Page images
PDF
EPUB

Previously to 1790, the supply of raw cotton for the British manufacture was principally derived from the West Indies and the Levant. But, after the termination of the American war, cotton began to be cultivated in Carolina and Georgia, and has succeeded so well that it now forms one of the most valuable productions of the United States. American cotton is generally known by the names of Sea Island and Upland. The former is the finest cotton imported into Britain. It grows on small sandy islands contiguous to the shore, and on the low grounds bordering on the sea. The Upland grows at a distance from the coast, and is so very difficult to separate from the seed, that it was for a considerable period not worth cultivating. But the genius of a Mr Whitney, who invented a machine which separates the wool from the seed with the utmost facility, has done for the planters of Carolina and Georgia what the genius of Arkwright did for the manufacturers of Lancashire. Before Mr Whitney's invention, in 1793, very little upland cotton was cultivated, and not a single pound was exported from the United States. No sooner, however, had Mr Whitney's machine been constructed, than the cultivation of this species of cotton became the principal object of the agriculturists of Carolina and Georgia; and the quantity exported has increased to upwards of 100 millions of pounds weight! Mr Whitney took out a patent for his invention, and sold the right to use it to the state of South Carolina for 50,000 dollars. In Georgia, and some of the other states, he had to struggle with a powerful combination, who endeavoured to deprive him of the profits to be derived from his invention; and a considerable period elapsed before hesucceeded in making his patenteffectual.

Having finished this brief, and necessarily very imperfect sketch of the rise, progress, and present magnitude of the cotton manufacture, we shall now take leave to submit a few, observations with respect to the probability of our preserving our ascendency in it, and its influence on the condition and morals of the people.

It is obvious, that a great deal of conjecture must always insinuate itself into our reasonings with respect to the future state of any branch of manufacturing industry. They are all liable to be affected by so many contingent and unforeseen circumstances, that it is impossible to predicate, with anything like certainty, what may be their condition a few years hence. But abstracting from the effect of national struggles and commotions, which can neither be foreseen nor calculated, we do not think that there is anything in our state, or in that of the different commercial and manufacturing countries of the world, that should lead us to anticipate that the gloomy forebodings of those who contend that the cotton manufacture of England has reached its zenith, and that it must now begin to decline, will be realized. The natural capabilities we possess for carrying on the business of manufacturing, are, all things considered, decidedly superior to those of any other people. But the superiority to which we have already arrived is perhaps the greatest advantage in our favour. Our master manufacturers, engineers, and artisans, are more intelligent, skilful, and enterprising, than those of any other country; and the extraordinary inventions they have already made, and their familiarity with all the principles and details of the business, will not only enable them to perfect the processes already in use, but can hardly fail to lead to the discovery of others. Our establishments for spinning, weaving, printing, bleaching, &c. are infinitely more complete and perfect than any that exist elsewhere ; the division of labour in them is carried to an incomparably greater extent; the workmen are trained from infancy to industrious habits, and have attained that peculiar dexterity and sleight of hand in the performance of their separate tasks, that can only be acquired by long and unremitting application to the same employment. Why, then, having all these advantages on our side, should we not keep the start we have already gained ? Every other people that attempts to set up manufactures, must obviously labour under the greatest difficulties as compared with us. Their establishments cannot, at first, be sufficiently large to enable the division of employments to be carried to any considerable extent, at the sametime that expertness in manipulation, and in the details of the various processes, can only be attained by slow degrees. It appears, therefore, reasonable to conclude, that such new beginners having to stand the competition of those who have already arrived at a very high degree of perfection in the art, must be immediately driven out of every market equally accessible to both parties; and that nothing but the aid derived from restrictive regulations and prohibitions will be effectual to prevent the total destruction of their establishments in the countries where they are set up.

But it is said, that great as these advantages certainly are, they are counterbalanced by still greater drawbacks; that the advantage of obtaining the raw material of the manufacture from their own citizens, and without having to pay the expense of conveying it to a distant country, will, in the end, enable the nascent manufactures of America to obtain an ascendency over ours; and that the high price of provisions in this country, and our high taxes, by raising the wages we pay to our workmen considerably above the level of those of the Continental states, lay us under a disadvantage with which neither our great capital, nor the superior skill and intelligence of our artisans, can enable us permanently to contend.

In so far, however, as respects America, we do not think that there is the smallest probability of her ever becoming a dangerous rival of ours in manufacturing industry, or that the fact of her being possessed of the raw material, is a circumstance of any importance. The Americans are possessed of such vast tracts of fertile, and hitherto unoccupied land, that agricultural employments must continue, for a very long period, to form decidedly the most beneficial mode in which they can employ their capital and industry: and it may be supposed, that, according as a knowledge of the sound principles of public economy is more generally diffused, the people and their rulers will see the folly of attempting to force the premature establishment of manufactures; and will become more and more dispo sed to follow the just and liberal policy of allowing every individual to prosecute his own interest in his own way. But, assuming that the Americans should persevere in the erroneous policy, on which they have latterly been acting, of forcing the establishment of manufactures, what is the amount of the advantage they will gain from the possession of the raw material ? It is clear, that if manufactures are ever to be successfully carried on in America, it can only be in the Northern States ; for no one can imagine that manufactured goods produced by slave labour will ever be able to come successfully into competition with similar goods produced by free labour : And if cotton has to be exported from Georgia and Carolina to a distant part of the Union, the difference between the cost of its conveyance to Massachusetts, or Connecticut, and Great Britain, must be altogether inappreciable, as compared with the ultimate cost of the manufactured goods. We, therefore, entertain no fears whatever of the competition of America. There are insuperable obstacles to her becoming a manufacturing nation for a very long series of years; and when she does become one, the advantage she will derive from possessing the raw material, will be hardly worth mentioning, and will go but a very short way indeed, to balance the peculiar sources of our superiority.

But it is on the competition of our Continental neighbours, assisted by our high wages and taxes, that those who anticipate the decline of our manufacturing and commercial prosperity, lay the greatest stress. It is idle, it is said, for us to deceive ourselves, by trusting to the superior magnitude of our capital, and the greater proficiency to which we have already attained in the manufacture. These advantages, it is admitted, may insure our ascendency for a while; but it is affirmed that they are not of a description that can be monopolized; that the French, and other Continental nations, have already made, and are continuing to make, considerable progress in the manufacture; and that our comparatively high wages and taxes must ultimately give them a superiority over us. As these statements have been repeatedly advanced, and have made a considerable impression, we shall examine them a little minutely.

In the first place, then, we have to observe, that we very much doubt whether wages are really higher in England than in France. That wages, estimated by the day, are higher in the former, is, we believe, true; but the question really at issue, is not, whether the wages paid to workmen employed for a given period are higher in France than in England, but,—whether the wages or sums paid for executing a particular piece of work are higher ? Now, this is obviously a radically different question from the former. A very competent judge of such matters, the late Arthur Young, gave it as his opinion, that an Essex labourer, at 28. 6d. a-day, was decidedly cheaper than a Tipperary labourer at 5d. ! And, upon the same principle, though a French manufacturer were able to hire his workmen, by the day or the week, for some 20 or 30 per cent less than an English manufacturer pays to his, yet, as the British labourers, from their better training, the greater subdivision of employments amongst them, and their industrious habits, are able to execute a decidedly greater quantity of work in a given space of time than the French labourers, the wages or price of labour may really be lower in this country than in France. We do not, however, pretend to form an accurate estimate of the comparative price of labour in the two countries; but we have been assured, by gentlemen of great experience, and intimately acquainted with the state of industry in both countries, that although the French workmen may equal, or even surpass the English in jewellery, and in the manufacture of fancy articles and trinkets, and, generally, in all those departments in which labour is light, and into which machinery has not been largely introduced, they are very inferior to them in others; and that the English cotton, woollen, and hardware manufacturers, and machine makers, get any quantity of work cheaper, and at the same time incomparably better executed than it could be done in France.

It is not, therefore, from loose and ill-digested statements about the low rate of wages in France, as compared with their rate in England, that any accurate estimate can be formed of

the real price of labour in the two countries. But admitting, for the sake of illustration, for we believe the fact to be otherwise, that labour is really cheaper in France than in England, it will not require any very elaborate argument to show that this circumstance cannot, of itself, lay our cotton manufacturers under any disadvantage as compared with those of France or any other country.

We admit that it seems at first sight sufficiently paradoxical to affirm, that an increase of wages has a tendency to reduce the price of all that class of commodities, which, like cottons, and many other species of manufactured goods, are produced chiefly by the aid of machinery. But the paradox is only in appearance; and a very small degree of attention will serve to convince any one at all familiar with such investigations, that the proposition is as undeniable as it is important.

Some commodities are almost entirely the produce of manual labour, while others, as cotton twist, for example, are almost entirely the produce of the labour of fixed capital, or machinery; and it is, therefore, plain, that nearly the whole of the first class, or their value, must go to the labourer as his wages, and that of the second to the manufacturer, as his profits. Suppose, to illustrate what has now been stated, that a manufacturer has a machine worth L.10,000, calculated to last for a considerable number of years, and which can manufacture goods with the assistance of but little manual labour. In this case, it is quite clear that the goods produced by the machine really form the profit of the capital expended in its construction; and their value, or price rated in money, must, therefore, vary with every variation in the rate of profit. If profits are 10 per cent, then the goods annually produced by the machine must, supposing the value of money not to alter, sell for L.1,000, exclusive of a small additional sum to replace the wear and tear of the engine. Should profits rise to 15 per cent, the price of the goods produced by the machine must rise to L.1,500, for otherwise the manufacturer would not obtain the common and average rate of profit. And if, on the other hand, profits should fall to 5 per cent, the price of the goods must, for the same reason, fall to L.500. If, therefore, it can be shown that a rise of wages reduces the rate of profits, it necessarily follows that it must also reduce the value and price of all such commodities as are chiefly produced by the aid of fixed capital or machinery

But it is clear that every rise of wages, which is not accompanied by an increased productiveness of industry, must proportionally lower the rate of profit. Profits and wages,

« PreviousContinue »