Chap 23: Free Trade for Ireland

Chap 23: Free Trade for Ireland

 

  • In 1779, Smith was consulted by the Government on the probable effects of the contemplated concession of free trade to Ireland.
  • Two letters of Smith still remain:
    • one to the Earl of Carlisle, First Lord of Trade and Plantations, and
    • the other to Henry Dundas—which state his views on this subject.
  • The policy of commercial restriction was probably most cruelty or disastrously used against the Irish between the Restoration (1660) and the Union (1707).
    • They were not allowed to trade as they would with:
      • Great Britain or her colonies, because they were aliens, and
      • foreign countries, because they were British subjects.
  • They had special advantages in establishing various industries.
    • But the moment they began to export the products, the markets were closed against them:
      • by the English Parliament, or
      • by their own Irish Parliament under English influence.

 

  • Ireland is an excellent grazing country.
    • Their first great product was cattle.
    • The export of cattle was banned.
  • When stopped from sending live meat, they tried to send dead meat.
    • But the embargo was promptly extended to salt provisions.
  • Driven from cattle, they went for sheep and sent wool.
    • That was stopped, allowed, and stopped again.
  • When their raw wool was [Pg 347]denied a market, they next tried cloth.
    • But England then bargained to suppress the chief branches of Irish woollen manufacture by promising Ireland a monopoly of linen manufacture.
  • Other infant industries which gave signs of growing to prosperity were crushed in the cradle in the same way.
    • Ireland was never able to acquire that nest-egg of industrial capital and training which England won in the 18th century.

 

  • All this systematic oppression of national industry created a distressing scarcity of employment.
  • 1778 was a year of plenty and meal was at its cheapest.
    • But many thousands starved because they did could not buy it.
    • The farmers were unable to pay their rents because they got such poor prices.
    • Processions of unemployed paraded the streets of Dublin carrying a black fleece in token of their want.
    • The Viceroy from the Castle warned the English ministry that an enlargement of Ireland’s trade had become a matter of the merest necessity.
      • Without it, she could never pay her national obligations to the English Exchequer.

 

  • But it was neither the voice of justice nor the cry of distress that moved the Government.
    • It was the alarm of external danger.
  • England’s strength was then strained as it has never been before or since in an unequal war with the combined forces of France, Spain, and America.
    • It was no time to feed or neglect discontent at home.
  • Ireland had already sent many recruits to the revolutionary army in America.
    • By then, the Irish Protestants were incensed at the Government’s indifference to their ports’ protection.
    • They raised an illegal army of 42,000 volunteers under Lord Charlemont.
      • They placed them under arms without the Crown’s consent.

 

  • Therefore, the demand of free trade for Ireland came with sanctions that could not be ignored.
  • Lord North’s first idea was to give Ireland the same rights of [Pg 348]trading with the colonies and foreign countries as England enjoyed, except in:
    • the import of tobacco and
    • the export of wool and glass.
      • The chief grievance of the Irish was the restriction on their trade in woollen goods.
      • This proposal was not satisfactory to the Irish, because it failed to remove this grievance.
  • This proposal provoked a storm of indignation in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and all the great manufacturing and trading centres of Great Britain.
    • They petitioned the Government, declaring that the proposed measure would ruin them.
    • Because it would be impossible for any English or Scotch manufacturer to compete against Ireland’s pauper labour.
  • Burke said that Lord North was frightened into some concessions by the menaces of Ireland.
    • He was now frightened out of them again by the menaces of England.
    • He cut down his original proposals until the Irish thought he was merely trifling with their troubles.
    • Their whole island was aflame.
      • Associations were formed.
      • Commotions broke out.
  • A great meeting in Dublin in April 1779 pledged to buy no English or Scotch manufacture.
    • Many of the county meetings instructed their representatives in Parliament to vote no money bill for more than six months until Irish grievances were redressed.
  • The Lord-Lieutenant wrote the Government that:
    • popular discontent was seriously increasing,
    • French and American emissaries were actively abroad,
    • the outlook was black if next session of Parliament passed without giving the Irish a satisfactory measure of free trade, and
    • only the permission to export coarse woollen goods would satisfy them.

 

  • Henry Grattan was a new member of the House.
    • As soon as the Irish Parliament met in October, he was to become a new power in the country.
    • He  rose and moved an amendment to the address.
    • He urged the need for a free export trade.
  • On Flood’s suggestion, the amendment was extended to a general demand for free trade, [Pg 349]including imports and exports.
    • In this form, it was carried without a division.
  • However, the reply to the address seemed ambiguous.
    • It inflamed the prevailing discontent.
      • On King William’s birthday, King William’s statue in Dublin was hung over with expressive placards.
        • The city volunteers turned out and paraded round it.
      • A few days later, a mob from the Liberties attacked the house of the Attorney-General.
      • It proceeded to Parliament and swore:
        • all the members they found to vote only short money bills until free trade were conceded, and
        • Grattan, in his place in the House, carried by three to one a resolution:
          • to grant no new taxes and
          • to give only six months’ bills for the appropriated duties.

 

  • The Government was now thoroughly alarmed.
    • They must finally face the question of free trade for Ireland in dead earnest.
    • They immediately called on all who understood the subject what would be the real effect on England of removing the Irish restrictions.
    • They requested many of the leading public men whom they trusted in Ireland, such as Lord Lifford, Hely Hutchinson, Henry Burgh, etc., to prepare detailed statements of:
      • their views on the commercial grievances of Ireland and
      • the operation of the proposed remedies.
  • Mr. Lecky has seen those statements at the Record Office.
    • He says they clearly grasped the principles of free trade.
  • I think that they can be considered as a fruit of Smith’s work, then recently published, because Hely Hutchinson’s statement has been published.
    • It was the last book publicly burned in this country.
    • It frequently quoted from the Wealth of Nations.
  • The Board of Trade twice requested Adam Smith for his opinion.
    • Lord Carlisle was the head of the Board.
      • He applied to Smith through Adam Ferguson.
        • Ferguson had been Secretary of the Commission, of which Lord Carlisle had been President.
          • Lord Carlisle [Pg 350]went to America the year before to negotiate terms of peace.
    • Mr. William Eden was the Secretary of the Board.
      • He was afterwards the first Lord Auckland.
      • He applied to Smith through Henry Dundas.
      • Smith later became well-acquainted with Eden.
      • In 1776, he married the daughter of Smith’s old friend, Sir Gilbert Elliot.
      • But at the date of this correspondence, their personal acquaintance does not seem to have been intimate.
  • Below is Smith’s letter to Lord Carlisle:

My Lord

  • I am flattered by your very honourable remembrance of me.
    • I shall explain that opinion as distinctly as I can.
  • A few days ago, my friend Mr. Ferguson showed me your letter wishing to know my opinion about granting that free trade to the Irish which they are demanding so importunately.
  • Until we see the Irish proposal, it is impossible to know precisely what they mean by a free trade.
  • They may mean no more than the freedom of exporting all goods, whether of their own produce or imported from abroad, to all countries (Great Britain and the British settlements excepted) subject to no other duties or restraints than such as their own Parliament may impose.
  • Presently, they can export glass, tho’ of their own manufacture, to no country.
  • Raw silk is a foreign commodity.
    • It is under the same restraint.
    • They can only export wool to Great Britain.
  • They can export woollen manufactures only from certain Irish ports to certain British ports.
  • The foundation of all these unjust and oppressive restraints is the very slender interest of our own manufacturers.
    • They are wary that Irish might be able to rival them in foreign markets.
      • The Irish have never been able to completely supply even their own market with glass or woollen manufactures.

 

  • The Irish may mean by a free trade as the freedom of importing all the foreign goods that they want, from wherever they can buy them cheapest.
  • Presently, they can import the following only from Great Britain:
    • glass
    • foreign sugars, except those of Spain or Portugal
    • certain sorts of East India goods, [Pg 351].
  • Even if Ireland were relieved from these and similar restraints, Great Britain’s interest could surely suffer very little.
  • The Irish probably only want this most just and reasonable freedom of exportation and importation.
    • By restraining them, we have rather gratified their impertinence than promoted any solid interest of our merchants and manufacturers.

 

  • However, the Irish may mean to demand the same freedom of exportation and importation to and from the British settlements in Africa and America which is enjoyed by the British.
  • Ireland has contributed little to the establishment or defence of these settlements.
    • This demand would be less reasonable than the other two.
  • But I never believed that the monopoly of our Plantation trade was really advantageous to Great Britain.
    • I cannot believe that the admission of Ireland to a share in that monopoly, or the extension of this monopoly to all the British islands, would be really disadvantageous.

 

  • The Irish may mean to demand the freedom of importing their own produce and manufactures into Great Britain, subject to no other duties than such as are equivalent to the duties imposed upon the like goods of British produce or manufacture.
    • This demand is the most unreasonable of all.
    • Britain’s interest would be hurt by it if it were granted.
  • On the contrary, the competition of Irish goods in the British market might help to partly break down the monopoly which we have most absurdly granted to most of our own workers against ourselves.
    • However, it would be a long time before this competition could be very considerable.
  • In Ireland’s present state, centuries must pass before most of its manufactures could vie with those of England.
    • Ireland has little coal.
    • The coallieries about Lough Neagh are of little consequence.
    • It is ill-provided with wood.
      • Coal and wood are essential to great manufactures.
    • It lacks order, police, and a regular administration of justice, to protect and restrain the inferior ranks of people.
      • These are articles more essential to the progress of industry than coal and wood combined.
  • Ireland must continue to lack those articles as long as it continues to be divided between two hostile nations:
    • the oppressors and the oppressed,
    • the Protestants and the Papists.
  • It would be so much better [Pg 352] for the British Empire and England if Ireland’s industry ever equals that of England through freedom and good government.
  • Lancashire’s wealth and industry promotes that of Yorkshire.
    • Ireland’s wealth and industry would promote, not obstruct, that of England.

 

  • I am very happy that you are active in administration and not despair of the commonwealth, despite the public misfortunes.
  • I sincerely wish that you can restore vigour and decision to our counsels, and consequently, success to our arms.
  • I am your most obliged and obedient servant,

Adam Smith.[304]

Edinburgh, November 8, 1779.

  • The letter to Dundas was published in the English Historical Review for April 1886 (p. 308), by Mr. Oscar Browning.
    • It was from a copy in the Auckland papers then in his possession.
  • Mr. Browning also gives the previous letters of Dundas to Eden and Smith respectively.
    • To Eden he writes:

Melville, October 30, 1779.

My Dear Sir

  • I received yours last night and have sent it this morning to Smith.
  • When I see or hear from him you shall hear again from me on the different parts of your letter.
  • The enclosed is a copy of my letter to Smith.
    • It will show you my present crude ideas about Ireland.

Yours faithfully,

Henry Dundas

His letter to Smith is as follows:

Melville, October 30, 1779.

Dear Sir

  • I received the enclosed last night from Mr. Eden.
    • His questions would require a Volume instead of a Letter.
    • However, let me have your ideas on it.
  • I am little alarmed about what others seem so much alarmed.
    • I doubt much if a free trade to Ireland is so very dreadful.
  • There is enough world trade [Pg 353]for both British and Irish industry.
    • if two or three places in Britain suffers some very gradual damage from the loss of their monopoly, it would be a very small consideration relative to the country’s general scale and policy.
  • The only thing to be guarded against is Irish being able to undersell us in foreign mercates from the:
    • lack of taxes and
    • cheapness of Labour.
  • But a wise statesman will be able to regulate that by proper distribution of taxes on the materials and commodities of the respective countries.
  • I believe a Union would be best if it can be accomplished.
  • If not the Irish Parliament might be managed by the proper distribution of the Loaves and Fishes, so that the Legislatures of the two countries may act together.
  • In short, I have long thought that the bearing down of Ireland was in truth bearing down a substantial part of the Naval and Military strength of our own Country.
    • For the past two years, I have been often shocked in the House of Commons to hear that a town in England or Scotland would be hurt by allowing the Irish to make the most of what their soil and climate afforded them.
    • This kind of reasoning will no longer do.
  • But I find that I am giving you my opinion instead of asking yours.

So adieu.—

Yours sincerely,

Henry Dundas.

  • This manly, but somewhat inconsistent letter, acknowledged the full right of a people to make the most of what their soil and climate afforded.
  • But it was still afraid to give them the whole advantage of their cheapness of labour.
    • Smith sent a reply, probably on November 1:—

My Dear Lord[305]

  • I am very happy to find that your opinion on granting a free trade to Ireland coincides so perfectly with my own.
    • I cannot believe that Great Britain’s manufacturers for a century can suffer much from the rivalship of those of Ireland, even if the Irish were indulged in a free trade.
  • Ireland does not have the skill nor the stock to enable Her to rival England.
    • Both may be acquired in time.
    • But  [Pg 354]to acquire them completely will require the operation of little less than a century.
  • Ireland has neither Coal nor wood.
    • Nature seems to have denied her coal.
    • Her Soil and Climate are perfect for raising wood.
    • Yet to raise it to the same degree as in England will require more than a century.
  • Ireland is a great and fine Province of the Empire.
    • I also agree with you that to crush Irish industry in order to favour the monopoly of some towns in Scotland or England is equally injurious and impolitic.
    • Ireland’s general opulence and improvement must certainly, under proper management, afford more resources to government than can ever be drawn from a few mercantile or manufacturing towns.

 

  • Until the Irish Parliament sends their proposed Bill, it might be uncertain what they understand by a Free Trade.
    • They might understand by it no more than the power of exporting their own produce to the foreign country where they can find the best mercate.
    • This demand is most just and reasonable.
  • Some of the restraints which their Industry presently labours under are most unjust and unreasonable.
    • They are prohibited from exporting Glass to any Country.
    • They can export wool only to Great Britain.
    • They can export woolen goods only from certain Irish Ports to certain British Ports.
  • They may mean to demand the Power of importing the foods that they want from any Country where they can find them cheapest, subject only to the duties and restraints imposed by their own Parliament.
    • In my opinion, this freedom is perfectly reasonable.
    • It will interfere a little with some of our paltry monopolies.
  • Glass, Hops, Foreign Sugars, several sorts of East Indian goods can at present be imported only from Great Britain.

 

  • They may mean to demand a free trade to our American and African Plantations, free from the restraints which the 18th of the present King imposed on it.
    • or at least from some of those restraints, such as the prohibition of exporting thither their own Woolen and Cotton manufactures, Glass, Hatts, Hops, Gunpowder, etc.
    • This freedom would interfere with some of our monopolies.
    • But it would do no harm to Great Britain.
  • It would be reasonable that whatever goods were exported from Ireland to these Plantations should be subject to the like [Pg 355]duties as those of the same kind exported from England in the terms of the 18th of the present King.

 

  • They may mean to demand a free trade to Great Britain, their manufactures and produce when Imported into this country being subjected to no other duties than the like manufactures and produce of our own.
    • This would be more advantageous to both countries than this mutual freedom of trade.
  • It would help to break down that absurd monopoly which we have most absurdly established against ourselves in favour of our own manufacturers.

 

  • Whatever the Irish mean to demand, we would be mad not to grant it.
    • Our manufacturers will probably oppose it, unless their leading men are properly dealt with beforehand.
    • I know from experience that:
      • they can be so dealt with, and
      • it may be done at little expense and with no great trouble.
    • I could even point to some persons who I think are fit and likely to deal with them successfully.
  • I shall say more on this when I see you right after I can get out of this Town.
  • I am much honoured by Mr. Eden’s remembrance of me.
  • Please give him my most respectful compliments

Believe me to be, my dear Lord, most faithfully yours,

Adam Smith.

November 1, 1779.

  • I cannot explain Smith’s personal experience of the ease in averting the manufacturers’ opposition to public proposals through sagacious management, at little expense.
  • I cannot say who he had in view to do this work successfully.
  • But his advice implies that he agreed with the political maxim that the opposition of the pocket is best met through the pocket.

 

  • Smith does not notice Dundas’s suggestion of a union with Great Britain.
    • But we know from the Wealth of Nations that he was a strong advocate of a union.
    • Smith was in favor of a union with Ireland to deliver the Irish from the tyranny of an oppressive aristocracy, and not because of Dundas’ position that it would better enable [Pg 356]the English Parliament to counteract the competition of Irish pauper labour.
      • It was the great cause of Ireland.
      • Back then, Ireland was divided into:
        • “two hostile nations,”
        • “the oppressors and the oppressed.” (Smith’s words to Lord Carlisle)
    • Smith was not on Dundas’s ground that a union
  • In the Wealth of Nations Smith states that “without a union with Great Britain, the Irish are not likely for many ages to consider themselves one people.”[306]

 

FOOTNOTES:

[304] Morrison MSS.

[305] The Lord Advocate is usually addressed as My Lord.

[306] Book 5, Chap 3

 


 

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