« PreviousContinue »
manufactures from Ireland: but as we cannot by a law prevent other nations from being our rivals in this manufacture, as well as every other; as we can no way do this but by enabling our own people to work up and sell their manufactures cheaper than the same sort of manufactures can be worked up and sold in any other country, instead of prohibiting the exportation of any woollen manufactures from Ireland, we should have thought only on methods for rendering the materials and labour in England as cheap as they were in Ireland; and the first and most obvious method for this purpose was, to have repealed that law which prohibited the importation of so many of the necessaries of life from Ireland.
But, sir, instead of this, the popular clamour prevailed, and in the year 1699 a law was passed for prohibiting the exportation of any woollen manufactures whatsoever out of Ireland to any place except England and Wales. Nay, even to England and Wales the exportation was laid under such restrictions, as made it almost impossible for the Irish to sell any of their woollen manufactures, except in their own country: the consequence of which was of course, that many of their manufacturers, both masters and servants, were obliged to seek for employment in foreign countries, and most of them went to France, which established the woollen manufactures of that kingdom, and increased the clandestine exportation of wool from Ireland to France; so that in a little time the French made sufficient for their own consumption, and by a new solecism in our politicks, we soon opened for them a foreign market. But before I explain myself upon this head, I shall observe, that if we had, in the year 1699, repealed the law which prohibited the importation of Irish cattle, sheep, swine, butter, and cheese, it would have enabled the manufacturers in England to work up and sell their manufactures as cheap as the Irish, and both would have been sold so cheap at foreign markets, as would have generally increased the demand, which would have furnished employment enough for all the manufacturers both in
Ireland and England, and would have rendered it impossible for the French to succeed in establishing a woollen manufacture of any kind, because the cheapness of our course woollen manufactures would have made them be run into France, and consumed there, in spite of all the measures their government could have taken to prevent it; and every one knows, that manufactories have in all countries been first set up by the coarser sort of manufactures; consequently, if we could have prevented the French from succeeding in any of the coarser sort, we should have prevented their being ever able to manufacture any of the finer sort, either for themselves or their neighbours.
Thus, sir, by endeavouring to keep up the price of our own manufactures, at the expense of our fellowsubjects in Ireland, we enabled our most dangerous enemies to succeed so far in setting up woollen manufactories, as to furnish themselves with what they wanted in that way; and, as I have said, we at last enabled them, by a new solecism in our politicks with regard to trade, to become our rivals at foreign markets. What I mean, sir, is our declaration of war against Spain in 1702; for, though we had sufficient provocation to declare war against France, the new king of Spain, whom we had acknowledged but the year before, had given us no provocation to declare war against him; and a regard for our trade with Spain, which had been always before of great advantage to us, should have made us avoid being the first to declare war against that kingdom. Till that time, Spain had always been the chief mart for our woollen manufactures; but, by thus rashly declaring war against them, we shut up, in a great measure, that mart for the woollen manufactures of England, and opened it for those of France; for, though we were then wise enough not to prohibit trade with Spain, notwithstanding the war we had declared, yet the war gave such an interruption to our commerce, and raised such an aversion among the Spaniards against us, that by degrees they were brought into
the custom of wearing French instead of English manufactures.
I could mention many other instances, sir, where we have injured our own trade, and promoted that of our most inveterate enemy, by ill-judged regulations, or mistaken politicks; but these, I hope, will be fufficient for showing gentlemen how cautious they ought to be, when any new regulation is proposed with respect to trade, especially a regulation which may perhaps strip us of the only branch of trade we now enjoy without a rival, and may very probably transfer it to our enemies the French. I say, sir, a branch of trade, which we now enjoy without a rival; for, I believe, there is a great deal more of the ensurance business done now in England than in all Europe besides. Not only the nations we are in amity with, but even our enemies the French and Spaniards, transact most of their business of ensurance here at London; and I cannot think it any crime in our merchants to correspond with them on this head, no more than it was in our merchants to correspond about trade with the Spanish merchants during the whole time of the war in queen Anne's reign. To carry on trade for the mutual benefit of both nations is not aiding and assisting the enemy, nor is it such a correspondence as was intended to be prohibited by his majesty's declaration of war, especially when it is such a trade as must always leave a large balance in ready money here in England.
This balance, I shall grant, sir, may appear to be but a trifle when compared with the expense we are at in supporting the war; but, the greater that expense is, the more money we are obliged to send out yearly on that account; surely, the more cautious we ought to be of parting with any branch of trade which certainly leaves a balance here: and, if we consider the great profits made by the ensurer, the profits made by the broker or office keeper, the profits made by the factor, and the profits made by our dealers in exchange, we cannot suppose this balance to be such a trifle as the honourable gentleman seems
inclined to represent it. For my own part, I must suppose that it amounts to a very large sum annually, when I consider the vast sums yearly ensured here upon French and Spanish bottoms, both which I must take into the account, because I am of opinion that we shall lose both by this regulation.
Nevertheless, sir, however great I may think this balance, however dangerous I may think the regulation proposed, I should readily agree to it, could I think it certain that the French merchants would find it impossible to meet with good ensurers either at home or in any other part of Europe: but I am so far from thinking this certain, that I think the certainty lies on the other side. It is well known that there is not a more enterprising, adventurous people in Europe than the French naturally are, nor a people that have a greater itch for every thing that looks like gaming. Their having no publick ensurance office, nor any number of private ensurers in France, does not proceed from a want of rich men, who would be ready and willing to undertake this business, but from the difficulty they find at present to get any employment in this way. The French merchants have been so long accustomed to our shop, and have always found themselves so honourably dealt with, that they will not apply to any other, and will rather choose to pay commission here, than trust to any office, or any private ensurer, among themselves. Therefore, while we admit them to ensure here, it will never be in the power even of the government of France to set up a publick ensurance office, nor can any private man there meet with encouragement in this way of business. But I am convinced, that, as soon as they hear of this bill's being passed into a law, a publick office of ensurance will be erected at Paris, and multitudes of rich men there will undertake the business; because, after we have banished their merchants from our shop, they will apply to the shops set up in their own country, rather than to any foreign shop they have never been accustomed to.
What are we then to do by this regulation? Why, sir, we are to strip ourselves of a most profitable branch of trade, and transfer it to the French, who could never have got hold of it, if it had not been for this our wise regulation. And this will be the effect, not only as to ensurances upon French ships, but, in a very little time, as to the ensurances upon all the ships of Spain and Portugal; for, as the correspondence between them and Paris is quicker, and more certain, than the correspondence between them and London, they will apply to the offices of ensurance at Paris, as soon as these offices have come into a little credit; and, if a publick office be set up there, with a large capital, their capital will procure them credit, as soon as the office is opened.
Having thus, sir, shown how probable it is, that the French merchants will find an easy and secure access to ensurance at home, the very moment we exclude them from it in England, I think I have no occasion to take notice of the advantages we shall reap by the exclusion; for all those advantages are founded upon a supposition that it will be impossible for them to find so cheap and so secure an ensurance at home as they now find in England, which is a supposition that, for the reasons I have mentioned, cannot, I think, with any reason, be supposed; and if this should turn out to be the case, as I am afraid it will, we shall strip ourselves of a branch of trade by which we now make a clear profit perhaps of several hundred thousand pounds yearly, and transfer it to our most dangerous rival; which is not, I am sure, a proper method for bringing the war to a happy and speedy conclusion.
Having mentioned the war, sir, I must observe, that our success at sea this last summer makes it more necessary for us to think of such a regulation now, than it has at any time since the war began; and, if Providence should favour us with the same success next summer, we shall have no occasion to prohibit ensurances upon French ships; for it will raise the price of ensurance so high, that no man, either in