Wednesday, 6 June 2012

6th June 1812: 'Justus' responds to 'Vindex' in the Leeds Mercury

MR. EDITOR,—Sir, like your Correspondent VINDEX, of the 23d ult. I too am a votary of peace; and, like him too, entertain a hope that something may be done towards its restoration by a fair discussion of the unhappy differences which at present exist in this part of the country respecting the use of Machinery.

He begins by admitting the advantages of Machinery, in general, as a substitute for manual labour, and admitting this, I hope to make it appear that he must either confess himself guilty of inconsistency and an unfair attempt to pervert the course of argument from its straight road into the bye-path of his particular interest, or allow that it is equally desirable and equally advantageous to carry Machinery to the greatest possible perfection. Cropping by hand is universally allowed to be a most laborious employment; to crop by Machinery is done at a comparatively trifling expence of bodily exertion.—So far, therefore, it is productive of an effect which Mr. Vindex himself allows to be desirable; and at no time whatever can new Machinery at any time be introduced, but it must follow as matter of necessity, that those persons formerly employed in that particular labour now destined to be performed by Machinery, must be thrown out of their usual occupation, and for a time feel that inconvenience which we should or any of his feel on being compelled to a change of our early habits. But because general good is unavoidably attended with partial evil, shall we refuse to promote the general welfare? Shall we murmur at purchasing a lasting advantage at the expence of a temporary inconvenience? It is within the recollection of us all that the Cotton Trade has superseded the manufacture of Worsted Goods, and that in consequence the Makers and Buyers of the latter goods were subjected to great loss and inconveniece; yet they never rose up and said to this man, “You shall wear a pair of draw-boy breeches, or I’ll shoot you;” or to that woman, “You shall wear a callimanco petticoat, or I’ll break your windows.” Their sufferings were the unavoidable effect of the progressive improvement of society in general, which who would wish to put a stop to? and they gradually surmounted them by turning their exertions into other channels, and yet I believe they have been subjected to greater inconvenience than the Croppers have experienced. Their branch of business was really extirpated; but the Cropper might have secured a continuance of employment to themselves if they had chosen; for I am informed that the Owners of Cropping Mills were willing, and even desirous to employ old Croppers in preference to men who had not been brought up to the business, and also to have employed their wives and children as burlers, &c. Their obstinacy, however, has compelled the Mill-Owners to employ men who were entire strangers to the business, and who are now learning from a guinea to 25s. weekly in their service—wages which are surely no plea for riot and insurrection.

Your correspondent further observes, that we have nothing to fear from the competition of foreign manufactures, as advantages of price, quality, industry and skill, are decidedly on our side. So far as related to quality and skill, I beg leave to call his assertion in question. It is well known that in France and Italy are manufactured cloths which in England cannot be equalled, and that all over the Continent they are rapidly improving in their Woollen Manufacture. Besides this, that unfortunate system which shuts us out of their markets, urges them on in the path of improvement; it will not do for us to defer the adoption of improvements until the return of peace—our rivals are employing the interval of warfare in the pursuit of every species of improvement, and we must do likewise, or we shall eventually find ourselves sadly behind hand. It is, therefore, only on the ground of being able to afford our goods at a lower price than they are manufactured for abroad, that we can hope to maintain our superiority in the foreign markets. Nor is it matter of indifference to the Merchant whether his cloth be dressed by Hand or Machinery, in as much as the dressing by Machinery is in itself greatly superior to the dressing by Hand. He, therefore, who opposes the improvement of machinery, aims a fatal blow at the commercial interests of his country, since it is our Machinery alone which enables us to manufacture at a cheaper rate than our continental rivals.

I cannot, therefore, Mr. Editor, consider such improvements as furnishing the shadow of an apology for our present disturbances; nor do I think the plea of want of work, in general, offered with more truth. In that part of the country which I inhabit, there is, at least, no lack of employment; and if people chused to turn their hand to such as offers itself, I really think they need not be idle—but they must accommodate themselves to the changing circumstances of the times. If two men go to ask work at the same place and both persisting being gardeners, it is very probable they may not both find employment; but if one takes the gardener’s place and the other the groom’s, they may both be employed. Or if by any accident, a weaver were to lose one of his legs, would it not be thought strange perverseness if, because he could no longer use his feet for earning his bread, he were obstinately to persist in refusing to learn to use his hands for that purpose? All this I know cannot be done without inconvenience; but any being capable of feeling and reflection, would rather, O surely! much rather, suffer inconvenience than incur guilt.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,


Halifax, May 26, 1812.

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