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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
2 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF TREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. O
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
4- BISTORT OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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.
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. $
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
6 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IK ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 7
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-
8 BISTORT <»r FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
10 HISTORY Or FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 11
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.
12 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 13
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,
14 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. lb
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*
16 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IX ENGLAND.
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
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.
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 17
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
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.
18 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE EN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FEEE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 19
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.
20 HlSTORr OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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.
HISTOEY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 21
THE STRUGGLE FOR FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
22 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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 -
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 23
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
"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
24 HISTORY OF FEEE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 25
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
26 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 27
"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
28 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE TN ENGLAND.
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.
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 29
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.
30 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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.
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 31
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.
32 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 33
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
34 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 35
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.
36 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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."
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 37
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
38 - * HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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
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
HISTORY OF FREE TEAD3 IN ENGLAND. 39
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,
40 HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND.
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.
HISTORY OF FREE TRADE IN ENGLAND. 41
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
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