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[Sir Robert Peel having insinuated, in the House of Commons, that the zeal of Sydney Smith in the Railway Question might be owing to personal fear, the following characteristic reply appeared in a daily paper.]
TO SIR ROBERT PEEL
A cruel attack upon me, Sir Robert, to attribute all my interference with the arbitrary proceedings of railroads to personal fear. Nothing can be more ungrateful and unkind. I thought only of you, and for you, as many whig gentlemen will bear me testimony, who rebuked me for my anxiety. I said to myself and to them, "Our lovely and intrepid minister may be overthrown on the rail. The locked door may be uppermost. He will kick and call on the Speaker and Sergeant-at-Arms in vain. Nothing will remain of all his graces, his flexibility, his fascinating, facetious fun, his social warmth; nothing of his flow of soul, of his dear heavy pleasantry, of his prevailing skill to impart disorderly wishes to the purest heart. Nothing will remain of it at all, but a heap of ashes for the parish church of Tamworth. He perishes at the moment he is becoming as powerful in the drawing-room of Court as in the House of Parliament—at the moment when Hullah (not without hopes of ultimate success), is teaching him to sing and Melnotte to dance."
I have no doubt of your bravery, Sir Robert, though you have of mine; but then consider what different lives we have led, and what a school of courage is that troop of yeomanry at Tamworth, the Tory Fencibles. Who can doubt of your courage who has seen you at their head, marching up Pitt street, through Dundas square, on the Liverpool lane, and looking all the while like those beautiful medals of Bellona Frigida and Mars sine sanguine, the very horses looking at you as if you were going to take away three per cent. of their oats! After such spectacles as these, the account you give of your own courage cannot be doubted. The only little circumstance which I cannot entirely reconcile to the possession of this very high attribute in so eminent a degree is, that you should have selected, for your uncourteous attack, enemies who cannot resent, and a place where there can be no reply. I am, sir, your obedient servant,
PETITION TO CONGRESS.
LETTERS ON AMERICAN DEBTS.
THE HUMBLE PETITION of the REV. SYDNEY SMITH to the HOUSE OF CONGRESS at WASHINGTON.
I PETITION your honourable House to institute some measures for the restoration of American credit, and for the repayment of debts incurred and repudiated by several of the States. Your Petitioner lent to the State of Pennsylvania a sum of money, for the purpose of some public improvement. The amount, though small, is to him important, and is a saving from a life income, made with difficulty and privation. If their refusal to pay (from which a very large number of English families are suffering) had been the result of war, produced by the unjust aggression of powerful enemies; if it had arisen from civil discord; if it had proceeded from an improvident application of means in the first years of self-government; if it were the act of a poor State struggling against the barrenness of nature-every friend of America would have been contented to wait for better times; but the fraud is committed in the profound peace of Pennsylvania, by the richest State in the Union, after the wise investment of the borrowed money in roads and canals, of which the repudiators are every day reaping the advantage. It is an act of bad faith which (all its circumstances considered) has no parallel, and no excuse.
Nor is it only the loss of property which your Petitioner laments. He laments still more that immense power which the bad faith of America has given to aristocratical opinions, and to the enemies of free institutions in the old world. It is vain any longer to appeal to history, and to point out the wrongs which the many have
received from the few. The Americans, who boast to have improved the institutions of the old world, have at least equalled its crimes. A great nation, after trampling under foot all earthly tyranny, has been guilty of a fraud as enormous as ever disgraced the worst king of the most degraded nation of Europe.
It is most painful to your Petitioner to see that American citizens excite, wherever they may go, the recollection that they belong to a dishonest people, who pride themselves on having tricked and pillaged Europe; and this mark is fixed by their faithless legislators on some of the best and most honourable men in the world, whom every Englishman has been eager to see and proud to receive.
INJURY TO FREEDOM.
It is a subject of serious concern to your Petitioner that you are losing all that power which the friends of freedom rejoiced that you possessed, looking upon you as the ark of human happiness, and the most splendid picture of justice and of wisdom that the world had yet seen. Little did the friends of America expect it, and sad is the spectacle to see you rejected by every State in Europe, as a nation with whom no contract can be made, because none will be kept; unstable in the very foundations of social life, deficient in the elements of good faith, men who prefer any load of infamy however great, to any pressure of taxation however light.
Nor is it only this gigantic bankruptcy for so many degrees of longitude and latitude which your petitioner deplores, but he is alarmed also by that total want of shame with which these things have been done; the callous immorality with which Europe has been plundered, that deadness of the moral sense which seems to preclude all return to honesty, to perpetuate this new infamy, and to threaten its extension over every State in the Union.
To any man of real philanthropy, who receives pleasure from the improvements of the world, the repudiation of the public debts of America, and the shameless manne ner in which it has been talked of and done, is the most melancholy event which has happened during the existence of the present generation. Your Petitioner sincerely prays that the great and good men still existing among you may, by teaching to the United States the deep disgrace they have incurred in the whole world, restore them to moral health, to that high position they have lost, and which, for the
happiness of mankind, it is so important they should ever maintain; for the United States are now working out the greatest of all political problems, and upon that confederacy the eyes of thinking men are intensely fixed, to see how far the mass of mankind can be trusted with the management of their own affairs, and the establishment of their own happiness.
MAY 18, 1843.
THE AMERICAN DIVIDENDS.
To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle:
SIR: You did me the favour, some time since, to insert in your valuable journal a petition of mine to the American Congress, for the repayment of a loan made by me, in common with many other unwise people, to the State of Pennsylvania. For that petition I have been abused in the grossest manner by many of the American papers. After some weeks' reflection, I see no reason to alter my opinions, or to retract my expressions. What I then said was not wild declamation, but measured truth. I repeat again, that no conduct was ever more profligate than that of the State of Pennsylvania. History cannot pattern it: and let no deluded being imagine that they will ever repay a single farthing-their people have tasted of the dangerous luxury of dishonesty, and they will never be brought back to the homely rule of right. The money transactions of the Americans are become a by-word among the nations of Europe. In every grammar-school of the old world ad Græcas Calendas is translated-the American dividends.
I am no enemy to America. I loved and admired honest America when she respected the laws of pounds, shillings, and pence; and I thought the United States the most magnificent picture of human happiness: I meddle now in these matters because I hate fraud-because I pity the misery it has occasioned --because I mourn over the hatred it has excited against free institutions.
Among the discussions to which the moral lubricities of this insolvent people have given birth, they have arrogated to themselves the right of sitting in judgment upon the property of their creditors—of deciding who among them is rich, and who poor,
and who are proper objects of compassionate payment; but in the name of Mercury, the great god of thieves, did any man ever hear of debtors alleging the wealth of the lender as a reason for eluding the payment of the loan? Is the Stock Exchange a place for the tables of the money-lenders; or is it a school of moralists, who may amerce the rich, exalt the poor, and correct the inequalities of fortune? Is Biddle an instrument in the hand of Providence to exalt the humble, and send the rich empty away? Does American Providence work with such instruments as Biddle?
But the only good part of this bad morality is not acted upon. The rich are robbed, but the poor are not paid: they growl against the dividends of Dives, and don't lick the sores of Lazarus. They seize, with loud acclamations, on the money-bags of Jones Loyd, Rothschild, and Baring, but they do not give back the pittance of the widow, and the bread of the child. Those knaves of the setting sun may call me rich, for I have a twentieth part of the income of the Archbishop of Canterbury; but the curate of the next parish is a wretched soul, bruised by adversity; and the three hundred pounds for his children, which it has taken his life to save, is eaten and drunken by the mean men of Pennsylvania-by men who are always talking of the virtue and honour of the United States-by men who soar above others in what they say, and sink below all nations in what they do—who, after floating on the heaven of declamation, fall down to feed on the offal and garbage of the earth.
Persons who are not in the secret are inclined to consider the abominable conduct of the repudiating States to proceed from exhaustion "They don't pay because they cannot pay; whereas, from estimates which have just now reached this country, this is the picture of the finances of the insolvent states. Their debts may be about 200 millions of dollars; at an interest of 6 per cent., this makes an annual charge of 12 millions of dollars, which is little more than 1 per cent. of their income in 1840, and may be presumed to be less than 1 per cent. of their present income; but if they were all to provide funds for the punctual payment of interest, the debt could readily be converted into a 4 or 5 per cent. stock, and the excess, converted into a sinking fund, would discharge the debt in less than thirty years. The debt of Pennsylvania, estimated at 40 millions of dollars, bears, at 5 per cent.,