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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

The Teaching of Experience

The Teaching of Experience.

Q. Is there any truth in the constant assertion of American protectionists that Great Britain adopted the free trade policy in 1842 only after she had attained great industrial strength and ability to withstand foreign competition, through the fostering for many previous years of all her industries, by a beneficial policy of extreme protection?

A. There is not a particle of truth in such assertions. Great Britain did, indeed, for many years adopt an extreme protection policy; but she was forced to abandon it, because its continuance had brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy, starvation, and revolution.*

Q. Did the protectionists of England in 1842-6 resist the reductions of the British tariff?

A. They did most earnestly, and their speeches and arguments are an exact counterpart of those made by the protectionists of the United States at the present time. It was confidently predicted that a reduction of the British tariff "would shake the social relations of the country to their foundation, subvert the whole system of society, throw great quantities of land out of cultivation, render it impossible for the government to raise taxes, lower wages, and reduce the labourer to a lower scale of life." When Parliament repealed page 31 the British navigation laws, Mr. Disraeli and others confidently predicted that the ship-building trade of Great Britain would be ruined.

Q. Were any of these predictions verified?

A. Not a single one; for never in all history has any change in State policy been so magnificently vindicated. British shipping (registered tonnage of the United Kingdom), which before the repeal of her restrictions on ships, had for years been declining, commenced to increase, and rose from 3,096,342 in 1849 to over 7,000,000 tons in 1883. The results have in general been thus summed up by one of England's acknowledged authorities: "It has rendered agriculture prosperous, largely augmented rent, vastly extended manufactures and employment, increased the wages of labour, and, while securing the collection of an increased revenue, has, by improving the value of property, lessened the burden of taxation; and each successive development of this beneficent legislation has extended these results." The like results would follow in America if we extended the American principle of freedom to our intercourse with all the world.

* "It is utterly impossible to convey by mere statistics any adequate picture of the condition of the nation when Sir Robert Peel took office in 1841. Every interest in the country was alike depressed : in the manufacturing districts mills and workshops were closed and property depreciated in value; in the seaports shipping was laid up useless in the harbour; agricultural labourers were eking out a miserable existence upon starvation wages and parochial relief; the revenue was insufficient to meet the national expenditure; the country was brought to the verge of national and universal bankruptcy,"—See Noble's Fiscal legislation of Great Britain, page 11; also Leone Levi's History of British Commerce.