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THE GROWTH OF COMMERCE
i. The Trade of England.—The territorial ambitions of Louis XIV., combined with his intolerance in religious matters in his later days, undoubtedly were leading factors in uniting Western Europe against France. But behind all this lay one of the main causes of quarrel and war, competition in trade and colonial monopoly. In the sixteenth century men's minds were concerned with freedom of theological expression : in the seventeenth century the struggle ranged round the forms and essence of political authority : in the eighteenth century the competition for the trade of the world and the conditions under which it should be carried on overshadowed both the older issues, while this new struggle gathered force from association with the older; until towards the end of the century all are swallowed up in the social revolution brought about by bankruptcy.
It is in this century that the British Empire took its form: under and by means of heavy protective tariff the islands obtained the supremacy of manufacture and commerce; the vast increase of wealth, the expanding trade which followed the European adventure East and West, and the comparative peace of the seventeenth century demanded the destruction of the restrictive monopolies of internal trade which had grown out of the guilds, and freedom from regulations which hampered the individual trader. Authority, in so far as it conflicted with views of the commercial liberty of the man who dared, was much discredited; the good of the community was giving way in every aspect of life to the selfish advantage of the individual.
Sir Josiah Child, in his Discourse of Trade, published in 1692 (? written in 1669), dwells on the great plenty of money, the increase of shipping, the costly buildings of London. He urges that the English should be up and doing“ before the Dutch get too much the whip hand of us,” noting “the prodigious increase of the Netherlands in their domestic and foreign trade, riches, and multitude of shipping,” owing to their having merchants in their councils, their way of putting up goods, their thrift and good education, their banking system and religious toleration. By paying high wages, he says, they have drained us of our seamen and woollen manufactures. He enumerates very sadly various trades which he considers as lost to the Dutch and others at that time; the Russian trade in which the Dutch had twenty-two ships to our one; the Greenland trade ; the trade in salt from Portugal and France, with salt, wine and brandy to the Baltic; the herring trade on our own coasts; the east country trade; the trade for Spanish wools ; the East India trade for spices; the Japan and China trade; a great part of the plate trade from Cadiz: and the trade in Surinam which he says we were losing to the Dutch,“so severe and exact are the Hollanders in keeping the trades of their own plantations to their own people.” Besides these he names the loss of the trade of Norway to the Danes and a great part of the French trade owing to their duties on our draperies. Pepys tells how Charles II. would have checked the Dutch in the East, if the Parliament would have given him the money. In the West, after New Amsterdam, captured by James, became New York, the Dutch were excluded by our Navigation Acts from all American trade. Very naturally they joined France against us in 1778 to regain it.
The imports from Norway and Denmark, says Child, are certainly many times the value of our native commodities exported thither, and the trade is advantageous because of the great use of English shipping, and the necessity of their imports, such as timber, pitch, deals and tar.
Child deprecates monopoly of Companies at home or in neighbouring lands. “We want,” he says, “all the stock and all the hands we have. But Companies of Merchants are an absolute necessity (he is himself a leading Director of the East India Company) for countries with which, for distance, barbarity or so on, His Majesty can have no alliance, as for the East Indies and Guinea, but not good for any other.”
But while Child was making his wail, the predominance of Holland in trade and on the sea was fading away in spite of the steady habits of work and frugal living of the Dutch. The
rising sea-power of England depressed Dutch commerce, the terrible losses in the continental wars and the perpetual pressure on her of France checked her advance at home, and her colonial dominions suffered from competition with France, Spain and Britain. The necessity for flooding the country against Louis was a terrible check on her resources for trade.
Meanwhile France, which had become so prosperous under Colbert, was sunk in the deepest misery through the bankruptcy occasioned by Louis' wars. The Dutch war of 1672 had cost over fifty millions of livres, had caused enormous losses, and had forced upon Colbert the necessity for new taxes, borrowing, and the sale of public offices as a means of raising revenue. The reckless personal extravagance of Louis contrasted with terrible taxation, imprisonment for debt, and a mass of partial exemptions. The war of the League of Augsburg brought more taxations, further loans, increase of debt, further sale of offices and great creation of new offices.
The awful famines, the want of work, took the heart out of the people ; the misery was such that they ceased to complain. “ Poverty,” says Taine, “ to a certain extent is a slow gangrene in which the morbid parts consume the healthy parts, the man scarcely able to subsist being eaten up alive by the man who has nothing to live on." In 1687 two commissaries, charged with an enquiry into Orleans and the adjoining provinces, reported, noting the decrease in the number of the inhabitants, “la misère les a dissipés.” They report “ des maisons en ruine qu'on ne relève pas; dans la culture, des métayers pauvres au lieu de fermiers riches ; une diminution de la consommation de la viande qui a fait baisser le prix du bétail ; la misère décelée par l'habitation du paysan qui, couché sur la paille, n'a ni meubles, ni vêtements de rechange ; le défaut de consommation et par suite de commerce. Les surcharges d'impôts étaient la principale cause du mal.” Fénélon, writing to the king, translates this into language which might have been used by the Hebrew prophet. “La culture des terres est presque abandonnée ; les villes et les campagnes se dépeuplent ; tous les métiers languissent et ne nourissent plus les ouvriers ; la France entière n'est plus qu'un grand hôpital, désolé et sans provision.”
The figures of population are remarkable. The intendant
of Barville in Languedoc 1698-1700 returns : gentlemen 4,489; bourgeois 108,000 ; merchants 6,833;
artisans 76,700; labourers 91,148 ; beggars 32,805. The census in Paris in 1791 out of 650,000 inhabitants enumerates 118,784 as indigent.
Leaving for one moment the evil condition of France at the opening of the eighteenth century, I would point out that all the continental authorities, overcome by the unrealities of dynastic war, were struggling for such a share of the world's trade as would enable them to escape bankruptcy. The wars of the Augsburg League and the Spanish and Austrian Succession expressed the will of the Western peoples to limit such amassing of territory and power by any one nation as would make for the monopoly of trade. When peace comes and treaties are made the important parts are those in the background regulating tariffs and the relations of trade ; the unimportant indifferent provisions go as the chief issues into constitutional history.
For England under Elizabeth and James I. and VI. colonization had been attempted with indifferent success; it had been greatly encouraged by Charles II. and James II. By the time of Anne the expansion had so far proceeded that the British in possession of great areas of colonial territory had to reconsider their jealousy of others' monopolies in the light of possible reprisals on their own. The long and bloody war which ended by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 had been fought to prevent the union of the Crowns of France and Spain under the Bourbon Philip of Anjou, at a time when several higher claimants stood between him and the French throne. The danger could have been averted if the English Whigs in 1709 had concluded the triumphant peace with France beaten and exhausted, which was then open to them. But when the war closed with the acknowledgment of Philip as king of Spain, only a tiny and delicate boy, owing to the deaths in the royal family of France, stood between the king of Spain and the French throne in the age when the nurse and the physician were the more deadly engineers of death than war. The settlement carried with it the monopoly of commerce in the Spanish colonies. The British had to content themselves with the popular privilege of the Assiento, the right to supply the colonies of Spain with the negroes kidnapped in Guinea, with such profits as could be obtained by an illicit smuggling trade carried on by piracy
under the provisions of the treaty, leading in the end to the war of Jenkins' ear.
In both the war of the League of Augsburg and that of the Spanish Succession the English Parliament placed very heavy duties on French merchandize and Louis retaliated. In connection with the Utrecht treaty a treaty of commerce was signed with France, in April, 1730. But it fell to the ground.
The chief British source of national wealth available for export was the woollen trade, jealously guarded from injurious competition from Ireland, the American colonies, the East India Company, and so far as retaliatory hostile tariffs permitted, from all foreign manufacturers. Acts were passed prohibiting or putting heavy duties on imported calicoes. Defoe in 1708 complains that the woollen trade was being ruined by the East India calicoes and silks. England in consequence was very late in adopting the manufacture of cotton. The coarse cotton fabrics, called fustians, were brought in by the refugees from the Netherlands under Alva. The finer goods, the dyed and printed calicoes and muslin printed from hand blocks, were imported from the East. There was calico printing in London just about the time of the Revolution. The import from the East was forbidden in 1700, and then the printing of plain Indian calicoes grew and prospered until cylinder printing was invented in 1785. The dyes, there being no knowledge of chemistry, were nearly all vegetable.
But all was subordinate to the woollen trade. The only effect of Cromwell's scheme for seizing the Spanish colonies in America, one of his many failures in foreign policy, had been to destroy the trade centred in Norwich in the woollen cloth exported to Spain, leading to cloth manufacture by the Dutch and imports of French goods. It was to protect this woollen trade that William (10 Wm. III., c. 10) destroyed the growing Irish industry; for this, export of woollen goods from one of the American colonies to another was prohibited, to force the colonials to wear the English goods in the place of their own coarse cloth; the export of wool from England was prohibited and made a felony, leading to less land being laid down in grass, though in spite the wool went plentifully to Holland ; the East India Company was obliged to export woollen cloth for sale to the Indians in hot climates.