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LONDON CRITICAL JOURNAL.
Art. 1.-An Inquiry concerning the Rise, Progress, the
Redemption and present State, and the Management of the National Debt of Great Britain. By Robert Hamilton, L. L. D. F.R.S. E. Professor of Natural Philosophy in the
Marischal College and University of Aberdeen. 1813. In our last Number we announced our intention of reviewing the work of Professor Hamilton, on the “ Rise and Progress, the Redemption and present State, and the Management of the Public Debt of Great Britain."
The subject is extremely important, and, in our view of it, embraces a very wide field of inquiry into the means by which, during more than a century, we have been enabled not only to bear immense and constantly increasing public expences, but have at the same time become far more politically powerful, and abounding in private wealth (that is, in all the necessaries and even superfluities of civil life, and the means of obtaining them), than in any former period of our history.
Public and private wealth are, without doubt, the very lifeblood of our political existence; and the long contest in which we have successfully encountered with dauntless front and unwearied vigour the enemies of the civilized world, must have been insupportable, if by some means or other our pecuniary resources had not been made productive in full proportion to the unexampled magnitude of our expences.
During great part of twenty anxious years, armies and navies have been maintained by Britain, scarcely less numerous, and
YOL, V, NO, IX.
with infinitely more expensive equipments, than Imperial Rome could ever boast in the plenitude of her dominion. If sometimes our hopes have been disappointed, has this ever in any one instance happened because the sinews of war have failed ? Our force may have been misdirected or overpowered, but not for one moment in twenty eventful years has it ever been parallised by a failure of pecuniary strength.
Has then this wonderful military exertion drunk up all the streams of civil prosperity? Has the plough stood still, or the loom been silent? Have our roads become green, our cities depopulated? Are parents dragged in fetters from their infant families; sons from their widowed mothers, to fill the wasted ranks of armies perishing by disease ?
Nothing of all this, but quite the contrary! The mass of national weath in habitations, furniture, manufactures prepared for future use, and above all in territorial improvements, and in numerous and costly establishments which facilitate production and improve commercial communication, has greatly and obviously increased.
This is without doubt a remarkable anomaly in the history of nations; and few things can be politically more interesting than a view, if not incorrect or wholly inadequate, of the sources of this power, and the mechanism by which our unexampled military and naval expences have hitherto been defrayed, while, at the same time, the growth of our intrinsic national wealth, as before stated, has been equally astonishing.
We believe that the public opinion is at present very unsettled and indistinct on this subject; and as erroneous ideas of the artificial causes of extraordinary circumstances in the history of mankind readily introduce false principles of policy, it is the more material that the real bases should be known of the power which the British empire now displays, and of the revenue by which it has been enabled to persevere in its exertions.
This is indeed indispensably necessary to any thing like a correct political view of the progress of our national debt and the plans for redeeming it. Professor Hamilton has limited his inquiry almost entirely to an arithmetical examination of the subject; and to this extent has rendered a most important service. We think that most of his inferences would be correct if the practical financier must be fettered by strict calculations of direct profit and loss, and forbidden to extend his views to considerations of political experience, or to compute the ultimate advantages, even in a pecuniary view, which may result from such an adaptation of his arrangements to times and opinions as will give them stability, and increase the general benefit resulting from them.