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ART. I. Papers respecting the Negociation for a Renewal of the
East India Company's exclusive Privileges. 1812: Petitions of the Merchants and Manufacturers of Bristol, Liver
pool, Glasgow, 8c. against the Renewal of the Company's
Charter, 8c. WHEN Adam Smith composed bis celebrated Inquiry
into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, he was careful to support his theoretical principles on the grounds of admitted fact, or established opinioni, though we sometimes find his conclusions to be at variance with the decisive test of practice and experience. Since his time, however, and under the sanction of his name, there has sprung up a race of writers, of so bold and daring a character, as to set public opinion at defiance, and to treat with contempt all popular prejudices; whilst their own prejudices and opinions, grounded on no fixed principles, are borne on the current of passing events, and fluctuate from day to day as passion or party views or self-interest may predominate. We have a tolerable specimen of the inconsistency of these politicians in their various speculations on India. At one time, our connection with that country is reprobated as the worst of all possible calamities; the country itself is represented as a possession not merely cumbrous and worthless, but ruinous to the national interests-a perpetual drain on the wealth avd population of the united kingdom: and the true policy, we are told, of Great Britain would be that of resolving at once to break off all intercourse with India for ever, and abandon it to its fate. At another time, when other influences govern the views of these wavering economists, India is held up as a gem of inestimable value; so precious indeed, and so important to the united empire, that no other than an immediate descendant of royalty ought to be deemed worthy to fill the throne of the Great Mogul.
Our readers will do us the justice to acknowledge, that we have expressed but one unvarying opinion with regard to the value and importance of our oriental possessions, so subservient to the wealth, strength, and prosperity of the British empire. Impressed with these sentiments, we do not hesitate to say, that, if ever there was a VOL. VIII. NO, XVI.
question which required the calm and dispassionate discussion of the 'legislature, from which it would be desirable to exclude all selfish and party feelings,-it is that which regards the renewal of the East India Company's charter, and the settlement of the future government of India. It would be too much to expect that, in our popular government, any great question, in which so many interests are involved, on which the passions can be roused, or which can afford scope to the powers of eloquence, will, or can be, decided without a great deal of discussion, perhaps of warm and intemperate debate. Those who may think that ministers are disposed to make too great a concession to the popular feeling, or popular prejudice, will be apt to exclaim against the impolicy and injustice of breaking down long established institutions, or trenching upon privileges, whose effects have been to increase, in a signal manner, the wealth and prosperity of Great Britain. Others, satisfied with nothing short of a total abolition of all exclusive charters and monopolies, will encourage the popular clamour by their vehement harangues ; and, as those are generally most active and most clamorous, who are farthest from being in the right, we are not quite free from an apprehension that, if the present temper of the advocates for a free and unrestrained intercourse with the East should continue unabated, the Company's Charter, like the Orders in Council, may be sacrificed, by a too easy concession, to popular prejudice; and then, indeed, well might the Directors say that, if ihe tide of prejudice, of popular clamour, of most extravagant expectation, and unbounded pretension, which have been more industriously than fairly excited, were now to determine the public councils, not a vestige would remain of that great fabric which has been reared in the course of two centuries, uniting with coinmerce an imperial dominion, which would be shaken to its foundation by the destruction of that system which has acquired and preserved it."
It is important, therefore, that a question of such moment, and so complicated in its various bearings, should not be hurried through parliament like a turnpike-road or an inclosure bill: and, as the old charter does not expire until March, 1814, instead of attaching blame to ministers for delay, we are rather disposed to give them credit for taking time to feel their ground to get possession of facts,—and to collect the sentiments and opinions of the mercantile and manufacturing interests, on the one side, and of the Court of Directors on the other, before they venture to submit their new plan of political and commercial arrangements for future India to the final decision of the legislature. By such a line of conduct, they will be enabled to bring forward a more matured plan, and
Letter from the deputation to the Earl of Buckinghamshire, 29th April, 1812.Papers, p. 149.
the legislature more certain of coming at the right conclusion; for we are persuaded that a great body of enlightened men, as we deem the House of Commons to be, cannot direct their inquiries deeply into, or think long upon, any one subject, without doing that which is right to be done in the end.
We have the documents before us of the two great contending parties concerned in the issue of this important question. The sentiments of the Court of Directors are fully and ably expressed in the printed papers, the title of which stands at the head of this ar: tiele ; and the feelings and opinions of the mercantile and manua facturing interests may be pretty well collected from their nume: rous petitions, already presented to parliament--some praying for a total abolition of the East India Company's privileges, and others for a participation only in the trade to India and China. In the present stage of the contest, we may safely affirm that the Directors have generally the advantage of their antagonists—sometinies in point of argument, and mostly in point of fact and experience. We say generally, because of late they have assumed a tone, on one particular point, rather inconsistent with the character of petitioners for favours, and the more so, as the point in question is scarcely, if at all, connected with the general interest of the Company. The advocates for an open trade have hitherto, indeed, dealt too much in declamation, assertion, and crimination. Doctor Smith had stigmatized all exclusive monopolies as public nuisances, and of all nuisances, that of the East India Company as the worst, because the most extensive. Having once concluded that, as the trading spirit of the East India Company renders them very bad sovereigns, the spirit of sovereignty seems to have rendered them equally bad traders :-- it was enough for his followers, “lame and impotent' as the conclusion is, even without the aid of the common prejudice against all monopolies and exclusive privileges, to take for granted that all its concerns, political and commercial, must be liable to abuse and mismanagement.
But the East India Company has not alone the popular prejudice against monopolies to contend with— the moment is an inauspicious one, in other respects, for its interests. The coma mercial and manufacturing distresses, whether they arise from a protracted and expensive war, from the inveterate hostility of the continental tyrant, from indiscreet adventurers, the interruption of the American market, or other causes, have soured inens' minds. and created a degree of irritation in the mercantile and manufacturing world little short of a revolutionary fever ; and the abolition of the East India Company's monopoly is held forth as the grand panacea from which the most extraordinary effects are to be produced. An eager eye is turned towards the vast and populous regions of the
East; the most sanguine expectations are formed of reaping the golo den harvests that wave on the fertile plains of Asia. The countless millions of people, and the princes, nabobs and viziers, wallowing in inexhaustible wealth, are supposed to await with impatience the happy era, that shall afford them full scope for exchanging the products of the one, and the treasures of the other, for British manufactures.
Such are, in substance and in fact, the extravagant expectations held out, in the most confident and peremptory tone, by several of the petitioners to parliament against the renewal of the Company's charter. It is but justice, however, to the merchants and manufacturers of Birmingham to observe, and we observe it with pleasure, that, severely as they, in particular, have felt the pressure of temporary distress, their petition is, of all others, the most moderate, reasonable, and respectful. It prays only that the new char, ter may be made subject to such modifications and conditions as may best promote the commerce and manufactures of the united kingdom;---in which prayer all moderate men must heartily concur. · If petitions to parliament always spoke the public feeling, the number already heaped on the table of the House of Commons, against the renewal of the charter, would be decisive of the question. But when popular odium and popular clamour have once been raised, there is seldom any want of petitioners ; and, if they should not be the most numerous party, they are always the loudest. The inhabitants of one town or district petition, though they have nothing to ask, because those of a neighbouring town or district have done the same. It is thus with the minister and parishioners of an interior district of Scotland, who pray for an open trade with India, though they have nothing in the world to trade with thither, except black cattle. Other petitioners are scarcely less extravagant in their expectations and demands. Can the potters of Staffordshire, for instance, possibly persuade themselves, that the destruction of the Company's monopoly will open a vent for their dishes among the Hindoos, who boil their rice in a coarse earther pot of the value of half a quarter of a farthing, which they break the next moment, to prevent its pollution by a second usage? Or, that the Chinese will deign to look at their tea cups and saucers, who pride themselves so highly, and so justly, on their own? Will the Howery and metaphorical petitioners of Sheffield renew the fatal experiment of Birmingham, in the hope of supplying the Hindoos with skaits, and the Malays with warming pang? Do the cutlers of Hallamshire expect that the Chinese will abandon their chopsticks, or the Hindoos and Mahomedans give up their fingers, to adopt their knives and forks? And that they shall drive a trade to the East fifty times wore extensive than to America, because, as they inform the House
of Commons, the former exceeds the latter in population fifty-fold, and in extent of territory seven-fold? Have the manufacturers of Paisley, in their zeal for innovation, brought themselves to believe that Scotch muslins will meet with a market among a people, who can afford to send their own, of a better quality, round one half the globe, and, after the expense of freight, insurance, interest of moa ney, and a duty equal to half their value, can, after all, rival them in their own markets? Or, if conceit has so far magnified the value of their own fabrics, can they be blind enough to imagine that their manufactures will be benefited by ship loads of India muslins and piece goods thrown into the port of Glasgow, under their very noses ? Or, lastly, will the manufacturers of Manchester and Bolton-in-the-moors, and the already disaffected in the West Riding of Yorkshire, rejoice at the arrival of the Liverpool Indiamen in the river Mersey, freighted with full cargoes of piece goods, and ginghams, and other choice fabrics of India ? Have these eager petitioners taken time to inquire coolly and dispassionately into the real state of Indian commerce, or have they inquired at all ? Or, is there not rather, as we observed above, a sort of fever raging in the mercantile world? : The indulgence of unreasonable expectations like these may injure, but cannot benefit, either individuals or the nation. There is, as there always will be, a disposition on all sides to give due consideration to the claims of the British merchants and manufactạrers; but the delusion which holds forth those sanguine and unwarrantable expectations and views, can end only in disappointment. . To hold out encouragement to the intemperate avidity which aims at nothing less than to cut up the goose, in order to get at once to the supposed treasure within her, might lead to consequences fatal to individuals, to the East India Company, and to the nation at large. It is agreed on all hands, that some modification of the Company's privileges is become necessary; that, what was good and proper in 1793, may neither be proper nor good in 1813; that change of time and circumstance, which has thrown a vast accession of territory into the hands of the East India Company, and added greatly to the general trading capital of the united. kingdom, demands a corresponding change in the terms of the Company's charter. It is but fair, therefore, both to the public of the united kingdom, and to the inhabitants of British India, that a wider scope should be given to the capital and industry of the one, and to the productive powers of the other. At the same time, it is also but justice to those, at- whose risk, and by whose management, those vast possessions have been acquired and preserved, that their rights and privileges should not be rudely assailed, forcibly or wantonly torn from them, or trampled under foot. If less violence