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WHOEVER has examined with attention the past annals of mankind, must have become aware that the greatest and most important revolutions that have occurred in human affairs have originated in the variations which from time to time have taken place in the supply of the precious metals which could be obtained for the use of man. As they constitute, by the universal consent of the world, the common medium of exchange and measure of value among nations, their plenty or scarcity has an immediate and powerful influence upon the remuneration of industry and the activity of the workingclasses in all countries. Accord
ing as they are increasing or diminishing, abundant or awanting, is the condition of the people prosperous or calamitous-the national prospects bright or gloomy. No amount of human exertion, no efforts of human patriotism, can sustain the national fortunes for any length of time, or diffuse general and enduring prosperity among the people, if the existing medium of exchange is below what their numbers and transactions require; because, in such a case, prices are constantly declining, credit is liable to periodical and ruinous contractions, and industry, on an average of years, ceases to meet with its due reward. No calamities are insuperable, no dangers insurmountable,
when a currency is provided adequate to the wants of men, and capable of extensor in proportion to their necessities; because, in such a case, prices are rising or remunerative, and individual éffort, stimulated by the prospect of an adequate return, becomes universal, and acts powerfully and decisively upon the general welfare of society and the issue of the national fortunes.
The two greatest revolutions which have taken place in the annals of the species, and which have for ever left their traces on the fortunes of mankind, have arisen from the successive diminution and increase in the supply of the precious metals for the use of the world. There can be no doubt that the decline and fall of the Roman empire-so long and falsely ascribed to its latter extension, plebeian slavery, and patrician corruption-was in reality mainly owing to the failure in the mines of Spain and Greece, from which the precious metals in ancient times were chiefly obtained, joined to the unrestricted importation of grain from Egypt and Libya, which ruined the profit of the harvests and destroyed the agriculture of Italy and Greece, at once paralysing industry, and rendering taxes overwhelming.* We know now to what the failure of these mines, attended with such portentous results, was owing. It was to the
* See "Fall of Rome," Alison's Essays, vol. iii. p. 440. VOL. LXIX.-NO. CCCCXXIII.