Wednesday, 30 November 2016

30th November 1816: 'A Letter to the Luddites' by William Cobbett


At this time, when the cause of freedom is making a progress which is as cheering to the hearts of her friends as it is appalling to those of her enemies, and, when it is become evident that nothing can possibly prevent that progress from terminating in the happiness of our country, which has, for so many years, been a scene of human misery and degradation; when it is become evident that so glorious a termination of our struggles can be now prevented only by our giving way to our passions instead of listening to the voice of reason, only by our committing those acts which admit of no justification either in law or in equity; at such a time, can it be otherwise than painful to reflect, that acts of this description are committed in any part of the kingdom, and particularly in the enlightened, the patriotic, the brave town of Nottingham? 

The abuse which has been heaped upon you by those base writers whose object is to inflame one part of the people against the other; the horrid stories which have been retailed about your injustice and cruelty; the murderous punishments which these writers express their wish to see inflicted on you; the delight which they evidently feel when any of you come to an untimely end; all these produce no feeling in my mind other than that of abhorrence of your calumniators. The atrocious wickedness of charging you with the burning BELVOIR CASTLE, in support of which charge there has not been produced the slightest proof, in spite of all the endeavours to do it, and all the anxiety to fix such a crime upon you; this alone ought to satisfy the nation, that it can rely upon nothing which a corrupt press has related relative to your conduct. But, still it is undeniable, that you have committed acts of violence on the property of your neighbours, and have, in some instances, put themselves and their families in bodily fear. This is not to be denied, and it is deeply to be lamented.

However enlarged our views may be; however impartial we may feel towards our countrymen, still there will be some particular part of them whose conduct we view with more than ordinary approbation, and for whom we feel more than ordinary good will. It is impossible for me, as a native of these Islands, not feel proud at beholding the attitude which my countrymen are now taking; at hearing the cause of freedom so ably maintained by men who seem to have sprung up, all at once, out of the earth, from the North of Scotland to the Banks of the Thames. At Glasgow, at Paisley, at Bridgton, throughout the noble counties of York and Lancaster, and in many other parts besides the Metropolis, we now behold that, which to behold almost compensates us for a life of persecution and misery. But, still, amidst this crowd of objects of admiration, Nottingham always attracts my particular attention. I have before me the history of the conduct of Nottingham in the worst of times. I have traced its conduct down to the present hour. It has been foremost in all that is public-spirited and brave; and, I shall be very nearly returned to the earth, when my blood ceases to stir more quickly than usual at the bare sound of the name of Nottingham.

Judge you, then, my good friends, what pain it must have given me to hear you accused of acts, which I was not only unable to justify, but which, in conscience and in honor, I was bound to condemn! I am not one of those, who have the insolence to presume, that men are ignorant because they are poor. If I myself have more knowledge, and talent, than appears to have fallen to the lot of those who have brought us into our present miserable state, it ought to convince me, that there are thousands and thousands, now unknown to the public, possessed of greater talent, my education having been that of the common soldier grafted upon the plough-boy. Therefore, I beg you not to suppose, that I address myself to you as one who pretends any to any superiority in point of rank, or of natural endowments. I address you as a friend who feels most sincerely for your sufferings; who is convinced that you are in error as to the cause of those suffering; who wishes to remove that error; and, I do not recollect any occasion of my whole life, when I have had so ardent a desire to produce conviction.

As the particular ground of quarrel between you and your employees, I do not pretend to understand it very clearly. There must have been faults or follies on their side, at some time or other, and there may be still; but, I think that we shall see, in the sequel, that those circumstances which appear to you to have arisen from their avarice, have, in fact, arisen from their want of the means, more than from their want of inclination, to afford you a competence, in exchange for your labour; and, I think this, because it is their interest that you should be happy and contented.

But, as to the use of machinery in general, I am quite sure, that there cannot be a solid objection. However, as this is a question of very great importance, let us reason it together. Hear me with patience; and, if you still differ with me in opinion, ascribe my opinion to error, for, it is quite impossible for me to have any interest in differing with you. But before we proceed any further, it may not be amis to observe, that the writers on the side of Corruption are very anxious to inculcate notions hostile to machinery as well as notions hostile to Bakers and Butchers. This fact alone ought to put you on your guard. These men first endeavour to set the labouring class on upon their employers; and, then they call aloud for troops to mow them down.

By machines mankind are able to do that which their own bodily powers would never effect to the same extent. Machines are the produce of the mind of man; and their existence distinguishes the civilised man from the savage. The savages has no machines, or, at least nothing that we call machines. But, his life is a very miserable life. He is ignorant; his mind has no powers; and, therefore, he is feeble and contemptible. To shew that machines are not naturally and necessarily an evil, we have only to suppose the existence of a patriarchal race of a hundred men and their families, all living in common, four men of which are employed in making cloth by hand. Now, suppose some one to discover a machine, by which all the cloth wanted can made by one man. The consequence would be, that the great family would (having enough of every thing else) use more cloth; or, if any part of the labour of the three cloth-makers were much wanted in that other department, they would be be employed in that other department. Thus, would the whole be benefited by the means of this invention; the whole would have more clothes amongst them, or more food would be raised, or the same quantity as before would be raised, leaving the community more leisure for study or for recreation.

See ten miserable mariners cast on shore on a desert island with only a bag of wheat and a little flax seed. The soil is prolific; they have fish and fruits; the branches or bark of trees make them houses, and the wild animals afford them meat. Yet, what miserable dogs there are! They can neither sow the wheat, make the flour, nor catch the fish or the animals. But, let another wreck toss on the shore a spade, a hand-mill, a trowel, a hatchet, a saw, a pot, and some fish-hooks and knives, and how soon the scene is changed! Yet they want clothes, and in order to make them shirts, for instance, six or seven out of the ten are constantly employed in making the linen. This throws a monstrous burden of labour upon the other three, who have to provide the food—But, send them a loom, and you release six out of the seven from the shirt-making concern; and ease as well as plenty immediately succeed.

In these simple cases the question is decided at once in favour of machines. With regard to their effects, in a great community like ours, that question is necessarily more complicated; but, at any rate, enough has been said to show that men cannot live in a civilized state without machines; for, every implement used by man is a machine, machine merely meaning thing as contradistinguished from the hand of man. Besides, if we indulge ourselves in a cry against machines, where are we to stop? Some misguided, poor, suffering men in the county of Suffolk, have distroyed threshing machines. Why not ploughs, which are only digging machines? Why not spades, and thus come to our bare hands at once? But, why threshing machines? Is not the flail a machine? The corn could be rubbed out in the hand, and winnowed by the breath; but, then, nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of us must starve, and the few that remained must become savages.

I will not insult that good sense, of which the men of Nottingham have given so many striking proofs, by pushing further my illustrations of the position, that machinery in general is not an evil. But, the great question to be decided, is, whether machinery, as it is at present exists, does not operate to the disadvantage of journeymen and labourers, and is not one cause of the misery they now experience! This is the great question to be decided. But, before I enter on it, give me leave to shew you, that the corrupt press, by which you are so much abused, is actually engaged in the work of sending us back by degrees into the savate state just described!

There is a paper in London, called the COURIER, which is always praising the acts of the government and always abusing the reformers in the most gross and outrageous manner. The Morning Chronicle asserts that the proprietor this paper has regular communications with the offices of government. I do not know how this may be; but, certain it is, that, through thick and thin, it praises the acts of the government. This paper, on the twenty-first instant, contained the following paragraph:—“Amongst other employments for the poor, it is recommended, that parishes should furnish themselves with hand corn-mills; that parish bake offices should be established; and that the women and girls should be employed in spinning and carding of wool. In Essex many hands have been employed to shell beans in the fields, which has been done so low as 3d. per bushel, a sum under that usually paid for threshing. By this means, the brans are got quick to market, first being dried upon the kiln, with the advantage of not being bruised, as they must otherwise have been, if threshed with a flail."

This is actually a bold step towards the savage state. It is exceedingly foolish, but, as I shall presently show, exceeding mischievous also; or, at least, it would be so, if the people had not too much sense to be misled by it. The mind of man has discovered a mode of preparing corn for making him food, by the use of brooks, streams, rivers, and the wind. His mind has subjected the water and wind to his control, and compelled them to serve him in this essential business.—But, these barbarians would fain render his discoveries of no avail. They would deprive us of the use of the Wind and the Water in this respect, and set us to grind our corn by hand. Still, hand-mills are machines. Come, then, let us resort to Robinson Crusoe's pestle and mortar. No: those are machines. Why, then, let us, like cattle, grind the corn with our teeth.

But, what good are these hand-mills to do the poor? Let us see. There is one mill in Hampshire which is capable of grinding and dressing 200 sacks of wheat in a day. The men employed in and about this mill are, or would be if in full work, about twelve. Now, there are about 200 parishes in Hampshire. Suppose each has a hand-mill, capable of grinding and dressing a sack in a day, and that is full as much as can be done by two able man. Here are four hundred men and two hundred machines employed to do that which would be a great deal better done by twelve men and one stream of water. Aye, but this would find employment for 400 men! Employment! Why not employ them "to fling stones against the wind?" What use would their labour be to any body? May they not as well be doing nothing as doing no good? In short, if the powerful assistance of the Wind and the Water were thrown aside in this important business, we should find ourselves making rapid progress towards the feebleness of savage life.

"Bake-houses:" parish bake-houses, are recommended; and, for what? People now bake at their own houses, if they choose, and yet they find, in general, there is little economy in so doing. Why, then, this new invention? It is a gross folly. Why not recommend us all to make our own shoes, our own hats, and so on throughout all the articles of dress and of furniture? Why is the baker’s trade become more unnecessary now than at any former period? But the folly is here surpassed by the mischievousness; because this recommendation has a tendency to excite popular discontent against the bakers, and to cause such acts of violence as form an excuse for the calling forth of troops. Seeing, that this is a matter of great importance, I will lay before you a statement of the Baker’s profits, by which you will see how unjust are all the attacks which are made upon that description of persons. The best way, however, to satisfy your minds upon this subject, is to suppose the same man to be both Miller and Baker, and to show you how much a Load of Wheat is sold for to the Miller, and how much it brings back from the public when paid for by them in the shape of bread. There is no man in England better able to speak confidently upon this subject than I am, having myself caused corn to be ground into flour by a horse-mill, under my only immediate inspection and superintendence, and having verified all the particulars with the greatest exactness. This very year I have sold wheat at market, and, at the same time, have ground the same sample of wheat into flour for my own use and that of my labourers. Thus I know to a certainty the profits of the Miller and the Baker both put together, and my wonder has been, that they find the means of living upon so small a profit.

I speak of a Load of Wheat, because my experiments have been made upon that quantity. A Load is 40 Winchester Bushels. A load of my wheat weighing 58½ lb a bushel, and, in the whole, 2349lb. yielded me 1487lb. of flour, fine and seconds; but, I take it, 1475lb of fine flour, and 807lb of Bran, Pollard, and what we call Blues. The 1575lb. of flour made 1890lb. of Bread, according to repeated experiments. The distribution of the Load of Wheat stood thus:—

In flour - - - - - - - - - - 1497 lbs.
In offal - - - - - - - - - -   807
Waste   - - - - - - - - - -   55

Weight of wheat - - -  2349 [sic: this should be 2359]

The waste arises partly from what goes off in dust about the mill, but chiefly from the evaporation which takes place when the grain comes to be bruised, because, though apparently quite dry and hard, there is a certain portion of moisture, or else there could be no vegetation in the grain, and, it is the small remnant of this vegetative principle, which causes the flour to swell. If dried upon a kiln, wheat will never produce light bread. Now, as to the money part of the concern. 

The 1475lb. of flour made 1890lb. of bread, or 438 quartern loaves, at 4lb. 5oz. each. The offal was worth, at the market price, a penny a pound weight. The Bakers in the village sold bread at the same time, at 1s. 1d. the quartern loaf.

438 loaves amounted to - - - - £23 14 0
807lb. of offal - - - - - - - - - - - - -  3 17 0
                                            £27 11 0

Market price of the wheat - - -  19  0  0

Balance - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -     8 11 0

Here, then, is £8. 11s. 0d more than the wheat cost. But only think of what is to be done for this sum! The wheat to be put into the mill; beer for the carters; the grinding and dressing of the wheat; the sacks to put the flour and the offal into; the carrying out of the flour and the offal; a delay in the sale; interest of the £19. and of all those other outgoings; trust and bad debts; the taxes on the Miller’s horses, on all he uses and consumes. Then comes the Baker, Fire for his oven; yeast; labour in making the bread; labour in sending great part of it out; rent of his house; all his numerous taxes; trust and bad debts; and payment for his time. Is it not wonderful, that a load of wheat can be manufactured into bread and distributed at so cheap a rate? But, in order to shew you what could be the consequence of destroying the trade of a Baker, let us suppose the flour of this load of wheat bought by 25 good large families, who require about a bushel of flour each a week. Here would be 26 ovens to heat and 26 women employed during the better part of a day. This would be a cost double in amount to the Baker’s profits; and, what then would be the case, if there were 50 or 70 ovens to heat? My good friends, I know it from very careful observation, that no family can afford to bake their own bread, even where they have ovens, unless they have their fuel for nothing; and I know, too, that labourers, who live in cottages of my own, who have nice little ovens and fuel for nothing, who yet purchase their bread of the Bakers in the village, if their wives have any sort of employment in the fields; and, they have convinced me, that, if the wife lose a days work in a week for the sake of baking, they lose by baking their own bread.

What, then, can the more foolish, more unjust, and more dastardly, that to fall with fury upon this useful, this necessary class of men? And what can be more base and wicked than the efforts of the corrupt press is making, to cause you to believe that a part at least, of your suffering arise from what they villainously call the extortions of bakers and butchers? There is no trade which yields so little profit as that of the baker. The butcher comes next; and, must it not be clear to every one, that if these trades make large profits, many more persons would go into these trades? Every man wants to get money, and, if money was to be gotten in so simple a way, would there not be plenty of people to come forward to get it.

The story of women and children shelling beans in the field at threepence a bushel MUST BE FALSE. But, if true, is it possible for any human being to shell in that way a bushel a day, while it is well known that a man with a flail, will thresh more than twenty bushels of beans in a day, and be in the dry, and be clean and warm all the while! But this is such miserable nonsense, that I will not any longer detain you with further notice of it. Satisfied, that you will be convinced, from what has been said and from the operation of your own good sense, that there is no just ground for anger against bakers and butchers, and that the cause of your suffering must be very different from that of any extortions on the part of such tradesmen. I shall now return to the subject of the machines, and beg your patient attention, while I discuss the interesting question before stated: that is to say, Whether machinery as it at present exists, does, or does not, operate to the disadvantage of journeymen and labourers

The notion of our labourers in agriculture is, that Threshing Machines, for instance, injure them, because, they say, if it were not for these machines, we would have more work to do. This is a great error. For, if, in consequence of using a machine to beat out his corn, the farmer does not expend so much money on that sort of labour, he has so much more money to expend on some other sort of labour. If he saves twenty pounds a year in the article of threshing, he has that twenty pounds a year to expend in draining, fencing, or some other kind of work; for, you will observe, that he does not take the twenty pounds and put it into a chest and lock it up, but lays it out in his business; and his business is to improve his land and to add to the quantity and amount of his produce. Thus, in time, he is enabled to feed more mouths in consequence of his machine, to to buy, and cause others to buy, more clothes than were bought before; and, as in the case of the ten sailors, the skill of the mechanic tends to produce ease and power and happiness.

The threshing machines employ women and children in a dry and comfortable barn, while the men can be spared to go to work in the fields. Thus the weekly income of the labourer who has a large family, is, in many cases, greatly augmented, and his life rendered so much the less miserable. But, this is a trifle compared with the great principles, upon which I am arguing, and which is applicable to all manufactories as well as to farming; for, indeed, what is a farmer, other than a manufacturer of Corn and Cattle?

That the use of machinery, generally speaking, can do the journeyman manufacturer no harm, you will be satisfied of in one moment, if you do but reflect, that it is the quantity of the demand for goods that must always regulate the price, and that the price of the goods must regulate the wages for making the goods. I shall show by and by how the demand, or market, may be affected by an alteration in the currency or money of a country.

The quantity of demand for LACE, for instance, must depend upon the quantity of money which the people of the country have to expend. When the means of expending are abundant, then a great quantity of Lace will be bought; but, but those means diminish, so will the purchase of Lace diminish in amount. But, in every state of a country, in this respect, the effect of machinery must be the same. There will always be a quantity of money to spare to expend in Lace. Sometimes, as we have seen, the quantity of this money will be greater, and sometimes it will be less; but, in no case do I see, that machinery can possibly do the journeyman lace-maker any harm. Suppose, for instance, that the sum which the whole nation have to expend in Lace, be £100,000 a year; that the number of yards of Lace be 500,000; and that the making of the Lace, at £40 a family, gives employment to 2,500 families. The Lace by the means of machinery can be made, it is supposed, at 4s. a yard.—But destroy all machinery, and then the Lace cannot be made perhaps under 20s. a yard. What would the effect of this be? No advantage to you; because, as there is only 100,000l. a year to spare to be expended in Lace, there would be a demand for only one hundred thousand yards instead of five hundred thousand yards. There would still be 2,500 families employed in Lace-making, at 40l. a year for each family; but, at any rate, no advantage could possibly arise to you from the change, because the whole quantity of money expended in Lace must remain the same.

Precisely the same must it be with regard to the STOCKING and all other manufactures. But, while the destruction of machinery, would produce NO GOOD to you with regard to the HOME trade, it would produce a great DEAL OF HARM to you with regard to FOREIGN trade; because it would make your goods so in price, that other nations who would very soon have the machinery, would be able to make the same goods at a much lower price.

I think, then, that it is quite clear, that the existence of machinery to its present extent cannot possibly do the journeyman ANY HARM; but, on the contrary, that he must be injured by the destruction of machinery. And it appears to me equally clear, that if machines could be invented so as to make Lace, Stockings, &c. for half or a quarter the present price, such an improvement could not possibly be injurious to you. Because, as the same sum of money would still, if the country continued in the same state, be laid out in Lace, Stockings, &c. there would be a greater quantity of those goods sold and used, and the sum total of your wages would be exactly the same as it is now.

But, if machinery were injurious to you now, it must always have been injurious to you; and there have been times, when you have no great reason to complain of want of employment at any rate. So that it is evident, that your distress must have arisen from some other cause or causes. Indeed, I know that this is the case; and, as it is very material that you should have a clear view of these causes, I shall enter into a full explanation of them; because, until we come at the nature of the disease, it will be impossible for us to form any opinion as to the remedy.

Your distress, that is to say, that which you now more immediately feel, arises from want of employment with wages sufficient for your support. The want of such employment has arisen from the want of a sufficient demand for the good you make. The want of a sufficient demand for the good you make, has arisen from the want of means in the nation at large to purchase your goods. This want of means to purchase your goods, has arisen from the weight of the taxes co-operating with the bubble of paper-money. The enormous burden of taxes and the bubble of paper-money have arisen from the war, the sinecures, the standing army, the loans, and the stoppages of cash-payments at the Bank; and, it appears very clearly to me, and these never would have existed, if the Members of the House of Commons had been chosen annually by the people at large.

Now, in order to shew, that taxes produce poverty and misery generally, let us suppose again the case of a great Patriarchal Family. This family we suppose to consist of many men and their wives and children; we suppose them all to labour in their different branches; and to enjoy each of them the same degree of wealth and comfort and ease. But, all at once, by some means or other, nine or ten of the most artful men make shift to impose a tax upon the rest; and to get from them in this way enough to support themselves and their wives and children without any work at all. Is it not clear that the taxed part of the community must work harder and fare worse in consequence of this change? Suppose this taxing work to go on, and the receivers of taxes to increase, till one half of the whole of the produce of all the labour be taken in taxes. What misery was that payers of taxes begin to endure? It is certain that they must be punished in two ways; first by an addition to the hardness of their work, and next by a reduction of their former food and clothing. They must, under such circumstances, necessarily become skinny, sick, ragged and dirty. For, you will observe, that those who would live upon the taxes, would each of them eat and drink and wear ten times as much as one of the poor mortals who were left to labour and to pay taxes. As these poor creatures would be unable to lay up any thing against a day of sickness or old age, a poor-house must be built to prevent them from actually dying by the road-side, and a part of the taxes must be laid out to support them in some way or other till they expired, or if children, till they should be able to work. 

There can be no doubt, that such would be the effect of heavy taxation in this case; and the same reasoning applies, to millions of families, only the causes and effects are a little more difficult to trace. Now, you will observe, that I do not say, that no taxes ought to be collected. Our vile enemies impute this to me; but, my friends, I HAVE NEVER SAID IT OR THOUGHT IT. In a large community of men, the must be laws to protect the weak against the strong; there must administrators of the laws; there must be persons to hold communications with foreign powers; there must be, in case of necessary wars, a public force to carry on such wars. All these require taxes of some sort; but, when the load of taxes become so heavy as to produce general misery amongst all those who pay and who do not receive taxes, then it is that taxes become an enormous evil.

This is our state at present. It is the sum taken from those who labour to be given to those who do not labour which has produced all our present misery. It has been proved by me, but, which is better for us, it has been expressed acknowledged by Mr. PRESTON, who is a lawyer of great eminence, the owner of a large estate in Devonshire, and a Member of Parliament for a Borough, that the labourer, who earns eighteen pounds a year, pays ten pounds of it in taxes. I have before observed, but I cannot repeat it too often, that you pay a tax on your shoes, soap, candles, salt, sugar, coffee, malt, beer, bricks, tiles, tobacco, drugs, spirits, and indeed, on almost every thing you use in any way whatever. And, it is a monstrous cheat in the corrupt writers to attempt to persuade you, that you pay no taxes, and upon that ground to pretend, that you have no right to vote for Members of Parliament. In the single article of salt, it is very clear to me, that every one of our labourers who has a family, pays more than a pound every year. The salt is sold in London, at 20s. a bushel, wholesale; but, if there was no tax, it would not exceed, perhaps, 3s. a bushel. Every labourer with a family must consume more than a bushel, which does not amount to more than the third part of half a pint a day; and, you will bear in mind, that there is salt in the bacon, the butter, and the bread, besides what is used in the shape of salt.

Now, is it not clear, then, that you do pay taxes? And, is it not also clear, that the sum, which you pay in taxes, is just so much taken from your means of purchasing food and clothes? This brings us back to the cause of your want of employment with sufficient wages. For, while you pay heavy taxes, the Landlord, the Farmer, the Tradesman, the Merchant, are not exempt. They pay taxes upon all the articles which they use and consume, and they pay direct taxes besides, on their houses, lands, horses, servants &c. Now, if they had not to pay these taxes, is it not clear, that they would have more money to expend on labour of various kinds; and, of course, that they would purchase more Stockings and more Lace than they now purchase.—A farmer's wife and daughters, who would lay out ten pounds in these articles, cannot to lay it out, if it be taken away by the tax-gatherer; and so it is in the case of the Landlord and the Tradesmen. I know a country town, where a couple of hundred of pounds used to be expended on a fair-day, in cotton, woollens, gloves, linen, &c. and where, at the last fair, not fifty pounds were expended. The country shopkeeper not wanting the goods to the same amount as before, the London wholesale dealer does not want them to that amount; and as he does not want them from your employers, they do not want your labour to the same amount as before. So that they are compelled to refuse you work, or, to give you work at low wages, or, to give away to you their property and means of supporting themselves and their families, which, in reason and justice cannot be expected.

Then, there is another very injurious effect produced by this load of taxes. The goods made by you cannot be so cheap as if you and your employers had not so heavy taxes to pay. Thus, foreign nations, which are not so much loaded with taxes, can afford to make the goods themselves as cheap or cheaper, than you can make them. Formerly, when our taxes were light, the Americans, for instance, could not afford to make Stockings, Broad Cloth, Cutlery, Cotton Goods, Glass Wares, Linens. They now make them all, and to a vast extent! They have machinery of all sorts, manufactories upon a large scale, and, what is quite astonishing, they, who, before our wars against the French people, did not grow wool sufficient in quantity for their hats and saddle-pads, now grow fine wool sufficient for their own manufactories of cloth, and to export to Europe.

This change has been produced wholly by the late wars, and more especially by our Orders in Council and by our Impressment of Native American Seamen, which last produced the war with America, to carry on which both parties, the INS and OUTS, most cordially joined. That war finished what the Orders in Council had begun. It compelled the Americans to manufacture; and, in order to protect own manuactures, the government of that country has naturally passed laws to check the import of ours. Thus, it is my good friends, that the manufacturers of England, Scotland, and Ireland, have lost a considerable part of the custom of ten millions of farmers and farmers’ wives and children. I foresaw this consequence, in 1811; and I most earnestly, at that time, in a series of Letters to the Prince Regent, besought the government not to enter into that fatal war. It was, however, entered into; my advice was rejected, and the manufacturers and merchants of his kingdom are now tasting the bitter fruit of that disgraceful war, which, after having cost about fifty millions of money, was given up in the teeth of a solemn declaration to the contrary without having effected any one of the objects for which it was professed to have been begun and prosecuted.

Thus, then, my fellow countrymen, it is not machinery; it is not the grinding disposition of your employers; it is not improvements in machinery; it is not extortions on the part of Bakers and Millers and Farmers and Corn Dealers and Cheese and Butter Sellers. It is not to any causes of this sort that you ought to attribute your present great and cruel sufferings; but wholly and solely to the great burden of taxes, co-operating with the bubble of paper-money. And, now, before I proceed any further, let me explain to you how the paper-money, or funding system has worked us all. This is a very important matter, and it is easily understood by any man of plain good sense, who will but attend to it for a moment.

Before the wars against the French people, which wars have ended in replacing our king’s and country’s old enemies, the family of Bourbon, on the thrones of France, Spain, and Naples, and which have restored the Inquisition that Napoleon had put down; before those wars, the chief part of the money in England was gold and silver. But, even the first war against the people of France cost so much money, the bank-paper issued in such great abundance, that in 1797, people became alarmed, and ran to the Bank of England to get real money for the notes which they held. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of Mr. Paine. The Bank could not pay their notes! The Bank Directors went to Pitt and told him their fears. He called a Council, and the Council issued an ORDER to the Bank to REFUSE to pay their promissory notes in specie, though the notes were all payable to the bearer and on demand. The Parliament afterwards passed an Act to protect Pitt, the Council, and the Bank Directors against the law, which had been violated in these transactions!

From this time, there has been little besides paper-money. This became plenty, and, of course, wages and corn and every thing became high in price. But, when the peace came, it was necessary, to reduce the quantity of paper-money; because, when we came to have intercourse with foreign nations, it would never do to sell a pound note at Calais, as was the case, for about thirteen shillings. The Bank and the Government, had it in their power to lessen the quantity of paper. Down came prices in a little while, and if the Debt and Taxes had come down too in the same degree, there would have been no material injury; but they did not. Taxes have continued the same. Hence our ruin; the complete ruin of the great mass of farmers and tradesmen and small landlords; and hence the MISERY OF THE PEOPLE.

But, some of the taxes have been taken off. Yes; about seventeen millions out of seventy, or about a fourth part. But the paper-money has been diminished in a greater degree, and, of course, farm-produce in the same degree as paper-money. Bread and Corn sell pretty high, owing to a bad harvest; but we must take ALL the produce of the farm, and you will soon see how the farmer has been ruined.


A load of Wheat - - - - - - - - - - - 33  0  0
A Cart Colt, two years old - - -  38  0  0
A Cow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  22  0  0
A Southdown Ewe - - - - - - - - -   1 18 0
A Steer for fatting - - - - - - - - - -15  0  0
                                           £109 18 0

A load of Wheat - - - - - - - - - - - 19  0  0
A Cart Colt, two years old - - - -  8  0  0
A Cow - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -    7  0  0
A Southdown Ewe - - - - - - - - -   0 18 0
A Steer for fatting - - - - - - - - - -  6  0  0
                                             £40 18 0

Thus, our produce has fallen off £69 out of £109 18s. and our taxes have been reduced only £17 in every £70. This has been the effect of the paper-money bubble. I speak this with a certain knowledge of the facts. I myself have eight beautiful Alderney Heifers, with calf, for which I cannot obtain 4l. each. Four years ago I could have sold just such for £16 each. I have twelve Scotch Steers, for which I cannot obtain £5 each. Just such ones, at Barnet fair, only in 1813, I saw sold for 13l. each. This has been the effect of paper-money; and by this cause have thousands upon thousands of farmers been already wholly ruined, while thousands upon thousands more are upon the threshold of the jail.

Here, then, we have the real causes of your sufferings, of the sufferings of all the labourers, all the farmers, all the tradesmen, and, in short, of every class, except those who live upon taxes

If, as I observed before, the taxes had been lowered in the same degree as the farm produce, the distress would not have been much greater than before; that is to say, if the sum total of the year’s taxes had been reduced from 70 millions to about 26 millions. But this could not be done, while the interest of the DEBT was paid in full at 5 per cent, while an army of 150 thousand men was kept up; and while all the pensions and sinecures and the Civil List were kept up to their former amount; and, besides these, all the pay of the Naval and Military People and all others, living, in any way, upon the taxes.

And why should such an army be kept up? There was a time, when a man would have been looked upon as mad, if he had proposed to keep up any standing soldiery at all in time of peace—But, why not reduce pay and salaries? The JUDGES, for instance, had their salaries doubled during the war, and so had the Police Justices and many others. When the WHIGS (the famous Whigs!) were in office, they augmented the allowances of the Junior branches of the Royal Family from twelve thousand pounds each eighteen thousand pounds each, per year. The allowance to the King, Queen, &c. called the Civil List, was augmented enormously. Now, you will observe, that all these augmentations were made upon the express ground, that the price of Provisions had risen. Well, provisions fall, and down came the wages of the journeymen and labourers; and why, in the name of reason and of justice, should not the salaries of the Judges, and the pay and allowances of all others in public employ come down too? What reason can there be for keeping all these up, while your wages have come down?

Then, as to the DEBT, why should those who have lent their money to the government to carry on the wars; why should they continue to be paid in full at 5 per cent. interest in the present money? It is the bubble of paper-money; it is the bubble which they have helped to make, which has reduced my Alderney Heifers from 16l. value to 4l. and why am I and you and all the rest of us to pay them as much as we used to pay them? The greater part of them lent their money to the government, when the pound note was not worth more than half what it is worth now, if we take all circumstances into view; and, what right, then, have they to be paid in full in the money of the present day? Yet, they are paid in full, and I am compelled to give them as much tax out of the price of a Heifer worth 4l. as I used to give them out of the price of the Heifer worth 16l. You will see, and you will feel most severely, that corn is now dear. But, this is owing to the short crop and bad harvest. This high price is no good to the farmer; but, a most terrible evil. If he should get 15s. a bushel for his wheat instead  of 7 or 8s. he will receive no more money; because he will not have more than half the quantity to sell. If I sell a hog at 15s. a score instead of 8s. I do not gain by the high price; because, I am, from the shortness of my crop of corn and the badness of the corn, not able to fat more than half as many hogs as I should have been able to fat, if the crop had been good and the harvest fine. So that, as you will clearly see, as to the present high price of corn and bread, as it cannot be any benefit at all to the farmer, and cannot at all tend to enable him to pay the enormous taxes that now press him out of existence.

Thus how I laid before you the real causes of your sufferings.—You see, that they are deep-rooted, of steady growth, and that they never can end but in consequence of some very material change in the mode of managing the nation’s concerns. They have arisen from the taxes and loans; those arose out of the wars: the was arose out of a desire to keep down Reform; and a desire to keep down Reform arose out of the Borough System, which excludes almost the whole of the people from voting at elections. It is a maxim of the English Constitution, that no man shall be taxed without his own consent. Nothing can be more reasonable than this. But, as I have shown, we are all taxed; you pay away half your wages in taxes; but, do you all vote for Members of Parliament? If the Members of Parliament, for the last fifty years, had been chosen by the people at large, and chosen annually, agreeably to the old laws of the nation, do you believe, that we should have expended one thousand millions in taxes raised during the wars, and another thousand millions which is now existing in the shape of DEBT? This is not to be believed; no man can believe it. And, therefore, as the want of such a Parliament is the real root of all our sufferings, the only effectual remedy is to obtain such a parliament. A parliament, annually chosen by all the people, seeing that they all pay taxes.

In 1780, the late Duke of Richmond brought a bill into the House of Lords to restore the people to their right of having such a parliament; PITT co-operated in this work with the Duke of Richmond; and PITT expressly declared, in a speech in Parliament, that, until the parliament was reformed, it was "impossible for English Ministers to be honest." Therefore, this is no new scheme; it is a measure long contended for and well digested; it may be carried into effect with perfect safety to every rank in society; and, it is my firm persuasion, that it is the only means of preserving order and peace. Indeed, I am of opinion, that it is the hope of seeing this measure adopted; that it is the expectation that it will be adopted, which now preserves that tranquillity in the country, which is so honorable to the understanding and the hearts of the people. God send that this expectation may not be disappointed!

In order that it may not, the people of every class should assemble and petiton the Parliament for reform. No matter how many or how few, no matter whether in Counties, Cities, Towns, Villages, or Hamlets. We have all a right to petition; to perform that right is a sacred duty; and to obstruct it a heinous crime. But in these petitions, the only essential object should be a Reform; for, though the want of it has produced numerous and great evils, still this is all that need be petitioned for, seeing that a Reform would cure all the evils at once. Trade, commerce, manufactures, agriculture, all would soon revive, and we should again see our country free and happy. But, without a Reform, it is impossible for the nation to revive, and, I believe, it is also possible to prevent utter confusion.

How vain, how stupid, then, are all the schemes of the writers on the side of Corruption for making employment for the poor! And how base all their attempts to persuade the people, that their sufferings can be alleviated by what are called "charitable subscriptions," which are, in fact, only so many act of insolence towards the numerous and unhappy sufferers, who are paying, in the shape of taxes, one half of the little that they earn by their labour!

These corrupt writers, in order still to cajole and deceive the people, (who, thank God! are no longer to be deceived) recommend to the Landlords and Farmers to make employment for the poor by causing commodious roads, foot paths, and causeways to be undertaken; by causing shell-fish to be gathered for manure; by causing lime, chalk, marle, &c. to be gotten and prepared; by causing land to be drained and embankments made! What folly, or what an impudent attempt to deceive! Why, these are some of the very things that the poor would be employed in if the Landlords and Farmers had money to give in wages; and, if they have not money to give in wages, how are they to have money to bestow in these works at all!

As to the “charity subscriptions,” the people seem to understand the object of them perfectly well. LORD COCHRANE sent them forth to the nation, stripped of their mask, for which we are so deeply indebted to him, which debt of gratitude we are not so base as not to pay. The people of GLASGOW led the way in their indignation against the Soup shop and its Kettle. At WIGAN, at OLDHAM and several other places, where Meetings of the Subscription Tribe have been held, the people have told them, that they want not Soup and Old Bones and Bullock’s Liver; but they want their rights. Indeed, these attempts to hold pretended charitable meetings are full of insolence. Those who are unable to work, or to find work, have a legal right to be supported out of taxes raised on the rich and on all Houses and all Lands. Why, then, are they to be held out as beggars; Why are self-erected bodies to insult them with their pretended charity? It is not the poor, who have brought the nation into its present state. It is not they who have ruined so many farmers and tradesmen. The law says that they shall be relieved; and, why are they to look to any other relief than this, until the state of the nation can be amended? 

But, before I conclude, let me beg your attention to a very curious fact or two as to the employment of the taxes which you and all of us to pay. In No. 18 of the Register, which contains an address to the Journeyman and Labourers in general, I noticed, that, in the account, which was laid before Parliament in the year 1815, there was a charge for money paid to suffering French and Dutch Emigrants and also the Poor Clergy of the Church of England. But, I observed, that I did not know, whether any such charges were contained in the accounts laid before Parliament this year, 1816. I have that account before me now, and, what will be your feelings, how will you feel towards the Soup-Kettle Fraternities, when you are told, that there are, even in this list account, a charge of seventy-five thousand pounds for the relief of French and Dutch Emigrants, and of one hundred thousand pounds for the poor Clergy the Church of England! This is, you will observe, quite a new thing. Never till the time of Perceval was any minister bold enough to take money, or, to get the parliament to vote money, out of the taxes, paid by the poor as well as the rich, to be given to the poor Clergy of a Church, whose dignitaries and beneficied people are bursting with wealth, and who receives in various ways, more than five millions a year? What! And have these Subscription gentry the impudence to look you in the face while these things exist? Have they the impudence to talk of their charity towards you, while they say not a word against seeing you taxed to help to make up the immense sums thus given in charity to the French and Dutch Emigrants and to the Clergy of the Church of England? Put these pithy questions to the insolent Societies of the Soup-Kettle, and tell me what they can say in their defence. What! Are you to come crawling, like sneaking curs, to lick up alms to the amount of forty or fifty thousand pounds round the brim of a Soup Kettle, while you are taxed with the rest of us to the amount of one hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds in order to give relief to French and Dutch Emigrants and to the poor Clergy of the Church of England! I do hope, that there are one of my countrymen who will be so base, I trust, that they have yet English blood enough left in their veins, to make them reject such alms with scorn and indignation.

If I had room, I would lay before you an account of some of the other articles of expense, to defray which you are taxed; but, as I intend, within three or four weeks, to shew you how all the taxes are expended, I shall now conclude this long letter by expressing my hope, that it will be proved by your subsequent conduct not to have been written wholly in vain.

For past errors I make all possible allowance. We all fall into errors enough naturally; and, no wonder that you should have adopted erroneous notions, seeing that the corrupt press has, for so many years been at work to deceive and mislead you. This base press, knowing what would be the inevitable consequence of your seeing the real causes of your calamities, has incessantly laboured to blind you, or to direct your eyes towards an imaginary cause. Machines, Bakers, Butchers, Brewers, Millers; any thing but the taxes and the paper-money, in all the acts of violence, to which you have been led by these vile hirelings you have greatly favored the cause of corruption, which is never so much delighted as at the sight of troops acting against the people. Let me therefore, most earnestly beseech you to think seriously of these matters; to stay the hand of vengeance against your townsmen and countrymen, and to harbour that feeling to the latest hour of your lives against all that is corrupt and detestable. I have taken the liberty freely to offer you my advice, because I have full confidence in your good sense and your public spirit. The hirelings have endeavoured to exasperate you by their revilings and menaces; I, knowing that brave men are not to be abused or bullied into compliance, have endeavoured to gain you by an appeal to your sense of honor and justice. The hirelings, call aloud for sending forth penal statute and troops to put you down; I send you the most persuasive arguments my mind can suggest and all the kindest wishes of my heart.

And, with these wishes, I hope I shall always remain,

Your friend,

The Home Office disturbance papers hold a copy of Cobbett's 'Letter to the Luddites' in single-sided broadsheet form. That version was produced by 'Sutton & Son' (i.e. Charles Sutton, the then imprisoned proprietor of the Nottingham Review) in Nottingham, and was available at 'twopence or 12 [shillings] per hundred'. The document can be found at HO 40/9.

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