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honourable trust you have reposed in me. I am, with the highest regard and esteem,
COPY OF A LETTER
MESSRS. ******* ****** AND CO., BRISTOL.
It gives me the most sensible concern to find, that my vote on the resolutions relative to the trade of Ireland has not been fortunate enough to meet with your approbation. I have explained at large the grounds of my conduct on that occasion in my letters to the Merchants' Hall; but my very sincere regard and esteem for you will not permit me to let the matter pass without an explanation, which is particular to yourselves, and which, I hope, will prove satisfactory to you.
You tell me, that the conduct of your late member is not much wondered at; but you seem to be at a loss to account for mine ; and you lament that I have taken so decided a part against my constituents.
This is rather a heavy imputation. Does it then really appear to you, that the propositions to which you refer, are, on the face of them, so manifestly wrong, and so certainly injurious to the trade and manufactures of Great Britain, and particularly to yours, that no man could think of proposing or supporting them, except from resentment to you, or from some other oblique motive ? If you suppose your late member, or if you suppose me, to act upon other reasons than we choose to avow, to what do you attribute the conduct of the other members, who in the beginning almost unanimously adopted those resolutions ? To what do you attri. bute the strong part taken by the ministers, and along with the
ministers, by several of their most declared opponents ? This does not indicate a ministerial job; a party design; or a provincial or local purpose. It is therefore not so absolutely clear, that the measure is wrong, or likely to be injurious to the true interests of any place, or any person.
The reason, gentlemen, for taking this step, at this time, is but too obvious and too urgent. I cannot imagine, that you forget the great war, which has been carried on with so little success and, as I thought, with so little policy) in America ; or that you are not aware of the other great wars which are impending. Ireland has been called upon to repel the attacks of enemies of no small power, brought upon her by councils in which she has had no share. The very purpose and declared object of that original war, which has brought other wars and other enemies on Ireland, was not very flattering to her dignity, her interest, or to the very principle of her liberty. Yet she submitted patiently to the evils she suffered from an attempt to subdue to your obedience countries whose very commerce was not open to her. America was to be conquered, in order that Ireland should not trade thither; whilst the miserable trade which she is permitted to carry on to other places has been torn to pieces in the struggle. In this situation, are we neither to suffer her to have any real interest in our quarrel, or to be flattered with the hope of any future means of bearing the burthens which she is to incur in defending herself against enemies which we have brought upon her ?
I cannot set my face against such arguments. Is it quite fair to suppose, that I have no other motive for yielding to them, but a desire of acting against my constituents ? It is for you, and for your interest, as a dear, cherished, and respected part of a valuable whole, that I have taken my share in this question. You do not, you cannot suffer by it. If honesty be true policy with regard to the transient interest of individuals, it is much more certainly so with regard to the permanent interests of communities. I know, that it is but too natural for us to see our own certain ruin in the possible prosperity of other people. It is hard to persuade us, that everything which is got by another is not taken from ourselves. But it is fit that we should get the better of these suggestions, which come from what is not the best and
soundest part of our nature, and that we should form to our. selves a way of thinking, more rational, more just, and more religious. Trade is not a limited thing; as if the objects of mutual demand and consumption could not stretch beyond the bounds of our jealousies. God has given the earth to the children of men, and he has undoubtedly, in giving it to them, given them what is abundantly sufficient for all their exigences; not a scanty, but a most liberal, provision for
in that nature, and has promulgated the same law in his written word, that man shall eat his bread by his labour; and I am persuaded, that no man, and no combination of men, for their own ideas of their particular profit, can, without great impiety, undertake to say, that he shall not do so; that they have no sort of right, either to prevent the labour, or to withhold the bread. Ireland having received no compensation, directly or indirectly, for any restraints on their trade, ought not, in justice or common honesty, to be made subject to such restraints. I do not mean to impeach the right of the parliament of Great Britain to make laws for the trade of Ireland. I only speak of what laws it is right for parliament to make.
It is nothing to an oppressed people, to say that in part they are protected at our charge. The military force which shall be kept up in order to cramp the natural faculties of a people, and to prevent their arrival to their utmost prosperity, is the instrument of their servitude, not the means of their protection. To protect men, is to forward, and not to restrain, their improvement. Else, what is it more, than to avow to them, and to the world, that you guard them from others, only to make them a prey to yourself? This fundamental nature of protection does not belong to free, but to all governments; and is as valid in Turkey as in Great Britain. No government ought to own that it exists for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people, or that there is such a principle involved in its policy.
Under the impression of these sentiments (and not as wanting every attention to my constituents, which affection and gratitude could inspire) I voted for these bills which give you so much trouble. I voted for them, not as doing complete justice to Ireland, but as being something less unjust than the general prohibition which has hitherto prevail. ed. I hear some discourse, as if, in one or two paltry duties on materials, Ireland had a preference; and that those, who set themselves against this act of scanty justice, assert that they are only contending for an equality. What equality ? Do they forget, that the whole woollen manufacture of Ireland, the most extensive and profitable of any, and the natural staple of that kingdom, has been in a manner so destroyed by restrictive laws of ours, and (at our persuasion, and on our promises) by restrictive laws of their own, that in a few years, it is probable, they will not be able to wear a coat of their own fabric ? Is this equality? Do gentlemen forget, that the understood faith, upon which they were persuaded to such an unnatural act, has not been kept; and that a linen-manufacture has been set up, and highly encouraged, against them? Is this equality ? Do they forget the state of the trade of Ireland in beer, so great an article of consumption, and which now stands in so mischievous a position with regard to their revenue, their manufacture, and their agriculture ? Do they find any equality in all this? Yet if the least step is taken towards doing them common justice in the lightest articles for the most limited markets, a cry is raised, as if we were going to be ruined by partiality to Ireland.
Gentlemen, I know that the deficiency in these arguments is made up (not by you, but by others) by the usual resource on such occasions, the confidence in military force and superior power. But that ground of confidence, which at no time was perfectly just, or the avowal of it tolerably decent, is at this time very unseasonable. Late experience has shown, that it cannot be altogether relied upon; and many, if not all, of our present difficulties have arisen from putting our trust in what may very possibly fail; and if it should fail, leaves those who are hurt by such a reliance, without pity. Whereas honesty and justice, reason and equity, go a very great way in securing prosperity to those who use them; and, in case of failure, secure the best retreat, and the most honourable consolations.
It is very unfortunate that we should consider those as rivals, whom we ought to regard as fellow-labourers in a common cause. Ireland has never made a single step in its progress towards prosperity, by which you have not had a share, and perbaps the greatest share, in the benefit. That progress has been chiefly owing to her own natural advantages, and her own efforts, which, after a long time, and by slow degrees, have prevailed in some measure over the mischievous systems which have been adopted. Far enough she is still from having arrived even at an ordinary state of perfection; and if our jealousies were to be converted into politics, as systematically as some would have them, the trade of Ireland would vanish out of the system of commerce. But believe me, if Ireland is beneficial to you, it is so not from the parts in which it is restrained, but from those in which it is left free, though not left unrivalled. The greater its freedom, the greater must be your advantage. If you should lose in one way, you will gain in twenty.
Whilst I remain under this unalterable and powerful conviction, you will not wonder at the decided part I take. It is my custom so to do, when I see my way clearly before me; and when I know that I am not misled by any passion, or any personal interest; as in this case, I am very sure, I am not. I find that disagreeable things are circulated among my constituents; and I wish my sentiments, which form my justification, may be equally general with the circulation against me. I have the honour to be, with the greatest regard and esteem,
I send the bills.