Lapas attēli
PDF
ePub

of families have lived, thought, laboured, traded, suffered or enjoyed, and perished; that in many instances, from the smallest beginnings, nations and empires have arisen, have flourished, and have fallen. We desire to possess, we ask for and we search for an explanation and a record of the principles of social action or economy by which all the mighty changes, the evolutions and revolutions, have been wrought; but the important knowledge and instruction are not to be derived by researches into either the mythical or philosophical literature of the ancient nations of the world. Neither the school of Egypt, of Persia, of Greece, or of Rome, nor that of any other nation, supplies us with the required light. If the principles and truth have ever been discovered, and the knowledge acquired, all has been lost under the effacing operations of time, for no such ancient attainments are present with us now.

The study and elucidation of that science which comprehends the discovery and explanation of the connection that is ordained to subsist between man and all those earthly materials from which his bodily sustenance and comfort are derived; or those principles, laws, and courses, by which man is enabled to make that noble progress which raises him from a condition of the utmost simplicity, or, that which is called barbarism, to a condition of the highest complication and refinement, or which leads him to attain a state of national wealth, power, and eminence, which is called civilisation, have been left for the labour and talent of the people of modern times.

Of the efforts that have been made in modern times within this particular field of scientific research, we have to mark especially, as contributed through the literature of the continental nations of Europe, the writings of Turgot, Quesnay, Say, Sismondi, and others, and through the literature of the United States of America, the writings of Carey and other men. But although much has thus been contributed, yet far

more has been contributed by the band of British writers, who have constituted themselves a school. Of these, the acute and diligent inquirer and reasoner, Locke, is to be viewed as one of the earliest and most ingenious, though Dr. Adam Smith, by virtue of his large work on "The Wealth of Nations," is, by general assent, allowed to be the chief. The science, then, as it now stands before the world, may be said to have its concentration within the school of modern British writers.

On directing our attention to the practical development and application of the subject in contradistinction to the literary, we find that in the European division of the world, the plan of trade regulation, commonly known as the Mercantile System of Europe, had been anciently invented and established. This system had been zealously upheld and continuously extended by the governing powers of the more advancing or civilised nations of the world; and perhaps no nation presents a more remarkable example of the persevering adoption of this system, than our own nation. From having been commenced within the nation itself, by means of guilds and corporations, by which many labourers were united together and specially connected with particular crafts and trades, and many also excluded from participation and union, the levying of taxes on articles of consumption having been conducted under them, it was extended to every part where intercourse was established or dominion acquired; until the whole sphere of our empire, embracing our home, our colonial, our foreign, and our maritime commerce, was made subject to Custom House supervision, to regulation and prohibition; the main object aimed at by the adoption of all this extensive and complicated machinery being, that by means of the barriers thus raised, a large amount of wealth or of capital should be insured for the maintenance and enjoyment of the people in general. Just as an engineer, in providing a water

power for making his mills, so contrives and constructs his dams that an enlarged volume of power shall be thrown into one course and form one head, in order that a force be possessed which shall be sufficient for insuring an accomplishment of his design.

As in the construction of this complicated mercantile system many anomalies were from time to time introduced, and also regulations, some of which contravened others, and as much of the system had been so unjustly used as to be made to promote the special interests of individuals, instead of the interests of the people at large, so controversies, both upon the principle and upon the details of the system, were raised and eagerly carried on.

As the writers and statesmen who undertook the labour of upholding things as they were, or of advocating the constitutional principle, and then of defending the mercantile system, were wholly unacquainted with the character of that general principle upon which alone a sound system of national and international commerce could be constructed, so they were found to have supplied evidence and argument that recoiled against, and served to explode, the system which they were intending to support. Many of them were seen to commit themselves to the propoundment and advocacy of peculiar views on the subject of Money, professing to believe themselves, and then endeavouring to make the world in general believe, that the way for a nation to become prosperous and wealthy was by adopting contrivances for getting and preserving within each nation as much gold and silver as possible, the acquisition of this metallic wealth to be ensured by that which was called a favourable balance of trade. For these views and doctrines they claimed the high title of "Theory," though, in fact, nothing of that quality which would entitle them to have the assignment of this high

name, was present, the views, doctrines, and arguments consisting merely of conjectures created and nourished by themselves; the offspring of that uninformed imagination that delights in its own ideas, whatever kind the ideas may be; the inventions of men who are unable to explore and discern simple natural law and just courses of action, and who are not even able to judge of and appreciate natural law and just courses of action, even when they are laid open for their inspection by other men.

Another remarkable characteristic that was engrafted on the long-cherished mercantile system was that of a natural antagonism existing between the interests of the people of different nations. Instead of seeking and discovering that natural law of social and commercial action which, when fulfilled, would promote and realise alike the interests of the people of all nations, the advocates of the mercantile system urged the people of each nation to look upon the people of another nation as natural rivals and enemies, the pursuit of whose interests, by the various courses of trade, was to be carefully watched and opposed, under the apprehension that by the machinations of the merchants the money of the nation might be abstracted--that money from which they attempted to persuade the people their maintenance and enjoyment were derived.

The inevitable issue of the weakness thus exhibited, was, as a matter of course, a signal failure of effort. People in general could not continue to entertain respect and confidence towards those who were constantly seen to commit a destruction of their own arguments, and to be engaged in undermining the foundation of their own structures. By degrees the mercantile system was made to appear, in the judgment of most persons, a falsely-founded, obstructive, partial, and injurious system; a system by which unjust

monopolies were raised and supported. As no nation of the world had adopted this anciently invented mercantile system more extensively than our own nation, so England has furnished the arena- her political literature and her Parliament having constituted this particular arena- upon which controversies, both on the principle and on the system, have been conducted with the largest amount of labour, energy, research, and skill. The issue of this great and long-protracted political and social controversy is now before our own nation and the world at large. The judgment recorded, accepted, and most hopefully cherished is that which, condemning and rejecting the restrictive, regulating, and ancient Mercantile Principle and System, has given an affirmation to the principle of Free Trade; that system of free action and commerce by which the capitalists of the different nations of the world, and the labourers of the different nations of the world, shall, under the general operation of the law of trade, be brought to intermingle their capital and their labour promiscuously together, so that the most excited or the strongest competition possible shall be applied both to capital and to labour. The people of all nations to have and to enjoy the results of this competition, whatever the results may be.

Such being the existing state of this great question and controversy, people in general who content themselves by taking a superficial view of the subject, as also of the manner in which it has been treated by writers and statesmen, would suppose, and they naturally adopt the conclusion, that here the matter terminates; that the discussion and controversy are exhausted and at an end; that the great intellectual battle has been thoroughly fought and won; that the vanquished are for ever vanquished; and that the victors must remain for ever victors. But this is a very narrow and false

« iepriekšējāTurpināt »