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price, I should receive no return for my capital-perhaps not even recover the capital itself.
'It never has been proved to me that the price of wheat in these last two years has been more than sufficient to afford a reasonable profit on the capital of the farmer who has produced it, considering the increased expense of every article which he must consume in producing it, and the very scanty crop of last year, which gave so much smaller a quantity, while it left the expense the same as before, or rather, indeed, much increased by some of the unfavourable circumstances of the season.
'It is for this reason that I detest and abhor as impious and heretical the whole system on which we are now acting on the subject.' (Stanhope, vol. iii. p. 247.)
Four days earlier Lord Grenville had written on the same subject the following note to Lord Auckland, who was then engaged at the Board of Trade on measures connected with the scarcity:
'My dear Lord,—I really think all the nonsense into which some of our best disposed friends, and many who ought to have known better, have gone headlong on the occasion of the scarcity, more formidable than the scarcity itself. By what one hears and reads, one would think that we were gone some centuries back, or had still to learn the first principles of commercial legislation. I pray God that the meeting of Parliament may effectually stop this torrent of ignorance and mischief.
Ever, my dear Lord, most truly yours, (Auckland Papers, vol. iii. p. 111.) 'GRENVILLE.'
So little was the torrent stopped, that these restrictive measures to affect by artificial contrivances the supply of food were thenceforth maintained, for nearly half a century, by the Tory party, to be one of the inexpugnable foundations of the Constitution, and were defended with desperate fidelity until a more successful, if not a greater minister than Mr. Pitt, swept them away for ever. Meanwhile this too must be recorded as one of Mr. Pitt's mistaken sacrifices of his former opinions and of sound principle to what he conceived to be the exigencies of his position. Free Trade owed nothing to Mr. Pitt beyond the solemn assertion of its value, and the conclusion of the French treaty. But from that point Mr. Pitt's followers, and those who affected to act in his name, rushed into all the excesses of Protection, and identified themselves as a party with all the mistakes and absurdities he had once been most anxious to remove.
It may here be convenient to place among Mr. Pitt's wise, generous, but unfulfilled designs, his proceedings for the aboli
tion of the slave trade. Mr. Wilberforce, soon after his serious call in 1785, had turned his eager and humane mind to the subject, and as Lord Stanhope observes:
'It was natural that with these earnest aspirations Mr. Wilberforce should now apply himself to ascertain how far the changes against the Slave Traders were or were not well founded. In his own words:"I got together at my house, from time to time, persons who knew anything about the matter. When I had acquired so much information, I began to talk the matter over with Pitt and Grenville. Pitt recommended me to undertake its conduct as a subject suited to my character and talents. At length, I well remember after a conversation in the open air, at the root of an old tree at Holwood, just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston, I resolved to give notice, on a fit occasion, in the House of Commons, of my intention to bring the subject forward.".
'I may add that this very tree, conspicuous for its gnarled and projecting root, on which the two friends had sat, is still pointed out at Holwood, and is known by the name of "Wilberforce's oak."
'It so chanced, that ere the day appointed for, the motion the health of Mr. Wilberforce failed. He found himself disabled from active business, and compelled to try the waters of Bath. Before he went, however, he obtained from Pitt a promise that if his illness should continue through the spring, Pitt himself would supply his place. Accordingly on the 9th of May, the Prime Minister rose to move a resolution, "That this House will early in the next Session proceed to take into consideration the circumstances of the Slave Trade." With a reserve imposed upon him by official duty, he added that he should forbear from stating or even glancing at his own opinion until the moment of discussion should arive. “I understand, however," said Fox, "that the opinion of the Right Hon. gentleman is primâ facie the same as my own. . . . For myself I have no scruple to declare that the Slave Trade ought not to be regulated, but destroyed. To this opinion my mind is pretty nearly made up. ... I have considered the subject very minutely, and did intend to have brought something forward in the House respecting it. But I rejoice that it should be in the hands of the Hon. Member for Yorkshire rather than in mine. From him I honestly think that it will come with more weight, more authority, and more probability of success." These words, which redound so highly to Mr. Fox's honour, were followed by words not less decided from Mr. Burke and from Sir William Dolben, Member for the University of Oxford.
Against an array of opinions such as these, Mr. Bamber Gascoyne and Lord Penrhyn, the Members for Liverpool, and almost officially the spokesmen for the Slave Trade, could make no effectual stand. They deemed it wisest to let the Resolution pass unopposed, and to reserve their strength for the ensuing year. And that strength was certainly far greater that at first it seemed. The opinion of Mr. Pitt had not prevailed with all his colleagues. Lord Thurlow, above all, was, and continued to be, favourable to the Slave Trade, and un
happily he found means to instil nearly the same prejudice into the mind of the King.'
The Bill of Sir William Dolben being moderate in its aim and supported both by Pitt and Fox, passed triumphantly through the Commons. But in the other House Lord Thurlow fell upon it with great fury. He was backed by two Peers who had gained just distinction in a better cause-Lord Heathfield and Lord Rodney. And it was with great difficulty, and not until the last day of the Session, that there passed a measure on the subject, though curtailed of its first proportions.' (Stanhope, vol. i. p. 336.)
We have not the slightest doubt of the sincerity of Mr. Pitt in his approval of the bills for the abolition of the slave trade which were successively introduced into Parliament. It was the only liberal measure to which he gave an undeviating support to the end of his life. It was the only measure which always, and in the worst of times, brought Pitt and Fox into the same lobby of the House of Commons. Yet with this support the proposal made no progress. Strange as it may seem,' says Lord Stanhope, the cause for which such men combined, in'stead of making further way, receded.' From 1792 to 1800 the cause of abolition had lost ground. From 1800 to 1804 it had slumbered, under the influence of the Addington Cabinet, which, on this point, as on several others, faithfully represented the feelings of the King. On Pitt's return to office in 1804, the Bill was again brought forward and carried in the House of Commons. Lord Grenville was to take charge of it in the Lords. From the lateness of the season it was postponed, and, as is well known, it was not till three years later that abolition was carried unhappily, not by Mr. Pitt.
We now arrive at that important subject which takes the first rank in the duties of the leading Minister of the Crown, and especially in the life of Mr. Pitt, for it is on his sagacity and originality as a financier that his fame chiefly rests. Reputation for financial ability has been frequently earned in the last century, and perhaps sometimes in the present century, by men who presumed on the general ignorance of the subject to pass off as measures of sterling value very inadequate, and even very false expedients. It would be highly unjust to class Mr. Pitt in the category of these mountebanks. On the contrary, there is the evidence of his own financial speeches to prove that his system rested on broad and sound principles and we presume that to these speeches Mr. Gladstone recently alluded when he described Mr. Pitt as the greatest peace minister this country has known. It is greatly to be desired that a biography of Mr. Pitt should present the reader with a distinct survey of these financial
measures, which formed so important a part of his policy. Lord Stanhope claims for Mr. Pitt the merit of having restored the finances of the country after the disastrous war which ended in 1783; but he has not followed, with as much precision as the subject requires, the exact course of Mr. Pitt's financial measures, pointing out in what they succeeded and in what they failed. For example, the establishment of the Consolidated Fund, which brought under one head numerous branches of revenue, and the redemption of the Land Tax, as a scheme for lessening the National Debt, though in truth it was a mere conversion of a part of it, are subjects which well deserve a close and accurate examination, without which the real ingenuity and value of Mr. Pitt's financial proposals cannot be understood. Happily Mr. Pitt's own speeches of the 29th March 1786 and of the 17th February 1792, are pretty well reported, and supply a full statement of his views. They show his determination to deal with the great, and as it was then considered, alarming evil of a National Debt, which had doubled in the preceding ten years and amounted in 1786 to two hundred and fifty millions, the income of the nation being at that time rather above fifteen millions. Out of this sum the interest of the National Debt and the Civil List absorbed about ten millions and a half, leaving, in fact, only five millions for the whole military, naval, and civil expenditure of the country. It may be observed that the interest of the National Debt in 1786 amounted to nearly two-thirds of the public revenue, whereas the interest of the National Debt in 1862 does not materially exceed one-third of a revenue nearly five-fold as great as that which Mr. Pitt had then to deal with.
To equalise the revenue and the expenditure of the country in time of peace by an adjustment of taxes-to simplify the public accounts and correct the abuses which had crept into the financial departments-and to increase the productiveness of fiscal duties by enlarging the area of taxation, were doubtless creditable and enlightened measures; but they would not suffice to confer on Mr. Pitt the high financial reputation he has enjoyed. He himself would have rested his claim to that distinction on the policy he adopted for the reduction of the National Debt. Yet we now know that the whole conception of the Sinking Fund, adopted by Mr. Pitt, was radically unsound; and that the Minister who had made it the first object of his ambition to reduce the permanent burdens of the nation, was led, by untoward events, and in an incredibly short space of time, to double them.
Ample materials for a complete history of these trans
actions, and of the part taken in them by Mr. Pitt, are to be found in the invaluable collection of scarce tracts on the National Debt and the Sinking Fund, which have recently been reprinted by the care of Lord Overstone, with an introduction by Mr. McCulloch: and it may be regretted that Mr. Pitt's last and ablest biographer has not devoted a chapter to the full elucidation of these questions, since they are the very pith and marrow of his administrative policy, whether it be judged by the plans he brought forward in peace or by the disasters which overtook him in war.
The philosophic writers of the eighteenth century, Hutchinson, Hume, Blackstone, and even Adam Smith, had all viewed with a sort of terror the progress of the National Debt since the Revolution of 1688, and as early as 1716 a scheme for a Sinking Fund had been partially adopted. In 1726 Sir Nathaniel Gould propounded the doctrine that a sum of money placed at compound interest would accumulate so as eventually to extinguish the debt: thus he argued one million sterling, placed at 4 per cent. interest, would amount in 105 years to 1575 millions. Dr. Price in his pamphlet, published in 1771 and 1774, placed the same fallacy in a very plausible form; and soon after Mr. Pitt took office he employed Price to frame proposals for a Sinking Fund, one of which was subsequently adopted by Parliament. The plan was to set aside by Act of Parliament 250,000l. quarterly, which should be invested in the purchase of stock by commissioners; the dividend of the stock so purchased to go on accumulating until the fund should amount to four millions.
Mr. Pitt does not seem to have been aware that the utter fallaciousness of this scheme, and of the principle on which it rests, had been demonstrated by Mr. Wimpey in a pamphlet published in 1772 in answer to Price; nor did the Minister himself detect the nature of the delusion, obvious as it has now. become. Wimpey had nevertheless exposed it in a few
'So long as the people can furnish money to discharge the whole current expenses of the year, with an overplus, such overplus being applied as it ought, will certainly diminish the debt. But when these expenses exceed their utmost ability, the debt, in spite of all management, will increase; and I conceive it can make no difference how any former surpluses may be applied, if towards the discharge of old debts new ones must be contracted, with an interest daily accumulating. The Sinking Fund has nothing in it of the nature of a spring: it must be supplied from time to time, or it will necessarily cease to act, and to be anything more than a name. The only source is the purse of the people; when that is drained, good-bye