It is because Defoe wrote in favour of this free trade that he is supposed to have been superior to the commercial fallacies of the time. But a glance at his arguments shows that this is a very hasty inference. It was no part of Defoe’s art as a controversialist to seek to correct popular prejudices; on the contrary, it was his habit to take them for granted as the bases of his arguments, to work from them as premisses towards his conclusion. He expressly avowed himself a prohibitionist in principle.—
“I am far from being of their
mind who say that all prohibitions
are destructive to trade, and that wise nations, the
Dutch, make no prohibitions at all.”
“Where any nation has, by the singular blessing of God, a produce given to their country from which such a manufacture can be made as other nations cannot be without, and none can make that produce but themselves, it would be distraction in that nation not to prohibit the exportation of that original produce till it is manufactured.”
He had been taunted with flying in the face of what he had himself said in King William’s time in favour of prohibition. But he boldly undertakes to prove that prohibition was absolutely necessary in King William’s time, and not only so, but that “the advantages we may make of taking off a prohibition now are all founded upon the advantages we did make of laying on a prohibition then: that the same reason which made a prohibition then the best thing, makes it now the maddest thing a nation could do or ever did in the matter of trade.” In King William’s time, the balance of trade was against us to the extent of 850,000 l., in consequence of the French King’s laying extravagant duties upon the import of all our woollen manufactures.