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Council, another consequence of the war, greatly contributed, by destroying the regular and respectable mercantile dealings of the country, and introducing a clandestine, contraband system, with the avowed intention of defeating the enemy's decrees against our trade, but also in order to mitigate under hand the pressure of our own retaliating measures.
At length the attention of Parliament, chiefly through the press, was awakened to the state of our affairs. The labours of the Bullion Committee under Mr. Horner, aided by Mr. Thornton and Sir H. Parnell, had opened all men's eyes to the fact of the depreciation. It was in vain that the incredible resolution of the same year, and, shameful to relate, passed three months after the debate in which Mr. Canning's inimitable speech had demonstrated the whole propositions of the subject, was cited against the over-issue, and its inevitable consequences. The Government at length saw that something must be done to stop the depreciation of the bank paper, and to restore the standard; and the only argument for delay was the necessity of continuing the war expenditure one of the most urgent reasons, certainly, for instantly applying a remedy to the enormous evil.
At length the Government of Lord Liverpool, under the influence of Mr. Peel, who was one of its most powerful supporters though not then in office, undertook the settlement of the question; and a committee was appointed, which, after a full investigation of the subject, reported in favour of an unqualified resumption of cash payments. Mr. Ricardo, not yet a Member of Parliament, but who had, by his able writings upon the question, contributed more than any one, except Lord King and Mr. Horner, to establish the fact of depreciation, had a great influence upon the decision of the Committee and the plan adopted by it for restoring the standard. Mr. Peel, being chairman of the Committee, brought in the Bill, which was warmly supported by the Whigs, they claiming a kind of pecu
liar property in the question, from the support which they had always given to Lord King and Mr. Horner.
The sudden return to specie had of course this inevitable consequence, that all debts contracted during the depreciation in the depreciated currency were now payable in good money at par; so that if any one had borrowed a thousand pounds during the last ten years, he had now to pay thirteen hundred. And so of all time bargains; tenants had their rents raised in the same proportion, and the country, the great borrower of all, became liable to pay one hundred pounds for every seventy which it had borrowed. The effect produced upon all prices was equally considerable, but was not so pernicious to the country. The case of landowners was, on the whole, the hardest. They had laid out money in purchases, or in improvements, and had generally borrowed a large portion of the sums thus expended. All prices were now reduced, and they were liable to pay their creditors twenty shillings for ever fourteen or fifteen they had borrowed. The result was, that a considerable body of these unfortunate men were now left without enough to pay their creditors, and some of the class had even lost their whole income. It is fit to consider these things when so great a dissatisfaction is felt with their opposition to a repeal of the Corn Laws.
There are very many reflecting persons who now deeply lament the course which the Government and the Opposition combined together to pursue in 1819. The argument, that prices were only affected in proportion to the difference between the market and the mint prices of gold at the period of greatest depreciation, seemed unsatisfactory, because those prices having risen during the depreciation in a greater proportion than the difference, it seemed reasonable to expect that this difference would not be the measure of the fall which the resumption of cash payments might occasion. However, one thing was certain,
that no regard was shown in the great and sudden, and somewhat violent, measure of 1819, to the case of all borrowers during the depreciation, including the state itself, and that it was anything rather than a proof of relief being extended, or evidence of justice being done to the borrowers between 1810 and 1820, that the lenders between 1790 and 1800, who had been paid off between 1810 and 1820, had been severe sufferers by the depreciation of the currency they were paid in. If the two bodies of borrowers and lenders had continued the same all along, the argument would have been unanswerable. In the actual case it was a gross absurdity; for it was assuming that one man might be fairly obliged to pay twenty shillings for every fourteen he had borrowed, because another man had been paid only fourteen shillings for every twenty he had lent.
Any account of George III.'s reign would be most imperfect which did not dwell upon this important part of it; and in order to complete the view of those statesmen who directed the public affairs during the same period, it is necessary that the eminent individuals should be commemorated, who, having borne the principal share in the controversy respecting the depreciation, may be considered as the guides of the sounder policy which led to a restored currency, although the manner of effecting the restoration is liable to much and just objection.
Mr. Horner having entered public life without advantage of rank or fortune, though of a respectable family, had, in a very short time, raised himself to a high place among the members of the Whig party (to which he was attached alike from sincere conviction, and from private friendship with its chiefs), by the effect of a most honourable and virtuous character in private life, a steady adherence to moderate opinions in politics, talents of a high order, and information at once accurate and extensive upon all subjects con
nected with state affairs. Not that his studies had been confined to these; for his education, chiefly at Edinburgh, had been most liberal, and had put him in possession of far more knowledge upon the subjects of general philosophy, than falls to the lot of most English statesmen. All the departments of moral science he had cultivated in an especial manner; and he was well grounded in the exacter sciences, although he had not pursued these with the same assiduity, or to any considerable extent. The profession of the law, which he followed, rather disciplined his mind than distracted it from the more attractive and elegant pursuits of literary leisure, for he had no success at the bar; and his taste, the guide and control of eloquence, was manly and chaste, erring on the safer side of fastidiousness. Accordingly, when he joined his party in Parliament, his oratory was of a kind which never failed to produce a great effect, and he only did not reach the higher places among debaters, because he was cut off prematurely, while steadily advancing upon the former successes of his career. For although in the House of Commons he had never given the reins to his imagination, and had rather confined himself to powerful argument and luminous statement than indulged in declamation, they who knew him, and had heard him in other debates, were aware of his powers as a declaimer, and expected the day which should see him shining also in the more ornamental parts of oratory.
The great question of the Currency had been thoroughly studied by him at an early period of life, when the writings of Mr. Henry Thornton and Lord King first opened men's eyes to the depreciation which Mr. Pitt's ill-starred policy had occasioned. With the former he had partaken of the doubts by which his work left the question overcast in 1802; the admirable and indeed decisive demonstration of the latter in the next year, entirely removed those doubts; and Mr.
Horner, following up the able paper upon the subject which he had contributed to the Edinburgh Review at its first appearance, with a second upon Lord King's work, avowed his conversion, and joined most powerfully with those who asserted that the currency had been depreciated, and the metallic money displaced by the inconvertible Bank paper. In 1810, he moved for that famous Bullion Committee, whose labours left no doubt upon the matter in the minds of any rational person endowed with even a tolerable clearness of understanding; and the two speeches which he made, upon moving his resolutions the year after, may justly be regarded as finished models of eloquence applied to such subjects. The fame which they acquired for him was great, solid, lasting; and though they might be surpassed, they were certainly not eclipsed, by the wonderful resources of close argument, profound knowledge, and brilliant oratory, which Mr. Canning brought to bear upon the question, and of which no one more constantly or more amply than Mr. Horner acknowledged the transcendent merits.
When the subject of the Holy Alliance was brought forward by Mr. Brougham, early in the session of 1816, Mr. Horner, who had greatly distinguished himself on all the questions connected with what the Ministers pleasantly called "the final settlement of Europe," during the absence of the former from Parliament, was now found honestly standing by his friend, and almost alone of the regular Whig party declaring his belief in the deep-laid conspiracy, which the hypocritical phrases and specious pretences of the Allies were spread out to cover. The part he took in the debate to which the treaties gave rise, showed that there was no portion of the famous arrangements made at Vienna, to which he had not sedulously and successfully directed his attention. His speech on that occasion was admitted to be one of the best ever