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West India gentlemen, planters and merchants, would be a good deal less rich than they are, or hope to be, and a proportion of them would be deprived of riches. That these men may hold these advantages, they demand-That evils without number shall be inflicted upon a portion of their fellow creatures in the West Indies, some hundreds of times more numerous than themselves; and that every individual in the community at home, many thousand times more numerous than themselves, shall be deprived of a portion of the advantages which they might otherwise enjoy! Was the extravagance of self-love ever more glaringly displayed? What have these men done, that the rest of mankind should be called upon to make to them such sacrifices of themselves? Why should a portion of good to them be regarded as an equivalent for the loss of an infinitely greater portion to others?
From this, however, which is the real question at issue, they of course endeavour to draw away the attention of those who are to decide upon their pretensions. They have recourse to the delusive expedient of general phrases; and, by the introduction of topics on which they can anticipate a certain decision, they endeavour, and it is often a very successful endeavour, to make the decision of one question pass for that of another-the decision of a question, which has but little to do with the point at issue, pass as the very decision on that point itself.
Thus it is not the amount of evil incurred, to afford to them a certain portion of good, of which the West Indian pleaders make any mention. They use the term Justice. They say that justice is due to them. They cry out for justice; and affirm that unless they obtain the full amount of their demands, the nation will reflect upon them injustice. Now there can be no doubt that justice is a good thing; there can be no doubt that justice ought to be done to them, and to every body. They can anticipate this decision with certainty; and anticipating this decision, they endeavour to make it pass for a decision upon the question between them and the public. But this it is not; and as often as it is so apprehended, a delusion is practised, imposture is successful.
It is very worthy of remark, that a number of the best words are the most liable to this sort of abuse. Nothing is more common than thus to draw in the word religion, or the word loyalty, or the term good order, or the term constitution. It is easy to foresee what decision will be pronounced on any question arising out of these terms; and if this decision can be made to pass for the decision on another topic, which in itself is not entitled to any such decision, the delusion is consummated. There is none of the arts of the sophist against which it is of more importance that the lover of truth should be upon his guard.
Nothing, however, can so little bear examination as the sort of argument which is thus manufactured. What! Is it injustice that your countrymen should have the natural liberty of purchasing their sugars, wherever it is most for their advantage to purchase them? Is not the argument of justice, on the contrary, against you? Is it not much more like injustice to seek to deprive your countrymen of what seems so worthy to be considered as a right? Why should they be deprived of this advantage?
The only answer you can give, is, That you may enjoy an advantage at their cost. But this is the plea of all injustice. This is the object of all oppressors. They desire that they may be enabled to reap such and such advantages at the cost of others.
We desire the West India gentlemen to show wherein their case differs, in its essence, from that of any oppressors upon the face of the earth. We have shown that the advantage of them, a very small number, would by them be made to destroy the advantage of a much greater number. But the sacrifice of the interests of the many to those of the few, is exactly that in which all extensive oppression of necessity consists.
Driven from this general plea about injustice, the West India gentlemen have another expedient to which they resort. They say, the nation is bound to them by particular obligations. Let us hear their pleas upon this subject, and attentively examine what they are worth.
The laws establishing the monopoly of the colonies, they represent as the source of these obligations. The monopoly compelled the colonies to bring all their produce to the mother country, and to purchase in the mother country whatever they had occasion to purchase; and it was part of the same law to prohibit the importation into the mother country from any other country of certain articles the produce of these colonies.
We, say the colonists, having embarked our capital upon the faith of such laws, you are not at liberty to alter those laws.
Let us, then, calmly ask them, if it is really their doctrine that, when a bad law is made, it ought to be perpetual? Every law that is made and has any efficacy at all, turns so much of human action out of one channel into another. In doing so, it almost necessarily turns so much of capital out of one channel into another. There hardly can be a bad law, therefore, for which the plea of these gentlemen may not be urged. According to them, there ought to be no correction of errors. A false step in legislation, in which so many false steps are apt to be taken, ought never to be re-traced. The evils which oppress mankind ought never to be alleviated. Why? West India gentlemen, or other gentlemen in similar circumstances, have always an interest in perpetuating those evils. Extraordinary as this argument may seem when it is thus presented
naked, it is but too often, alas! received with favour when dressed in colours to suit the occasion.
As the West India gentlemen will not, however, when the matter is thus presented, maintain that all bad laws should be perpetual, we are entitled to call upon them to show wherein the monopoly, they claim, differs from other bad laws; making it desirable that they should be abrogated, while it is preserved. We defy them to show any such difference; or to point out a single reason, for the preservation of this, which will not be equally good for the preservation of all the bad laws which can be shown to exist in the world. All bad laws are bad because they produce a balance of evil. This produces, as we have undertaken to prove, a balance of evil. If you say that the balance is less than in the case of some other laws, we do not deny it; but this is a difference only in degree; and every degree of evil is the proper object, not of choice, but rejection. The reason which is good for rejecting a great evil, is equally good for rejecting a small one.
But we have embarked, say the West India gentlemen, our capital upon the faith of those laws; and if you do not perpetuate them, you break faith with us. Faith is another of those very general terms with which the same sophistry is apt to be practised, which we have shown to be frequent in the case of the term justice. Nobody doubts that faith ought to be kept; but does it follow, because faith ought to be kept, that all bad laws, that any bad law, ought to be perpetual?
The facts are really these. Certain laws existed respecting the West Indies, and respecting property in general. Certain advantages appeared to you, all circumstances considered, likely to arise from embarking your capital in West India concerns; and you acted accordingly.
Is there in this case any thing which is different from any other pecuniary speculation whatsoever? Do all pecuniary speculations, then, proceed upon the supposition, that no laws are ever to be altered? Do pecuniary speculators in general set up such a pretension? They would but render themselves the objects of ridicule if they did. All pecuniary speculations proceed upon a calculation of contingencies; and that of an alteration in the laws is undoubtedly one of them.
Another thing must be called to the recollection of those gentlemen. It is this-That all laws are made under a condition: and this, in truth, is one of the most important circumstances attending their enactment. The condition to which we allude is this-That they shall be continued laws so long as they appear to be advantageous to the country, but no longer. This is a condition of which the West India gentlemen, when they embarked their property,
could not be ignorant; because in all the proceedings of a righteous legislature it is necessarily implied. This, therefore, is a consideration of fundamental importance; and shows that the only question which remains for decision is, Whether liberty of importing sugars from the East Indies, on the same terms as from any other place, is, or is not, advantageous to the community at large? If this is the fact, we have only to ask the West India gentlemen, when they speak of the faith pledged by the laws of the West India monopoly, Whether they mean that part only of the faith which suits themselves, leaving all other parts out of the question; or whether it is not a part of the faith in question, a part of great importance to the community, that every law shall be repealed the moment it is found to be hurtful?
Notwithstanding the importance and indubitable certainty of this doctrine, it is still to be borne in mind, that there may be cases in which compensation may be reasonably due on account of losses sustained by the abrogation of a law. Such cases seem to be those, and those only, in which the abrogation takes place abruptly, and sooner than any reasonable expectation could have anticipated. If parties, having embarked capital upon the expectation that a certain law will continue during a certain limited time which a reflecting man can see no good reason for altering, within such a time should sustain loss by a precipitate abrogation, an equitable claim for compensation would, at least in many supposable cases, arise.
Even in this case, however, no reason would exist for the preservation of the law. The law, if hurtful, should be abolished; because by the very supposition, the evil done to the community by upholding it would be greater in amount than the evil done to the smaller number who might suffer by the abolition. The West India gentlemen are deprived even of the pretence of a precipitate abrogation. They have long had warning, abundant and superabundant. Property in the West Indies has never been regarded as worth more than a small number of years' purchase. For more than twice, for more than three times, that number of years, for it is more than that time since the first publication of the work of Smith "On Political Economy," the propriety of abolishing the West India monopoly has been not only alleged, but demonstrated. From that date, the eventual abolition of that injurious law was rendered certain. Every reflecting man must have looked forward to its abolition; and in all measures of his which could be affected by it must have taken the prospect of that event into his calculation. The wonder, indeed, is, that a law, of which the badness was thus demonstrated, should have been allowed to exist so long. The case of the West India gentlemen, therefore, is completely taken out of that class of cases which on the abrogation of
certain laws are entitled to compensation. If the West India gentlenian has miscalculated, he has nobody to blame but himself. And it would be far too much to call upon us, the rest of the community, to take money out of our pockets to save him from the consequences of his own mistakes.
Having thus replied to the arguments of the West India gentlemen; having, as we think, refuted them, and shown them to be mere sophisms, (taking it for granted, all along, that the monopoly really is injurious, and that a balance of advantage would arise from the free importation of sugar,) we now proceed to show that this supposition is well founded, and that the advantage would be fully as great as we have represented it to be.
For the powers of our colonies in the East to afford a supply of sugar, we can avail ourselves of a high authority,—that of Sir Edward Colebrooke, one of the most experienced and esteemed of the servants of the East India Company, in his work entitled "Remarks on the Husbandry and internal Commerce of Bengal," pub, lished at Calcutta in the year 1804.
Excepting tobacco, (says the work in question, p. 120) which is exotic in India, this fruitful region seems to have been the parent country of most productions which were once ranked among luxuries, but which are now become necessaries of life. The sugar-cane, whose very name was scarcely known by the ancient inhabitants of Europe, grew luxuriantly throughout Bengal in the remotest times."
Sir Edward remarks, what is somewhat curious in the history of this plant, that Gaur, the ancient name of the capital of Bengal, and of the province itself, is apparently derived from Gur; and that this word, both in the ancient and modern languages of India, is the name for raw sugar. He adds that the word Sarcara, the Sanscrit term for manufactured sugar, is the same from which the Persian, Greek, Latin, and modern European names of the cane and its produce are derived.
Sir Edward informs us that from Benares to Rungpoor, and from the borders of Asam to those of Cuttack, there is scarcely a district in Bengal, or its dependent provinces, wherein the sugar cane does not flourish; that it thrives more especially in the provinces of Benares, Behar, Rungpoor, Burdwan, Beerbhoom, and Midnapoor; that it is successfully cultivated in all; and that no other bounds seem to be set to the possible production of it in that fruitful region, than the demand and consequent vend for it. With regard to the extent of supply, therefore, there is no dispute. To whatever degree the demand of Europe may progressively rise, the quantity produced will easily keep pace with it.
We next proceed to another important consideration; namely, the cost at which it can be raised. On this point, if we set aside the