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of Parliament; subject, however, to certain duties, and liable to restraint by the King in Council, whenever high prices at home might render that measure necessary. Soon after this time, Leadenhall was built as a public granary for London.In 1437, exportation was allowed whenever the quarter of wheat did not exceed a price corresponding to 13s. 4d. of our present money; and in 1463 we meet with an indication of the vigilant attention of the landholders to their own interest; when, having made complaints of the losses sustained by the importation of foreign grain, they obtained an act prohibiting such importation whenever wheat was below 11s. of our present money. This appears to have been the first restriction on import. The exportation of wool to the Continent, particularly to the manufacturing country of Flanders, had been considerable since the 13th century; and towards the end of the 15th, the English government became apprehensive that the frequent conversion of corn-land into sheep-walks might injure the prosperity of the kingdom. Acts for the maintenance of tillage, and the restriction of pasturage, were accordingly passed in 1488, 1515, 1534, 1552, 1562, and 1597; regulations which did not, probably, originate with the landed interest, but resulted from the general impression. that the produce of pasture compared with tillage was unsubstantial and precarious. The influence of the landed interest, however, was visible in the acts passed in the reign of Elizabeth, the general scope of which was to permit the exportation of grain whenever prices were reasonable at home. Although nothing can be more equitable than such a permission, yet if we advert to the anxiety of the lower orders to prevent, at all times, the egress of provisions, we shall be satisfied that to obtain that permission required no small degree of exertion on the part of the proprietors of land; clogged even as it was with the payment of a considerable duty to the crown. In the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, the export of wheat was allowed only when the average home-price was at or below 6s. 8d. per quarter: but, as prices rose, the landed interest obtained an extension of the permission, whenever wheat should be at or below 10s. the quarter; and finally, in the end of her reign, whenever it should be at or below 20s. This rapid advance of prices, during the time of Elizabeth, is equalled in no period of our history except the present; and the enhancement continued during a part of the next century since, in the reign of James Ist, we find exportation permitted whenever our own prices should not exceed an average, first of 26s. 8d. per quarter, and subsequently of 32s. In the period, therefore, of sixty years, the prices of wheat
wheat appear to have quadrupled; and this extraordinary rise of prices, or, in other words, this depreciation of money, is ascribed by Dr. Smith to the influx of the precious metals from America. During the period mentioned, the exporta tion seems to have been considerable, and must have been productive of a large revenue, since a duty of 2s. per quarter was payable on wheat, and 16d. on all other grain. It was at this epoch that the city of London built granaries for corn and coals in Bridewell.
In the history of our corn-laws, it is important to keep in mind that the most powerful body in our Parliament have always been land-holders, or persons interested in raising the prices of corn. The acts passed with this view have not originated with the Crown, which has no motive for enhancing prices; and still less with the people, who, being the consumers, have every motive for lowering them. They have proceeded, therefore, exclusively from Parliament; and accordingly, during those intervals of the 17th century in which the power of Parliament was suspended, no new regulations of the corn-market took place. This remark applies to three several periods, the reign of Charles I., the Protec torate, and the reign of James II.: but no sooner did Parliament résume its authority at the Restoration, as well as at the Revolution, than each epoch was marked by a statute in favour of the land-holders. The act passed at the Restoration lowered the export-duty on wheat from 2s. to Is. per quarter; and this reduction was perfectly fair: but a different sentence must be passed on another part of the Act, namely, that which discouraged the importation of foreign grain; a discouragement which was aggravated by subsequent Acts of Parliament under Charles II. though it was not till the Revolution that the landed interest made an arbitrary use of their parliamentary preponderance. Till that time, they had gone no farther than to secure to themselves the whole supply of the home-market : but the Act of 1688 gave them, in addition, a large bounty for supplying foreigners. It provided that, whenever wheat was at or under 48s., a bounty of 5s. per quarter should be paid on export; a correspondent bounty was allowed on the export of other British grain; and the restrictions on the import of foreign corn were so heavy as to amount to a prohibition.
Such was the law of the land during the greater part of a century, namely from 1688 to 1773- Our exportations, as we may naturally conclude, were large; and the sums paid for bounty were so great as to form a heavy addition to the public burdens: an addition not expended for any purpose of national benefit, but accompanied by the strange result of
enabling foreigners to buy our corn cheaper than we bought it ourselves. The early part of the present reign, however, being marked by scarcity and high prices, it was found necessary to resort to temporary suspensions of this Act, as well as to abrogate the absurd laws against middle-men; and at last, in 1773, the continued pressure of scarcity, the influence of Dr. Sinith's opinion, and the patriotic exertions of Mr. Burke, led to the memorable repeal of the prohibition on foreign grain. Yet this repeal could not be effected in the absolute manner which those enlightened men desired, and sound policy dictated, because the landed interest were too powerful to make a total surrender of a system which they conceived (although very erroneously) to be conducive to the increase of their rents: but the public distress was considerably mitigated, and a visible approximation was made to the adoption of a wiser policy. The provisions of this Act were that foreign corn might be imported, at a trifling duty, whenever British wheat was so high as 48s; and that a bounty should not be allowed on the export of British corn, unless the home-price was as low as 44s. The Act was founded on the assumption that the price of 485. was fair both for the grower and the consumer; and its object was to prevent deviation from that price, by calling in a foreign supply when our markets were likely to rise, and continuing to give a premium for export when they were likely to fall. Such has been the policy of our cornlaws ever since 1773. They have subsequently undergone two great alterations, in regard to the scale of prices: but these alterations have proceeded from the depreciation of money, and the principle of the law has remained unvaried. In 1791 the value of money was considerably lower than in 1773, and the importation of foreign wheat was discouraged, unless our home price should be as high as 54s. ; and in 1804, a still farther depreciation of money having taken place, the importation of foreign corn was discouraged unless our own should be as high as 66s. This continues to be the law at present; and the general inference to be drawn from it, when connected with the regulations of bounty on export, is that, as far as it depends on Acts of Parliament, our average price of wheat shall not be higher than 669. nor lower than 535.
Having thus laid before our readers, partly from our own sources of information, and partly from Mr. Comber's work, a narrative of our corn-laws, the next task which we proposed to ourselves was an analysis of Mr. C.'s speculations: but they are so much blended with other matter, and expressed with such an unfortunate prolixity, that we are obliged to desist from the
attempt of presenting them in a connected view, and forced to confine our observations to detached points. In these we are disposed partly to accord with and partly to dissent from him. To the former class, we refer his remark (p. 112) that the small occupancies existing under the feudal system were unfavourable to the advancement of agricultural skill, and were accompanied by a want of economy in the essentials both of animal and human labour as well as his argument (page 148), that the frequent scarcities, during the prevalence of the bounty on export, shew the fallacy of the favourite plea of the landed interest, that to give a bounty on export is the best means of creating a regular superabundance of our home growth.' We farther agree with him (page 175) in condemning the warehouse duty of 2s. 6d. on foreign wheat imposed in 1791, and in lamenting (page 210) that our system of cornlaws should have so direct a tendency to create fluctuation and irregularity of price.' He exemplifies this observation very aptly by the state of the London market in 1801. Between the end of May and the middle of June of that year, wheat fell from 155s. to 1oos; in July, it rose again to 1555.; and in the end of August, it fell to 74s. He maintains very justly (page 253), that to call the warehousing of foreign corn a discouragement to our own growth, is to infer that agriculture cannot be maintained without the occasional occurrence of scarcity and enormous prices;' and he gives us salutary advice in recommending (page 321) the partial introduction of the use of other grain for bread in the place of wheat.' His remark also (page 216), that the enormous enchancement in the price of our corn, as well as other commodities, has been caused by our taxes,' is not the less deserving of approbation for being obvious; since a great part of the community ascribes this enhancement to the avarice of our landholders, and another part attributes it, with equal gravity, to an increase of national wealth.
After this enumeration in Mr. Comber's favour, and our testimony to the evident disinterestedness of his views, although writing on a subject connected with his own pursuits, we must in other respects pass a very different sentence on his book. Professing to give a history of our corn-laws only, he deviates perpetually into general reasonings on the history of our whole commerce: though an admirer of Dr. Smith, he is so little impressed with the extent of that philosopher's conclusions as to dwell seriously on the mercantile notion of a balance of trade, and to consider a decline in the rate of interest as no public advantage; and, after having cautioned us, in his preface, to distrust theories and look to facts, he affords us in his own work an example of a writer F
REV. SEPT. 1809.
being led away, in almost every page, from the obvious track of narrative into the devious field of speculation. Such authors ought never to forget that, while speculation is to the wellstored mind the source of important discoveries, it is a pathless and barren waste to those whose knowlege is confined, and whose principles are not ascertained. Instead of yielding to a propensity to draw hasty conclusions of their own, let them meditate attentively the opinions of those who have preceded them; and instead of vainly grasping at early fame, let them be assured that the only way of obtaining reputation is to avoid coming before the public till their ideas are digested and- matured. Dr. Smith's works are both the fountain of knowlege in political economy, and an example of that careful execution which is indispensable to success.
Faulty as Mr. Comber's volume is, however, we would not be understood to discourage his future compositions. He has given evidence both of liberality in design and of industry in execution; and his Appendix contains a very useful abstract of our Acts of Parliament relative to the rate of interest, the price of labour, the export of grain, the encouragement of tillage, the price of provisions, forestallers, aliens, &c. We recommend its statements to the attention of many readers whom we could not advise to attempt the perusal of Mr. Comber's disquisitions; and the thanks of literary men are due to the writer who presents to them, in a convenient shape, that official information which it is so tedious to seek in the statute-book, or in the voluminous reports of Parliamentary Committees.
We select the following passage as a favourable specimen of Mr. Comber's reasoning:
The complaints of the farmers of the inadequacy of the prices in 103 and 1804, were such as to occasion a committee of the House of Commons to be appointed to take the subject into consideration, and to examine into the existing laws respecting the commerce of grain. The committee reported, "that the high prices had occasioned large tracts of waste land to be brought into cultivation, which, combined with the two last productive seasons, had depressed the value of grain so much as it was feared would greatly tend to the discouragement of agriculture; unless maintained by the support of parliament." The interpretation of this enigmatical report appears. to be, that the prices which had already become depressed by an extension of growth at home, might become so much further depressed by the competition of the foreign grower, if it were not prevented, as to discourage the production of grain. This is further explained by the committee, where they observe, that when the regulations were most favourable to the growers, the export of corn for more than sixty years together had produced annually 700,000l. to the nation. But on the other hand, as the laws bore hard on the grower, impor