Wednesday, 27 June 2012

27th June 1812: 'Vindex' responds to 'Justus' in the Leeds Mercury

Mr EDITOR,—With your Permission I shall make a few observations on JUSTUS’s Letter, which appeared in the last Mercury, to which I am induced, not so much on account of what it contains as from the opportunity it will afford me of making some additional remarks to those I have already made on the subject of Machinery.

I allowed in my last paper that it would be absurd to employ men with one might be advantageously performed by a machine, but this allowance was made with the consideration that the time and manner of introducing it should be favourable; it was not to be at a time when there is no danger of a diminished trade from the dearness of our manufactures; neither was to be applied when there are already more men than can find employment, and who at the same time labour under the accumulated evils of heavy taxes and the high price of provisions; nor did I intend that he should be introduced in a sudden and general manner, but rather that it should be adopted gradually, and a reasonable time allowed to those who are affected, to find employment other ways. This might be easily done by prohibiting all those who apply for a patent from erecting above a certain number of their machines within a limited period, according to the circumstances of the case. By this means all the inconveniences which result from a large body of men being thrown suddenly out of employment would be prevented, as the men affected by the machine would “die off,” and no person would bring his children up to a trade that was shortly to expire. If Justus had attended to the above limitations, under which I ventured to approve machinery, he would not I believe have found himself under the necessity charging me either with inconsistency or perverting the fair course of argument, for interested purposes. As for the latter I believe my interests are as little connected with machinery as yours, Sir. But Justus seems not to have been aware of the importance of time and (to use a well-known phrase) “existing circumstances,” for these are the only points concerning which men of sense can be divided; they are the hinge upon which the whole discussion of this affair must turn, and the only ground on which I purpose to content about machinery. Justus acknowledges that some may be sufferers from it, but the public in general will be gainers. Why then does he not recommend it to the public to make some compensation to those who are suffering for their benefit? Why should the interests of one part of the community be selected as a sacrifice for the good of the other?

Upon the whole Justus’s paper contains nothing either comforting or convincing to those whom it concerns, and will, I am afraid, contribute very little to reconcile and the loss of two-thirds of their income. It was not necessary to inform them, but they must change their employments; this is what they are aware of, and that of which they principally complain. I shall now leave Justus without noticing his draw-boy breeches, one-legged weaver, and calimanco petticoat; neither will I make any remark on the very pathetic exclamation with which he concludes, for I think it is rather extraneous.

It has at all times, Sir, been the policy of our rulers to render the price of labour as low as possible, that our merchants might be enabled to sell their commodities cheap. To attain this desired object the principal means resorted to have been the enacting severe punishment against those who should combine to advance the price of labour. It seems never to have entered the sensorium of our Legislators to limit the profits of our merchants, although by that means the objects they had in contemplation might be procured with equal justice and effect. Every one may combine with impunity to lessen the sources of the happiness and prosperity of the poor, but they must not combine.

Whoever impartially examines the laws by which our commerce is regulated, must be surprised that the partiality they show to one class of the community, to the detriment both of the artisan and producer of the raw materials. This advantage the persons enjoying it have contrived to procure by artfully persuading the law-makers that their own private interest is the interest of the whole community.

If, Sir, through the medium of your independent paper, the above observations should contribute in a trifling degree to allay those fierce animosities that of lately been engendered, and if they should produce a spirit of forbearance and sympathy, instead of insult and contempt, my object will be fully attained. This is not the time for encroachment on the labouring classes, the difficulties under which they labour are already too great and numerous; something must be attempted by way of conciliation, any thing like coercion will, I fear, only tend to deeds of greater violence and desperation. Theirs is not a clamour for a chimerical form of Government; only give them employment, and let that employment produce them bread, and we shall hear no more of riot and outrage.

I remain yours,

Leeds, June 10, 1812.
To the Editor of the Leeds Mercury.

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