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Political Prospects
Commercial Prosperity
Case of Starvation

Karl Marx

London, Friday, January 14, 1853

Lord John Russell, in receiving the diplomatic badge, at the Foreign Office, told them that he held the seals of that Department ad interim only, and that in no great length of time the Foreign Office would be transferred to the Earl of Clarendon. The fact is, that Russell has always been a perfect foreigner in the Foreign Department, in which he never made himself conspicu¬ous, except by an insipid compilation on the history, I believe, of the treaties concluded since the time of the peace of Nymwegen[a], book which, to confess the truth, is at least as entertaining as the "tragedy" with which the same Russell once surprised the world. Lord John will, in all probability, be entrusted with the leadership of the House of Commons, with a seat in the Cabinet, where his entire activity is likely to be absorbed in framing the new Reform Bill. Parliamentary Reform is Russell's traditionary field of action, since, by his measures in 1831, he proved such a masterly hand in dividing the rotten boroughs[297] between Tories and Whigs.

My predictions on the probable inefficiency of the three Irish purchases[c] made by the Ministry for securing the enlistment of the whole "Brigade" in the cause of the Coalition Government, have already been fulfilled to the very letter. The attitude of The Freeman's journal and The Tablet —the tenor of the letters and declarations of Messrs. Lucas, Moore, and Duffy—lastly, the resolution adopted against Messrs. Sadleir and Keogh, at the last meeting of the Tenant-Right Association[298], sufficiently indicate that the Aberdeen Administration will only dispose of a very small fraction of the Irish troops.

It is known that Lord Aberdeen, the Chief of the Cabinet, will take his seat in the House of Lords. Now, Mr. Bright, in a speech recently delivered at a banquet at Manchester to your new Ambassador, Mr. Ingersoll, has seized an opportunity to explain how the total suppression of the House of Lords is the conditio sine qua non for the "advancement" of the industrial middle-class[d]. This first official declaration of the Manchester school since the formation of the Coalition Ministry will do something toward enabling Lord Aberdeen in discovering where that Democracy, so much redoubted by Lord Derby, exists.

Thus the party warfare declared to have been abolished for ever, by a sanguine writer in The Times, has already burst forth, notwithstanding that the era of the "Millennium" had opened with the adjournment of Parliament until the 10th of February.

The continuation and increase of the commercial and industrial prosperity has been loudly and unanimously proclaimed at the beginning of the New-Year, and confirmed by the publication of the revenue accounts down to the 5th inst., by the returns of the Board of Trade for the month, and the 11 months ending Dec. 5, 1852[e], by the reports of the Inspectors of Factories, and lastly by the annual trade circulars issued at the commencement of every New-Year, and giving a general survey of all the commercial transactions of the past year.

The Revenue Returns show a total increase on the year of £978,926, and on the quarter of £702,776. There is an increase in every item on the year with the exception of Customs. The total sum placed into the Exchequer amounted to £50,468,193.

The Excise, which is supposed to indicate the well-being of the people, amounted to £13,093,170 in the year ending Jan. 5, 1852. In the year ending Jan. 5, 1853, it amounted to 13,356,981.

The Stamps, which indicate the increase of commercial activity,

as in 1851-'52, yielded ................5,933,549
Amounted in the years 1852-'53, to .....6,287,261

The Property-Tax, which indicates the increase of wealth of the upper classes,

amounting in 1851-'52, to ..................5,304,923
Yielded in the year 1852-'53 ...............5,509,637

The Board of Trade Returns for the month and eleven months ending Dec. 5, 1852, show:

Value of exports for the month ending Dec. 5 £6,102,694 £5,138,216 £5,362,319
For the eleven months ending Dec. 5 65,349,798 63,314,272 60,400,525

Consequently, there is an increase of nearly £1,000,000 on the month, and upward of £2,000,000 on the eleven months. Yet, in the absence of all value to the imports, we know not how far it is met or surpassed by the increased value of the latter.

Passing to the reports of the Inspectors of Factories, Mr. Horner, Inspector for the Lancashire District, in his report on the half year ending Oct. 31, 1852, which has just been published, writes as follows:

"In my district, very little change has taken place in the last year as regards woollen, worsted and silk factories, and flax mills remain as they were on the 1st of November, 1851. But the increase in cotton mills has been very large. After deducting those which are at present unoccupied (and many of them will, in all probability, be soon again at work, especially those from which the machinery has not been removed), there have been set to work in the last two years 129 new mills, with an aggregate of 4,023 horse power; and there have been 53 instances of additions to existing mills, with an aggregate of 2,090 horse power, so that there has been an increase of 6,113 horse power, which must have given employment to probably not fewer than 24,000 additional hands in the cotton trade. Nor is this all; for many new mills are at present being built. In the limited area which includes the towns of Ashton, Staleybridge, Oldham and Lees, there are eleven, which it is estimated will have an aggregate power of 620 horses. The machine-makers are said to be overwhelmed with orders; and a very intelligent and observing mill-owner told me lately that many of the buildings now going up would in all probability not be at work before 1854, from the impossibility to get machinery to them. But the above returns and those that will be given by my colleagues on the present occasion, however they may indicate a great increase, still they by no means give the whole; for there is a large and very fertile source of increase of productions of which it would be very difficult to obtain any account. I allude to the modern improvements in steam-engines, by which old engines and even new engines are made to do an amount of work far beyond their nominal horse power, and to an extent formerly believed to be impossible."

Mr. Horner then quotes a letter from the eminent civil-engineer, Mr. Nasmyth, of Birmingham, describing the gain of power by working the engines at greater speed, and by adapting to them the high pressure double cylinders of Woolf, the result of which is, that at least fifty per cent. more work is done by the identical engines still in use than was done before the improvement.

It appears from a summary of the reports of all the Inspectors, that in the year ending Oct. 31, 1852, the total number of new factories occupied was 229, with a steam power of 4,771 horses and a water-power of 586 horses, and the addition to existing factories amounted to 69, with a steam power of 1,532 horses, and a water-power of 28 horses, making a grand total of 6,917 horse power.

Passing next to the annual trade circulars, we find them all breathing the same enthusiastic style in which The Times predicted the political millennium, and having, at any rate, this advantage, that they are based on facts and not on mere expectations, as far as they refer to the past year.

The agricultural interest has no cause for complaint. On the opening of the year the weekly average price of wheat was 37/2; at the close of the year it has reached 45/11. The rise in the prices of grain has been accompanied by a rise in the price of cattle, meat, butter and cheese.

In August, 1851, an unprecedented fall in the prices of produce was known to have taken place, chiefly in the prices of sugar and, coffee, and it did not cease with that year, for the panic in Mincing Lane[f] did not reach its height till the first month of the past year. The annual circulars indicate now a considerable advance in the prices of most articles of foreign production, especially of colonial produce, sugar, coffee, etc.

As to the movement in raw materials it will be seen from the following:

"The state of the wool trade" is described in Messrs. Hughes & Ronald's circular,

"as having been throughout the past year in the highest degree satisfactory.... The home demand for wool has been unusually large.... The export of woollen and worsted goods has been on a very extensive scale, even exceeding the year 1851, the highest rate ever before attained.... Prices have been steadily looking up, but it is only during the last month, that any decided advance has taken place, and at present they may be quoted, on the average, about 15 to 20 per cent. above the corresponding period last year."

"The wood trade," say Messrs. Churchill & Sim, "has largely partaken in the commercial prosperity of the country during 1852.... The importation into London exceeded 1,200 cargoes during 1852—closely parallel to 1851. Both years were 50 per cent. in advance of those preceding, which average about 800 cargoes. While the quantity of hewn timber stands at the average of several years; the use of deals, battens, etc.; or the sawn wood, has taken an immense start during 1852, when 6,800,000 pieces replaced the previous average of 4,900,000 pieces."

With regard to leather, Messrs. Powell & Co. say:

"The year just concluded has doubtless been a favorable one for leather manufacturers in almost every department. Raw goods, at the commencement of the year, were at low rates, and circumstances have taken place which have given leather an increased value in a greater degree than for several past years."

The iron trade is particularly flourishing, the price of iron having risen from D per tun to £10 10/ per tun; and more recently to 12 per tun, with the probability of a rise to En, and more furnaces continually coming into operation.

Of the shipping, Messrs. Offor & Gamman say:

"The year just closed has been of remarkable activity to British shipping, chiefly caused by the stimulus given to business by the gold discovery in Australia.... There has taken place a general rise in freights."

The same movement has taken place in the shipbuilding department. In reference to this branch, the circular of Messrs. Tonge, Currie & Co., of Liverpool, contains the following:

"On no occasion have we been able to report so favorably for the year past of the sale of ships at this port—both of the amount of tunnage sold, and the prices that have been obtained; prices of colonial ships having advanced fully 17 per cent., with a continuing tendency upward, while stocks have been reduced to 48 sail against 76 in 1852, and 82 in 1851, without any immediate supplies being expected.... The number of vessels that have come into Liverpool within the year and sold, is 120; equal to 50,000 tuns. The number of ships launched, and in course of construction, in our port this year, is 39, computed at 15,000 tuns, against 23, computed at 9,200 in 1851. The number of steamers built, and in the course of construction here, amounts to 13, equal to 4,050 tuns.... As regards iron-built sailing vessels, the most remarkable feature of our trade is the very increasing favor they are growing into, and which are now occupying the builders both here, in the Clyde, New-Castle and elsewhere, to an unprecedented extent."

As regards railways, Messrs. Woods & Stubbs write:

"The returns caused the most sanguine expectations, and far outstrip all previous calculations. The returns for last week show an increased mileage over 1851 of 348 miles, 51/2 per cent., and an increased traffic of £41,426, or 14 per cent."

Lastly, Messrs. Du Fay & Co.'s Circular (Manchester) records the transactions with India and China for the month of December, 1852, as extensive, and the abundance of money alluded to as having favored undertakings to distant markets, and as having enabled those interested in them to make up for losses sustained in the early part of the year on goods and produce.

"Various new land, and mining, and other schemes attract speculators and capitalists just now."

The prosperity of the manufacturing districts in general, and particularly of the cotton districts, has been shown from the reports of the Inspectors of Factories. In reference to the cotton manufacture, Messrs. John Wrigley & Son, of Liverpool, have the following:

"Viewed as a test of the general prosperity of the country, the progress of the cotton-trade, during the year now closed, affords results the most gratifying.... It has presented many striking features, but none more prominent and noteworthy than the extreme facility with which so unprecedentedly large a crop as upward of 3,000,000 of bales, the produce of the United States of America, has been disposed of.... Preparations are [in the] making in many districts for an extension of manufacturing powers, and we may expect a larger aggregate quantity of cotton to be worked up during the approaching year than any previous one."

Most other branches of industry are in the same position.

"We refer," say Messrs. McNair, Greenhow & Irving (of Manchester), "to Glasgow as connected with its cotton and iron manufacture: to Huddersfield, Leeds, Halifax, Bradford, Nottingham, Leicester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Wol¬verhampton, etc., as connected with their various productions—all seem in a high state of prosperity."

The only exceptions to the general prosperity are the silk-trade and the wool-combers in Yorkshire; and the general aspect of trade may be resumed in the words of a Manchester circular:

"Our apprehensions are those of over-speculation, rather than of inactivity and want of means."

In the midst of this universal prosperity, a step recently taken by the Bank of England has raised a general consternation among the commercial world. On the 22d of April, 1852, the Bank of England had lowered the rate of discount to 2 per cent. On the morning of January 6, 1853, notice was given that the discount would be raised from 2 to 21/2 per cent., an increase in the charges of 25 per cent. Attempts have been made to explain this increase by the large liabilities contracted lately by some extensive railway contractors, whose bills are known to be afloat in heavy amounts.

In other quarters it was believed, as for instance by The London Sun[g], that the Bank of England intended, in their turn, to take advantage of the existing prosperity by increasing discounts. On the whole, the act has been reprobated as "uncalled for." In order to appreciate it in its true light, I subjoin the following statements from The Economist:[h]

Minimum rate of Discount
April 22£19,587,670£23,782,000Reduced to 2 per ct.
July 2422,065,34924,013,7282 per ct.
Dec. 1821,165,22426,765,7242 per ct.
Dec. 2420,794,19027,545,6402 per ct.
Jan'y 120,527,66229,284,4472 per ct., but raised to 2½ per cent. Jan'y 6

There is, accordingly, a million of gold more in the Bank than in April, 1852, when the rate of interest was reduced to 2 per cent., but the difference is very marked between the two periods; for it has changed in regard to the movements of gold from a flowing to an ebbing tide. The afflux is peculiarly powerful, from its overbearing all the imports from America and Australia of the last month. Besides, securities were five and a half millions less in April than at present. Consequently, in April, 1852, the supply of loanable capital was larger than the demand, while now the reverse is the case.

The emigration of bullion was accompanied by a marked decline in the foreign exchanges, a circumstance which must be accounted for, partly by the considerable advance in the prices of most articles of import, partly by the large speculations in imports. To this must be added the influence of the unfavorable autumn and winter on farmers, the consequent doubts and fears respecting the next harvest, and, as a result of the latter, immense operations in foreign grains and farinas. Lastly, English capitalists have very largely engaged in the formation of railway and other companies in France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Belgium, and partake very much in the general swindle now going on at the Paris Bourse. Paper on London is therefore more abundant in all markets of Europe than at any former period, in consequence of which there has been a continued fall in the rate of Exchanges. On July 24th the Exchange on Paris was 25f. 30c. for the pound sterling; on the 1st of January it had fallen to 25 francs. Some transactions have even been made below 25 francs.

In so far as the demand for capital has increased in proportion to the supply, the late measure adopted by the Bank of England, appears to be perfectly justified. In so far as it was intended to put a check upon speculation and upon the emigration of capital, I venture to predict, that it will be thoroughly ineffectual.

Your readers having accompanied us to such a length, through all the testimonials of the growing prosperity of England, I request them to stop a moment and to follow a poor needle-maker, Henry Morgan, who started out from London, on his journey to Birmingham, in search of work. Lest I should be charged with exaggerating the case, I give the literal account of The Northampton Journal[i].

"Death from Destitution.— Cosgrove. —About nine o'clock on the morning of Monday, two laboring men, while seeking shelter from the rain in a lone barn, occupied by Mr. T. Slade, in the parish of Cosgrove, were attracted by groans, which were found to come from a poor man, lying in a heap-hole, in a state of extreme exhaustion. They spoke to him, kindly offering him some of their breakfast, but without receiving any answer; and upon touching him, found his body almost cold. Having fetched Mr. Slade, who was near by, this gentleman, after some time had elapsed, sent him, by a boy, in a cart, with a bed and covering of straw, to the Yardley-Gobion union-house about a mile distant, where he arrived just before one o'clock, but expired a quarter of an hour afterward. The famished, filthy, and ill-clad condition of the poor creature presented a most frightful spectacle. It appears that this unhappy being, on the evening of Thursday, the 2d, obtained a vagrant's order for a night's lodging at the Yardley-house, from the relieving officer at Stoney-Stratford, and, having then walked to Yardley, a distance of three miles and upward, was accordingly admitted; he had food given him, which he eat heartily, and begged to be allowed to remain the next day and night, which was granted, and upon leaving on Saturday morning early, after his breakfast (most likely his last meal in this world), took the road back to Stratford. It is probable that, being weak and footsore, for he had a bad place on one heel, he was soon glad to seek the first friendly shelter he could find, which was an open shed, forming part of some outfarming-buildings, a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road. Here he was found lying in the straw on Monday, the 6th, at noon, and, it not being wished that a stranger should remain on the premises, he was desired to go away. He asked leave to stay a little longer, and went off about four o'clock, once more to seek at nightfall the nearest place of rest and shelter, which was this lone barn, with its thatch partly off, with its door left open, and in the coldest possible situation, into the heap-hole of which he crept, there to lie without food for seven days more, till discovered, as has been described above, on the morning of the 13th. This ill-fated man had given his name as Henry Morgan, a needle-maker, and appeared between thirty and forty years of age, and in person, a good-framed man."

It is hardly possible to conceive a more horrible case. A stalwart, strong-framed man, in the prime of life his long pilgrimage of martyrdom from London to Stoney-Stratford—his wretched appeals for help to the "civilization" around him—his seven days fast—his brutal abandonment by his fellow men—his seeking shelter and being driven from resting-place to resting-place—the crowning inhumanity of the person named Slade and the patient, miserable death of the worn-out man are a picture perfectly astonishing to contemplate.

No doubt he invaded the rights of property, when he sought shelter in the shed and in the lone barn!!!

Relate this starvation case in midst of prosperity, to a fat London City man , and he will answer you with the words of The London Economist of Jan. 8th:

"Delightful is it thus to see, under Free Trade, all classes flourishing; their energies are called forth by hope of reward; all improve their productions, and all and each are benefited."

Written on January 14, 1853 Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3681, February 2, 1853;
reprinted in the Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 803, February 4,
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 595, February 5, 1853


[a] John Russell, Memoirs of the Affairs of Europe from the "Peace of Utrecht".—Ed.

[b] John Russell, Don Carlos; or, Persecution.—Ed.

[c] See this volume, p. 474.—Ed.

[d] The speech was delivered on January 7, 1853. See The Times, No. 21321, January 10, 1853.—Ed.

[e] This refers to The Revenue. An Abstract of the Net Produce of the Revenue of Great Britain in the Years and Quarters ended 5th Jan., 1852, and 5th of Jan., 1853, as well as to Exports of British and Irish Produce and Manufactures from the United Kingdom. An Account of the Exports of the Principal Articles of British and Irish Produce and Manufactures in the eleven months ended December 5, 1852; the data cited below from these documents and from the factory inspectors' reports and trade bulletins are taken from The Economist, Nos. 489 and 490, January 8 and 15, 1853.—Ed.

[f] The centre of wholesale trade in colonial goods in London.—Ed.

[g] The reference is, to the item "Money and Commercial News" in The Sun for January 6, 1853.—Ed.

[h] "The Bank Rate of Interest", The Economist, No. 489, January 8, 1853.—Ed.

[i] Northampton Mercury, December 18, 1852.—Ed.

[297] Rotten boroughs —sparselypopulated or depopulated small towns and villages in England which enjoyed the right to send representatives to Parliament since the Middle Ages. These representatives were in fact appointed by the landed aristocracy who controlled the handful of "free voters" who nominally elected them. The "rotten boroughs" were disfranchised by the electoral reforms of 1832, 1867 and 1884.

[298] The Tenant-Right League was founded in August 1850. One of its chief organisers was Charles Gavan Duffy, formerly a leader of the radical "Young Ireland" group. The League aimed at liquidating, by constitutional means, the semi-feudal methods of exploitation of the Irish peasantry which hampered the development of capitalism in Ireland. Despite its moderate leadership, the League reflected the interests of the Irish tenants fighting against the landlords and speculators in land. Its programme included the following demands: prohibition of arbitrary lease cancellation by landlords and compensation of the tenants for land-reclamation work in case of termination of lease, establishment of a fair rent, and recognition of tenants' right to transfer the lease by means of free sale.

During the general elections to Parliament in 1852 the League's demands were supported by the mass of Irish tenants, both Catholic and Protestant. At the re-elections in January 1853 the League campaigned against the Right-wing leaders of the Irish Brigade—Irish M.P.s who, despite their former promises to secure an agrarian reform, conducted a policy of agreement and entered the coalition government. The landlords, together with the Irish Catholic and Protestant higher clergy who feared the rise of the democratic movement in the country, opposed the League. The League had ceased its activities by the end of the 1850s.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.477-485), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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