Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XVI.: repeal of the corn laws and fall of the government. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XVI.: repeal of the corn laws and fall of the government. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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repeal of the corn laws and fall of the government.
The public excitement and private anxieties of the year1846.
A few days after the Session opened, the Prime Minister announced his proposals. The repeal of the Corn Laws was to be total. But it was not to be immediate. The ports were not to be entirely open for three years. During this interval there was to be a sliding scale, with a maximum duty of ten shillings when the price of wheat should be under forty-eight shillings, and a minimum duty of four shillings when the price reached fifty-four shillings a quarter. The views of the League therefore would not be fully realized until February, 1849.
The opponents of the Minister began to talk of an appeal to the country, and Cobden addressed himself to this critical point in the one speech of any importance which he felt called upon to make through the whole of these protracted debates. He plied the Protectionists with defiant tests of the 1846.
The characteristic of all Cobden’s best speeches was a1846.
The first reading was carried by a majority of 337 to 240. But an acute observer gave Cobden what was perhaps the superfluous warning, not to allow the victory to throw him off his guard. The difficulties were still to come, and they were very serious. In spite of the extraordinary position in which they had been left by the desertion of Peel and all the rest of their leaders in both Houses of Parliament, excepting only Lord Stanley, the Protectionists were undeniably strong. The bold and patient politician, of whom they then thought so lightly, but who was in fact the sustaining genius of their group, has described the steps by which they found new leaders and a coherent organization. Lord George Bentinck was not a great man, but then the most dexterous and far-seeing of parliamentary manœuvrers had his ear and was constantly by his side. Mr. Disraeli must be said to have sinned against light. His compliments to Peel and Free Trade in 1842 prove it. Lord George Bentinck formed some views on the merits of Protection by-and-by, but the first impulse which moved him was resentment at betrayal. It is easy to say that the key to his action was incensed party spleen, but the emotion was not wholly discreditable. One day he walked away from the House in 1846.
The majority on the first reading was a hollow and not an honest majority, and the Protectionists were quite aware of it. The remarkable peculiarity of the parliamentary contest was that not a hundred members of the House of Commons were in favour of total repeal, and fewer still were in favour of immediate repeal. Lord Palmerston, as Cobden wrote to a friend long after these events, showed unmistakable signs that he was not unwilling to head or join a party to keep a fixed duty, but he was too shrewd to make such1846.
The curious balance of factions filled the air with the spirit of intrigue, and until the very last there was good reason to apprehend that the Peers might force Peel to accept the compromise of a fixed duty, or else to extend the term for the expiration of the existing duty. No episode in our history shows in a more distressing light the trickery and chicane which some thinkers believe to be inseparable from parliamentary institutions. In this case, however, as in so many others, the mischief had its root not in parliamentary institutions, but in that constitutional paradox, as perplexing in theory as it is equivocal in practice, which gives a hereditary chamber the prerogative of revising and checking the work of the representative chamber.
The session had not advanced very far, before other dangers loomed on the horizon. The Ministry was doomed in any case. Whether Peel succeeded or failed with the Corn Bill, nobody at this time thought it possible that he could carry on a Conservative Government in a new Parliament, and he could hardly become the chief of a Liberal Government. The question was whether and how he should repeal the Corn Law. Difficulties arose from a quarter where they were not expected. The misery of the winter in Ireland had produced its natural fruits in disorder and 1846.
Thus by an extraordinary and unparalleled state of political1846.
We shall see presently what Peel himself had to say to this idea of a mixed progressive party. Meanwhile, Cobden’s dislike and distrust of the Whigs was as intense as ever, and 1846.
Before coming to that, it will be convenient to state very briefly the course of proceedings in Parliament. The motion was made to go into Committee on the Resolutions, on the 9th February. Eighteen days later, after twelve nights of debate, and after one hundred and three speeches had been delivered, the Government were successful by a majority of ninety-seven. On March 2, the House went into Committee on the Resolutions, and Mr. Villiers’s amendment that Repeal should be immediate as well as total, was lost by an immense majority, barely short of two hundred. The Corn Bill was then read a second time on March 27, by a majority of eighty-eight in a House of five hundred and sixteen; and it was finally carried in the House of Commons at four o’clock in the morning of May 16, by a majority of ninety-eight in a House of five hundred and fifty-six. The Lords made a much less effective opposition than, as is shown by Cobden’s letters, was commonly expected. The second reading was carried by two hundred and eleven against one hundred and sixty-four, or a majority of forty-seven. Amendments were 1846.
This is the proper place for Cobden’s own story of his interests and occupations during that agitated session. We must not forget that his private affairs had only been provisionally arranged in the previous autumn, and that they were as gloomy as his public position was triumphant. Before giving the shorter correspondence, written from day to day to his wife and his brother, it will be convenient to give three longer letters, affording a more general view of what at this time was engaging his thoughts.
March7, 1846. (To G. Combe.)—“I am pretty well recovered from my local attack; a little deafness is all that remains. But the way in which I was prostrated by an insignificant cold in my head has convinced me (even if my doctor had not told it) how much my constitution has been impaired by the excitement and wear and tear of the last few years. The mainspring has been over-weighted, and I must resolve upon some change to wind up the machinery, before I shall be able to enter upon any renewed labours. My medical friend boldly tells me that I ought to disappear from political life for a year or two, and seek a different kind of excitement in other scenes abroad. He talks to me of the hot baths of the Pyrenees as desirable1846.
“Besides, to confess the truth, I am less and less in love with what is generally called political life, and am not sure that I could play a successful part as a general politician. Party trammels, unless in favour of some well-defined and useful principle, would be irksome to me, and I should be restive and intractable to those who might expect me to run in their harness. However, all this may stand over till we have really accomplished the work which drew me into my present position. I am afraid our friends in the country are a little too confident. The Government measure is by no means safe with the Lords yet. They will mutilate or reject it if they think the country will suffer it. Bear in mind, if 1846.
London, March 12. (To Mr. T. Hunter.)—“Many thanks for your warm-hearted letter. I have often thought of you, and our good friends, Potter and Ashworth, and of the anomalous position in which I was left when1846.
“The truth is, that accident, quite as much as any merit on my own part, has forced me gradually into a notoriety for which I have not naturally much taste; but which, under all circumstances, is a source of continued mental embarrassment to me. How to escape from the dilemma has been for months the subject of cogitation with me. My own judgment leads irresistibly to one solution of the difficulty, by retiring from Parliament as soon as the corn question is safe. I observe your allusion to a public demonstration; and the idea of a testimonial has reached me through so many channels, that it would be affectation to conceal from myself that something of the kind is in contemplation. I am not, I confess, sanguine about the success of such an effort, pecuniarily speaking, on the part of my friends. Public 1846.
“But, besides, there are others who have as good claims as myself upon public consideration for the labours given to the good cause. I have been often pained to see that my fame, both in England and on the Continent, has eclipsed that of my worthy fellow-labourers. But it would be an in-justice which neither I nor the public voice would sanction, if I were to reap all the substantial fruits of our joint exertions, to the exclusion of others whose sacrifices and devotion have hardly been second to my own.
“As respects my own feelings on the subject of a testimonial, although I see it in a different light after the work is done to that in which I viewed it before, still, I must confess, that it is not otherwise than a distasteful theme. Were I a rich man, or even in independent circumstances, I could not endure the thoughts of it. But when I think of my age, and the wear and tear of my constitution, and reflect upon the welfare of those to whom Nature has given the first, and for them, the only claims upon my consideration, I do not feel in a position to give a chivalrous refusal to any voluntary public subsidy. Like the poor apothecary, my poverty and not my will consents. Still, consulting my own feelings, I should like to be out of Parliament before any demonstration were made. I could hardly explain why I should prefer this, it is so peculiarly a matter of feeling. It is not with a view to escape from public usefulness hereafter. I am aware that success in my Free Trade labours will invest me with some moral power, which, after my health was thoroughly wound up again for a renewed effort, I should feel anxious to bring to bear upon great questions for the benefit of society. But I have a strong and in1846.
“I might add as a motive for leaving Parliament, a growing dislike for House of Commons life, and a distaste for mere party political action. But this applies to my present views only in as far as it affects my health and temporary purposes. It is a repugnance which might and ought to be overcome for the sake of usefulness; and there are enough good men in Parliament who sacrifice private convenience for public good, to compensate for the society of the herd who are brought there for inferior objects.
“I have now poured out my inward thoughts to you in unreserved confidence—thoughts which have not been committed to paper before. And I do it with the fullest satisfaction, for I know that, whilst you sympathize with my feelings, you will bring a cool judgment to my assistance. 1846.
April 2. —“So far as I can control my future course of action, I am prepared to do so; and the first step which duty requires, is to place myself in a private position at the earliest moment when I can make the change, without sacrificing the public interest which is to some extent involved in my person. In fact I should have long ago retired into private life, but for this consideration. It is still a little uncertain when we shall escape from the tenter-hooks of delay. Even if the Lords pass the Government measure without attempts at mutilation, of which, by the way, I am still not so sanguine as many people, then it will be two months yet before the royal1846.
“Now, my dear sir, the rest must be left to the chapter of fate, and I shall be prepared to meet it, come what may. This decision is entirely the result of my own cogitations. I have consulted nobody. If the rumour got abroad amongst my friends, I should be persecuted with advice or remonstrance, to which I should be expected to give answers involving explanations painful to me. And it is quite marvellous how apt the newspapers are to get raw material enough for an on dit if a man suffers his plans to go beyond his own bosom. I could, of course, make my health honestly the plea for leaving Parliament, and can show, if need be, the advice of the first medical men in London and Edinburgh to justify me in seeking at least a twelvemonth’s relaxation from public life.
“I have thus given you an earnest of my determination to do all that I can to acquit myself of my private as well as public duties. It has always been to me a spectacle worthy of reproach to see a man sacrificing the welfare of his own domestic circle to the cravings of a morbid desire for public notoriety. And God, who knows our hearts, will free me from any such unworthy motives. I was driven along a groove by accident, too fast and too far to retreat with honour or without the risk of some loss to the country, 1846.
A few days later he wrote to Mr. Edmund Potter:—
“Many thanks for your friendly letter. Though I appreciate your kindness even where it restrains you from writing to me, let me assure you that your handwriting always gives me pleasure. You would not doubt it, if you could have a peep at the letters which pour in upon me. I have sometimes thought of giving William Chambers a hint for an amusing paper in his journal upon the miseries of a popular man. First, half the mad people in the country who are still at large, and they are legion, address their incoherent ravings to the most notorious man of the hour. Next, the kindred tribe who think themselves poets, who are more difficult than the mad people to deal with, send their doggerel and solicit subscriptions to their volumes, with occasional requests to be allowed to dedicate them. Then there are the Jeremy Diddlers who begin their epistles with high-flown compliments upon my services to the millions, and always wind up with a request that I will bestow a trifle upon the individual who ventures to lay his distressing case before me. To add to my miseries, people have now got an idea that I am influential with the Government, and the small place-hunters are at me. Yesterday a man wrote from Yorkshire, wanting the situation of a gauger, and to-day a person in Herts requests me to procure him a place in the post-office. Then there are all the benevolent enthusiasts who have their pet reforms, who think that because a man has sacrificed himself in mind, body, and estate in attempting to do one thing, he is the very person to do all the rest. These good people dog me with their projects. Nothing in their eyes is impossible in my hands. One worthy man calls to assure me that I can reform the Church, and unite the1846.
“That zealous and excellent educationalist, Stone, of Glasgow, seized upon me yesterday. ‘I have often thought,’ said he, ‘that Lord Ashley or Mr. Colquhoun was the man to carry a system of National Education through Parliament. But they have not moral courage; if you will take it in hand, in less than four years you will get a vote of twenty millions, and reconcile all the religious parties to one uniform system of religious education.’ I replied that I had tried my hand on a small scale in the attempt to unite the sects in Lancashire in 1836, but that I took to the repeal of the Corn Laws as light amusement compared with the difficult task of inducing the priests of all denominations to agree to suffer the people to be educated. The next time I meet Dickens or Jerrold, I shall assuredly give them a hint for a new hero of the stage or the novel, ‘The Popular Man.’
“In answer to your kind inquiries after my health, I am happy to say I am pretty free from any physical ailment. It is only in my nervous system that I am out of sorts. The last two or three months have kept me on the rack, and worried me more than the last seven years of agitation. But if I could get out of the treadmill, and with a mind at ease take a twelvemonth’s relaxation and total change of scene and climate as far off as Thebes or Persepolis, where there are no post-offices, newspapers, or politicians, I see no reason why I should not live to seventy; for I have faith in my tough and wiry body and a temperament naturally cool and controllable, excepting when my mind is harassed as it has been by circumstances connected with my private concerns, which I could not grapple with and master, solely because I was chained to another oar.”
“London, Jan. 23.—Peel’s speech last night1 would have done capitally for Covent Garden Theatre, and Lord Francis Egerton’s would have been a capital address from the chair if he had filled George Wilson’s place. The Tories are in a state of frantic excitement, and the Carlton club is all in confusion. Nobody knows his party. I have no doubt Peel will do our work thoroughly, or fall in the attempt. He will be able to carry his measure easily through the Commons, with the aid of the Opposition, but I have my suspicions that the Lords will throw it out and force a dissolution. Whatever happens, I can see a prospect of my emancipation at no distant date. I am going to-morrow to Windsor, to spend the Sunday with Mr. Grote.”
“Jan. 26.—I spent yesterday at Grote’s, about four miles from Slough, and met Senior the political economist, Parkes, and Lumley the lessee of the Italian Opera. We had a long walk of nearly twelve miles round the country, and for want of training I find myself like an old posting-horse to-day, stiff and footsore.... There are reports to-day of some resignations about the Court, but I don’t hear of anybody of consequence who is abandoning Peel. Still there is no knowing what to-morrow may bring forth. We hear nothing as to the details of Peel’s plan to-morrow, for which we are all looking with great anxiety. But the report is still that he intends to go the Whole hog. A very handsome gold snuff-box has just been presented to me by Mr. Collett, the member for Athlone.”
“Jan. 28.—Peel is at last delivered, but I hardly know whether to call it a boy or a girl. Something between the two, I believe. His corn measure makes an end of all corn laws in 1849, and in the meantime it is virtually a fixed1846.
“Jan. 29.2 —My own opinion is that we should not be justified in the eyes of the country if we did anything in the House to obstruct the measure, and I doubt whether any such step out of doors would be successful. In the House, Villiers will bring on his motion for total and immediate repeal, and I shall not be surprised if it were successful simply on agricultural grounds by our being able to demonstrate unanswerably that it is better for farmers and landowners to have the change at once rather than gradually. But we should have no chance on any other than agricultural grounds. To make 1846.
“Feb. 9.3 —The Queen’s doctor, Sir James Clark (a good Leaguer at heart), has written to offer to pay me a friendly visit, and talk over the state of my constitution, with a view to advise me how to unstring the bow. He wrote me a croaking warning letter more than a year ago. As it is possible there may be a paragraph in some newspaper alluding to my health, I thought it best to let you know in case of inquiry. But don’t write me a long dismal letter in return, for I can’t read them, and it does no good. If Charles could come up for a week with a determination to work and think, he might help me with my letters, but he will make my head worse if he requires me to look after him, and so1846.
“London, Feb. 19.4 —Your letter has followed me here. Peel’s declaration in the House that he will adopt immediate repeal if it is voted by the Commons, seems to me to remove all difficulty from Villier’s path; he can now propose his old motion without the risk of doing any harm even if he should not succeed. As respects the future course of the League, the less that is said now about it publicly the better. If Peel’s measure should become law, then the Council will be compelled to face the question, ‘What shall the League do during the three years?’ It has struck me that under such circumstances we might absolve the large subscribers from all further calls, put the staff of the League on a peace footing, and merely keep alive a nominal organization to prevent any attempt to undo the good work we have effected. Not that I fear any reaction. On the contrary, I believe the popularity of Free Trade principles in only in its infancy, and that it will every year take firmer hold of the head and heart of the community. But there is perhaps something due to our repeated pledges that we will not dissolve until the corn laws are entirely abolished. In any case the work will be effectually finished during this year, provided the League preserve its firm and united position; and it is to prevent the slightest appearance of disunion that I would avoid now talking in public about the future course of the League. It is the League, and it only, that frightens the peers. It is the League alone which enables Peel to repeal the law. But for the League the aristocracy would have hunted Peel to a premature grave, or consigned him like Lord Melbourne to a private station at the bare mention of total repeal. We must hold the same rod over the Lords until the measure is safe; after that I agree with 1846.
“March 6.5 —Nobody knows to this day what the Lords will do, and I believe all depends upon their fears of the country. If there was not something behind corn which they dread even still more, I doubt if they would ever give up the key of the bread basket. They would turn out Peel with as little ceremony as they would dismiss a groom or keeper, if he had not the League at his back. It is strange to see the obtuseness of such men as Hume, who voted against Villiers’s motion to help Peel. I have reason to know that the latter was well pleased at the motion, and would have been glad if we had had a larger division. It helps Peel to be able to point to something beyond, which he does not satisfy. I wish we were out of it.”
“March 25.6 —I have received the notes. Moffatt mentioned to me the report in the city to which you refer. There is no help for these things, and the only wonder is that we have escaped so well. If you can keep this affair in any way afloat till the present corn measure reaches the Queen’s hands, I will solve the difficulty, by cutting the Gordian knot, or rather the House; and the rest must take its chance. I don’t think I shall speak in this debate. It does no earthly good, and only wastes time. People are not likely to say I am silent because I can’t answer Bentinck and Co. The bill would be out of the Commons, according to appearances, before Easter.”
“March 30.—We are uncertain which course will be taken by the Government to-night, whether the Corn or Coercion Bill is to be proceeded with. If the latter, I fear we shall not make another step with the corn question1846.
“April 4.—It is my present intention to come home next Thursday unless there is anything special coming on that evening, which I don’t think very likely. It happens most unluckily that the Government has forced on the Coercion Bill to the exclusion of corn, for owing to the pertinacious delay thrown in the way of its passing by the Irish members, I don’t expect it will be read the first time before Easter, and as for corn there is no chance of hearing of it again till after the holidays. I wish to God we were out of the mess.”
“April 6.—We are still in the midst of our Irish squabble, and there is no chance of getting upon corn again before Easter. It is most mortifying this delay, for it gives the chance of the chapter of accidents to the enemy.”
“April 23.—We are still in as great suspense as ever about the next step in the Corn Bill. The Irishmen threaten to delay us till next Friday week at least. But I hear that the general opinion is that the postponement will be favourable to the success of the measure in the Lords.”
“April 25.—You will receive a Times by the post containing an amusing account of a flare-up in the House between Disraeli and Peel respecting some remarks of mine. You will also see that one of the Irish patriots has been trying to play us false about corn. But I don’t find that the bulk of the liberal Irish members are inclined to any overt act of treachery, although I fear that many are in their hearts averse to our repeal.”
“April 27.—Last Saturday I dined at Lord Mont-eagle’s, and took Lady——in to dinner, and really I must say I have not for five years met with a new acquaintance so much to my taste. I met there young Gough, son of Lord 1846.
“April 29.—I have three letters from you, but most not attempt now to give you a long reply. We are meeting this morning as usual on a Wednesday, at twelve o’clock till six in the House, and I have therefore little time for my correspondence. The Factory Bill is coming on which I wish to attend to..... You may tell our League friends that I begin to see daylight through the fog in which we have been so long enveloped. O’Connell tells me that we shall certainly divide upon the first reading of the Coercion Bill on Friday. That being out of the way, we shall go on to Corn on Monday, and next week will I trust see the Bill fairly out of the House. The general opinion is that the delay has been favourable to our prospects in the Lords.”
“May 2.—The Corn measure comes on next Monday, and will continue before the House till it passes. Some people seem to expect that it will get out of our hands on Friday next. I still hear more and more favourable reports of the probable doings in the Lords.”
“May 8.—The fact is we are here in a dead state of suspense, not quite certain what will be our fate in the Lords, and yet every day trying to learn something new, and still left in the same doubt. It is now said that we shall1846.
“May11.—I have been running about, sightseeing the last day or two. On Saturday I went to the Horticultural Society’s great flower-show at Chiswick. It was a glorious day, and a most charming scene. How different from the drenching weather you and I experienced there.”
“May 13.—I am sorry to say I see no chance of a division on the Corn Bill till Saturday morning at one or two o’clock, and that has quite thrown me out in my calculations about coming down. I fear I shall not be able to see you for a week or two later. The Factory Bill, upon which I must speak and vote, is before the House, and it is impossible to say when the division will take place. I have two invitations for dinner on Saturday, one to Lord Fitzwilliam’s, and the other to Lord and Lady John Russell, and if I remain over that day, I shall prefer the latter, as I have twice refused invitations from them. I assure you I would rather find myself taking tea with you, than dining with lords and ladies. Do not trouble yourself to write to me 1846.
“May 15.7 —There is at last a prospect of reading the Bill a third time to night. The Protectionists promise fairly enough, but I have seen too much of their tactics to feel certain that they will not have another adjournment. There is a revival of rumours again that the Lords will alter the Bill in committee, and attempt a fixed-duty compromise, or a perpetuation of the reduced scale. It is certain to pass the second reading by a majority of thirty or forty, but it is not safe in the committee, where proxies don’t count. I should not now be able to leave town till the end of the month, when I shall take a week or ten days for the Whitsuntide recess.”
“May 16.—I last night had the glorious privilege of giving a vote in the majority for the third reading of the bill for the total repeal of the Corn Law. The Bill is now out of the House, and will go up to the Lords on Monday. I trust we shall never hear the name of ‘Corn’ again in the Commons. There was a good deal of cheering and waving of hats when the Speaker had put the question, ‘that this Bill do now pass.’ Lord Morpeth, Macaulay, and others came and shook hands with me, and congratulated me on the triumph of our cause. I did not speak, simply for the reason that I was afraid that I should give more life to the debate, and afford an excuse for another adjournment; otherwise I could have made a telling and conciliatory appeal. Villiers tried to speak at three o’clock this morning, but I did not think he took the right tone. He was fierce against the protectionists, and only irritated them, and they wouldn’t hear him. The reports about the doings in the Lords are still not satisfactory or conclusive. Many people fear still that they will later the measure with a view to a1846.
“May 18.—We are so beset by contradictory rumours, that I know not what to say about our prospects in the Lords. Our good, conceited friend—told me on Wednesday that he knew the Peers would not pass the measure, and on Saturday he assured me that they would. And this is a fair specimen of the way in which rumours vary from day to day. This morning Lord Monteagle called on me, and was strongly of opinion that they would ‘move on, and not stand in people’s way.’ A few weeks will now decide the matter one way or another. I think I told you that I dined at Moffat’s last Wednesday. As usual he gave us a first-rate dinner. After leaving Moffat’s at eleven o’clock, I went to a squeeze at Mrs.——. It was as usual hardly possible to get inside the drawing-room doors. I only remained a quarter of an hour and then went home. On Saturday I dined at Lord and Lady John’s, and met a select party, whose names I see in to-day’s papers.... I am afraid if I associate much with the aristocracy, they will spoil me. I am already half seduced by the fascinating ease of their parties.”
“May 19.8 I received your letters with the enclosures. We are still on the tenter-hooks respecting the conduct of the Lords. There is, however, one cheering point: the majority on 1846.
“May 20.—We are still worried incessantly with rumours of intrigues at headquarters. Every day yields a fresh report. But I will write fuller to-morrow. Villiers is at my elbow with a new piece of gossip.”
“May 20.9 —I have looked through your letter to Lord Stanley, and will tell you frankly that I felt surprise that you should have wasted your time and thrown away your talents upon so very hopeless an object. He will neither read nor listen to facts or arguments, and after his double refusal to see a deputation, I really think it would be too great a condescension if you were to solicit his attention to the question at issue. This is my opinion, and Bright and Wilson, to whom I have spoken, appear to agree. But if you would like the letter to be handed to him, I will do it. Your evidence before the Lords’ Committee was again the topic of eulogy from Lord Monteagle yesterday, who called on me with a copy of his report. Everything is in uncertainty as to what the Lords will do in Committee. The Protectionists have had a great flare-up-to-day at Willis’s Rooms, and they appear to be in great spirits, I fear we shall yet be obliged to launch our bark again upon the troubled waters of agitation. But in the mean time the calm moderation of the League is our best title1846.
“May 22.—Yesterday I dined with Lord and Lady Fortescue, and met Lords Normanby, Campbell, and Morpeth. I sat at dinner beside the Duchess of Inverness, the widow of the Duke of Sussex, a plain little woman, but clever, and a very decided Free Trader.”
“May 23.—I have sent you a Chronicle containing a brief report of my few remarks in the House last night. Be good enough to cut it out, and send it to me that I may correct it for Hansard. It was two o’clock when I spoke, and it was impossible to do justice to the subject. Count on my being at home, saving accidents, on Thursday to tea.”
“May 23.—A meeting of the Whig Peers has to-day been held at Lord Lansdowne’s, and they have unanimously resolved to support the Government measure in all its details. There were several of these Whig Peers who up to yesterday were understood to be resolved to vote in Committee for a small fixed duty, and the danger was understood to be with them. They were beginning, however, to be afraid that Peel might dissolve, and thus annihilate the Whig party, and so they are as a party more inclined to let the measure pass now in order to get a chance of coming in after Peel’s retirement. I am assured by Edward Ellice, on e of the late Whig Cabinet, that the bill is now safe and that it will be law in three weeks. Heaven send us such good luck!”
“June 10.1 —There is another fit of apprehension about the Corn Bill owing to the uncertaiaty of Peel’s position. I can’t understand his motive for constantly poking his coercive bill in our faces at these critical moments. The Lords will take courage at anything that seems to weaken the Government 1846.
“June 13.—I have scarcely a doubt that in less than ten days the Corn Bill will be law. But we cannot say it is as safe as if carried.... I breakfasted yesterday morning with Monckton Milnes, and met Suleiman Pasha, Prince Louis Napoleon, Count D’Orsay, D’Israeli, and a queer party of odds and ends. The Pasha is a strong-built energetic-looking man of sixty. After breakfast he got upon the subject of military tactics, and fought the battle of Nezib over again with forks, spoons, and tumblers upon the table in a very animated way. The young Napoleon is evidently a weak fellow, but mild and amiable. I was disappointed in the physique of Count D’Orsay, who is a fleshy animal-looking creature, instead of the spirituel person I expected to see. He certainly dresses à merveille, and is besides a clever fellow.”
“June 16.—The Corn Bill is now safe beyond all risk, and we may act as if it had passed.... I met Sir James Clark and Doctor Combe at Kingston on Sunday, and we took tea together. Sir James was strong in his advice to me to go abroad, and the doctor was half disposed with his niece to go with us to Egypt. Combe and I went to Hampton Court Gardens in a carriage, and had a walk there. I am afraid Peel is going out immediately after the Corn Bill passes, which will be a very great damper to the country; and the excitement in the country consequent on a change of Government, will, I fear, interfere with a public project in which you and I are interested.”
“June 18.—The lords will not read the Corn Bill the third time before Tuesday next, and I shall be detained in town to vote on the Coercion Bill on Thursday, after which I shall leave for Manchester. I send you a Spectator paper, by which you will see that I am a ‘likeable’ person. I hope1846.
“June 23.—I have been plagued for several days with sitting to Herbert for the picture of the Council of the League, and it completely upsets my afternoons. Besides my mind has been more than ever upon the worry about that affair which is to come off after the Corn Bill is settled, and about which I hear all sorts of reports. You must therefore excuse me if I could not sit down to write a letter of news.... I thought the Corn Bill would, certainly be read the third time on Tuesday (to-morrow), but I now begin to think it will be put off till Thursday. There is literally no end to this suspense. But there are reports of Peel being out of office on Friday next, and the Peers may yet ride restive.”
“June 26.—My dearest Kate,—Hurrah! Hurrah! the Corn Bill is law, and now my work is done. I shall come down to-morrow morning by the six o’clock train in order to be present at a Council meeting at three, and shall hope to be home in time for a late tea.”
By what has always been noticed as a striking coincidence, and has even been heroically described as Nemesis, the Corn Bill passed the House of Lords on the same night on which the Coercion Bill was rejected in the House of Commons. On this memorable night the last speech before the division was made by Cobden. He could not, he said, regard the vote which he was about to give against the Irish Bill as one of no confidence, for it was evident that the Prime Minister could not be maintained in power by a single vote. If he had a majority that night, Lord George Bentinck would soon put him to the test again on some other subject. In any case, Cobden refused to stultify himself as Lord George and his friends were doing, by voting black to be 1846.
This closed the debate. The Government were beaten by the heavy majority of seventy-three. The fallen Minister announced his resignation of office to the House three days later (June 29) in a remarkable speech. As Mr. Disraeli thinks, it was considered one of glorification and of pique. But the candour of posterity will insist on recognizing in every period of it the exaltation of a patriotic and justifiable pride. In this speech Sir Robert Peel pronounced that eulogium which is well worn, it is true, but which cannot be omitted here. “In reference to our proposing these measures,” he said, “I have no wish to rob any person of the credit which is justly due to him for them. But I may say that neither the gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite, nor myself nor the gentlemen sitting round me—I say that neither of us are the parties who are strictly entitled to the merit. There has been a combination of parties, and that combination of parties together with the influence of the Government, has led to the ultimate success of the measures. But, Sir, there is a name which ought to be associated with the success of these measures: it is not the name of the noble Lord, the member for London, neither is it my name. Sir, the name which ought to be, and which will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of a man who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has advocated their cause with untiring energy, and by appeals to reason, expressed by an eloquence, the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned—the name which ought to be and will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of Richard Cobden. Without scruple,1846.
Cumbrous as they are in expression, the words were received with loud approbation in the House and with fervent sympathy in the country, and they made a deep mark on men’s minds, because they were felt to be not less truly than magnanimously spoken.
Speeches, i. No. xxi. Feb. 27, 1846.
Lord George Bentinck, p. 216. ch. xv.
To J. Parkes. June 10, 1857.
We have an excellent illustration of the practice of making Ireland the shuttlecock of English parties, in the fact that the Whigs who had turned out Peel on the principle of Non-Coercion, had not been in office a month before they introduced an Irish Arms Bill. The opposition, however, was so sharp that the Bill was withdrawn in a fortnight. This Whig levity was a match for the Tory levity which had declared Coercion urgent in January, and taken no steps to secure it until June.
To Mr. Sturge. June 10,1846.
Seat vacated by Lord Lincoln. See above, p. 346 n.
Lord Wharncliffe, who held the office of President of the Council, died suddenly in the midst of the ministerial crisis. Mr. Stuart Wortley’s consequent elevation to the peerage vacated the seat for the West Riding. “You know,”—so Cobden told the story three years later—“that the West Riding of Yorkshire is considered the great index of public opinion in this country. In that great division, at present containing 37,000 voters, Lord Morpeth was defeated on the question of Free Trade, and two Protectionists were returned. I went into the West Riding with this 40s. freehold plan. I stated in every borough and district that we must have 5000 qualifications made. They were made.... Men qualified themselves with a view of helping the repeal of the Corn Laws, and in consequence of that movement Lord Morpeth walked over the course at the next election.”—Speeches, ii. 494. Nov. 26, 1849.
To Mr. J. Parkes. Feb. 16, 1846.
Peel’s Speech at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in 1839.
Announcing the necessity of a new commercial system.
To Gao. Wilson.
To F. W. Cobden.
To H. Ashworth.
To F. W. Cobden.
To F. W. Cobden.
To F. W. Cobden.
To F. W. Cobden.
To H. Ashworth.
To F. W. Cobden.