Skip to main content

Full text of "A history of the free trade struggle in England"

See other formats

: ^^7T, : : ' 







1,11 JRARY 

■ >i i in 

University of California. 

< '. 1 FT < >i- 



(J ass 

• ' S 







H H 



-L X \_ W 







*" Of THE 







'So (Tic SftUjfi* SCo.i. ;|ofni e^ticjfit", 911. 5., iTic 

c foci no u I' ftieub cmb ^c[■ 1 c^v^cr o¥ I'fic CH met icon 

SveptiMic, I" fie- ■ew'f-icjfil'cueb av>uocatc of peace cino 

free t^abe cu it on cj *f)lal'ioiu\ I' fib iuorf» io topccl- 

fu i fij t n^ctibeo" Imj 

eK i a o i 3 c i p f e cmO f t i c 1 1 O, 

9H. 9TC. ^r.m.lMifl 1 . 
®«**wjue, Sowa, 9tla*c& 16, 1882. 



History of Free Trade in England. 


By the Free Trade struggle in England, we mean the campaign from 
1839 to 1846. Of course there were enlightened people before that 
time, who doubted the wisdom of the Protective system, but they were 
comparatively few; they were easily brushed aside by those who believed 
in the blessings of scarcity, and who looked upon abundance as one of 
the calamities of mankind. The believers in commercial freedom were 
told that their doctrines were very well in theory, but would never do 
in practice ; and with this convenient argument, they had to be content. 
No doubt that in the very darkest ages of political economy, when ' ' Pro- 
tection " nourished in direct proportion to the popular ignorance, there 
were men in England who saw clear over the fogs in the valley, the 
humanizing influence of Free Trade, shining on the heights beyond, even 
as Galileo and Columbus saw farther and clearer than the men around 
them; who thought the physical sciences were all very well in theory, 
but quite unavailable in practice. 

Indeed, more than a hundred years ago, Adam Smith had refuted the 
arguments on which the Protective theory was based, and which up to 
his time had been known by a sort of paradox as the "Commercial Sys- 
tem." Carried to its logical results its effect was to cripple commerce 
by closing ports to international trade. In the time of Henry Clay it 
was known in this country as ' ' The American System, " and in our own 
day it is called by the captivating title of ' ' Protection to Native Indus- 
try." Mr. Huskisson, one of the most enlightened members of Lord 
Liverpool's cabinet, made some advances toward Free Trade, as early as 
1825, and even before that time the merchants of London had petitioned 
Parliament in behalf of commercial freedom. Their argument was 
remarkably eloquent and clear. 

Nevertheless, it was not until about the year 1836 that the Free 
Traders made any organized effort against the insular and bigoted sys- 
tem of Protection which had burdened the industries of England for 
hundreds of years. Up to that time the liberal and scientific principles 
of Free Trade were regarded as political abstractions, beautifully adapted 
to some undiscovered Utopia, which might be expected to appear about 
the time of the millenium. Up to that time, the efforts of the Free 


Traders were feeble and scattered over an extensive field, fortified by 
the Protectionists so strongly in every direction, that the reformers 
made but slight impression upon the works of the enemy. 

In 1839 the isolated forces of Free Trade became a coherent and dis- 
ciplined organization under the name of the Anti-Corn Law League. 
They massed themselves for a concentrated attack upon the corn laws, 
the key to the whole protective system. The corn laws were to Pro- 
tection what the Malakoff was to Sebastopol. When that fell, the city 
fell. The repeal of the corn laws meant the doom of Protection, and 
the triumph of Free Trade. The efforts of the League were directed to 
the success of a specific measure, the repeal of the duties upon corn. 
Under the general term "corn" is comprehended flour, wheat, oats, 
and breadstuffs of every kind. 

Just at the dawn of midsummer, 1837, the King died, and the Vic- 
torian era began, With the old King there went out an age of igno- 
rance, vice, and political superstition. "With the young Queen there 
came in a better, brighter, and more enlightened day. There was vice 
enough left, indeed, but it was no longer respectable. The Parliament 
died with the King, and a new Parliament was chosen. The contest was 
between the Whigs on the one side and the Tories on the other. The 
issues were like many of the issues between the Democrats and Repub- 
licans in our own country now, rather of the past, historical, than of the 
present, real. The offices, however, were at stake, and the Whigs won. 
They had a majority in the new Parliament of about thirty in the House 
of Commons. This, in a membership of six hundred and fifty-eight, 
was not so large as might be wished, but still, by keeping close in shore, 
and not venturing upon the wide ocean of statesmanship, they could gel 
along with it comfort a 1)1 v well, and enjoy the power, the honors, and 
the emoluments of office. 

The commercial policy of the country was not much of an issue in the 
election. The Tories were all Protectionists, and so were mosl of the 
Whigs. They di tiered only in degree, not in principle. Thirty-eight 
Free Traders obtained seats in the new Parliament. They ranged them 
selves with the Whigs, as did the Irish repealers, and the liberals of 
every grade. What progressive elements there were in the politics of 
the time, were supposed to be represented in the Whig party. The 
Tories, if not reactionary, were at least conservative. 

The trifling difference between the "two great parties" was amus- 
ingly shown. In 1839 the ministers came within live votes of defeat on 
the Jamacia hill, and at once resigned. Sir Robert Peel was sent for to 
form a new administration. He agreed to do so, but required that c.t- 
ain ladies of the Queen's household should be removed from office — in 


other words, should go out with the ministry. The Queen would not 
consent to this, whereupon Sir Kobert gave up his task, and the Whigs 
resumed their places. These drawing room politics were now about to 
be rudely shaken by the new power just born in the State; the Anti- 
Corn Law League. A "live issue" was about to be presented to the 
people, something of greater consequence than the question of what 
ladies should form the Queen's household. The question was whether or 
not the food of the people should be made scarce and dear by import 
duties on foreign grain, levied for the "protection" of a class; whether 
or not the shackles which had fettered industry for centuries, should be 
removed, and the commerce of England made free. 

The League was terribly in earnest, and its activity disquieted the 
' ' two great parties. " Its agents were in every town. It circulated 
pamphlets literally by the million. It assumed the task of instructing a 
whole people in the elements of political economy. Its orators were 
everywhere. In every corner of the kingdom they challenged the Pro- 
tectionists to public discussion, and threw them painfully on the defensive. 
In the manufacturing districts its meetings numbered thousands and tens 
of thousands. These masses of people did not have political influence in 
proportion to their numbers, for few of them had votes. Before the 
League was two years old it had become a great power outside the walls 
of Parliament, although inside it had no strength except in the character 
and ability of its advocates, and the irresistible logic of its argument. 

The work before it was appalling. Monopoly was so strongly in- 
trenched in England as to seem invincible. It was supreme in both 
houses of Parliament. The privileged orders and the "protected" 
classes were, of course, all defenders of it. The middle class — the real 
John Bull himself — was thoroughly imbued with the idea that British 
patriotism required them to support the policy which made them "inde- 
pendent of foreign countries." Worse than all — the masses of the peo- 
ple — the working classes, were Protectionists, as we shall show a little 
further on. They were everlastingly haunted by a ghost called ' ' over- 
production;" they believed that scarcity was a good thing, because it 
created a demand for labor, and they dreaded lest they be brought into 
competition with the "pauper labor" of foreign countries. 

So insignificant was the influence of the Free Traders, that, although 
they supported the Whig party, and the Whigs were in power, they 
could not obtain respectful consideration in the House of Commons. 
On the 18th of February, 1839, Mr. Villiers moved that certain mem- 
bers of the Manchester Association should be heard at the bar, in sup- 
port of a Free Trade petition, but the motion was lost by more than two 

. ^ 


to one; and we are informed by Mr. Morley thai both Lord Palmerston 
and Lord John Russel] voted with the majority. 

The difficulties in the way, only stimulated the industry of the League, 
and within two years it had become a source of alarm to the Tories, and 
of' perplexity to the Whigs, many of whom sympathized with it in a 
general sort of way. and to a limited extent. They were, however, 
timid and irresolute. They carried on the ( iovernnieut in a lazy, languid 
manner, and seemed anxious to be "lei alone." They thought they 
could live forever on the reform bill triumph of 1832, but the reform 
hill was only a beginning, not an end. The tierce discussion of that 
measure had stimulated the mental faculties of the people, and a craving 
thirsl for knowledge took possession of them. 

The Penny Magazine was in active circulation, lectures were popular, 
mechanics' institutes were multiplying, and, in the expressive language 
of Lord Brougham, the schoolmaster was abroad in the land. The 
Whi<>s were afraid to risk their small majority by the introduction of 
any great measure of public policy, and by reason of this very timidity, 
their trifling majority was gradually dwindling away. They asked per- 
mission to doze in comfort on the Treasury benches, but the clamor ot 
the League disturbed their slumbers, and the Tories were waiting and 
watching their own opportunity, which was close at hand. 

Suddenly it occurred to the Whigs that in this new active world of 
politics, even governments must do something for a living. They saw 
the tremendous moral power already in the hands of the League, and 
Lord John Russel thought that if he could borrow some of that, he 
might spiritualize the Whigparty, and save the administration. Accord- 
ingly, in the month of April, L841, he gave notice that on the :Ust of 
May he would move that the house resolve itself into a committee, to 
take into consideration the duties on the importation of foreign grain. 
This announcement startled the Tories, for it showed that the doctrines 
of the League had permeated the administration itself. They closed 
their ranks and assumed the offensive. Lord Sandon asked Lord John 
Russell what the ( Joverninent intended to do with the Corn Laws. lie 
answered that they proposed to abolish the "sliding scale," and impose 
a moderate fixed duty of eight shillings a quarter (a shilling a bushel) 
upon wheat, and a proportionate duty upon other grain. The "sliding 
scale' 1 was a political contrivance by which the duties upon foreign 
grain wire fixed according to the prices ofil in the domestic market. 
When the price n\' w heat in Mark lane was high, the duties on imported 
wheat were low, and sice versa, the intention being to keep the price ot 

grain always at such a height as to furnish the British farmer a fair 
degree of "protection" againsl the "pauper labor" and untaxed lands 
of foreign countries. 


In this moderate proposition of Lord John Russell the Tories saw a 
menace against the monopolies which they had enjoyed for centuries. 
With the bravery of desperation they determined to come out of their 
intrenchments and attack. They would not wait until the 31st of May, 
but determined to precipitate the issue then and there. 

The discussion on the annual budget just then presented by the Chan- 
cellor of the Exchequer, resolved itself into a debate on the corn and 
sugar duties. The debate lasted many nights, and when it ended the 
Tories had the best of it. On the motion that "the Speaker do now 
leave the chair," the Government was beaten by the decisive majority of 
317 to to 281. The cheers of the Protectionists rang out peal after peal 
like the laughter of a chime of bells; they reverberated through the 
great hall of William Rufus; they burst into Palace yard, and chased 
each other among the gothic arches of the old abbey across the way, 
where Pitt and Fox lay sleeping side by side. 

To the amazement of the country the ministers did not resign, but on 
the next evening Lord John Russell coolly announced that he would 
take up the discussion on the proposed alteration of the corn laws on the 
4th of June; but before that day sentence of dismissal was pronounced 
by the House of Commons against him and his government. Sir Robert 
Peel determined not to allow the ministers any time to recover from 
their great defeat. He therefore introduced his famous resolution that 
Her Majesty's Ministers do not possess the confidence of this house. 
After four nights' debate, his resolution was carried by a majority of 
one vote; the numbers were 312 to 311. From this blow the Whig 
party never recovered; it was stunned and bewildered by it; the minis- 
ters could not believe it real; it appeared impossible to them that within 
ten years of the passage of the reform bill, the Tories could once more 
be in the ascendancy. They therefore refused to resign, but dissolved 
the Parliament. They appealed from the verdict of the House of Com- 
mons to the tribunal of the people at the polls, and there also the judg- 
ment was against them. 


In the midst of scarcity and business depression the election of 1841 
was held. Though but few Free Traders were elected, the inspiration 
of the whole contest came from the Anti-Corn Law League. By the 
moral strength of its ideas it seemed to crowd all other issues out of the 
way, and forced a discussion of the Free Trade question at nearly every 
polling place in the kingdom, where there was any contest at all. The 
election resulted in an overwhelming majority for the Tories. They 
had a majority in the House of Commons of nearly a hundred over all 
opposing elements combined, and on a square issue with the Free 


Traders they could command a majority of more than three hundred and 
fifty votes. The Protectionist victory was complete, yet this waa the 
Parliament that was destined, within five years, to overthrow the Pro- 
tective system, and establish Free Trade in England as firmly as the 
British Islands are anchored in the sea. When Parliament met in 
August, the Whigs resigned, and Sir Robert Peel came into power, 
with an obedient and well disciplined majority behind him, sufficient to 
carry every measure proposed by Ministers. In the House of Lords 
his majority was even greater than in the House of Commons. 

In the new Parliament was a new man, a calico printer from the 
North, a moral and mental force so great that ere long he was regarded 
by all Englishmen as the most important personage that had been Been in 
the House of Commons since Oliver Cromwell had a seat there. His name 
was Richard Cobden. This man had already become the electric prin- 
ciple of the Anti-Corn Law League, the very genius of the commercial 
revolution. He was a leader without selfishness or personal ambition, a 
leader whom all men loved to follow. He was a statesman by instinct, 
an organizer with the genius of Napoleon. He was an orator of such 
convincing powers that he converted more men to his views by simply 
talking to them than any other man of his time, or perhaps of any time, 
not only tens of thousands of Manchester operatives, but even farmer-. 
who had been persuaded that Free Trade would ruin them. "Without 
any advantages of personal grace, or any of the arts of rhetoric, then- 
was an earnest truthfulness about him that made a great impression. 
He had a boundless store of knowledge, and no matter how extravagant 
his assertions appeared to be, he always had the tacts at hand to verity 
them. He grouped his facts together with great skill, and moulded 
them into irresistible arguments. He fastened responsibility upon his 
adversaries with terrible emphasis. In playful fancy, and in the power 
of enforcing his points by homely illustrations drawn from every-day 
life, he resembled Abraham Lincoln — or rather we should say thai 
Lincoln resembled him. He resembled him in the abundance of his 
humor and the quaint sharpness of his satire. Above all things, there 
was a candor and a sincerity about him thai went far towards persuading 
men that he was right. A deep love of humanity pervaded all he wrote 
and all he Baid. His life was pure, his character without reproach. 
With the factory dust upon him, he faced the patrician monopolists on 
the Tory benches, with a courage as high as that of the puresl Norman 
of them nil. lie \\:is as effective inside the House of Commons as out 
of it, and it is certain that he converted Sir Etobeii Peel, the leader ol' 
the ProtectlOnisI parts, to a belief not only in the expediency o\' Tie 
Trade, but in the wisdom and the justice of it. In tact it boded ill to 



the Tories when they saw that their great chieftain permitted his face to 
show how he was hurt by the shafts of Cobden, and it boded further 
mischief to them when they noticed how he sat spell bound, listening to 
every word that fell from his enemy. We know now, that Peel at last 
came completely under the fascination of Cobden's intellect, and per- 
mitted that intellect to dominate his own. 

We have shown in the first chapter, that in 1841 Whigs and Tories 
were alike protectionists, differing only in degree. If further proof is 
needed, let it be remembered that a short time previously it was said by 
Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister, that the repeal of the Corn 
Laws was the most insane project that ever entered man's head, and the 
Tory Chieftain, Peel, during the debate on the want of confidence reso- 
lution in June, said: "Who in this House has more steadily stood for- 
ward in defense of the existing Corn Laws than I have done?" And to 
the electors of Tamworth, during the canvass of 1841, he said "that he 
had come to the conclusion that the existing system should not be altered, 
and that our aim ought to be to render ourselves independent of foreign 
supply," the ready jargon which protectionists have used in all countries, 
and in every age. 

In spite of all attempts to draw him out during the first session of the 
New Parliament, Sir Kobert Peel refused to disclose the future policy of 
his government. October came and still his plans were wrapped in 
mystery. Subsequent events convince us that he did not know them 
himself. Parliament adjourned until February, and he took till then to 
consider what was best to do. The short session of 1841 was not remark- 
able for anything except that Cobden spoke then for the first time in 
Parliament. He exposed the sufferings of the people to the gaze of the 
Senate, and charged against the Protective system the prostration of 
English industry. He gave notice to both Whigs and Tories, that the 
question of the Corn Laws must be met, and that a fearful responsibility 
should be laid on those who taxed the food of the people. There were 
those who sneered at this unpleasant person, but it is certain that the 
country gentlemen would have spent a more agreeable Christmas if he 
had not spoken at all. 

During the recess the League was hard at work. The Free Trade 
agitation was extended to Ireland and Scotland. Newspapers were 
started and vast numbers of pamphlets were distributed in every direc- 
tion. Heaps of information concerning every trade and occupation in 
the kingdom were piled up for use in the next Parliament. Meanwhile 
there was great anxiety throughout the country as to the intentions of 
the Government. Cabinet meetings were held, but not a word leaked 
out as to their proceedings. The two or three speeches made by Cob- 


den at tho short session had sunk deep into the mind of Peel. The 
proof of it is clear. During the canvass, in the summer, he had declared 
that "the existing system should no1 be altered;" in the winter, he had 
changed his mind. Why? In that interval he had heard Cobden. 

A trifling incident which occurred jusl before the opening of Parlia 
ment alarmed the monopolists, and convinced the country that the 
League was actually making discord in the Tory Cabinet itself. The 
incident was this: The Toryist Tory in all England Mas the Duke of 
Buckingham, and he was in the Cabinet. With the Mood of Henry 
Plantagenet in his veins, and the lordship of thousands of broad acres in 
his possession, he was a stately specimen of that haughty Norman aris- 
tocracy which for nearly eight hundred years had held the Saxon in a 
state of serfdom, and had kept his lands by right of conquest. So long 
as he was in the Cabinet, it "was certain that modern civilization would 
be excluded from its councils; that no such vulgar theme as "econom- 
ics" would be debated at its meetings. So long as he was in the Cab- 
inet monopoly mighl sleep in peace; the feudal system would stand firm, 
grim and defiant, as the Tower of London itself. One morning it was 
whispered at the Carlton Club that the Duke of Buckingham had 
resigned, and the whisper was correct. Then the country knew that 
some changes in the Corn Laws had been determined on. Inspirited by 
the news, the League worked harder than before. 

The year L842 opened gloomily. There was great distress through- 
out the country, and there was a deficit in the revenue of more than 
twelve millions of dollars. When Parliament met in February, there 
was very great anxiety to know what the Government meant to do. To 
the consternation of the monopolists, Sir Robert Peel announced that it 
was his intention to meet the deficit by the imposition of an income tax; 
that, although he should maintain the "sliding scale." the duties mi 
COITl and provisions would be reduced. He also said that it was the 

intention of the Government to revise the tariff, so as to deprive it of its 
prohibitory features, and to lower the duties on about seven hundred 

and fifty articles. This, from a Protectionist Tory Mini-try, was a great 
advance, and showed that small as was the number of Free Traders in 

the House of Commons, the ideas of the League had actually affected 
the policy of the ( i<>\ ernment. 

The natural result of compromise followed. The Government \\:i- 
bitterly assailed by both sides; by the Protectionists, for having yielded 
anything to the League, and by the Free Traders for not yielding more. 

Cobden was unsparing and fierce in his denunciations; immense meet- 
ings were held in the North, and in all the manufacturing country, at 

which resolutions were passed savagely condemning the ministry. At 


some of these meetings Sir Robert Peel was burned in effigy, a barbarous 
insult, which deeply wounded him, and of which he rightfully com- 
plained. Cobden, and the other leaders of the League were not respons- 
ible for these excesses, any further than all popular leaders are responsible 
for the mad acts of their followers, who rush past them and out of their 

The debate of 1842 is a great event in the political history of England. 
Sir Robert Peel introduced his plans with a very ingenius and compre- 
hensive speech; a speech which showed that he was complete master of 
the subject, and familiar with all the details of England's commercial 
and industrial condition. He didn't believe that the Corn Laws were 
responsible for the distress which he admitted did exist. He found 
reasons for it in all the corners of the earth from China to America. He 
was weak enough to attribute some of it to the displacement of hand 
labor by steam power, to over-investment of borrowed capital, and to 
alarms of war; to anything in fact but the Corn Laws. Still, he pro- 
posed some amendment to these laws. He thought that the ''sliding 
scale " could be so amended that the price of wheat would not vary 
much from somewhere between fifty-four and fifty-eight shillings a 
quarter (about a dollar and seventy-five cents a bushel.) He contended 
that the country should rely upon home production for its food supply, 
and should be willing to pay an extra price for it, because of the advan- 
tage of being "independent of foreign countries." 

According to the etiquette of Parliament, the duty of answering the 
Prime Minister fell upon the leader of the opposition, and Lord John 
Russell rose to perform that duty. He had very little to say. A Pro- 
tectionist himself, he didn't know how much of the ministerial plan he 
might dare to criticise, and no doubt he felt himself that night to be 
entirely overmatched by Peel. He therefore stammered out a few sen- 
tences just to show that he was in opposition, and sat down. But there 
was a man there who was not afraid even of the accomplished minister; 
that man was Cobden. He denounced the plan of the Government as 
quite insufficient and unsatisfactory, because it did not reach down and 
remove the real causes of the people's poverty. This kind of argument, 
though severe, could be endured, but when the orator, out of his abund- 
ant knowledge, showed that the Prime Minister was in error as to his 
facts, and in that way toppled over the stately framework of his reason- 
ing, the House of Commons recognized at once, that the smoky countiy 
had sent a man to Parliament who was so thoroughly informed as to the 
agricultural, the manufacturing, and the commercial condition of Eng- 
land, that not even Peel, the greatest debater there, could safely make a 
statement on insufficient evidence, or even venture an opinion on any 


doubtful testimony. Here was a man whose facts fell upon the minds 
of his hearers with the force of the blows delivered by the steam ham- 
mer in his factory. The oratory of the colleges retreated from a contest 
with the untutored eloquence of this new member, who actually earned 
his own living. Sir Robert Peel, grand, impassive, cold, lost his ancient 
self-command under the oratory of Cobden, and allowed his countenance 
to betray the emotions that stirred the very depths of his conscience 
and his intellect. 

With the exception of his affected superstitious dread of "steam 
power," which was unworthy of him, it was noticed that Peel, in his 
great speech, had been careful not to insult the intelligence of his hearers 
by asserting the false and flippant maxims which formed then as now 
the stock in trade of the Protectionist party. He scorned to use the 
customary^ cant that high prices of the necessaries of life made wages 
higher, and therefore were a benefit to the working man. He knew that 
his speech was going down to posterity, and he preferred that it should 
not be disfigured by such fallacies. As the Edinburgh Review said at 
the time, he left the utterance of these absurdities to his subordinates. 
With what inward scorn he must have heard Sir Edward Knatchbull, a 
member of his own Cabinet, declare, amidst uproarious ridicule, that 
"the duty on corn should be calculated in such a manner as to return to 
the landed interest full security for their property, and for the station in 
the country which they had hitherto held." No matter how biting the 
hunger of the industrious poor might be, the price of bread must be kept 
so high that the idle, fox hunting, horse racing aristocracy might still 
riot in profligate extravagance. 

The progress of this instructive debate proved how true it is that 
"fools rush in where angels fear to tread." "Peart and chipper" young 
statesmen on the Tory side hurled right in the face of Cobden, Pro- 
tectionist maxims that Peel would have been afraid to utter. One of 
the Prime Minister's young statesmen was the Marquis of Granby, a 
coining Duke, who knew as much about political economy as the wooden 
efligy of his ancestor, the historic "Markis O'Granby" which swung 
from the sign post of the hospitable tavern at hoiking, once kept by 
Mr. Tony Weller. The Marquis told the House of Commons thai "the 
experience of all Europe shows that the certain consequence iA' making 
food cheap is to lower wages." Sir Francis Burdett, who for forty 
years had been a radical reformer and a revolutionist, who had once 

been c mitte.l to the Tower by the House of Commons, and who had 

joined the Tories in his old age, declared that "to the laboring classes 
the price. of corn did not signify one straw." Lord Malum and Mr. 
Stuart Wort ley talked in the same strain, and even Mr. Gladstone 


fluently prattled about "the fallacy of cheap bread." No wonder that 
Mr. Cobden taunted the Tory members about their ignorance, declaring 
that no such ignorance could be found among any equal number of 
working men in the North of England. Notwithstanding all this, the 
winding up of the debate showed a very comfortable majority for the 
Tories of one hundred and twenty-three. 


In the month of May there was a long debate on the new tariff. This 
debate is a curiosity now. With that speculative wonder which moves 
us as we roam through the great national museums of Europe, and gaze 
on the mummies of old Egypt, so we wander through the mazes of this 
debate, and look upon the mummified theories of "Protection." It is 
hard to realize that only one generation ago English statesmen actually 
believed that by making everything scarce and dear the general pros 
perity was increased. It would be even laughable if this mischevious 
delusion had not emigrated to America and taken possession of our states- 
men here to the serious injury of the productive classes. The old 
superstition, now obsolete in England, still flourishes in the United 

Sir Robert Peel introduced his new tariff with many apologies to the 
Protectionists, and assurances that it wouldn't hurt them very much. 
Like a mother giving physic to her children, he told them that it was 
good for them, and that if the taste was slightly unpleasant they would be 
all the better for it in the end. When the portly getlemen of the ' ' land- 
ed interest " complained that fat cattle and lean were to be admitted at 
the same figures, instead of being taxed according to their weight, the 
bland Sir Robert told them that it was all the better for them, because 
said he, the English graziers can import lean cattle at a low rate of duty, 
and fatten them for market, and as to fat cattle they wouldn't be import- 
ed anyhow. They couldn't stand a sea voyage. "No fat ox," he said, 
"could stand a trip across the Bay of Biscay," and as for France, why 
none would come from there, because that country was herself import- 
ing cattle. He showed that none w T ould come from Belgium, Holland, 
Germany or the Prussian League, and then with grim flattery he told 
them that the English beef was so much better than any other kind that 
it would always bring a higher price in the market. With one side of 
his mouth he was telling the hungry people that he was about to cheapen 
beef by letting foreign cattle in, and with the other he was quieting the 
protectionists with a lot of blarney, and the assurance that, although he 
was about to open the gates, the lean cattle wouldn't come in and the 
fat cattle couldn't. 


When Sir Robert sal down Mr. Hume congratulated the ministers on 
their conversion to the principles of Free Trade. This pleasantry was 
resented by Mr. Gladstone, who declared that no conversion had taken 
place, and that their opinions remained unchanged. As a discrimination 
was made in the new tariff in favor of the British colonies, a great deal 
of alarm was manifested, lest the Americans should smuggle their bacon 
and other produce into England, by the way of Canada, and thus obtain 
the benefit of the colonial tariff; but this was quieted by Mr. Gladstone, 
who didn't think that the Americans would do any such thing. Certainly 

Even potatoes had been shut out of the country by high protective 
duties. The new tariff admitted them on payment of two pence per 
hundred weight from foreign countries, and one penny per hundred 
weight from British colonies. It w r as contended that twelve pence per 
hundred weight was little enough "protection" for the English potato 
grower, and that it was the highest patriotism to keep old England inde- 
pendent of foreign potatoes. 

Every monopoly protested against the new tariff. The miners of 
( Jornwall protested against a reduction of the duties on metal ores, and 
the members from that county gave warning that if the dee]) mines of 
Cornwall were once abandoned, they would never be worked again. 
Some other people protested against a reduction of the duty on iron, 
because it was necessary that British iron should be protected against 
the pauper iron of Germany. Some persons owned a stone quarry on 
the isle of Portland. They protested against a reduction of the tariff on 
building stone, and declared that such reduction would be the ruin of 
their "industry." Even the wretched Irish peasant claimed protection 
for his pig, and Mr. Smith O'Brien actually moved to increase the duty 
on swine from live shillings a head all round to four shillings a hun- 
dred weight. Every ••interest" predicted ruin to the country if its 
particular monopoly should he disturbed. 

When the hill went up to the Lords it had of course to run the gauntlet 
of the same opposition it had met in the House of Commons. Lord 
Stanhope used an argument which sounds very familiar to us here in 
America. The reduction of duties, he said, would cause great distress 
among 'he industrious classes, with whom the •'foreigner" was put 
unfairly in competition; and the Duke of Richmond opposed it because 
it brought the English producer into competition with the '-pauper labor" 
of foreign countries. Nevertheless the hill was allowed to puss. 

The House of Lords being composed almost exclusively of great land- 
owners and monopolist-, it is not surprising that the principles of Free 
Trade were looked upon in that House as very low and vulgar, a- revo 


lutionary in fact, and destructive of that hoary, feudal system on which 
the aristocracy of England rested. The noble peers regarded pheasants 
and peasants as alike made for their exclusive use and pleasure, and 
being a very ignorant set of people, they were easily thrown into panic 
whenever they thought their monopolies were threatened. They 
regarded the Anti-Corn Law League as a monster more revolutionary 
and dreadful than even the steam engine, or the electric telegraph, or an 
untaxed newspaper. On the 19th of April, 1842, Lord Brougham 
moved in the House of Peers, that no tax should be levied upon corn, 
either for protection or for revenue. We are not surprised that this 
motion was lost by 89 to 6. The wonder is where the 6 came from. 

In August Parliament adjourned, and people had time to foot up the 
accounts of the session, and strike a balance of party gains and losses. 
There was a difference of opinion as to the amount of profit and loss, 
but all agreed that whatever gains had been made must be placed to the 
credit of the Free Traders, and that the losses were all on the side of the 
Protectionists. The material gain to the Free Traders made by the 
reduction of duties in the new tariff was trifling in comparison to the 
moral victory they had won in compelling the Ministry to concede the 
principle of Free Trade. It was noticed that in all the debate the Min- 
isters had been careful not to defend Protection on its merits. They 
apologized for it and pleaded for it. They argued that great interests 
had grown up around it, that society had shaped itself to it, and that it 
could not be suddenly and violently overthrown without carrying in its 
fall the ruin of the protected classes, but they did not defend it as a cor- 
rect principle of political economy. 

Armed with this concession the League renewed its assualt upon 
monopoly, and during the recess it was busily educating the people and 
creating a public opinion that should be more potent in the next session 
than it had ever been before. Great public meetings were held in all 
parts of the country, and Free Trade resolutions were adopted at all of 
them. On the 22d of November there was a tremendous meeting of the 
League at Manchester, which resolved to raise $250,000 for the work, 
and $20,000 of it was put into the hat there and then. This was con- 
sidered a great collection for one meeting, and yet before the work was 
ended $300,000 was contributed to the League fund at one meeting in 
that very same town. 

It was about this time that John Bright began to be recognized as a 
power in the State. Although not yet in Parliament, his influence out- 
side of it was almost as great as Cobden's inside. A massive English- 
man was John Bright, a handsome man, strong of body and brain, one 
of the few great orators of modern England; his eloquence was copious, 



pure, sparkling, strong; his invective burned like fire. He was more 
fluent and stately than Cobden, though no man could be more con- 
vincing. His voice was melodious, his magnetism great, and thousands 
of men crowded and jostled one another to get near him. They saw in 
him one of the great apostles of peace, a man whose politics were gov- 
erned and controlled by the most sublime religion. Second to Cobden, 
and to Cobden alone, was John Bright, in the great work of lifting the 
incubus of the protective tariff from the industries of Great Britian. He 
rendered great service between the close of the session of 1841 and the 
opening of the session of 1843. 

When Parliament met in 1843, Lord Howick moved that the House go 
into Committee to consider the distress of the country, and thereupon 
arose one of the most instructive debates that ever took place in Parlia- 
ment. Lord Howick contended that the protective tariff had crippled 
the agricultural, the manufacturing, and the shipping interests of the 
country, and argued that the Corn Laws ought to be repealed. We 
can hardly conceive that the present Prime Minister of England, the 
great leader of the Liberal party, was, that night, the Tory cham- 
pion, whose duty it became to answer Lord Howick. Mr. Gladstone 
admitted the distress of the country, and even conceded much of the 
argument of his adversary, but resisted the motion on the ground of 
expediency; it wasn't the time to repeal the Corn Laws; the measures of 
last session had not had a fair trial; they ought to see what other coun- 
tries would do to reciprocate a reduction of duties; England could not 
be expected to open her ports, while she had hostile foreign tariffs to 
contend against, and so on. Never once did he contend that the Pro- 
tective system was sound, either in morals or as a system of social science. 
His speech was an excuse for protection, not a defense of it. 

The Protectionist principle that the end of all true political economy 
is to promote scarcity, found outspoken champions in this debate. Mr. 
Ferrand, a Protectionist from Yorkshire, contended that the distress of 
the country was all owing to machinery, that if machinery could be 
done away with, the conveniences of life would become scarcer, and 
this would create a demand for labor, the people would all get employ- 
ment at good wages, and prosperity would be the result. He WSB not 
alone in this opinion, for Mr. Liddell thought that Lord Ilowiek's plan 
of Opening up new markets would do no good, because no matter how 
many new markets were opened up, such was the tremendous power of 
machinery in England, that they would soon be overstocked, as well as 
the old. Mr. Ward apologized for machinery on the curious ground 

that it was necessary, in order for the English to compete with the 
cheaper labor and more fertile soil of other countries. He thought t!*ut 


the Americans had made a mistake in their high protective tariff of 
1842, but contended that the English had provoked it by fixing such a 
high duty on American corn. The most bewildering doctrine that this 
remarkable debate produced came from Mr. Muntz, member from the 
important town of Birmingham, who contended that the present con- 
dition of things was unnatural, and that ' ' we must either repeal the 
Corn Laws, or lower the price of silver." It is comforting to know that 
the silver lunacy is not a new disease, peculiar to the United States. 
No wonder that the common people should have such crude notions on 
the science of political economy, when the statesmen of the country 
could talk as they did in this debate. 

Mr. Cobden replied to the Protectionists in a very vigorous, and what 
proved to be a very unfortunate speech. In the course of it he declared 
that he held the Prime Minister individually responsible for the "dis- 
tress of the country," and he repeated this expression with strong- 
emphasis. Sir Robert Peel rose in a state of nervous excitement and 
resented this personal attack. His private secretary, Mr. Drummond, 
had been assassinated a few days before, in mistake for him, and the 
tragedy shocked him greatly. He accused Mr. Cobden of pointing him 
out for assassination, and the sympathy of the House was with Peel. 
In vain Mr. Cobden tried to explain that a wrong interpretation had 
been put upon his words. The House refused to hear him. 

This incident was a most unhappy one, for it placed those graat men 
in the position of personal enemies for two years, a position which caused 
Mr. Cobden to be unjust to Peel, on more than one occasion. In strik- 
ing contrast, it must be said that the treatment of Cobden by Sir Robert 
Peel was all the time in the highest degree magnanimous. The sus- 
picion of a motive so abhorrent to his gentle nature wounded Cobden so 
keenly that it seemed almost impossible to forgive the man who, even in 
the excitement of a great debate, could impute it to him. It was the 
opinion of many that although the Free Traders had the best of the 
argument, this advantage was thrown away by Cobden's indiscreet attack 
upon the Prime Minister. It isn't likely that it affected any votes either 
one way or the other. The division showed a majority for the Minister 
of one hundred and fifteen. 


In May 1843, Mr. Villiers brought forth his annual motion for a total 
repeal of the Corn Laws. This debate was, if possible, more remark- 
able in its display of statesmanlike ignorance than the other, but unlike 
the other, the ignorance was not all on the side of the Protectionists. 
Even Mr. Villiers himself showed a remarkable forgetfulness of hi* 


geography when he said ' ' the use of wheaten bread is denied to ten mill- 
ions of people, while a plague had arisen in Louisiana, because the pro- 
duce was left to rot upon the ground for want of a market.'' He evi- 
dently had a very confused idea of where Louisiana was, or what was 
the nature of her products. That wheat rotting on the ground should 
produce a plague, was a phenomenon outside all the laws of physiology 
and peculiar to the State of Louisiana. 

Once more it became the duty of Mr. Gladstone to answer the Free 
Traders, and he contented himself with leaving them unanswered. He 
did not deny either their facts or their conclusions. He admitted the 
distress of the people, but contended that they were better oft' than they 
were two hundred years ago, which was an unsubstantial sort of com- 
fort, but hardly satisfactory. He made the very important announce- 
ment that the government would not consent to any further modifications 
of the protective system. The measures of last year had not yet had a 
fair trial. 

In this debate the wisdom of biting off your nose to spite your face 
was maintained by some ignorant statesmen who knew no better, and 
by some intelligent statesmen like Mr. Gladstone, who did know better. 
It was contended that if foreign countries would not open their ports to 
British manufactures, England should close her ports against their 
wheat and bacon. That the English people were suffering for want of 
food made no difference. They should maintain "reciprocity," even at 
the price of starvation. 

The " reciprocity " theory did good service to the ministers in this 
debate. Whether or not they believed in it themselves is doubtful. 
perhaps some of them did. It was quite evident that a large majority 
of the members of the House of Commons had not yet learned that it is 
a good thing to buy in the cheapest market, even if you cannot sell in 
the dearest, and so they kept ringing the changes on "reciprocity." 
Mr. Christopher maintained that to adopt Free Trade without any guar- 
antee of "reciprocity" from foreign countries, would be useless to the 
manufacturers, and ruinous to the agriculturists 

One ardent member, Mr. Thornley, had become so zealously inter- 
ested in the "reciprocity" plan, that he just stepped over to America to 
have a talk with the President of the United States about it. It is a 
mortifying fact that the President filled him full of lies, and false prom- 
ises, and then sent him home again. Mr. Thornley told the House that 
if the Kngli^h would adopt Free Trade, the Ariel' leans would immedi- 
ately do the same; that Mr. Tyler told him so. Mr. Tyler also told 
him that the only obstacle to an extended trade between the two coun- 
tries was the English Corn Law. All that was necessary to establish 
"reciprocity" was for the English to begin. 


Mr. Cobden showed that the only way to raise the price of corn was 
by making it scarce, and that this was the object of the present law. He 
declared that no party had the right to make the food of the people 
scarce. To ordinary minds these propositions appear to be self-evident, 
and yet there was a great party in England that denied them, and main- 
tained that the food of the people ought to be made dear in order to ' 
protect the farmer against the cheaper labor, the richer soil, and the finer 
climate of other lands. Unhappily, this party controlled the House of 
Commons, as the division showed, for the Free Traders were beaten by 
the frightful majority of 381 to 12o. 

In the month of June the subject came up again in a discussion as to 
the relative merits of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Lord John Russell 
moved to go into Committee to take into consideration the laws relating 
to the importation of foreign grain. As he was at that time a Pro- 
tectionist himself, and differed with Peel only in preferring a fixed duty 
to the "sliding scale," his motion had no practical value whatever, 
except to keep debate alive. It gave an opportunity for a repetition of 
the old arguments against the Corn Laws, and Mr. Gladstone answered 
them again as before. The debate served the useful purpose of drawing 
from the Government the positive avowal that no change in the Corn 
Laws would be permitted. Mr. Gladstone declared that the measures 
of last year were a virtual contract between the government and the 
agricultural interest, and that it would be dishonorable to disturb it. 
This loving debate between the Whigs and the Tories, as to whether a 
fixed duty or a sliding scale was most effective in protecting the aris- 
tocracy, was rudely broken into by blunt old Hume, who declared that 
all "protection" was spoliation and injustice, and ought to be abolished. 
Although Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone both declared, in the 
course of this debate, that the law of the last session should be main- 
tained, there was a fidgety unrest among the monopolists, for fear that 
the Ministers would be again driven from their policy by the Anti-Corn 
Law League. 

Thus far we have chiefly spoken of the Free Trade struggle as it was 
fought in Parliament, up to the summer of 1S43. Outside, the contest 
was sharper still, and far more vigorous. The work of the reformers 
was harder too. A whole people had to be aroused, instructed, con- 
vinced. An irresistible public opinion must be created, without which 
all efforts in Parliament would be in vain. The upper classes of the 
English people were Protectionists from interest, the lower classes from 
prejudice. The middle classes, though largely Protectionists, were 
divided, but amongst them lay the strength of the Free-Traders. 

It is not surprising that the English lower classes were Protectionists. 


All their prejudices lay in that direction. The Englishman was exclu- 
sive, partly by nature, and partly because of geographical conditions. 
His island being cut off by the sea from the continent of Europe, he 
became a sea-girt sort of personage himself. lie was arrogant and con- 
ceited. He displayed a boorish, uncouth contempt toward- all foreign- 
ers, never allowing that any change of latitude or longitude could make 
a foreigner of him. Even in Paris he complacently regarded all the 
Frenchmen he met upon the Boulevards as "Foreigners." He a 
always bidding "defiance to the world." He christened his war ships 
"Bulldog," "Vixen," "Spitfire," " Destruction, " "Devastation," 
"Terrible," "Vengeance," "Conqueror," and similar pet names. His 
great chest would pant like a blacksmith's bellows as he roared in the 
ears of all mankind his unpolite refrain, "Britannia rules the waves." 
He thought that the people of other nations had but little to eat; that 
the Frenchman lived on frogs, the Italian on maccarroni, and the Ger- 
man on an inferior quality of cabbage. He was a natural Protectionist. 

The lower classes of the English people were very much like the 
lower classes of some other people, insanely jealous of those whom they 
regarded as lower yet than themselves. In America it may be the negro 
or the Chinaman; In England it was the frog-eating Frenchman, or the 
frugal Dutchman who was too mean to squander all his wages, or the 
barbarian Russian who lived on tallow, and whose clothes cost him noth- 
ing, the skin of an ox furnishing a complete outfit for a year. Any 
demagogue could rouse the enthusiasm of these people by denouncing 
Free Traders, as an unpatriotic set who were seeking to subject the noble 
British workman to a ruinous competition with the "pauper workman" 
of the continent. It was part of the stock business of Tory statesmen 
at every hustings in the kingdom to glorify the wisdom of that policy 
which was to make England "independent of foreigners," especially for 
meat and flour. Even enlightened statesmen like Peel and Gladstone 
did not disdain to use this narrow argument in the House of Commons 

In addition to their insular prejudices, the English working class* - 
believed in the blessings of scarcity, and the miseries of abundance. 
They lived in fear of an impossible Dragon called "Over-Production." 
They regarded machinery as their chief enemy, because it saved labor, 
and filled shops and ware houses with goods. Ii was the giiin\ coal fed 
monster, breathing smoke and ilame, whose oll'spring was ••overpro- 
duction." They opposed railroads because of their Labor-saving ten- 
dency, and many of them could tell the exact number of men "thrown 
out of work'" bet ween London and Bristol i>\ the Great Western Kail- 
way alone. There were so many stage coachmen and guards, BO many 


wagoners whose busy teams moved the merchandise of the country, so 
many inns where the stages stopped for dinner or supper or to change 
horses, involving the employment of so many ostlers, cooks, waiters 
and other people. Then look at the blacksmiths, whose business it was 
to shoe the stage horses and the wagon horses; look at the harness-mak- 
ers, whose business it was to make the harness for them. Think of the 
rain of the innkeepers themselves, to say nothing of the loss to the 
farmers and stock raisers, who would no longer have a market for coach 
horses or wagon horses, or for the oats to feed them. It was in vain 
to point out the army of workmen that the railroads would throw ' ' into 
work," the comforts and conveniences they would multiply to all the 
people; these advantages were too abstract and remote. The injuries 
were direct, near and palpable. 

In the political philosophy of these people, all destruction of property 
was a blessing, because to replace the property gave employment to 
working men. The burning down of a block of buildings was a God- 
send, because the houses had to be rebuilt, thereby giving employment 
to bricklayers and carpenters. In 1846 a remarkable hailstorm visited 
London. Every exposed pane of glass was broken by the hailstones. 
This was regarded as a merciful dispensation of Providence, because it 
made a scarcity of glass in London. It was merely a sum in simple ad- 
dition to show the value of the storm. It was very evident that the 
glass makers and glaziers would make a good thing out of it, and the 
money they earned would be spent for the necessaries and comforts of 
life; the tailor and the shoemaker would get some of it, and the butcher, 
the baker, and the candlestick maker. It was useless to explain that 
this money was drawn from other employments of industry, and that to 
the full value of the glass destroyed it was a total loss to the community. 
This, too, was abstract; it was like complex fractions to scholars who 
were not yet out of long division. 

AH public improvements that lessened wear and tear, were bitterly 
opposed by those primitive political economists. The wooden pavement 
was a dangerous innovation, because if it should be generally used in a 
great city like London it was easy to see that the wear and tear of horse 
shoes and wagon wheels would be greatly lessened, and blacksmiths 
would be thrown "out of work." A street sweeping machine invented 
about this time had to be protected by the police, as a mob of scaven- 
gers were determined to prevent its use. It was claimed that the ma- 
chine could do the work of twenty men. The scavengers, of course, 
made their living by dirt; the more dirt, the more work for them. Here 
was a machine that caused an "over-production" of cleanliness, and, 
true to their protectionist ideas, they proceeded to destroy it. 


There is nothing surprising in all this; an ignorant people only reason 
from first appearances, to the immediate and visible result. To the unthink- 
ing working men of England, the first effect of a labor-saving machine 
was to throw somebody "out of work," the first effect of the hailstorm 
was to throw somebody "into work" therefore they looked upon the 
machine as an enemy, the storm as a friend. In like manner, the first 
effect of a cargo of merchandise imported from a foreign country was 
to make abundance, and to lessen the demand for labor in that class of 
goods, therefore they were in favor of promoting scarcity by a high 
protective tariff, that should compel those goods to stay across the sea. 

It was not to be expected that they would voluntarily explore the 
depths of political science, and thus obtain a knowledge of the true 
principles of social and political economy, any more than to expect them 
to saw wood for pleasure. Their minds soon became tired when not 
aided by visible object lessons, and the men who could appeal to their 
mutual experiences, had a great advantage over the abstract reasoner, no 
matter how well built his logical structure was. Often, in the coffee 
houses, the club rooms, and other places where working men used to 
meet and discuss the problems of the English political and social system, 
the Protectionist champion, confused and overwhelmed by the reason- 
ing of his Free Trade antagonist, would extricate himself by an inge- 
nious recourse to the "over-production" hob-goblin. "What caused the 
distress," he would shout, ','in the hard winter of '35?" "Over-pro- 
duction. " ' ' What shut down the Birmingham forges in '30 ? " " Over- 
production." "What sent the shoemaker of Northampton on the tramp 
in '38?" "Over-production," and so on to the end of the chapter. It 
was certain that among the audience were some of the fancied victims 
of over-production, and all the rest were sympathizers. It was no use 
to explain to them that what they called "over-production"' was noth- 
ing but the blessing of plenty, which, if not hindered by protective leg- 
islation, would soon diffuse itself throughout all the land, sharing its 
benefits among all the people, acting and re-acting upon every member 
of the community. To comprehend this required a mental effort, and 
that was labor. /They were i\ y t ready to think just then, and the dis- 
comfited Free Trader would fake his scat, leaving the victory to his ad- 
versary. The working men of England had literally to be educated in 
sounder principles, to be taught like children, from the alphabet of pol- 
itics upwards, until they were forced to throw aside their prejudices to 
make room for that knowledge which was crowding itself upon them. 
"If you bring the truth home to a man," said Cobden, "he must em- 
brace it." To bring the truth homo to the people of England became 
the duty of the League. We shall show how well the work was done. 




The working people of England were divided into two classes, the 
city operatives and the rural population. They differed from each other 
in dress, in manners, and in personal appearance. The city workmen 
was quick of movement, and of great mental activity, the farm laborer 
was heavy, dull and slow. Although the corn laws were made for the 
"protection" of agricultural industry, the tiller of the soil was over- 
worked and underpaid. His life was passed in abject poverty. He had 
no more hope than the team he drove, tie was still, in fact— though 
not in law — a serf; and he went with the land. Whoever bought that, 
bought, him. Tn 1843, the traveler in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 
meeting a rustic with a drove of hogs in front of him, looked for the 
brass collar round his neck, expecting to read upon it the old familiar 
legend preserved by Scott, — "Gurth, the son of Beowolf, is the born 
thrall of Cedric of Rotherwood. " The brass collar was not there, but 
the swineherd was as much a "thrall" as was his ancestor in the days 
of Wilfred of Ivanhoe. 

Less than sixty miles from London, and within hearing of the bells 
of Cambridge, the rough-shod clown thrashed his master's grain with a 
flail, as his forefathers did in the days of Alfred. He knew no more 
than they; and his dialect was very much like theirs. Of the politics 
of England, he knew about as much as of the politics of Japan. Al- 
though great in numbers, the agricultural laborers contributed literally 
nothing to that public opinion, which is so important an element in the 
government of England. 

It was different with the working people in the towns. They were 
restless, ambitious and discontented. They mingled much together, and 
they discussed social problems. They formed clubs, societies and trades- 
unions. They attended political meetings, and debating clubs, they 
read a great deal, and they could furnish more stump orators to the 
hundred men, than even we can furnish in America. There was always 
a speaker on hand and an audience. It was therefore in the towns that 
the principal work of the League was done. 

At first the League met with opposition even in the towns, and its 
meetings were often interrupted, and sometimes broken up. The Char- 
ists insisted that a radical reform of the government itself should be at- 
tempted before economic changes. When universal suffrage and a free 
ballot were obtained, then would be time enough to repeal the corn laws; 
and they demanded that the League should unite with them. Besides, 
the jealousy of foreign competition was not easily removed, and there 


was a prevalent suspicion that the League was to lower the wages of the 

There was but one way to reach the minds of these people, and that 
way was taken by the League. It was hard work to teach them the ab- 
stract principles of Political Economy, or to show them the ultimate ad- 
vantages of Free Trade. The surest way to reach them was by the con- 
crete argument of a big loaf of bread for a small sum of mone3 r . A big 
loaf was an object lesson they could easily understand, and when thor- 
oughly learned, it made even abstract lessons easy. It was shown to 
them that the laws for the "protection of native industry," actually ex- 
cluded from England shiploads of cheap flour, and meal, and meat, that 
wanted to come in; that thereby scarcity was created by force of law, 
and the obvious and intended effect of the scarcity was to increase the 
price of bread. This argument at last took fast hold of all the people 
in the towns, and although they still clung to their sentimental politics, 
and demanded radical measures of parliamentary reform, a majority of 
them became disciples and adherents of the League. 

The Free Traders acted wisely in the very beginning of the struggle 
by refusing to complicate their plans by any alliance with either of "the 
two great parties " inside Parliament, or with the third great party, the 
unrepresented Charists outside. They kept in view the one great ob- 
ject, the repeal of the Corn Laws, and directed all their energies to that. 

Between 1839 and 1844, the League had distributed nine millions of 
tracts among the people, and had furnished a Free Trade library to every 
voter in the kingdom. This was Cobden's way of "bringing Hie truth 
home to a man." It cost a great deal of money, but the League had 
plenty. Cobden, Bright, and scores of orators of lesser note, were con 
stantly "on the stump." Every part of England was canvassed, not 
the manufacturing towns alone, but even the rural districts. In 1842 
Cobden and Bright held meetings in many parts of Scotland, and thc\ 
had little trouble in convincing the people of that country thai the pro- 
tective S3^stem was injurious to every business and every industry there. 
Mr. Bright confessed that the people of Scotland were much more intel- 
ligent than the people of England, and with the exception of the land- 
lords and some of the great monopolists, they were nearly all Free 

By the Autumn of 1843 the Free Trade agitation had reached im- 
mense proportions, and the Protectionists had almost ceased to contend 
against it in argument. Timid people now pretended to I'eel alarmed at 
its dimensions. They believed in the principle, hut thought the League 
was carrying things too far. It was shaking society too much. The 
League and its leaders were coarsely assailed by the Times and the Jt - 


views, and some of the Tory papers called upon the Government to sup- 
press it, as a seditious and treasonable conspiracy. Its answers to all 
this denunciation was redoubled activity on the part of the League. 
Meetings were held in the agricultural districts, right among the farm- 
ers, and Free Trade resolutions carried. This was the most disheartening 
fact of all. The Tory papers bitterly denounced their own men, because 
they had not the courage to meet Cobden and Bright in argument, and 
when they did meet them, confessed themselves defeated by Free Trade 
fallacies that could easily be answered. 

London was roused at last. The great halls were found utterly insuf- 
ficient for the Free Trade meetings. They wouldn't hold a quarter of the 
multitudes that flocked to hear the Free Trade orators, so Drury Lane 
Theatre was engaged for the purpose. Petitions to Parliament asking 
for Free Trade were displayed at the street corners, and signed by tens 
of thousands of people. To emphasize the struggle, a vacancy in Par- 
liament for the City of London occurred in the fall of 1843. After a 
severe contest Mr. Pattison, the Free Trade candidate, was elected over 
the Toiy candidate, Mr. Baring, a nephew of Lord Ashburton, and a 
man of great wealth and personal popularity. This was an omen of furth- 
er disaster to the Protectionists; and although the physical force of 
their majority in the House of Commons still remained intact, its moral 
vigor was visibly crumbling under the pressure of the League. 

If the votes in Parliament were not a just barometer to record the 
pressure of the League upon the public councils, the debates, at least, 
furnished an accurate standard by which that pressure could be meas- 
ured. In the month of February, 1844, the Queen herself went down 
to the House of Lords, and opened Parliament. Her speech contained 
this paragraph: 

"I congratulate you on the improved condition of several branches of 
the trade and manufactures of the country. I trust that the increased 
demand for labor has relieved, in a corresponding degree, many classes 
of my faithful subjects from sufferings and privations, which, at former 
periods I have had occasion to deplore." 

As Sir Kobert Peel walked down to the House of Commons to meet 
the Parliament at the opening of the sessien of 1844, it was noticed 
that his eye was clear and bright, his step elastic, his bearing proud; 
and the haggard look which sat upon his face at the previous session was 
gone. His manner plainly told that he was not afraid of Bright or 
Cobden now. He was fortified with a weapon of defense against them, 
which, curiously enough, they themselves had furnished him. The 
country was prosperous, as he had proudly proclaimed in the speeeh 
from the throne. Less than two years had gone since he had yielded to 


the League a slight experimental modification of the tariff, and the suc- 
cess of the experiment had been greater than even the Free Traders had 
dared to prophesy. The reduction of import duties had been followed 
by an increased revenue from imports. The modification of the corn 
laws, slight as it was, and a good harvest had made bread cheaper, and 
to the utter confounding of the protectionists, cheaper bread had been 
accompanied by higher wages. A small abatement of the protective 
system had been followed by increased manufacturing activity, capital 
had come forth from its hiding places, and was invested in forming, in 
trade, and in manufactures, labor was in demand, and the Prime Minis- 
ter could say, and justly too, "If Cobden declared last year that I was 
individually responsible for the distress of the country, he must, this 
year, give me the credit for its prosperity." 

When we speak here of prosperity, it must be understood that we 
use the term in a comparative sense only. There was a great amount of 
poverty yet in the country, and hunger and misery everywhere, but as 
compared with the previous year the improvement was veiy great. 
Strangely enough, the success of the slight advance toward Free Trade, 
made by Peel in the tariff of 1842, instead of being an encouragement 
to proceed further in the same direction, was given as a reason why he 
should stop. Help us to let well enough alone was now the appeal of 
the Minister to the House of Commons and the country. All the as- 
saults of Cobden were parried by Peel with the Free Trade weapon he 
had borrowed from the League in 184-2. By means of this, he said: "I 
have improved the condition of the country, let us be content." 

The country recognized that the "better times" were due to the labors 
of the League, but was not generous enough to say so. The action oi 
the high-toned so-called liberal newspapers was shuffling and insincere. 
One of them, of great respectability and immense circulation, speaking 
joyfully of the Queen's speech, and in congratulations to the country, 
said: "We express no opinion upon the effect of the speech upon the 
present Corn Law agitation — the League does not want inure vigorous 
opponents or more vigorous support than are engaged for or against it 
at the present crisis." As an excuse for not supporting the League, it 
pretended that the League was strong enough already. 

Without stopping to discuss any further who was entitled to the credit 
of it, one thing is certain, the improved condition of the country gave 
the Ministers a firmer grip of the government, and when Mr. Hume 
and Lord John Russell both cor. plained that no reference to the Corn 
Laws was made in the Queen's speech, Sir Robert Peel, feeling the full 
strength of his position, gave positive notice that no alteration would be 
made in the Corn Laws. Old Hume, however, nothing daunted, moved 


as an amendment to the address in answer to the royal speech, "that 
the provision laws should be considered and dealt with." He was over- 
whehned by a majority of no less than 185 votes. 

Early in the session, Mr. Cobden gave notice of a motion for a com- 
mittee to enquire into the effects of import duties on tenant farmers, and 
farm laborers. This was carrying the war into Africa. The majority 
in Parliament had been contending that those import duties were imposed 
for the "protection" of those very classes whose condition Mr. Cobden 
proposed to enquire into. They dared not grant the motion, for they 
well knew that if they did, Cobden would bring a hatful of facts, to 
demonstrate that every year the tenant farmer was sinking deeper and 
deeper into debt, and that the farm laborer was shivering on the very 
verge of starvation. Mr. Gladstone commanded the Protectionist 
forces that night, and he defeated Cobden by the stubborn majority of 
224 to 133. 

The moral power of the League in Parliament, was shown in the 
June debate on the amended motion of Mr. Villiers for a total repeal of 
the Corn Laws, and the physical power of the administration was shown 
in the vote upon that motion. It was as folloAvs: 

"That it is in evidence before this House that a large proportion of 
her Majesty's subjects are insufficiently provided with the first necessaries 
of life; that nevertheless, a Corn Law is in force which restricts the 
supply of food, and thereby lessens its abundance ; that any such restric- 
tion is indefensible in principle, injurious in operation, and ought to be 

To this motion Mr. Ferrand offered the following amendment: 

"That it is in evidence before this House that a large proportion of 
her Majesty's subjects are insufficiently provided with the first neces- 
saries of life; that although a Corn Law is in force which protects the 
supply of food produced by British capital and native industry, and 
thereby increases its abundance, whilst it lessens competition in the 
markets of labor, nevertheless machinery has for many years lessened 
among the working classes, the means of purchasing the same, and that 
such Corn Law having for its object the protection of British capital 
and the encouragement of native labor ought not to be abolished." 

This amendment is now looked upon in England with the same curi- 
osity that we gaze upon the Plesiosaurus, or some other skeleton from 
the antedeluvian world; and we exhume it just to show what fantastic 
doctrines British statesmen and members of Parliament believed in less 
than forty years ago; and the amazing fact remains, that every bit of 
this crazy amendment, except the childish complaint against machinery, 
is sound Protectionist doctrine in the United States to-day, the obvious 


untruth that the exclusion of wheat, nails, or cloth from a country, in- 
creases the abundance within that country of wheat, nails, and cloth, is 
as vehemently asserted by the Protectionist party in America now, as it 
was by Mr. Ferrand in the English Parliament thirty-eight years ago. 
How familiar to us also is that hollow claptrap, "protection of British 
capital, and the encouragement of native labor." 

It was significant of the power of the League, that Mr. Ferrand's 
amendment was treated with silent derision. There was not a man even 
on the Tory benches who was willing to stultify himself by the advo- 
cacy of any such nonsense. The debate was notable for several reasons. 
During its progress the Whigs climbed up on the fence, and they stayed 
there for a year, Lord John Russell declaring, as he did so, that he 
could not vote to remove all protection, and he was not in favor of the 
existing law; he wished a compromise could be arrived at. Mr. Miles, 
a rather talkative Tory, called upon the Country Gentlemen to listen to 
no compromise, but to maintain the law as it stood. 

This debate revealed a more important fact, which was, that the poli- 
tics of the country was no longer a contest for office between the Tories 
on one side and the Whigs on the other, but was a life and death strug- 
gle between the Protectionists majority inside Parliament, and the 
League outside. It was significant that the Tories, instead of directing 
their arguments to the question before the House, spent their time in 
criticising the League and denouncing its methods. 

Mr. Milner Gibson defended the League. That there might be no 
misunderstanding of its objects he declared that it sought not only Free 
Trade in corn, but in everything. He quoted from Paley, that restraint 
of trade is an evil per se, and that the burden of the argument in each 
particular case lies on him by whom the restraint is defended. Mr. Cob- 
den having endorsed and strengthened the broad platform just laid down 
by Mr. Gibson, reminded the House that it was not the League that was 
on trial, but the law. 

Sir Robert Peel then rose to answer Cobden. He accepted the broad 
issue presented by Milner Gibson, and agreed that the repeal of the pro 
tective duties upon corn meant the withdrawal of protection from man- 
ufactures and from shipping, too. This, he said, would he productive 
of disaster to the country. Amid uproarious cheering from the "coun- 
try gentlemen," he declared that it was the intention of the government 
to adhere to the present law. There was a fatal weakness in his argu- 
ment, and he gave away his party and his ease together w lieu head 
mittcd that the motion of Mr. Yilliers was "correct in the abstract, and 
justified by philosophical considerations." 

The Tories did not worry themselves over the moral condemnation of 


"Protection" contained in these admissions; all they cared about was 
the promise of the Prime Minister that monopoly should not be dis- 
turbed, They were so exultant that when Mr. Bright rose to address 
the House, they listened to him with much impatience and finally 
coughed him down. Mr. Villiers, in closing the debate made a remark- 
able prediction. He told the "country gentlemen" who cheered the 
Prime Minister so vigorously that Sir Robert Peel had made the same 
sort of speech to them in 1839, and had afterwards thrown them over- 
board. The same thing would happen again. This prophecy was lit- 
erally fullfilled within two years. The motion was lost by 328 against 
124, a stolid majority of 201, which disheartened even Cobden, whose 
high spirits had never failed him since the organization of the League. 


When the vote was taken at the close of the great debate of 1844, the 
dawn of the summer day was shining through the windows of the House 
of Commons. It was greeted by the boisterous cheers of the Protec- 
tionist majority, stimulated not only by victory, but by wine. Those 
cheers smote the very heart of Cobden, and he sat there absolutely 
stunned by the force of the blow. Five years of incessant labor, night 
and day, had told heavily upon him, and mind and body needed rest 
together. There was another man there, however, who was smitten 
harder than Cobden, upon whose conscience this noisy cheering struck 
with a mocking sound. This was the great Minister who had led the 
exultant majority to victory. He, and he alone, heard in those cheers 
the knell of the noisy monopoly that was making them. He knew that 
the flushed men he commanded last night were utterly besotted and sel- 
fish, that the wants of the people were nothing to them, so that they 
could enjoy the unjust profits of "Protection." He knew that if they 
had constituted the "landed interest "in Canaan at the time of the 
dearth, they would have demanded a high protective tariff against the 
"pauper" corn of Egypt, and the rich alluvium of the Nile. In the 
argument he made for them, he knew that he was wrong. The dispu- 
tant who concedes that the position of his adversary is ''correct in the 
abstract, and justified by philosophical considerations," knows that he 
himself is in a false position; and if he is a conscientious man it will 
not take him long to reach the platform where his adversary stands. 

"While Cobden sat in dismay gazing at the dense majority of 204, and 
believing it to be solid, Peel knew that it was hollow; while Cobden 
was fearing that the League had failed, Peel knew that it had succeeded; 
that it was fast becoming irresistible, and that ere long it would conquer 
all opposition, that not even the British monarchy could safely stand in 


its way. We all know now what nobody knew then, that the only ar- 
guments that made any impression upon Peel in that debate were not 
those of any member of his own party, not those of Lord John Eussell 
or any of the Whigs, but only those of Cobden, Villiers, Bright and 
Gibson. In this hour of its greatest triumph, the Tory chieftain knew 
that the end of "Protection" was at hand. 

Mr. Morley in his "Life of Cobden," describes the struggle made by 
the Free Traders that night as a " hollo av performance." We cannot 
think so. We fear the despondency of Cobden has re-acted upon his 
biographer. The fact that the Tories wandered from the question to 
attack the League, is proof that they were over-matched in argument, 
and surely a "hollow performance" would not make the Prime Minis- 
ter concede that his opponents had on their side all the philosophy of the 
question. Milner Gibson was very strong that night. He planted him- 
self on the solid rock of the Creator's grand design and man's adaptation 
to it. He declared that to help one another, to be friends with one an- 
other, and to trade with one another, is the very law of human civiliza- 
tion; and he demanded that those who imposed restraints upon trade, 
should give good reasons why. 

How did the Tories answer him? Why, they said that they had had 
Protection so long that they could not do without it now; thus coolly 
violating a maxim of the law, that no man shall take advantage of his 
own wrong; in other words, they contended that a wrong that had existed 
for a long time, became at last a right. 

How did Peel answer* him? By advancing the American idea that 
"Protection" is a system in which all parties are interested; that it had 
become woven into the political organization of the country, and that it 
gave to all industries an equal and mutual assistance; that the agricultur- 
ists were interested in "Protection" to manufactures, that manufactur- 
ers were interested in "Protection" to agriculture, and both of them 
were interested in "Protection" to shipping and commerce; that all 
must stand or fall together, and that although the motion was only 
aimed at corn, yet if protection was withdrawn from that, it must 
be withdrawn from everything else, which would be disastrous to the 
country. But Mr. Cobden showed in that debate that there cannot be 
any such thing as, universal protection, because if every interest in a 
community is protected equally then nobody is protected at all. Pro- 
tection being a tax for the benefit of certain trades or occupation, some- 
body has to pay it. To form ourselves into a circle and each man 
take a tax from the pocket of his neighbor on the rigid, and drop it into 
the pocket of his neighbor on the left, does no good, because when the 
itarting place is reached, nobody has made anything at all. 



Shortly after this debate Parliament adjourned and did not meet again 
until February, 1845. The temperament of Cobden was not of a char- 
acter to remain despondent long, and besides, there was no occasion for 
discouragement. The confession of the Prime Minister that Free Trade 
principles were right in the abstract, had a great effect outside the walls 
of Parliament. Most men thought if that were so they might possibly 
be right in the concrete also. During the recess there were great ac- 
cessions to the League. To some people who looked only on the sur- 
face of affairs, it seemed as if there was a lull in the Corn Law agita- 
tion, and that the better times had deprived the League of its strength. 
But the League might well claim, and did claim, that the improved con- 
dition of the country was due to the modification of the protective sys- 
tem in the tariff of 1842, and that if the country should discard "Pro- 
tection" altogether, the good times would be better still. 

Lord Beaconsfield in his "Life of Bentinck," expresses the opinion 
that the improved condition of the country in 1845 had rendered the 
League powerless to disturb the administration, and that Sir Robert 
Peel might have defied it, if the bad harvest had not come, and that his 
Government could have stood against even "the persuasive ingenuity 
of Cobden." But this is a superficial view of the matter, and is the 
opinion of the most spiteful Protectionist then in Parliament, every one 
of whose predictions was falsified by the event. The agitation was not 
so boisterous perhaps upon the surface, but it was deeper down. The 
crowded meetings at Covent Garden Theatre showed that the League 
was as formidable as ever, and a Ladies' Bazaar, held there in the spring 
of 1845 netted over one hundred thousand dollars to the funds of the 
League. But the most convincing proof of all was furnished by Sir 
Robert Peel himself, as soon as parliament convened. 

When the Queen opened Parliament in February, 1845, she said: 
"Increased activity pervades almost every branch of manufacture. 
Trade and commerce have been extended at home and abroad. Scarcely 
had the address been moved and seconded, when up rose the Duke of 
Richmond, who began to whine like a mendicant about the distress of 
the agricultural classes. These were the very classes that had been 
' ' protected " by the onerous taxation of other classes for many years, 
and now they came to Parliament begging for relief, This Duke who 
was passing the hat round for them was the owner of tens of thousands 
of acres of the finest land in England and Scotland. He had a palace 
in the loveliest and most fertile part of England, and it took ten miles 
of wall to enclose his pleasure ground, the park around his mansion. 
To keep up the style and extravagance of a prince, he impoverished 
hundreds of his tenants, and then asked Parliament to relieve them, at 
some other people's cost. 


In the debate on the address in the House of Commons, some of the 
"landed gentry," there talked as the Duke of Kiehmond had talked in 
the House of Lords, which drew from Lord John Russell the signifi- 
cant remark that "protection" was the bane of agriculture rather than 
its support." This caused Mr. Miles to ask him why, if he thought so, 
he had proposed a fixed duty on corn. ' ' Had he found it convenient 
to alter his views, and ally himself with the League?" This was a fail- 
hit, for his Lordship was not yet ready to join the League. 

It is not certain that Lord John Russell was contemplating any Free 
Trade movement, but it is nearly certain that Peel suspected him and 
determined to anticipate him, for as soon as Parliament assembled he 
announced, contrary to all precedent, that he would not wait till April 
or May to make his financial statement, but would present it to the 
House the next week. This of course compelled Lord John Russell 
to postpone his contemplated movement, whatever it might be. 

The Tories mustered strong on Friday night to encourage their great 
leader, as he unfolded to the country his financial plans. To their 
amazement and dismay he opened a Free Trade budget. To be sure he 
had not touched the Corn Laws, but it was feared that he had passed 
sentence upon them, and he had only reprieved them for a time. He 
proposed to strike the protective duty from no less than four hundred 
and thirty articles then on the Tariff list, and this he had the coolness 
to tell his Protectionist followers, "must be a great advantage to com- 
merce." The suicidal duties on raw materials went oft' with one stroke 
of the pen; a fine example of financial wisdom, well worthy the study 
of American statesmen. 

This was not all. Every rag of the protective export duties was dis- 
carded, even the venerable export duty on coal, which had stood firm 
for centuries, and which even John Stuart Mill thought might wisely be 
retained. In the ignorant ages of protective philosophy, it was consi< Inc. 1 
dangerous for British manufacturers to sell coal to the Germans or the 
French, lest they should use it in manufacturing articles that might 
compete in foreign markets with those of Great Britain. But the tax 
was abolished at last, and by a Protectionist ministery. There was 
great chcerino; when Sir Robert Peel sat down, hut it came not from hi- 
own party, but from the Free Trade crowd who occupied the benches 
opposite. The "country gentlemen," the "squires," who cheered 
themselves into apoplexy Last June, now sat silent and enraged; and 
there were signs of mutiny. 

It broke out in the early days of March. Mr. Miles in :i debate on 
the agricultural distress, distinctly told his chief that if the Tories had 
known what was coming they would have beaten him in 1M'_\ and Mr. 


Disraeli denounced the administration as an "organized hypocrisy." 
In this debate Sir Robert Peel made a very careful speech. He thought 
extreme protection wrong and defended moderate protection as ' ' neces- 
sary, not on principles of commercial policy, but as essential to a state 
of things where great interests had grown up, and whose injury would 
be that of the community at large." 

The student of American politics may wisely study this apology of 
Sir Robert Peel. He will hear it often in the "impending conflict" in 
America, between Protection and Free Trade. Sir Robert Peel him- 
self stigmatized his own reasoning as unsound ' ' on principles of com- 
mercial policy, " but "great interests had grown up" under the stimu- 
lus of Protection, and if the artificial prop which supported those great 
interests should be removed, they would fall to the ground; and the 
people who were living on them would receive injury. That the with- 
drawal of ' ' Protection ' ' would be an injury to the protected classes Avas 
true, but that it would he an injury to the community at large was false. 
The community at large being taxed for the benefit of a class, he pre- 
tended that a removal of the tax would be an injury, not only to those 
who received it, but to those who paid it. This absurdity is flippantly 
maintained by the American Protectionists even now. 

This position of Sir Robert Peel is a lesson and a warning to us. It 
shows that no matter under what circumstances of pretended urgency, 
"Protection" maybe conceded, the "protected" class is never ready 
to surrender it. The rack-renting Morrill tariff of 1861, which Mr. 
Morrill himself declared at that time could only be defended as a " War 
measure " by the urgency of our situation, is now, sixteen years after 
the war, impudent and rapacious. Mr. Morrill will not permit a hair 
of its head to be injured. He is willing to take it out of politics, and 
refer it to a "commission" of its friends. That "commission" will 
tell the country in the language of Peel, that its preservation has be- 
come "essential to a state of things where great interests have grown 
up, whose injury would be that of the community at large." 

Late in May, Lord John Russell's plan was given to the country. It 
consisted of nine resolutions which the Whig leader presented to Par- 
liament, in a speech which was easily and successfully answered by 
Peel. These resolutions were intended to constitute a new platform for 
the Whigs. Had they been proclaimed before the opening of Parlia- 
ment they would have been regarded as so liberal and far advanced that 

they might have embarrassed both the Tories and the League; but 
coming after Peel's budget they were of no more interest than nine old 

newspapers. Like some other political parties that might be mentioned, 
the Whigs came limping along behind their enemies. Of the nine res- 
olutions, this history is only concerned with two. 


The second resolution was: ''That those laws which impose duties 
usually called protective, tend to impair the efficiency of labor, to re- 
strict the free interchange of commodities, and so impose on the people 
unnecessary taxation. " 

It took the League six long years to pound those principles into Lord 
John Russell. He had adopted them at last, and it must be acknowl- 
edged that in making his confession to the House of Commons, he man- 
aged to condense a vast amount of economic truth into a very few sen- 
tences. The wonderful fact remains that he was not yet ready to apply 
those principles to corn. 

The third resolution was: "That the present Corn Law tends to 
check improvements in agriculture, produces uncertainty in all farming 
speculations, and holds out to the owners and occupiers of land pros- 
pects of special advantage, which it fails to secure." 

And yet he was not ready to vote for a repeal of that law. He merely 
wanted to change the " sliding scale " for a tixed duty. He confessed 
however, that after all the discussion which had taken place, "he could 
not fairly and reasonable propose the eight shillings fixed duty of 1841." 
He thought that a duty of four, five or six shillings would be about 
right. The League had made him a Free Trader as to everything but 
corn, and as to that it had crowded him back from eight shillings a 
quarter to six, or five, or even four. Lord John Russell had the Whigs 
and Free Traders with him on the division, but was easily beaten by a 
majority of seventy-eight. 

In June again came on the annual motion of Mr. Villiers for a total 
repeal of the Corn Laws. The debate showed nothing remarkable ex- 
cept the towering air of superiority with which Sir Robert Peel lectured 
the pack behind him. With lordly patronage he told them that although 
he was about to lead them to victory once more, their arguments were 
uusound. He formally repudiated and laid aside the mistake of the 
Protectionists, that dear commodities make high wages, and although 
some of his own followers had proclaimed the doctrine in that very de- 
bate, he told them it was not true. The Protectionists bore this lecture 
with such patience as they could, but when their leader told them that 
he opposed the motion, not because it wasn't right, but because he de- 
sired to make a "gradual approach to sound principles," meaning the 
principles of Free Trade, they could scarce conceal their anger. To be 
told, not only that their arguments were bad, but that their principles 
were not "sound," was more than they could bear; however the <li\ is. 
ion was taken mechanically, and the Speaker announced that the noes 
had it by 254 to 122. This was the last victory tor the Protectionists 


in England. Parliament adjourned in August. When it met again in 
January, the Tory party had been disintegrated and broken to pieces 
by the League; the Protectionists were disorganized and routed so com- 
pletely that they were never afterwards known as a party in the politics 
of Great Britain. 


And now the time was close at hand when that boasted Protective 
system which was to make Britain "independent of foreign countries" 
for its food supply was to be subjected to a test it could not stand. In 
the summer of 1845 Cobden had ridiculed that precarious commercial 
system which was at the mercy of a shower of rain. Three weeks rainy 
weather, he said, when the wheat is ripening, will prove the danger of 
leaving the industrial scheme of such a country as England to stand or 
fall on the cast of a die. He had scarcely ceased to speak when the 
rainy weather came, and it lasted through the harvest time. The crop 
was short and its quality was poor. In September a horrid whisper crept 
through England. It was that the potato crop of Ireland was smitten 
with a strange disease. It soon became certain that scarcely a field of 
potatoes in Ireland had escaped the blight. 

In October the reports grew worse, and men all over England were 
cursing between their teeth that govermental system which had made 
the Irish people dependent on a wretched root for food. So far from 
being independent, the people of the British Islands saw themelves in 
the autumn of 1845 almost at the mercy of other nations for their com- 
ing winter's bread. 

The League had now become almost irresistible. A large portion of 
the press, which had so long held aloof from it, gave in. their adhesion 
not only to its doctrines, but to its plans. It held great meetings and 
gained many converts; it caused petitions to be circulated throughout 
the country, demanding the immediate repeal of the Corn Laws. These 
were signed by thousands. Mr. O'Connell, who had long been a mem- 
ber of the League, sent fearful accounts from Ireland, and demanded 
a cessation of party conflict in the presence of the calamity that was 
impending over the country. He called upon the government to open 
the ports to the admission of foreign grain. Sir Robert Peel felt the 
fearful weight of his responsibility, and there were frequent meetings 
of the Cabinet, but the people knew nothing of its discussions, except 
that they were not harmonious. 

The discord in the Cabinet looked like an opportunity for the Whigs, 
and they thought to make party capital out of it. Lord John Russell 
was in Edinburgh quietly watching the progress of events. He saw 


that there was a division in the Cabinet. How wide it was he did not 
know, but he thought that probably it was wide enough to let him pass 
through it and return once more to power. All through November the 
political gloom grew deeper, and at last he thought that his time had 

He was member for the City of London, and on the 22d of Novem- 
ber he wrote from Edinburgh a letter to his constituents on the condi- 
tion of the country. It was written in the narrow spirit or party, but 
the people did not notice that; all they noticed was the more important 
fact that ho had gone bodily over to the League, and declared himself 
in favor of Free Trade. He confessed that he had been converted from 
the errors of a life-time. "I used to be of the opinion,'' he said "thai 
corn was an exception to the general rules of political economy." Ob- 
servation and experience had at last convinced him of the expensive 
folly of the whole protective system. He said, "Let us, then, unite to 
put an end to a system which has been proved to be the blight of com- 
merce, the bane of agriculture, the source of bitter divisions among 
classes, the cause of penury, fever, mortality and crime among the 

This letter meant that the Whigs had got off the fence; and presently 
they were seen tumbling over one another in their haste to join the 
League. It precipitated the crisis, and broke up the Ministry. As 
soon as it appeared Sir Robert Peel called the Cabinet together. He 
told his Ministers that he could not any longer assume the responsibility 
of continuing the Corn Laws, he proposed to open the ports by an or- 
der in council, and declared himself in favor of Free Trade. Some of 
the younger Tories were willing to go with Peel, but the Duke ot Wel- 
lington, Lord Stanley and some others could not consent to the over- 
throw of the Corn Laws, which in some shape or other had taxed the 
people of England for more than four hundred years. The clamor of 
the League could be heard in the Council Chamber, and rather than en. 
dure it any longer the whole Ministry resigned. On Monday, the 8th 
of December, the Council was held, on Tuesday it was whispered at 
the clubs that the game was up; and on Wednesday the resignations 
were accepted by the Queen. 

Lord .John Russell was sent for to form an administration. He ac- 
cepted the task, and there was a great deal of "mounting in hot haste," 
and "hurrying to and fro," and sending for this man and tor that man. 
After a couple of weeks of fussy tinkering with the "crisis," In- went 
down and lold the Queen that he had failed in his attempt to form a 
Government; he confessed in the language of ''Punch" which was 


making fun of him at the time, that he wasn't "big enough for the 

When Lord John Russell was making up the "slate," he offered the 
greatest man in England, the author of the commercial revolution, a 
subordinate position as Vice-President of the Board of Trade, under a 
titled mediocrity, the Earl of Clarendon, who was to be President of the 
Board. This was a good deal like offering Oliver Cromwell a Corporal- 
ship under the Earl of Essex. So difficult was it for the Whig aristoc- 
racy to understand that the Democracy of England had at last become a 
power in the State. Of course Cobden declined the offer. 

It was not to be regretted that Lord John Russell failed to form a 
Government. Had he succeeded, he would have subordinated the 
mighty question of the hour to the exegencies of party. There was 
but one man who was equal to the occasion, who had the ability, the 
scientifie knowledge, the character, and the Parliamentary following, to 
carry England safely through. That man was Peel. Lord John Rus- 
sell advised the Queen to send for him, and place the Government in his 
hands once more. Sir Robert resumed his office and proceeded to re- 
construct his Cabinet. Most of the old members agreed to serve under 
him aeain. Anions: the new members was Gladstone, who had been 
out of office for some time. Even the Duke of Wellington, whose 
Tory prejudiees were so bitter and so strong, agreed to take office under 
Peel once more, and promised to stand by him till the fight was ended. 
It is conclusive proof of the confidence of the people in Peel's capacity, 
that as soon as it was known that he had consented to resume his office, 
the funds rose. 

All this time the League was pressing its advantage; it faltered not. 
Immense meetings were held in London, Manchester, and other places. 
At a great meeting in Dublin, Mr. O'Connell proclaimed " every man 
an enemy who did not support Bright and Cobden." On the 15th ol 
December a vast Free Trade meeting was held at Guild Hall, the City 
Hall of London, which was presided over by the Lord Mayor himself, 
in his robes of office. The mighty giants, Gog and Magog, who inhab- 
ited Guild Hall, and who had guarded London ever since the time of 
the Saxon Kings, were nearly shaken from their pedestals by the cheers 
that went up when Cobden rose to speak. He was in great spirits that 
day, for he knew that the end was near. 

Two days afterwards there was a great meeting at Covent Garden 
Theatre. Thirty thousand tickets of admission were applied for. But 
London was excelled by Manchester. At one meeting there, it was re- 
solved to raise two hundred and fifty thousand pounds for the League. 


Twenty-three men subscribed a thousand pounds each, as fast as the 
secretary could write their names. Nothing could stand against such 
earnest public opinion as this. 

The Queen opened Parliament on the 20th of January, 1846. The 
speech from the throne foreshadowed what was coming. The mover 
and the seconder in answer to the royal speech were listened to with the 
usual courtesy, and then "Sir Devon the Bull" proceeded to butt the 
cars off the track. The Duke of Richmond denounced the anticipated 
policy of the Government, and called upon their lordships not to aban- 
don the protective system. He told them not to allow themselves to be 
intimidated by the Anti-Corn Law League. 

The Duke of Richmond, like many others of the English nobility, had 
plenty of courage, but little wisdom. He had proved his courage at 
Waterloo, and carried a French bullet in his lungs which he got in that 
battle, and he was perfectly willing to fight the Free Trade locomotive. 
Wellington, his old commander, answered him. He told him it was no 
use trying to stop the train; that the Corn Laws were sentenced, and 
that the sentence would be executed in a few days. Still the Duke 
fought desperately, until old Wellington thought like Richard, that 
there must be at least "six Richmonds in the field." 

Sir Robert Peel made a short explanation that same night in the House 
of Commons. In the course of it he said that his opinions on the Pro- 
tective Tariff had undergone a change. He was yielding to the force 
of argument and more enlarged experience. He had closely watched 
the operation of Protective duties during the past four or five years, 
and was now convinced that the arguments in favor of their maintenance 
were no longer tenable. He was convinced thai low wages were not the 
result of low prices for food. "Since the year 1842," he said "when 
the first invasion was made on the principle of Protection, the, exports 
had risen from forty-two millions of pounds to forty-seven millions." 
The results of the revenue presented a similar picture. It was then 
agreed that on the next Tuesday the Minister should present his new 
commercial plans. Peel's was a Free Trade speech, and, as Cobden 
wrote the next day to a friend: "it would have done for Covenl Garden 
Theatre," the place where the League meetings were held. It was not 
the speech of a Minister who was yielding to pressure, bu1 of a man 
who had become convinced. As he said a few nights afterward, when 
taunted by the Tories with having deserted them, "it was the declara- 
tion of a man who had become converted to the belief that the Prole. 
tive system was not only impolitic, but unjust." 



Tuesday, January 27th, 1S46, was an exciting day in London. Al- 
though it was known that on that evening the Prime Minister intended 
to propose in Parliament a radical change in the commercial policy of 
England, yet it was not known in detail what that change would be. 
Although Parliament did not meet until four or five o'clock, crowds of 
people began to assemble in the neighborhood of the House of Commons 
as early as one o'clock, and before four o'clock the house itself was 
crowded in every part. Westminster Hall had not seen so great a mul- 
titude since the trial of Warren Hastings, while the open street was 
densely crowded from Westminster Abbey to Whitehall. The peers' 
gallery was crowded full of Dukes, and Earls, and Barons, anxious to 
learn the fate of those monopolies which their order had enjoyed for 
centuries. The Duke of Cambridge, the Queen's uncle, was there, and 
Prince Albert was accommodated with a seat inside the bar. After he 
had gone his presence there was criticised. There were some super- 
sensitive members who resented the presence of the Queen's husband 
within the House of Commons, as an attempt of the Crown to influence 
the free debates of Parliament. Some sort of excuse was given by the 
court, and the Prince never entered the House again. 

Those members who were known to be in favor of Free Trade, were 
loudly cheered as the}'' were severally recognized, while the Protection- 
ists weretieceivedtQt" silence. The Duke of Wellington received a great 
ovation. It was Known that he had promised Peel to assist him in car- 
rying Free Trade. Althongh he had opposed every popular movement 
of his time, he was always forgiven, because of Waterloo. Near five 
o'clock, a roar of cheering, rolling along the street, announced the com- 
ing of Sir Robert Peel. As he alighted from his carriage he raised his 
hat in acknowledgement of the heartv greetings of his countrvmen, and 
passed into the House. He carried a small box in his left hand. It 
contained the death warrant of the protective system. In that little box 
were carefully arranged the details of the new commercial policy, the 
enlightened system of Free Trade. 

In a few minutes Sir Robert Peel began his speech. For three hours 
the crowd listened to the minister, as one after another, each protected 
interest went down to its doom. He gave due notice that while he called 
upon the agriculturists to resign the protection they had long enjoyed, 
he should require the manufacturers to resign theirs also. 

With unrelenting hand he struck protection from the linen, the 
woolen, and the cotton manufacturers, from the iron-workers and the 
silk weavers, from the soap makers and the brass-founders, from the 


shoe-makers and 1 he tanners, from ribbon-makers and from hatters, from 
tin-workers and fiom button-makers, from tailors and from carriage 
makers, from West India sugar planters, and from everybody. 

With great candor Sir Robert Peel described the process of his con- 
version from the errors of Protection to the truths of Five Trade. He 
quoted some good doctrine from the American Secretary of the Treasury 
who had lately said: "By countervailing restrictions we injure our own 
fellow-citizens much more than the foreign nation at whom we purpose 
to aim their force, and in the conflict of opposing tariffs we sacrifice our 
own commerce, agriculture, and navigation. Let our commerce be as 
free as our political institutions. Let us with revenue duties only, open 
our ports to all the world." 

Thus among the missionaries who had helped to convert Sir Robert 
Peel was the American Secretary of the Treasury. Let u< hope that the 
time is not far oft' when we shall see another Secretary of the Treasury 
equally wise. 

Time to consider such important changes was demanded by the Tories, 
and two weeks was granted. There were some who demanded that the 
sense of the country should betaken first, that Parliament should be 
dissolved, and a new election had. Some were in favor of referring the 


whole matter to a "commission," and thus obtain a reprieve. But it 
was no use, and on Monday, the 9th of February, the great debate began. 
the most important that had taken place since 168*. It lasted three 
weeks, and more than a hundred speeches were made. It was thought 
the debate would end on Friday night, the 27th of February. Gnat 
crowds of people waited in Parliament street all night long, anxious to 
hear the result The debate ended at three o'clock on Saturday morn- 
ing, February 28th, 1846. When the division was had. there appeared 
to be — For the Government proposals, 337; against them, 240. The 
revolution was accomplished. The cheers of the Free Traders inside and 
outside the House waked up London. The Protectionist Parliament ^\' 
1841 had, in the beginning of 1846, established Free Trade as the com- 
mercial policy of England by a majority of ninety-seven vote-. The 
great struggle was ended, and the industry of Britian was free. In the 
year 1436 the first law Mas passed restricting the importation o\' foreign 
grain. It had been altered for better and for worse many times since 
then, and now, at the venerable age of four hundred and ten years, it 
was slain on the spot where it was born. As the League had proclaimed 
from the very beginning, it carried down with it the whole system of 
The bill was not yet law; it had to go through the usual stages, and 


in fact it was not until May that it passed the third reading, and went 
up to the House of Lords; but all this wis mere formality, after the 
vote of February 28th, — the mere ceremonial of nailing on the coffin lid, 
and preparing the deceased for burial. When the bill went up to the 
Lords, the Tory peers made a great pretense of throwing it out, but they 
were at last afraid to do so. They had only one man among them of 
really great ability. This was Lord Stanley, who had lately resigned 
his place in the Cabinet, rather than consent to the repeal of the Corn 
Laws. The hopes of monopoly therefore centered on him. Every Pro- 
tectionist in England was yelping behind him, " Gn, Stanley, on! " 

He made a great speech, which for a moment infused a little courage 
into his party. He opposed Free Trade with the sime vehemence that 
his father and his grandfather had opposed railroads, and for the same 
antiquated reasons. The old man used to keep a lot of people employed, 
whose duty it was to shoot any railroad surveyor who came upon his 
lands. Lord Stanley paraded over and over again the ancient heresies 
of the Protective system, as if the steam engine and l!ie printing press 
had not yet come. Shut out from the light of the 19th century in the 
gloomy grandeur of the House of Lords, his speech might have been the 
speech of his ancestor, fresh from the fight at Bcs worth Field. 

The last squeak of "'Protection" was Uttered by the Duke of Rich- 
mond, who presented a petition from the ribbon-makers, praying that 
their contemptible monopoly might be spared from t\io general wreck. 
Once more, Richmond and Buckingham called upon their lordships not 
to be afraid of the League, but the fact wis, they were afraid of it. 
They feared that if they threw out th3 bill, anl thereby compelled a 
dissolution of Parliament, the excitement of the people would add such 
power to the League, that in its rage its might sweep away not only the 
Corn Laws but the House of Lords itself. They therefore allowed the 
bill to pass, and they were so disheartened, that on the 25th of June the 
bill went through on its third reading, without even a division. 
That same night, the Government of Sir Robert Peel was overthrown. 
On the coercion bill for Ireland, the irreeo icilable Tory faction, led on 
by Lord George Bentinek, took revenge up ><i the Minister for his Free 
Trade policy by voting with the opposition, and on a division the 
administration was defeated by 292 to 219. Sir Robert Peel imme- 
diately resigned. On Monday night he announced his resignation in a 
speech of much good temper, pathos and dignity. In the very hour 
of his fall his political sky was at its bri 'litest O.i that very day came 
a dispatch from America, announcing that the United States Govern- 
ment had settled the Oregon question on the terms proposed by him, 


and thus had dissipated the war cloud which for some time had dark- 
ened the relations between the two countries. 

Of course much of his speech was a review of his Free Trade policy, 
and to the leader of the Free Trade movement he paid this magnani- 
mous tribute. He said: "The name which ought to be associated with 
the success of the Free Trade measures is not the name of the noble 
Lord, the member for London, nor is it my name. It is the name of a 
man who, acting, as I believe, from disinterested motives, has. with un- 
tiring energy, by appeals to reason enforced their necessity with an elo- 
quence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned; 
— the name which ought to be associated with the success of these 
measures is the name of Richard Cobden." This lifted the Free Trade 
ers right out of their seats, and the cheering was loud and long. A 
great many Tories joined in it, for everbody liked Cobden. At last, 
in the midst of deep silence, he said: 

"Sir, I shall leave office, I fear, with a name severely censured 
by many honorable gentlemen, who, on public principle, deeply regret 
the severance of party ties; I shall surrender power severely censured, 
I fear again by many honorable gentlemen, who, from no interested 
motive, have adhered to the principle of Protection as important to the 
welfare and interests of the country; I shall leave a name execrated by 
every monopolist, who, from less honorable motives, maintains Protec- 
tion for his own individual benefit; but it may be that I shall Leave a 
name sometimes remembered with expressions of good will in those ■ 
places which are the abode of men, whose lot it is to labor, and to earn 
their daily bread by the sweat of their brow — a name remembered with 
expressions of good will, when they shall recreate their exhausted 
strength with abundant and untaxed food, the sweeter because it is no 
longer leavened with a sense of injustice." 

As he took his seat, nearly the whole house rose and cheered him vo- 
ciferously for several minutes; only the sulky Protectionist faction re- 
mained silent. Since the time of Woolsey no Prime Minister of Eng- 
land had fallen with greater dignity. 

When the cheering had subsided, he again rose and moved that the 
House adjourn till Friday, to give Lord John Russell time to form the 
new administration. Then taking the arm of a friend, he left the House. 
In order to avoid the vast crowds in the streets, he left by the side door 
that led into Westminster 1 Iall, and tried to escape by that way, but 
the crowd heard of it and headed him off. Hundreds of men formed a 
circle around him. and with rude but respectful courtesy, they escorted 
him to his home. Never, in the history of England, was the fall of a 
Minister so like a triumph. 


Our Jiistory ends here, but a word of postscript may not be out of 
place/ As soon as England was freed from the incumbrances of what 
is improperly called "Protection," she bounded forward to a prosperity 
greater than she had ever known before. We have avoided statistics as 
much as possible, for they are dry reading, and we offer only the fol- 
lowing statistical argument in proof of what we say: In 1846, the year 
of the Free Trade measures, the foreign commerce of the United Kingdom, 
exports and imports, amounted to 670 millions of dollars; in 1876 it 
was 3,275 millions. Within these figures may be included all other 
statistics of every kind. 

The Free Trade policy has given to the people of England more to 
eat, more to wear, and better houses to live in; it has given them higher 
wages with less hours of labor; It has given them more holidays, more 
books, and more enjoyments; their moral advancement has kept pace 
with their material prosperity. The man who sees the people of Eng- 
land now, and remembers the English of 1846 can scarcely recognize 
the people, so great has been the improvement in one generation. 

On the impartial Protectionist seeking to know the truth, these facts 
and figures may have some weight; on the selfish Protectionist, inter- 
ested in the preservation of monopoly, they will make no impression. 
On him reason, argument, facts, and figures are all lost. To him the 
instructive numbers we have just given are unsubstantial and unreal, 
a vagary of Free Trade, a theory and a delusion. To him a barn, or a 
•ship, or a grain elevator is nothing but a cloud, and "very like a whale;" 
to him the demonstrations of geometry are only the fanatical theories of 
Euclid. He is outside the courts of reason. 

We treat with respect every Protectionist argument except one — that 
which consists in a sneer at the Free Trade policy of Great Britain, a 
policy which has been so largely beneficial, not only to the people of 
England, but to the people of America. It is difficult to keep down an 
expression of contempt when we hear men who inhabit the fertile plain 
between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, speak with derision of a 
policy which offers them a free and open market for everything they 
raise, and for everything they are able to manufacture, a policy which 
has not only multiplied the comforts of life to all the people of Great 
Britain, but which has given an added value to every acre of land in 








^ J \U1 Okj u f\ , 

, Uthc'SffFtf 

- . 

■ ■ It: 


APR 1 1939 

jhI~s Q 

j^ee-D ld 

uftv o R'fiA /I P 


Mat / ^ !?t c * r 

LD 21-100m-7,'40 (6936s)