Front Page Titles (by Subject) XVIII: FREE TRADE - Selected Speeches of the Rt. Hon. John Bright M.P. On Public Questions
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XVIII: FREE TRADE - John Bright, Selected Speeches of the Rt. Hon. John Bright M.P. On Public Questions 
Selected Speeches of the Rt. Hon. John Bright M.P. On Public Questions, introduction by Joseph Sturge (London: J.M. Dent and Co., 1907).
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Rochdale, January 2, 1877.
[On this day, Mr. Bright having been invited to be present at the Anniversary of the Rochdale Working Men’s Club, and to deliver them an address, consented to do so. It was a peculiarity of this Club that it was entirely self-supporting, and independent of the patronage of richer persons. Mr. Bright took occasion to show what had been the material progress of the country during the thirty years preceding the time of his address]
MANY of us—the younger generation no doubt—are very ignorant about the change in the working-man’s condition during the generation with which I have been connected—I mean during the last forty years. I venture to say that there can scarcely be anything more worth while a working-man’s examining and comprehending than the change which has taken place in the condition of his class. When you speak of a workingman, you mean of course a man who is accustomed regularly to some useful employment or work. To be a man at all he must have food, and to be a healthy man one would say that it was necessary he should have a free market for the purchase of his food. To be a working-man he must have materials with which to work, and it would seem reasonable that he should have a free market for the purchase of materials. More than that, as far as possible, he should have a free market for the sale of his materials. A great many people in this country—I hope a diminishing number— think that because other countries do not allow us to send our goods into their market free of duty, therefore we should not allow them to send their goods to this market free of duty. They think two bad things are better than one. They remind me very much of what it would be if a man had got a sound box on one side of his head, and he was to go about complaining that nobody gave him another sound box on the other side.
Now, we will go back for a period which I remember very well, and which many in this meeting must remember. We will go back to the year 1840. At that time there was great distress in the country. The duties upon goods coming into this country were almost beyond counting. I believe there were at least 1,200 articles on which, by the law of England, taxes were levied when the goods came into Liverpool, or London, or Hull, or Glasgow, or any other of the ports of the kingdom. Everything was taxed, and everything was limited and restricted. Even bread, the common food of the people, was taxed, almost more highly than anything else. Now, you may imagine—nay, you cannot imagine—but you may try to imagine in what kind of fetters all our industry was chained at that time. And you may try to imagine, but now in this day you cannot imagine, what was the amount of pauperism, suffering, and abject misery perpetually prevailing among the great body of the working-classes in the United Kingdom.
I shall only refer to two articles, and from them you may learn what was the state of things with regard to others. I shall ask your attention to two articles only, those of corn and sugar. Up to the year 1846, that is, just thirty years ago—everybody who is fifty years of age ought to remember all about it very well—up to 1846 corn was in reality prohibited from coming to this country from abroad, until our own prices had risen so high by reason of a deficient harvest that people began to complain and began to starve, and it was let in at these very high prices in order in some degree to mitigate starvation, and to make famine less unsafe.
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People that were well off had their tables as well furnished as now. Their loaf never dwindled and became less. They were always well fed, plump in the cheeks, living many of them sufficiently and most of them luxuriously. The suffering was amongst the wages class. Misery most abject, a permanent condition of starvation, all the consequences of this dreadful system, pressed with more and more weight as it came more and more down to the very humblest and very poorest of the people. Well, what was it all done for? It was done under the pretence that it was necessary for the protection of all our great agricultural interests. They did not say much about the rents of landlords, because the landlords had passed the law, but the landlords’ rents were the first consideration. The second was the prosperity of the farmers. These Corn Laws were necessary in order that they might be able to pay good rents. And sometimes they even ventured to speak about the agricultural labourer, although it was well known then and is well known now that the agricultural labourer, under the influence of this law, was in the most miserable condition of any of the various classes of labourers into which the working-class population of the country can be divided.
But that law destroyed your trade. You could not receive corn from abroad, and your foreign customers, therefore, could not buy from you, and whilst it raised the price of your food it diminished the demand for your labour, and, as a matter of course, lessened the wages you received for your labour. Now I venture to say here—and one may say it thirty years after the event; one may now say things which would have been probably hurtful to the feelings of some of those who supported that law—in my opinion there is not on the record of any other people at any time, much less of any civilized and professedly Christian people, so astounding a crime against the security of the Government itself, and against the population it was called upon to rule, as the Corn Law of 1815, passed by the Imperial Parliament of this country. If you could turn back to a year of abundant harvests and low prices, like 1836, and then turn to the years 1840 and 1841, when the harvests had been bad, and when food was dear, you would find three things that would appal you. First of all, that as prices were rising, as the harvest failed, pauperism throughout the whole of the country—amongst the manufacturing population, amongst the farm-labourers—was constantly and steadily increasing, and not only that, but that crime, and every kind of crime, was increasing just about at the same rate.
It was in these times that Ebenezer Elliott, the Sheffield poet—the Corn-law Rhymer—wrote his burning and scathing condemnation of this law. Many of you here are no doubt weavers employed in the cotton or woollen trade of this town, and have read the touching lines in which he is showing how the Corn Law is striking here and there almost everybody, blasting his prosperity and his hopes, and condemning him and his family to daily suffering. He turns at last to the weaver, and he says:
And then looking upon the growth of crime, the conspiracies that were constantly afloat, the insurrections which were looked towards by people as a relief, he then addresses the ancient monarchy of his country. He says:
He knew, and everybody knew who comprehended the character and operation of that law, that if it should continue to afflict the people as it did through thirty years of its existence, there was no institution in this country, not even its venerable monarchy, that could stand the strain that that law would bring to bear upon it. But there was another fact shown by the figures of that time—that not only pauperism increased, and crime increased, but mortality increased. Strong men and women were stricken down by the law, but the aged and little children were its constant and most numerous victims. I recollect, in one of those fine speeches which the late Mr. Fox—I mean Mr. Fox who for many years, as you recollect, and not long ago, was one of the representatives of the neighbouring town of Oldham—I recollect an observation, or a passage in a speech of Mr. Fox, spoken, I think, from the boards of Covent Garden Theatre, at one of our great meetings, where he said, referring to the mortality among the people, and the death-rate rapidly increasing when the harvest failed, and when foreign food was prohibited, “The Corn Law is the harvest of Death as well as of the landowner, and Monopoly says to Corruption, ‘Thou art my brother.’”
Under the Government of Sir Robert Peel, in 1846, the law was repealed, and three years afterwards—in 1849—all the duties on these articles were taken off, except a shilling per quarter, which has been more recently abolished. Since this happened there has been no fall of rents throughout the kingdom. In point of fact the prosperity of the country has been so increased that the rent of land throughout the country is now higher than it was when that Corn Law was in existence, and the farmers, who were always complaining during the existence of that law, have scarcely ever been heard to complain in the least since it was abolished. They complained for a year or two because they had been greatly frightened, but there has never been, I will say, within the last hundred years a period when the farmers of this country have made less complaint to the public or to Parliament than they have during the last thirty years since the law for their protection was abolished. And what happened to the labourer? The wages of farm-labourers have risen on the whole much more, I believe, than 50 per cent. throughout the whole country; and in some counties and districts, I believe, the farm-labourer at this moment is receiving double the wages he was when this law in existence. We ought to learn from this what a grand thing it is to establish our laws upon a basis of freedom and justice. It blesses him who gives and him who takes. It has blessed all our manufacturing districts with a steadiness of employment and an abundance they never knew before, and it has blessed not less the very class who in their dark error and blindness thought that they could have profited by that which was so unjust, so cruel to the bulk of their countrymen.
Now we will just turn for a moment to the article of sugar—these are the great articles of consumption, and therefore I deal with them. The sugar that supplied this country up to a period a little after that when the Corn Laws were abolished came mainly from the West Indies. A good deal came from the East Indies, but I will refer now chiefly to the West Indian colonies, Jamaica, Barbadoes, Antigua, and others. A little before that time, between forty and fifty years ago, the planters of the West Indies were in a very peculiar condition. In the first place they cultivated the sugarcane by slave labour; they therefore stole the labour by which they grew their crops. No doubt they kept their negroes barely alive, but they paid no wages as we are accustomed to consider wages. But they were not satisfied with stealing the labour with which they grew their crops. They asked the Parliament of this country to give them almost the exclusive use of the English market, so that they might sell their sugar here at a price much higher than they could get in any of the other markets of the world. And many of these planters being people of importance and influence in this country and associated with our land proprietors, and our land proprietors being in the same boat with regard to bread, of course it was only natural that they should be as kind to the West Indian planters at our expense as they had been to themselves; and thus, in addition to the curse of corn monopoly; you had the curse, a diminished, but still a curse, of a monopoly of sugar. What was the result? I will take the year 1840. In that year this country imported from abroad 4,000,000 cwt. of sugar, which cost 9,000,000l. Now what do we import? Last year—I mean the year ended in September—we imported 16,000,000 cwt., that is four times the quantity we imported in 1840. But what did it cost? It did not cost four times as much as in 1840. It did not cost half as much, but instead of costing 9,000,000l., as the 4,000,000 cwt. did, it cost 17,000,000l. If the sugar we imported last year had been imported at the same price, the monopoly price, as in 1840, the 16,000,000 cwt. would have cost us 36,000,000l. instead of the 17,000,000l. which it actually did cost. You see, therefore, that the abolition of the protection upon sugar has just had the same effect in degree that it had upon corn. The quantity imported has been enormously increased, and the price has been to an extraordinary degree diminished.
There are many ladies in this meeting who know—and I dare say there are a great many husbands who know, too, as much about these things as their wives—that sugar has lately risen within the last few months, but till then it has been about as cheap as flour. I recollect, at a meeting held in Surrey during our agitation thirty years ago, that a gentleman stood up and made a speech. He was a stranger. He stated that he was well acquainted with sugar-growing in various parts of the world, and said, “If you abolish the protection on sugar, sugar will be as cheap as turnips.” It has not, I believe, been as cheap as turnips, but it has been so cheap that it must have added greatly to the comfort of families, and to the ease with which many other things, fruit and so on, are made palatable, especially to children in families.
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Now, having done with the question of imports, I must just ask you to look at this matter from another side. You all of you know that if 118,000,000 cwt. of grain of one kind and another, and if 16,000,000 cwt. of raw sugar—for I have not dealt with refined sugar, and there is a large quantity of that—if all these quantities come into this country—they are coming now from many parts all over the world—somebody must pay for them. You buy your sugar in the shop, and the shopkeeper buys it from the wholesale dealer in London or Liverpool, and he brings it from abroad, and payment is made in the articles which the industrious and intelligent workmen of England make, which find employment for all your mills and manufactories of every kind. What they make is sent out abroad to pay for those articles. What must necessarily be the result? That there must be an enormously increased demand for the labour of the workmen; and there has been that demand as you all know. I recollect the time very well when every Monday morning there would be from ten to twenty men and women coming to any factory in this neighbourhood, and asking if there was a place open for them, and wanting to be employed. That sort of thing has been entirely changed. I wish that weaver were living now who, when before a Parliamentary Committee, some forty years ago, said he always noticed that if there were two men running after one master, wages always seemed as if they were inclined to go down; but when there were two masters running after one man, he always noticed that wages were inclined to go up. That was a sensible weaver, an observant weaver; but there were many men in both Houses of Parliament forty years ago who did not understand so very simple a proposition as that; and it took about seven years’ lecturing and preaching and arguing before we could get it into their—I will say their very dull heads. But now if you look all over the country, I think you will see, all of you—I mean every man of fifty years of age, and every woman of that age, will see—that there has been a great improvement in the condition of what I call the wages class, the class of persons who get their wages every week or fortnight for a week or a fortnight’s work.
There is a book published in Liverpool, an almanack, called the “Financial Reform Almanack.” Its price is one shilling. How it can be sold at that price is a marvel. I believe there is no other book published in this country which will give you so much information with regard to imports and exports, to consumption, to everything that we use, taxation, expenditure of taxes, matters of Government, pensions, and so forth. I believe there is no other publication in the country that is to be compared with the “Financial Reform Almanack”; and every honest man who wants an honest Government ought to have that book somewhere near, so that he can apply to it when he wants information on any of these questions; and I do not know how to express my admiration of the industry and the accuracy with which Mr. M’Queen, who is, I think, the secretary of the association, has compiled this remarkable book. Two or three figures, taken from this book, will tell you what I mean with regard to the changed condition of the people. I go back to 1840, and compare it with 1875. In 1840—I will take the article of bacon; bacon was not allowed to come in in those days at all. Now the 32,000,000 or 33,000,000 of people in the United Kingdom consume, not of home-grown bacon, but of bacon that is imported, more than 8 lbs. weight per individual, that is, an advance of 8 lbs. from nothing at all. The consumption of butter has increased from 1 lb. to 5 lbs. for each individual; of cheese, from 1 lb. to 5½ lbs.; of potatoes from nothing to 16 lbs.; of rice from 1 lb. to 11 lbs.; of tea, from 1¼ lb. to 4½ lbs.; of sugar, from 15 lbs. per head to 53 lbs. per head; of wheat flour, from 42 lbs. per head—and I believe the year 1840 was a year of considerable importation because the prices were high—it has risen from 42 lbs. in 1840 to 197 lbs. per head in 1875. All this has been brought about without any violence, without wronging anybody. There is not a human being in England who has a loaf less or a pound of sugar less, or any of these things less by what has been done. There was no violence, no insurrection, no bloodshed, no disorder, the people have merely become more intelligent, Parliament more intelligent, and statesmen more intelligent; and all this has been done by merely tearing up two or three foolish Acts of Parliament, and allowing people their natural freedom to buy and sell where they could buy and sell to the greatest advantage.
Forty years ago people were all talking about emigration. Why do not the people emigrate? people asked. There were societies for promoting emigration. I read only two or three days ago an article in the Fortnightly Review, a review of the life of the late Canon Kingsley, and I found he said that thirty or forty years ago all thoughtful people were appalled at the state of the country. They thought something was going to happen, the state of the country was so bad. The people suffered so much, they were so discontented, that there would before long be a great catastrophe, like a general insurrection or revolution,; and people said, why cannot millions go to a country where there is room for them? The people have emigrated, of course, as an active-minded people like this always will emigrate. But emigration has not made this great change. People are far more numerous in the country now than they were then, and yet for all that, they are much better off, there is much greater demand for labour, and the rate of wages in every branch of labour is higher than it was at that time.
I will leave this question of tariffs, and duties, and protection, and free trade, and ask the attention of the members of the Workmen’s Club to one or two other points, in order to show the change in their condition. Look at what has taken place in this country with regard to the means of education and the possibility of rearing your children to be intelligent young men and women as compared with what existed at the time to which I have referred. Now nearly everybody has a newspaper if he chooses to have it. I was very much amused some two months ago when I was down at the town of Kelso, in Scotland. It was one of the days when everybody was expecting news from Constantinople. I went into the market square of Kelso with a friend of mine, with whom I was staying, and we called at a shop to get a copy of the Scotsman newspaper, and I said, “I never saw such a sight as this before.” There was this large square, quite a large space, and all round it there were groups of men, three or four or five or six, standing together, and somebody in each group reading a paper. The paper was there at hand for everybody who wished to read it and who wished to learn. That is a change which has taken place merely by a change of law. At the time I have been speaking of, the paper upon which a newspaper was printed had a heavy excise duty upon it. As soon as the paper went to the Observer office, or the Manchester Examiner, or the Manchester Guardian office it had to go on to a Government office and have a stamp placed on each paper, and every stamp was charged 4d. Then when advertisements were put in, the unfortunate newspaper proprietor had to pay 3s. 6d. for every advertisement. The charge for advertisements was afterwards reduced to 1s. 6d., and subsequently the duty was abolished; and now it happens that you can get a newspaper every day for a halfpenny or a penny. Take the Evening News published in Manchester, or the Manchester Examiner, or the Manchester Guardian, or your paper here, the Observer. Every paper of that sort cost 7d. then; now it costs ½., or 1d. at the most. These taxes were not levied for the sake of bringing money into the public Exchequer. They were put on mostly during the reign of Queen Anne, and the object was to limit the number of newspapers, to strangle them, to prevent the people having political information and expressing their political views. And those taxes remained until a few years ago, when the last of them was abolished.
And now what an excellent machine, what an admirable thing a good newspaper is! Your, newspapers are larger than those—infinitely better; there are ten in the country for every one there was then; and what do they tell you? Everything. They are not for rich men only. The rich man gives a penny for his paper or 3d. for the Times, which after all is probably quite as cheap as any of the others from some peculiarities of information with which it furnishes the public; but the rich man can get no more out of his newspaper than one of you who pays a penny for it. What do you get? If you read within the last day or two what did you see? In Canada there is a strike of the engine drivers on the Grand Trunk Railway—they are no wiser in Canada, it appears, than they are here. If you cross the frontier to the United States, you see an account of the most appalling accident that has ever happened since railways were made, and you see a great discussion about the election of President. If you go a little further south, you read about the division that exists in that unfortunate country of Mexico. If you cross the ocean and go to Australia, you hear that they are discussing the price of wool, and whether one of the colonies shall continue its system of protection, or adopt the system of free trade established in another. If you cross the ocean to the Cape of Good Hope (we see all this in the papers we buy for a penny), you see, not all the discussions, but what is sufficient for you, that are going on with the attempt to make a confederation of the South African Colonies. Then you go to India, and even this very day—Socrates, and Plato, and Epaminondas, and all the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans had never dreamt of such a thing as you see to-day in your newspapers—the account of the grand ceremony which took place yesterday at Delhi, in Northern India, the proclamation made that the Queen of England was henceforth the Empress of her Indian dominions. Then if you go overland to Egypt you read of something which is not pleasant about the Egyptian debt. And then you go to Constantinople, and you hear there that affairs are in a very critical position, and you hear, what I am very glad to see and believe, that the policy of our Government is more in accordance with the policy indicated by the public opinion of this country than it was some time ago. We must always bear this in mind, that the policy with which our Government began their proceedings was supposed at that time to be the policy of the nation. It was the policy of 1856 and of the Crimean war. It was a policy which I was not able to coincide with, and which I always condemned very much, as you know. The Government began that policy, and they adhered to it, I think, some time longer perhaps than after that ought to have abandoned it. I trust now they have adopted a course more in accordance with the opinions, and, I believe, with the true interests of this country, than the past policy of England with regard to Turkey. But, if you leave Constantinople—which I see it is very difficult for you to leave—you read that the English fleet has gone from Besika Bay to the Piræus, which is a port of Greece. You read that the Italians, with nobody likely to attack them, are foolishly making 100-ton guns. If you go to Paris you see discussions that are going on between their Senate and their Chamber of Deputies, that is to say, between their House of Lords and their House of Commons, as to who shall have the absolute control of the public purse. And all this you see every day in your newspaper, so far as the editor can do it, accurately and truthfully given, and all this in addition to the information, sometimes amusing, often instructive, often grievous and afflicting, of all that transpires in your own country. All this is brought before you every morning, beautifully printed, and for a price that when you have had it every morning for a week costs you no more than a single quart of very poor beer.
But, then, the newspapers are only one element of instruction. Look at what has been done with regard to schools. The Bill of 1870 was a great measure, deficient in many parts, which, from its deficiency and incompleteness, has been the cause of much dissension in the country. But still it was a great measure, and the future of it will be great. What happens now every year with respect to education? In the parliamentary grants no less than 2,500,000l. a year are voted for the school system of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Parliament, therefore, is anxious that the whole population of the country should be educated, and it will be the fault of the parents of this generation if the next generation is not much advanced beyond what we are in the education and culture which children shall receive.
I might tell you what science has done. You travel now at the same rate as a royal Duke. There are third-class carriages by every train on some of the principal railways. I do not mean to say that nobody but work-men go in third-class carriages, because I recollect a story of a rich man in this neighbourhood, who being asked why he travelled third class said, “For a very good reason—because there is no fourth class.” Turn now to the Post Office. You write a letter, and put a penny stamp upon it. You receive a letter, and your correspondent has put a penny stamp on it. I recollect paying to the post-mistress in Rochdale, when Mrs. Lee was post-mistress, a long time ago—and she was not always very polite, I remember, when she was in a hurry—paying no less than 25s. for the postage of a single letter from Leghorn, in Italy. The postage on such a letter now would be 2½d., or perhaps it might be 5d., as the letter had many inclosures. Look at your telegraphs. By post and telegraph every work-man has opportunities and advantages which our forefathers never dreamt of. You can inquire whether work is scarce or abundant, whether there is reason to move to this town or to that. These scientific improvements are of great service to all classes, and they are of more service to the workman than the workmen themselves have fully understood.
There is only one other point to which I shall refer as to changes in the law, and that is with regard to the extension of the borough franchise. You know what a terrible thing it was in prospect, how many people said we were going to Americanize our institutions. They did not know what that meant, but they used the phrase, and what harm has happened? They said that property would not be safe, and how everybody would overturn everybody else. And what has happened? The most conspicuous fact throughout the country is, that there is universal content in all the borough population among those to whom the franchise has been extended. At this moment there are no conspiracies. Your workmen’s club is not a political club to get up some movement against the law or the monarchy. There is nothing of that kind now. In time past, even those very persons who were so much afraid of us did not hold their property and their privileges by so secure a tenure as they have held them since the passing of the law. Nay, the monarch of these realms, popular as she has always been; popular as she has always deserved to be; still, I will undertake to say of her—I say it without hesitation, and without fear of contradiction—that there were times within the last thirty years, and since she came to the throne, when there was a great deal less of an honest and true loyalty than is to be found in this country at the present time.
And you have not only got the franchise, but you have got the ballot to secure you from any compulsion with regard to its exercise. I recollect a peer, whose name you would know very well if I were to mention it, who went about in a state of almost mental agony, saying, “If this Ballot Bill be passed the whole influence of property will be gone.” But what has happened? The influence of property, so far as it is a just influence, exists now, and is exercised now, and any exercise which it had before the ballot was conferred was an exercise that it ought not to have had, and was a tyranny over all those upon whom it was exercised.
But I want to tell the working-men of this workman’s club what some of them do not—at least what some workmen do not appear altogether to appreciate or comprehend—that they are now the full citizens of a free country, and that on them a great responsibility is devolved. Is it not a grand history, that of the last forty years? Are not the changes such as all of us may be proud of, that they have been effected with so little, in fact with no disturbance? You cannot point, probably, to a revolution of violence in any country of late times where there has been so much done of permanent good, in the same period, as has been done for the people of this country by the wise changes in our law. And yet, I dare say, history will not say very much of these changes. The fact is, history busies itself with other matters. It will tell our children, I dare say, of conquests in India, of annexation, it may be in the Punjaub, of Chinese wars—wars which were as discreditable to us as they have been unprofitable. It will tell your children of the destruction of Sebastopol, and perhaps it may tell them that everything for which Sebastopol was destroyed has been surrendered, or is being now surrendered, by an English Minister at Constantinople. But of all these changes which have saved the nation from anarchy and an English monarchy from ruin, history will probably say but little. Blood shines more upon her pages, and the grand and noiseless triumphs of peace and of wise and just legislation too often find but scanty memorial from her hands.
But now there may be those who will put this question to me. Some of my critics to-morrow or the day after will say, What has this to do with working-men’s clubs? Why talk politics to a meeting which is understood not to be a political meeting? I have not been talking politics. These questions which I have been discussing were politics a few years ago, when the contest was raging round us whether they should be settled justly or not. Now they are not politics, they are not matters of controversy, they are matters of history, and I am treating you to a chapter of history. But then they will say, Why tell us the old story, and go back to the Corn Law and the Sugar monopoly? They will say I wanted to glorify myself before my fellow-townsmen because I had taken a humble part, with hundreds of thousands of others, in carrying these measures. No, I tell you the old story because there are many in this room who are too young to have known much about it, and it is a great and salutary lesson for the members of the workmen’s club, and for workmen everywhere to have spoken and read to them. It tells them of freedom, and how freedom was won, and what freedom has done for them, and it points the way to other paths of freedom which yet lie open before them.
The workman of England now is no longer a human machine, minding a spindle or a loom, or working at the bench, or at the forge, or in the mine. He is not a man only to make goods for export, but he is a man into whom, by these changes, has been infused a new life, and to whom is given a new and a wholesome responsibility. Every voting working-man in England is now a ruler of men, and a joint ruler of many nations, and it is worth while for the working-men of England to look their responsibility in the face. There are some further things which a wise legislature may do for them, but the main thing to be done for them must be done by themselves. There are many teachers and many plans. Some say that co-operation will save everybody. Well, co-operation in this town has been, I believe, of remarkable advantage to those who have been concerned in it. Co-operation in joint-stock companies affords an easy mode for the investment of savings, and is, therefore, a very advantageous though new institution amongst us. Some think that trade unions will set everything right. I am of opinion that trade unions may be useful if they will not depart from sound economic principles, and if they will not interfere with the individual freedom of their members or the freedom of those who have the employment of capital. I recollect last year, or perhaps it was the year before last, in some observations I made at Birmingham, I pointed to the fact that there is no class of persons whose wages have risen more in the last twenty years than the class of domestic servants, and amongst domestic servants there are no trade unions, no committees, no orators to expound their interests and maintain their cause. A great leader in trade unions set himself to answer me, and what was his answer? He said the case of the woman servant is easily explained. It is explained by the vast emigration of young women to foreign countries, seeking there a better livelihood than they could get here. They have diminished the supply and wages have risen. He seemed to have forgotten that there have been three times as many men who have emigrated as women, and if the trade unions to raise wages were not necessary for the women, certainly upon his own argument they could not be necessary for the men. No, the great rise of wages has come from the causes I have indicated, and if they have come from any other cause, by limiting the number of persons to work in a particular trade, and by controlling, and unreasonably controlling, as it has sometimes been, their employers, then that rise of wages is not just, and is not permanently advantageous to the whole people. It may be for a time advantageous to the particular class by whom it is enforced.
I conclude what I have to say with only one other point, and that is on the question of education. I believe that workmen have need to be taught, to have it pointed out to them, how much their own family comfort and the success and happiness of their children depends on this—that they should do all they can to give their children such education as is in their power. One of the American States is the State of Massachusetts, and it is probably the most educated and intellectual. It has a system of general education. Massachusetts was founded about 250 years ago. From that time to this it has had a system—a very extended system—of public schools. Eight generations of its population have had the advantage of being educated in these schools. The men who were driven from this country by the tyranny of monarch and Archbishop founded this school system—the men of whom the poet I have already quoted speaks in these terms, describing them as—
Meaning the chain of a despotic monarchy and of a despotic and persecuting Church. Suppose we had had in this country all that time schools for the education of your children, to what a position this country would have risen by this time!
I want to ask working-men to do their utmost to support the school system. Be it a school belonging to a sect, or be it a school belonging to the School Board; if it be a convenient or a possible school for your children, take care that your children go to school, so that Parliament in voting 2,500,000l. for purposes of education—2,500,000l. to which you subscribe by the taxes—shall have the cordial and the enthusiastic support of the people in forwarding education to the greatest possible degree in their power. Depend upon it, if you support the school the school will compensate you. You know, I dare say, a passage, which is one of the many striking passages which you may find in the writings of Shakspere—where he says, speaking of children that are rebellious and troublesome—
I ask working-men, and I might ask it of every class to a certain extent, how much of the unhappiness of families, how much of the grief and gloom which often overshadow the later years of parents, come from what I may call the rebellion of children against their parents’ authority, and against the moral law. If you will send your children to school, encourage them in their learning, make them feel that this is a great thing for them to possess, the generation to come will be much superior to the generations that have passed, and those who come after us will see that prospering, of which we can only look forward to see the beginnings in the efforts which are now being made. And more than this, besides making your families happier, besides doing so much for the success of your children in life, you will also produce this great result, that you will do much to build up the fabric of the greatness and the glory of your country upon the sure foundation of an intelligent and a Christian people.