Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/512

This page has been validated.




ABOUT a hundred gentlemen sat down to dinner at Delmonico's, December 12th, in commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the publication of Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." The occasion was an interesting one, and the various topics suggested were treated with an earnestness and ability of which the public got but a very imperfect idea through the newspaper reports. Mr. Parke Godwin presided with efficiency, and made a very instructive opening speech, which was followed by addresses from Mr. Bigelow, Mr. Atkinson, Mr. D. A. Wells, Prof. Sumner, and Dr. Anderson, of the Rochester University, each of which brought out an important aspect of the great subject of free-trade. While Adam Smith was honored as the chief historic representative of rational and liberal views in regard to the liberty of commerce, it was pointed out that his position may be easily misconceived, and his claims exaggerated. Without denying the proposition of Mr. Buckle, that Smith's "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" is probably the most important book in its influence upon the policy of states and the economical welfare of mankind that was ever written, it was shown also that Adam Smith was but the mouth-piece of his age; that a preceding generation of inquirers had prepared for him; that the French economists were in advance of Europe in their economic views; and that an elaborate French work appeared in 1778, simultaneously with the "Wealth of Nations," in which the same conclusions were reached, and enforced with great clearness and power. As stated by Mr. Bigelow, it was but another case so common in the progress of scientific investigation, where the ideas reached belong rather to the epoch than to any individual exponent of them.

Mr. Wells gave an admirable account of the workings of the restrictive system, which burdened the industries of Europe from the middle ages down to the time of Adam Smith. He showed that the fundamental idea in all business transactions, whether between nations or individuals, was that parties trading were in necessary relations of enmity, and that what one man or one nation gained the other party inevitably lost. So radical was this antagonism regarded between men, guilds, and different countries, as to find expression in Hobbes's theory that the state of man in society is one of necessary and perpetual war. The merit of Adam Smith was, that he demonstrated the utter fallacy of this view, and proved that by the natural laws of trade the advantages of exchange are mutual, and that in its largest possible freedom there will accrue the largest possible benefits to all. Christianity had been trying for many centuries to enforce the golden rule of mutual justice as a matter of duty, to be carried out even though it involve suffering and loss; Adam Smith showed that the rule of right in human intercourse, so far as trade is concerned, produces reciprocal good, and is for the pecuniary interest of both parties.

Dr. Anderson maintained forcibly and impressively that free-trade is to be placed on the broadest grounds of morality. The liberty of commerce he held to be a God-given right as much as any other kind of liberty; and the restrictions upon trade to be just as immoral and vicious as interference with other forms of freedom. A man