Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 1, 1879
to Mr. Evarts.
London, September 19, 1879. (Received October 8.)
Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith reports (in duplicate) from the Daily News of this date, of speeches lately delivered by the Earl of Beaconsfield, Earl Derby, and others, in relation to the prevalent agricultural and commercial distress in Great Britain.
I have, &c.,
Lord Beaconsfield at Aylesbury.
[The Daily News, Friday, September 19, 1879.]
The speech of the evening—the work of an hour and ten minutes—was devoted, as will be seen from the subjoined report, to the subject of agricultural depression, and was really an elaboration of the Mansion House speech, in which the English land system was contrasted and held to be superior to some continental systems of peasant [Page 454] proprietorship. In the hour of their adversity the premier thought it did not become him to be absent from the gathering of his agricultural friends. His counsel to them was not to think too much of American competition, not to conclude that what might only be transitory was permanent, and not to take precipitate steps. On a high authority he assured the company that Canada expected to beat the United States out of the European market. He counseled aid between landlords and tenants, based upon a reciprocal acquaintance with each other’s duties and necessities. Ten per cent. reduction of rent might in some cases be a very agreeable Christmas-box, but he knew instances in which this reduction would be utterly insufficient. This was a sentiment very emphatically cheered, whereupon Lord Beaconsfield, with what was hailed as sly touch of humor, added that he knew other cases in which even 10 per cent. reduction was not necessary. Subsequently defending the agricultural holdings act against the assertion that it is a sham, he declared that quite a stream of mendacity had flowed, on the subject of that statute. For an effective conclusion the premier chose a diatribe against a party whom he accused of hostility to the agricultural interest. Their first step, he said, had been to agitate agricultural laborers against their employers, but the absurdity of the attempt to represent them as unprosperous was too great. The same party he accused of now attempting to set tenants against landlord. These classes were not thus, however, to be devoured singly; and England would recognize that in the just cause of the agricultural interestwas the best security for liberty and law.
The annual meeting of the Royal and Central Bucks Agricultural Association was held to-day at Walton Grange, near this town, under the presidency of the Earl of Beaconsfield.
The Earl of Beaconsfield. Gentlemen, I have now to propose our good wishes for the prosperity of this association. I cannot say that it is an easy task. I have had the honor of filling this chair before. I have—at a period which cannot be remembered by any occupant of the gallery, for it is between forty and fifty years ago—[laughter]—I have assisted at the birth and formation of this institution. I have witnessed its fortunes under many different circumstances and at different conjunctions, but I cannot conceal from myself that I never met my friends the farmers of Buckinghamshire under circumstances more difficult and desponding than the present. [Hear.] I did not form that opinion from the exhibition which we examined this morning near the agreeable residence to which we all repaired. I thought it gave some evidence of the prosperity, or at least of the pluck—that great characteristic of the British farmer—for all that we saw was much to be admired; some was to be more than admired, and recognized as excellent. Our show to-day was one which I confess somewhat surprised and greatly pleased me. I was also glad on that account to find that our cottage contributors had sent their beautiful offerings to our exhibition, and I saw in those flowers, and in those fanciful creations of their horticulture, evidence that even at this moment, when the strain upon rural life is great, they at least are not insensible to the charms of nature. It would be affectation if I did not avow some consciousness at least of the feelings which must permeate almost all our bosoms. I was elected, much to my gratification, last year to this post, and I feel the honor, coming from those whom continuously for thirty years I had the honor to represent in the House of Commons, and it is a duty to fulfill which, without affectation, is often inconvenient to one who, from whatever cause it may be, occupies the position I now do. Under ordinary circumstances I might have asked you to excuse me, but in the hour of your adversity I did not think it becoming to be absent. [Cheers.] Gentlemen, there can be no question that there is at this moment in the agricultural interests of this country a strain, certainly unprecedented in the lives of all present, and probably not easily to be equalled even in the records of our history. It has been announced, and it has been intimated as a subject fit for popular suggestion by one who may be considered a high authority, that the present unsatisfactory state of affairs may perhaps be traced to the constitution of our system, and that the agricultural system has, to use the words which you are now familiar with, broken down. It has broken down, we are told, because there are general expressions of discontent with the situation, and because there is undoubtedly considerable distress.
Well, gentlemen, a year ago, when a bank in the commercial capital of Scotland suddenly broke, when it shook that highly civilized country to its very center, when it affected some of the greatest commercial houses, houses carrying on the greatest commercial business in the world, when it produced a state of affairs, a distress, which I can hardly describe—a condition of desolation—nobody went about and said that this was proof that the commercial system of this country had broken down. [Hear, hear.] And a few years before that I remember that there was a day of deepest anxiety for this country, a day still remembered as Black Friday, when the commercial credit of this country had ceased for four-and-twenty hours to exist. Nobody then went about and said that the commercial system of England had broken down. [Hear, [Page 455] hear.] Why, if you were to pursue the subject further, which at this moment it may not be convenient for want of time to do, I remember even an earlier period when one of the highest authorities in this country said that we were within four-and-twenty hours of a state of barter, this great country with its many resources. But nobody went about and said because there was this strain and distress that the commercial system of England had broken down. For the moment, however, there is distress on the part of the agricultural interest, and I am sorry to say there are some who seem eager to recognize not only signs of distress, but of decadence and destitution Then we find them going about and announcing that these circumstances are symptomatic of the breakdown of the agricultural system. Gentlemen, I think it is of the utmost importance that upon this subject there should be clear opinions. I presume to indicate what I think is the wisest course for us—all classes of the agricultural interest— to pursue at the present moment, but I think it of great importance that clear ideas as to your situation, as to your position, as to your responsibility, should prevail, because you may be hurried into conclusions and into conduct which, if you had been better informed, or had given further thought to the matter, you would not perhaps have sanctioned and adopted. Now it has been intimated by a great authority that the cause of our agricultural system having broken down may probably be that it is unlike the agricultural system of any other country, that it is founded upon an unnatural principle, that it is essentially artificial, and that the essence of its artificial character is that in this country three classes are dependent upon the produce of the soil, who are, according to that system, necessary to its cultivation. I have taken an opportunity, the earliest I had with convenience, to meet opinions which I think are most fallacious and must be most disadvantageous to the country. I have laid it down as a principle which can be demonstrated in the most complete and satisfactory manner, that whatever may be your tenure of the land, whatever may be the number of classes concerned in its management and cultivation, there must be what are now familiarly termed three profits obtained from the land. The cultivator of the soil, who does the manual labor, naturally says, “I will not cultivate the soil without my being fed, and clothed, and nourished for my pay,” and that I take to be a reward which is called wages. Then the cultivator of the soil—whatever he may be called, farmer or otherwise—who furnishes the floating capital which is to stock the soil, and who must have a return for his investment and then there is the capitalist who finds the capital, which, like that of the farmers, must have a return, or the capital never would be advanced. In the third instance I say that whether the cultivator of the soil pays for his farm from his savings, or, as is usually the case under such circumstances, by borrowing his interest or the return for his capital is in fact rent. When we are told that the agricultural system has broken down because three profits, by our system, are required from the soil, it is as well to show that in a system the most contrary to the system which has existed in this country—namely, that which prevails in some continental countries in the shape of peasant proprietorship—although only one individual takes the three profits, still the three profits must be claimed. I do that because it has been said I was very unfair, in alluding to a distinguished man who had touched on these subjects, to say that it was his wish to introduce peasant proprietorship as the cure of evils in this country. Now that reasoning, that view of the case, has been questioned; but I could adduce overwhelming evidence, had the opportunity justified it, on this subject—one most interesting and most vital in our consideration of the agricultural position. You have all heard of, and many have known, the Association for the Benefit of Agricultural Laborers. The newspapers have circulated their views and express them with energy and propriety. I read one of these journals, and learned their scheme for the elevation of this country. What is that? I will put it before you briefly, because on an occasion like the present I know that brevity must be studied. It is their opinion that this country ought to institute a vast body of small proprietors. They have fixed the amount of the proprietorship at twelve acres. They have worked it out in complete detail, and call upon the country, upon the government of the country, to carry it into effect. Now, what are these details? I mention the most important and the most interesting. It is calculated, according to the society, that a quantity of land, amounting to twelve acres, with a farmstead and necessary buildings, may be obtained for a little more than £600 or for £610, and they propose that a sum of £40 per annum should be paid for 30 years for the holding; at the end of the payment of that sum it would become freehold. But they are not sanguine that those who embark in those speculations will agree to pay £40 a year, which I will not call rent, but on which you can form your own opinions. They expect that the £800 in round numbers would be arranged at 4 per cent., that is, at £24 a year. They are paying £24 a year for 12 acres—that is, £2 an acre. Is that rent or is it not? It is not the average rent of the county of Buchingham, as that is 25s. You see what the scheme is of those who would protect the land, but they propose also, that being done, the country should supply each holder of those 12-acre farms with £120, to stock the farm, and also they call upon him not merely to return interest, but they look to him to supply what we may call [Page 456] the wear and tear of that stock. What is that but the duty which the farmer is now fulfilling Well, having bought his land under these circumstances, paying a heavier rent than is usual, and obtaining a floating capital by the credit of the state, no doubt the man may probably cultivate 12 acres with effect. But while he cultivates these 12 acres he will expect to be paid, he will expect to be lodged, he will expect to be clothed, and the third profit will appear in the shape of wages. Therefore according to the very accounts and the very estimates of those who are offering their wild schemes as the cure for one evil, three profits must arise from the land. I know, gentlemen, that these are questions which require some attention. Your position is critical at this moment, and you must give your minds to these questions. I know it may be said that after all we don’t care, we don’t fear the competition of Europe, but we do fear the competition of America. [A voice, “Hear, hear.”] Well now, first let me show you for a moment what is the competition of-Europe. If this new system, this new theory is adopted, that the assumed breakdown of the agricultural system of England is occasioned by its having to support three classes, and I have shown you that, whether there is one class or three classes, equally three profits must be received—and myself I believe that it is much more advantageous to a country that the three profits should be divided among three classes than that they should be received by one. It has given to this country an independent class; it has, I think, worked well for the liberty of England and its order; it has given us in the farmer the most important portion of the middle-class, which all wise men have looked upon as one of the best elements for the security of the state—[hear, hear]; and it has given you an agricultural peasantry which, whatever they may say—and the charges against us with respect to their position are generally made by those who are not acquainted with it—I know myself, from my own experience, happens to be that portion of the agricultural hierarchy that at this moment is most prosperous and content. [Cheers.] Well, now, I say, before I touch on America, which my friend, naturally interested, wished me to do, let me make one remark on this subject of peasant proprietors. I introduced originally the question of peasant proprietors, where one individual obtains the three profits, as the complete answer to those who said that because three profits were obtained the unsatisfactory state of the agricultural interest might be explained. But in France, we know on the highest authority, the question of peasant proprietorship has been, tried upon the greatest scale. There are by the best accounts in France 5,000,000 peasant proprietors who do not hold more than six acres of land—that is, 30,000,000 of acres. The experiment has been tried upon 30,000,000 acres; and what is the result of the experiment? You may refine and explain as you like; but what is the result of the experiment of these 5,000,000 proprietors, occupying a superfices of 30,000,000 acres, compared with what our 500,000 farmers have done? Remember what you are trying this test on. France has a most fertile soil, while that of England is ungrateful. You are trying it when that fertile soil is managed by the most ingenious and thrifty nation in the world—that can make something out of nothing—[laughter]—that spend in its management the greatest ability. But what is the result? It is that the production of England per acre is double that of France. The average of England is 28 bushels per acre; in France it is 14. I say that these are subjects that ought to be well understood by all classes of the agricultural interests.
The summing up is this, that when we are told that our agricultural system has failed in consequence of three classes being sustained by the land, I say that is a complete fallacy, for whatever may be your tenure the same results will occur. Three profits under all circumstances must be obtained from the land, and the question arises whether it is not better that the amount of profit should be represented by three classes rather than by one class. Proceeding in this argument, let me refer to the exclamation of a gentleman respecting America. I do not deny the great difficulties we have to encounter, and I should have been glad at once to avert to them, but with your permission I would make some brief remarks on the American question. We hear every day that it is impossible to compete with America. [Hear, hear.] There may be other causes which have prostrated our energy at the present moment, but I will not give any decided opinion on that matter. It is a singular circumstance that at this moment the greatest apprehension is felt in the United States that they cannot compete with Canada. [Laughter.] The taxation in America is so high, the rates of wages are so high, that it is impossible, according to some of the best American authorities, that they can any longer continue to successfully compete with Canada. What is the position of Canada? If we are to be fed by Canada, it is at least satisfactory that we shall be fed by our fellow subjects. But let us look for a moment at the situation of Canada, which is most peculiar. Since the surrender of the Hudson Bay Company and the settlement of their affairs, the dominion of Canada became possessed of what I might almost describe as an illimitable wilderness, and a wilderness of fertile land. Now, it is a peculiar circumstance, one to be noted, that the dominion of Canada is not in favor of peasant proprietorship. What the dominion of Canada is anxious for is a great yeoman class. It has legislated with that purpose. Its legislation is now an influence for that purpose; and let us see what is their legislation. [Page 457] Every harvestman, every man of fair character who comes to Canada, has a right to apply to the government to claim and to obtain what is called a quarter-section of land. That quarter-section of land consists of 160 acres. He receives those 160 acres on condition that at the end of three years he will reduce them to perfect cultivation, and that in the interval he will raise a substantial and real building upon the land. At the end of those three years the government inspector visits the allotment, and if it is found that the farmer has fulfilled the conditions, that he has completely cultivated the 160 acres and raised the necessary buildings, he is permitted to receive an equal quantity, that is to say, another quarter-section of 160 acres, on the payment of a dollar an acre, and no greater payment, even if the value of land in the interval had greatly increased. You will observe from the first moment that this is not a scheme of small peasant proprietors. It is not likely that a man will be able to reduce 320 acres to cultivation and erect buildings on the land through his own efforts. He must begin and proceed with hired labor. What is hired labor in Canada? Hired labor is less than hired labor in the United States. The rudest laborer will get 12s. a day, and a skilled laborer 16s. or 18s. The first thing that the new yeoman does—What I say I say on the highest authority—is to calculate the value of his freehold. The value of his freehold depends on the amount he has to pay during those six years in hired labor, in buildings, and the amount lie paid for the last quarter-section; and at four per cent. he writes off interest. What is that but rent? Now, there is another very curious circumstance which I will venture £o mention on this occasion, because I have heard it from as high an authority on the subject as can be conceived, and that is, that the sudden cultivation years ago of the extreme Western States of the United States, which first, I think, alarmed this country and drew its attention to it, and, no doubt affected prices; that in that country the production, which was extreme at the commencement, has been reduced one-third, generally speaking, and in some provinces one-half; and that the chief pioneers who advanced so greatly the cultivation of the extreme Western States of the United States have all sold, or to a great degree have sold their farms, and have sold them, allow me to say, at $30 and $40 an acre, showing, as an essential thing, that there was a basis of rent included in the arrangement, inseparable to the tenure. They have sold their farms, and they are now repairing to the illimitable wilderness of Canada. You will ask me what is my inference. My inference is a practical one. It may not be an interesting one. It may not be a satisfactory one; but I think you will, on reflection, deem it a wise one, that, placed where you are, as far as foreign competition is concerned, it is wise not to take—I speak to the landlord and the occupier equally—it is wise not to take precipitate steps. Take care that you do not conclude that that is permanent which is only transitory, though upon that subject I give no opinion, because I think it would be presumption in any one of us to give any opinion. But still I feel convinced that where you have to deal with new circumstances, that where you find them of so transitory a nature that the very land that four or five years ago, by its extraordinary produce of fifty bushels an acre, affected the market in England and frightened all those who are competent to think, to ponder, and to form an opinion upon it, I say it is wise when you see circumstances so transitory that the very place of competition is doubtful, and when you hear—and you hear through me, I will not say from me, oh high authority—that Canada expects completely and successfully to beat the United States from the European markets, it is wise for us not to take any precipitate steps. [Loud cheers.] There is another reason why I think, in considering the present position of the agricultural interests, it is unwise to act with precipitation. Let us for a moment dismiss from our minds all external considerations. Let us look at what has passed in our own country during the last five years. And has nothing passed which may account for a great deal of distress and suffering? Is it not a fact that for five years the farmer has sought in vain for a quick and matured produce to his labors? Is it not a fact, I venture to say in the memory of any man in this hall, that there is no instance in our recollection of such continuous dearth as there has been in England during the last five years? We have had bad harvests; we have had as bad harvests as any men have had to encounter, but we have not had a cluster of bad harvests. You have gone on and on, fairly hoping that nature would reassert itself; and if you had one or two bad harvests you have always believed that the time would naturally come in which you would find a remedy. Well, that is not the case; but it is necessary that we should be conscious of it, for there is a strain upon the proprietors of the land which they have not in our experience ever endured. Well, what is the natural course that we should take; what is the step we should pursue under such circumstances? I cannot doubt what is the course we ought to take. The rents of England have been calculated upon a fair average of nature. Our experience of the results of what has happened during he last five years has been entirely contrary to those calculations, and to my mind it is the duty, and, for all I hear, it may be the willing duty of the proprietors of the soil to come forward, to stand by that class with regard to whom there had never been any want of affection and duty and devotion. [Cheers.] I say that I believe the landlords of England are prepared to do their duty on this occasion, but what I want to [Page 458] impress upon you, and if I may presume to do so, upon members of the agricultural interest who are not present in this hall, is, that it is of vital importance that they should thoroughly comprehend the present state of affairs and act in a manner which is necessary, and in a spirit which is indispensable. [Cheers.] Now, I do not want to take refuge in general expressions. I say for one that reduction of rent calculated on the uniform percentage of the rent does not appear to me to be a panacea for the evils which we have to encounter, or the remedy for those calamities which most of us experience and all acknowledge. When I consider the variety of the soils in this country, the variety of climes even, I would say, in this island; when I remember the peculiar circumstances of districts, I would even say the peculiar circumstances of estates; when I mention what I know is a fact, and which many of you must know, that in the same district, with the same conditions, with the same soil, with the same climate, with the same amount of labor, the rents are very different as to the rate at which they are apportioned; it seems to me there is only one conclusion to arrive at, that we should examine every individual instance, and that the aid which landlord and tenant should give each other should be from reciprocal acquaintance of each other’s duties and necessities. Ten per cent. reduction of rent may be in some instances a very agreeable Christmas-box if it comes at the time, but I know instances in which ten per cent. reduction of rent would be utterly insufficient to the circumstances of the case. [Cheers.] Allow me to say, however—I consider myself in a judicial position, and therefore you will permit me to say—that there are some cases in which even ten per cent. reduction of rent is not necessary. [Laughter and cheers.]
Gentlemen, this is the spirit in which I think the present state of affairs ought to be encountered. I would not too curiously inquire upon the question of the competition of America, and I will tell you why: I have had an opportunity lately of some conversation on this subject with one who may probably be considered the highest living authority on such matters—which are almost as political, I may say, as statistical—and he told me that he was quite perplexed, after the deepest and most minute inquiry, as to what would be the result to Canada of 200 millions of the acres of the wilderness being gradually brought into cultivation. He said he saw there were some who believed—and he shared that opinion—that under all circumstances the market of the United States would be destroyed, but as regarded Canada itself, he said if the influx of population were to go on as it was going on now—but that we can’t expect—in consequence of these fertile acres being placed at their disposal, he could not tell what might be the consequences. That population would demand itself not only sustenance but extravagant and extreme sustenance, as always happened in California, when even money was made quickly; and for his part he should not be surprised, with the impulsive character of humanity of the United States, if that wilderness which so now alarmed us was not soon occupied by consuming millions. Therefore, I say that it is not wise at this moment to attempt to take into precise consideration the influence of those markets. When that influence is ascertained it will be recognized, and we must act upon it. But we ought to take into consideration the influence of unfruitful seasons in this country. This is a subject which we cannot avoid, which is fatally and painfully precise. It has had an effect upon the condition of the farming class that never was anticipated, and never could have been wished by the owners of land. We have always heard that their interests were identical, that between the landlord and the tenant there were feelings of regard and affection, and I have always had a most solemn and sincere belief in this operation; but if ever there were a case in which that sympathy should be shown it is the present. It would be not merely a great danger for ourselves, but it would be a great danger for England that the farming class should be reduced either in influence or in numbers. [Cheers.] I would make one more remark upon the position in which we are placed with reference to the want of precise information as to the effect of American produce on our position in England. I may remind you that we have, by a royal commission sent to the United States and Canada, two men of your own class—men of considerable ability—men who have had the advantage of enlightened opportunity in the House of Commons for many years to become acquainted with those principles on which a state ought to be governed. These two men—two great ornaments of the farming class in this country, are visiting America, and I await with confidence and interest their communications. But let me say there is no reason why, because we are placed in an indefinite position with regard to foreign supplies, and have taken all these means to obtain information, farmers of England should not take every legitimate step to make their position more satisfactory if they have occasion to complain. I want to remind you of a subject which is sometimes forgotten—the introduction by the present government of the agricultural holdings act. That bill is described by a stupid word generally used by stupid people. The bill is called a sham [laughter] by those who have never read the act and never studied it, and never profited by it. [Laughter.] I will show you in a sentence or two that that act is a living act. It is an act of the utmost advantage to the farmers already, and if they were wise it would be productive of great future advantage. That act in the first place, for the first time in English [Page 459] legislation, gave the presumption of all improvements in the land to the credit of the farmer and not to the landlord. That alone was a very great affair. That act secure compensation to the farmer for unexhausted improvements, and it did it in a manner which met the wants of different classes of improvements. It gave the best security that no dissension and quarrels should occur between the landlord and occupier. That act also extended the period of notice to quit from six to twelve months. You may say, and I know it will be said by those who know nothing about it, that all the world have contracted themselves out of this act. A great many persons have contracted themselves out of that act who ought not to have done so, and a great many men are now ashamed of having contracted themselves out of it; but I let that pass. Such an extraordinary stream of mendacity has been poured on this act that I need not dwell on the point at length. It was said, for instance, that the noble duke who brought the bill forward had contracted himself out of the act. My noble friend, the Duke of Richmond, has always given leases to his tenants. He prefers leases. Therefore it was impossible for him to contract himself out of the act. The other minister who brought it forward in the House of Commons was a gentleman who was a member for the county of Buckingham, and I defy any one to say that any of his tenants contracted themselves out of it. [Laughter.] I have seen a great many of these contracts, and they deal with the varying conditions of the soil and climate of England, and we find cases where the contracting parties, knowing nothing about it, have made contracts agreeing to all the vital points in the act, and the only disadvantage the occupier and tenant have is that the contracts are drawn up in a manner which may involve them in litigation, whereas if they had stuck to the act of Parliament they would have avoided that. [Laughter.] In most of these contracts I find that notice to quit is increased to one year. That is not as far as I would wish to go, as I have often said, but no doubt the arrangement was a prudent one. Most of their contracts agree, as a matter of course, that the tenant is to be compensated for his investment in the soil. Gentlemen, before I sit down I must make one remark, and I ought to apologize for having spoken at this length—you will remember that one gets garrulous when one meets one’s old friends. You will not forget the various scenes that have taken place with reference to this society—the struggles we have had, and the contests that we have had to encounter—and you will never forget that for a term, longer than a generation, you intrusted to me the greatest honor of my life, the honor of being your representative. [Cheers.] I did not think I should be doing my duty to-day in merely meeting you at a time of strain and trial like the present, and indulging only in a few commonplace remarks. There is no doubt that there is a party in this England—I don’t believe a very numerous party, but a very busy one—who always view with feelings of hostility the agricultural interests. They do so because they are opposed to the free and aristocratic government [cheers] that still prevails in this country, and which it is to the interest of the agriculturists to maintain. You may get rid of it, gentlemen, but you will have either a despotism that ends in a democracy or a democracy that ends in despotism. [Cheers.] A year ago, when the pressure was first touching us, in addition to the general sufferings of the country, when it began to be whispered that the agricultural interest was suffering, that party sprung immediately to their heels. They saw a golden opportunity, as they thought, and their first step was an attempt to agitate among the agricultural laborers of the country. Fortunately, those men who attempted to agitate in rural England were thorough cockneys. [Laughter.] They were not, perhaps, born in London, but they were born in another town that often makes a greater noise. If they had known anything of country life they would have known they had got the stick by the wrong end; that if there were any class connected with the land in England that was unusually prosperous it was the agricultural laborer. But when those meetings were held and the dreadful news was announced that agricultural laborers in some parts of England were only getting 14s. a week, the absurdity of the whole affair was too ludicrous for contemplation. Even the agricultural laborers who made those complaints could scarcely keep their countenances. They knew well that during the last 40 years their wages had been raised 40 per cent. They knew very well that with those increased wages their purchasing power of all that was requisite for life was immensely increased. They knew very well that throughout England to a great extent their habitations were greatly improved—in themselves a source not only of health but of income—and, in fact, the agitation founded upon data so fallacious quickly evaporated. But another year has passed, and the strain upon the farmers of England is excessive and lamentable. But a year ago they were setting the agricultural laborers against the farmers, now they are attempting to set the farmers against the landlords. It will never do. The Government of England will always be supported by those who know the spirit of justice and liberality on which it is based. We will not consent to be devoured singly and alone. We have stood together Under many trials, and England has recognized that in the influence, the best influence, of the agricultural interest there is the best security for liberty and law. [Loud cheering.][Page 460]
Mr. Terry proposed “The health of the Earl of Beaconsfield,” not only as president of the association hut as prime minister of England. [Loud cheers.]
Lord Beaconsfield. If I am prime minister of England, next to the favor of my sovereign I owe it to the county of Bucks. [Cheers.] I have already trespassed on your time, therefore I will merely say that I hope always to live in your affections. [Loud cheers.]
Lord Derby and Mr. Cross at Southport.
[The Daily News, Friday, September 19, 1879.]
Southport was favored to-day with very fine weather on the occasion of the cutting of the first sod of its important promenade extension, and the laying of the foundation stone of the New Market Hall, for both of which ceremonies the services of the Earl of Derby had been secured.
After luncheon at the town-hall the party visited the glaciarum and the public baths, and in the evening were entertained at a banquet given by the mayor.
Lord Derby, in responding to the toast of his health, proposed by the mayor, said: Mr. Mayor, my lords, and gentlemen, I should be more indifferent than I ever have been, or than I hope I ever shall be, to the good opinion and to the kindly feelings of my friends and neighbors in Lancashire, if I could listen unmoved to the kind expressions which have been used by the mayor, and to the cordial response which you have given to the words that fell from him. I know that any public man in this country, by the nature ‘and necessity of his calling, must make enemies as well as friends [hear, hear], but I always have observed this, that the English people are ready to put not only a just but a generous construction upon the sayings and doings of any public man whom they believe to be sincerely and disinterestedly anxious to promote the public weal. [Hear, hear.] Of course, in times of excitement, there will be a little mud thrown on all sides, and if a man engaged in public life objects to a few splashes of mud, I should say he is no more fit to be a politician than he is to be a fox-hunter. [Hear, hear.] But I am sure of this—that no man ever for a series of years endeavored to serve England, putting the interest of England first and his own in the second place, who lost by it in the long run, if, as I believe, the only thing really worth gaining in public life is the esteem and approbation of your fellow-men. [Cheers] Well, gentlemen, the wise man never talks about himself if he can help it, and for my own part I have very often been reminded of a passage which struck me in the American Franklin’s “Memoirs,” in which he says casually, “I have observed that if a man prefaces what he is going to utter with these words, ‘I may without vanity’, you may be sure that a very notable piece of vanity is being put forward.” [Applause.] I am not going to fall into that trap, and I turn from the personal part of the question. And now, gentlemen, I proceed to discharge the very agreeable duty with which, by permission of the mayor, I have been intrusted—that of proposing the toast of “Prosperity to the town and trade of Southport.” The noble lord then referred to the rapid growth of Southport, the population of which in 1861 was only 9,000, compared with 18,000 in 1871, and 33,000 in the present year, the ratable value of the borough having increased from £30,000 in 1841 to upwards of £200,000 at the present day. His lordship continued: It is hardly possible now to meet upon any public occasion without reference to that which is in all our minds, and which occasionally is brought home to many of us in a very practical way—I mean that general depression in all branches of industry of which we cannot flatter ourselves that we have yet seen the end. It is some satisfaction to be able to trace out the causes of that depression, because in so doing we have the best assurance that many of them at least are not of a permanent character. [Hear, hear.] We have had in the last three years weather affecting our harvests which we may fairly call exceptionally bad. We have had in the same time two small wars on hand, and apprehensions of war on a greater scale. Now, we may feel tolerably sure that the bad weather will not continue indefinitely, and I hope we maybe sure that the unfavorable circumstances to which I have referred are not such as will be of perpetual duration. [Cheers.] Then, again, during the last few years we, as a nation, have burnt our fingers pretty handsomely with foreign loans, and I sup-. pose we have learnt wisdom enough to know that despotic and half-barbarous governments are not to be trusted with other people’s money—[loud cheers]—in fact, that about the only governments which are fit to be trusted with money are those who very seldom want it. Better harvests, peaceable times, and a stoppage of the draw upon our savings by foreign loans will go a long way to bring about better times; and although I do not wish to take an unduly optimist view of the situation, and although I do not deny in the least the reality and severity of the distress that exists in many employments, still there are some facts which I frankly own I cannot, for my part, altogether reconcile with what I see and hear. There has been no doubt a falling off in [Page 461] the consumption of articles subject to duty during the last twelve months, as you see by the weekly returns. It is a falling off, no doubt, sufficient to be inconvenient to the chancellor of the exchequer, and therefore inconvenient in its consequences to us. But it is not enough, so far as it has gone yet, to indicate any large decrease of consuming power on the part of the working classes as a whole. Well, so again the returns of the savings banks deposits up to the last few months show no diminution, but, on the contrary, an increase. It is a very slight increase, but still it is not a falling off. I was told the other day by a person who is in a position to know what he was talking about, that in the very largest business center of all this country, where, if anywhere, one might expect to feel the consequences of a general depression, he had seen the income-tax returns (including a portion of this year), and they showed not a diminution, but on the whole a slight increase on those of the year before. That is a fact of which necessarily I can only speak second-hand; but if you look at the public returns, which are accessible to all the world, you will see that, although incomes liable to taxes have declined a little in the last year, still, if you go back a little further, and include the last ten years, you will find an enormous increase, an increase from 430 to 570 millions, showing 140 millions to the good. Now, gentlemen, I give you these facts for what they are worth. I know perfectly well what there is to be said, and there is a great deal to be said, on the other side. [Hear, hear.] I found no theory upon that. All that I want to do is to protest against that which 1 think is becoming far too common among us the habit of jumping hastily and headlong to sweeping conclusions on the most important subjects on very inadequate data. [Applause.]
Five years ago prosperity was at its height, and not one person in a hundred cared to observe that which nevertheless was sufficiently obvious—that a great deal of the enormous apparent increase of our wealth was only due to a fall in the purchasing power of money, making everything salable seeming to be a great deal more than it had been, and necessarily entailing upon holders of fixed incomes a corresponding amount of loss. [Hear, hear.] Now, because we have had four or five bad years, half the people you talk to are in the opposite extreme, and begin to speculate on the decline of English commerce and wealth. They may be right; it is impossible to prove they are not. Some time or other the turning point between advance and decline must arise in the history of every nation; but it would be very easy to show, if any one cared to, that the same kind of language we habitually hear now has been used at least in every generation for the last century and a half. [Laughter.] I wish that those who are inclined to despond as to the industrial future of the country would look back sixty years to the time which immediately followed the close of the great European war. That was really a time of trial. We were very glorious, we were very victorious, and by an unfortunate combination, which perhaps is not rare in history, that state of things was accompanied by a discontented and pauperized population and an almost desperate condition of finances. That was a time when, if ever, men might have been excused if they desponded. The annual income of the nation was certainly not above one-half, probably not more than one-third, of what it is now. The debt at that time pressed therefore as heavily upon those who had to pay the interest as a debt of two thousand millions does in the present day. Every article was taxed to the utmost it would bear, and beyond; and that not in substitution of, but in addition to, an income tax of ten per cent. There were circumstances a good deal more unpleasant than we find now; but we endured and persevered, and we know the result. No other country than England has grown so rapidly in wealth in the last 60 years, and I say it is unmanly, it is unworthy, to talk now in a desponding strain because we have had a few losses and because we may have a few more. Take two great divisions of our industry —agriculture and manufacture. As to agriculture, I do not deny, and I do not attempt to minimize, the severe suffering which has fallen both upon landlords and upon their tenants; but I may note in passing, that so far as I have been able to observe, the condition of the third class concerned in agriculture, that of the laborer, has not been depreciated to the same extent. [Hear, hear.] I take it that upon the whole the agricultural laborer throughout England is better off than he was a generation ago. [Hear, hear, and applause.] His wages are higher, and there is labor tor every one if he chooses to work. But returning to the other two classes concerned, what of their future? [Hear, hear.] I do not understand the language of those—although I have heard it pretty often—who talk about the possibility of the land of England going out of cultivation. The last three years have been altogether exceptional in point of weather, and we cannot judge by them. [Hear, hear.] But when that exceptional time is over we shall be able to judge better than we can at present what the real effect of foreign competition has been upon our agriculture; and, therefore, what will be in the future a fair settlement as between landlord and tenant. But observe this, the tenant can only suffer for a time. [Hear, hear.] When existing contracts are run out it is his own fault if he renews the engagement on any terms disadvantageous to himself. [Hear, hear.] Therefore, speaking of the class as a whole, and speaking of their powers and interest, I say whatever the depreciation in the value of land may be, the tenant will not be a considerable loser in the long run. [Hear, hear.] Whatever [Page 462] loss there is must fall in the end—I do not say exclusively, hut mainly—on the owner of the soil. [Hear, hear.] Now, I am a landowner myself, and naturally I sympathize with my friends who are in the same position, and think there may probably be a large, possibly a very large, reduction of agricultural rents throughout England; but if we look at the matter from a national point of view, I cannot help saying that the reduction of rent duty, and the lower price at which food can be obtained by the population, is not for the entire community an unmixed or unqualified evil. [Hear, hear.] No doubt the producer of food, or rather the owner of the land upon which it is produced, would lose, but consumers gain, and after all they are the majority. [Hear, hear, and applause.] That, therefore, is my summary of the agricultural situation—probably heavy loss falling upon One class, but probably, also, if you cast the balance, considerable compensation for that loss in a national point of view by the greater cheapness of food. [Applause.] As to our manufacturing industries, it is a far more difficult and complicated question, and I think no one can doubt that if we are to be prevented from drawing from foreign markets, and not only from foreign markets, but from those of our own colonies, by protective tariffs, that will be one of the heaviest blows which this country has ever felt. Is that really to be apprehended? In the United States, as we know, the principle of protection reigns supreme; but Americans are about the quickest-witted people that now exist upon the earth, and they are the most receptive of any new ideas, and I can hardly bring myself to believe that they will be likely long to create and maintain at the public expense a privileged class of manufacturers and producers as on the Continent. But it is hardly accurate to say, as is often stated, that protectionist ideas have obtained the ascendency. The fact is that the great monarchies of Europe care little about protection or free trade. Emperors and field marshals don’t concern themselves with such vulgar themes. [Laughter.] They want money, they want to keep up those gigantic armaments, and they must have the money from some quarter. They find it difficult to get it and they don’t much care how they get it, whether it is by protection or not. [A laugh.] This condition of things cannot last forever. [Hear, hear.] It is not for me to predict how or when it is likely to end; but that it must end before many years are over seems to be beyond a doubt. [Applause.] I know it is hard to say to men who are suffering, and know better than I do what they are suffering from, that there is nothing for you but to wait; but still, whatever losses there are you had better trust in tried remedies than in remedies which may only aggravate the complaint, and exercise severe economy, private, and, I will venture to say, public also—[applause]—as a duty and necessity. I think also it will be well for those who act as leaders of the workingman to consider whether in the case of industries which are not likely soon to revive there is not a better chance for the men beyond the seas than in this country. [Applause.] They will do very little good by strikes, but they may really do some good to themselves and to their mates by limiting their numbers, and those who go will have the satisfaction of thinking that they assist those who stay behind. [Hear, hear.] Now, gentlemen, I ought really to apologize to you for the length with which I have addressed you. My only excuse is, that as you called upon me to address you, I thought you would rather that I gave you a serious opinion upon the questions of the day, whether you agree in what I have said or not, than that I should confine myself to mere compliments and commonplaces. [Applause.] Gentlemen, I beg to give you the toast which I have been authorized to propose, “Prosperity to the town and trade of Southport.” With that toast I couple the name of Mr. Alderman Nicholson, the ex-mayor, and Mr. Alderman Griffiths. His lordship sat down amidst great cheering.
The next toast was that of “The members of Parliament and the high sheriff of the county.”
Lord Houghton, in responding to the toast, and speaking Of the House of Lords, said he had not been in the House very long, but he had been there long enough to feel the influence of the house of Derby. When he first entered the House it was a despotic influence, now it was a prevalent influence, and he believed in every case it was for the good of this country. He had learned the lesson that the House of Lords was as much a representative assembly as the House of Commons. By indirect means, by influences which permeated through the minds of educated men, the House of Lords became as conscious of the sense of the public opinion of England as the House of Commons. [Hear, hear.] And this they would allow him to say, that if by any government whatever changes were proposed in the legislation of this kingdom, he might almost say in the constitution of this kingdom, changes in the land laws, changes in the order of succession, changes in the game laws, changes in other forms of legislation which he believed would be as inevitably produced by the present state of things in this country as was the repeal of the corn laws by the famine in Ireland, he did not believe that any government that had the courage to produce those measures before the House of Lords would find any invincible or even difficult resistance. [Hear, hear.]
Mr. Cross, the home secretary, responded on behalf of the House of Commons. Having expressed his sense of the cordiality of the welcome given to him, and his [Page 463] pleasure at meeting Lord Derby, one of his oldest friends, and one whom he knew to be one of the kindest of neighbors, and the best of landlords, he said that he agreed with much that had fallen from his lordship’s lips on the subject of the depression of trade in this country, and he wished to supplement one or two remarks that he had made. When they spoke of this depression they ought to remember that they were comparing it with a time of the greatest possible inflation—an inflation of all commercial communities, and what he called an undue inflation—which existed four or five years ago. He thought that that had much to do not only with the gloomy view which people had now taken of the present depression, but also with the production of the depression itself. Another evil that it had produced was the leading in all ranks of life to a too high scale of living. People had come to think that those things which were really only luxuries were necessaries, and that because they were making large incomes then they must always continue to do so. This had caused a great amount of distress now that there was a depression in trade. He sincerely hoped that before long this depression would diminish, and trade naturally revive. It was reviving in America at the present moment, and it had always revived in America before it had done so here, and he thought they might confidently look for a turning in this long lane. [Hear, hear.] There were anticipations of even greater suffering in the coming winter than in the last one, owing to diminished means, but still he sincerely hoped that the English character would be sufficient, not only to help them in heart and spirits through the winter, but also that better days were still in store for them. He would only say that there was no person who more heartily wished that they should have neither great wars nor little wars than himself. There would never have been any great war but for the vast armaments to which Lord Derby had alluded, and, so far as the government was concerned, he was quite certain that his lordship would say that in the last war—the Zulu war—it was not begun by the government themselves, and that when undertaken by them it was undertaken with no spirit of aggression. He sincerely hoped that these wars would soon be ended and that they should be able to devote several sessions of Parliament to matters more nearly touching the hearths and homes of those whose guardians they were, in the effort to promote their health and comfort. [Cheers.] The right honorable gentleman again thanked the assembly for its hearty greeting of him and his colleagues, and indorsed the observations of Lord Derby, that while it was no easy thing to hold a public position, they had the satisfaction of knowing that if a man tried to do his best for the country the people were willing to overlook his faults, and condone his failures. Mr. Cross concluded by proposing the health of the mayor of Southport, which was duly acknowledged.
The proceedings shortly afterwards closed.