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OF THE VARIOUS SYSTEMS CONCERNING THE
SOURCES OF WEALTH.
THE most ancient system concerning the sources of Wealth derives wealth from foreign commerce; that is to say, from that commerce in which one nation sells more to other nations than it purchases, and is paid for the surplus of its sales over its purchases. in precious metals. This doctrine was adopted without any limitation by the authors who first wrote upon Political Economy in England, Italy, and France, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and up to the middle of the eighteenth century; and although it has been strenuously combated by later writers, it has yet prevailed and still prevails in the opinion of individuals, nations, and governments : all consider commerce as the true way to grow rich; and by commerce they all understand the exchange of commodities with foreign nations. An opinion so general, so ancient, so lasting, can neither be ascribed to blind prepossession, nor to vain credulity or foolish obstinacy. Time, which has destroyed so many errors, superstitions, and inveterate habits, almost coëval with the social state, would not have respected
a doctrine contrary to private and public interest. What then has so long protected this doctrine against the outrages of time, the progress of knowledge, and the charm of innovations? Is it not its resting on the authority of facts, on the experience of ages, on every thing that is certain and evident among men ? The conjecture is not improbable
If we ascend ever so high in the history of Wealth, we find that wealth always followed the direction of foreign commerce, and remained faithful to its banners and ships. During eight hundred years, the commerce of the Phænicians fixed wealth, in the ports of Sidon and Tyre. In these celebrated cities it long bade defiance to the avarice of the greatest conquerors of the East; and when the conquest and ruin of these industrious cities forced wealth to seek for a fresh asylum, it went over to the nations that inherited their commerce.
The Greek and Ionian cities, Alexandria, Marseilles, and Carthage, which gathered the wrecks of the trade of Sidon and Tyre, were not less celebrated for their wealth. Carthage, in particular, rose to the highest degree of splendour and power, struggled successfully for a length of time against the fortune of the Romans, and delayed for more than a century the subjection of the other nations.
When the Genius of Rome grounded on the ruins of Carthage the conquest of the world, the sources of wealth were dried up in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa; because these countries had no longer any commercial communication.
The treasures which had been accumulated at Rome by the plunder of all nations, did not prove a source of wealth for any country ; they fertilized no lands, improved no kind of industry, and did not extend the bounds of civilization in any one respect. They were exhausted by purchasing the rich productions of Asia, appeasing the seditions of the cohorts, saving the empire from the successive depredations of the Barbarians, and satisfying their insatiable avidity. They vanished without leaving a vestige behind, and Rome, her provinces, and her tributary nations, differed only in the degree of misery and wretchedness.
During the eight centuries which followed the overthrow of the Western Empire, under the rapid succession of Barbarians, who left nothing behind but the remembrance of their ferocity, rapacity, and devastations; during that long period of violence, anarchy, and crimes, the opulence of a few individuals condemned the whole population to general misery.
Constantinople, it is true, was the centre of an immense variety of political and commercial affairs ; but the great extent of the empire, the majesty of a conquering nation surrounded by barbarous and rapacious neighbours, the magnitude of the tributes, the sums accumulated in the imperial exchequer, stifled that emulation, that activity and energy, for which commerce is distinguished, and through which it yields abundant riches. It may therefore truly be said, that, from the destruction of Carthage to an advanced period in the middle age, that is to say, for more than thirteen centuries, the sources of wealth were dried up throughout the Roman empire, and
consequently throughout the whole then known world.
It was only in the twelfth century that these sources were again opened, and Europe was again indebted for wealth to foreign commerce.
Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence, though doomed to poverty by the barrenness or smallness of their territory, acquired yet great wealth by their commerce with the produce of the East and North. Not less powerful than Tyre, Sidon, and Carthage, they dictated laws to the Greek empire, bade defiance to the greatest monarchs, and balanced for more than three centuries the fate of Europe. Their grandeur declined with their wealth, which they imprudently sacrificed to expensive wars, to a fatal rivalship, and an unbounded ambition; it vanished for ever when unforeseen events turned aside the current of their trade, and reduced them to the resources of their territorial riches and local industry
The numerous factories which these cities had established in the north of Europe, at Lubeck, Bremen, Hamburgh, Bruges, and Antwerp, created there new sources of wealth and prosperity. Towns hardly known before the introduction of foreign commerce, were soon distinguished for their wealth, splendour, and power. Wiser than the cities of Italy, they guarded against the dangers of rivalship, formed a confederacy for the protection and defence of their trade, and laid the foundations of the Hanseatic league, that monument of boldness and prudence in a barbarous age and among a rude people. ;
Strengthened by the accession of one hundred and
sixty towns of Flanders and the Baltic, the Hanseatic league rapidly attained a great commercial and political prosperity: the wisdom of its conduct was equal to the wisdom of its institution; it opposed a salutary resistance to the progress of feudal anarchy, enlightened the people concerning their true interests, and caused the spirit of commerce, manufactures, and labour, to prevail over the spirit of murder, rapine, and devastation. The services which the Hanseatic league rendered to humanity in those barbarous times, are invaluable, and yet they scarcely occupy a few pages in the records of Europe* ; while inany volumes are filled with the history of the crusades by which Europe was devastated, of the ambitious pretensions of the Pontiffs of Rome, by which she was disgraced, and of the quarrels of vassals and lords, by which she was oppressed and kept in servi. tude. Is it possible that the picture of public vices should be more attractive to mankind than the spectacle of public virtues? Or is there no other title to the remembrance, consideration, and veneration of men; than the harm which is done to them? The Hanseatic league, that perfect paragon of a wise political association, only ceased to exist, when its existence was no longer necessary to the protection and safety of its commerce, and when the towns of which it was composed found, in the government of the countries in which they were situated, a full
, * The late professor J. Fisher, of Halle, published an excellent history of the Hanseatic League, in German, about five-and-twenty Jears ago.--T.