Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
1817. ATTEMPTS TO ACCOUNT FOR THE DISTRESS

THE most interesting feature, perhaps, in the early debates of the session was the attempts made to explain a distress which was so severe and so unexpected. It may be as well to devote a separate chapter to them.

What might be called the official view, dwelt on by the Government and its supporters, was that the distress was due to the transition from twenty-three years of war to the ordinary conditions of peace, with all the disturbance, both to demand and supply, that this necessarily involved -- particularly the reduction of the national expenditure in one year from £120,000,000 to £70,000,000, the withdrawal of the one great customer, the Government, from the market, and the return of some 300,000 soldiers and sailors to be reabsorbed into the industry of the country. Consequently, they held the distress to be temporary.

The official view.

The Opposition, as insistently, put forward the statement that, the real causes were the pressure of the enormous debt and the intolerable taxation, aggravated by the size of the establishments still retained and by the waste in all departments. The distress, in their view, would continue till these causes were removed. Lord Holland thus succinctly summed up: "We had a revenue almost beyond the endurance of a loyal people; an expenditure beyond that revenue; and we acted on a system of foreign policy -- and also of domestic policy, if Ireland were included -- beyond that expenditure; and no real and permanent good would be done till our revenue should be reduced in a degree commensurate with the distressed situation of the country, and our expenditure should be reduced below our revenue."1 Not what

The Opposition's view.

____________________
1
Hansard, xxxv. 424.

-590-

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