An Impartial View of English Agriculture From Permitting the Exportation of Corn
FROM PERMITTING THE
EXPORTATION Of CORN,.
In the Year 1663, to the Present Time.
No fact is more self-evident than that this county is entirely dependant on trade; both for internal felicity and external consequence. the vast sums that have for these seventy years past borrowed and funded, are incumbrances propor tioned to, and dependant on your property ; if your supposed staple commodities fail, the nation in a collective must become Bankrupts, the individuals, Beggars.
The wife prognosticators in the reign of Queen Anne, fixed this country's ruin, When the national debt became an hundred millions, it now far exceeds that sum, and yet the nation remains in full credit. The people of those times were right in principle, but did not sufficiently extend their ideas ; had not our trade greatly encreased, and of course our riches, the present national debt would have been insupportable; but as our trade has encreased with the same hasty strides as the debt, the one pays the other; the national trade being treble, and of course the riches of individuals, the country is no more distressed with a treble debt, than if both had remained at a stand.
In proportion to the increase of trade; the additional supplies extracted from it; the riches gained by the subjects; the employ it finds for the industrious poor; it becomes of more importance to the state, and should not be incumbered or restrained, but on the most mature consideration.
The following sheets are not dictated by prejudice or passion, but are the cool reflections of a person wholly disinterested, wholly means to set before the public, from history and experience, the advantages they have received from encouraging the exportation of corn; and the imminent danger [Page 7] of stopping a trade, to which they have been beholden for plenty, little less than a century. The export-corn trade, is, I apprehend, the most valuable and beneficial trade we at present possess. It is all neat produce of this country, being different from almost every other unalloyed with any foreign commodity. It is an universal provision for the industrious poor all over the kingdom; whereas, manufactures collect infinite numbers into particular places, impolitically over-filling this, and other great towns, while the country in general is in danger of being uninhabited. The growing such large quantities for foreign markets, secure us in a great measure from a possibility of famine, to which this country was in former times equally liable with her neighbours. It is a very considerable encouragement to the navy. It contributes to relieve the landholder, who by being incumbered with all your general taxes, and a particular addition of four shillings on his rent-roll, is perhaps the most oppressed of any man in the kingdom. It is a certain trade, not like most manufactures dependant on whim and fashion, but affected; only by the seasons, and as they will continue precarious in foreign countries, so we may depend on their continuing to want the same quantity of grain; and of course, the same large fums of money will by this means be brought into the kingdom.
The great advantages arising to this country from our export- corn trade, cannot be do clearly illustrated as by referring the reader to former times, and setting before him the various statutes, by which the agriculture of this king dom has been brought to the present perfection. The inexperience of our ancestors made them hope to procure plenty, by prohibiting the exportation of corn, except by special licence from the King: this, by preventing the sale, discouraged the growth of grain, so that it operated diametrically opposite to their intention. No more being grown than for home consumption, an unfavourable season made a scarcity, two, a famine; by which means, wheat has often been five pounds a quarter, and sometimes not to be had for money. The folly of expecting plenty, by confining the sale of your grain among yourselves, does not appear to have been the least understood, till about the middle of the reign of Charles the second, in the year 1663,. when we find an act past, intitled, "An act for the encouragement of trade." The preamble to which strongly marks, that they had found their mistake, and meant to make plenty at home, by establishing a foreign sale, it is, For as much as the encouragement of tillage ought to be in an especial manner re [Page 9] garded and endeavoured; and I he shurest and effectualest means of promoting and advancing any trade, occupation or mystery, being by RENDERING IT PROFITABLE TO THE USERS thereof; and great quantities of land within this kingdom for the pre-. sent lying in a manner waste, and yielding little, which might thereby be improved to considerable profit and advantage (if sufficient encouragement were givent to the laying out of cost and labour on the same) and therby much more corn produced, great numbers of people, horses and cattle, e'mployed, arid other land rendered more valuable." By this act, wheat at forty-eight shillings, Barley at twenty eight the quarter, &c. is permitted to be exported as other merchandize, but incumbered witl1 a rate granted by the 12th of Charles the 2d. C. 4. of tonnage and poundage, which was 20 s. on each quarter of wheat, and ten on barley-, &c. with this very heavy addition, it was highly improbable that the trade should succeed, because the price was so great as to render it unsaleable at foreign market, except in absolute famine. But even the use of this incumbered priviledge was so apparent to the people of that time, that in 1670, another act past '' for the improvement of tillage, and the breed of cattle," in which the exportation of corn is allowed, although the prices thereof exceed tile former rates, and lessens the custom and [Page 10] poundage. The use of the former statute in relation to grain, induced them to attempt encouraging the breed of cattle on the same principle, by permitting a foreign trade ; and horses, mares, and geldings exported, pay by this act only five shillings each; and an ox, steer, cow, or heifer, only one shilling, though in the year 1660, only ten years before, by the all of tonnage and poundage, a stone-horse paid 66 l. 13s. 4d. a mare, 126 l. 13 s. 4d. a gelding, 20 l. and an ox, 6l. 1 3s. 4d. By these means, agriculture was promoted, grain became more plentiful, and cattle of every kind encreased; and this great advantage so evidently arose from the extending the sale of corn and cattle into other countries, that in the year 1638, the first of Wm. and Mary, C. 12. the act past, that I will venture to call, the MAGNA CHARTA of English agriculture, by which it has been promoted to a degree not to have been conceived; and on this statute being unviolated, depends its future welfare; it is in titled, An act for encouraging the exportation of corn.'' The preamble to which is, Forasmuch as it hath been found by EXPERIENCE that the exportation of corn and grain into foreign parts, when the price thereof is at A LOW RATE in this kingdom hath been of great advantage not only to the owners of land but to the trade of this kingdom in general, be it therefore [Page 11] &c. By this statute, the encouragement of the exportation is compleated, by affixing a bounty to the export, when corn is at a LOW RATE, viz, five shillings for wheat, when 48 s. per quarter or under: 3s. 6d. for Rye, when 32 s. or under; and 2s. 6d. for barley, or malt, when 24s. or under.
These statutes, as far as they relate to grain, have succeeded to the utmost that could be withed, or expected ; for, although every other necessary of life is become twice, or thrice, the price of that time, yet corn is on the average not half the price. If the wisdom of former parliaments had not promoted the exportation, and by encreasing the consumption reduced the price, it is very reasonable to conclude, that grain would have rose in proportion to all other country commodities, such as beef, mutton, pork, butter, cheese, milk, &c. which have doubled within these twenty-five years, and are treble the price they were in 1688, when wheat at FORTY-EIGHT SHILLINGS is called a LOW PRICE, which at present is reckoned extravagantly dear. If agriculture had not been promoted by establishing the exportation on advantageous terms to the farmer, grain must have rose in the same proportion as other things; and instead of the average price of wheat [Page 12] being thirty shillings, only half the price of that time it must have been at least fix pounds, which is no more than double. The present clamour for stopping the exportation, is neither founded on reason or justice, and can only proceed from the interested and the uninformed. The two great confusers of grain in this metropolis, are the brewer and I the distiller; to a great brewer, the rise' of one shilling a quarter on malt, is perhaps a 1000 pounds, a year. That the generality of mankind are more attentive to their own interest than to the public's, I believe, is a fact that cannot be denied; that the trader . is particularly so, has been a maxim in all countries, and in all ages, from the first dawn of commerce to this day It is therefore not extraordinary that a set of men so deeply concerned, should try every art to sink the price of grain; though at the expence of agriculture, the poor farmer, and the general interest of the country. The Borough of Southwark, if I am not misinformed, is represented by a BREWER and a DISTILLER people that have taken on them to determine for the legislature, how to act in this most important affair
Clamour once raised by interest, is always zealously pursued by ignorance. The daily papers being open for the reception of the crude ideas of every man that has pen and ink; on the first hint that grain is dear, you find them filled with declamations against the exportation of corn. No one enters into, or even knows, either the origin, or use of the export, but all unite to bawl in your ears, that the poor will be starved: "that the poor will be starved," are words that affect the multitude, and people living in peace and plenty, are soon persuaded that famine is near at hand. I love and honor the citizens of London, and think the whole nation much beholden to them for the spirited opposition to the tyranny and oppression of some late Ministers; but cannot compliment then so far, as to say, that I think them in the least degree judges of this general question, or stopping or suffering the exportation; on which, in my opinion, in a great measure depends, the prosperity, or ruin of English agriculture. Though politics flourish in Cheapside, no judgment can be there formed of husbandry so that their ideas of procuring plenty by a temporary confinement of the present stock of grain, are founded on the credit of the interested essays in the Gazetter, and other new papers; which have too often induced them to interfere in this very important affair without being informed [Page 14] of that unanswerable fact, that grain is cheaper at present by a third, than it was a century ago. I hope they will for the future make some inquiries into the subject, or remain silent.
When a set of people have a cause that they are conscious will not bear examination, and which they wish you to believe implicitly on their representation, they do not apply to your reason, but endeavour to interest your humanity and good nature: So the brewer, when he wants the exportation stopped, tells you, of the sufferings of the poor from a small addition to the price of bread; but this same brewer, not long since, to add to his enormous profits, raised porter a half-penny a quart, and then told you, the labourer got more than he could spend without being idle. Let any rational man impartially confider the exportation as the promoter of agriculture, and he will find, that no set of people are more interested in its success; than the of poor throughout the whole kingdom. However numerous our manufacturers, yet there are more than ten times the number employed and maintained by husbandry. At the very least, every hundred acres supports two families, besides the infinite number of artizans, whose whole dependance for bread is on the prosperity of our corn trade; [Page 15] such as ploughmakers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, col lar-makers, &c. and every country trader. Such measure may give bread, at a lower rate, for a small time, to the inhabitants of London, but will probably deprive the country poor of their bread for their whole lives.
The stopping the exportation of corn at this time, when wheat is but thirty-eight, or forty shillings; will not only be a measure contrary to sound policy, but NATIONAL FAITH. Trade has been,found by experience to flourish in proportion to liberty: trade never-succeeds, but where the trader has the greatest confidence in government, both for having his property protected, and his general and established privileges: on which his com country well know, that they grow much more grain than can possibly be consumed by ourselves, the distil lery, starch-making, &c. and yet they every year inclose, and break up more ground: why is this done? surely it cannot be supposed, that the farmer means to treat the grain, at half the prime cost, and to be the cool spec [Page 16] tator of his own and family's ruin,to serve others; no he does it on the faith of parliament, by which he is promised, that till wheat exceeds forty-eight shillings the quarter and barley and malt twenty-four shillings, he shall not only have the liberty of sending his grain to foreign markets, but shall be enabled so to do, by a bounty of five shillings on the former, and two and six-pence on the later. Has the statute been repealed? No! Has it been explained, like modern half formed statutes, and the farmer told, that his present privileges were subject to the controul of the more powerful brewer? No! Is this statue, a superficial, inconsiderate law of yesterday? No! but it is a law of seventy-eight years standing, and in that time, found to be of the greatest benefit to the whole kingdom, and is now only clamoured against, because it is not understood. If this law is violated, can the farmer, for the future, confide even in the laws of his country, or conceive himself the object of their protection, when he sees the export of wheat stopt, tho the price is only forty shillings, notwithstanding the law promises him a bounty, till it exceeds forty-eight shillings.
The better to illustrate the subject, let us suppose that these artifices succeed, and that exportation of corn is stopt for three years; which is the time, I am told, the parties mean, or at least, did design to ask. I should be glad to know, why they take it for granted, that, in consequence of this law, corn will sink in price, because if we may, from former events, form a judgment of future, we might suppose the contrary. In the middle of February, 1757, the parliament in obedience to popular clamour, stopped the exportation of corn, and the distillery: at that time, wheat was about fortysix shillings; before the end of the month, it rose to fifty shillings; in March, it was fifty-six shillings; in April; sixty shillings; in May and June, sixty-three shillings; and so continued, till a plentiful harvest reduced it to about fifty; at which price it remained the whole year. It afterwards appeared by the great quantities of old grain brought to market, that, so far from a real scarcity, there had been, during the whole year, more grain in the country, than was necessary both for the exportation, and the distillery; and that this act had operated quite different to the intention, and expectation of the shallow politicians that procured it. The farmer [Page 18] naturally concluded, that a measure so destructive to this most valuable trade, would not have been taken, but in case of absolute necessity: from stopping the exportation, he inferred, there must be a great scarcity; he saw grain advance daily; he, like every other trader, is disposed to make the most of his goods, and therefore he kept his grain from market. The common people, who had been taught to believe, as they are at present, that grain would become a drug, and the price fall as soon as the export was stopped, finding the exact contrary effect, and that wheat which before the act they could have bought for five shillings and six-pence the bushel, was rose to eight shillings, became exceeding riotous, going into several markets, and destroying, or seizing the corn. This so intimidated many well-meaning farmers, who were otherwise disposed to sell, that they would not venture their grain out of their own yards. Another very discouraging circumstance, that then happened, and always will happen, when the export and the distilling are stopped, is, that the markets are not a certain sale, and that grain of an inferior kind, may lie a long time without being disposed of. At most great markets, there is as much corn each day offered, as would serve the neigh [Page 19] bourhood for months. There are also great quantities that from being smutty or damaged, are not saleable, except to the distiller, exporter, &c. because we are come to that degree of luxury, that a London chimneys weeper will not eat any but the finest bread; so that the exported grain, is either the refuse, or the superfluity of an over-stocked market, which a distressed farmer disposes of at a lower rate, to pay land-tax, or exigencies; but when he is not almost certain of disposing of his grain, it cannot be conceived, he will be at the hazard and ex- pence of drawing it to market. By these means, the slopping the export has, and may again contribute to the rise of grain.
I will now suppose the contrary, and that stopping the export and the distillery, will make such a glut of grain, as to reduce the price considerably: let me ask these zealots, upon what principle it is done; do they impeach the farmer of getting exorbitant profit ? if they do, I would have them enter into the merits, and examine last year's harvest. I allow, that there was as great plenty of wheat as has been for many years; but there was a great deficiency of barley, [Page 20] oats, beans, &c. the dryness of the season occasioned a scar city of hay and straw. Every man that has the least idea of farming, knows that "'heat ought to be fawn only once in six years on any land; that out of those six years, two years the land lies fallow; so that the wheat is only a quarter of the land sowed, and the sixth part of the land rented; if three parts fail, the fourth must pay the deficiency; and in this light, wheat at 40s. must be allowed exceedingly cheap; a three, or six months prohibition, is only con fining the grain for that time to the barn: but if the artifices of the brewer and distiller succeed so far as to obtain a prohibition, of the export for three years, let any impartial man fay, whether the natural consequence will not be, that the farmer will grow less grain, because he cannot be expected to grow what he is not permitted to sell; the consequence of such a step may be a temporary glut, but will in the future be found the occasion of the greatest scarcity, if not an absolute famine. A farmer can no more be expected to grow grain without an apparent, fair profit, and certain consumption, than a London-trader, to fend his usual quantity of goods to America, tho' he knows they will not receive them; only to serve the British manufactures. The consequence of the Americans refusing your goods is, the merchants send none ; the consequence [Page 21] of not permitting the farmer to fell all he grows will be. he will grow less: the superficial reasoner will say, that when the export is again permitted, he will grow his usual quantity; but this I will venture to deny ; for it cannot be supposed, he will let his land lye waste: so when he ends no encouragement for grain, he will convert it into pasture, which is at present, much more advantageous both to the landlord and tenant, but destructive to the poor; because, a farm of five hundred acres of pasture does not require so many labourers as fifty acres of tillage; add to this, that pasture employs no horses, uses no implements of husbandry, affords no assistance to poor families, by gleaning, no employ for women or children, by weeding and cocking, no double pay, and excellent food at harvest. The fatal consequence of turning too much int pasture, has been experienced by the inhabitants of Leicester, where, since their inclosing, and laying down their ground, the poor are starving; and Leicester town, once the seat of plenty, paid last year more for grain than any town in the adjacent counties. The pretence that. the turning more land into pasture will make greater plenty of meat, butter, &c. is also false in principle; because, with the diminution of culture, live stock must also diminish. The rich meads of Lincolnshire, &c. have, and ever will be [Page 22] employed in fattening of cattle; but the state of pasture in most counties is quite different: for it affords no food for cattle in dry summers, and very little in winter; by which means, tillage is absolutely necessary for their support; the straw and chaff of the exported grain is left in the farmer's yard, and enables him. to encrease his stock of cows, sheep &c. If tillage is discouraged, sheep will not be kept in several places where at present there are great quantities, because, in many countries, these are of no advantage to the farmer, except for folding his ground; and as on poor swade they do not grow better, he often at the end of a season, sells his stock at less than prime cost. The great encrease of sheep in some counties, is owing to the culture of turnips; and in proportion as you diminish your ploughed land, so the growth of turnips must decrease, and of course, fewer sheep can be bred or kept.
From these particulars and historical deductions, I may venture to conclude, that neither the interest of the farmer, or the country in general, is the least attended to by the opponents of the exportation; nor is it at all to be wondered at, when we find, that the opposition comes from the shopkeepers in London and Southwark. The farmer, like every other trader, must have a sufficient profit; or [Page 23] he cannot go on long; the working his ground is. equally expensive in scarce and plentiful years;. in both he pays the same rent, keeps the same number of horses, has as many servants and labourers, is burthened with the same heavy taxes, and must provide himself and family with the necessaries of life; by the difference of seasons, his grounds at one time produces twice the quantity they do at another; in a favourable year, an acre of wheat may contain four quarters, in a bad one, not two; what is the 'poor farmer to do? is he to sell at the same price whether he has much or little? The expecting any thing so strange, is more like Quixots than London tradesmen: however, I believe, the farmer may agree, that if the corporation of London, or the inhabitants of Southwark, can produce a single member of theirs that act on this principle, and prefers ruin to advancing his goods in dear times, for fear of -distressing the poor, he may venture to let this noble spirited but till they act on these principles, they should let the farmer have some return for his toil and expence.