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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 thè 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 existence. 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 bè 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
harvest. The reason of this is, that a great fall of prices produces the same effect upon the farmer as a short crop. It diminishes the sum which he gets for his productions, with this further disadvantage, that it makes his sales slow and difficult to effect at any rate. His expenses have been predicated upon ordinary receipts. In short, he has fallen in debt to the merchant for his usual supplies, and has not the means to meet his engagements. The merchant, deprived of his expected returns, is in the same predicament. The city merchant, deprived of his payments, becomes embarrassed, till the mischief extends to every individual in society; and a whole country may be in distress in the midst of universal plenty. This evil is aggravated by the conduct of banks and capitalists, under the operation of a falling market. There is a reluctance to operate to the extent of their means, and hence another cause of the depression of prices. The fact is, that trade is so delicate an affair, that the most important thing to it is steadiness and uniformity. All sudden and violent changes are pernicious. Trade is like the ocean. It has its tides, which rise and fall within certain limits, without injury. But a few feet of aberration above or below, is followed by stupendous ruin. A few feet of recession of the ocean itself, would leave dry the harbors of cities, and plant them far inland; or, a few feet
of elevation above the common level, would submerge the labors of centuries.
Another cause of hard times is, the contraction of the currency; that is, a change from a greater to a less amount in circulation. The measure of the nominal value of every thing bought and sold, is the amount of money in circulation. This, in modern times, is usually made up of coin and bank notes, redeemable in coin. This, of course, is capable of indefinite expansion and contraction; for the banks may issue twice or ten times as many notes as they have coin in their vaults, or they may not issue half as much, and thus make money scarcer than if they were not in existence. There is an erroneous idea prevailing, that gold and silver constitute the wealth of the world. Nothing can be more false. If the world were to wake up to-morrow morning and find every coin in existence doubled-two where there is one now, they would be no richer than they now The only difference would be, they would have a convenient material to form many of the utensils of common use, which would not so readily wear out. There would be no change in the real value of any thing. The only difference would be, that the laborer, on Saturday night, would receive twice as much coin for his work. But then he would be compelled to pay twice as much in the market for all that