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lords, to depress the shipping interest, opened the borough representation to all qualified persons without regard to domicile. Lord John was mistaken in his date, for the change occurred earlier, but he described correctly enough the persistent animus of the landlords. An important part of their policy turned on the so-called Determination Acts of 1696 and 1729, which defined the franchises and which had the effect of confirming the title of patrons to borough property,5 thus making a seat in the House of Commons an incorporeal hereditament fully recognized by law. On this point so high an authority as Lord Eldon was emphatic. By the time of the American War the oligarchy had become so narrow that one hundred and fifty peers and commoners returned three hundred and seven members, or much more than a majority of the House as then organized. With the privileged class reduced to these contemptible numbers a catastrophe necessarily followed. Almost impregnable as the position of the oligarchy appeared, it yet had its vulnerable point. As Burke told the Duke of Portland, a duke's power did not come from his title but from his wealth, and the landlords' wealth rested on their ability to draw double rent from their estates, one rent for themselves, and another to provide for the farmer to whom they let their acres. Evidently British land could not bear this burden if brought in competition with other equally good land that paid only a single rent, and from a pretty early period the landlords appear to have been alive to this fact. Nevertheless, ocean freights afforded a fair protection, and as long as the industrial population remained tolerably self-supporting, England rather tended to export than to import grain. But, toward 1760, advances in applied science profoundly modified the equilibrium of English society. The new inventions, stimulated by steam, could only be utilized by costly machinery installed in large factories, which none but considerable capitalists could build, but once in operation the product of these factories undersold domestic labor, and ruined and evicted the population of whole regions like Halifax. These unfortunate laborers were thrust in abject destitution into filthy and dark alleys in cities, where they herded in masses, in misery and crime. In consequence grain rose is value, so much so that in 1700 prayers were offered touching its price. Thenceforward England imported largely from America, and in 1773 Parliament was constrained to reduce the duty on wheat to a point lower than the gentry conceded again, until the total repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The situation was well understood in London. Burke, Governor Pownall and others explained it in Parliament, while Chatham implored the landlords not to alienate America, which they could not, he told them, conquer, but which gave them a necessary market,-a market, as he aptly said, both of supply and demand. And Chatham was right, for America not only supplied the grain to feed English labor, but bought from England at least one-third of all her surplus manufactures.
4 36 Hansard, Third Series, 548.
5 Unreformed House of Commons, Porritt, 1, 9, et seq.
612 Hansard, Third Series, 396.
7 Grey's motion for Reform, 30 Parl. Hist., 795. (A. D. 1793.)
The landlords, nevertheless, like most favored minorities, would not contemplate compromise. If a free American market were tolerated the price of English grain must fall to permit low wages, and rents would suffer; but if a proper tariff could be enforced in America all might be well. The proposition was simple. If continental goods could be excluded from America, and the Americans prevented from manufacturing for themselves, the Americans might be forced to buy goods from England at prices which would admit of wages which would enable British labor to subsist on grain grown on land which paid the double rent. Then the British Empire, consisting of India, the British Islands, the colonies and the West Indies, might form a practically self-sufficing unit which could maintain prices independent of the rest of the world. Thus America would be made to carry the burden of the landlords.
The test came when the oligarchy undertook to force America to relieve the East India Company of its surplus tea, which was bringing it near to insolvency. Had the oligarchy succeeded America would have been saddled with the payment of the double rent. As Pitt foresaw, America resisted, and the landlords, to test the issue, fought first from 1775 to 1783, when they made peace from exhaustion, and afterward from 1812 to 1815. Nor did the oligarchy frankly admit defeat until Wellington convinced them that they could not conquer America without a navy on the Lakes whose cost they could not meet, for, in 1815, labor was starving. Then the oligarchy surrendered and the inevitable confiscations followed. In 1783 Pitt, when he proposed reform, contemplated paying owners for the boroughs he might take, but in 1832 borough property of inestimable value was confiscated. For the value of the boroughs lay not in the income they yielded to patrons, large as that might be, but in the power to control prices which rested with Parliament. The reformed Parliament ignored the landlords and cheapened the cost of living. In 1846 it repealed the Corn Laws, in 1848 it ruined the West Indies to give England cheap sugar, in 1879 American competition pretty nearly wiped out the double rent, and since then Parliament has consistently legislated with the object of throwing the burden of cheap labor on the land monopoly. So generally is this policy recognized that landlords, like the Duke of Bedford, are apt to sell when they can. As Cobden observed, the fortunes of England have turned on American competition.
The fall of the oligarchy was the direct effect of the refusal to recognize the property rights of labor. When, after the close of the American Revolution, the oligarchy contemptuously rejected Pitt's offers of compensation for their boroughs, at the same time forcing him to raise the tariff on grain by the Act of 1791, they undertook, with their eyes open, to collect the whole of the double rent out of the wages of labor. To this end they made, what was
tantamount to, a regular alliance with industrial capital-ists, who were, in substance, guaranteed the power of fixing wages to their own liking. Legislation against combinations by laborers to constrain employers had existed in various forms since the reign of Edward I, but the onslaught on industrial labor combinations only reached its acute stage, at this precise moment, after the close of the American Revolution, culminating in the famous statutes of 1799 and 1800. These statutes, I take it, established a. new legal principle. Before the American War, it had always, at least in theory, been assumed that in controversies between masters and journeymen, journeymen had rights in their wages which the State should protect, by, in the last resort, regulating wages by a judgment. The statutes of 1799 and 1800 put the law on a different plane. If I apprehend the legal proposition then adopted correctly, it came to this. The capitalist was assumed by those statutes to have such complete ownership of his factory and of all it contained, that a combination of his workmen to reduce the income his investment yielded him, by diverting more of his profits than he chose to assign to that purpose toward an increment in their wages, was as much a tort or a crime as any other wilful injury to the property of a neighbor would be, which had neither justification nor excuse. As Lord Jeffrey said at a dinner to Hume in 1825, the employer, if he chose to reduce wages by that method, might dismiss a thousand workmen at a given moment, but it was made a crime for those same thousand workmen to quit the service of the master in order to compel him to raise wages. And not only was this legal dogma enforced by savage penalties, but the oligarchy guarded their property rights in Parliament quite as jealously as ever any despot guarded his sovereignty. To agitate for a reform of Parliament, or, in other words, for the nationalization of proprietary boroughs, ranked as treason. That was the offense of Hardy and Horne Tooke, who were indicted for treason by Eldon and defended by Erskine in 1794,
while the charge to the jury, in the trial of Thomas Muir for sedition in 1793, in Scotland, now reads like the raving of a maniac. “It requires no proof, gentlemen,” said the Chief Justice, “that the British constitution is the best that ever was since the beginning of the world, and it is not possible to make it better.” He then told the jury to do their duty, as they could no more doubt the defendant's guilt than he. And so, for making a speech in which he advocated “an equal representation of the people” in the House of Commons, Muir was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years as a felon.
While the long wars lasted and gave incidental protection, the oligarchy managed to maintain itself, but with peace, in 1815, competition in the American market became an established and uncontrollable fact, and the oligarchical structure crumbled. Prices of English manufactures fell to conform to the universal scale of prices, and wages had to correspond. Famine does not consist in scarcity but in inability to buy food, and in this form, in 1816, famine raged in the industrial towns of England. It was easier, men said, to be shot than to starve, and vast meetings were held at which the people were incited to arm. On August 16, 1819, such a meeting at Manchester was dispersed by a regiment of Hussars, who charged into the crowd, killing eleven and wounding several hundred. At this time Lord Castlereagh led the House of Commons, and Lord Eldon ruled in the Lords. Place, the Westminster tailor, was the heart of the opposition. With what intense bitterness feeling on both sides ran may be seen in Place's correspondence. The Manchester magistrates are inconceivable brutes, he wrote to Hobhouse, in relating a conversation with an employer. One of them swears, “damn his eyes, seven shillings a week is plenty for them.” “The sons of bitches have eaten up all the stinging nettles for ten miles round Manchester, and now they have no greens to their broth.” “How could I sell you goods so cheap if I cared anything about them.”