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alterations which, with Mr. Canning's sanction and support, had been introduced into our commercial system.
To the merit of originating these alterations, or of adapting them to practice, Mr. Canning laid no claim. They were unconnected for the
. most part with the business of the department over which he presided, and they related to a branch of politicks, the study of which was of all perhaps the least suited to his taste. Nevertheless they were far too important in their nature and consequences for Mr. Canning to have left them wholly to the management of others; and high as was his opinion of Mr. Huskisson's judgment and knowledge in commercial and financial matters, yet he gave not his approbation to the system of that minister, until, by a careful examination of the principles on which it was founded, he had satisfied himself of their truth; nor did he give his support to the measures themselves until he had ascertained, not only that they were in conformity with the general principles which he had approved, but were likewise so qualified, as to be well fitted to the peculiar nature of the case to which they might be intended to apply.
Thus Mr. Canning was perfectly convinced of the truth of the abstract principle, that commerce is sure to flourish most, when wholly un. fettered by restrictions, but since such had not been the opinions, either of our ancestors or of surrounding nations, and since, in consequence, restraints had been imposed upon all commercial transactions, a state of things had grown up, to which the unguarded application of the abstract principle, however true it was in theory, might have been somewhat mischievous in practice. The opposite course, however, of entirely disregarding this principle in commercial legislation, would certainly not have been less mischievous in its ultimate results; and Mr. Canning felt that it was the part of sound policy never, indeed, to lose sight of the principle, but, at the same time, never to forget, that, from the circumstance of its having been previously lost sight of, there existed an absolute necessity for applying it with discretion, and care.
Such were Mr. Canning's views of the best mode of treating commercial affairs. With respect to them, as well as with respect to political concerns in general, his first desire was in every case to assure himself of philosophical truth, and to ascertain the springs of action inherent in nature. These, he knew, must always be pressing with a strong force in one direction, and would thereby tend to counteract the efforts of those, who, unconscious of the existence of such an opposing power, urge on their schemes in a different, and unnatural direction.
It is not here proposed to enter into a minute examination of the various changes which were made in our commercial laws during the time that Mr. Canning was in office; but since he declared in Parliament, that he considered himself accountable for them, it would be leaving incomplete the history of this part of his life, if no outline were given of the measures, for the recommendation of which he did not hesitate to proclaim that he was ready to take his full share of the responsibility.
It has been already stated, that the principle upon which all our laws relating to Commerce were founded, was that of interference, either by restriction on the one hand, or encouragement on the other. Trade was not left to itself to find its own channels, but it was to be forced by a vain meddling legislation into those channels, into which it would not of its own accord have flowed: all laws on this subject were made with reference to parts alone, the Government never legislating for the country, as a whole. Thus the importation of some goods were prohibited lest they should interfere with the internal consumption of some favoured manufactures, and bounties were given to induce the production, and exportation of others. Ships of foreign nations were not allowed to carry certain specified articles, and every enactment was unblushingly made under the assumption that we
could not benefit ourselves, except at the expense of our neighbours.
Up to the commencement of the late war, and through that war, with only such modifications as a state of hostilities occasionally required, this system was persevered in ; and its full revival, and strict continuance seemed to be contemplated as the natural consequence of the return of peace. It had till then no doubt been
. productive of great advantage to our Navigation, especially in its earlier stages; for strange it
may appear, it is nevertheless true, that the principles of commercial intercourse were then so little understood, that surrounding nations viewed our Navigation laws, if not without jealousy, at least without having recourse to retaliation. After the close of the American War, the altered position of the Countries which we had founded - then uniting and for the first time assuming the character of an independent nation — made some alterations in our Navigation Laws indispensable to the existence of any commercial intercourse between Great Britain, and the United States : these alterations were made ; but, notwithstanding, laws were then passed by that infant Nation highly injurious to our commerce. Still these laws were not framed with the wise object of compelling Great Britain to abandon, as far as regarded the United States, her system of commerce and navigation, but originated rather in those feelings of deeply rooted hatred towards this Country, which the remembrance of past oppression, and recent strife, had then engendered in the bosoms of our trans-Atlantick brethren.
To counteract these proceedings on the part of the United States it appears that various plans were suggested, and considered by the Governments of the day; but they one and all were abandoned, and the Revolutionary War broke out in 1798 without any material change having been made in our commercial system. The peculiar features which characterized that war, of near a quarter of a century's duration, enabled us during that long period to maintain that system. The anti-commercial edicts of Napoleon, and the insecurity with which all trading ships traversed the Seas, unless under the safeguard of the British Navy, or American fag, caused the disappearance from the Ocean of all mercantile ships, with the exception of those of Great Britain, and the United States. So that from the force of circumstances, wholly unconnected with our laws, We, and our former Colony, monopolized the navigation of the World.
When peace was restored in 1815, the preservation of this monopoly for any length of time became impossible. Sounder principles of commerce very generally prevailed; and other