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have this sole but sufficient merit, that they are conventional.
[This article has long been prepared for insertion, but has been mislaid, and only discovered in time for present use.]
ART. XII. The Question concerning the Depreciation of our Currency stated and examined. By W. Huskisson, Esq., M. P. PP. 154. 5. Murray. 1810.
UR expectations were considerably excited on hearing, through the medium of that rumour which generally precedes a publication from an official man, that the pen of Mr. Huskisson was to be devoted to the discussion of the question respecting the depreciation of our currency. His ability in the discharge of the laborious duty of Secretary to the Treasury has long been acknowleged by all parties; and the attention which he has continued, since his retirement, to pay to national business, afforded an assurance that change of situation had been productive of no relaxation in his assiduity. We had been told that, in the Bullion-Committee, he took an active part in support of the opinions expressed in their Report; and the statement receives confirmation from the zeal with which he has now stept forwards to make himself their advocate with the public. He mentions, in the preface to the tract before us, that, on being asked by several of his friends for an explanation of his opinions on the state of our currency, he had committed his thoughts to writing several months ago but that, being subsequently urged to print them, he should not, he conceives, have found much difficulty in resisting their solici tation, and in denying himself that share of general attention which usually attends a writer on a popular topic, had not the clamour and misrepresentation, industriously circulated on the subject of the Report, rendered it incumbent on him to contribute his efforts for the correction of those errors. He says;
• When so many pens are employed to propagate what appear to me most false and dangerous theories upon the subject of our currency; when several of those who have taken upon themselves to controvert the Report, have gone out of their way to misrepresent the conduct, and to cast obloquy on the characters and motives of those who concurred in it; and above all, when the many evil consequences of an erroneous, or even an unsettled state of the publick mind upon a question of such vast importance, are considered; I trust that I shall be justified in submitting, what was originally prepared for an indulgent and limited circle only, to the examination and judgment of a more extended and impartial tribunal. Any man, I think, who has read the pamphlet of Sir John Sinclair, or the speech of Mr. Randle
Jackson to the Proprietors of Bank Stock, (as reported in the new papers,) must admit that I have not unfairly described the attacks which have been made upon the Report of the Bullion-Committee.
When among other theories equally extraordinary,(whimsically dignified with the name of axioms in the work itself)-Sir John Sinclair, before he is well clear of his preface, lays it down as a leading principle, "that the abundance of circulation is the great source of opulence and strength;" and emphatically styles it "the mine of national prosperity;"when he defines Money to be " well regulated paper currency with a certain proportion of coin." I should be at a losa how to deal with such axioms. They appear to belong to that class of propositions which have been sometimes characterized by rhetoricians as being "neither true nor false;" and as they are (to me at least) wholly unintelligible, they must of course be unanswerable.
There is, however, one charge against the Committee, much dwelt upon both in the speech and in the pamphlet to which I have referred, with which I must detain my readers for a few moments. It is that of having made a Report directly contrary to, and altogether inconsistent with, the evidence. This assertion has surprised me and I have looked in vain for any proofs in support of it.
The Committee endeavoured, in the first instance, to collect and place upon their records certain facts; such, for instance, as the continued high price of gold bullion, and the great depression of the foreign exchanges. To any explanations, that were offered by the witnesses, of the causes which had produced this state of things, they listened with the most patient attention; and have given them a place in the Appendix, in the words of the parties examined. But when these explanations appeared to the Committee to be either unfounded or insufficient; to be contradicted by the experience of former times, or by the actual state of facts; to be inconsistent with each other, or with the admissions of the witnesses themselves; could it be the duty of the Committee to adopt them as their creed? Was it not rather their duty to state, in what respect, in what degree, and in what instances these explanations appeared to them unfounded or insufficient; and to point out the circumstances by which they were contradicted, and the inconsistencies which they involved?
Having had occasion to express our sentiments so lately on the principal points discussed by Mr. Huskisson, we shall for the present avoid entering into any farther detail of our opinions, and confine ourselves chiefly to an exposition of the pamphlet under review. Mr. Huskisson disclaims all pretensions to originality, and prepares his readers for a considerable degree of diffuseness in his illustrations. Most of the late publications on the subject seem to him, he remarks, to take for granted a degree of elementary knowlege in their readers, of which the world at large is by no means possessed. He has accordingly chosen to go back to the first principles of our money-system; and, at the risk of wearisome repetitions, to elucidate the same proposition in several different modes. With
regard to the ignorance of the public as to the merits of the present question, we must, as far as our observation goes, add our testimony to that which he so explicitly gives, when he is recapitulating the reasons which induced him to print this pamphlet :
I am convinced, as well from the experience which I derived from the enquiries carried on in the Bullion-Committee, as from every thing that has since come under my observation, that a great proportion of the public, including (even in the limited circle of my own acquaintance) many men of excellent understandings, have either overlooked the elements of the whole question; or, more probably, have never turned their minds to the course of enquiry, which, if properly pursued, must have prevented some of the misconceptions now afloat on this subject. To the want of this knowledge, to the want of time, or opportunity, or inclination to attain it, much of the error which prevails in some quarters, and of the doubts, uncertainty, and apprehension which exist in many others, is, in my opinion, to be ascribed.'
They who think with me, that it is by the establishment of sound, and the detection of false principles, upon points of general interest and leading importance in political economy, that the greatest benefits are secured to nations, or the greatest calamities averted from them, will not find fault with the mode in which I have ventured to treat the subject. They will even pardon the repetitions, which I have found unavoidable, when they consider that, in a question of a complicated nature, but admitting (as 1 conceive) of strict proof, one mode of arriving at the truth is more easily apprehended by some minds, and another by others; and that, in contentions, where interest and prejudice take a part, it is not enough to establish a proposition; it is also necessary to expose the fallacy of the reasoning by which it is attempted to be controverted. Having once made up my mind to submit these remarks to the publick, I could not think of withholding my name. I am anxious to meet, upon a fair and equal footing, those persons who have publickly attacked the Report of the Committee. I wish to draw from them, either an admission of the principles which I state; — or a clear and explicit exposition
of their own.'
I have yet another reason for avowing my opinions as openly and as early as possible. If I know my own mind, those opinions have been formed as coolly and dispassionately, as they could have been upon any point of abstract science: and I should have felt it as impossible to avoid coming to the conclusion to which I have been led upon this subject, as to refuse my assent to the demonstration of any problem in mathematicks. I say this the rather, because I see (and I see with deep regret) an attempt made to create political divisions on this subject and to array particular parties against principles which, surely, are not to be classed among the articles of any political creed, or to be considered as connected with the separate interests of any party-principles which, if false, may be disproved by calm argument, without the aid of influence or combination; but
which, if true, cannot be refuted by clamour, and could not be over-' powered by numbers or authority, without material hazard to the interests of the country. So far as I know, and as I believe, this attempt has not hitherto been successful. The speech of Mr. RANDLE JACKSON, though it imputes party spirit to others, is obviously dictated by nothing more than a corporation spirit: a distinction which, fortunately, is too plain to be misunderstood. As to SIR JOHN SINCLAIR, the only other avowed author of such imputations; it would be most unjust, both to him and to mankind, to suppose him the organ of any other sentiments than his own.'
In discussions of an amicable nature which have arisen with those for whom these observations were originally intended, I have been asked (and the question may possibly be repeated in a less amicable manner,) "Why I did not give to the public an earlier warning on the subject, why not, while I was myself in office, and before the evil had grown to its present height?"
My answer is, first that it is one thing to trace effects, the existence of which is manifest, up to the causes which produced them but that it would have been another to foresee all the possible consequences of a new measure; especially when those consequences were liable to be produced or to be varied by circumstances of which one had no knowledge. To the perspicacity, which alone could have qualified me for such foresight, I do not pretend; but, nothing more than diligence and impartiality was required to qualify for the task of that enquiry and examination which, where the conclusion is as plain as to my understanding it appears in the present instance, could not fail to lead to conviction.
I answer secondly, that neither I, nor any man with whom I ever had intercourse, official or private, upon the subject, at any time considered the restriction of Bank-payments as any other than an expedient, originating in necessity; and determinable whenever that necessity should cease. Nor could I have imagined till the examinations before the Committee produced the disclosure, that there existed any individual who viewed it as an improvement in our moneysystem, or who could look with satisfaction to the possibility of its indefinite continuance.'
When the great fall in the foreign exchanges first took place, I ascribed it without hesitation, and perhaps without much reflection, altogether to the effect of the violent measures, political and commercial, adopted on the Continent and to the suspension of our commercial intercourse with the United States. When that fall had continued for near a twelvemonth, doubts arose in my mind whether the cause of its long continuance might not be, that the Bank, from too much indulgence to their customers at some particular moment, had somewhat improvidently extended their issues; and too much delayed restoring them to a proper level. But as I still took for granted that they had not lost sight of the criterion above mentioned, my doubts went no further. Such was the state of my mind at the time when I retired from office. Every month which passed from that time, whilst our exchanges were growing worse, and the price of gold rising, (notwithstanding that our expedition to the
Continent was terminated, and our pecuniary aid to Austria di continued,) could not fail to increase those doubts. Under these eircumstances, and very soon after the opening of the last session, the subject was taken up in parliament. When the Committee was appointed, I gave to the Enquiry all the attention in my power. The general principles which I carried with me to that Committee were the same which I now profess but the information which has led me to a more specific and particular application of them was chiefly derived from what came out in the investigation. When 1 found that the principle of regulating the issues and ascertaining the value of their paper by a reference to some fixed standard, and even the existence of such a fixed standard, were either altogether overlooked by the Bank, (they could scarcely be unknown to them,) or utterly disregarded in their practice,-my astonishment was great indeed. From that moment I was more at a loss to explain to myself why the evil was not greater, than to account for its present extent. I am not ashamed to add that my individual efforts would not have enabled me to follow in all its practical bearings a subject of such extent and intricacy, without a far more regular and careful attention than was compatible with the incessant occupation and multiplied duties of such publick situations as it has been my lot to fill:- and this is far from the only instance in which the studies and selfexamination of retirement have shewn to me how great in almost every respect (assiduity perhaps excepted) were my own deficiencies in office.'
In pursuance of his plan of rendering the subject intelligible to every reader, Mr. Huskisson begins his treatise by definitions. The term money he confines to that which possesses intrinsic value; paper, having no intrinsic value, he considers as merely circulating-credit; and he terms it accordingly papercurrency, not paper-money. In explaining the nature of the Restriction-Act, (or, as it may more properly, be termed, the Suspension-Act,) of 1797, he mentions what we believe was not generally known till of late, that to offer payment of a debt in notes of the Bank of England is not a full tender in law, but goes only to exempt the person of the debtor from arrest. Even this would not have been granted by Parliament otherwise than under the impression that the Suspension-Act was a temporary measure. It has now lasted fourteen years; though, at the period of its enactment, neither government nor the public expected that it would continue so many months. A depreciation of our notes was not then, in the most remote degree, in the contemplation of Parliament; or they would never have extended their sanction to a law which, as matters at present stand, exempts from arrest the debtor who may tender to his creditor the payment of seventeen shillings for that which was worth twenty at the time of contracting the obligation. It is a singular and most absurd consequence of