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Mr. Western's Motion respecting the Resumption of Cash Pay-
ments and Alterations in the Currency

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THE

Parliamentary Debates

During the Fourth Session of the Seventh Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, appointed to meet at Westminster, the Fourth Day of February 1823, in the Fourth Year of the Reign of His Majesty King GEORGE the Fourth.

HOUSE OF LORD S.

Thursday, May 1, 1823. EQUITABLE ADJUSTMENT OF CONTRACTS-PETITION OF MR. THOMSON.] Earl Stanhope presented a petition from Charles Andrew Thomson, of Chiswick, in the county of Middlesex. The petition was the same as the one presented from the same gentleman to the House of Commons, a copy of which will be found in our preceding volume, at p. 188. After it had been read,

Earl Stanhope rose and addressed their lordships nearly as follows:-My lords, the petition which has just been read brings under your consideration a subject of very general interest and extreme importance-it is that subject of equitable adjustment, which has been so much misunderstood by some, and has been by others so much misapplied. An equitable adjustment is a phrase which of itself implies an adjustment upon principles of right, a true, clear, and undeniable consequence of that natural and immutable state of affairs, without which, although obedience to human laws may be enforced, those laws cannot command respect. It is evident, that if the government of a country alter the value of its currency, it ought in the same proportion, to alter the value of contracts made antecedent to such a regulation. By the introduction of the Bank Restriction bill in 1797, the value of the currency was rendered what it was not before; and such has proved to be the case not only with respect to gold, but by that which affords a much more accurate criterion, namely, by the value of manufactures and commerce, With VOL. IX. NEW?

Bertes

respect to gold, it must be recollected, that it cannot be understood as a standard value, except when it is used for purposes of government. For a few years, gold became itself depreciated to a great extent, in the same manner as paper when compared with gold. It has been stated, that nothing can be more futile or more fallacious than an attempt to measure the market price of gold by the depreciation of currency at different periods. That argument may suit those whose endeavour is, to prevent the matter from being viewed in its true light. As the value of the currency, however, has been very different at various periods, it is requisite, for the sake of justice, to pursue the principles of equitable adjustment, so that each contract should be rectified or adjusted, according to the real original value the commodity bore at the period when it was contracted for. This is another principle of equitable adjustment, which is essentially different from all those proposals which we have heard of, for the purpose of altering the standard, inasmuch as it would affect all contracts in the same proportion; for, by such an equitable adjustment as I allude to, each contract would be restored to its value at the time the parties contracted. are the principles that I conceive ought to regulate an equitable adjustment; than which none can be more just-none can be more necessary-I will not merely say, for the safety and well-being, but even for the existence of the country.The object of my proposition, as to an equitable adjustment, is to rectify and to regulate, to their original value, all contracts made since the restriction of cash B

Such

payments in the year 1797, and previous to the restoration of cash payments in 1819. The effect of that would be to do justice to all parties contracting; to correct all the grievances that now exist; and to place all the parties interested, in the same situation as they were in at the time when those contracts were entered into. Such being the means of remedying the evil, and such the nature and object of an equitable adjustment, I should be surprised at the calumnies that have been heaped upon it from various quarters, were I not convinced that wilful and base representations have been made upon the subject, by those who are perhaps interested in the continuance of that iniquity which it is the object of the proposers of an equitable adjustment to prevent. It was, however, with great astonishment that I heard, the other night, this measure stigmatized as being revo lutionary, on a petition presented by a noble lord not now present, which petition proceeded from the county of Hereford, and also prayed for an equitable adjustment. When we talk of propositions being revolutionary, I should like to know, what can be more revolutionary, or more destructive to regular government and good order, than that which has the effect of revolutionizing the value of property? What can be more terrific than that, when done under the sanction of law? I would beg to quote the words of that admirable petition, which the noble lord presented from the county of Hereford, in which this country is said to be governed by a violent aristocracy, and proceeding gradually towards revolution. Can your lordships suppose that such a revolution can be consummated without experiencing the effects of, I will not merely say a change, but a total destruc. tion of the constitution, and without producing evils which no man has anticipated? I retort the charge of revolutionary intentions upon those who have so used it, and who attempt to calumniate the measure with such epithets, but with which they in vain attempt to stigmatize it. I would wish them to use arguments instead of abuse. We have heard it lately asserted that a system of equitable adjustment would produce dreadful confusion. It is the first time that I ever heard such an argument used against obtaining justice, to prevent the continuance of spoliation, and to avert the most destructive state of circumstances to individuals as

| well as to society in general. It never was proposed by any man, that in following up the principles of equitable adjustment, we were to strike at the foundation of property, to discover who were the original holders. It is clear that every holder of a contract, whether by purchase or otherwise, is the same as the original holder: he not only possesses the same rights, but must submit also to the same obligations. That this is the principle of equitable adjustment is not a discovery that is new; but I should consider that as being no valid objection to it: if it were, I should refer your lordships to an act of parliament, passed in Scotland in the 3rd parliament of James 3rd, for the purpose of settling equitably all debts and contracts then subsisting. That act differs from the acts of our days, as it is very short: it states, in the preamble, that whatever contract may have been made for money, it is for the good of the realm, that the same should be settled equitably, according to the value of the currency; it then enacts that all debtors who owe any debts upon contracts, may be allowed to pay the same, according to the sum and substance of what was intended between the parties at the time of making their contract. Now, my lords, you here see the principle of an equitable adjustment measured out in Scotland in former times, by the authority of an act of parliament; and, if I be correctly informed, the same principle has been established in this country by the decision of a court of law. I don't know the names of the parties in that case; but I have no doubt they are familiar to my noble and learned friend upon the Woolsack. It was, I believe, a case which occurred towards the end of good queen Elizabeth's reign, with respect to a person who, having made his will at the close of that reign, and (as a great alteration had taken place in the value of the currency at that period), his executors entertained a doubt as to how to settle the testator's affairs, on account of the ruinous obligations they found imposed upon them by that will. A question was therefore agitated as to whether that testator understood that the payments were to be made at the valuation of the currency at the commencement of the reign, or according to that value which existed at the time the will was executed? The court decided, inasmuch as the words of the will were, "I give and bequeath such and

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