Chapter 10-11: An Institution adapted to œconomical Commerce
IN states that carry on an œconomical commerce, they have luckily established banks, which by their credit have formed a new species of wealth;
But it would be quite wrong to introduce them into governments, whose commerce is founded only in luxury.
The erecting of banks in countries governed by an absolute monarch, supposes money on the one side, and on the other power;
that is, on the one hand, the means of procuring every thing without any power, and on the other the power, without any means of procuring at all. In a government of this kind, none but the prince ever had, or can have a treasure; and wherever there is one, it no sooner becomes great, than it becoms the treasure of the prince.
For the same reason, all associations of merchants, in order to carry on a particular commerce, are seldom proper in absolute governments.
The design of these companies is to give to the wealth of private persons the weight of public riches. But, in those governments, this weight can be found only in the prince. Nay, they are not even always proper in states engaged in œconomical commerce; for, if the trade be not so great as to surpass the management of particular persons, it is much better to leave it open, than by exclusive privileges, to restrain the liberty of commerce.
A FREE port may be established in the dominions of states whose commerce is œconomical.
That œconomy in the government, which always attends the frugality of individuals, is, if I may so express myself, the soul of its œconomical commerce. The loss it sustains with respect to customs, it can repair by drawing from the wealth and industry of the republic. But in a monarchy, a step of this kind must be opposite to reason; for it could have no other effect, than to ease luxury of the weight of taxes. This would be depriving itself of the only advantage that luxury can procure, and of the only curb which, in a constitution like this, it is capable of receiving.
Chapter 12: The Freedom of Commerce
THE freedom of commerce is not a power granted to the merchants to do what they please.
This would be more properly its slavery.
The constraint of the merchant is not the constraint of commerce.
It is in the freest countries that the merchant finds innumerable obstacles.
He is never less crossed by laws, than in a country of slaves.
wool cannot be exported
coals must be brought by sea to the capital
no horses, except geldings, are allowed to be exported
the vessels of her colonies, trading to Europe, must take in water in England.
The English constrain the merchant, but it is in favour of commerce.
Chapter 13: What destroys this Liberty
WHEREVER commerce subsists, customs are established.
Commerce is the exportation and importation of merchandises, with a view to the advantage of the state.
Customs are a certain right over this same exportation and importation, founded also on the advantage of the state.
The state should be neutral between its customs and its commerce.
These two should not interfere with each other.
After then, the inhabitants enjoy a free commerce.
Customs tax farming destroys commerce by its:
the excess of the imposts.
Independent of this, it destroys it even more by:
the difficulties that arise from it, and
the formalities it exacts.
In England, the customs are managed by the king’s officers.
Business there is negotiated with a singular dexterity.
One word of writing accomplishes the greatest affairs.
The merchant need not lose an infinite deal of time.
He has no occasion for a particular commissioner, either to:
obviate all the difficulties of the tax farmers, or
submit to them.
Chapter 14: The Laws of Commerce on the Confiscation of Merchandises
THE Magna Charta of England forbids the seizing and confiscating, in case of war, the effects of foreign merchants, except by way of reprisals.
It is an honour to the English nation that they have made this one of the articles of their liberty.
In the recent war between Spain and England, Spain made a law, which punished with death those who:
brought English merchandises into the dominions of Spain.
brought Spanish merchandises into England.
I think only the laws of Japan has a similar ordinance.
It equally shocks humanity, the spirit of commerce, and the harmony which ought to subsist in the proportion of penalties.
It confounds all our ideas, making that a crime against the state, which is only a violation of civil polity.
Chapter 15: Seizing Merchants
SOLON made a law, that the Athenians should no longer seize the body for civil debts.
It had been made by Boccoris, and renewed by Sesostris.
This law is extremely good, with respect to the generality of civil §affairs.
but there is sufficient reason for its not being observed in those of commerce.
For, as merchants are obliged to entrust large sums, frequently for a very short time, and to pay money as well as to receive it, there is a necessity, that the debtor should constantly fulfil his engagements at the time prefixed.
Hence it becomes necessary to lay a constraint on his person.
In affairs relating to common civil contracts, the law should not permit the seizure of the person.
because the liberty of one citizen is of greater importance to the public, than the ease or prosperity of another.
But in conventions derived from commerce, the law ought to consider the public prosperity as of greater importance than the liberty of a citizen; which, however, does not hinder the restrictions and limitations that humanity and good policy demand.
Chapter 16: An excellent Law
Geneva has a law which excludes from the magistracy, and even from the admittance into the great council, the children of those who have lived or died insolvent, until they have discharged their father’s debts.
It is admirable.
It gives a confidence in the merchants, in the magistrates, and in the city itself.
There the credit of the individual has still all the weight of public credit.
| Chapter 17: A Law of Rhodes
THE inhabitants of Rhodes went further.
Sextus Empiricus, in Hypotiposes, book 1, chapter 14, observes, that among those people, a son could not be excused from paying his father’s debts, by renouncing the succession.
This law of Rhodes was calculated for a republic, founded on commerce.
Now I am inclined to think, that reasons drawn from commerce itself should make this limitation, that the debts contracted by the father, since the son’s entering into commerce, should not affect the estate or property acquired by the latter.
A merchant should always:
know his obligations, and
square his conduct by his circumstances and present fortune.
Chapter 18: The Judges of Commerce
XENOPHON, in his book of revenues, would have rewards given to those overseers of commerce, who dispatched the causes brought before them with the greatest expedition.
He was sensible of the need of our modern jurisdiction of a consul.
The affairs of commerce are but little susceptible of formalities.
They are the actions of a day, and are every day followed by others of the same nature.
Hence it becomes necessary, that every day they should be decided.
It is otherwise with those actions of life which have a principal influence on futurity, but rarely happen.
We seldom marry more than once.
Deeds and wills are not done every day.
Plato correctly says in Book 8 of his book Laws, that in a city where there is no maritime commerce, there should not be above half the number of civil laws:
Commerce brings into the same country different kinds of people.
It introduces also a many contracts, and species of wealth, with various ways of acquiring it.
Thus in a trading city, there are fewer judges, and more laws.