Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States
COMMERCE. If we examine, in detail, the operations of commerce, while some impress us by their grandeur the greater part seem insignificant and commonplace. But they appear in a totally different light when we consider them in the aggregate, and in their results. The exchange of products and services is, in the last analysis, the very foundation of human society. The diversity of products and productive faculties is the bond which unites to one another the inhabitants of the same locality, the city and the country, the provinces of the same country, different nations, and even the most widely separated parts of the globe.
—Virgil expresses this idea in beautiful verses, and Addison in prose, no less classical. But what was true in their time is still more so in ours. The products by the means of which commerce brings nations into close relations are, in the "Georgics," a few articles of luxury, perfumes and ivory. What brings them together in the "Spectator" is the toilet of a fashionable woman—her arsenal of coquetry, supplied by a hundred countries.
—We might say that the effect is produced in our day by the same articles, but there are others of much more general consumption. The breakfast of the most humble inhabitant of our temperate zone is furnished him by the torrid, to which Providence has allotted the production of tea, coffee, cacao and sugar. A filament, cultivated some thousands of miles from Europe—cotton—forms an important part of the clothing of all Europeans, rich and poor; while, on the other hand, Africans, Americans, Asiatics and Australians wear for the most part cottonades, woolens, linens and silks from the factories of Europe. Such is the close solidarity which the commerce of our age has established among all parts of the world.
—The history of commerce is not, properly speaking, that of civilization—not even of purely material civilization; it does not especially treat of industry, nor of agriculture, finance or public administration. It comprehends, nevertheless, all of these, more or less. We can not describe the operations of commerce without speaking at least briefly of the condition of the agriculture and manufactures which sustain it, as well as of the governmental measures which encourage or paralyze it. The history of commerce is scarcely distinguishable in some respects from that of our entire civilization. What, then, are the chief principles and essential result of commerce? First, the division of labor between the inhabitants of the same place; then the division of labor between neighboring places; finally, that between all the different countries of the earth. Exchange of products has its origin in the diversity of products and occupations. Becoming more active, and increasing in the course of centuries, in turn it promoted this diversity. Under its influence different places, different countries, found it to their advantage to produce certain articles by way of preference, and to purchase others. This harmony, the proper equilibrium of productions, is not yet realized in the world; to bring it about, tentative and protracted effort is still necessary. But it is a fact to-day that the progress of commerce corresponds to, and is identical with, that of the division of labor. But the progress of the division of labor is the progress of civilization itself. This fruitfulness of the division of labor, asserted by political economy, is not confined to workshops and factories; it extends to all the works of man; it is found in the sciences and the fine arts, just as in industry. And so we can not give a history of commerce without at the same time giving somewhat of the history of civilization itself.
—The history of commerce is interesting on account of the lessons we may draw from it. It furnishes a refutation of that spirituality which disdains or reproves commerce, and in general that material labor without which commerce could not exist, and which could not exist without it. Argument shows that material labor is a work of the intellect; that far from degrading it, it gives the mind control over matter; that without the ease and leisure that it guarantees, nations could never have cultivated letters, science and the fine arts. History shows, moreover, that wherever commerce has prospered, letters, science and the fine arts have flourished. We know nothing of their cultivation in Tyre or Carthage, but what were the most brilliant centres of ancient Greece, if not the busiest commercial centres—Ionia first, then Corinth and Athens, and, in latter times, Alexandria? The genius of the Arabs, aroused by religious enthusiasm, appeared with equal splendor in the material and the moral order. It was the commercial prosperity of Venice, Genoa and Florence that prepared the Italy of the Medicis. The Flemish and Dutch schools had their origin among the merchants of Bruges, Antwerp and Amsterdam. Under the general impulse received from Louis XIV. and Colbert, France has already enjoyed three centuries of commercial and industrial, as well as scientific and literary grandeur. The French, the Anglo-Saxons in Europe and America, and the Germans, are to-day the most commercial, the most industrial and the richest nations in the world; they are also the most enlightened.
—The history of commerce shows what are the conditions of this prosperity. From it we learn that nature has done much for commerce; for not only has she distributed her gifts among the different countries, as irresistible magnets to attract their inhabitants toward each other, but she has distributed land and water over the globe in such a manner as to facilitate and incite them to intercommunication. She has disposed the islands in certain seas like the links of a chain; she has regulated the currents; she has detached the peninsulas from the continents, and formed isthmuses between them; she has established ways of communication in the interior of countries, by hollowing out the beds of streams and rivers. She has studded the deserts with oases, and prepared roadsteads and ports on the coasts. She has created those living vehicles, the ox, the ass, the horse and the camel. She has endowed certain races of men with a taste for traffic, the Semitic race, for instance, which produced the Phœnicians, the Carthaginians, the Arabs and the Jews; and she has invited and even forced into commerce and navigation those dwelling on the banks of rivers, and on the seacoast. But history teaches that all these gifts of nature would have been sterile, if men had not known how to make use of them, and that commerce could flourish only under certain conditions which depend upon their wisdom and their will.
—If commerce were to reserve its gains for the most fertile soil and the finest climate, it would never cease to vivify this region of western Asia, which has lost nothing of its natural magnificence since ancient times, since it was made famous by the Arabs. If commerce exhibited any such favor, it would prefer to-day the sun of Spain to the mists of England. Events of greater importance may, undoubtedly, cause it to abandon the parts which it once frequented and enlivened the most, thus Italy can no longer be, by itself, what it was from the time of the crusades to the discovery of the cape of Good Hope. But, in the end, it is the intelligence and the labor of man that attract and retain it. Civilized man draws wealth from the most ungrateful soil; he accumulates treasures on a rock, in lagoons or marshes, the possession of which he obstinately disputes with the sea. He transplants from one country to another the vine and the silkworm, and makes wine and silk important articles of European commerce; he constructs highways and canals; he excavates basins and builds docks; he braves the frost of the polar regions, and the heat of the tropics. With the compass and the sail, he fearlessly crosses the ocean; with steam, railroads, and the electric telegraph, he annihilates time and space.
—The labors of man whereby commerce lives and increases, suppose security as a fundamental condition. Commerce flourishes only when, as in the time of king Solomon, each one reclines without fear under his own vine and fig tree.
—This security, which the individual could not alone obtain for himself, is the fruit of association; it depends upon the good order and power of the state. Within the state, it is destroyed by anarchy, or by those silly despotisms, such as exist in our day, which do not even know how to protect persons and property. From without it is menaced by war and barbarity. During the greater part of the centuries that have elapsed, commerce has been constantly exposed to their threats, and has escaped them only by infinite pains. In many countries religion has taken it under its protection; it became a pilgrim, and established its markets and bazaars near the sanctuaries of Meroë, the mosques of Mecca, or the pagodas of Benares. In order to preserve itself from pillage or piracy, it made use of caravans, convoys and military escorts. When warlike hordes ravaged the mainland, islands, or points naturally fortified, afforded places of shelter. In the middle ages the cities leagued together and maintained an obstinate struggle against brigandage and feudal exactions. In our day, thanks to the political system of modern Europe, and to the progress of international law and of enlightenment, the security of commerce is perfect, or disturbed only by accidental causes, throughout all the vast domain of modern civilization.
—But there are other conditions necessary. The question is asked, which is the more favorable to commerce, authority or liberty; or, to speak more clearly, an enlightened despotism or a wise political liberty? The reply which history furnishes varies according to the temperament of the people under consideration, their progress in civilization, and other circumstances. Aside from the security which both equally guarantee, an enlightened despotism in the hands of a Cromwell, a Louis XIV., a Peter I., or a Frederic II., imparts a vigorous impulse to commerce. It may degenerate into blind and violent tyranny; but liberty also degenerates into license. The prolonged rule of despotism leads, however, to stagnation, inertness and decay, as is witnessed by the Roman empire and the kingdom of Spain. Liberty preserves the life and progress of commerce, and has its great citizens, as authority has its great monarchs. Under the two-fold excitement of religious and warlike zeal, the Arabs, though subject to caliphs possessed of absolute power, were regenerated, and became a great commercial race. But most wonders of commercial prosperity have been the work of liberty. It was liberty that gave prosperity to Tyre, Carthage, and the principal cities of Greece. It was liberty that, in the middle ages, animated the mercantile republics of Italy, as well as the communes of Flanders and Germany. It is to liberty that Holland is indebted for its extraordinary prosperity two centuries ago. The three great commercial powers of our times, England (since the year 1688), the United States (since 1783), and France (since 1815), are the offspring of liberty.
—The history of commerce admits of the same division as political history, into ancient, mediæval and modern. The first period extends from the earliest times to the fall of the Roman empire in the year 476 of the Christian era. The second embraces the centuries from 476 to 1492, the year of the discovery of America. The third period begins with 1492 and extends to our own time. We shall endeavor, successively, to run over, or, to speak more correctly, to give a simple outline of the history of these three periods as well as the restricted limits of our present work will permit.
—We need not here begin with the night which preceded the earliest dawn of civilization, nor go back to the primitive times in which exchange alone, in the restricted sense of the word (barter) was practiced among men, and when the division of labor, by causing the creation of money, gave birth to commerce properly so called. Commerce was originally restricted to the land, and practically remained so during the first and even to the end of the second period, that is, until the discovery of America. The earliest homes of commerce were Asia and Africa; its invigorating influence was not felt in Europe until somewhat later. In Asia and Africa, it was gradually developed by the aid of caravans or troops of merchants, who combined their forces to defend themselves against the common dangers of the journey. Thus regular routes were marked out through the deserts; stations, markets, and afterward more or less important commercial centres, were established. In the midst of these often barren solitudes the camel was of great service as a beast of burden. The special objects of commerce were things easy of transportation but of great value, such as spices, perfumes and precious stones. The three continents of the old world form one compact whole, whose different countries could communicate with one another without the aid of navigation. Navigation, however, came in its turn. It originated on the coasts of Asia and Africa. it was for a long time confined to the coasting trade, and men were very slow to overcome the fear with which the sea inspired them. The Mediterranean, on which all three continents border, affording, at a relatively moderate distance a multitude of islands, bays, sounds, peninsulas and projections of land, became, from the pillars of Hercules to the Black sea, the principal theatre of the maritime commerce of the ancients. Its domain was afterward extended to the Persian and Arabian gulfs, and then to the Indian ocean.
—In the beginning, commerce was naturally timid and uncertain. It had to contend against rebellious elements, it was paralyzed by incessant wars, and fettered by a defective social state, which was lacking in security; in some countries castes existed, and slavery was found everywhere. Capital was rare, credit unknown. The merchant always traveled with his merchandise, and his profession was generally held in contempt. Still, notwithstanding all these obstacles, we find noble efforts of human intelligence in the way of commerce, and memorable results achieved by them.
—The first nations to engage in commerce were the Hindoos, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Babylonians and the Egyptians. In India, which is ruled by castes, the merchants, farmers and artisans form the lower classes. The great pilgrimages near the holy places, such as Benares, Ellora, etc., concentrated the commerce of the interior around the temples and bound it to the worship of the country. Possessed of immense natural wealth, and of remarkable industry, India was in no way dependent upon other countries. In her exterior commerce, therefore, she left the fatigue and perils of long voyages to the strangers who came to her frontiers to buy her products with gold, and still more with silver. But because of certain products which the west could not raise and which it could not do without, such as spices, dye-stuffs, cotton, steel, precious stones, ivory and fine woods, India offered irresistible attractions to the merchants of the west. The inhabitants of India were not navigators. The foreign merchants who visited them landed at a certain point on the western coast—The direct commerce with India was controlled mainly by the Arabs. While the Arab of the desert was a nomad, the Arab of the coast became a navigator. Confined within a narrow province bordering on the desert, he turned his eyes toward the sea, and the country lying beyond it. While other nations brought silver into India, but rarely any merchandise, the Arabs possessed in their spices and perfumes the richest elements of an active commerce.
—It was not with the west alone that India cultivated commercial communication. It also had important relations, though less is known of them, with China from that country it imported silk for use in India, where the great and the rich were clothed with this material. There were several commercial routes uniting the two countries.
—In the fertile country of Asia also, we should mention Babylon, situated between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, which, at an epoch when Europe was still plunged in obscurity, was a rich and populous city, a grand commercial metropolis, and the emporium of all western Asia, with which it communicated by several well-built roads.
—In Africa. Egypt—civilized in ancient times, though submitted, like India, to the system of castes—had, thanks in particular to the Nile and its canals of every kind, a most active internal commerce. But its mariners navigated only the streams of the interior; for down to the time of Psammetichus and of Necho, superstitious Egypt had a horror of the sea. She abandoned her maritime commerce and her foreign exchange to the Phœnicians, and in part to the Arabs. Her commerce by land followed two principal routes in the interior of Africa, one of which crossed the desert of Barca, and the other followed up the Nile, and then shaped its course by the great and the small oases toward Ethiopia, and the eastern coast of Africa. In the seventh century before Christ foreign influence, particularly that of the Greeks, began to make itself felt in Egypt. Up to that epoch the suspicious policy of the Pharaohs and the intolerance of the priests had hermetically sealed the entrance to the country against them. King Psammetichus, in 656, was the first to put an end to this isolation, and their maritime commerce was developed, but through the intervention of the Phœnicians and the Greeks, because the country had no wood fit for ship-building.
—The people of antiquity most skilled in commerce and navigation inhabited a narrow strip of territory which formed part of Syria. The history of the Phœnicians seems to date back to 1800 years before Christ. It comprises three periods. In the first, Byblus, Berytus (Beyrout) and Aradus extended their operations along the eastern part of the Mediterranean. In the second, from 1600 to 1200, the Phœnician cities, with Sidon as their capital, extended their sphere of operations, and their ships passed the pillars of Hercules. Finally, in the third, from 1100 to 750, the supremacy passed to Tyre, and the commercial grandeur of Phœnicia attained the zenith of its glory; but it declined little by little, and was eclipsed after the Persian conquest.
—The geographical position of the country, the possession of the woods of mounts Libanus and Anti-Libanus, the sterility of the soil, and the vicinity of the opulent continent of Asia, led the Phœnicians to engage in ship-building and commerce; they began by piracy. Sidon is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah calls Tyre "the city which distributes crowns and whose merchants are princes." Homer likewise often speaks of the commercial operations of the Phœnicians, and of the cunning which they displayed in them. The Phœnicians had founded colonies in Africa as early as the twelfth century before Christ. Carthage, the most celebrated of the cities established by them, dates from the year 818, and in Solomon's time, about the year 1000, the route along the southeast coast of Spain was quite common. The Tyrians occupied the island of Cyprus near by, which, independently of its importance as a commercial point, became, by the wealth of its products, the great supply market of a barren coast.
—The geographical discoveries of antiquity may, almost without exception, be attributed to the Phœnicians. In truth, from their expeditions down to those of the Portuguese and Spaniards, the chart of the eastern hemisphere, at least so far as its coast was concerned, did not undergo any perceptible change. Did they penetrate as far as the Baltic sea for the trade in yellow amber? Whether they did or not, they navigated south along the entire Arabian gulf and the west coast of India, as far as the island of Taprobane (Ceylon). The routes overland passed by way of Damascus and Palmyia, until they joined the great commercial route which extended from these cities to Babylon, Persia and the interior of Asia. They communicated with Egypt by a route which extended as far as Memphis. But their greatest progress was toward the west. They did not fear to brave the high seas in this direction. In all probability the island of Madeira and the Canary islands (the Fortune islands) were not only visited but colonized by them. Their establishments along the western coast of Africa extended to cape Blanco, if not to cape Verde, and the Carthaginians only followed in their wake. The voyage of Hercules (who was their principal divinity) around the ancient world, is the poetic picture of the immense expansion of their navigation and commerce.
—With the history of Phœnicia, that of Carthage, the most powerful and most noted of its colonies, is intimately connected. There was but little mention of Carthage during the first centuries of its existence. From the time of the subjugation of Tyre by the Persians, it rapidly increased in wealth, territory and influence. Most of the Greek and Phœnician colonies on the northern coast of Africa were forced to recognize its power, and it soon passed the straits of Gibraltar, acquired fixed stations in Spain, occupied the Balearic isles, Corsica and Sardinia, closing with Sicily and Malta the circle of its dominions. The principal theatre of its mercantile activity was the west of the Mediterranean, where it regarded itself as the legitimate heir of Tyre. Of all its possessions, Spain was, especially after the loss of Sicily, by far the richest and most important. The rich mines of silver that were discovered and worked by the Phœnicians were the powerful magnet which attracted the Carthaginians thither. They possessed themselves of all the ancient commerce of the Phœnicians beyond the straits of Gibraltar, and increased it. They also traded directly with the interior of Africa overland by means of caravans—We come now to the Greeks Inhabiting a country washed on three sides by the sea, indented by numerous bays, and surrounded by numerous islands, this people early and successfully applied themselves to navigation. The Greeks were not as skillful and enterprising merchants as the Phœnicians; but the extent and versatility of their genius were manifested even in their commerce. From the point of view of progress in civilization, the commerce of the Greeks among themselves, though confined within a comparatively small radius, is by far the most interesting of antiquity. The spectacle presented by the southeast of the Mediterranean between the shores of Asia and Greece, and in the numberless islands of the Archipelago, is unique of its kind. The commercial intelligence of the Greeks is attested by their regulations concerning insurance, loans on bottomry, freighting, etc., which originated in Athens, and by the maritime laws of Rhodes, which remained the accepted maritime code down to the middle ages.
—Attica, and the neighboring isthmus of Corinth, form the chief theatre of the traffic of continental Greece. The most important object of the commerce of Athens was the grain necessary for the consumption of that city, for the soil of Attica does not seem to have been much more fertile at that epoch than it is now. This grain came from the countries bordering on the Black sea, particularly from the Tauric Chersonesus, or Crimea, which were, twenty-two centuries ago, as they are to-day, inexhaustible granaries. Corinth also deserves special mention. Its commerce was even more extended and more varied than that of Athens. It was the great warehouse of Greece.
—The commercial domain of Greece comprised, moreover, not only Hellas, Thessaly, the Peloponnesus and the islands of the Archipelago, but also Asia Minor, lower Italy or greater Greece, Sicily, and the numerous colonies on the coast of the Black and the Mediterranean seas. Among the cities which commerce rendered flourishing in these different countries at different epochs, we should mention Miletus, which ranked after Tyre, Phocea, Rhodes, Marseilles, and Alexandria under the Ptolemies.
—We shall not here dwell long upon the Romans, for they can not be ranked among the commercial nations. Still, they should be mentioned in a history of commerce, because of the immense extent of their empire, which created a vast market, and because of their grand system of communication, which, although established for military and administrative purposes, served also for the transport of merchandise. Under the empire, Rome and Italy, whose agriculture were ruined, could not subsist but for the importations from the provinces, especially of their grain. After the devastations of war and the rapine of proconsuls, labor and commerce, protected by a regular administration, served again to restore the wealth of the civilized countries of the east, at the same time that, under the domination of Rome, they gave life to the hitherto barbarous nations of the west. Alexandria was one of the richest commercial cities of this period, the great storehouse of the trade with India, and indispensable to the commerce of the Romans. But, by the continuous weakening of the empire, commerce languished and perished gradually, until the invasion of the northern tribes finally destroyed it.
—The fall of the empire of the west left after it, in the west of Europe, the barbarism of the middle ages; but the empire of the east preserved ancient traditions and commerce in the east. Constantinople which, thanks to its admirable situation, had already enjoyed great prosperity under the name of Byzantium, replaced Rome both as the commercial and political metropolis. Not that commercial activity animated its degraded population, for, without foreigners, Constantinople never would have become a great commercial centre. The trade in the products most necessary to human life were declared a monopoly of the state, and the other branches of internal commerce were no less obstructed. But the Italians, Arabs, Germans and Slaves made a rendezvous of this great market, and made of it quite a business centre. The Byzantine commerce may be divided, according to the routes which it followed, into three branches: the eastern, the western and the northern commerce. Its relations with the east were of great importance. During the reign of Justinian, two monks brought from India to Constantinople silk-worms' eggs carefully inclosed in a cane or staff, and introduced into Greece that new industry, which was not slow to prosper there. The manufacture of silk was begun at Constantinople, Athens and Corinth, and from thence it passed into Italy.
—At this epoch, a people, composed in great part of nomadic tribes, but on whose shores navigation and commerce had long flourished, extended their dominion with unheard-of rapidity; on one hand to the Atlantic ocean, and on the other to the frontier of China. At the same time it extended its commerce over this immense space. The Koran recommends commerce and industry as occupations pleasing to God. Thus each conquest made by the Arabs was also a conquest for commerce; wherever they penetrated they carried with them life and progress. Caravans were allowed to travel unmolested in the midst of their armies. The association of religion and commerce, which had existed in antiquity, especially among the Hindoos and Egyptians, was restored among the Arabs on a still larger scale. In the principal places of the provinces mosques were erected and schools established. This served to increase the population of these places, and they became religious and commercial centres. Pilgrims came from a distance, as well to fulfill their religious duties as to exchange their merchandise. The most celebrated of the pilgrimages was that of Mecca. Various wise regulations afforded the caravans the assistance which was so necessary in Asia and Africa, which were the principal theatres of the commerce of the Arabs. Thus the government contributed considerable sums for the construction and improvement of roads. It caused wells to be sunk and caravansaries to be built, and erected mile-stones to mark the distances.
—The most prosperous period in Arabian history is that of the Abbasides, from the eighth to the tenth century. This was almost the entire length of time during which their vast commerce lasted, and during this time it constituted almost the entire commerce of the world. Spain, Sicily, Sardinia, and part of the southern coast of Italy, were subject to the Arabs. In Africa their dominion was more extensive than that of any other people before or since. They explored the interior of the country with greater care and success than the Carthaginians and the ancient Egyptians. In Asia the standard of the prophet stopped only before the natural barrier of the great steppes, inhabited by nomadic tribes. Following the Indus, extending to the Himalayas, and thence to lake Aral and the Caspian sea, the empire of the Caliphs embraced, besides the Greek provinces of Asia Minor, the whole historic zone of that part of the world. In this immense domain, what a diversity do we find in the productions of the soil, as well as in the faculties, the tastes and the wants of the inhabitants! What grand conditions for exchange! The connecting link between the two extremities of the old world, the Arabs have brought us the compass from China.
—During this time western Europe was buried in darkness, which Charlemagne endeavored in vain to dispel; it only increased after his death, and the feudalism which he established proved fatal to commerce. But the commercial spirit still survived in a race possessed of rare tenacity. Deprived of their nationality, the Jews play a very important part in the history of commerce. There is no state in Asia, Africa or Europe, known in the least to commerce, in which Jews are not to be met with. Persecuted, often with cruel intolerance, the objects of public contempt, they resisted, notwithstanding the fewness of their numbers and the fact of their being so scattered, and exhibited great mercantile activity. This activity they applied by preference to loaning operations, which, being for a long time interdicted to Christians, were monopolized by the Jews, loans which, because of the scarcity of money, were effected under exorbitant conditions. The Jews are credited with the invention of bills of exchange, as a more convenient and a surer means of settling their credits and their debts in distant places, than sending the coin. But recent research proves that the real inventors of bills of exchange were the papal tithe-gatherers in foreign countries.
—The crusades succeeded in rousing western Europe from its lethargy, and indirectly exercised a most powerful influence upon commerce. The west was brought again in contact with the east, appreciated its productions, and thus conceived wants which commerce alone could satisfy. Customs and the manner of living were changed; the consumption of spices and silk stuffs increased. In the cities, especially, fortunes were amassed with rapidity, and worked a complete change in the condition of the middle classes.
—The commercial advantages of the crusades were first manifested in Italy. Although it had been the most devastated of all the countries invaded by the barbarians, this country was already re-invigorated by the emancipation of its cities, and it had not lost the advantage of its geographical situation. When the east had resumed its relations with the west, the Mediterranean and the Black seas exhibited the animation of ancient times. These seas, with their gulfs, their islands and their shores, were the principal theatre of the exchange established between the three parts of the then known world, and they so continued until the discovery of a new hemisphere had entirely changed the aspect of the globe, and created an entirely new state of things.
—Venice, Amalfi, Pisa and Genoa were then illustrious in Italy. The prosperity of this country began with the end of the twelfth century, and attained its zenith at the middle of the fifteenth. The crusade, in which Constantinople was taken in 1204, becoming for fifty-six years the seat of the Latin empire, assured to Venice, which had, by the aid of its fleet, taken an active part in this conquest, the almost absolute monopoly of the commerce of the Levant. Genoa, which had long been the rival of Venice, was at last obliged to yield her this territory. In the Italian cities which we have mentioned, to which we must add Florence, industry soon increased, and manufactories were established. They adopted commercial laws and regulations, whose authority was recognized at a distance. The importance of the bourgeoisie grew; the omnipotence of the landed proprietors was destroyed; the brilliant prosperity of the cities relaxed the bonds of feudalism; commerce, hitherto treated with contempt, obtained consideration.
—Commerce ceased, little by little, to be the monopoly of the south and the east, and extended to the north and west. On this new territory, deprived of all precedent, it had to educate and form itself. The old military routes of the Alps became commercial routes, by which the merchandise of the Levant, imported by Venice and Genoa, was carried into Germany, France, the Low Countries and England. At points on this side of the Alps, where the roads crossed each other or reached a river, old Roman colonies began rapidly to flourish, or new cities sprang up. Such were Basle, Strasbourg, Ulm, Augsburg, Ratisbonne, Nuremburg and many others. The maritime cities of Italy had branch establishments in these places, which afterward became independent houses, acting on their own account. Industry prospered by the side of commerce; and here, as in the communes of Italy, well-being engendered the spirit of independence and liberty.
—Venice and Genoa had established important commercial centres in the Low Countries; and Bruges and Antwerp were, during three centuries, the greatest markets of Europe. All the articles then known were brought thither from all countries, and the stores which received them afforded the richest assortments. The Italians sent there the merchandise of the east, and took in exchange the products of the north, among other things the renowned woolens of Flanders and Brabant. This exchange of products with so many nations, rapidly developed the material prosperity of the country, and served also for the furtherance of enlightenment. Commerce enjoyed in the Low Countries a liberty which did not exist elsewhere: nowhere else was it so little burdened with taxes, privileges and monopolies.
—It is to the crusades, likewise, that the northeast of Europe is indebted for its civilization.
—They had given birth to the Teutonic order, which, to convert the pagans, conquered Prussia in the thirteenth century. The order of the Porteglaive knights, who were closely allied to the Teutonic order, pursued the same object in Livonia. These two institutions which were of German origin, helped to enliven German commerce. The best-known products of these countries supplied material for the export trade to the west and south, where other merchandise, adapted to the wants of the north and east, was advantageously given in exchange. Cities of importance were founded on the German coast of the Baltic; they were speedily peopled, and devoted themselves to commerce and navigation. They often combined together for enterprises in common, aided one another, and thus prepared the way for that powerful commercial league, which, under the leadership of Lubeck, soon extended over a vast domain. The Hanseatic league is a glorious monument of the spirit of association in Germany. The principal theatres of its activity were the islands and coasts of the North and Baltic seas. Their favorite ports were those of England, from which they exported wool, which they brought back turned into cloth by the German weavers. But not one of their ships ever ventured out upon the ocean.
—England and France occupy places of but secondary importance in this period of the history of commerce. In France, however, we should except Marseilles. Marseilles is, after Cadiz, the oldest commercial city of Europe; and, during an existence of two thousand five hundred years, its name has never ceased to figure with more or less splendor in the annals of commerce. It seems to have been the only French port which then entertained direct relations with the Levant. Its incomparable situation preserved to it, through the greatest disasters of the invasion, all the commerce indispensable to the barbarians themselves; and it is probable its traffic with the coast cities of France, Spain and Italy and the neighboring islands was never interrupted. As a great part of the crusaders took passage at Marseilles for Palestine, it was an easy matter for this city to renew its relations with the east, its cradle.
—Toward the end of the crusades, under Charles of Anjou, its glory was eclipsed, inasmuch as the city of Montpelier, which was the centre of the operations of Jacques Cœur, Aigues-Mortes and Avignon surpassed it in commercial importance and in wealth. The import and export trade of the south of France was, moreover, principally in the hands of the Italians, who, since the transfer of the holy see to Avignon, had established themselves there in great numbers. Under the name of Lombards, they, conjointly with the Jews, carried on important banking and monetary operations. They instilled new life into industry, especially that of Languedoc and Lyons, whose products were carried to the markets of Beaucaire.
—The proximity of Flanders exerted a similar influence on the north of France, to that of Italy on the south, but with less energy. The fairs of Troyes, the capital of Champagne, were frequented. The maritime activity of the port of Dieppe deserves special mention. The merchants of Dieppe seem to have been the first navigators of the middle ages who visited the west coast of Africa. The wine trade of the maritime cities of the southeast, particularly in Bordeaux wine, was very active.
—We must not omit to mention the busy port of Barcelona, on the Mediterranean, the commercial centre of Christian Spain.
—The middle ages had seen the development of commercial intelligence in Europe. Commercial and maritime codes, bills of exchange, loan and discount banks, and the use of the compass, do it honor. Still, its operations had not extended beyond the limits of the commerce of antiquity: they were always confined to commerce by land and to mere coast trade.
—The modern period of commerce was inaugurated by the discovery of a new world, which Christopher Columbus made, believing that he had landed on the eastern coast of India. Since then, the new continent became daily better known: it was named America after Amerigo Vespucci, who first gave a description of it to astonished Europe.
—Mexico was conquered in 1521; Peru and Chili, from 1529 to 1535. Toward the middle of the sixteenth century the coasts of South America were known throughout almost their entire extent. About the year 1500 the Portuguese navigator, Cabral, on a voyage to the East Indies, was carried to the west by a tempest, and landed on the coast of Brazil. In 1520 Magellan discovered, at the southern extremity of the continent of America, the straits which bear his name, passed through them, and then, traversing the Pacific ocean, and discovering on his way the Marianne, the Ladrone, and the Phillippine Islands, completed the first voyage around the world.
—While the Spaniards were making discovery after discovery, and conquest upon conquest in America, the Portuguese were not idle in the east. They had for a length of time been advancing along the coast of Africa; in 1487 Bartholomew Diaz had, without knowing it, doubled the Cape of Good Hope; but the circumnavigation of Africa, and the direct passage from Europe to the Indies, were not accomplished until ten years later, under Vasco de Gama. The Portuguese extended their explorations in the Indian sea more and more, and joined to them the expeditions sent toward the west. They doubled Cape Cormorin, visited Ceylon in 1506, sailed along the coast of Coromandel, and, crossing the gulf of Bengal, reached India beyond the Ganges, Malacca in 1509, the Sund islands in 1512, the Moluccas in 1513, China in 1516, finally Japan in 1542.
—This is not the place to enumerate the discoveries which followed; suffice it to state here that by them the earth was made double what it had been in ancient times and in the middle ages; and this fact marks a capital revolution in the existence of commerce. Since navigation has quitted the coasts, which it had timidly followed hitherto, and now braves the high seas and skims under full sail over the element which establishes the swiftest and easiest communications between the most distant points, there really exists an international commerce, and this commerce has acquired a universal character.
—Two characteristic traits distinguish ancient from modern commerce. The former was the age of coast trading and transport by land the latter is that of long sea voyages and maritime transport.
—The enormous increase in the importation of tropical products has extended the consumption of them to the lower classes, and very much changed the manner of life of those classes. In proportion as the Indies became better known, men discovered there a multitude of products hitherto unused, or even entirely new, which were well fitted to increase a commerce which had depended almost exclusively on spices, precious stones, pearls, dye stuffs and cloth of very fine texture. Rice, sugar and sago were known; the Italians had brought small quantities of them into Europe: but these articles were so bulky, and relatively of so little value, that they did not pay the expense of a long transportation by land and water and numerous transshipments. As to sugar, it was cultivated by the Moors in Spain and Sicily, but was not exported. Honey still continued to be generally used in sweetening food. But, after the establishment of continuous navigation, the transportation of these products into Europe was recognized as profitable; and the capacity of vessels was more and more increased. Freight charges were lowered, and sugar in particular became one of the principal staples of transatlantic navigation, especially when the culture of the cane, transferred into the American colonies, had there acquired so vast a development. Tea is an entirely modern article of commerce. Acquaintance with many other products, such as drugs, medicinal substances, dye stuffs and woods, was also acquired at this epoch, or at least they were brought directly from the places where they are produced, without having recourse, as formerly, to numerous intermediaries. In the production of sugar and coffee for the use of Europe, America had surpassed Asia by the end of this period. Various other products, moreover, such as cocoa, tobacco, potatoes, vanilla and certain dye woods, were indigenous to her soil.
—The importance of commerce increased immensely; a greater number of countries and cities engaged in it. A centre like Bruges, to which all European commerce might resort as to a common rendezvous, was no longer possible, since they could import their merchandise directly from the country in which it was produced. Men more and more preferred these natural roads to the artificial ways of indirect importation; and the mere fact of the foundation of colonies by nearly all the maritime powers could not fail to develop the commerce of each of them and maritime navigation generally. At the same time the different operations of commerce were more distinctly separated one from the other: there were, as before, different specialties, the import and the export trade, banking and commission, ship building, insurance, the carrying of merchandise, and the carrying of specie.
—One great difference between the two epochs is that of the theatre upon which international commerce was displayed. The new world was situated in the west; it was discovered from the western coasts of Europe, and all transatlantic voyages had their point of departure and their point of arrival on these coasts. Hitherto the southeast had possessed commercial as well as political dominion. From Phœnicia to Venice, the Mediterranean, including its numerous bays and the seas bordering it, had, with the overland routes which connected it with the Arabian and Persian gulfs, constituted the narrow limits within which the international commerce of the old world was restricted. At the end of the present period, in the short space of three centuries, how the scene changes! Asia, with the exception of India, is plunged in the most profound lethargy, and barbarism has extended as far as the southeastern extremity of Europe. Without having been subjugated like Greece, Italy had also lost her power and her prosperity. The two great meteors of the grand period of the Mediterranean, Venice and Genoa, are now but mere souvenirs of their departed grandeur. On the contrary, what a wonderful creative activity is displayed by western Europe, what an unheard-of development of power and wealth all its maritime countries attain, one after another. The west of Europe has become the centre which receives and dispenses all the currents of the new life; and its situation on the very shores of the vast sea that now connects the countries which it formerly separated, assures it a decided advantage over the east.
—Political and social influences concur with these geographical causes. We find them in the strong constitution of the great states on the basis of nationality, with absolute power and a centralized administration in the hands of a monarch. The essential characteristic of the middle ages was the predominance of individualism the predominance of nationalities is that of modern times. The most powerful nationalities were formed in western Europe; Spain, after the re-union of Castile and Aragon; France, after the reign of Louis XI.; and England, after the accession of the house of Tudor. Later appeared the republic of Holland. Powerful and centralized states could alone enter successfully on the new career of discovery and ultra-marine operations, and satisfy the wants of a world which had been so immensely enlarged. Commerce became a national affair. The government intervened as regulator by its laws and institutions, and national politics produced commercial systems. What had hitherto interested only a class or a corporation, now occupied the attention of the state. Each nation believed itself the chosen people, and labored to achieve greatness and prosperity. Antagonism was inevitable; commercial jealousy, which had existed at all epochs, now acquired the energy of national hate; states sought, by means of monopolies, to paralyze each other's trade, and hold one another in check; they promulgated commercial interdicts against one another, and these led to declarations of war. Customs duties served as offensive and defensive arms.
—Monopolies are another distinctive feature of the present period. The government assumes the right to regulate all the industrial and commercial movements of the country. The concession of privileges to large companies for the carrying on of ultra-marine commerce, originated at a time when commerce was so new, so difficult and so expensive as to exceed the resources of private individuals. In countries which were far removed from any considerable establishment, a number of men, and often an armed force, were necessary to secure the beginnings of trade. Companies were then of great service: they gave solidity to international commerce. But, after having been an instrument of progress, they became a hindrance, and, at the end of the eighteenth century, were generally on the decline.
—In the regulation of commerce, ignorance and arbitrariness committed many faults. Men professed the maxim that the profits acquired by one nation in foreign commerce were losses to another. They established the principle that exchange with other nations was advantageous only inasmuch as the exports exceeded the imports, and the difference was paid in money. They misunderstood the mission of gold and silver. They did not understand the solidarity of foreign commerce; and, led astray by its brilliant results, gave it a blind preference. However, we must not judge this epoch by the ideas of our own; and, in the protection of industry particularly, it is proper to distinguish between wise and efficacious measures and those which are senseless and unproductive.
—The means of communication which are so necessary to commerce by land, remained far behind the progress of navigation. This period, however, produced the canals of the Low Countries of France, and, later on, of England. On the other hand, commercial and maritime rights were perfected; maritime insurance was greatly developed; and similar progress was made in credit and banks, as is proved by the banks of England, of Holland and of London. Law's enterprise in France should not be cited except as proof of the ignorance of the epoch. Another commercial institution, that of the "exchanges," originated in the Low Countries.
—The commercial spirit of the present period finds its most energetic expression in the colonial system, which has been defined as the monopoly for the benefit of the mother country, of the production and consumption of the colonies. This system was founded by Spain. The Spanish colonies were nothing else than domains of the crown; and this idea of a supreme right of ownership which the crown always preserved over them, serves to explain all the commercial restrictions which were imposed. The colonial population of other states was governed by the same principle, applied with more or less consideration. We must, however, except the colonies of the East Indies, where a large native population, an acquired political development and a comparatively advanced state of civilization, prevented the mother country from arrogating to herself a similar right of ownership. The commercial interest of the colonies consisted in the difference between their products and those of the mother country. Without the colonial products there would have been no colonial system. Under colonial products, not only coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar and spices were understood, but also cotton, dye stuffs, certain kinds of wood, drugs and medicinal substances, none of which were cultivated in Europe. Most of them came only from tropical countries, as most of the colonies were in the torrid zone. We may say that all the great maritime commerce of Europe at this epoch was colonial commerce; for the principal commercial countries, Portugal, Spain, England, Holland and France, had colonies. Italy and Germany alone had none; and this fact compelled them to have recourse to foreign markets, both for their importations of ultra-marine goods, and for the export of their own products to those countries.
—The exploitation of the colonies restored an odious traffic, which had been one of the most considerable of ancient times, and which had not been unknown to the middle ages; the traffic in slaves. The negroes of Africa, whose strong arms were soon recognized as eminently well fitted for the cultivation of plantations, supplied the material for this vast trade, the horrors of which are well known.
—We shall terminate this general exposé by mentioning the development of the great fisheries on the coast of Spitzbergen and along the shores of North America.
—The different nations who took part in the commerce of this period were successively the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Dutch, the English and the French. We shall take a rapid glance at each of them.
—Called to navigation by her geographical situation, the mission of Portugal was to realize what the centuries had predicted of her. She had the good fortune, at this epoch, which is called her golden age, to be governed by a line of princes, among whom we may mention Henry the Navigator and Emmanuel the Great. From the first years of his reign Emmanuel attained the end toward which his predecessor had gradually approached. Vasco de Gama made the voyage to India by water, and landed, May 18, 1498, on the coast of Malabar. The king then took the title of master of the navigation and commerce of Africa, Arabia, Persia and India; and his subjects were possessed of an enthusiasm which conquered everything before them. In 1505 Francis Almeida, with a fleet of twenty-two sail, the largest ever equipped up to that time, set out as viceroy of India, charged to destroy the commerce of the Arabs. From this time there is unrolled before our eyes a tableau of commercial history which seems like a romance; for the most brilliant feats of arms and religious proselytism are mingled with mercantile speculations. Almeida and his successor, Albuquerque, acquired immortal glory. The latter, after a long and difficult siege, carried by assault, Nov. 25, 1510, on the coast of Malabar, the city of Goa, which soon acquired extraordinary prosperity as a commercial centre. In a few years the entire coast, from Ormuz to Ceylon, acknowledged the authority of the Portuguese, whose dominion also extended even beyond cape Cormorin as far as the Moluccas.
—Then began for Portugal a maritime commerce, placed under the direction of the government, but open to all Portuguese. Fleets, starting at regular intervals, made the voyage between Goa and Lisbon, which latter city attained a high degree of splendor.
—In 1500 chance had led to the discovery of Brazil by the Portuguese Admiral Cabral. This country was at first made a penal colony. Then it acquired commercial importance by the cultivation of sugar, which at this epoch was first introduced into the ports of Europe in considerable quantities. Later, the gold and diamond mines of Minas-Geraes and Cerro da Rio were discovered. During the whole of the sixteenth century Portugal enjoyed the monopoly of the commerce of India, and Lisbon was the great centre of this trade. But the decay of this power began when Portugal was submitted to Spanish rule. The Spanish decree which, in 1594, closed the port of Lisbon against the Dutch, founded the empire of this latter nation in India, as well as their commercial preponderance, and commenced the ruin of the Portuguese.
—The Spaniards, though not possessed of the commercial spirit, had however been called upon to play an important part in its history. The Catalonians are about the only ones among the inhabitants of Spain who can be said to have any aptitude for commerce. Two ingenious races, the Jews and the Moors, gave life to the Peninsula; but Spanish fanaticism drove them from it. On the other hand, the chivalrous and heroic spirit, which they had acquired in their conflicts with the Moors, led the Spaniards to do great things in the new world, whither they had been led by Christopher Columbus. Their exploits here resulted in the conquest of Mexico and Peru, the occupation of the greater part of South America, and, consequently, in the foundation of an imposing colonial system. But the thirst for gold was almost the only motive of these enterprises; and the most fertile country, blessed with the most beautiful and healthy climate, was disdained when it did not show traces of gold and silver. The extraction of the precious metals was not without its advantages for Spain itself; but, above all, it exerted a considerable influence on the commerce of the world.
—A colossal aggregate of countries situated in the most different climates, and increased, besides, under Philip II., by the Portuguese possessions, opened to Spanish commerce the richest and most extensive market that can be conceived, yet it profited but little by it. Two royal squadrons went every year, or at least every two years, to America; one was called the fleet; the other, the galleons. The galleons carried on the commerce with Chili and Peru; the fleet, that with New Spain or Mexico and the adjacent provinces. The squadrons were escorted by ships of war. The vessels were chartered by the merchants of Seville and Cadiz. Soon after the arrival of the galleons the South-American merchants brought by water to Panama, and thence by land to Porto Bello, the products of their mines, and other precious objects to be exchanged for manufactured articles. The city, abandoned and deserted at other times, was then filled with an innumerable crowd, and the market remained open for forty days. But it was not open to free competition: everything was foreseen and regulated in advance. The prices were fixed by delegates appointed by the merchants of the two hemispheres, on board the admiral's vessel, in the presence of the governor of Panama. During this time the fleet had arrived at Vera Cruz, to proceed, in New Spain, with the same operations and under the same conditions. After dispatching some ships to trade with the islands, the squadrons met at Havana, and thence returned to Europe. Under Philip II. their cargoes comprised, besides the precious metals, indigo, cochineal, sugar, vanilla, logwood, cinchona and tanned hides. But, afterward, these products were more and more disdained, and the cargoes were composed almost exclusively of gold, silver, Panama and California pearls, and precious stones. The chief products imported into the colonies were woolen and linen stuffs, furniture, agricultural implements, works in metal, objects of luxury of all kinds, oil and provisions.
—The commerce of the Spanish colonies, though submitted to all the rigors of the colonial system, was soon invaded by the smuggling trade, whose operations were carried on on a grand scale, and which the government was compelled to tolerate. This smuggling was systematically practiced by Holland, England and France; and nine-tenths of the merchandise used in the colonies was of foreign manufacture. Soon, however, beginning with the reign of Philip II., despotism gradually enervated commercial activity in the whole Spanish monarchy which had undergone only a slight improvement in the eighteenth century, under the Bourbons—When the Dutch constituted themselves a republic, under the name of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, at Utrecht, Jan. 23, 1579, they had not only shaken off the Spanish yoke, but they had laid the foundations of extraordinary commercial greatness. They had already acquired the preponderance in the Hanseatic trade in the northeast of Europe. Their fisheries were flourishing. Possessed, by reason of their commerce with the northeast, of the best material for ship building, and, by their fisheries, of the best sailors, their power on the sea soon surpassed that of other nations of Europe; and it was this superiority that enabled them to resist Spain, and finally to overcome her. They found, in the element which surrounded them on all sides with its terrors, and frequently invaded their fields and their cities, the palladium of their independence and the source of their wealth.
—It is a remarkable fact, that, in order to become the first commercial power of the world, it was necessary that they should have for an enemy the king of Spain, on whose vast dominions the sun never set. If they had not conquered the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, their commerce and navigation would have amounted to but very little more than that of the Hanseatic towns; the sphere of their activity would have been confined to Europe, and, on the most favorable hypothesis, they would have been nothing more than intermediaries between the northeast and the southwest.
—After the downfall of Antwerp its commerce passed to the already prosperous city of Amsterdam. This city, as the heir of Antwerp, sought above all things to preserve the advantages of the commerce with India, by keeping up relations with Lisbon, the only port which then received direct importations from that country. Spain, which was then at war with the rebellious provinces, used every endeavor to destroy this traffic, but without effect. As long as Portugal preserved its independence, it took no part in the struggle between Spain and Holland, and the merchants of the Dutch republic were made perfectly welcome to the market of Lisbon. But when, in 1580, it passed, with all its transmarine colonies, under the dominion of Spain, Philip II. believed he could not better punish the hated republic than by depriving it of the products of India, which its ships came to buy at Lisbon. In 1594 he caused fifty Dutch vessels to be seized in this port, and forbade his new subjects, under the severest penalties, all intercourse with the revolted provinces. This blow, apparently so terrible, was the foundation of the commercial prosperity of the Dutch. They understood that there was no other means of extricating themselves from the difficulty than to import the products of India from India itself. The perils of remote navigation did not frighten the enterprising genius and persevering energy of this little nation. After some abortive attempts, they finally succeeded. The route to India was opened by a Dutchman, Cornelius Houtman, who had already made several ultra-marine voyages in the service of Portugal, and who was liberated from a prison in Lisbon, where he was detained for debt. After a few years the commerce of Holland, incited by her accumulated hatred of the Portuguese, controlled the shores of the sound. The commerce with India was centralized and declared expressly a state affair by the creation of a large company, which began its operations March 20, 1602.
—It was necessary, first of all, to find a suitable centre of operations in India itself. The Dutch manifested great wisdom by casting their eyes from the first upon the Indian archipelago rather than upon the continent, and by choosing an island. Among the products of India then most sought after in Europe, spices were the most important. The Dutch conceived the desire of possessing themselves of this commerce, and to this end took possession of the Moluccas. But the Moluccas were too remote to serve as a commercial centre; for this purpose they chose Java, which they conquered from the English, and there founded Batavia, the seat of a general government and of a central administration, which, by its commercial prosperity, won for itself the title of the pearl of the east. By a rapid series of successes, the dominion and commerce of Holland in the East Indies reached their zenith at the end of the seventeenth century.
—The commercial genius of the Dutch was too universal to allow the east to make them lose sight of the west. A great West India company was formed, and this company effected the conquest of Brazil, which, however, was soon after retaken by Portugal. Among the other possessions in America which the Dutch retained were some of the Antilles, particularly Curaçoa, besides Guiana, where their most important establishment was Surinam—The extraordinary extent of the maritime navigation of Holland enabled the Low Countries to secure to their flag a large proportion of the intermediary commerce. The products of India re-exported from Amsterdam, were reputed products of the metropolis, and obtained free access into all the states which were without colonies. Even the states which had them were obliged to admit at least spices, of which Holland had the monopoly. The products of the industry, the agriculture and the fisheries of Holland furnished material for transportation, in large proportion. She everywhere found return cargoes: the wants of Holland, especially in grain and northern products, had increased immensely, and foreign markets were ready to receive what she did not need. Her commercial superiority rendered her indispensable even in those states whose legislation was most exclusive against her. Such were, in the first place, Spain and Portugal; but England and France could not, any more than they, dispense with Dutch navigation; and the insufficiency of their own marine obliged them, despite their restrictive tendencies, to give her their freight. England was freed from this necessity by the navigation act, but France continued subject to this servitude some time longer.
—Independently of its commerce in merchandise, Holland was the centre of the money and credit markets. Banks of deposit and transfer were established at Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The commerce of the world had accumulated so much capital in the country that money was nowhere at a lower price than in Holland; and the stock exchange of Amsterdam was the general market for the titles to all the loans of the time, and for the shares of all commercial and industrial enterprises, both home and foreign.
—But this commercial greatness of a small state, undermined by terrible and ruinous conflicts, began to decline at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when France, and more particularly England, with their much greater resources, devoted themselves to commerce.
—The commerce of England, beginning with the time when it first acquired some importance, may be divided into three periods. The first begins with the reign of Elizabeth. At home it, an adult nation, frees itself from the commercial guardianship of the Hanseatic towns, and acquires a commerce of its own: abroad it triumphs over the Spanish armada, vindicates the liberty of the seas, and founds colonies. This first period shows but a very small amount of progress. The second, which begins with the navigation act, and creates the maritime power of England, is more remarkable; but the most fruitful is the third, which, dating from the peace of Utrecht, shows an equal energy at all points and in every sense, in the metropolis and in the colonies, in commerce as well as in industry, in agriculture as well as in navigation.
—The manufacture of woolens was a natural employment for a country which then abundantly produced the raw material. Edward III. had encouraged it as early as the fourteenth century. Its progress, however, was slow. The nobility preferred to sell their wool abroad, and the English manufacturers found rude competitors in their brothers of the Low Countries. The English were, on the other hand, aided by the Hanseatic towns, whose interest it was to create a rivalry for Flanders, because they realized greater profits by exporting from England unbleached cloths, which they afterward dyed and dressed themselves, than upon articles entirely finished in Flanders or Brabant. English industry was thus gradually extended; but its shipments consisted exclusively of cloths of a common quality. To free the country from the mediation of the Hanseatic traders, and export cloths fully finished, was the special object of the society of merchant adventurers. This object was not attained until the reign of Elizabeth. After she had restricted the exportation of unbleached cloth, and suppressed the Hanseatic competition, the queen sought to introduce other industries into England. A decree of 1563 prohibited the importation of arms, saddlery, needles, thread and various articles of metal and leather. Attention was turned to mines, and skilled miners were brought from Germany. Commercial enterprises were conducted by companies, and their relations were with the Low Countries. The commercial greatness of London was foreshadowed. Elizabeth also endeavored to encourage the merchant marine. The great explorations in the north and the voyages of Drake and Cavendish around the world, in 1581 and 1586, aroused in the people a taste for navigation, and extended their nautical knowledge. If the plans of colonization attempted by Walter Raleigh failed, at least the first stone of the grand edifice of the English dominion in the East Indies was laid in the last years of Elizabeth's reign. Philip II., by closing the port of Lisbon against the English as well as the Dutch, had forced them to establish direct communication with India. At the close of the year 1600, the society of London merchants for trading with the East Indies was established, and obtained of the crown, for the space of fifteen years, the privilege of the commerce with all the countries of Asia, Africa and America, from the cape of Good Hope to the straits of Magellan.
—In the epoch which follows we find the prohibition of the exporting of wool, the manufacture of cotton cloth at Manchester—which are first mentioned in 1641—the first attempts at the manufacture of iron, and the extraction of coal.
—The navigation act, promulgated by Cromwell in 1651, confirmed and completed in 1660 by Charles II., which so long remained the maritime charter of England, built up her navigation upon the ruins of that of Holland. About the same period the conquest of Jamaica was accomplished. The revolution of 1688 soon after, by establishing public liberty, gave a lasting foundation to the commercial supremacy of England, and the union of Scotland with England made Great Britain a great market. Then, after some groping, the final East India company, for which so grand a destiny was reserved, came into being, and credit was established by the creation of the bank of England.
—The eighteenth century presents, in England, under the rule of the constitutional monarchy, a remarkable development in agriculture and manufactures, by reason of the commerce and navigation which they supported. This was the age that saw the inventions of the Watts, the Hargreaves, the Arkwrights, the Wedgewoods, and others. This was also the age of the foundation of the Anglo-Indian empire, due to the genius of Clive and Hastings. It was this century, too, that witnessed the rapid development of the colonies founded by the successive immigrations to North America during the preceding century. But these colonies, in consequence of dissensions with the mother country, rebelled, and achieved their independence, under the name of the United States, recognized by the peace of Versailles, in 1783.
—The civil wars which distracted France during the first century of modern times could not but prove discouraging to her commerce and industry. The accession of Henry IV to the throne revived them by restoring peace and concord to the country. During the reign of this prince the Briare canal was completed, and the cultivation of the mulberry was encouraged. But the active participation of France in the commerce of the world dates only from the time of Colbert.—"Colbert," as Henry Martin has said, "thought that a great nation, a complete society, ought to be at once agricultural, industrial, and sea faring, and that France had received from nature, in a most eminent degree, the conditions of this triple function: his whole life was spent in seeking the realization of this thought." From this point of view, this great minister conceived and executed, at least in part, the plan of suppressing tolls in the interior of the country, of transferring the custom houses to the frontiers of the kingdom, of uniting all France under one and the same tariff system, and of adding economic centralization to the political centralization which it already possessed. In order to develop national industry, Colbert had taken for the basis of his customs tariff, "to reduce the export duties on provisions and merchandise produced in the kingdom, to lessen the import duties on all raw materials, to oppose, by raising the duties, the importation of the products of foreign manufacture." To this programme was added the plan of a close and strong organization of the industrial corporations, and of a permanent and rigid state surveillance over labor. Notwithstanding some lamentable acts of violence against the liberty of labor, French industry made undeniable progress under his influence. Colbert employed considerable sums of money to restore languishing industries and to establish new ones: at great expense he induced foreign manufacturers to come into the country. Five hundred Dutch cloth weavers were established at Abbeville, in Picardy, and introduced there, as well as at Sedan and Elbeuf, the manufacture of the finest woolens. By establishments such as those of the Gobelins (tapestry manufactories), and of extensive glass works, Colbert, while flattering the tastes of his master, assured the future of French manufacture of articles of luxury. The empire of France in objects of taste dates from this period. Her products of this kind were more and more sought after by foreign nations, in proportion as Louis XIV. extended his influence.
—The French marine had already been freed, under Mazarin, from the preponderance of the Dutch marine, by the differential tax of fifty sous per ton. Colbert maintained this tax, and by the system of maritime inscription, he created the military and merchant marine of France. Languedoc is indebted to him for its canal. The reform of the consulates, and a treaty of commerce concluded with the porte in 1673, instilled new life into French commerce with the Levant.
—Unfortunately, after the death of Colbert, the revocation of the edict of Nantes, which deprived France of so many industrial hands, with the disasters which marked the close of Louis XIV.'s reign, and the follies of the regency, arrested the development of the great minister's work. But they did not destroy it entirely; after a lamentable eclipse, the industry and commerce of France gradually regained their splendor in the course of the eighteenth century.
—Colbert also did much for the colonies. The French had taken but little part in transatlantic navigation. We find mentioned only some private adventures in the beginning of the sixteenth century, especially that of James Cartier, to whom is really due the credit of discovering Canada, or New France. In spite of Holland and England, this country had remained French, and Quebec and Montreal were established in 1606. Colbert took measures to assure the existence of the colony, and to improve its material condition. The French domination extended as far into the interior as Louisiana. Among the Antilles, which were colonized by freebooters, Colbert obtained for France, Martinique and Grenada, and established there a form of government in conformity with the ideas of the epoch. It was under Louis XIV., and above all at his special desire, that a large company was formed to carry on the commerce with the East Indies. France thus possessed the elements of a vast colonial empire; but she allowed herself to be deprived of them one after another. At the peace of Utrecht, Louis XIV. ceded to England the Hudson's bay country, Newfoundland and Arcadia. In the treaty of Paris, in 1763, Louis XV. abandoned Canada to the same power. In the Indian ocean, about the middle of the eighteenth century, La Bourdonnais wrought wonders in the island of France, and Dupleix in Pondicherry; but, in consequence of the jealousy that sprang up between these two men, and the prodigious success of the English, the colonial empire of the French almost disappeared from India. The Antilles, at least, were prosperous, especially St. Domingo, and supplied a vast commerce of produce.
—The peace of Versailles ends the first part of modern times, and commences the second, which extends to our own day. This second part is subdivided into two sections, separated from each other by the general peace of 1815. The first of these periods is, properly speaking, the eclipse of commerce, while the second forms the most brilliant period of its history.
—We shall only mention the first period, filled throughout with wars, in which England is the almost absolute mistress of the seas, and in which Napoleon opposes her with the continental blockade; but we shall endeavor to sketch the wonders of the second.
—In this epoch of rare fecundity the territory of commerce increases enormously. Already, in the previous period, the emancipation of the United States had added a great part of North America, and the separation of Brazil from Portugal, a vast country in South America. Then Mexico and all Spanish South America, throwing off the yoke of the mother country, abolished the restrictions of their old colonial system, and were thrown open to the commerce of other nations. France, by conquering Algiers, substituted a safe market for a nest of pirates. England extended and consolidated her rule in India, and opened up China; while the United States obtained access to mysterious Japan, which is now open to all the world.
—Throughout this vast domain, which recognizes no limits, commerce enjoys a security heretofore unknown, the precious fruit of universal peace. This peace has been several times disturbed by wars more or less destructive, but whose limits are always circumscribed. It has been shaken, also, by revolutions. But its majestic course has, in reality, experienced but little interruption. Thus it is seen to multiply at all points, the benefits of which it is so prodigal. Human activity is applied to agriculture and manufactures; the spirit of invention increases industry; production, as well as consumption, is immensely augmented; and commerce henceforth assumes grand proportions.
—The improvement of the ways of communication and of the means of transportation powerfully contributes to its extension. But the ordinary roads and the numerous and well-built canals are not all. Fulton applies steam power to navigation, which had hitherto employed nothing but sails. Steamboats appear on rivers, streams and lakes; they cross straits, they steam along the maritime coasts, and end by making the longest voyages on the high seas. To transatlantic steam navigation is added, for the security and rapidity of maritime commerce, a profound acquaintance with the different currents which furrow the ocean. Another invention that transforms commerce by land, and assures it an importance which it had never before known, is the marvelous invention of railroads, over which locomotives impelled by steam put in motion trains of innumerable cars, and whose immense network covers the soil of all countries. Finally, the electric telegraph annihilates distances both by land and sea.
—While, at the commencement of modern times, the precious metals of the new world came to aid in the development of a trade which had greatly increased in proportions, the gold of California and Australia helped to supply the necessities of a commerce which was increasing every day. At the same time, moreover, the institutions of credit, whose paper supplies the place of money, are developed on a grand scale.
—The different nations successively establish the unity of their home market. The revolution of 1789, completing the work of Colbert, had thrown down the barriers which still subsisted in France, and created its custom house territory. Already, at the beginning of the century, Great Britain is commercially united with Ireland. In the epoch of which we are writing, this movement was imitated throughout Europe. The various small states of Germany were united into a fruitful association of customs (the Zollverein) before they were formed into an empire. Spain had overturned the barriers which isolated its northern provinces; and Austria those which separated the eastern from the western portion of her territory. Switzerland, after accomplishing her political centralization, centralized her commerce also, by substituting for her numerous cantonal tolls one single tariff for all her frontiers. Italy, after attaining political unity, confirmed it by commercial unity, under one tariff of duties.
—The commercial policy toward foreign nations long retained its restrictive features. England, the ablest among nations, in commerce, industry and navigation, was the first to perceive that the impediments created by the protective system must disappear. She gradually accomplished, in this direction, the reforms that were connected with the names of Huskisson, Cobden, Robert Peel and Gladstone. England, now retains only her fiscal rights. These reforms attracted the attention of the other states to their own commercial systems; and many of them also reformed them, if not in the same proportion as England, at least to a greater or less extent. It is the commercial treaty between France and England that seems to have hastened the movement. Prohibitions have been removed, and ever-increasing facilities are granted to commerce. Some countries, however, particularly the United States, still persist in maintaining a strong system of protective duties; but the desire of paying its debt has much to do with this action on the part of the American republic. The protective system, moreover, is there made the incessant object of attack. Commerce is now no longer, as in other times, the special occupation of a few; it is more or less engaged in by all. But it is mainly in the hands of peoples belonging to Christian civilization. Eastern nations are, for the most part, inactive, passive; and their commerce is carried on by the merchants of the west. Among the various Christian nations the share is more or less brilliant. The first place must unquestionably be ceded to England: after her, setting aside the United States, a high rank is due to France, with the small states along her eastern frontier, and to the German empire, which has absorbed Hamburg and Bremen. The chief commercial centres of the world are London, Paris and New York.
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