Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIX.: election for the west riding.—purchase of dunford.—correspondence. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XIX.: election for the west riding.—purchase of dunford.—correspondence. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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election for the west riding.—purchase of dunford.—correspondence.
During Cobden’s absence in the autumn of 1847, a general1847.
Another important step had been taken while Cobden was abroad. His business was brought to an end, and the affairs relating to it wound up by one or two of his friends. A considerable portion of the sum which had been subscribed for the national testimonial to him, had been absorbed in settling outstanding claims. With a part of what remained Cobden, immediately after his return from his travels, purchased the small property at Dunford on which he was born. He gave up his house in Manchester, and when in London lived for some years to come at Westbourne Terrace. Afterwards he lived in lodgings during the session, or more frequently accepted quarters at the house of one of his more intimate friends, Mr. Hargreaves, Mr. Schwabe, or Mr. Paulton. His home was henceforth at Dunford. His brother Frederick, who had shared the failure of their fortunes at Manchester, took up his abode with him and remained until his death in 1858. Five or six years after the acquisition of his little estate, Cobden pulled down the ancestral farm-house, and built a modest residence upon the site. In this for the rest of his life he passed all the time that he could spare from public labours. Once in these days, Cobden was addressing a meeting at Aylesbury. He talked of the relations of landlord and tenant, and referred by way of illustration to his own small property. Great is the baseness of men. Somebody in the crowd called out to ask him how he had got his property. “I am indebted for it,” said Cobden with honest readiness, “to the bounty of my countrymen. It was the scene of my birth and my infancy; it was the property of my ancestors; and it is by the munificence of my countrymen that this small estate, which had been alienated from my father by1847.
The following is Cobden’s own account, at the time, of the country in which he had once more struck a little root. He is writing to Mr. Ashworth:—
“Midhurst, Oct. 7, 1850.—I have been for some weeks in one of the most secluded corners of England. Although my letter is dated from the quiet little close borough of Midhurst, the house in which I am living is about one and a half miles distant, in the neighbouring rural parish of Heyshott. The roof which now shelters me is that under which I was born, and the room where I now sleep is the one in which I first drew breath. It is an old farm-house, which had for many years been turned into labourers’ cottages. With the aid of the whitewasher and carpenter, we have made a comfortable weather-proof retreat for summer; and we are surrounded with pleasant woods, and within a couple of miles of the summit of the South Down hills, where we have the finest air and some of the prettiest views in England. At some future day I shall be delighted to initiate you into rural life. A Sussex hill-side village will be an interesting field for an exploring excursion for you. We have a population under three hundred in our parish. The acreage is about 2000, of which one proprietor, 1847.
“Here is a picture which will lead you to expect when you visit us a very ignorant and very poor population. There is no post-office in the village. Every morning an old man, aged about seventy, goes into Midhurst for the letters. He charges a penny for every despatch the carries, including such miscellaneous articles as horse collars, legs of mutton, empty sacks, and wheelbarrows. His letter-bag for the whole village contains on an average from two to three letters daily, including newspapers. The only newspapers which enter the parish are two copies of Bell’s Weekly Messenger, a sound old Tory Protectionist much patronized by drowsy farmers. The wages paid by the farmers are very low, not exceeding eight shillings a week. I am employing an old1847.
I can hardly pretend that in this world’s-end spot we can 1847.
Before he had been many weeks in England, Cobden was drawn into the eager discussion of other parts of his policy, which were fully as important as Free Trade itself. The substitution of Lord Palmerston for Lord Aberdeen at the Foreign Office was instantly followed by the active intervention of the British Government in the affairs of other countries. There was an immediate demand for increased expenditure on armaments. Augmented expenditure meant augmented taxation. Each of the three items of the programme was the direct contradictory of the system which Cobden believed to be not only expedient but even indispensable. His political history from this time down to the year when they both died, is one long antagonism to the ideas which were concentrated in Lord Palmerston. Yet Cobden was too reasonable to believe that there could be a material reduction in armaments, until a great change had taken place in the public opinion of the country with respect to its foreign policy. He always said that no Minister could reduce armaments or expenditure, until the English people abandoned the notion that they were to regulate the affairs of the world. “In all my travels,” he1847.
While he was away that famous intrigue known as the Spanish Marriages took place. The King of the French, guided by the austere and devout Guizot, so contrived the marriages of the Queen of Spain and her sister, that in the calculated default of issue from the Queen, the crown of Spain would go to the issue of her sister and the Duke of Montpensier, Louis Philippe’s son. Cobden, as well shall see, did not believe that the King was looking so far as this. It was in any case a disgraceful and odious transaction, but events very speedily proved how little reason there was why it should throw the English Foreign Office into a paroxysm. Cobden was moved to write to Mr. Bright upon it:—
“My object in writing again is to speak upon the Marriage question. I have seen with humiliation that the daily newspaper press of England has been lashing the public mind into an excitement (or at least trying to do so) upon the alliance of the Duke of Montpensier with the Infanta. I saw this boy and girl married, and as I looked at them, I could not help exclaiming to myself, ‘What a couple to excite the 1847.
“I began my political life by writing against this system of foreign interference, and every year’s experience confirms me in my early impression that it lies at the bottom of much of our misgovernment at home. My visit to Spain has strengthened, if possible, a hundredfold my conviction that all attempts of England to control or influence the destinies, political and social, of that country are worse than useless. They are mischievous alike to Spaniards and Englishmen. They are a peculiar people not understood by us. They have one characteristic, however, which their whole history might have revealed to us, i.e. their inveterate repugnance to all foreign influences and alliances, and their unconquerable resistance to foreign control. No country in Europe besides is so isolated in its prejudices of race and caste. It has ever been so, whether in the times of the Romans, of the Saracens, of Louis XIV., or of Napoleon. No people are more willing to call in the aid of foreign arms or diplomacy to fight their battles, but they despise and suspect the motives of all who come to help them, and they turn against them the moment their temporary purpose is gained. As for any other nation permanently swaying the destinies of Spain, or finding in it an ally to be depended on against other Powers,1847.
“I have always had an instinctive monomania against this system of foreign interference, protocolling, diplomatising, etc., and I should be glad if you and our other Free Trade friends, who have beaten the daily broad-sheets into common sense upon another question, would oppose yourselves to the Palmerston system, and try to prevent the Foreign Office from undoing the good which the Board of Trade has done to the people. But you must not disguise from yourself that the evil has its roots in the pugnacious, energetic, self-sufficient, foreigner-despising and pitying character of that noble insular creature, John Bull. Read Washington Irving’s description of him fumbling for his cudgel always the moment he hears of any row taking place anywhere on the face of the earth, and bristling up with anger at the very idea of any other people daring to have a quarrel without first asking his consent or inviting him to take a part in it.
“.... And the worst fact is, that however often we increase1847.
Lord Palmerston’s intervention in the affairs of Portugal was more active, and even more wantonly preposterous. All that Cobden said on this subject was literally true. The British fleet was kept in the Tagus for many months in order to protect the Queen of Portugal against her own subjects. What had England to gain? Portugal was one of the smallest, poorest, most decayed and abject of European countries. As for her commerce, said Cobden, if that is what you seek, you are sure of that, for the simple reason that you take four-fifths of all her port wine, and if you did not, no one else would drink it. Our statesmen, he went on, actually undertook to say who should govern Portugal, and they stipulated that the Cortes should be governed on constitutional principles. The Cortes was elected, and what happened? The people returned almost every man favourable to the very statesman who, as Lord Palmerston insisted, was to have no influence in Portugal.5
What Cobden heard from Bastiat made him all the more anxious to bring England round to a more sedate policy. The chief obstacles to the propagandism of Free Trade in France, said Bastiat, come from your side of the Channel. He was confronted by the fact that at the very time when1848.
“I must speak to you in all frankness,” Bastiat proceeded, in his urgent way. “In adopting Free Trade England has not adopted the policy that flows logically from Free Trade. Will she do so? I cannot doubt it, but when? The position taken by you and your friends in Parliament will have an immense influence on the course of our undertaking. If you energetically disarm your diplomacy, if you succeed in reducing your naval forces, we shall be strong. If not, what kind of figure shall we cut before our public? When we predict that Free Trade will draw English policy into the way of justice, peace, economy, colonial emancipation, France is not bound to take our word for it. There exists an inveterate mistrust of England, I will even say a sentiment of hostility, as old as the two names of French and English. Well, there are excuses for this sentiment. What is wrong is that it envelopes all your parties, and all your fellow-citizens in the same reprobation. But ought not nations to judge one another by external acts? They often say that we ought not to confound nations with their governments. There is some truth and some falsehood in this 1848.
Cobden in reply seems to have treated this apprehension of English naval force, and the hostile use to which it might be put, as a device of the French Protectionists to draw attention from the true issue. No, answered Bastiat manfully; “I know my country; it sees that England is capable of crushing all the navies in the world; it knows that it is led by an oligarchy which has no scruples. That is what disturbs its sight, and hinders it from understanding Free Trade. I say more, that even if it did understand Free trade, it would not care for it on account of its purely economic advantages. What you have to show it above all else is that freedom of exchange will cause the disappearance of those military perils which France apprehends. England ought seriously to disarm; spontaneously to drop her underground opposition to the unlucky Algerian conquest; and spontaneously to put an end to the dangers that grow out of the Right of Search.”8 When the revolution of 1848 came, Bastiat was more pressing than ever. France could not be the first to disarm; and if she did disarm, she would be drawn into war. England by her favoured position, was alone able to set the example. If she could only understand all this and act upon it, “she would save the future of Europe.” Bastiat, however, was not long in awakening to the fact that not Protection but Socialism was now the foe that menaced France. He turned round with admirable versatility, and brought to bear on the new monster the same keen and patient scrutiny, the same skilful dexterity in reasoning and illustration, which had done such good service against the more venerable heresy. The pamphlets which he wrote between 1848 and 1850 contain by much the most penetrating and effective1848.
This memorable year was an unfavourable moment for Cobden’s projects, but the happy circumstance that Great Britain alone passed through the political cyclone without any thing more formidable than Mr. Smith O’Brien’s insurrection in Ireland, and the harmless explosion of Chartism on Kennington Common, was too remarkable for men not to seek to explain it. The explanation that commended itself to most observers was that Free Trade had both mitigated the pressure of those economic evils which had provoked violent risings in other countries, and that, besides this, it had removed from the minds of the English workmen the sense that the government was oppressive, unjust, or indifferent to their wellbeing. “My beliefis,” said Sir Robert Peel, in a powerful speech which he made the following year, vindicating his commercial policy, “that you have gained the confidence and good will of a powerful class in this country by parting with that which was thought to be directly for the benefit of the landed interest. I think it was that confidence in the generosity and justice of Parliament, which in no small degree enabled you to pass triumphantly through the storm that convulsed other countries during the year 1848.”9
The Protectionist party had not yet accepted defeat, nor did they finally accept it until they came into power in 1852. All through the year that intervened they turned nearly every debate into a Protectionist debate. After Lord George Bentinck’s death in the autumn of 1848, they were led in the House of Commons by Mr. Disraeli, whose persistent and audacious patience was inspired by the seeming 1848.
The Irish famine and the Irish insurrection forced the minds of politicians of every colour to the tormenting problem to which Cobden had paid such profound attention on his first entry into public life. National Education, another of the sincerest interests of his earlier days, once more engaged him, and he found himself, as he had already done by his vote on the Maynooth grant, in antagonism to a large section of nonconformist politicians for whom in every other matter he had the warmest admiration. The following extracts from his correspondence show how he viewed these and other less important topics, as they came before him.
“London, Feb. 22, 1848. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—There seems to be a terrible storm brewing against the Whig budget. Unfortunately the outcry is rather against the mode of raising the money than the mode of expending it, and I do not sympathize with those who advocate armaments and then grumble at the cost. For my part I would make the influential classes pay the money, and then they will be more careful in the expenditure. I get a good many letters of support from all parts of the country, and some poetry, as you will see.”
“Feb. 24.—Nothing is being talked about to-day but the émeutes in Paris. From the last accounts it seems that Louis Philippe has been obliged to give way and change1848.
“London, Feb. 29. (To George Combe.)—These are stirring events in France. I am most anxious about our neutrality in the squabbles which will ensue on the Continent. I dread the revival of the Treaty of Vienna by our red-tapists, should France reach to the Rhine or come in collision with Austria or Russia. Besides, there is a great horror at the present changes in the minds of our Court and aristocracy. There will be a natural repugnance on the part of our Government, composed as it is entirely of the aristocracy, to go on cordially with a Republic, and it will be easy to find points of disagreement, when the will is ready for a quarrel. I know that the tone of the clubs and coteries of London is decidedly hostile, and there is an expectation in the same quarters that we shall have a war. It is striking to observe how little the views and feelings of the dominant class are in unison with those of the people at large. I agree with you that the republican form of government will put France to a too severe test. Yet it is difficult to see what other form will suit it. The people are too clever and active to submit to a despotism. All the props of a Monarchy, such as an aristocracy and State Church, are gone. After all a Republic is more in harmony than any other form with the manners of the people, for there is a strong passion for social equality in France. However, the duty of every man in England is to raise the cry for neutrality.”2
“March 10. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We were very late in the House again last night. Disraeli was very amusing for two hours, talking about everything but the question.3 He made poor McGregor a most ridiculous figure. The Whigs are getting hold of our friends.
“London, March 14. (To Mrs.Cobden.)—On getting back yesterday I found such a mass of letters that, what with them and the committee I had to attend, and callers, and my speech last evening, I thought you would excuse my writing to you. I am more harassed than ever. The committees are very important (I mean upon army, navy, and ordnance expenditure,4 and upon the Bank of England), and occupy my time more than the House. I gave them some home truths last evening, but we were in a poor minority.5 The Ministers frightened our friends about a resignation. Nobody did more to canvass for help for them than—. He is far more to be blamed than Gibson, who is thoroughly1848.
“March 18. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We have had incessant rain here for several days, and I have been thinking with some apprehension of its effects upon the grain in the ground, and upon the operations of the farmers in getting in their seed. To-day, however, it is a fine clear day, and I am going with Porter6 at four o’clock down to Wimbledon to stay till Monday. This week’s work has nearly knocked me up. They talk of a ten hours bill in Paris. I wish we had a twelve hours bill, for I am at it from nine in the morning till midnight. We had a debate last evening upon the question of applying the income tax to Ireland, but I was shut out of the division, the door being closed in my face just as I was entering, otherwise I should have voted for the measure.7 The news from Paris is more and more exciting. There seems to be a sort of reaction of the moderate party against the violent men. The Bank of France has suspended specie payments, which will lead to much mischief and confusion. I fear we have not seen the worst.”
“London, March 21. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—I have sent you a Times containing a report of my speech last night. Be good 1848.
“March 27. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You need not be alarmed about my turning up right in the end, but at the present time I am not very fashionable in aristocratic circles. However, I have caught Admiral Dundas in a trap. You may remember that he contradicted me about my fact of a large ship lying at anchor so long at Malta. Well, a person has called upon me, and given me the minute particulars and dates of the times which all the admirals have been lying in Malta harbour during the last twelve years, extracted by him from the ship logs which are lying at Somerset House. Having got the particulars, I have given notice to Admiral Dundas that I shall move in the House for the official return of them to be extracted from the ships’ logs. He says I shan’t have the returns, but he can’t deny that I have got them. I shall make a stir in the House, and turn the tables upon him. Whilst I was talking to the Admiral about it to-day in the committee room, Molesworth entered into the altercation with so much warmth that I thought there would have been an affair between them. The best of it all is, that I find the present Admiral in the Mediterranean (Sir William Parker), who sent such an insolent message to me about my speech at Manchester, which was read by Dundas in the House, has been lying himself for seven months and two days in Malta harbour with nearly 1000 hands, without ever stirring1848.
“London, April 10. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—We have been all in excitement here with the Chartist meeting at Kennington Common, which after all has gone off very quietly, and does not appear to have been so numerously attended as was expected. In my opinion the Government and the newspapers have made far too much fuss about it. From all that I can learn there were not so many as 40,000 persons present, and they dispersed quietly. I do not think I shall be able to go north with you before next Monday week.”
“April 15. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You will have seen by the paper what a mess Feargus O’Connor has made of the Chartist petition. The poor dupes who have followed him are quite disheartened and disgusted, and ought to be so. They are now much more disposed to go along with the middle class.”
“May 13. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—You will hear that all the papers are down upon me again. In making a few remarks about the Alien Bill, I said that the ‘best way to repel republicanism was to curtail some of the barbarous splendour of the Monarchy which went to the aggrandizement of the aristocracy.’ My few words drew up Lord John as usual, and he was followed by Bright with a capital speech.”
“Manchester, April 24. (To G. Combe.)—You know how cordially I agree with you upon the subject of Education. But I confess I see no chance of incorporating it in any new movement for an extension of the suffrage. The main strength of any such movement must be in the Liberal ranks of the middle class, and they are almost exclusively filled by Dissenters. To attempt to raise the question of National Education amongst them at the present moment, would be to throw a bombshell into their ranks to disperse them. In my opinion every extension of popular rights will bring us nearer to a plan of National Education, because it will 1848.
“May 15. (To G. Combe.)—There is no active feeling at present in favour of National Education. The Dissenters, at least Baines’s section, who have been the only movement party since the League was dissolved, have rather turned popular opinion against it.9 I need not say how completely I agree with you that education alone can ensure good self-government. Don’t suppose that I am changed, or that I intend to shirk the question. Above all, don’t suspect that sitting for Yorkshire would shut my mouth. I made up my mind, on returning from the Continent, that the best chance I could give to our dissenting friends was to give them time to cool after the excitement of the late Opposition to the government measure, and therefore I have avoided throwing the topic in their faces. But I do not intend to preserve my silence much longer. If I take a part in a new reform movement, I shall do my best to connect the Education question with it, not as a part of the new Reform act, but by proclaiming my own convictions that it is by a national system of education alone that people can acquire or retain knowledge enough for self-government. In our reform movement, sectarianism will not be predominant.”
“London, July 23. (To G. Combe.)—What a wretched session has this been! It ought to be expunged from the minutes of Parliament. Three Coercion Bills for Ireland and the rest1848.
“May 15. (To Mr. W.R. Greg.)—No apology is, I assure you, necessary for your frank and friendly letter. There is not much difference in our views as to what is most wanted for the country. The only great point upon which we do not agree is as to the means. What we want before all things is a bold retrenchment of expenditure. I may take a too one-sided view of the matter, but I consider nine-tenths of all our future dangers to be financial, and when I came home from the continent, it was with a determination to go on with fiscal reform and economy as a sequence to Free Trade. I urged this line upon our friend James Wilson (who, by the way, has committed political suicide), and others, and I did not hesitate to say up to within the last three months that I would take no active part in agitating for 1848.
“July 21. (To H. Ashworth.)—No man can defend or palliate such conduct as that of Smith O’Brien and his confederates. It would be a mercy to shut them up in a lunatic asylum. They are not seeking a repeal of the legislative union, but the establishment of a Republic, or probably the restoration of the Kings of Munster and Connaught! But the sad side of the picture is in the fact that we are doing nothing to satisfy the moderate party in Ireland, nothing which strengthens the hands even of John O’Connell and the priest party, who are opposed to the ‘red republicans’ of the Dublin clubs. There seems to be a strong impression here that this time there is to be a rebellion in Ireland. But I confess I have ceased to fear or hope anything from that country. Its utter helplessness to do anything for itself is our great difficulty. You can’t find three Irishmen who will co-operative together for any rational object.”
“London, August 28. (To George Combe)—I would have answered your first letter from Ireland, but did not know how soon you were going back again to Edinburgh. With respect to the plan for holding sectional meetings of the House of Commons in Dublin, Edinburgh, and London for local purposes, it is too fanciful for my practical taste. I do not think that such a scheme will ever seriously engage the public attention. If local business be ever got rid of by the House of Commons, it should be transferred as much as possible to County courts. There is very little1848.
“Whilst we are constitution-tinkering, let me give you my plan. Each county to have its assembly elected by the people, to do the work which the unpaid magistrates and lords-lieutenant now do, and also much of the local business which now comes before Parliament. The head of this body, or rather the head of each county, to be the executive chief, partaking of the character of prefect, or governor of a state in the United States. By-and-by when you require to change the constitution of the House of Lords, these county legislators may each elect two senators to an upper chamber or senate.
“But the question is about Ireland. Why do your friends amuse one another with such bubble-blowing? The real difficulty in Ireland is the character and condition socially and morally of the people, from the peer to the Connaught peasant. It is not by forms of legislation or the locality of parliaments, but by a change and improvement of the population, that Ireland is to have a start in the 1848.
“Hayling Island, Hants, Oct. 4. (To George Combe)—Many thanks for your valuable letters upon Ireland and Germany. I really feel much indebted for your taking all these pains for my instruction.
“Leaving Germany—upon which I do not presume to offer an opinion beside yours—I do claim for myself the justice of having foreseen the danger in Ireland, or rather seen it—for its condition has little altered since I first began to reason. When about fourteen years ago I first found leisure from my private affairs to think about public business, I summed up my views of English politics in a pamphlet which contained many crude details (which I should not now print), but upon whose three broad propositions I have never changed my opinion. They were—First, that the great curse of our policy has been our love of intervention in foreign politics; secondly, that our greatest home difficulty is Ireland; and thirdly, that the United States is the great economical rival which will rule the destiny of England.
“It may appear strange that a man who had thought1848.
“The great obstacle to all progress both in Ireland and in England is the landlord spirit, which is dominant in political and social life. It is this spirit which prevents our dealing with the question of the tenure of land. The feudal system, as now maintained in Ireland, is totally unsuited to the state of the country. In fact, the feudal policy is not carried out, for that would imply a responsibility on the part of the proprietor to keep and employ the people, whereas he is possibly living in Paris, whilst his agent is driving the peasantry from his estate and perhaps burning their cabins. What is wanting is a tribunal or legislature before which the case of Ireland may be pleaded, where the landlord spirit (excuse the repetition of the word) is not 1848.
“I think I know what is wanted in Ireland: a redistribution of land, as the only means of multiplying men of property. If I had absolute power I would instantly issue an edict applying the law of succession, as it exists in France to the land of Ireland. There should be no more absentee proprietors drawing large rentals from Ireland, if I could prevent it. I would so divided the property as to render it necessary to live upon the spot to look after it. But you can do nothing effectual in that direction with our Houses, and therefore I am an advocate for letting in the householders as voters, so as to take away the domination of the squires. But I will do all in my power in the meantime to give a chance to Ireland, and I cordially agree with your views upon the policy that ought to be pursued towards it.”
“London, Oct. 28. (To George Combe.)—I have to thank you for the Scotsman containing the whole of your observations upon the state of Ireland, in every syllable of which I agree with you. But excuse me if I say miss in your articles, as in all other dissertations upon Ireland, a specific plan—I mean such a remedial scheme as might be embodied in an Act of Parliament. And it must be so from the very nature of the case, for the ills of Ireland are so complex, and its diseases1848.
“I have but one plan, but I don’t know how to enforce it, Cut up the land into small properties. Let there be no estates so large as to favour absenteeism, even from the parish. How is this to be done, with feudalism still in the ascendant in Parliament and in the Cabinet? Pim is quite right when he draws the distinction between the case of Ireland, where the conquerors have not amalgamated with the conquered, and that of other countries, where the victors and vanquished have been invariably blended. For we are all conquered nations—some of us have been so repeatedly—but all, with the exception of Ireland, have absorbed their conquerors.
“Almost every crime and outrage in Ireland is connected with the occupation or ownership of land; and yet the Irish are not naturally an agricultural people, for they alone, of all the European emigrants who arrive in the United States, linger about the towns, and hesitate to avail themselves of the tempting advantages of the rural districts in the interior. But in Ireland, at least the south and west, there is no property but the soil, and no labour but upon the land, and you cannot reach the population in their material or moral condition but through the proprietorship of the land. Therefore, if I had the power, I would always make the proprietors of the soil resident, by breaking up the large properties. In other words, I would give Ireland to the Irish.
“Dec. 28. (To Mr. Edward Baines.)—I doubt the utility of your recurring to the Education question. My views have undergone no change for twenty years on the subject, excepting that they are infinitely strengthened, and I am convinced that I am as little likely to convert you as you me. Practically no good could come out of the controversy; for we must both admit that the principle of State Education is virtually settled, both here and in all civilized countries. It is not an infallible test I admit, but I don’t think there are two men in the House of Commons who are opposed to the principle of National Education.
“I did not intend to touch upon a matter so delicate; but yet, upon second thoughts, it is best to be candid. My experience in public matters has long ago convinced me that to form a party, or act with a party, it is absolutely necessary to avoid seeking for points of collision, and on the contrary, to endeavour to be silent, as far as one can be so conscientiously, upon the differences one may see between his own opinions and those of his political allies. Applying this to your observations2 upon my budget, I would have laid on heavily in favour of such parts as1848.
“Manchester, Nov.30. (To Mrs. Cobden.)—I find our League friends here very lukewarm about the West Riding election.3 Many of them declare they will not vote. They seem quite out of humour with the religious intolerance of the Eardley party. I am very much inclined to think the Tories will win. Have you seen the news from Paris? Lamoriciere, the French Minister of War, has proposed to the Assembly to reduce the army nearly one half, and to save 170 millions of francs. This, if really carried out, will make our work safe in this country.”
“Manchester, Dec. 8. (To George Combe.)—I went down to Liverpool on Wednesday afternoon, and dined at Mellor’s with a large 1848.
The last extract refers to the subject which Cobden had now taken earnestly in hand. As he was always repeating, extravagant and ill-adjusted finance seemed to him the great mischief of our policy. Apart from its place in his general scheme, retrenchment was Cobden’s device for meeting the cry of the Protectionists. It was an episode in the long battle against the enemies of Free Trade. The landed interest, they cried out, was ruined by rates and taxes. The implication was that they could not exist without Protection. That was Mr. Disraeli’s cue until he became Chancellor of the Exchequer. He made speech after speech and motion after motion to this effect. Cobden with equal persistency retorted that the proper relief for agriculture was not the imposition of a burden upon the consumers of bread, but a reduction of the common burdens of them all. He had begun his campaign in the session of 1848. The Government came forward with a proposal, which was afterwards ignominiously withdrawn, for an increase in the income tax. Cobden broke new ground by insisting on the superior expediency of direct over indirect taxation, provided that a just distinction were recognized between permanent and precarious incomes. His chief point was that the Government must either increase direct taxation, or else reduce expenditure; and he pressed the inference that expenditure must be decreased, and it must be decreased by1848.
Cobden’s contention cannot be said to have prospered; but the debates show how seriously his attack on expenditure was taken by those who opposed him. Mr. Disraeli laughed at him as the successor of the Abbé St. Pierre, Rousseau, and Robespierre in the dreams of perpetual peace, but he recognized the possibility of public opinion being brought round to Cobden’s side. Even Peel thought it necessary formally to express his dissent from Cobden’s views on national defence. Fresh from his victorious onslaught upon the Corn Law, he was dreaded by the House of Commons and old political factions, as speaking the voice of an irresistible, if not an infallible, oracle. The Government had no root. The Opposition was nullified by the internecine quarrel between the Protectionists and the Peelites. The two parties in fact were so distracted, so uncertain in principle, and so unstable in composition, that they were profoundly afraid of the one party which knew its own mind and stood aloof from the conventional game. The Conservatives constantly felt, or pretended to feel, an irrational apprehension that the object of the Manchester school was, in the exaggerated language of one of them, to organize a force that should override the legislature and dictate to the House of Commons. The Financial Reform Association at Liverpool, with which Cobden had entered into relations, was expected to imitate the redoubtable achievements of the League. Similar associations sprang up both in the English and the Scotch capitals, and there was on many sides a stir and movement on the subject which for a time promised substantial results.
In a letter to Mr. Bright, Cobden sketched an outline of what was called a People’s Budget, already referred to in his letter to Mr. Baines:—
“Upwards of 100 smaller articles of the tariff to be abolished. (I would only leave about fifteen articles in the tariff paying customs duties.)
“All these changes could be effected with 11,500,000l.
“There are other duties which I should prefer to remove, instead of one or two of them, but I have been guided materially by a desire to bring all interests to sympathize with the scheme. Thus the tea is to catch the merchants and all the old women in the country—the wood and timber,1848.
The scheme which Cobden here propounds to Mr. Bright, was elaborated in a speech made at Liverpool and afterwards set forth in a letter to the Financial Reform Association of that town, which led to much discussion, but which for reasons that we shall see in the next chapter did not become the starting-point of such an agitation as Cobden promised himself.
Sept. 18, 1847.
Speeches, i. 440. Jan.9, 1850. In the same place will be found his account of the way in which he dealt with his land.
To Mr. Bright. Sept. 18, 1847.
To Mr. Bright. Oct. 24, 1846.
Speeches, i. 466. Jan. 27, 1848. See for the other side of the matter, Mr. Ashley’s Life of Lord Palmerston, ii. 14–30. Lord Palmerston’s reference (p. 16) to the anxiety and uneasiness of the Queen and the Prince Consort at Windsor shows, among many other proofs, how well-founded were Cobden’s notions of the particular forces that were at work behind the policy of Intervention.
Bastiat, i. 152.
Bastiat to Cobden. Oct. 15, 1847.
Œuv. i. 167–170.
July 6, 1849. This comprehensive defence of Free Trade is well worth reading at the present day, when the name fallacies which Peel them exposed have come to life again.
The Sugar Duties Bill became law in 1848, but the Navigation Act was not passed until the summer of 1849.
After the Revolution became Socialistic, Peel said the same:— “I believe it to be essential to the peace of the world and to the stability of government, that the experiment now making in France shall have a fair trial without being embarrassed or obstructed by extrinsic intervention Let us wait for the results of this experiment. Let us calmly contemplate whether it is possible that executive governments can be great manufacturers, whether it can be possible for them to force capital to employ industry,” &c—Sir Robert Peel, April 18.
Among other points he laughed at Cobden and Mr. Bright as representatives of Peace and Plenty in the face of a starving people and a world in arms. He also declared himself a “Free-trader, not a freebooter of the Manchester school.”
As a means of conciliating public opinion, which was at this time in one of its cold and thrifty fits, Sir Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, moved for a Select and Secret Committee to inquire into the expenditure on army, navy, and ordnance. Cobden was an assiduous attendant, with his usual anxiety to hear all the facts of the case.
On Mr. Hume’s motion for altering the period of renewed income-tax from three years to one. The “poor minority” was 138 against 363.
The author of Porter’s Progress of the Nation.
Moved by Sir B. Hall, opposed by the Government, and rejected by 218 to 138.
Debate on Navy estimates; amendment for reduction of the force, defeated by 347 to 38.
See above, vol. i., p. 300. “I confess,” said Cobden, in 1851, “that for fifteen years my hopes of success in establishing a system of National Education, have always been associated with the idea of coupling the education of the country with the religious communities which exist.” But he found religious discordances too violent, and he took refuge, as we shall presently see, in the secular system.
Cobden is here unjust to O’Connell. He opposed the Corn Bill of 1815, and was true to the League in the fight from 1838 to 1846.
In the Leeds Mercury.
Lord Morpeth, Cobden’s colleague in the representation, now succeeded to the earldom of Carlisle. A contest took place, and Mr. Denison, the Conservative, defeated Sir Culling Eardley.