Imagens das páginas

owing to an astounding official increase of large families'; and the general rate was raised to 10% again. At this it remained till 1815, when it was yielding nearly £15,000,000. At last an income tax had been discovered which could not be evaded, but it was voted for the duration of the war and no longer.' At the conclusion of peace the Government tried to retain it, but the Opposition, led by Brougham, held them to their bond. It was abolished, therefore, in 1816, along with the war duty on malt (i.e. the addition made to the excise on malt during the war), which was regarded as the agricultural offset to the contributions of the commercial classes through income tax. In the handling of taxation the errant parties were neither Pitt nor Pitt's war-time successors, but an impatient public and the complaisant Government of peace time. The abolition of the income tax was not necessary to the restoration of industry, for the war left Great Britain pre-eminent therein; and the result of abolishing it was to prolong the period of borrowing beyond the war and to overload the revenue system with burdensome taxes on the course of trade and the necessaries of the poor.

The Strain on Currency and Credit. In 1797 the Government authorised the Bank of England to suspend payment of its notes in cash, and by agreeing to accept them for all payments virtually made them legal tender. In 1821 cash payments were resumed in full. Therefore between 1797 and 1821 Great Britain had a paper pound. We note elsewhere the place of the paper pound in the history of British currency and the measures taken by the Bank of England at this time to preserve its independence and reputation. Here we observe that the inflation of the currency, which was the outcome of the suspension, served as a third and final expedient of war finance. For inflation of the currency is taxation in disguise, giving the Government through the machinery of the loan market control over resources which it would not otherwise possess. The inflation, measured by the premium on gold, was slight down to 1808: between 1809 and 1814 it was serious. But at no point did the Government consciously avail itself of this expedient. It did not turn on the printing press. While the war lasted the burden of inflation was not felt, except to the extent that it aggravated the rise in food prices between 1810 and 1813-a rise which would have been serious in any case owing to the failure of supply. The penalty was paid on the return of peace, which brought not plenty, as was expected, but stagnation and unemployment. For as the final stage of the war was financed in part by a moderate inflation of credit, so the process of readjustment, when peace came, was rendered more violent and therefore more damaging to trade. The

creditor class benefited by the fall in prices. In this class the fund holders were the most important element, but they were also the element which had benefited most surely by the abolition of the income tax. The result was a widespread sense of injustice on which Radical politicians like William Cobbett played with effect for the next twenty years.


HUSKISSON, 1770-1830

Section 1. Towards Free Trade. Section 2. Huskisson's Career. Section 3. The Corn Laws. Section 4. The Navigation Laws and Commercial Treaties. Section 5. Imperial Preference. Section 6. The Revision of the Tariff. Section 7. Summary.

Section I. Towards Free Trade

Two great Tory statesmen, trained in the keen school of world war and currency disturbance, resumed the work of fiscal reform which Pitt began and the French wars arrested. These were William Huskisson (1770-1830) and Sir Robert Peel (17881850). Huskisson's chief work was done as President of the Board of Trade (1823-7), Peel's during his Premiership (1841-6): and between them they set the fiscal helm so decisively towards free trade that its completion after 1846 was a matter of detail only.

It was the statesmen who set the pace. In the decade after Waterloo the British Government was in close touch with the problems and requirements of foreign trade. It had just waged a trade war with Napoleon and a war arising out of trade friction with the U.S.A. It was engaged on the restoration of the gold standard and the settlement of the French war indemnity through the house of Baring, and it was bargaining with interested Powers for the suppression of the slave trade. By its diplomacy it furthered the interests of British traders in Central and South America. Castlereagh and Canning saw the value of the markets opened by the detachment of Brazil from Portugal (1808) and the revolt of the Spanish Colonies (1810-16). In 1810 during the Peninsular War Great Britain had secured a commercial treaty with Portugal, giving her entry into the Brazilian market. In 1816 she offered mediation between Spain and its colonies, recommending that the commerce of South America should be opened to all nations upon moderate duties with a reasonable preference to Spain; for she knew that this was all her merchants

needed. But Spain refused, and therefore the British Government pressed for commercial recognition. It made a place for the ex-colonies in its new Navigation Code of 1822 and despatched commercial agents to South American ports. In these different ways the Government showed that it saw the value of a progressive trade policy more clearly than the manufacturers and merchants, who always thought sectionally when particular remissions were proposed. It is customary to date the movement for free trade from 1820, the year in which the merchants of London presented a Petition for Free Trade; and it is true that after that year free trade doctrine made headway in the country. The London Petition went the whole length: Free imports without retaliation and no duties except for revenue'; but Thomas Tooke, the statistician and Baltic merchant who drafted the petition, gives the story of its adoption. He found it hard to obtain signatures until a director and an ex-governor of the Bank of England led the way. The simple truth is that the Government were at that time far more sincere and resolute free traders than the merchants of London.' 1

The agriculturists, though their mind was not more sectional than that of the merchants and manufacturers, were impelled by the circumstances to sing a different tune. They stood to lose by free trade. Having saved the country in war time by feeding it, they refused to support in peace time a trade policy in which the manufacturers enjoyed the markets and they the competition. Huskisson's term of office was cut short by the disfavour with which the landed interest viewed his effort to modify the unworkable Corn Law of 1815. Peel abolished the Corn Laws in 1846 at the price of his own downfall and a split in the party which he led. Shippers and manufacturers were never asked to expose themselves to the competition of advanced rivals. Great Britain became a completely free trade country because the interests which risked little by its adoption were strong enough to bring the agriculturists to their knees. And the British Exchequer was able to afford free trade because of the abounding increase in trade and industry which that policy aided but did not


Section 2.

Huskisson's Career

Huskisson brought to the work of reform a ripe experience and matchless knowledge. A youth spent in Paris at the British Embassy gave him an insight into diplomatic procedure, which stood him in good stead when he came to negotiate commercial treaties. From 1796 to 1830 he sat continuously in Parliament, 1 Tooke and Newmarch, History of Prices, VI. 342.

representing from 1823 to 1830 the commercial constituency of Liverpool in succession to his friend and idol, George Canning. He was a member of the Bullion Committee of 1810 and made his financial mark by a brilliant essay on currency depreciation, in which he supported the bullionist case by showing the affinity between free trade and the free movement of gold. In 1814 he became Minister of Woods and Forests under Lord Liverpool, thus coming into contact with agriculture. For a time he was the spokesman of the Government in matters agricultural, but after 1821 he was in opposition to the majority of the Government's agricultural supporters, and the gap widened until in 1828 it caused his fall. Meanwhile, however, he had launched his fiscal reforms. With Robinson at the Exchequer and Canning at the Foreign Office, he achieved a complete revision of the tariff and shipping policy of the country. After the death of Canning in 1827 he passed through a year of uneasy office, becoming finally Colonial Secretary and leader of the House of Commons under the Duke of Wellington. In 1828 he resigned, nominally over a detail of electoral reform, in reality over a fundamental difference concerning protection to agriculture. In September 1830 he met with a fatal accident at the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Never popular in high society, he was held in immense respect by the financial and business community. Impatient of interference with business enterprise in any form— tariff restrictions, official wage regulation or trade unions-he nevertheless had a big sympathy for those whose toil made England great and the champions of the people saw in him their hope.

Oh Huskisson! Oh Huskisson!
Oh Huskisson, in vain our friend!
Why hast thou left thy work undone,
Of good begun, is this the end?

Thou should'st have lived if they remain

Who fetter'd us and hated thee;

Oh Huskisson, our friend in vain,
Where now are hope and liberty?

So sang the Corn Law rhymer, Ebenezer Elliott, and the commendation by the poet who hated the Corn Laws of the statesman who helped to pass the most hated of them (that of 1815) reads strangely. But 1815 and 1830 were far removed. Huskisson's career had occupied the transition from war to peace : and, learning as he went along, he changed his views as the facts changed.

Section 3. The Corn Laws

When peace loomed in 1813, the champions of Ireland with Sir Henry Parnell at their head were the first to become busy, and in 1814 they procured an Act (54 Geo. III, c. 69), which permitted the export of corn and flour from the United Kingdom at all times without payment of duty or receipt of bounty.1

In 1814 the problem was re-examined from the standpoint of British farmers, whose interest in free trade was negligible. After evidence had been taken from land agents, merchants, farmers, and agricultural experts such as Arthur Young, the opinion was formed that 80s. per quarter was the lowest price which would cover the increased cost of growing wheat. The Government accepted the principle of an 80s. level, but in order to make it secure departed from Corn Law precedent. The earlier Corn Laws-1670, 1773, 1791 and 1804-set high, low and nominal duty points for the importation of foreign corn, but between 1756 and 1815 they were suspended frequently. To ensure now that with the return of peace protection should be effective, the Government substituted for a scale of duties the following hard-and-fast rule. When the home price of wheat was at or under 8os. per quarter, foreign wheat was excluded: when the home price was above that figure, it was allowed in duty free. This was the hated law of 1815. When the terms of the bill were disclosed, there was an outcry in the country and some disorder. One member complained that he had been carried above a hundred yards on the shoulders of the mob just like mackerel from Billingsgate Market and he thought they meant to quarter him.' 2 But the bill became law (55 Geo. III, c. 26) because, in addition to the agriculturists' desire for protection, statesmen were haunted by the fear of dependence upon the foreigner for foodstuffs in the event of war.

'That law,' said Huskisson as late as May 1820, 'had answered the purposes for which it was intended.' And yet, in spite of protection amounting to prohibition, agriculture languished. In abundant years the home harvest reduced prices to an unremunerative level and in scarce years the rigid prohibition obstructed the relief of distress. In 1821 Huskisson presided over an inquiry into agricultural distress, and after hearing the evidence of the corn merchants, among them Thomas Tooke, he came to the conclusion that not only was the law failing to help the farmer, but also it was obstructing the course of foreign trade 1 For Corn Laws from 1660 to 1869 see detailed list in Customs Tariffs (C. 8706 of 1897), pp. 229–261.

2 Hansard, New Series, XXX, 35.


Speeches, II. 47.

« AnteriorContinuar »