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An Address to the Mercantile Interest, on the Means of promoting the Commercial Prosperity of the Country.
The happy union of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, which fortunately exists in this country, with its free government, and its naval strength, joined to the manly character of its intelligent and industrious inhabitants, must ever render it one of the most powerful states in Europe. Though it has not the same foundation for power, in a great extent of contiguous territory, as France, Austria, and still more the Russian empire; yet the advantageous situation in which it is placed, and the number of its foreign possessions, make up for that deficiency. Above all, by its commercial skill, capital, and industry, it has acquired a degree of opulence, which has rendered it an object of jealousy to other nations, who are not aware, how much the dissemination of British wealth contributes, in various ways, (by purchasing raw materials, wine, and other articles, the immense sums expended by British travellers, &c. &c.) to the prosperity of other countries.
Having been so long accustomed to the active industry and the peculiar advantages attending an extensive commerce, if we were now to be deprived of them, the loss would be severely felt; and as every country in Europe now aspires to the same object, it is the more necessary for us to make every exertion that prudence can dictate, to secure the advantages we have acquired. For that purpose the following hints, and the annexed queries, are submitted to your consideration, from a full conviction, that " knowledge is power," and that, to understand a subject well, every particular regarding it should be probed to the bottom, and thoroughly discussed.
The branches of our foreign trade are numerous; but the principal of them may be briefly treated of under the following heads:
I. The exportation of domestic produce; 2. The exportation of domestic manufactures; 3. The importation of foreign articles for domestic manufacture or consumption; 4. The exportation of domestic manufactures from foreign or colonial materials; 5. The fisheries ; and 6. The carrying trade.1
1. The exportation of domestic produce.
From the immense consumption of every species of provision at home, and the extent of our domestic manufactures, the exportation of domestic produce is not so great as might be expected from so
1 For moredetailed explanations regarding these important particulars, the reader is referred to Mr. Chalmers' well-known estimate, and to a recent valuable publication by Mr. Colquhoun.
fertile a country, abounding with mineral wealth. From the produce of our mines, lead, copper, and tin, are, however, exported; and as they furnish occupation to numbers of laborers, the commerce in these articles is intitled to every fair encouragement. Coal is another article exported; and, from the high price of fuel on the continent, and at Paris in particular, is likely to be there in demand. There is reason also to hope, that when our wastes are more extensively cultivated, when the lands now in cultivation are rendered more productive by improved systems of husbandry, and when the expenses of cultivation are reduced by the diminution of taxes, we shall again become exporters of grain.1
2. The exportation of domestic manufactures from materials of
This is by far the most valuable commerce of any, the whole of it, both the raw material and its increased value when manufactured, arising from domestic industry. Great as it is, there can be no doubt of its extension, were either new markets discovered, or the old ones improved. There are various modes by which these objects might be obtained. By procuring an abolition of all transit duties upon the Elbe, the Weser, the Oder, and the Vistula, the consumption of British manufactures would be greatly increased. It is said that a more extensive commerce might be established on the coast of Barbary, and with the Turks.1 There is some reason to hope, that the government of Russia will imbibe more liberal notions in regard to commercial intercourse; and notwithstanding the jealousy of the manufacturers in France, that an advantageous treaty of commerce with that country may be renewed.3 In fact,
'That is a most important object. It is well observed by Malthus," that a cultivation so extended as to prepare an annual excess for a foreign vent, is the best provision against those recurring years of deficiency of crops, which may ever be expected at no great intervals; because, by suspending exportation, and confining to domestic supply the product of that cultivation which the foreign vent had excited, this greater breadth of cultivation will tend to compensate, in a great measure, the general deficiency over all." - % The French are chiefly in possession of the markets for woollens in Barbary and Turkey, from the greater attention which they pay to the gaudy colors of the cloth, and the fight quality of the stuffs, suited to the time the Turks wish to wear their clothes: the cloths of England are in general too strong and stiff for their climate and taste, and being also dearer, are not used. 3 In regard to the manufactures of France, from the best information I have been able to obtain, the French have not yet acquired capital sufficient to erect what maybe called a manufacture on a great scale, and hardlyany exist, but those of paper, woollens, and some cotton manufacturing establishments in Normandy. In every thing that requires taste in the design, and a great deal of manual labor in the execution, they excel; and nothing can exceed the beauty of the articles they make in gold, silver, brass, or molu, paper, and silk. But they cannot yet stand a competition with England, in there is no deficiency of markets, if a restrictive policy were got the bettef of, by judicious political negociations.
And here it may be remarked, that nothing is more absurd than the idea, that every nation ought to carry on an unceasing commercial warfare with all its neighbors. The importation of foreign commodities may, in various respects, be of use. In return, many articles may be exported, that would otherwise be of no value. It may be made the source of a great revenue, and it may be the means of exciting industry, that would otherwise lie dormant. To a certain extent, domestic industry ought to be preferred; but where a duty of from 10/., 15/., or 20/. per cent, will not protect home manufacture, importation ought to be permitted, for the sake of a revenue. If such liberal principles as these were acted upon, hovv much would not the commercial prosperity of all the nations in Europe be promoted?
3. The importation offoreign articles for home consumption. Notwithstanding the clamor abroad, against the restrictive commercial policy of Great Britain, the quantity of foreign goods imported into this country, for home consumption, is immense, amounting in value to no less a sum annually than 39,610,714/. sterling. Indeed, unless that were the case, how could our exports be paid for? What policy can be more advantageous than, in return for domestic productions exported, to import useful articles for our own consumption, to obtain which, industry is excited, and on the importation of which, considerable duties are paid to government? That is the system which a prudent government will adopt, instead of the fatal measures of unbounded restriction, by which the acquisition of revenue is prevented, a spirit of industry is checked, and the acquisition of an adequate price for articles of domestic growth is prevented. By means of commerce, the forests in the North, which would otherwise be of no value, bring in considerable sums to their proprietors. The same circumstance will take place regarding various other articles, as soon as a more liberal policy is adopted. In discussing commercial treaties, it is not always recollected, that unless there are imports, as well as exports, not only the whole expense of the navigation must be laid upon the goods exported (which must greatly diminish the advantages which may result from it), but that smuggling will be resorted to for a supply.
those manufactures, where manual labor is in a great measure superseded by ingenious machinery, such as we owe to an Arkwright, a Watt, a Boulton, and many other ingenious men, who have enriched their country by their discoveries: and though they have brought the art of making china, and the finer sorts of fire-arms, to great perfection ; vet the stone ware of the celebrated Wedgewuorl, and the various articles manufactured at Birmingham and Sheffield, would find advantageous m-ukeis in France, whilst, in return, the productions of that country might be admitted, on terms reciprocally advantageous.
VOL. XLII. Pam. NO. XXV. R
4. The exportation of domestic manufactures, from foreign or colonial materials.
In carrying on an advantageous foreign commerce, it is extremely desirable to have a complete assortment of goods; and thence it is of importance to be enabled, not only to supply home consumption, but also to export domestic manufactures, from materials of foreign or colonial growth, as from cotton, the finer sorts of wool, silk, &c. There are few places on the continent w here complete assortments can be had ; and even in this country, London, Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool, and Glasgow, are perhaps the only exceptions. Hence, however, arises a most material advantage to British commerce, and to obtain it, not only cotton wool, and sheep's wool of all descriptions from Spain, Saxony, 8tc. are admitted on moderate duties,1 though in the latter case, it has certainly a tendency to check the extension and improvement of British wool.
5. The fisheries.
This is a branch of industry that has not received that attention in this country that it ought to have done, considering its importance, as a means of providing food, and a variety of other useful articles, as whale oil, &c, and as a nursery for hardy seamen. Indeed, whilst the duty on salt remains unrepealed, several branches of our fisheries can never be carried on to the extent they ought. If that great obstacle were removed, much might be done by efficient regulations, and above all, by employing our surplus peace establishment, both naval and military, in constructing harbors in those places, where the fishery could be carried on to the best advantage.
6. The carrying trade.
This important branch of commerce must, in a great measure, depend on our preserving the warehousing or bonding system unimpaired. If that system were established to its full extent, this country, from its fortunate position, and its exemption from the risk of invasion, joined to the capital and character of its merchants, would become the emporium of Europe. Every exertion, it is to be hoped, will be made, to place so advantageous a plan on a permanent footing.
On the whole, the following maxims may be drawn from this important inquiry:
1. That a commercial intercourse is beneficial to a nation, even
• Cotton wool imported in British ships, pays 16s. \\d. per 100 lbs.: in foreign ships, 1/. 5s. 6d. The proportion of war taxes, which will soon cease, is 6s. id. per cwt. Sheep's-wool is subject to a duty of 8s. id. per cwt., of which Is. 8d. is a war tax.
when its imports exceed its exports; as it excites a spirit of industry, furnishes a considerable revenue, and renders articles valuable, that would otherwise be totally neglected.
2. That it is in vain to expect an advantageous commerce where exports are alone looked to, as it lays all the heavy burdens of navigation upon the articles exported.
3. That where these principles are recognised, it is not difficult to arrange an advantageous commercial intercourse between nations, in cases where, if different principles were adopted, it would be impracticable.
It would give me particular pleasure to be favored with the sentiments of intelligent merchants and manufacturers, regarding the points above discussed, and the queries which are subjoined. I have no doubt that, with their assistance, such information might be communicated to his Majesty's government, as would greatly promote the commercial interests of the country, to which it is essentially necessary, at this time, to pay peculiar attention. I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, your faithful and obedient servant, JOHN SINCLAIR. Ham Common, Richmond, Surrey, 1st December, 1814.
N. B. In order that the important subjects alluded to in the preceding address, may be fully explained, the answers of intelligent merchants, and of the most experienced individuals in the most important branches of our manufactures, are particularly requested to the following particulars:
1. Is it your opinion that treaties of commerce, with a view of removing, to a certain extent, the restrictive policy of foreign nations, would be of material advantage to the commercial interests of the country %
2. What would you consider to be a sufficient protection to domestic industry and manufacture ;for instance, an ad valorem duty of from 101. to 15/. or 20/. per cent fl
1 Many articles are admitted free, or on the payment of moderate duties, with which we might supply ourselves. Cheese, for instance, wasadmitted duty free till the 29th of September last: it is now subjected to a duty of 4j., i\d. per cwt. Marble, which we have in such abundance, pays from 3Jd. to 914. per square foot, as it is polished or otherwise; and thence arises a revenue of about 2000/. per annum.