Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXII.: the policy of the commercial treaty. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XXXII.: the policy of the commercial treaty. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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the policy of the commercial treaty.
It will be convenient to insert here a few short remarks1860.
The discussion of 1860 did little more than reproduce a discussion that had taken place seventeen years before. When Sir Robert Peel entered office, he found four sets of negotiations pending for commercial treaties, between England and France, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil. Those 1860.
In 1843, Mr. J.L. Ricardo had introduced a resolution in the House of Commons, declaring the inexpediency of postponing remissions of duty with a view of making such remissions a basis of commercial negotiations. This was a reply from the pure economic party to Peel’s statement already quoted (see above, p. 240), that he did not reduce the wine duties because he hoped to make them the instruments of treaties with foreign countries. Ricardo prefaced his resolution by a speech, which was very able, but which pressed for Free Trade without delay, restriction, or qualification. The only process to which they need resort against hostile tariffs was to open the ports. Mr. Gladstone answered Ricardo by the same arguments that were afterwards used to defend his own policy in 1860. Mr. Disraeli, not at all disclaiming Free Trade as a general policy, supported Mr. Gladstone against the ultra-Free-Traders in a speech remarkable to this day for its large and comprehensive survey of the whole field of our commerce, and for its discernment of the channels in1860.
Cobden supported Ricardo’s motion, not on the rather abstract grounds of the mover and others, but because it was a way of preventing a Government “which was the creature of monopoly, from meddling with any of our commercial arrangements.” The envoy to Brazil, he said, had been sent out to obtain the best terms for the West Indian sugar monopolists, and he quoted the description by a Brazilian senator, of the people of Great Britain as the slaves of a corn, sugar, coffee, and timber oligarchy.
Was it fit, Cobden asked, that the executive government should be allowed to go all over the world to seek for impediments to Free Trade abroad, in order to excuse them in resisting the removal of impediments at home? It might be very well to talk of a commercial treaty with Protugal, but abolish the monopolies of sugar, corn, and coffee, and the vast continents of North and South America would be opened to the manufactures of Great Britain. Characteristically enough, he kept close to the immediate and particular bearings of the discussion, and nothing was said by him in 1843 that was inconsistent with his position in 1860. Ricardo, again, in 1844 brought forward a resolution to the effect that our commercial intercourse with foreign nations would be best promoted by regulating our own 1860.
To return to the Treaty of 1860. Cobden, unable to be present to defend his measure in the House of Commons, took up the points of the case against it in a letter to Mr. Bright:—
“I observe that some of the recent converts to Free Trade, who gave you and me so much trouble to convert them, are concerned at our doing anything so unsound as to enter into a Commercial Treaty. I will undertake that there is not a syllable on our side of the Treaty that is inconsistent with the soundest principles of Free Trade. We do not propose to reduce a duty which, on its own merits ought not to have been dealt with long ago. We give no concessions to France which do not apply to all other nations. We leave ourselves free to lay on any amount of internal duties, and to put on an equal tax on foreign articles of the same kind at the Custom House. It is true we bind ourselves, for ten years, not otherwise to raise such of our customs as affect the French trade, or put on fresh ones; and this, I think, no true Free Trader will regret.
“And here I may suggest, that if you observe the members on the Opposition side averse to parting with the power of putting on higher customs duties on these articles of French origin, it may be well to read them a lesson on the impossibility of their being able to lay any further burdens on commerce in future, and to remind them that if they sanction higher expenditure, they must expect to pay it in a direct income tax. Public opinion, without any French Treaty, is daily tending to this result.
“There being no objection on the ground of principle, there are, and will be, many specious arguments resorted to by those who really at heart have no sympathy for a cordial union between the two nations, for defeating or marring the1860.
“But surely, if people wished to see the relations of the two countries improved, they would never attempt to impede the only sure means of attaining that end by such frivolous objections. These people seem to think that Free Trade in France can be carried by a logical, orderly, methodical process, without resorting to stratagem, or anything like an indirect proceeding. The forget the political plots and contrivances, and the fearful adjuncts of starvation, which were necessary for carrying similar measures in England. They forget how Free Trade was wrested from the reluctant majorities of both our Houses of Parliament. Surely Louis Napoleon has as good a right, and may plead as strong motives of duty, for cheating (if I may use the word) the majorities of his Senate into an honest policy, as Peel had in dealing with the House of Lords. The Emperor of the French was elected by the whole people, not only to ad minister1860.
The direct effects of the Treaty upon the exchange of products between England and France have been too palpable to be denied. In 1858 the total exports from England to France amounted to no more than nine million pounds, and the imports from France to thirteen millions. Nineteen years later, in 1877, the British exports and re-exports had risen from nine to twenty-five million pounds, and the imports from France to forty-five millions.
The indirect effects of the Treaty were less plainly visible, but they cannot be left out of account if we seek to view the Treaty policy as a whole. England cleared her tariff of protection, and reduced the duties which were retained for purposes of revenue on the two French staples of wine and brandy. France, on her part, replaced prohibition by a system of moderate duties. If this had been all, it might have been fair to talk about reciprocity, though even then, when it is reciprocity in lowering and not in raising duties, the word ceases altogether to be a term of reproach. But the matter did not end here. The Treaty with France was not like the famous Methuen Treaty with Portugal (1703), an exclusive bargain, to the specified disadvantage of a nation outside of the compact. In 1703 we bound ourselves to keep our duties on French wines one-third higher than the duty on the wines of Portugal. This was the type of treaty which Adam Smith had in his mind1860.
In these, and in the treaty made afterwards by England with Austria, Sir Louis Mallet reminded its opponents in later years, that each of them had a double operation. Not only does each treaty open the market of another country to foreign industry; it immediately affects the markets that are already opened. For every recent treaty recognized the “most favoured nation” principle, the sheet-anchor of Free Trade, as it has been called. By means of this principle, each new point gained in any one negotiation becomes a part of the common commercial system of the European confederation. “By means of this network,” it has been excellently said by a distinguished member of the English diplomatic service, “of which few Englishmen seem to be aware, while fewer still know to whom they owe it, all the great trading and industrial communities of Europe. i.e., England, France, Holland, Belgium, the Zollverein (1870), Austria, and Italy, constitute a compact international body, from which the principle of monopoly and exclusive privilege has once for all been eliminated, and not one member of which can take off a single duty without all the other members at once partaking in the increased trading facilities thereby created. By the self-registering action of the most favoured nation clause, common to this network of treaties, and tariff level of the whole body is being continually lowered, and the road being paved towards the final embodiment of the Free Trade principle in the international engagement to abolish all duties other than those levied for revenue purposes.”
In face of unquestioned facts of this kind, nothing can be less statesmanlike than to deny that the treaties since 1860 have helped forward the great process of liberating the exchange of the products of their industry among the nations of the world. It is amazing to find able men so overmastered by a mistaken conception of what it is that economic generalization1860.
It is an economic error to confine our view to the imports or exports of our own country. In the case of England, these are intimately connected with, and dependent upon, the great circulating system of the whole world’s trade. 1860.
It is not enough, therefore, to remove our own protective duties, though Peel may have been right under the circumstances of the time in saying that the best way of fighting a hostile tariff is by reforming your own. It is the business of the economic statesman to watch for opportunities of inducing other nations to modify duties on imports; because the release of the consumers of other nations is not only a stimulus to your own production for exportation, but has an effect in the supply of the imports which you declare to be the real object of your solicitude.
This was the conception at the bottom of the Commercial Treaty of 1860. “A treaty with France,” said Mr. Gladstone, “is even in itself a measure of no small consequence; but that which gives to a measure of that kind its highest value is its tendency to produce beneficial imitation in other quarters. It is the fact that, in concluding that Treaty, we did not give to one a privilege which we withheld from another, but that our Treaty with France was, in fact, a treaty with the world, and wide are the consequences which engagements of that kind carry in their train.”
Feb. 14, 1843. “Sign the treaty of commerce with France,” Mr. Disraeli cried, “that will give present relief.”
“Only 600,000 gallons of French brandy were legally imported in a year, while no less than 4,000,000 of gallons were believed to be every year imported into England. And since there was a total prohibition of French cambrics, every yard of them sold in England must have come in by illicit means.”—Lord Stanhope’s Life of Pitt, i. 316–17.
This is worked out with vigour and acuteness in the admirable pamphlet published by the Cobden Club in 1870, entitled Commercial Treaties: Free Trade and Internationalism. Four Letters by a disciple of Richard Cobden