Free Trade and Other Fundamental Doctrines of the Manchester School
'The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.'—Washington's Farewell Address to the American People.
Part I, Essay I
This was Mr. Cobden's first political essay. It was written in 1835 by 'a Manchester merchant.' As the foundation of the Manchester School, as well as for its intrinsic value, it deserves a foremost place in any collection of the political writings of the nineteenth century.
To maintain what is denominated the true balance of European power, has been the fruitful source of wars from the earliest time; and it would be instructive, if the proposed limits of this work permitted it, to bring into review all the opposite struggles into which England has plunged, for the purpose of adjusting, from time to time, according to the ever-varying theories of her rulers, this national equilibrium. Let it suffice to say, that history exhibits us, at different periods, in the act of casting our sword into the scale of every European state. In the mean time, events have proclaimed, but in vain, how futile must be our attempts to usurp the sceptre of the Fates. Empires have arisen unbidden by us: others have departed, despite our utmost efforts to preserve them. All have undergone a change so complete that, were the writers who only a century ago lauded the then existing state of the balance of Europe to reappear, they would be startled to find, in the present relations of the Continent, no vestige of that perfect adjustment which had been purchased at the price of so much blood. And yet we have able writers and statesmen of the present day, who would advocate a war to prevent a derangement of what we now choose to pronounce the just equipoise of the power of Europe.
For a period of six hundred years, the French and English people had never ceased to regard each other as natural enemies. Scarcely a generation passed over its allotted section of this vast interval of time, without sacrificing its victims to the spirit of national hate. It was reserved for our own day to witness the close of a feud, the bloodiest, the longest, and yet, in its consequences, the most nugatory of any that is to be found in the annals of the world. Scarcely had we time to indulge the first emotions of pity and amazement at the folly of past ages, when, as if to justify to the letter the sarcasm of Hume, when alluding to another subject,*6 we, the English people, are preparing, through the vehicles of opinion, the public press, to enter upon a hostile career with Russia.
Russia, and no longer France, is the chimera that now haunts us in our apprehension for the safety of Europe: whilst Turkey, for the first time, appears to claim our sympathy and protection against the encroachments of her neighbours; and, strange as it may appear to the politicians of a future age, such is the prevailing sentiment of hostility towards the Russian government at this time in the public mind, that, with but few additional provocatives administered to it by a judicious minister through the public prints, a conflict with that Christian power, in defence of a Mahomedan people more than a thousand miles distant from our shores, might be made palatable, nay, popular, with the British nation. It would not be difficult to find a cause for this antipathy: the impulse, as usual with large masses of human beings, is a generous one, and arises, in great part, from emotions of pity for the gallant Polish people, and of indignation at the conduct of their oppressors—sentiments in which we cordially and zealously concur: and, if it were the province of Great Britain to administer justice to all the people of the earth—in other words, if God had given us, as a nation, the authority and the power, together with the wisdom and the goodness, sufficient to qualify us to deal forth His vengeance—then should we be called upon in this case to rescue the weak from the hands of their spoilers. But do we possess these favoured endowments? Are we armed with the powers of Omnipotence; or, on the contrary, can we discover another people rising into strength with a rapidity that threatens inevitably to overshadow us? Again, do we find ourselves to possess the virtue and the wisdom essential to the possession of supreme power; or, on the other hand, have we not at our side, in the wrongs of a portion of our own people, a proof that we can justly lay claim to neither?
Ireland and the United States of America ought to be the subjects of our inquiry at this period, when we are, apparently, preparing ourselves to engage as parties to a question involving countries with which we are but remotely, and in comparison very little, interested. Before entering upon some reflections under each of these heads, we shall call the consideration of our readers to the affairs of Russia and Turkey; and we shall use, as the text of our remarks, a pamphlet that has recently made its appearance under the title of 'England, France, Russia, and Turkey,' to which our attention was first attracted by the favourable comments bestowed upon it by the influential portion of the daily press.
The writer*7 appears to be versed in the diplomatic mysteries of the Courts of St. Petersburg and Constantinople: indeed, he hints that he has been himself a party to the negotiations carried on with the Sublime Porte. He says, p. 77—'The details into which we have already entered may probably contain internal evidence of our opinion not having been formed in a closet, remote from the subject we are treating.' And the concluding words of the pamphlet are calculated to lead to a similar inference; and they are moreover curious, as illustrating the tone of feeling with which the author regards the Russian government:—'Our words have been fewer than our thoughts; and, while we have to regret abler hands have not wielded our arms, we owe it to our subject to state that others unproduced, prudence forbade to draw, until the hour of retribution arrives.'
After a preliminary appeal to the sympathies of his readers in favour of Poland, he proceeds to ask—
'Is the substance of Turkey to be added to the growth of Russia? Is the mammoth of the Sarmatian plains to become the leviathan of the Hesperian seas? Is another victim to be sacrificed within so short a time on the same altar, and because the same trifling succour is again withheld? Are the remains of Turkey to be laid upon the tomb of Poland, to exclude every ray of hope, and render its doom irrevocable?'
To what extent this trifling succour is meant to go, will be explained in the writer's own words, by-and-by. But we propose, in this place, to inquire, what are the motives that England can have to desire to preserve the Ottoman Empire at the risk of a war, however trifling? In entering on this question, we shall, of course, premise that no Government has the right to plunge its people into hostilities, except in defence of their own national honour or interests. Unless this principle be made the rule of all, there can be no guarantee for the peace of any one country, so long as there may be found a people whose grievances may attract the sympathy, or invite the interference of another state. How, then, do we find our honour or interests concerned in defending the Turkish territory against the encroachments of its Christian neighbour? It is not alleged that we have an alliance with the Ottoman Porte, which binds us to preserve its empire intact; nor does there exist, with regard to this country, a treaty between Russia and Great Britain (as was the case with respect to Poland) by which we became jointly guarantees for its separate national existence. The writer we are quoting puts the motive for our interference in a singular point of view; he says—
'This obligation is imposed upon us, as members of the European community, by the approaching annihilation of another of our compeers. It is imposed upon us by the necessity of maintaining the consideration due to ourselves—the first element of political power and influence.'
From this it would appear to be the opinion of our author, that our being one of the nations of Europe imposes on us, besides the defence of our own territory, the task of upholding the rights, and perpetuating the existence, of all the other powers of the Continent—a sentiment common, we fear, to a very large portion of the English public.
In truth, Great Britain has, in contempt of the dictates of prudence and self-interest, an insatiable thirst to become the peacemaker abroad; or, if that benevolent task fail her, to assume the office of gensdarme, and keep in order, gratuitously, all the refractory nations of Europe. Hence does it arise, that, with an invulnerable island for our territory, more secure against foreign molestation than is any part of the coast of North America, we magnanimously disdain to avail ourselves of the privileges which nature offers to us, but cross the ocean, in quest of quadripartite treaties or quintuple alliances, and, probably, to leave our own good name in pledge for the debts of the poorer members of such confederacies. To the same spirit of overweening national importance may in great part be traced the ruinous wars, and yet more ruinous subsidies of our past history. Who does not now see, that, to have shut ourselves in our own ocean fastness, and to have guarded its shores and its commerce by our fleets, was the line of policy we ought never to have departed from—and who is there that is not now feeling, in the burthen of our taxation, the dismal errors of our departure from this rule during the last war? How little wisdom we have gathered along with these bitter fruits of experience, let the subject of our present inquiry determine!
Judging from another passage in this pamphlet, it would appear that England and France are now to be the sole dictators of the international relations of all Europe. The following passage is dictated by that pure spirit of English vanity which has already proved so expensive an appendage to our character; and which, unless allayed by increased knowledge among the people, or fairly crushed out of us by our financial burthens, will, we fear, carry us still deeper into the vortex of debt:—
'The squadrons of England and France anchored in the Bosphorus, they dictate their own terms to Turkey; to Russia they proclaim that from that day they intend to arbitrate supremely between the nations of the earth.'
We know of but one way in which the honour of this country may be involved in the defence and preservation of the Turkish empire; and that is, through the indiscreet meddling in the intrigues of the seraglio, on the part of our diplomatists. After a few flourishes of the pen, in the style and spirit of the above quotations, shall have passed between the gentlemen of the rival embassies of St. James' and St. Petersburg, who knows but the English nation may some day be surprised by the discovery that it is compromised in a quarrel from which there is no honourable escape but by the disastrous course of a long and ruinous war?
If our honour be not committed in this case, still less shall we find, by examining a little more at length, that our interests are involved in the preservation of Turkey. To quote again from the pamphlet before us:—
'Suffice it to say, that the countries consuming to the yearly value of thirty millions*8 of our exports, would be placed under the immediate control of the coalition (Russia, Prussia, and Austria), and, of course, under the regulations of the Russian tariff; not as it is to-day, but such as it would be when the mask is wholly dropped. What would be the effect on the internal state of England if a considerable diminution of exportation occurred? But it is not only the direct effects of the tariffs of the coalition that are to be apprehended: would it not command the tariffs of Northern and Southern America?'
Passing over, as too chimerical for comment, the allusion to the New World, we here have the argument which has, immediately or remotely, decided us to undertake almost every war in which Great Britain has been involved—viz. the defence of our commerce. And yet it has, over and over again, been proved to the world that violence and force can never prevail against the natural wants and wishes of mankind: in other words, that despotic laws against freedom of trade never can be executed. 'Trade cannot, will not be forced; let other nations prohibit by what severity they please, interest will prevail: they may embarrass their own trade, but cannot hurt a nation whose trade is free, so much as themselves.' So said a writer*9 a century ago, whilst experience down to our own day has done nothing but confirm the truth of his maxims; and yet people would frighten us into war, to prevent the forcible annihilation of our trade! Can any proofs be offered how visionary are such fears, more conclusive than are to be found in the history of Napoleon's celebrated war against English commerce? Let us briefly state a few particulars of this famous struggle. The subject, though familiar to everybody, is one the moral of which cannot be too frequently enforced.
The British Islands were, in 1807, declared by Bonaparte in a state of blockade, by those decrees which aimed at the total destruction of the trade of Great Britain. The Berlin and Milan edicts declared—
1. The British Isles were in a state of blockade. 2. All commerce and correspondence were forbidden. All English letters were to be seized in the post-houses. 3. Every Englishman, of whatever rank or quality, found in France, or the countries allied with her, was declared a prisoner of war, 4. All merchandise or property, of whatever kind, belonging to English subjects, was declared lawful prize. 5. All articles of English manufacture, and articles produced in her colonies, were, in like manner, declared contraband, and lawful prize.
France, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Holland, Italy, and the States of Germany, joined in this conspiracy against the commerce of England. To enforce more effectually these prohibitions, commissioners of rank were appointed to each of the principal sea-ports of the Continent. Now, let us mark well the result of this great confederation, which was formed for the avowed purpose of annihilating us as a trading people. The following is an account of the declared value of our exports of British products for each of the years mentioned, ending 5th of January:—
It must be borne in mind, that the proclamation of war against our trade, above mentioned, was dated 1807. It appears, then, by the preceding tabular view, that our commerce sustained a loss to the extent of about 7½ per cent. in 1808 and 1809, as compared with 1806 and 1807; whilst the amount of exports in the year 1808, or 1809, if compared with the mean or average amount of the above six years, shows a diminution only of about two per cent. And all this took place, be it remembered, when two-thirds of our foreign trade was confined to Europe.*10
It is singular to observe, that, by the following table, the declared value of our exports, during the last six years, has remained nearly stationary, at a point varying from the average of the former series of years only by a fraction.
Below is a table of the exports of the products of British industry for six years, ending 1833:—
But it must be borne in view, that, as the price of the raw materials of manufactures, such as wool, cotton, silk, iron, etc., together with the price of grain, has undergone a vast depreciation since the former periods, of course the actual exchangeable value of the money amounts in the second table is very much greater than in the first.
In fact, the official value of our exports appears to have doubled, whilst the real or declared value has remained stationary. Bearing all this in mind, still, if we take into consideration the great increase of our exports, since 1809, to the Americas, and to Asia—the quarters where our commerce has been principally increasing—and if we also recollect the higher rate of profits at the earlier periods, it becomes a question if our trade with Europe, notwithstanding its rapid increase in population and wealth, has been benefited by the peace. It is exceedingly doubtful whether, whilst we were engaged in a war for the avowed emancipation of our commerce, our merchants were not, all the while, carrying on a more gainful traffic with the Continent than they now do, when its people have become our bloodless rivals at the loom and the spinning frame.
Where, then, is the wisdom of our fighting European battles in defence of a commerce which knows so well of itself how to elude all its assailants? And what have we to show as a percontra for the four hundred millions of debt incurred in our last continental wars?
We have dwelt at greater length upon this point, because the advocates of an intermeddling policy always hold up the alluring prospect of benefiting commerce; and we think we have said enough to prove, that Russian violence cannot destroy, or even sensibly injure our trade. But it here becomes proper to ask, Are we warranted in the presumption that Russia is less inclined than other nations for trading with us? Our author, indeed, says, p. 90—
'Is it for England to allow an empire, a principle of whose existence is freedom of commerce, to be swallowed up by the most restrictive power on the face of the earth? Is it for England to allow the first commercial position in the world to be occupied by such a power? Is it for England to allow freedom of commerce to be extinguished in the only portion of Europe where it exists?'
We are at a loss to account for the ignorance that exists with reference to the comparative importance of our trade with Russia and with Turkey. The following tables exhibit the amounts of our exports to each of the two countries at the dates mentioned:—
By which it will be seen that whilst Turkey has, in more than a century, quadrupled the amount of her purchases, Russia has, in the same interval of time, increased her consumption of our goods nearly forty-fold. Our exports, since the year 1700, have increased in a more rapid ratio to Russia than to any other country of Europe.
The rise of the commerce of St. Petersburg is unparalleled by anything we meet with in Europe, out of England. This city was founded in 1703; in 1714 only sixteen ships entered the port, whilst in 1833 twelve hundred and thirty-eight vessels arrived, and of which no less a proportion than six hundred and ninety-four were British.
Nor must it be forgotten, in drawing a comparison between the value of our trade with Russia and that with Turkey, that whilst the former has, until very recently, possessed but little sea-coast, with but one good port, and that closed by ice one half of the year, the latter had, down to the date at which we have purposely brought the comparison (when the Greek Islands still formed a portion of the Turkish empire), more than double the extent of maritime territory of any power in Europe, situated in latitudes, too, the most favourable for commerce, including not only the best harbours in the world, but the largest river in Europe.
Neither must it be forgotten that the natural products of the Russian empire are restricted to corn, hemp, tallow, timber, and hides, with a few minor commodities; and that of these, the two important articles of corn and timber are subjected to restrictive, or we might almost say, prohibitive, duties at our hands; whilst Turkey contains the soil and climate adapted for producing almost every article of commerce with the exception probably only of sugar and tea. We need only mention corn, timber, cotton-wool, sheep's-wool, wood and drugs for dyeing, wine and spirits, tobacco, silk, tallow, hides and skins, coffee, spices, and bullion—to exhibit the natural fertility of a country which is now rendered sterile by the brutalizing rule of Mahomedanism. Nor can it be said that commerce is wholly free in Turkey, since the exportation of silk is burthened with a duty, and it is prohibited to export grain, or any other article of necessity, including the product of the mines. It is true that this otherwise barbarous government has set an example to more civilized countries, by its moderate import duties on foreign productions; and this, we suspect, is the secret of that surprising tenacity of life which exists in the Ottoman empire, notwithstanding the thousand organic diseases that are consuming its body politic. But what avails to throw open the ports of a country to our ships, if the population will not labour to obtain the produce wherewith to purchase our commodities?
Plains, which Dr. Clarke compares to the fairest portions of Kent, capable of yielding the best silk and cotton, abound in Syria; but despotic violence has triumphed even over nature; and this province, which once boasted of Damascus and Antioch, of Tyre, Sidon, and Aleppo, has by the oppressive exactions of successive pachas, become little better than a deserted waste.
'Everywhere,' says Volney, speaking of Asiatic Turkey, 'everywhere I saw only tyranny and misery, robbery and devastation. I found daily on my route abandoned fields, deserted villages, cities in ruins. Frequently I discovered antique monuments, remains of temples, of palaces, and of fortresses; pillars, aqueducts, and tombs: this spectacle led my mind to meditate on past times, and excited in my heart profound and serious thought. I recalled those ancient ages when twenty famous nations existed in these countries: I painted to myself the Assyrian on the banks of the Tigris, the Chaldean on those of the Euphrates, the Persian reigning from the Indus to the Mediterranean. I numbered the kingdoms of Damascus and Idumea, of Jerusalem and Samaria, the warlike states of the Philistines, and the commercial republics of Phœnicia. This Syria, said I, now almost unpeopled, could then count a hundred powerful cities; its fields were covered with towns, villages, and hamlets. Everywhere appeared cultivated fields, frequented roads, crowded habitations. What, alas! has become of those ages of abundance and of life? What of so many brilliant-creations of the hand of man? Where are the ramparts of Nineveh, the walls of Babylon, the palaces of Persepolis, the temples of Baalbec and Jerusalem? Where are the fleets of Tyre, the docks of Arad, the looms of Sidon, and that multitude of sailors, of pilots, of merchants, of soldiers? Where are those labourers, those harvests, those flocks, and that crowd of living beings that then covered the face of the earth? Alas! I have surveyed this ravaged land—I have visited the places which were the theatre of so much splendour—and have seen only solitude and desertion. The temples are crumbled down; the palaces are overthrown; the ports are filled up; the cities are destroyed; the earth, stripped of its inhabitants, is only a desolate place of tombs.'
No less hideous is the picture given to us by another eloquent eyewitness of the desolation of this once flourishing region.
'A few paltry shops expose nothing but wretchedness to view, and even these are frequently shut, from apprehension of the passage of a Cadi.
Not a creature is to be seen in the streets, not a creature at the gates, except now and then a peasant gliding through the gloom, concealing under his garments the fruits of his labour, lest he should be robbed of his hard earnings by the rapacious soldier. The only noise heard from time to time is the galloping of the steed of the desert; it is the janissary, who brings the head of the Bedouin, or returns from plundering the unhappy fellah.'*12
A still more recent traveller, and one of our own countrymen, has these emphatic words, when speaking of the Turkish territory: 'Wherever the Osmanli has trod, devastation and ruin mark his steps, civilization and the arts have fled, and made room for barbarism and the silence of the desert and the tomb.'*13
But why need we seek for foreign testimony of the withering and destroying influences of Mahomedanism? The Turks themselves, have a proverb, which says, 'Where the Sultan's horse has trod, there no grass grows.'
'And where the Spahi's hoof hath trod,
Our limits do not allow us to dwell on this portion of our task; suffice it to say, that, beneath the sway of Ottoman violence, the pursuits of agriculture and commerce are equally neglected, in regions that once comprised the mart and granary of the world. No ship was ever seen to leave a Turkish port, manned with Turkish sailors, upon the peaceful errand of foreign mercantile traffic. On the ocean, as upon land, this fierce people have always been the scourge of humanity, and a barrier to the progress of commerce and civilization. In their hands, Smyrna, which was termed by the ancients the ornament of Asia, and Constantinople, chosen for the unrivalled seat of empire by one who possessed the sovereignty of the world—these two cities, adapted by nature to become the centres of a vast trade, are now, through the barbarism and indolence of their rulers, little better than nurseries of the plague!
What shall we say more to prove that England can have no interest in perpetuating the commercial bondage of such a land as we have been describing?
Before quitting the consideration of this part of our subject, we will for a moment give way to our imagination, and picture the results that would follow, supposing that the population of the United States of America could be moved from their present position on the earth's surface, and in a moment be substituted in the place of the inhabitants of Turkey. Very little difference of latitude opposes itself to the further supposition, that the several pachalics, being transformed into free states, should be populated by the natives of such districts of the New World as gave the fittest adaptation to their previous habits of labour. Now let us picture this empire after it had been for fifty years only subject to the laws, the religion, and the industry of such a people.
Constantinople, outrivalling New York, may be painted with a million of free citizens as the focus of all the trade of Eastern Europe. Let us conjure up the thousands of miles of railroads carrying to the very extremities of this empire—not the sanguinary satrap—but the merchandise and the busy traders of a free State; conveying not the firman of a ferocious sultan, armed with death to the trembling slave, but the millions of newspapers and letters which stimulate the enterprise and excite the patriotism of an enlightened people. Let us imagine the Bosphorus and the sea of Marmora swarming with steamboats connecting the European and Asiatic continents by hourly departures and arrivals; or issuing from the Dardanelles to reanimate once more with life and fertility the hundred islands of the Archipelago; or conceive the rich shores of the Black Sea in the power of the New Englander, and the Danube pouring down its produce from the plains of Moldavia and Wallachia, now subject to the plough of the hardy Kentuckian. Let us picture the Carolinians, the Virginians, and the Georgians, transplanted to the coasts of Asia Minor, and behold its hundreds of cities again bursting from the tomb of ages, to recall religion and civilization to the spot from whence they first issued forth upon the world. Alas! that this should be only an illusion of the fancy!
There remains another argument in favour of an interposition on our part in defence of Turkey for us to notice; and it points to the danger our colonies might be in, from any movements which Russia should make eastward. 'Our Indian possessions,' says the pamphlet before quoted: 'shall we fight for them on the Dnieper, as directing the whole Mussulman nation, or shall we fight for them on the Indus, at Bagdad, or in Persia, single-handed, close to the insurrection she will raise in her rear, and when she is in possession of Turkey?'
We might have passed over this point as too chimerical for comment, were it not that it involves a question upon which, we believe, there is greater misapprehension than upon any other subject that engages the attention of our countrymen. Supposing Russia or Austria to be in possession of the Turkish dominions, would she not find her attention and resources far too abundantly occupied in retaining the sovereignty over fifteen millions of fierce and turbulent subjects, animated with warlike hatred to their conquerors, and goaded into rebellion by the all-powerful impulse of a haughty and intolerant religion, to contemplate adding still further to her embarrassments by declaring war with England, and giving the word of march to Hindostan? Who does not perceive that it could not, for ages at least, add to the external power of either of these states, if she were to get possession of Turkey by force of arms? Is Russia stronger abroad by her recent perfidious incorporation of Polish territory? Would Holland increase her power if she were to reconquer her Belgic provinces to-morrow? Or, to come to our own doors, for example, was Great Britain more powerful whilst, for centuries, she held Ireland in disaffected subjection to her rule; or was she not rather weakened, by offering, in the sister island, a vulnerable point of attack to her continental enemies?
But supposing, merely by way of argument, that Russia meditated hostile views towards our eastern colonies.
Constantinople is about three thousand miles distant from Calcutta: are our Indian possessions of such value to the British people that we must guard them with operations so extended and so costly as would be necessary if the shores of the Bosphorus are to be made the outpost for our armies of the Ganges? Surely it becomes a momentous question, to the already over-burdened people of England, to ascertain what advantages are to be reaped from enterprises like this, which, whatever other results they may chance to involve, are certain to entail increased taxation on themselves.
Nothing, we believe, presents so fair a field for economical analysis, even in this age of new lights, as the subject of colonization. We can, of course, only briefly allude to the question; but, in doing so, we suggest it as one that claims the investigation of independent public writers, and of all those members of the legislature who are of and for the people, distinct from selfish views or aristocratic tendencies. Spain lies, at this moment, a miserable spectacle of a nation whose own natural greatness has been immolated on the shrine of transatlantic ambition. May not some future historian possibly be found recording a similar epitaph on the tomb of Britain?
In truth, we have been planting, and supporting, and governing countries upon all degrees of habitable, and some that are not habitable, latitudes of the earth's surface; and so grateful to our national pride has been the spectacle, that we have never, for once, paused to inquire if our interests were advanced by so much nominal greatness. Three hundred millions of permanent debt have been accumulated—millions of direct taxation are annually levied—restrictions and prohibitions are imposed upon our trade in all quarters of the world, for the acquisition or maintenance of colonial possessions; and all for what? That we may repeat the fatal Spanish proverb—'The sun never sets on the King of England's dominions.' For we believe that no candid investigator of our colonial policy will draw the conclusion, that we have derived, or shall derive, from it advantages that can compensate for these formidable sacrifices.
But we are upon the verge of a novel combination of commercial necessities, that will altogether change the relations in which we have hitherto stood with our colonies. We call them necessities, because they will be forced upon us, not from conviction of the wisdom of such changes, but by the irresistible march of events. The New World is destined to become the arbiter of the commercial policy of the Old. We will see in what manner this is in operation.
At the passing of the Negro Emancipation Act an effort was made by the merchants of Liverpool, trading to South America, to prevail on the legislature to abolish the discriminating duties on West India sugar, which operated so severely on the trade with the Brazils. It was finally decided, that the bounty in favour of the importation of our colonial productions should be continued for ten years. At the end of this period, if not long before, therefore, the monstrous impolicy of sacrificing our trade with a new continent, of almost boundless extent of rich territory, in favour of a few small islands, with comparatively exhausted soils, will cease to be sanctioned by the law. What will then follow? If we no longer offer the exclusive privileges of our market to the West Indians, we shall cease, as a matter of justice and necessity, to compel them to purchase exclusively from us. They will be at liberty, in short, to buy wherever they can buy goods cheapest, and to sell in the dearest market. They must be placed in the very same predicament as if they were not a part of his Majesty's dominions. Where, then, will be the semblance of a plea for putting ourselves to the expense of governing and defending such countries? Let us apply the same test to our other colonies.
It is no longer a debatable question, amongst enlightened and disinterested minds, that the privileges which we give to the Canadian exporters of timber to Britain, and by which alone we command a monopoly of that market for our manufactures, are founded on gross injustice to the people of this country, and are calculated to give a forced misdirection, as all such bounties are, to the natural industry of these colonies, by causing the investment of capital in the preparing and shipping of inferior timber, which would otherwise seek its legitimate employment in the pursuit of agriculture. This monopoly must yield to the claims of the United States and Baltic trades. Nor have we been contented with sacrificing our own interests to the promotion of a fictitious prosperity in our colonies, but we destroy the interest of one of these, in the vain hope of benefiting another. Thus, in the same spirit of withering protection, we have awarded to the West Indies a monopoly of trade to Canada, whilst, to the latter, we give the privilege of exclusively supplying the former with corn and timber: and all this whilst, at the same time, these islands lie within half the distance of the shores of the United States, whose maritime districts possess all the identical exchangeable products with Canada, and teem with a population of industrious and enterprising people, eager for a commerce with these prohibited islands.
True, the Government of the United States has lately compelled us, in self-defence, to relax from this system; and every one now sees that the same motive prescribes that the commerce of the West Indies be wholly, and without restriction, thrown open to the people of the neighbouring continent, from which it has hitherto been shut out only by means of unnatural prohibitions.
We have said that the New World is the arbiter of the commercial policy of the Old; and we will now see in what way this is the fact in the case of our East Indian trade. Hitherto it has been the custom to impose discriminating duties in favour of the products of these colonies; and this, and this only, has given us the right to compel these dependencies, in return, to restrict themselves to the purchase of our manufactures. We have seen that this restrictive policy must be abandoned in the case of the West Indies and Canada, and still less shall we find it practicable to uphold it in the East. Our leading imports from this quarter must be cotton-wool, silk, indigo, and sugar. The last of these articles, as we have already shown in speaking of the West Indies, the Brazils have, by its successful culture, forced us to remove from the list of protected commodities; whilst the three first, being raw products, in the supply and manufacture of which we are so closely checkmated by the competition of the United States or of European countries, it would be madness to think of subjecting the fabrication of them to restrictive duties, however trifling.
We shall then be under the necessity of levying the same duties on the cotton, sugar, etc., imported from the East Indies, as on similar products coming from North or South America; and it will follow, of course, that, as we offer no privileges in our markets to the planters of Hindostan, we can claim none for our manufacturers in theirs. In other words, they must be left at liberty to buy wherever they can purchase cheapest, and to sell where they can do so at the dearest rate; they will, in all respects, be, commercially and fiscally speaking, the same to us as though they did not form a part of his Majesty's dominions. Where, then, will be the plea for subjecting ourselves to the heavy taxation required to maintain armies and navies for the defence of these colonies?
Provided our manufactures be cheaper than those of our rivals, we shall command the custom of these colonies by the same motives of self-interest which bring the Peruvians, the Brazilians, or the natives of North America, to clothe themselves with the products of our industry; and, on the other hand, they will gladly sell to us their commodities through the same all-powerful impulse, provided we offer for them a more tempting price than they will command in other markets.
We have thus hastily and incidentally glanced at a subject which we predict will speedily force itself upon the attention of our politicians; and we know of nothing that would be so likely to conduce to a diminution of our burdens, by reducing the charges of the army, navy, and ordnance (amounting to fourteen millions annually), as a proper understanding of our relative position with respect to our colonial possessions.*14 We are aware that no power was ever yet known, voluntarily, to give up the dominion over a part of its territory. But if it could be made manifest to the trading and industrious portions of this nation, who have no honours, or interested ambition of any kind, at stake in the matter, that whilst our dependencies are supported at an expense to them, in direct taxation, of more than five millions annually, they serve but as gorgeous and ponderous appendages to swell our ostensible grandeur, but, in reality, to complicate and magnify our government expenditure, without improving our balance of trade—surely, under such circumstances, it would become at least a question for anxious inquiry with a people so overwhelmed with debt, whether those colonies should not be suffered to support and defend themselves, as separate and independent existences.
Adam Smith, more than sixty years ago, promulgated his doubts of the wisdom and profitableness of our colonial policy,*15 at a time, be it well remembered, when we were excluded, by the mother countries, from the South American markets, and when our West Indian possessions appeared to superficial minds an indispensable source of vast wealth to the British empire. Had he lived to our day, to behold the United States of America, after freeing themselves from the dominion of the mother country, become our largest and most friendly commercial connection—had he lived also to behold the free States of South America only prevented from outstripping in magnitude all our other customers by the fetters which an absurd law of exclusive dealing with those very West Indian colonies has imposed on our commerce—how fully must his opinions have coincided with all that we have urged on this subject!
Here let us observe, that it is worthy of surprise how little progress has been made in the study of that science of which Adam Smith was, more than half a century ago, the great luminary. We regret that no society has been formed for the purpose of disseminating a knowledge of the just principles of trade. Whilst agriculture can boast almost as many associations as there are British counties; whilst every city in the kingdom contains its botanical, phrenological, or mechanical institutions, and these again possess their periodical journals (and not merely these, for even war sends forth its United Service Magazine)—we possess no association of traders, united together for the common object of enlightening the world upon a question so little understood, and so loaded with obloquy, as free trade.
We have our Banksian, our Linnæan, our Hunterian Societies; and why should not at least our greatest commercial and manufacturing towns possess their Smithian Societies, devoted to the purpose of promulgating the beneficent truths of the Wealth of Nations? Such institutions, by promoting a correspondence with similar societies that would probably be organized abroad (for it is our example in questions affecting commerce that strangers follow), might contribute to the spread of liberal and just views of political science, and thus tend to ameliorate the restrictive policy of foreign governments, through the legitimate influence of the opinions of their people. Nor would such societies be fruitless at home. Prizes might be offered for the best essays on the corn question; or lecturers might be sent to enlighten the agriculturalists, and to invite discussion upon a subject so difficult and of such paramount interest to all. The question of the policy or justice of prohibiting the export of machinery might be brought to the test of public discussion; these, and a thousand other questions might, with usefulness, engage the attention of such associations.
But to return to the consideration of the subject more immediately before us.
It will be seen, from the arguments and facts we have urged, and are about to lay before our readers, that we entertain no fears that our interests would be likely to suffer from the aggrandizement of a Christian power at the expense of Turkey, even should that power be Russia. On the contrary, we have no hesitation in avowing it as our deliberate conviction, that not merely Great Britain, but the entire civilized world, will have reason to congratulate itself, the moment when that territory again falls beneath the sceptre of any other European power whatever. Ages must elapse before its favoured region will become, as it is by nature destined to become, the seat and centre of commerce, civilization, and true religion; but the first step towards this consummation must be to convert Constantinople again into that which every lover of humanity and peace longs to behold it—the capital of a Christian people. Nor let it be objected by more enlightened believers, that the Russians would plant that corrupted branch of our religion, the Greek Church, on the spot where the first Christian monarch erected a temple to the true faith of the Apostles. We are no advocates of that Church, with its idolatrous worship and pantomimic ceremonials, fit only to delude the most degraded and ignorant minds; but we answer—put into a people's hands the Bible in lieu of the Koran—let the religion of Mahomet give place to that of Jesus Christ; and human reason, aided by the printing-press and the commerce of the world, will not fail to erase the errors which time, barbarism, or the cunning of its priesthood, may have engrafted upon it.
But to descend from these higher motives to the question of our own interests, to which, probably, as politicians, we ought to confine our consideration.
Nothing, we confess, appears so opposed to the facts of experience, as the belief which has been so industriously propagated in this country, that Russia, if she held the keys of the Dardanelles, would exclude all trade from the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora. The writer so often quoted, says—'On the occupation of the Dardanelles, disappears the importance of our possessions in the Levant. They were only valuable because the Turks held these straits. When Russia is there, they are valueless, and will soon be untenable.' It might be a sufficient reply to these assertions, unsupported by facts or reasoning, to demand of what use will these maritime possessions be to Russia, or any other power, unless for the purposes of trade? Why did the government of St. Petersburg, for nearly a century, bend a steady and longing eye on the ports of the Euxine, but for the facilities which the possession of one of them would give to the traffic between the interior provinces of Russia and the Mediterranean?
We write, however, with no motive but to disabuse the public mind on an important question; and as we prefer in all cases to appeal to facts, we shall here give a few particulars of the rise and progress of the only commercial port of consequence as yet established in the Black Sea.
The first stone of the town of Odessa was laid, by order of Catherine, in 1792.
Previously to this, the Euxine was so little visited by our mariners, that every kind of absurd story was advanced and credited respecting the danger of its navigation; the very name was held to be only synonymous with the black and dismal character of its storms, or the perilous mists that it was imagined constantly shrouded its surface. The Danube was, in a like spirit of credulity, suspected to pour from its channel so vast a deposit of mud as to fill the Black Sea with shoals, that threatened, in the course of a few ages, to convert its waters into dry land; whilst this river, the noblest in Europe, sealed by Turkish jealousy, thus blotting out, as it were, from commercial existence, that vast pastoral district through which it flowed—this stream, whose course lay almost in the centre of Christendom, was as little known as the great yellow river of China.
Odessa has fully equalled the rapid commercial rise of St. Petersburg, to which only in importance it is now the second in the Russian empire. These two ports, which we are taught to believe belong to the most anti-commercial people, present, singularly enough, the two most astonishing instances in Europe of quick advances in wealth, trade, and population.
The population of Odessa is estimated at 40,000 souls. The exportation of tallow has increased in two years twenty-fold; thus civilizing and enriching extensive districts which must have remained in comparative barbarism, had not this outlet been found for their produce. During the same time, the breed of sheep has been much improved in these vast southern regions of the Russian territory, by the introduction of the merinoes; and the consequent increase of the export of wool has been very considerable.
The amount of imports is stated at 30,000,000 roubles.
We subjoin a statement of the movement of Russian and British shipping at this port, to show that here, as at St. Petersburg and elsewhere, the commerce of England finds a proportionate extension with the trade of other countries.
This town has latterly been declared a free port, with exemption from taxes; and, therefore, we cannot but anticipate for it a much more rapid career in the time to come.
Already have its merchants appeared as our customers on the Exchange of Manchester; and it only requires that we remove our suicidal restrictions on the import of corn, to render Odessa ultimately one of the chief contributors to the trade of Liverpool.
The influence of Russia, since she has gained a settlement on the shores of the Euxine, has been successfully exercised in throwing open the navigation of its waters, with those of the Danube, to the world; and this noble river has at length been subjected to the dominion of steam, which will, beyond all other agents, tend most rapidly to bring the population of its banks within the pale of civilization. A Danube Steam Navigation Joint Stock Company has been projected, and will, in all probability, be in operation next summer: and, as this will give the route from the west of Europe to Turkey, by the way of Vienna, the preference, there is no reason to doubt that eventually this river will enjoy a considerable traffic both of passengers and merchandise.
We have probably said sufficient to prove, from facts, that Russia is not an anti-commercial nation.
We have endeavoured likewise to show that alarms for the safety of our eastern possessions ought not to induce us to go to war to check a movement three thousand miles removed from their capital; and to those who are inspired with fear for our European commerce, from the aggrandizement of Russia, we have answered by showing that Napoleon, when he had all Europe at his feet, could not diminish our trade eight per cent.
What then remains to be urged in favour of the policy of this Government putting its over-taxed people to the cost of making warlike demonstrations in favour of Turkey? At the moment when we write, a British fleet is wintering in the gulf of Vourla, the cost of which, at a low estimate, probably exceeds two millions, to say nothing of living material; and this is put in requisition in behalf of a country with which we carry on a commerce less in annual amount than is turned over by either of two trading concerns that we could name in the city of London!
But we are to await a regeneration of this Mahometan empire. Our arms, we are told, are not only to defend its territory, but to reorganize or reconstruct the whole Turkish government, and to bestow upon its subjects improved political institutions. Let us hear what the pamphlet before us says upon this subject, and let it be borne in mind that the writer's sentiments have been applauded by some of our influential journals:—
'It is the policy of England which alone can save her: it is therefore no trivial or idle investigation which we have undertaken, since it is her political elements that we have to embody into a new political instrument.'—P. 54. Again—'In the capital, in the meanest villages, in the centre of communications, on the furthest frontiers, a feeling of vague but intense expectation is spread, which will not be satisfied with less at our hands than internal reorganization and external independence.'—P. 62. Again—'Unless anticipated by visible intervention on the part of England, which will relieve them from the permanent menace of the occupation of the capital, and which will impose on the government(!) the necessity of a change of measures, a catastrophe is inevitable.'—P. 63. And again—'An empire which in extent, in resources, in population, in position, and in individual qualities and courage—in all, in fact, save instruction—is one of the greatest on the face of the earth, is brought to look with ardent expectation for the arrival of a foreign squadron, and a body of auxiliaries in its capital, and to expect from their presence the reformation of internal abuses (!) and the restoration of its political independence.'—P. 73.
To protect Turkey against her neighbour, Russia—to defend the Turks against their own government—to force on the latter a constitution, we suppose—to redress all internal grievances in a State where there is no law but despotism! Here, then, in a word, is the 'trifling succour' (p. 2) which we are called on to render our ancient ally; and if the people of Great Britain desired to add another couple of hundreds of millions to their debt, we think a scheme is discovered by which they may be gratified, without seeking for quarrels in any other quarter.
If such propositions as these are, however, to be received gravely, it might be suggested to inquire, would Russia, would Austria, remain passive, whilst another power sent her squadrons and her armies from ports a thousand miles distant to take possession of the capital and supersede the government of their adjoining neighbour? Would there be no such thing as Russian or Austrian jealousy of British aggrandizement, and might not our Quixotic labours in behalf of Mahometan regeneration be possibly perplexed by the co-operation of those Powers? These questions present to us the full extent of the dilemma in which we must be placed, if we ever attempt an internal interference with the Ottoman territory. Without the consent and assistance of Russia and Austria, we should not be allowed to land an army in that country. We might, it is true, blockade the Dardanelles, and thus at any time annihilate the trade of Constantinople and the Black Sea. But our interests would suffer by such a step; and the object of intermeddling at all is, of course, to benefit, and not destroy our trade. We must, then, if we would remodel Turkey, act in conjunction with Russia, Austria, and France. Would the two former of these powers be likely to lend a very sincere and disinterested co-operation, or must we prepare for a game of intrigues and protocols?
These are the probable consequences of our interposing in the case of Turkey; and, from the danger of which, the only alternative lies in a strict neutrality. We are aware that it would be a novel case for England to remain passive, whilst a struggle was going on between two European powers; and we know, also, that there is a predilection for continental politics amongst the majority of our countrymen, that would render it extremely difficult for any administration to preserve peace under such circumstances. Public opinion must undergo a change; our ministers must no longer be held responsible for the everyday political quarrels all over Europe; nor when an opposition member of Parliament or an opposition journalist,*17 wishes to assail a foreign secretary, must he be suffered to taunt him with neglect of the honour of Great Britain, if he should prudently abstain from involving her in the dissensions that afflict distant communities.
There is no remedy for this but in the wholesome exercise of the people's opinion in behalf of their own interests. The middle and industrious classes of England can have no interest apart from the preservation of peace. The honours, the fame, the emoluments of war belong not to them; the battle-plain is the harvest-field of the aristocracy, watered with the blood of the people.
We know of no means by which a body of members in the reformed House of Commons could so fairly achieve for itself the patriotic title of a national party, as by associating for the common object of deprecating all intervention on our part in continental politics. Such a party might well comprise every representative of our manufacturing and commercial districts, and would, we doubt not, very soon embrace the majority of a powerful House of Commons. At some future election, we may probably see the test of 'no foreign politics' applied to those who offer to become the representatives of free constituencies. Happy would it have been for us, and well for our posterity, had such a feeling predominated in this country fifty years ago! But although, since the peace, we have profited so little by the bitter experience of the revolutionary wars as to seek a participation in all the subsequent continental squabbles, and though we are bound by treaties, or involved in guarantees, with almost every State of Europe; still the coming moment is only the more proper for adopting the true path of national policy, which always lies open to us.
We say the coming moment is only the more fit for withdrawing ourselves from foreign politics; and surely there are signs in Europe that fully justify the sentiment. With France, still in the throes of her last revolution, containing a generation of young and ardent spirits, without the resources of commerce, and therefore burning for the excitement and employment of war; with Germany, Prussia, Hungary, Austria, and Italy, all dependent for tranquillity upon the fragile bond of attachment of their subjects to a couple of aged paternal monarchs; with Holland and Belgium, each sword in hand; and with Turkey, not so much yielding to the pressure of Russia, as sinking beneath an inevitable religious and political destiny; surely, with such elements of discord as these fermenting all over Europe, it becomes more than ever our duty to take natural shelter from a storm, from entering into which we could hope for no benefits, but might justly dread renewed sacrifices.
Nor do we think it would tend less to promote the ulterior benefit of our continental neighbours than our own, were Great Britain to refrain from participating in the conflicts that may arise around her. An onward movement of constitutional liberty must continue to be made by the less advanced nations of Europe, so long as one of its greatest families holds out the example of liberal and enlightened freedom. England, by calmly directing her undivided energies to the purifying of her own internal institutions, to the emancipation of her commerce—above all, to the unfettering of her press from its excise bonds—would, by thus serving as it were for the beacon of other nations, aid more effectually the cause of political progression all over the continent, than she could possibly do by plunging herself into the strife of European wars.
For, let it never be forgotten, that it is not by means of war that States are rendered fit for the enjoyment of constitutional freedom; on the contrary, whilst terror and bloodshed reign in the land, involving men's minds in the extremities of hopes and fears, there can be no process of thought, no education going on, by which alone can a people be prepared for the enjoyment of rational liberty. Hence, after a struggle of twenty years, begun in behalf of freedom, no sooner had the wars of the French revolution terminated, than all the nations of the continent fell back again into their previous state of political servitude, and from which they have, ever since the peace, been qualifying to rescue themselves, by the gradual process of intellectual advancement. Those who, from an eager desire to aid civilization, wish that Great Britain should interpose in the dissensions of neighbouring States, would do wisely to study, in the history of their own country, how well a people can, by the force and virtue of native elements, and without external assistance of any kind, work out their own political regeneration; they might learn too, by their own annals, that it is only when at peace with other States that a nation finds the leisure for looking within itself, and discovering the means to accomplish great domestic ameliorations.
To those generous spirits we would urge, that, in the present day, commerce is the grand panacea, which, like a beneficent medical discovery, will serve to inoculate with the healthy and saving taste for civilization all the nations of the world. Not a bale of merchandise leaves our shores, but it bears the seeds of intelligence and fruitful thought to the members of some less enlightened community; not a merchant visits our seats of manufacturing industry, but he returns to his own country the missionary of freedom, peace, and good government—whilst our steamboats, that now visit every port of Europe, and our miraculous railroads, that are the talk of all nations, are the advertisements and vouchers for the value of our enlightened institutions.
In closing this part of our task, we shall only add, that, whatever other plea may in future be allowed to induce us to embark in a continental conflict, we trust we have proved, that so far as our commerce is concerned, it can neither be sustained nor greatly injured abroad by force or violence. The foreign customers who visit our markets are not brought hither through fears of the power or the influence of British diplomatists: they are not captured by our fleets and armies: and as little are they attracted by feelings of love for us; for that 'there is no friendship in trade,' is a maxim equally applicable to nations and to individuals. It is solely from the promptings of self-interest, that the merchants of Europe, as of the rest of the world, send their ships to our ports to be freighted with the products of our labour. The self-same impulse drew all nations, at different periods of history, to Tyre, to Venice, and to Amsterdam; and if, in the revolution of time and events, a country should be found (which is probable) whose cottons and woollens shall be cheaper than those of England and the rest of the world, then to that spot—even should it, by supposition, be buried in the remotest nook of the globe—will all the traders of the earth flock; and no human power, no fleets or armies, will prevent Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds from sharing the fate of their once proud predecessors in Holland, Italy, and Phœnicia.*18
Notes for this chapter
'Though, in a future age, it will probably become difficult to persuade some nations that any human two-legged creature could ever embrace such principles. And it is a thousand to one but those nations themselves shall have something full as absurd in their own creed, to which they will give a most implicit consent.'
Mr. Urquhart, formerly Secretary of the English Embassy at Constantinople.
Sir Matthew Decker.
It would be amusing, and full of romantic interest, to detail some of the ten thousand justifiable arts invented to thwart this unnatural coalition, which, of necessity, converted almost every citizen of Europe into a smuggler. Bourrienne, who was himself one of the commissioners at Hamburgh, gives some interesting anecdotes in his 'Memoirs' under this head. The writer is acquainted with a merchant who was interested in a house that employed five hundred horses in transporting British goods, many of which were landed in Sclavonia, and thence conveyed overland to France, at a charge of about £28 a cwt.—more than fifty times the present freight of merchandise from London to Calcutta.
M'Culloch's Dict., 2nd edit., p. 671.
The peace estimates for army, navy, and ordnance for the year 1903-4 amounted to about £69,000,000.
See Adam Smith's last chapter. In Mr. Cobden's copy of the Wealth of Nations the most striking passages in this last chapter are marked.
M'Culloch's Dictionary, p. 858: a work of unrivalled labour and usefulness, which ought to have a place in the library of every merchant or reader who feels interested in the commerce and statistics of the world. We will quote from another part of this valuable work, the opinion of the author upon the influences of Russian sway in this quarter:—'On the whole, however, a gradual improvement is taking place; and whatever objections may, on other grounds, be made to the encroachments of Russia in this quarter, there can be no doubt that, by introducing comparative security and good order into the countries under her authority, she has materially improved their condition, and accelerated their progress to a more advanced state.'—P. 1108.
Extract from a London paper, October 22, 1834: 'As at home, so abroad; the Whigs have failed in all their negotiations, and not one question have they settled, except the passing of a Reform Bill and a Poor Law Bill. The Dutch question is undecided; the French are still at Ancona; Don Carlos is fighting in Spain; Don Miguel and his adherents are preparing for a new conflict in Portugal; Turkey and Egypt are at daggers drawn; Switzerland is quarrelling with her neighbouring states about Italian refugees; Frankfort is occupied by Prussian troops, in violation of the treaty of Vienna; Algiers is being made a large French colony, in violation of the promises made to the contrary by France in 1829 and 1830; ten thousand Polish nobles are still proscribed and wandering in Europe; French gaols are full of political offenders, who, when liberated or acquitted, will begin again to conspire. In one word, nothing is terminated.' It is plain that, if this writer had his will, the Whigs would leave nothing in the world for Providence to attend to.
Lest it might be said that we are advocating Russian objects of ambition, we think it necessary to observe, that we trust the entire spirit of this pamphlet will show that we are not of Russian politics. Our sole aim is the just interests of England, regardless of the objects of other nations.
Part I, Essay II
End of Notes
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