Page images



In choosing a subject for your entertainment this evening, I have been guided entirely by a regard to practical utility; and I shall lay before you, as far as I am able, within the limits of a single lecture, the causes and the cure of hard times. I shall inquire why the times are harder at one period than another; and thus, like the physician, by investigating the causes of disease, enable the patient to choose the right remedy, and apply it in the right place. The cry of hard times is always in men's mouths, for the simple reason that, while their desires are boundless, their means are limited. They are always stretching themselves beyond their means, and would be, were they ten times as great as they now are. Hence the cry of hard times.

* A Lecture delivered before the Mechanics' Lyceum, Baltimore, 1843.

But there are, occasionally, times of real distress; individuals and families without employment, and without bread; wages, too, reduced to a rate that scarcely gives the operative the means of subsistence; those who are in debt unable to pay, or, if they have property, compelled to sacrifice it for a small part of its real value; great quantities of real estate thrown into the market, without finding a purchaser at any price. This is evidently an unnatural state of things—therefore a temporary one. It could not be natural and permanent, for the laws of nature are uniform and gentle, not violent and convulsive, in their operation. It is only the evidence that, either through ignorance or perverseness, man has not adjusted his operations to those of nature that he has not attained to that wisdom which is profitable to direct. '

In developing the causes of hard times, I shall, in an informal and indirect way, bring forward most of the principles of the science of political economy; that science which teaches the origin, the production, the distribution, and the consumption of wealth.

The first cause which I shall mention of hard times is, the failure of the agricultural productions of a country. The wants of man are supplied by the co-operation of the providence of God, and the agency of man. If God choose to withhold those natural influences which are ne

cessary to perfect the works of man, no human industry can make up the defect. If he choose to add severity to the winter's cold, or intensity to the summer's heat, or choose to restrain the former or the latter rain, the result is a diminished return for the toil of the husbandman, and an inadequate supply for the wants of man. The natural consequence is hard times. The farmer has less to sell, and money will be scarce, because money is, or ought to be, merely the representative of property really in exist ence. All human wants are supplied ultimately from the soil, and all men are purchasers of its products. If they bear a high price, and the productions of mechanical skill and intellectual labor remain the same, the means of purchasing them will fall short. Then, the farmers being destitute of the means of purchasing, the products of the mechanic will fall, in price, on his hands, and there will be another loss; for no interest can ever be separated from the rest. There is a mutual interest and sympathy, which causes all the members to suffer, if one is in distress.

As an offset to this, it may be said, that the farmer is compensated, by the rise of prices, for the deficiency of his crops. There is this selfadjusting principle, it is true, in the laws of production and consumption, and it is effectual to a certain extent. Beyond that, it does not reach. When the deficiency is very great, then the farmer has nothing to dispose of. He is not only unable to purchase any thing, but the debts he has already contracted, remain unpaid. Those who were expecting payment from him, are disappointed; and the disappointment extends, link by link, through all the ramifications of society. Thus, the failure of the crops in the years 1835, '37, and '38, was one of the main causes of the commercial disasters which have succeeded. It deprived the farmers of the means of paying for their great purchases, threw the responsibility upon the merchants, made them the prey of usurers, and led to the universal. breaking up which has been going on to such a melancholy extent within a few years. This would have been tolerable if it had merely raised prices, and kept enough at home for our own consumption ; but, not only did it cut off all means of paying our foreign debt, but compelled us to import ten millions of bread-stuffs, which was paid in coin or its equivalent. This took so much from the vaults of our banks, and was one of the causes of the two explosions which ensued.

Another cause of hard times, strange as it may seem, is a superabundance of the fruits of the earth. It has been remarked by the political economists of Europe, that most commercial revulsions are preceded by an abundant

« PreviousContinue »