« PredošláPokračovať »
THE BOER INDICTMENTS OF British Policy. By Henry M. Stanley
TOBACCO IN RELATION TO HEALTH AND CHARACTER. By Ed. Vincent
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL'S CRITICISMS. By Herbert Spencer
No. CCXXXIX-JANUARY 1897
RECENT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
EUROPEAN opinion on the recent presidential election in the United States has been singularly excited, and in perhaps a still more remarkable degree unanimous. All watched with eagerness for the result, many with anxiety, most with a strong desire that Mr. McKinley should win. The Continent was of the same mind as the United Kingdom, although, as we know more about the latter, we may be content to notice the evidence of opinion here.
When the result was announced signs of satisfaction burst forth in the most diverse quarters. Lord Salisbury used very strong language at the Lord Mayor's dinner in the Guildhall. It is not customary, and, as he hinted, it is inconvenient for the Prime Minister of England to express any judgment on the political questions which divide friendly nations ; yet he permitted himself amid the acclaim of the assembled citizens to congratulate the United States in the person of their ambassador " upon the splendid pronouncement which the great people he represented had made in behalf of the principles which lie at the base of all human society.'
This is sufficiently startling, and yet it does not seem that any critic has regarded the declaration as one of Lord Salisbury's splendid imprudences. · He has, indeed, been matched in frankness of expression by one of the leaders of the opposite party in our domestic politics, though Mr. John Morley may perhaps plead that the responsibility of opposition is feeble compared with the responsibility
VOL. XLI-No. 289
of office. At Brechin this advanced and vigorous thinker rejoiced over a result which he described as “a triumphant working-class vote for principles of honesty and law-abidingness and order'; and indeed declared that any other result would have brought untold disasters and would certainly have prejudiced the name and fame of democratic and free government.'
If these utterances by men so distinguished and so independent, and yet so wide apart in political sympathies, are regarded as the license of a banqueting room or of a political meeting, we may recall what was said in circumstances of soberer thought by another public man who had the advantage or disadvantage of spending the autumn in the United States. Lord Playfair, speaking at the annual meeting of the Cobden Club, in an atmosphere of calm and almost scientific inquiry, said that “the whole world was interested in that election because its main issues involved the breakdown of constitutional government and the loss of faith in democracy everywhere.'
The sentiments thus expressed, by leaders of political thought whom we know, were repeated in nearly the same terms by our unknown instructors in the most dissimilar organs of public opinion in the press. The Radical leader-writer gave thanks that democracy had escaped a scandal and an undoing, whilst the Conservative triumphed over the victory of a cause he believed identical with his own.
Expressions of judgment such as I have quoted tend of themselves to produce a reaction. We ask whether there is not some lack of discrimination among them, inconsistent with a perfect apprehension of truth. When we remember that the defeated minority were American citizens, and amounted moreover to a large minority, the doubt arises whether they could have been so reckless, so anarchical, and so unrighteous as has been suggested. We ought to be quite sure of our ground before pronouncing a sweeping condemnation of a powerful party of whom we may remember that, though a minority to-day, they may be a majority to-morrow.
Moreover, we are bound to be on our guard against influences sufficiently obvious and only too well fitted to warp our judgment. It has been freely represented, and for the moment we may take the statement as exact, that a victory of Mr. Bryan would deprive European investors in the United States of half the income received from their investments, and to be deprived of a moiety of income would seem to most, if not to all, to be the same as to be robbed of it. The allegation is not likely to leave our judgments quite unbiassed—it is so exciting in itself that we can scarcely stay to inquire into its accuracy, still less to examine the arguments by which the reprobated action may be defended. I may frankly confess for myself that I receive at stated intervals cheques for limited amounts representing a certain number of dollars converted into a certain sum of British money, and it is not conducive to impartiality to feel that the
decision of a question under consideration might reduce by one half the British money so received. But even in sight of this painful contingency we are bound to inquire into the rights and wrongs of things, before we hurry to brand as robbers the men so freely held up to our condemnation.
The points in dispute between the opposing parties in the United States were many, and I shall have to refer to some of the most important among them further on. But the issue to which British attention was mainly directed would probably be summarised by most of those who are ready to give a judgment on the struggle as · Bimetallism.'
The defeated Democrats are regarded as bimetallic heretics, while the victorious Republicans are hailed as upholding the honesty and even the sanctity of the gold standard. Yet this popular broad statement is notoriously inexact. If it was a question between the gold standard and Bimetallism which was submitted to the American people, Lord Salisbury could scarcely have used the language he did, remembering that his nephew, his colleague, the leader of the House of Commons, is an avowed and ardent bimetallist. Mr. Balfour is quite unconscious that he is upsetting the base of human society. The truth is that both the political platforms in the United States contain planks in favour of Bimetallism, the difference between the two being this, that the Republican party wanted to obtain Bimetallism through the co-operation of the leading commercial nations, whilst the Democrats declared in favour of its establishment within the American Union without waiting for the concurrence of other Powers.
It may be suggested, and indeed has been said, that the Republican advocacy of Bimetallism was a sham, that the framers of the platform. believed that the co-operation of other Powers could never be secured, and that they adopted this article of their faith with their tongues in their cheeks. The allegation may be true of some, though I believeit not to be true of many. Major McKinley himself in former years gave definite and unequivocal pledges of his advocacy of Bimetallism;. by which he declared he stood in the course of this campaign. But. assuming that this part of the Republican manifesto was insincerely adopted, this only proves that Republican managers believed they could not win without humouring bimetallic believers, or, in other words, its adoption was a confession on their part that Bimetallism commanded a majority of the voters. If, therefore, the vehement strictures of our public men and writers turned upon Bimetallism merely, they must be extended to the victors as well as to the vanquished, and would bring into condemnation the majority of the American people.
Is the distinction between Bimetallism to be promoted by international action, and Bimetallism to be adopted forth with within the
American Union, sufficient to justify the severity of condemnation applied to the latter ?
In answering this question we must bear in mind that the proposal to allow the free coinage of silver rests on very different grounds in the United States from those that can be advanced here. For nearly a century our unit of value has been a sovereign. All debts have been expressed in sovereigns, and no debt—at all events since the resumption of cash payments after the great war-can be discharged except by the payment of sovereigns, or of bank notes immediately exchangeable into sovereigns. When we think of money we think in sovereigns. It is quite true that down to 1873 any one who was the fortunate possessor of a sufficient mass of silver could always find a market for it in London at a rate that scarcely varied perceptibly, and could thus purchase gold with which a debt could be discharged. But he could not carry the silver direct to his creditor ; he had to resort to a bullion merchant in order to obtain the means of legal tender. The decline in the value of silver since 1873 has arisen from no change in our law, and a proposal to introduce the free coinage of silver in England is a proposal for a change of what has been the law for a century. But whilst we think in sovereigns, the American citizen thinks in dollars; and up to the year already named (1873) silver was freely coined into dollars in the American mints, and the mass of silver so stamped and guaranteed by mintage, was admissible to any extent as legal tender. Silver dollars themselves, being in existence, remain to this day unlimited legal tender, but the legislation of 1873 bars the doors of the mint to the owner of silver, preventing the coinage which up to that time was free. The proposal of free coinage of silver in the States is therefore a recurrence to what existed so recently as 1873, and the expediency of restoring what prevailed before that time is open to examination, just as the expediency was open of taking the step which was then taken. Some Englishmen may realise the difference of the problem as presented in America and in the United Kingdom by bringing into aid a consideration of the rupee. Silver was freely coined in Hindustan, and rupees were an unlimited tender up to 1893, when, after taking the advice of a committee of which I was myself a member, the Indian Government suspended the free coinage of silver. If an agitation arose for the re-opening of the Indian mints it would be identical with the democratic demand for the free coinage of silver in the United States, save in the circumstance that in one case it was sought to repeal a decree of 1893 and in the
1 It may be noticed, by the way, that when the Indian Mints were closed in 1893, the step was taken merely to relieve the Indian Government from financial embarrassment; and it would be interesting to inquire of those judges who so freely condemn the renewal of the free mintage of the dollar as dishonest, what they think of the honesty of the Indian Government, that is to say, of ourselves, in continuing the free mintage of the rupee for a score of years.