fully discuss either the fiscal question or other problems of political economy, what can be my claim for addressing you to-night 1 It is simply this, I want a talk with you, as a man of business with men of business. We may be called upon, no one knows when, to give our votes on this question, one of the gravest, most momentous, and most difficult on which the electors of the United Kingdom have had to decide for many generations. And on us men of business a very grave responsibility falls, for we surely ought to be the guides of public opinion in such a matter. That brings me to my first difficulty, viz., the absolute lack of preparation from which the average busy man must inevitably be suffering.
A question is suddenly brought before us for decision, which, rightly or wrongly, may involve a complete reversal of all the traditions under which the last two generations have been brought up. I hold that we should judge it entirely on its own merits; we must, as far as we can, rid ourselves of anything like prejudice or preconceived ideas, or submission of our own judgment to that of others with whom on questions of politics we may have been associated.
That, I think, is the plain duty of every man of business; but, in order to form such an independent opinion, in order to rely on our own judgment and not on that of others, have we the necessary material at hand? Probably most men in this room have already formed an opinion or have a pronounced tendency one way or another, but I ask you, can you honestly say that you have, each of you, each man for himself, gone into all the various bearings of this most intricate subject? I for one may at once admit that I have, as you no doubt will discover subsequently, certain convictions which lead me in one direction, convictions not based on the reflections of the last few months, but on watching with close attention for a. number of years the development of our commerce, and the underlying causes which have governed it. I confess that the material at my command does not furnish me with such absolute proofs on many points as I could wish to place before you, and such absolute proofs are