Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

The best-guarded toll-bars are generally powerless against the cheapness and perfection of foreign com

modities. Private interest easily overleaps them, and * turns them to the disadvantage of the people whom · they keep confined.

These bars not only do not exclude the productions of rich countries, but this very obstruction causes them to stand much dearer to the poor country, and, what is still more deplorable, forces the poor country to sell its own produce cheaper, because there are less competitors to export it. Thus poor nations are punished for their endeavours to do without the raw and manufactured produce of rich countries. And were their imprudent efforts crowned with success, they would be still more miserable. They would deprive themselves of the certain profits arising from the cheapness of the foreign commodities and from the dearness of their own productions. For it is an undoubted truth, that foreigo produce is imported only as far as it is cheaper than the home-produce; and for the same reason, home. produce is exported only because it obtains higher prices abroad than in the home-market. The rule is infallible; it proceeds from the immutable order of things, and is not liable to any exception.

Nature has granted every country some particular advantages, of wbich she cannot be stripped, and of which others can partake only as far as they let her enjoy part of the advantages of which she is deprived. Nations that resist this communication of mutual benefits, are dooming themselves to fruitless priyations. To attempt to conquer such difficulties by national industry, is often impossible, and always more

expensive, than to acquire the foreign commodities by an interchange of national productions. Commerce preserves to every country her advantage in the kind of industry for which she is peculiarly fit, and allows that industry to be improved by a concentration of capital; whilst the attempt to rival foreign industry in every particular, and to do without foreign produce, weakens and splits its capitals, hurts national industry, impedes its productiveness, stints its growth, and converts its ramifications into as many parasite branches which unprofitably suck the sap of the tree and remain barren twigs.

Left without rivals, without competition, and abandoned to its own impulse, national industry painfully drags along in the beaten tract, it derives no benefit from the progress of general industry, and without having decayed, experiences a fatal decline. Such is the ultimate fate of every nation that disdains foreign commerce, and fancies it can exist without any intercourse with other nations, or at least that deems itself so much the richer as its exterior communications are few, and as it has more internal means to supply its wants. "It stops the progress of wealth, condemns itself to everlasting mediocrity, and obstructs the grandeur of its destiny.

There is however, it must be confessed, one peculiar case in which a nation ought to renounce all intercourse with other nations; this is, when its government is so bad, that it strips it of all means to rival other nations in any production and in any branch of industry whatever. Such a nation is forced to renounce general commerce, otherwise its resources

would soon be exhausted, it would become tributary to nations that are better governed, and never could shake off its dependence. Nations smarting under a bad government would labour for those which enjoy a good administration, and the latter would enrich themselves with the sweat of their brows : sad and deplorable result, which teaches the depositaries of the fate of nations the necessity of attentively studying the causes of their prosperity, which is the basis of political power.

Adam Smith states three other cases in which nations ought to restrain the circulation of the produce of general labour.

The first is, when the safety of the country is concerned ; which was, says he, the case with England when her act of Navigation was framed ; "an act prejudicial to the growth of wealth : but as defence is of much more importance than opulence, the act of Navigation is, perhaps, the wisest of all the commercial regulations of England."*

This manner of viewing the English act of Navigation betrays in the author a greater attachment to his country than to truth.

Before this act of Navigation, the Dutch had the greatest share in the maritimeconimerce of the world, and were indebted to their trade for a formidable navy and immense riches. But whatever might have been their power in both these respects, it could not threaten the safety of England; and it cannot be supposed that

* Wealth of Nations, London, 1805, vol. ii. book iv. chap. 2, page 203.

à population of about two millions of individuals, who had scárcely attained the rank of a free and independent nation, could inspire with serious alarms a population of five or six millions, who were still burning with the enthusiasm of liberty Adam Smith himself acknowledges as much.

“In the Dutch war,” he says, “ during the government of Cromwell, the navy of Great Britain was superior to that of Holland ; and in the war which broke out in the beginning of the reign of Charles II. it was at least equal, perhaps superior, to the united natives of France and Holland.'*

The safety of England, therefore, was not, as Adam Smitli pretends, the true cause of the framing of the act of Navigation. Its régulations proceeded from national animosity, rivalship, and ambition; and they certainly were well calculated to gratify such dreadful passions.

By excluding from the ports of England vessels that imported any other produce than that of their own country, the act of Navigation seemed to invite all maritime nations to share in the advantages of navigation which the Dutch enjoyed, as it were, exclusively. But as those nations had no vessels, they could notavail themselves of the advantage that was offered, nor enrich themselves with the spoils of Holland; so that this measure weakened the naval power of Holland without any benefit to the maritime nations. No one except England reaped any profit from it : not only was her naval strength increased by the weakness

* Wealth of Nations, vol. ij. book iv. chap. 7, page 454.

Las

of her rival, but she also succeeded Holland in that maritime trade which she had interdicted. From that instant the naval power of Great Britain acquired an absolute preponderance over that of all other nations, and ruled the seas.

Had the maritime and continental nations of Eu tope been alive to their true interests, they might casily have counteracted a measure pernicious to the circulation of their produce. It would have been sufficient to exclude from their ports British ships loaded with any other than British produce; and the consequence would have been this :

England, being reduced to carry in her ships her own raw and manufactured produce, could not have profited by the spoils of Holland, nor could she have grown rich by the losses of the Dutch. Her naval power, limited by that of her rival, could not have dictated laws to the other seafaring nations.

Sweden alone dared to resist this imperious measure, and forced England to relinquish it towards her. *

But the example was not followed. The other nations submitted to the yoke; and from that instant

* Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, vol. ii. page 552 ; or Anderson's Origin of Commerce, vol. ii. pages 145, 146; where it is said, that : although one of Sir Josiah Child's most principal aims was the pointing out the increasing commerce of Holland, yet in the close of his Preface, he observes, that the Swedes have laid such high impositions on their own merchandize, unless they be carried in Sárveis dish bottoms, asamounts to almost a navigation act in Sweden."+T.

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »