Geschichtsvereins (vol. IX, 1913), an unusually good little survey which suffers only from its popular form and its scanty references; Max Schäfer, Bremen und die Kontinentalsperre, in Hansische Geschichtsblätter, vol. XX, 1914, the chief value of which consists in the statistical materials included. Of contemporary accounts, Rist's Lebenserinnerungen, vol. II (Poel ed., Gotha, 1880), and Bourrienne's Mémoires sur Napoléon, le Directoire, le Consulat, l'Empire et la Restauration, chiefly vol. VII (Paris, 1829), are the most important; but the former is in all respects the most useful and reliable.


For the states of the Confederation of the Rhine, König's work has already been mentioned. But by far the principal work, as an historical account, is Schmidt's Le Grand-Duché de Berg, 1806-1813 (Paris, 1905), which casts more light on the Continental System as a whole than most works; the parts which are mainly concerned with the matter are chapters x and XI. Darmstädter's Das Grossherzogtum Frankfurt (Frankfurt-am-Main, 1901) has also an account of the Continental System in the small district covered by the book, which is excellent but much shorter and more anecdotal than Schmidt's.


There are three books dealing with the more important German territories that were incorporated in the French Empire: Zeyss, Die Entstehung der Handelskammern und die Industrie am Niederrhein während der französischen Herrschaft (Leipzig, 1907), is an impartial and helpful account of the Roer department on the left bank of the Rhine; Herkner, Die oberelsässische Baumwollindustrie und ihre Arbeiter (Abhandlungen aus dem staatswissenschaftlichen Seminar zu Strassburg i.e., vol. IV, Strassburg, 1887), gives a somewhat meagre account of the extremely important Mülhausen district during this period, by way of an introduction to a social-political study of the present day. Darmstädter, Die Verwaltung des Unter-Elsass (Bas-Rhin) unter Napoleon I., 1799-1814, in Zeitschrift für die Geschichte des Oberrheins, N.F., vol. XIX (Heidelberg, 1904), treats, in its last sections, the economy of the Strassburg district under the Continental System.



The principal work for the history of the United States during this period, namely, Henry Adams's History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, vols. I-IX (New York, 1889-91), has not been accessible to me. Good surveys of the general course of political events are given by Edward Channing, The Jeffersonian System, in The American Nation; a History, vol. XII (ed. by Albert Bushnell Hart, New York, 1906), and J. B. McMaster in the Cambridge Modern History, vol. VII (Cambridge, 1903). For the actual course of the trade war, however, there is a work which largely makes the others superfluous, namely, Mahan's Sea Power and its Relations to the War of 1812, vol. I (London, 1905). In merits and defects alike it is similar to his better-known general work which has previously been mentioned.



The lack of any kind of comprehensive survey for Sweden makes itself felt very strongly; but it may be hoped that the great history of Gothenburg that is now being planned will largely fill the gap. Moreover, a fairly complete collection of the letters of Governor von Rosen of Gothenburg from that time would probably prove to be of great value. A rather small number of them are available in Ahnfelt, Ur Svenska hofvets och aristokratiens lif, vol. V (Stockholm, 1882), Schinkel-Bergman, Minnen ur Sveriges nyare historia, vol. VI (Stockholm, 1855), and von Engeström, Minnen och anteckningar, vol. II (Tegnér ed., Stockholm, 1876); and, moreover, Fröding has based, mainly on such letters, an article bearing on our subject in his collection of essays, Det forna Göteborg (Stockholm, 1903). There are statistical materials for the exports of Gothenburg in Bergwall, Historisk Underrättelse om Staden Götheborgs betydligaste Varu-Utskeppningar (Gothenburg, 1821). Some contributions toward an English presentment of the period may be found in Memoirs and Correspondence of Admiral Lord de Saumarez, vol. II (Ross ed., London, 1838). The only comprehensive account, necessarily brief from the nature of the book, is offered by Clason, in Hildebrand's Sveriges Historia intill tjugonde seklet, vol. IX: A (Stockholm, 1910); and the same writer has illustrated a special point in the first of his collected essays published under the title of Gustaf IV Adolf och den europeiska krisen under Napoleon (Stockholm, 1913).


In comparison with this both Denmark and Norway are infinitely better represented in the literature. For Denmark we have Holm, Danmark-Norges Historie fra den store nordiske Krigs Slutning til Rigernes Adskillelse (1720-1814), vol. VII (Copenhagen, 1912), which, however, treats only the external history, as the author did not live to conclude the only remaining part (vol. VIII), which was to have treated the internal history of the period 1800-14. But this inconvenience is considerably diminished by the fact that we may fall back on a very full and useful account of this very subject in Rubin, 1807-1814; Studier til Köbenhavns og Danmarks Historie (Copenhagen, 1892).


The state of affairs in Norway has long been illustrated by a well-known work which has partly the character of contemporary source, namely, Aall, Erindringer som Bidrag til Norges Historie fra 1800-1815, vols. I-III (Christiania, 1844-5); and, moreover, there has recently appeared an exhaustive description for the first half of the period of the Continental System, by Worm-Müller, Norge gjennem nödsaarene 1807-1810 (Christiania, 1918), largely based on manuscript sources and very rich in details.



Only the most important works can be mentioned in this place. For Italy, mention may be made of the second article in Darmstädter's Studien in Vierteljahrschrift für Social- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, vol. III (1905), which treats of Napoleon's commercial policy, mainly with regard to the Kingdom of Italy (North Italy); and Rambaud's Naples sous Joseph Bonaparte, 1806-1808 (Paris, 1911), in which, however, economic questions have been awarded an extremely limited amount of space.


For Switzerland, a doctoral dissertation by de Cérenville, Le système continental et la Suisse, 1803-1813 (Lausanne, 1906), provides a full and many-sided survey, based partly on an abundant collection of Swiss monographs on the industrial development of different cantons, and partly on Swiss archive materials; but, on the other hand, the work almost completely lacks contact with the general literature on the Continental System and is far too biased against the French.


As regards Belgium, we may mention the extremely interesting historical introduction to the two volumes of Varlez, Les salaires dans l'industrie gantoise (Royaume de Belgique, Ministère de l'industrie et du travail, Brussels, 1901, 1904).


With regard to Holland, there is a fairly extensive collection of publications, especially as regards the reign of King Louis. Foremost among these, perhaps, is Rocquain's Napoléon Ier et le Roi Louis (Paris, 1875), with the correspondence of the two brothers, which, however, was not accessible to me; but Napoleon's side of the correspondence is contained in full in Lecestre's edition of Lettres inédites. Moreover, a valuable collection of letters from Louis, chiefly to his Dutch ministers, is contained in Duboscq, Louis Bonaparte en Hollande; d'après ses lettres (Paris, 1911). Of secondary works can be mentioned only Wichers, De regeering van Koning Lodewijk Napoleon, 1806-1810 (Utrecht, 1892).


For Russia there are scattered notices of the Continental System in Vandal, Napoléon et Alexandre Ier, vols. I-III (Paris, 1891-6), and valuable particulars in Oddy's work; but, on the whole, it would seem that the internal condition of Russia under the Continental System was a terra incognita, at least for students of Western Europe.


Finally, I would refer to my own work, Världskrigets ekonomi in Skrifter utgifna af Handelshögskolan (Stockholm, 1915) for general economic ideas and comparisons with the recent war.

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