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has given rise to it, namely, the discrepancy between the letter and the practice of the criminal law.
The offences then to which it is proposed by the bills before Parliament that capital punishments shall be confined are—high treason; murder; attempts to murder, accompanied with actual injury to the person; burning of buildings, or ships, with danger to human life; piracy, with actual injury to the person, or acts endangering human life; burglary, with cruelty or violence to an inmate; robbery, with cruelty or violence; rape and violation, with or without consent of a child under ten years of age; and a nameless offence of great enormity. But a specification is added in those cases where injury, violence, and danger to life are mentioned.
From this general outline it will appear not only how important and valuable have been the labours of this Commission, but how groundless the charge is which we hear so often made against the Reform Government, of having done nothing towards amending the law. The bills now in progress will not indeed effect any change in the administration of the Criminal Law; because they only prohibit the infliction of capital punishment in cases where for many years past none has been inflicted. But if the further recommendations in these Reports shall be acted uponif a further reduction in the number of capital offences be made— if that last punishment be, as it ought, reserved for the crime at which all men's feelings most universally revolt, the destruction of life;*-still more, if the General Digest of the law in which the Commissioners are engaged shall be completed,-a more salutary improvement in the jurisprudence of this country will be effected than has ever yet been made, at any one time, by the supreme power in any modern state.
* Many persons of great authority doubt if the infliction of capital punishment tends upon the whole to produce good effects even in the case of murder. The brutalizing effect of such spectacles is certainly matter of no doubt at all; and there seems a great inconsistency in expecting the example to operate well, as it were, at second-hand, or by hearsay, when its direct and immediate operation is mischievous.
ART. IX. Enquiry into the Circumstances that have occasioned the present Embarrassments in the Trade between Great Britain and the United States of America. 8vo. London: 1837.
UR readers do not require to be told, that the commercial
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have been for some considerable time in the utmost state of disorder. The principal merchants engaged in the trade, both here and in America, have all been involved in the greatest difficulties, and not a few have been obliged to stop payments. And, owing to the vast magnitude of the trade, and the lage proportion which it bears to the total foreign trade of both countries, particularly to that of the United States, the embarrassments under which it has been suffering have ruinously affected most other departments of industry in America and England. The great and sudden diminution which it has occasioned in the exports from Great Britain to America, has obliged many of our manufacturers either to shut up their establishments, or materially to reduce the quantity of work, so that a great number of labourers have been thrown out of employment; while in America the influence of the derangement has been such that every bank in the Union has been forced to suspend payments,—that credit has been almost totally destroyed,—and that though the republic has no debt, and a large surplus revenue, it can hardly find means to make the most necessary payments!
Now, it will be observed, that this extraordinary vicissitude has taken place during a period of profound peace. It has occurred, too, in the trade between nations that have long been connected by the closest ties-that have the same lineage, speak the same language, have similar tastes, and between which the most extensive and intimate intercourse has always been kept up. America has long depended upon England for the supply of a large portion of her wants; and England has long been the principal market for the staple articles of American produce. To common observers the trade between Liverpool and New York, appeared, twelve months ago, to differ in few respects from that carried on between Liverpool and London, or Paris and Havre; except that it was more extensive and lucrative. It appeared to rest on an equally solid foundation; and exhibited few outward symptoms whence to infer its real condition. Those familiar with the underhand agency by which the trade was carried on, might, and certainly ought to have been aware of its hollowness and unsoundness. But few even amongst them seem to have
profited by their position. Ignorance of principle and overweening confidence were too generally found where knowledge and a reasonable degree of scepticism might have been looked for. The great majority of those engaged in the trade had neither sagacity to foresee the coming storm, nor caution to provide against it; but went on blindly increasing their engagements, and crowding sail even after they had got among the shallows, and the winds had begun to blow.
The consumption of most articles of foreign growth rarely differs materially in any country one year from another; unless there be some extraordinary variation in their prices. So long as these remain nearly stationary, consumption fluctuates but little; its increase or diminution depending on the increase or diminution of population and wealth, and the spread of new tastes and habits which are always slowly diffused. Hence, when we find a sudden and rapid increase taking place in the amount of imports into any country, the fair presumption is, provided it be not accompanied by one or other of the circumstances now mentioned, that its trade has been pushed beyond its proper limits,—that large importations are made upon speculation,—and that a dangerous recoil may be expected. Now, this has been most remarkably the case with the trade of the United States. The imports into the Union-the total value of which amounted, during the year ended the 30th of September, 1830, to 70,876,920 dollars— amounted to 108,118,311 dollars in 1833, and in 1836 to no less than 189,980,035 dollars; exhibiting an increase in the course of half-a-dozen years of from about 71 to about 190 millions of dollars, or in the extraordinary ratio of two hundred and seventy per cent! It is almost superfluous to add, that rapid as is the increase of population, and of improved tastes and habits in the United States, it bears no sort of proportion to this unparalleled and indeed astonishing increase in the amount of imports. And every merchant aware, as all of them might, or should have been, of so enormous an excess of importation, ought immediately to have apprehended that it was the result of overtrading and speculation; and should forthwith have set resolutely to work to contract his engagements.
But it may, perhaps, be said that this would have been an unwarrantable inference; and that the existence of overtrading is not established by an increase of imports, but depends on the circumstance of their increasing in a greater degree than the exports. This, however, is not really the case. All that an equality of imports and exports establishes is, that the former have been paid for; but any extraordinary increase in the amount of imports shows that produce must be accumulating in the
importing country; and that a ruinous depression of prices, and consequent shock to credit, may be anticipated.
Apart, however, from these considerations, it is true, as respects America, not only that the imports increased enormously during the six years ending with 1836, but that that increase very much exceeded the increase in the amount of exports. Thus, in 1830, the total value of the exports of all sorts of produce from the United States amounted to 73,899,508 dollars; in 1833, it amounted to 90,140,433 dollars; and, in 1836, to 128,663,040 dollars. It consequently appears, that the increase in the exports of the United States since 1830 has been from about 74 to about 129 millions, or in the ratio of 174 per cent. But we have already seen that during the same period the imports had increased 270 per cent; that is, no less than NINETYSix per cent more than the exports! In point of fact, during the last year the imports into the United States exceeded the exports by the sum of 61,316,995 dollars, or by above L.12,000,000 sterling. And seeing that the American Customs Accounts represent the real values of the imports and exports with very considerable accuracy, this exhibits, perhaps, the most striking proof of overtrading ever given to the world. We subjoin
An Account of the Total Exports from, and Imports into, the United States, from 1830 to 1836, both inclusive. (From the Official Accounts printed by order of Congress.)
The imports had not differed materially from this for a dozen years
And it deserves to be remarked, that from a third part to a half of this immense trade is carried on directly with Great Britain; and taking into account that which is carried on indirectly through this country with the Continent, and with India and China, it will be found that at least two-thirds of the foreign trade of America depends directly or indirectly on her connexion with England.
Owing to the fact, arising out of natural causes, of profits being at all times decidedly higher in America than in England, there is a constant tendency to withdraw capital from this country to vest it in the United States. This circumstance sufficiently accounts for a part of the ordinary excess of imports into the Union; but it will not account for their sudden and extraordinary increase during the last three years. With the exception, indeed, of coin and bullion valued at 13,400,881 dollars, of which 5,167,733 dollars were re-exported, and iron valued at 4,023,042 dollars, almost all the vast imports of 1836 consisted of manufactured and other articles for the use and accommodation of the population. The value of the silk manufactures imported during the course of that year is estimated at the immense sum of 20,331,896 dollars, or above four millions sterling; and other articles in the like proportion. It is clear, therefore, that the excess of importation was not occasioned by the fetching of articles from England to assist in the construction of canals, railroads, or other public works. The imports into America consisted mainly of those suited to the wants of a rich and luxurious society. And though it might be the intention of parties in England to vest a considerable part of the value of the exports from this country in American stocks and securities, still it is clear that that circumstance could in nowise mitigate the pressure upon the importers of such an excessive quantity of produce into America. The difficulty with them was, owing to the vast increase of imports, to effect sales except at a heavy loss; for when they had effected a sale and got the money, it was immaterial to them whether they laid it out on English account in America or remitted it to England.
Without stopping to recapitulate in detail the previous statements, they conclusively establish the fact of an extraordinary degree of overtrading on the part of the Americans; first, by the circumstance of the imports into the Union having increased no less than 270 per cent in the course of the six years ending with 1836; second, by the imports having increased much faster than the exports, and having, in 1836, exceeded the latter by the immense sum of about L.12,000,000 sterling; and, third, by the impois having consisted almost entirely of articles of consump