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different periods; for, whatever juggles statesmen may engage in to deceive either the public or themselves from year to year, they can by no possible contrivance exhibit a diminution of the debt and its charges of all kinds at the termination of a period, as compared with its commencement, unless a real reduction has taken place. In order to apply these principles, and bring out in an accurate manner our present financial state, and the manner in which it has been effected by nine years of Whig administration, we shall plunge at once in medias res, and exhibit a statement of the amount and charges of the public debt at the close of the war, the resignation of the Funded debt, Unfunded ditto,
Tory Government in 1830, and at the present time. The results will probably surprise many persons who are not accustomed to look to the vast influence which an unforeseeing system of financial policy produces in a course of years upon the national fortunes; but their accuracy may be fully relied on, as they are all taken either from Porter's Official Parliamentary Tables, or from the Finance accounts for the year 1838, lately presented to Parliament.
The state of the Public Debt on 1st January 1816, being the commencement of the year after the battle of Waterloo, was as follows:
The existing Public Debt on the 1st of January 1831, two months after the Duke of Wellington resigned office, was as follows:
The charges of the Public Debt at these two periods exhibit
Reduction of charges of public debt effected in fifteen years of
The state of the Sinking Fund at these different periods was as follows:
On 1st January 1816, On 1st January 1831,
Thus it appears, that during fifteen years, the Conservative party, with all their faults of omission and commission, and they were not few, and almost all rose from one cause, viz. the desire to obtain present popularity at the expense of the ultimate interests of the state, had succeeded in effecting a very great diminution in the public burdens. They had paid off no less than eighty millions of the debt; they had reduced its annual charges by nearly four millions five hundred thousand, and they left a real sinking
fund-a clear surplus of income above expenditure-of above two millions six hundred thousand a-year to their suc cessors. The way in which these benefits were obtained was by keeping the revenue permanently above the expenditure, and yearly applying the excess, whatever it was, to the reduction of debt. The table given below will show the amount of the sums yearly contributed in this manner to the reduction of the funded debt; and the great variation in the yearly amounts, strongly demonstrates how powerfully,
* Porter's Parl. Tables, I. 1, 6; Pebrex's Statis, Tables, 33 and 4. NO. CCLXXXVIII, VOL, XLVI. 2 I
even then, the short-sighted popular clamour for reduction of taxation had come to break in upon the regular and systematic action of a powerful Government.*
We have said that the Conservative Governments are much to blame for the manner in which they yielded to the popular clamour for a reduction of taxation, and particularly for their immense repeal of the indirect taxes, great part of which, without being any sensible burden upon industry, contributed in a most powerful manner to uphold the public credit, and the removal of which, without benefitting any one but the dealers in the articles taxed, crippled in the most serious manner the operation of the SinkingFund, and prevented the three per cents from rising to par, which would at once have enabled the Government to reduce the interest upon it to two and a half per cent. and thereby saved the nation several millions annually for ever. But that their financial operations, upon the whole, notwithstanding this culpable concession to public clamour and delusion, were conducted with wisdom, and directed to great and durable objects, is decisively proved by the fact, that they were enabled to maintain the public credit so high as to effect the vast reduction in the public burdens which was occasioned by paying off the five and the four per cents. The first of these financial operations, which took place in 1818, effected a diminution of seventeen hundred thousand a year on the interest of the debt; the second, which took place in 1824, produced a saving of three hundred and fifty thousand. Between the two, above two millions sterling a year was saved to the nation
in the interest of debt-an astonishing reduction, more especially when it is considered that it could apply only to two kinds of stock, which, taken to gether, did not amount to two hundred millions of the public debt. And the fact of Government having been able to effect so great a diminution of the public burdens, by the reduction of interest, afforded the clearest possible demonstration of the wisdom with which, so far as they went, their general financial measures were conducted; for it was solely by sustaining the public credit so effectually, as maintained the funds at a high level, that these great financial benefits were obtained to the nation.
The merit of the Tory Administration, in effecting this great diminution in the public debt, was the greater, that two most important circumstances, during almost the whole of their career, contributed most powerfully to cripple the financial resources of the state, and disable the nation from bearing the burdens indispensable for a prudent and effective system of financial administration.
The first of these was the extreme public distress occasioned for several years after the close of the war, by the combination of unusually bad seasons, with the great diminution of general employment, arising from the termination of the vast expenditure and boundless demand for labour occasioned by the war. The seasons of 1816 and 1817, it is well known, were the coldest and most rainy that had been experienced for half a century; and at the very moment that nature was thus denying her usual return to the agricultural labour of man, the transition took place from a state of war to that of peace-the national expenditure sud
Sums applied to the reduction of debt, being the real sums of income over expenditure, from 1816 to 1831.
denly sunk from one hundred to fifty millions. Upwards of 300,000 persons-men in the prime of life-were discharged from the army and navy, and all the numerous classes of industry which were directed to the stores or munitions of war, and which had grown up to an unexampled height during the enormous expenditure of its latter years, were at once thrown out of employment. It may safely be affirmed, that a nation never was, with out some great external calamity, exposed to more general and searching causes of distress; and their effect was such as completely to obliterate for many years all the benefits that might have been expected to arise from the termination of hostilities, and the general resumption of pacific relations throughout the globe.
The next circumstance which had a most powerful effect in impeding the operations of finance during the last ten years of the Tory Governmentand from the effects of which the nation has, perhaps, not yet fully recovered-was, the famous resumption of cash payments by the bill of 1819, followed by that for the extinction of small notes in England in 1826. With out entering into the often-debated and difficult question of the currency, it seems sufficient to observe, that the vast change made by these two bills unquestionably had the effect of permanently lowering prices at least a third, and of consequently throwing a loss to that extent upon all the holders of commodities, and augmenting, in the same proportion, the burden of the whole debt, public and private, in the community. The simultaneous benefit conferred by the same change upon annuitants, and those whose income and money was fixed, afforded but a slender compensation for these manifold evils; for, in a manufacturing country, where so very large a proportion of the people gain their livelihood by buying and selling, to be obliged to buy dear and sell cheap, was the most ruinous of matters: and in a country where the great bulk of the landholders were deeply involved in debt, the combined effect of the diminution of their rents, and the increase of the weight of interest, was such as to produce universal distress, and very general bankruptcy. These facts may be considered as now historically certain; and there is hardly a member, we
have reason to know, of the Committee of 1819, who is not convinced of the disastrous effect, at least for the ten subsequent years, of the measure, which was then lauded by all the philosophers of the age, as the summit of human wisdom. Without entering into this fiercely advocated controversy, whether it was necessary or expedient to make this great change or not, it seems sufficient to observe, that the change, when made, was attended with the most disastrous present consequences; and that the power of the Tory Government, from 1820 to 1830, to go on with the reduction of the debt, was in a great measure paralysed by the vast change, which at once added a third to the amount of the national burdens, and took away a third from the means which the people had to pay them.
In both these respects, the situation of the Whig Government, since their accession to power in November 1830, has been so widely different from that of their predecessors, that one is almost tempted to believe that nature had been prodigal of her gifts to them, in order to render utterly inexcusable their misapplication of her bounties. The harvests in the four years from 1832 to 1835, were so uncommonly fine, that the price of wheat in the latter year fell to 39s. a-quarter-less than one-third what it had been during the latter years of the war, and lower than it had been since the days of Oliver Cromwell. The effect of the vast accumulation of the means of subsistence which these fine seasons afforded, was not merely to diffuse plenty and contentment throughout the land, and enable the nation to bear in comparative tranquillity the great political excitement and convulsion which took place in those years, but to induce the more remote, though not the less important, and now thoroughly understood consequence of keeping the mercantile exchanges generally favourable to this country, and preventing the occurrence of that ruinous drain of the precious metals, which arises from the necessity of making extensive purchases of grain in foreign parts for domestic consumption. The immense harvests which annually rewarded the labours of the husband. man, produced a vast stock of grain in the country, which soon superseded all application to foreign quarters;
prices fell so low as to render the protection of the corn laws for the time unnecessary; the low cost of provisions unaccompanied, from its recent occurrence, by a corresponding fall in the wages of labour, diffused contentment and ease throughout the labouring classes, and augmented, to a prodigious degree, from the surplus which they found at their disposal, the domestic market for our manufactures; while the favourable state of the foreign exchanges, produced by the non-importation of grain, prevented the recurrence of any drain for specie upon the Bank, and averted during five years of sunshine the recurrence of those commercial crises, which in a complicated state of society spread such misery and consternation through the manufacturing classes.
Add to this, the ruinous and distressing transition from high to low prices which had been made before the Whigs came into office;-they were wafted into power by the discontent which that change produced, and they found the effects of the discontent nearly exhausted when they assumed the reins of government. the twelve years which had elapsed from 1819 to 1831, the change in the currency had done its work, and the great commercial crisis of December 1825 had swept away nearly all the trading establishments which did not possess so strong a foundation of solid capital as to be able to resist the calamitous consequence of a fall of one-third in the average price of all the commodities, and the addition of one-third to every debt in the kingdom. This was a circumstance of almost unparalleled good fortune to the Whig party. They came into office just when the change had completed its effects; the numerous classes whom it had consigned to beggary and ruin were dead, bankrupt, or gone into voluntary exile, and the inexhaustible energies of a free country had produced a new race of active enterprising men, prepared to advance their own and their nation's fortunes with all the advantages of the reduced rate of prices, and the extensive openings to fresh enterprise which the unparalleled bankruptcies of the preceding ten years had occasioned. No one can doubt, that the unprecedented commercial prosperity of 1834, 35, and 36, is mainly to be ascribed to the ex
traordinary combination of the fine harvests of those years with the termination of the transition from high to low prices. And as if to complete the good fortune of the Liberal party, general peace has been preserved in Europe, notwithstanding their ceaseless efforts to break it in the Low Countries, Spain, and Portugal-the severe depression of the agricultural interest, from the low prices of the five years terminating in 1836, has been relieved by the high prices of the last three years; while, at the same time, such has been the extent of our foreign commerce, in consequence of the continued peace and rapid growth of our colonial settlements, that our manufacturing industry has undergone no diminution from the unfavourable state of the foreign exchanges which arose from the late bad harvests, and the last year exhibited the prodigy of our exports rising to one hundred and five millions, at the time when grain had risen almost to the average price at the middle of the war, and the agricultural classes of all descriptions were reanimated by the vivifying influence of more than remunerating prices.
What, then, during the nine years of such extraordinary, unheard-of good fortune, and external and internal prosperity, have been the financial measures of the Whig Government? Have they taken advantage of this unlooked-for flood of prosperity, arising from the bounty of nature and no wisdom of their own, to effect a great and annually increasing reduction of the national debt? Have they, by the vigour and wisdom of their financial operations, raised the three per cents to par, and been enabled to realise in that way the extraordinary commermercial prosperity of 1836, in the reduction of the interest of the three per cents to two and a half, and thereby saved the nation a sixth part of the interest of that portion of the funded debt, or nearly four millions sterling a-year? Have they nursed up and increased the real sinking fund of L.2,600,000 a-year, which the Duke of Wellington left them in November 1830, and brought it up now to the standard of five millions, below which the House of Commons, by a solemn and wise resolution in 1821, declared it never should be lowered? They have done none of these things. So
Addition to the debt in eight years of Whig government,
Increase of charges of debt in eight years of Whig management,
The amount of the surplus or deficit in the two periods was as follows :—
Thus it appears, that during fifteen years of Tory profusion and misgovern
While during nine years of Whig foresight and economy,
the public debt has been augmented by
The charges of the debt increased by
Finance Account, 27th March 1839, pp. 14, 16, 102, Porter's Parliamentary
Tables, i. 6; and Progress of the Nation, ii. 290.