Page images

writers upon political economy, the reasoning of those writers seems to be admitted to be irrefragable. Under the pretence of passing over their arguments as metaphysical, they are admitted to be such as allow no reply; since no one probably will think, that the friends of the tariff policy would neglect to refute, if possible, the doctrines of the most approved writers on political economy, and prove them to be as false as they maintain them to be impracticable. To show more distinctly, from an unexceptionable source, in what way the friends of the tariff treat the arguments of some of the most sensible authors of the last and present century, we make the following quotations from the speech of the Chairman of the Committee of Manufactures. +

'Bonaparte and the British ministry, it has been stated, wrangled for whole weeks if not months during the peace of 1803, (?) about the quantities of goods, which the people of the two nations might exchange with each other; each party obstinate to the very last in refusing to take the products of the other, unless they were permitted to be paid for in the product of the nation receiving them. Whether right or not, all this was done by statesmen; and let it not be forgotten that, while doing it, they had all the metaphysical books of the economists before their eyes; or if not all their books, yet all their discoveries had been made before that time; made and published by Frenchmen and by Britons for the good of their own dear countries, and calculated for their own latitudes. Of these discoveries the grandest is said to be, that, in order to get rich, a nation has nothing to do but to refuse to eat, drink, or wear anything made or produced at home, provided it can be had cheaper from abroad, so that we see how completely opposite to these discoveries has been the practice of the two nations; and from this, and from all their conduct before and since, it is plain, that the two countries, which produced these political economists, have always looked upon them as so many conceited enthusiasts, and have taken special care never to meddle, practically, with their books, except so far as to print and export them. In some foreign countries they have had, to be sure, an amazing run. I am not going to try my hand at disentangling their arguments. Let it be, that all their reasoning on the subject is so correctly metaphysical and so deep, as not to be comprehended nor refuted. What then? In legislating for a great country, are we to draw our information and our opinions from the deductions of theoretical writers? Or are we to look to the practice of statesmen and to the actual effect, which different systems have had on the prosperity and decay of nations?'

+ Mr Todd.

This extract, coinciding as it does with the sentiments expressed in almost every speech on the same side of the question, appears to us to justify the assertion, that the friends of the tariff policy admit the argument of their opponents to be unanswerable. They cast on this argument, indeed, the reproach of being metaphysical and abstract, but tell us they do not undertake to enter into it,-they appeal to practice. Now it seems to us rather an unpromising aspect of a policy, that it begins by resisting the deductions of men, who have, with great concert of opinion and reasoning, established the principles of the science that treats of this policy. What, we may well ask, is the meaning of a practical man in the business of a tariff? You reject the conclusions of Smith and Say, and appeal to the practice of ministers and financiers; and you call the former theoretical, and the latter practical men. But why appropriate the terms thus, or rather why give the name of practical, in this connexion, to the minister rather than to the writer? The truth is, that practical is a term not well applied, on either side, to the subject. There is a propriety in the distinction of practical and theoretical, when applied to the arts of life; a practical farmer is properly opposed to a scientific agriculturist; a practical artist to an adept in mechanical philosophy. But what do the friends of the tariff mean, when they talk of a practical system as opposed to a theoretical, in regard to the proper national policy of encouragement extended to different branches of industry? What makes a statesman, in this respect, a practical man? He has not followed any one of the pursuits, which he taxes or encourages. He has been neither a merchant, a manufacturer, nor a planter; neither a collector of customs, nor an exciseman. Nay more, it rarely happens that he is himself the author of the system he administers. He is not a practical man, even in the limited sense of having devised and matured the various prohibitory or protecting duties, which he maintains in existence. These, in all the old countries of Europe, have been the growth of centuries. They have many of them been imposed to meet particular occasions; some duties have been contrived to balance others, and they now must remain, because immense sacrifices would be made by repealing them.

[blocks in formation]

To administer such a system, a nobleman of strong connexions, or a political leader of transcendant talents, comes into office. Nothing would be wider from the truth, than to suppose he comes there to do what he thinks in itself right; nothing more unjust, than to quote him in favor of a system which he continues or even enforces, because he cannot alter it. Nothing is more preposterous, moreover, than to call him a practical man in reference to this business, on the score of his introducing into the legislature or presenting to the king, the laws or decrees, which the regulation and adjustment of the conflicting parts of such a system, from time to time, require. What information he needs, to discharge these official duties, he seeks from the tradesmen, artisans, or planters, who possess it, and the books which contain it; what principles he acts on, he has formed from observation, reflection, and reading. In this way and no other do the writers on political economy gather their facts and form their opinions. But, in general, the business of tariffs and duties is the smallest part of the practice of these statesmen, who are strangely looked up to by American legislators. Wars, the balance of power, coalitions, ambitious projects abroad, intrigues at home, the preservation of place, jobs for friends, these are the things, which constitute the practice of statesmen, far more considerably than the administration of the great national interests.

If there be any propriety in connecting the epithet practical with this subject, we should think it belonged precisely to the writers, who are derided as theoretical. The Chairman of the Committee of Manufactures, in that homely way, which characterises him, intimates that Dr Smith and his school were but conceited enthusiasts.' And yet the Doctor was a cool, sagacious man; he devoted twenty years and more to the composition of the Wealth of Nations. The book itself proves that no minister or statesman could be better acquainted with the facts relative to every part of the public system than he; not only in his own country, but in almost every other. He particularly sought and received information from all, who were best able to afford it, of which an important instance is mentioned in the case of the bank of Amsterdam, in the preface to the fourth edition. Much of his life was employed in investigations, much of his high

reputation pledged on successfully treating this subject, and who can be better entitled than he, in this connexion, to the name of practical, we cannot conceive. Cuique in arte sua credendum est; nor is there one circumstance, that justly gives the name of practical to a statesman, in this connexion, which would not give it far more decisively to Smith.

[ocr errors]

Or take the case of Mr Ricardo, also one of these conceited enthusiasts,' these metaphysical dreamers. He was a man, who, from being an indigent Jew, of Portuguese descent, raised himself to a princely fortune, to a seat in parliament, to respectability in the best English circles, to an equality with what that country has of most intelligent. Mr Ricardo had the reputation of being, of all men in Europe, the best versed in the really abstract subject of money; and his opinions in the House of Commons, on this subject, were received with proportionate respect. What is there, in such a man, to authorise the stigma of conceited enthusiasm and metaphysical abstraction? Why is he theoretical, and lord Castlereagh practical? We say again, that of the two, Mr Ricardo is the practical man. A fortune of three or four millions of dollars, acquired by his own industry, sagacity, and success; invested in the most various forms, in the stocks, in manufactures, in landed estates; several years passed in the legislature, in which on all questions connected with finance he was allowed to take a lead; and finally, that peculiar stimulus to investigation, which arises from undertaking to write upon a subject, and thus commiting a high reputation to public scrutiny; all these seem to be circumstances, which constitute Mr Ricardo a practical man in the business he treated. If he was not, we know not what the word means. If he be not better entitled to the name, than the ministers, who probably devote fewer hours than he did days to this subject; then we confess that the essence of a practical economist is indeed a metaphysical subtlety, which we cannot grasp. The name is easily claimed, but we apprehend it would exceed the ingenuity of the Chairman of the Committee of Manufactures, to define the thing in any way, which would make Mr Canning the practical, and Mr Ricardo the theoretical person.

But the chairman tells us, in his plain way, that he is not going to try to disentangle the arguments of these writers. Let it be, that all their reasoning is so correctly metaphysical

and so deep, as not to be comprehended nor refuted.' We can infer only, from this way of speaking, that our practical statesman has never read them. We much fear, that he and many of his colleagues are in the predicament of persons, who deride what they have not given themselves the trouble to become acquainted with. If the worthy chairman will but read the Wealth of Nations, we assure him he will find it a perpetual feast. Supposing him too candid to quarrel with a book of considerable extent, because some of its views may appear to him unsound, it will be with great satisfaction that the chairman will find much of the Wealth of Nations to commend itself even to him, as sound practical wisdom. He will be agreeably disappointed to discover in it a vast fund of information, on all the pursuits of society; a steady choice of the moderate, gradual, and prudent over the speculative and hazardous; a preference of the home market over a foreign market. He will find, to his amazement, that the Report of General Hamilton, which he so much lauds, is in a good measure borrowed from the work of Smith, which he so much sneers at. If the chairman would give it an attentive and candid perusal, we feel sure that he would wonder at the epithets, which he has so unjustly bestowed upon him.

We might say nearly as much of the work of Mr Say. Abating the chapters, which bear hard on the tariff policy, we assure the chairman of the committee, that the greater part of the work will appear to him sound and judicious; the production of a strong and richly furnished mind. In both these works, he will find neither pomp nor obscurity of language; no splitting of hairs. no far pursued chase after theories, unsupported by instances and facts. In Say, particularly, he will be struck with a singular plainness, an occasional heartiness of manner, which though rather more refined than the chairman's own, bears the same stamp of sincerity. He will positively not find one proposition in the work, on which he can put his finger and fairly pronounce it metaphysical, in the opprobrious sense of that term; not one proposition, which he can comfort himself by calling obscure or recondite; or from which he can well turn aside, as fantastical and far fetched.

If this be true, and we appeal to every candid man, (whatever he thinks of the tariff policy,) who has read these works, that it is true; we would ask what propriety there is, in the

« PreviousContinue »