It may, perhaps, be right to explain, very briefly, the circumstances under which these lectures are now offered to the public.

In the year 1841, when my term of the Professorship of Political Economy, in the University of Dublin, expired, it still remained for me to complete the fulfilment of its duties, by publishing additional lectures to those which I had already published. The discharge of this duty I deferred, in the hope that I might be able to accomplish a task which I had anxiously proposed to myself — that of arranging, into something like a connected system of the science, the different lectures in which, during the five years in which I held the Professorship, I had endeavoured to convey instruction as to its principle.

Increasing demands upon my time have made the fulfilment of this purpose so problematical, certainly so distant, that I do not feel justified in deferring, in the hope of it, a duty which ought long since have been discharged. The lectures, which are now for the first time published, attracted considerable attention at the time of their delivery. I have selected them as being of a character better adapted for separate publication than any lectures which being part of a series in which I attempted to trace unitedly the general principles of the science, would not be complete in themselves.

Following a plan which I frequently found advantageous in engaging the minds of those who attended the lectures, that of selecting a particular subject of investigation, and applying to particular cases general principles of science, it occurred to me at the period of the delivery of these lectures, to avail myself of the interest which was then excited on the subject of the encouragement of home manufactures; and in these lectures I endeavoured to show the economic effects that would result to the country, were the movement made to create that encouragement successful.

These pages make no pretensions to contain a full discussion of the important subject of protection to home industry; still less do they profess to be an inquiry generally into the policy of protective duties. Endeavouring to deal with a particular case, and to examine into effects that would follow from certain causes, if brought to bear upon and existing conditions of things, I have rather avoided than sought to lay down general principles, or form any system of general results. Engaged in the humble task of attempting to solve only a particular problem, they are not, perhaps, therefore, the less likely to arrive at truth.

The investigations in the lectures will be found to aim at nothing more than they profess — an investigation of the effects which all we know of the laws that regulate the economic process, would lead us to expect to follow from a certain course of conduct applied to a known and actually existing state of things. In such an inquiry, it was not possible to avoid — indeed, I had no wish to avoid incidentally discussing principles of far wider application than the immediate subject to which they are here applied. Of these general principles, however, except so far as they bear upon the particular subject, these lectures are on no formal or systematic discussion. In giving to the text such revision as I could bestow upon it for publication, I have felt, indeed, the inconvenience of allusions, often brief, to general propositions of considerable importance. This is, to some extent, attempted to be remedied, by adding, in an appendix, separate discussions of the general questions that seemed most to require elucidation.

It would be but a poor excuse for errors, in reasoning upon subjects of such deep importance to the welfare of all classes, to say that these lectures are published without full consideration. For the opinions advanced in these pages I can, with truth, make no such excuse. Be they right or wrong, they are the result of long, and careful, and anxious thought. But for the style and manner of these lectures, I may claim the indulgence that may be fairly extended to pages published after an interval of five years, from notes not very full, and prepared for publication amid the pressure of other and more engrossing avocations.

The general result of the reasonings and opinions contained in these pages, is unquestionably much less unfavourable to a system of protection of home industry than is generally expected to be met with in the writings of one professing to be a student of Political Economy. They are not, however, intended as a general defence of protective duties. They suggest cases by no means improbable — by no means rare of occurrence, in which regulations protective to home industry may answer one or both of two great ends.

First — They may bring into action and play sources and powers of production, in a country, which but for their existence, would lie utterly waste and unproductive.

Second — They may act the part of the most wise and wholesome poor law, setting the poor to work at a cost of some little self-denial to the rich; and by compelling a particular distribution of the wealth of the country, they may insure a certain amount of comforts to the condition of its labouring classes.

They may, on the other hand, especially if injudiciously and rashly enforced, be themselves the means of diminishing the comforts of the industrious classes, and they may diminish the productiveness of the industry of the country, by diverting it from more profitable to less profitable channels.

The full proof of these propositions may be rather suggested than contained in the following pages; but the reflections which they point to appear clearly to lead to these conclusions. It is not to be denied that many of the views advanced, and no few of the conclusions suggested, are at variance with opinions that have been generally considered; I say not with what truth, as distinguishing Political Economists from other men. Those, however, who are the best acquainted with what has been written on the science, will be the least likely to condemn opinions, because they differ from those that others have advanced; and I claim for the views that are advocated here, a consideration favourable not according to the authority by which they are supported or opposed, but according to the soundness or fallacy of the reasonings upon which they are based.

There is nothing in the opinions put forward in these pages inconsistent with the reasonings that prove the advantages that must result from a system of widely extended commerce, in which the industry of every country, left free from restrictions, would select that employment for which its capabilities and its situation had best fitted it, and in which the whole great family of man would labour together for the common good, each individual nation that composed it, supplying, as its contribution, that which it could best produce. I have endeavoured to suggest considerations, that in such reasonings are too often overlooked. These reasonings are too obviously founded upon truth to be disregarded; but so I venture to say are the considerations by which their practical application must be modified and controlled; and which suggest to us the possible danger, that in seeking to realize the dazzling speculations of an unlimited free trade, we may find, when it is too late, that we have sacrificed solid advantages that now belong to the largest class of our own people, and the necessity of caution, so that in realizing for the community the fullest benefit of an extended commerce, we may secure that these benefits shall be shared by all.

Perhaps, indeed, it would not be improper to say that the proposition most apparent throughout these lectures, is the proposition that protective duties have, so far as they controlled the expenditure of the rich, been the means of giving to our labouring classes a larger share in the revenue of the country than they could have had without them, and that in all relaxations of protective duties, anxious care should be exercised lest, in freeing from this control the expenditure of the wealthy, we may seriously compromise the rights of the poor. To suggest this in every case to the mind of others, was, I confess, the object most present to my mind.

To be satisfied with suggesting these advantages, is probably to disappoint those who are the unqualified advocates of an extensive system of protection. To advocate such views is not the object of these pages. On the contrary, the reasonings adopted here admit that any restriction upon commerce, upon the free disposition of the revenue, is prima facie an evil. It is a tax upon some portion of the community; it is a forced disposition of some part of our revenue to less advantage. The inconvenience, however, always is to those upon whom it is a tax. It is possible, but by no means certain in any particular case, that this inconvenience may be more than counterbalanced by advantages that may result.

Still, however, the question will remain, whether there might not be, with more advantage to the country, a direct mode adopted of accomplishing this end? There might, perhaps, be better ways of setting the unemployed Irish to work than by the revival of home manufactures, but the latter method is infinitely better than none at all. And if it can be shown that in any instance a protective duty does really control the expenditure of the rich, for the benefit of the industry of the country, we ought to be very cautious of abandoning our protection until the equivalent is clearly found. And in times when our whole commercial arrangements seem likely, sooner or later, to undergo a revision, it may be as well to remind those who upon such subjects are accustomed to think for themselves, that disappointment will be the result, if, in such revision, the true office of protective duties be altogether overlooked. It is not easy to see the limits to which the blessings of expanded commerce may still extend the capabilities of the country, if these great offices which may be fulfilled by protection to home industry are remembered, and the advantages to the country that result from them secured.

So far, indeed, as the opponents of protection rest their opposition upon general or universal propositions, these lectures are directly at issue with their arguments. It will be for the reader to judge how far the particular case examined in these pages, disproves the universality of the propositions to which the conclusions arrived at are opposed. The question of protection to home industry is one to which it is impossible to apply any general rule. Each case must be determined upon its own principles, in a great degree — upon considerations peculiar to itself — considerations in which he would best consult for the interests of the whole community – which would best combine the most complete appreciation of the advantage which commerce gives us in obtaining the productions of other countries in exchange for our revenue, with the most careful and cautious reflections on the danger that, to avail ourselves of that advantage, we may be compelled to throw into unprofitable idleness, resources of production that are now doing something for us at home, or permit to be altered for the worse the distribution of the funds which are now at the disposal of the entire community.

For one other peculiarity in the reasonings of these lectures, the reader, perhaps, ought to be prepared. It was impossible to discuss the immediate question I had selected, without stating, more or less strongly, the opinions I entertain as to the position which the labouring classes — those who have nothing but their labour to depend upon must occupy in the eye of the man who investigates the social system, and the importance that must be given to their interests in every economic inquiry. These opinions are stated strongly, but not more strongly than, on the fullest reflection, I would deliberately repeat. It would be but an imperfect view of the effects of any economic system, which excluded from its consideration the great question how far it mitigated or aggravated the inequalities of wealth. To secure to all within the country the means of earning, by their labour, a comfortable independence, is an object to which, if it be attainable, all other objects should be subordinate. It is denied that any legislative regulations could effect this. To such a proposition the reasonings put forward in these pages are directly opposed. The proposition, indeed, might seem to require some very cogent proof which affirms that all the resources and wealth of this mighty nation could not secure to all its people a comfortable support. In such a proposition, I confess myself an utter disbeliever. With a strong conviction of the rights of the poor — with a deep sense of the duty of the community, and an entire belief in the possibility of recognising those rights, and discharging those duties, without any drawback to aught that really deserves to be called national prosperity, I believe every investigation in political economy to be worse than useless, because calculated to mislead, which understands, for any practical purpose, the wealth of a country to mean anything else than the comforts enjoyed by and scattered among the great mass of its population, and which, contenting and deluding itself with inquiries into the creation of value, overlooks that which is really the great question — the distribution of utility.

In these lectures, therefore, I have deemed it a duty to investigate the question I proposed to myself, in reference not solely to its effect upon the amount of what is termed value in the country, but in its influence upon the comforts and the conditions of the largest class of its population. I purpose shortly to follow the publication of these lectures by that of others connected with them, upon Production and the Mercantile System. The substance, indeed, of much of the latter is condensed into some of the dissertations in the appendix.

72 Leeson-street, January 15, 1846.

P.S.—It may, perhaps, be right to add, that this publication was not undertaken with the remotest reference to any of the discussions on protection that seem likely soon to occupy the attention of the legislature. These pages were in type, and but for unavoidable delays in their progress through the press, would have been published weeks before the declaration of the ministerial intentions.

January 31, 1846.