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5: Why the Laws Were Repealed - William Dyer Grampp, The Manchester School of Economics 
The Manchester School of Economics (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1960).
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Why the Laws Were Repealed
Repeal was a momentous change. It was the most important of the decisions that brought England to a policy of nearly complete freedom of foreign trade, something unique in history. The forces that produced repeal were varied, and the men who worked for it had diverse motives. I would like to set down what I think were the reasons for its success and, what is not quite the same thing but difficult to separate out, why the campaign was undertaken.
1. Repeal was a step in the movement toward free trade which was begun in the last quarter of the eighteenth century by Pitt who was a diligent student of The Wealth of Nations. The movement was arrested by the French wars, and resumed after 1815. In the budgets of Huskisson, in the 1820’s, many duties were repealed or lowered, and it became the declared policy of the government of which he was a part that no industry would be given more than a 30 per cent protective duty. The practice was continued by the Conservative government from 1841 onward, and was especially noticeable in Peel’s budget of 1842. It simplified the tariff structure by reducing many import duties, abolishing most duties on exports, and reviving the income tax in order to restore the small loss of revenue. However, none of the budgets between 1815 and 1846 exposed any important part of the domestic economy to foreign competition. The duty on tea was reduced, and that on raw cotton was abolished. There were frequent changes in the duties on corn but they were meant only to lessen, if possible, their burden on the consumer and were not meant to bring the country gradually to free trade. The Marxists explain repeal as the outcome of a historical tendency toward free trade, and Cobden himself once believed it inevitable because the government after 1815 had set itself on an irreversible course. His considerable efforts presumably made it more inevitable.
2. One reason why the movement was undertaken was the fact that an influential part of the public believed free trade would increase the income and wealth of the country. That belief was the essential point of liberal economic policy as applied to foreign trade, and the policy in its domestic aspect had become embedded in the public mind over a period of at least three centuries. The idea was not the product of the classical economists, even though they did not acknowledge its expression by the mercantilists who themselves did not originate it, and the idea was certainly not first given to the public by the Manchester School. The school exploited the public’s predisposition to free trade; it did the job so well that it has become celebrated as the arch exponent of the idea, and has been ignored in other of its purposes. Some among the public believed in free trade because it would improve their own economic position as manufacturers, exporters, or consumers; others believed in it because it opened the way to other, more wanted, objectives, like peace or political reform. There were also some who wanted free trade simply because they believed it was a good thing for the country, not because it would confer material or other benefits on themselves; they believed in it as nearly for its own sake as it is possible to believe in an economic policy.
That free trade would enrich the nation was an idea the League put before all classes and groups. It was the idea by which Cobden wanted to transform the repeal campaign from a parochial interest of the businessmen into what he called “a national issue.” The intellectuals believed the agitators did not do it justice, and tried to make the argument more cogent. Millions heard it explained in one form or another over a period of eight years. They attended meetings, signed petitions, staged demonstrations, called on their members in Parliament, gave pennies to the campaign, patronized free-trade bazaars, and in these and other ways expressed their opposition to “the monopolists” who were holding back the progress of the nation. How much of their behavior was motivated by the power of the idea of free trade I do not know, but it would be rash to explain their conduct as the issue of specific self-interest alone. To be sure, everyone stood to gain by cheaper food and the economic growth which free trade promised. Still, it is hard to believe that such prospects—one of which was distant and both quite diffuse in their effect—could themselves generate such intense public excitement.
One’s respect for the power of the idea, as an idea, is increased by recalling that it was of long standing at the time of the repeal campaign, and that it had been justified by its application to many domestic markets, to the trade in some imports and in almost all exports. When the Manchester School proposed it be applied to the corn trade immediately, the school was not making a novel proposal or demanding a radical departure from existing policy. It simply was asking for more of the same and demanding it immediately. In taking its case to the people, it again was doing nothing new. Public turmoil over the corn laws was about 25 years old when the League was formed, and there was a precedent for the raised voices and menacing demonstrations.
Among the historians of economic thought, there is an inclination to exaggerate the distance between the views of the economists and those of the public. When something like the Manchester School appears—which puts an idea into practice—the event is viewed as phenomenal (and the other forces which went into making the change are overlooked). Some of the great economists themselves have underestimated the public’s acceptance of their ideas. A notable example is Smith, who often was “knocking at an open door” (to use a phrase which Pareto used about the socialists). Many of the restrictions on the domestic market had disappeared long before he objected to them. He may have been justified in believing the prospects were altogether dim for complete freedom of foreign trade. But his pessimism cannot explain the behavior of his followers in the next century. The classical economists then were not opposed to complete free trade because they believed the public did not want it—because they believed it was “politically unrealistic”—but because they themselves did not want it. One is bewildered by the spectacle of the public’s being brought around at last to complete repeal while M’Culloch, repeating Ricardo, argues that landlords need some protection and John Mill is indifferent to the issue. There then was a distance indeed between the economists and the public, and it was the public who was far ahead, having been brought to its position by (among other reasons) the power of one of the ideas they professed to advocate.
3. There was a political—as distinct from an economic—motive in the work of some of the free traders. Their leader was Bright. As their purposes have been explained in detail, they need only be summarized here. They believed (a) that the removal of protection to agriculture would lessen the power of the landed interest in the House; (b) that it would drive the Tories from office and reduce the strength of the right wing of the Whig party; (c) that it would increase the influence of the business classes and bring them together with the lower middle class, which was being enfranchised by the 40-shilling freehold movement; (d) that it would bring about a more equitable distribution of seats in the House; and (e) that in time it would enfranchise the working class—the total effect being to create voting support, in and out of Parliament, for the policies of the Manchester School. What actually happened was not altogether expected, and the expectations were not all of them realized. There was, in a general way, a redistribution of political power away from agriculture and in favor of the industrial areas; the middle classes did become more important, and in time the working class also. But they did not constitute a reliable source of support for Manchester. The businessmen became rather conventional Whigs, and the 40-shilling freeholders became the dependable center of the Tories. The traditional parties, after initial disturbances, did not give way to a third party. They absorbed some of the policies of the Manchester School in a discriminating way, and the policies in their entirety never secured permanent political support. One reason was that they were diffuse and varied. Another is that those which happened to be popular were made into the program of one or another of the two parties or (as parliamentary reform was) of both parties. Still another is the fact that neither Cobden nor Bright was clear about just what kind of political support he wanted: whether from a third party, from the radical Whigs, or whether the support was to come from public opinion. On the eve of repeal, Cobden urged Peel to form a middle-class party. Peel refused. It was a curious episode: Cobden urging Peel to become his leader, and Peel declining Cobden as a supporter. Bright tried to apply to the franchise movement the methods that the League had used so successfully; but he could not get enough middle-class support. Both were reluctant to accept office. In 1845 Cobden refused the post of Vice-President of the Board of Trade offered by Russell, not because the offer was a paltry one, which it was, but because he wanted no part of officialdom. In 1869 Bright accepted the place of President under Gladstone. After 1846, the political support of the Manchester leaders always was uncertain. They were the creatures of the public opinion they created, and when the public changed its mind they were for a time completely cast aside.
4. Pacifism was the motive of another group in the free-trade movement, and Cobden was its leader. Its faith was that free trade would make war impossible, because war would impoverish the millions who depended on international exchange. The idea, it may be noticed, is not the customary relationship adduced between free trade and peace: that trade creates international specialization which, in turn, prevents a nation from becoming self-sufficient enough to wage a war. Rather, the idea is a simple expression of confidence in self-interest. It was a faith that moved Cobden, and he moved thousands, perhaps millions. “Free trade,” he said, “unites, by the strongest motives of which our nature is susceptible, two remote communities, rendering the interest of the one the only true policy of the other, and making each equally anxious for the prosperity and happiness of both.”
Pacifism was Cobden’s ruling purpose, and that is the most informative thing which can be said about him. The man who has been held up as the tribune of laisser faire was, in fact, not governed by economic purposes at all but by something much different; and of all the people who have written about him only Hobson has made the fact plain. There are few public figures whose motives were as transparent as Cobden’s, and few who have been so mistaken by contemporaries and later generations. He said repeatedly that he wanted free trade because it would bring world peace, and his actions were altogether consistent with what he said. The evidence is so abundant that one is puzzled over its not being used. In 1842 he wanted to make the League a part of the peace movement—despite the fact that the League’s constitution prohibited its taking on any other cause than repeal and despite Cobden’s insistence that the constitution be followed literally when others wished to add their purposes to it—and his proposal was to bring the free traders over to pacifism, not the other way around. He wrote to Ashworth: “It has struck me that it would be well to try to engraft our Free Trade agitation upon the Peace Movement. . . . Free Trade, by perfecting the intercourse, and securing the dependence of countries one upon another, must inevitably snatch the power from governments to plunge their people into wars.” The proposal was not carried out, and after repeal Cobden tried again. In 1847, he urged Bright to join him in marshaling the free traders against Palmerston’s militant foreign policy in order to “try to prevent the Foreign Office from undoing the good which the Board of Trade has done to the people.” He knew quite well that his pacifism was ignored by others, and he also knew that his motives were misunderstood. In 1850, he said:
But when I advocated Free Trade, do you suppose I did not see its relation to the present question [of peace], or that I advocated Free Trade merely because it would give us a little more occupation in this or that pursuit? No; I believed Free Trade would have the tendency to unite mankind in the bonds of peace, and it was that, more than any pecuniary consideration, which sustained and actuated me, as my friends know, in that struggle.
Only a few of his friends in fact did know. One was Combe, and pacifism was an issue on which they differed from the start. “I could account for his views only by Mr. Cobden’s peculiar organization,” he said, and meant “phrenological organization.” His pacifism is indeed an interesting aspect of his personality, because it informed and guided his private as well as his public life. He had an aversion to violence, which was almost an obsession, despite his pugnacity during the repeal campaign. He was horrified by duelling and boxing, he condemned capital punishment, he disliked brass bands as much as the armies they accompanied, and he asked the Pope to prevail upon the Spanish to stop bull fighting. “Those horrid Indian massacres keep me in a constant shudder,” he wrote in 1857. He didn’t believe in revolution or in wars for national independence, and his reaction to the American Civil War was to denounce “the senseless and unscientific butchery” (although he hardly could have been less horrified had it been scientific). Yet as gentle as he was and as much as he relied upon persuasion, he was not a timid man, and he had great moral and physical courage. For some seven years he led one of the fiercest contests in the political history of the nineteenth century, and he repeatedly faced hostile crowds.1
After the corn laws had been repealed and he saw that free trade did not have the pacifying effect he had predicted, Cobden believed the fault lay with the free traders. “How few . . . really understand the full meaning of Free Trade principles,” he wrote in 1857. “The manufacturers of Yorkshire and Lancashire look upon India and China as a field of enterprise which can only be kept open by force.” He did not, however, lose hope, and when he concluded the commercial treaty with France in 1860 he said: “It will only require a few years to develop that state of mutual dependence which forms the solid basis for the peace and happiness of nations.”2 The decisive test came when he had to choose between pacifism and free international capital movements of military significance. He promptly chose pacifism. The episode is related in Chapter 6, in which the Manchester School’s ideas of foreign policy are described.
Cobden’s opposition to colonies was the best known feature of his pacifism. As a young man he read The Wealth of Nations, and his copy is still in the library of Dunford House, his last residence. There are lively marginal notes by the passages in which Smith condemns the colonial policy of Great Britain. But there are none at all by the celebrated passage about the invisible hand. Just what were Cobden’s views on laisser faire? They were those of many other men of affairs: a declaration, at times mounting to enthusiasm, for the principle, and a refusal to be guided by the principle alone in coming to a decision about a particular measure of economic policy.
Cobden rarely spoke about the principle. Once was in 1842 when he demanded repeal on the ground that it would increase employment and hence was a duty of the government. Peel replied, “You assume that we have the power, but I, acting upon the best judgment which I can form . . . entertain strong doubts as to the efficacy of the measure which you recommend.” It appears that Cobden was saying that a policy of free trade would increase employment and that it was the government’s duty to remove an obstacle to free trade. The idea is a part of laisser faire doctrine, and quite the opposite of the contention that the government has the duty to maintain employment by controlling trade. Cobden repeated the idea in 1846, in the only important speech he made during the debate over Peel’s motion to abolish the corn laws. “You cannot do better than leave industry to its own instincts. If you attempt by legislation to give any direction to trade and industry, it is a thousand to one that you are doing wrong; and if you happen to be right, it is a work of supererogation.” In 1848, in a debate over monetary policy, G. F. Muntz, a leader of the “Birmingham School” of currency reform (which was inflationary) said, “If honest, sober, industrious men could not find employment, the fault was with the government.” Cobden rose to say that “it was a most dangerous doctrine to advance, that it was the duty of the Government, under all circumstances, to find employment for all who were able to work and of good character.” Muntz hastened to declare that he had been misunderstood, that he fully agreed with Cobden, that he was not asking the government to assure employment, that he meant only its fiscal and monetary measures were mistaken.3
What does this mean: that the government has not the responsibility to maintain full employment or that it has not the power? Has it the power to direct certain other economic affairs and has it the responsibility to use that power? It seems to me that Cobden and most everyone else believed the government hadn’t the power to increase employment, except by removing obstacles to international trade, and that it did have the power to direct a few other economic affairs. I do not believe they were opposed to government action in all affairs. Whether or not their view was consistent with economic liberalism is a matter of definition. It certainly is not consistent with the extreme version of liberalism, as expounded then by Herbert Spencer, for example, or in this century by Hayek. The matter of definition is quite important. If laisser faire means that the government should act only where it can be effective, then laisser faire means only that the government should not do what it cannot do. If laisser faire means that economic decisions are the ethical prerogative of the individual, it means the government should refrain from acting even where it can be effective. The doctrine sometimes has meant—as it meant to John Stuart Mill—that the government should act only where individuals themselves are not effective and should refrain from acting where individuals are. As much as one admires Mill, one feels that his solution was a feeble one, because it turns on the meaning of “effective.” It is a relative notion. Perhaps Mill meant that the government should intervene only where a thing (as the shortening of working hours) would not be done at all. But he really didn’t say that. Since his day, the advocates of government direction have found more and more instances of individual action being ineffective simply by showing that it is not as effective as the government’s action can be. And, indeed, Cobden found a few. He supported the Banking Act of 1844 which gave the Bank of England quasi-monopoly powers and which, as Lloyd W. Mints remarked, was odd in one supposed to be a champion of laisser faire.4 He was very critical, indeed scornful, of the Poor Law of 1834 which then (and now) was taken to exemplify the laisser faire policy of Senior. He was opposed to completely free international movements of capital. He had no difficulty in supporting legislative control of railway construction in order that the tracks would be of a standard gauge. His ambiguous stand on the factory acts was described in the last chapter. And he was not above exploiting the public’s distaste for extreme liberalism. In the ’thirties, the handloom weavers had petitioned the House for relief and had been turned away. Cobden recalled the incident when he condemned the House for protecting the rents of agricultural landlords:
I am well acquainted with the answer which the poor distressed hand-loom weavers got when they addressed the House and claimed its protection. They were told that the House had been studying political economy, and that the weavers had entirely mistaken their position, and that their wages could not be maintained up to a certain price.5
The acid in this reminds one of Carlyle’s comment on the classical assumption of full employment which underlay the Poor Law of 1834.
5. An altogether different motive governed some of the businessmen in the League. They wanted free trade in order to cut money wages. It was their “great object,” and according to the protectionists and many historians it was the object of all or most of the free traders. I do not think it was, and as so much has been written otherwise the point calls for rather close attention. That a wage cut should have been thought to be the primary purpose of the movement is understandable, because: (a) Some businessmen did say they wanted repeal in order to cut wages. (b) The Chamber in 1837 stated that the corn laws raised money wages and placed British manufacturers at a disadvantage in foreign markets; and at its critical meeting in December 1838, when the radicals took control of it, their most compelling argument implied that repeal would lower money wages.6 (c) The Philosophic Radicals cited the point in their argument for repeal, and Villiers repeated it in the House when he made his annual motion in 1838. (d) Money wages in some areas were regulated in part by the price of corn. (e) That they must be was a part of Ricardian economics, which held that money wages in the long run were determined by the cost of subsistence.
The evidence is persuasive, but it is not convincing. What it shows is that a wage cut was the purpose of some of the free traders, and that at one time their support was necessary to make the free-trade movement effective. To make the evidence complete there should be added to each of the points above the following facts: (a) Not all of the businessmen believed free trade would lower wages, and a few did not want them lowered. How many did believe it and how many did not, I have no idea. The fact that opinion was not unanimous means that the lowering of wages was not the “great object” of repeal. Of those who did believe it, not all of them thought lower money wages would be the principal advantage of repeal or even an important one. Those who held the belief were a minority in the counsels of the League, and after a while their view counted for less than nothing, the others finding it a liability and insisting that they keep it to themselves. A quite different idea of wages was expressed by the businessmen who spoke and wrote for the League, who organized it and drove it forward. Cobden and Bright, once they were in power in the League, contended that free trade would increase money wages. The most important tract on repeal written by a businessman was that by W. R. Greg, which (as explained below) stated that repeal would lower money wages but that they always would be higher than those abroad. (b) Although the Chamber did deplore the high money wages which, it said, were caused by the corn laws, it objected more strongly to other trade restrictions which had either a most indirect effect on wages or none at all. Moreover, its view of wages changed after 1838. (c) The Philosophic Radicals impressed the businessmen very much but did not give them their ideas or show them where their true interest lay or make their motives explicit to them. Carlyle’s judgment of them as the “Paralytic Radicals” is undoubtedly harsh, but as a description of their political ineffectuality it was accurate. (d) It was only to a limited extent that money wages were in fact regulated by the price of corn.7 (e) It is not to the Ricardian system that one can trace the promptings of the businessmen or those of most others in the free-trade movement. By now it must be plain that there was no close correspondence between the ideas of the Manchester School and those of classical economics. If that were not clear enough, the fact that the Ricardians opposed complete repeal should be. The point shows the hazard of reading a policy implication in a positive statement of the classical economists, or of any other, no matter how logical the implication may be.
Nevertheless, the lowering of money wages was thought to be the principal purpose of repeal. The League categorically denied it, and it was categorically asserted by the opposition. Many of the businessmen urged their workers to support repeal on the ground that their money wages as well as well as their real wages would be increased. The workers refused to believe such a thing possible (although at one time they did) and, seeing where the idea now came from, closed their minds all the more to it. “Oh, you have been most grossly bamboozled—most grossly deceived and gulled, most effectually practised upon,” Cobden told an audience about the wage question.8 Yet even his power failed on this point. It is noteworthy that money and real wages did increase after 1846 along with the rise in textile exports and employment. Repeal was one cause of the increase.
6. More important than a wage reduction to most of the businessmen was an increase in the demand for textiles. One is led to this conclusion by what was said, written, and done during the period. The businessmen wanted to remove all import duties, thereby increasing their exports and their sales in the domestic market. They long had believed that their fortunes were governed by foreign trade, and they watched closely those actions of the government that in any way affected it. I have described the Chamber’s efforts to alter the corn laws. In the same period, it also petitioned the government to change other of its policies. It asked for free trade between Ireland and England; it opposed the limiting of the size of vessels in the East India trade, and deplored what it said were unnecessarily cautious quarantine regulations which restricted the movement of other ships; it expressed alarm over a report that a higher duty was to be placed on raw cotton from America, and it urged the extension of cotton-growing in India and Egypt; it called for the recognition of the independence of Colombia and Mexico, which had promised to open their ports to the trade of all nations that did so; it opposed discriminatory duties on sugar and coffee from outside the empire because of their “lessening the demand for our manufactures”; and it declared that the equal treatment of Brazil would dissuade that country from imposing retaliatory duties on British capital and would present “a wide field for the employment of British capital.” In 1839 it asked, “How are we to create such a demand for our productions abroad, as shall give the means of subsistence to this industrious community, and supply a profitable field of employment to our capitalists?” By “nothing . . . but the carrying out in practise [of] that principle of free trade.”9
The industry objected to the restrictions because they limited its sales and were thought to do this in three ways. Some duties (like that on raw cotton) increased costs and prices; others (corn, sugar, coffee) increased the cost of food and reduced expenditure at home for textiles; and all reduced Britain’s imports and, hence, its exports. Free trade, the businessmen believed, would increase sales by reducing costs and increasing demand at home and abroad. As the League developed its campaign, it emphasized more and more the expected increase in demand, and by 1841 that was the official line of the free traders. “If I know anything,” Cobden said in his maiden speech in the House, “the repeal of the Corn Laws means increased trade and the claim of a right to exchange our manufactures for the corn of all other countries, by which we should very much increase the extent of our trade.”10 The cost reductions from free trade were less and less noticed, although the duty on raw cotton was not entirely removed until 1845. Had the businessmen and the League in its entirety been governed by the intention to cut wages, the cost effect would have been emphasized and the demand effect given little notice. Of course it is conceivable that the emphasis was put on demand to hoodwink the public. Still one would expect to find some evidence of duplicity, since it is available on other points. Or it may have been that, despite all they said, the free traders wanted to cut wages but simply didn’t realize it.
A more plausible—certainly a simpler—explanation is to suppose they meant what they said. It is characteristic of businessmen in an expanding industry to be more enthusiastic over still greater increases in demand than in the possibility of cutting costs, as welcome as that possibility always is. The English laborer always would be “a more costly machine,” W. R. Greg stated in 1842. His pamphlet was the best reasoned statement made by a businessman of the viewpoint of his class.11 It opens by stating that the output of cotton goods increased at a fairly steady rate between 1821 and 1839, and thus the ensuing recession was not attributable to an unusually large increase in output. It was caused by a decrease in the demand for textiles: in the home market where high food prices took money which would have been spent on textiles, and in the foreign market which was deprived of sterling by the corn laws. In order to restore the demand for textiles and other manufactured goods, Britain must accept goods from foreigners which are their “mode of payment.” It follows that “perfect freedom of interchange therefore . . . must form the sole basis of our future prosperity.” It would reduce the costs of production of manufactures, Greg states, and “cheaper food will no doubt enable our people to live in much greater comfort than at present, upon considerably smaller earnings.” The “smaller earnings” will be helpful to the manufacturers, but it is not the cost reduction that will eliminate unemployment; rather, it is the increase in the foreign demand for manufactured goods, which increase will be greater than the foreign capacity to supply it. Free trade in corn will produce such an increase. It will raise food prices and wages abroad, lower both at home, lower the rate of profit in foreign manufacturing, and thereby reduce the incentive “to invest capital therein,” shift resources to agriculture abroad, and restrain the growth of manufacturing there.
Cobden differed pointedly from one aspect of this view of repeal, which was that of both the humanitarian and the self-interested businessmen. He would not admit the possibility of lower money wages or that there was any advantage in lowering them. He said they would increase under free trade because output would expand, and the higher wages themselves would make the expansion still greater. In 1842, he said:
In every period when wages have dropped, it has been found that the manufacturing interest dropped also; and I hope that the manufacturers will have credit for taking a rather more enlightened view of their own interest than to conclude that the impoverishment of the multitude, who are the great consumers of all that they produce, could ever tend to promote the prosperity of our manufacturers.
In public assemblies, one of his favorite metaphors was “the circle of exchange,” and he described how it would be enlarged by free trade, meaning that trade would increase and along with it domestic employment and the demand for all goods. It was the nearest he came to classical doctrine, and is interesting because it is closer to the mercantilist way of looking at trade, in relation to economic growth, than to the classical view with its emphasis on efficiency and equilibrium. To the businessmen in the League, he addressed the warning: “I don’t think Manchester will carry the repeal of the Corn Laws, but that we shall carry it only by making it a national question. Therefore don’t let the enemy make it be believed that this is a mere manufacturers’ or cotton spinners’ question.”12
When the businessmen claimed that repeal would increase the demand for textiles they were not looking only to the future. They expected an increase immediately after the laws were abolished, and their reasoning discloses the considerable facility some of them had with economic ideas. So long as the corn trade was restricted, both an increase and a decrease in corn imports could, it was believed, reduce the demand for textiles in the home market. Imports increased substantially only when the domestic price was high, and the increase caused an outflow of gold. The high price of corn reduced the domestic demand for textiles, and the reduction was made greater by the deflationary effect of the gold outflow. In the critical summer of 1842, the businessmen believed that repeal would have an inflationary effect which would relieve the present distress and, in addition, establish the condition for a long-term expansion of the textile industry; and this reasoning supported their belief. It also supported the belief that the corn laws were an unstabilizing influence on the entire economy as well as on the sectors producing grain and textiles.
When the laws were repealed, the textile industry in fact did expand at a more rapid rate than in the past, but so did the rest of the economy. Free trade was one reason for the higher rate of growth, another was the increase in the world’s gold supply after 1849, and a third was the external economies that were yielded by the railway investment made before 1850. Between 1840 and 1860, cotton exports increased at twice the rate of increase between 1820 and 1840, while the rate of increase in all exports was four times as great in the later as in the earlier period. The demand argument for repeal was well remembered by the free traders themselves, and it was Edmund Potter who laid the figures before them in 1861.13 They proved, he said, that his class had acted more in the interests of others than in its own. However, it is doubtful that in the 1840’s his class knew it was promoting an end that was no part of what its self-interest intended. When the end became quite clear, the businessmen cooled toward free trade in an unmistakable way. (The events then are described in Chapter 6.)
7. Another motive of the businessmen was to arrest the growth of manufacturing abroad, possibly to stop it altogether, and, at the least, to lessen the competition it was giving them. They differed among themselves over why repeal would have this effect. Some believed it would lower money wages and, hence, costs at home and raise costs abroad, because food prices at home would fall and those abroad would rise. Some believed that it would halt the emigration of skilled workers from Britain, leaving foreigners without the necessary labor to produce textile machinery. Some believed free trade in Britain would cause other countries to lower their duties on manufactured goods. Some connected the increase in demand from free trade with the arresting of manufacturing growth abroad, saying that if foreigners had sterling they would buy British instead of domestic goods; although why they would do this if their own goods were cheaper it is difficult to understand. There is no doubt that by 1838 the British manufacturing industries had become alarmed at the industrial development abroad. The alarm aroused the Chamber out of its timidity, and marshaled the businessmen into the League. It was infectious, and was expressed by the leaders of the government. There was in the idea this rather remarkable implication: When the businessmen argued that without free trade, Britain would lose its dominant position in world manufacturing and that with free trade its superiority would be guaranteed, they were awkwardly close to saying that the merit of free trade was in its giving them a monopoly on the world market. They were playing for high stakes indeed. The most of which the League ever accused the British landlords was of wanting to monopolize the domestic corn market. The protectionists seem not to have made capital out of the implication. That is odd, because they were adroit at quoting the classical economists against the Manchester School, and they might have recalled Ricardo’s observation: “In principle, nothing as odious as monopoly and restriction; in practise, nothing so salutary and desirable.”
8. The Chamber stated that foreign countries would be opened to British capital by a policy of entire free trade. From the time of its founding onward, it expressed anxiety that restrictions on imports of any commodity from any country would cause foreigners to restrict the import of British capital as well as of goods. Though it occasionally professed to want a pacific foreign policy and showed how free trade would support it, the Chamber more often petitioned the government, and the Foreign Office particularly, on behalf of measures that would keep world markets open to British goods and capital even when such measures were, as they usually were, anything but peaceable.
9. On the opening pages of this study I said that the Manchester School was more an expression of middle-class radicalism than of classical economics. Its radicalism was one of the reasons why the free-trade campaign was successful. Its radicalism comprehended some of the motives described above. One was not, and although it cannot be made as explicit as the others it was important and ought to be set down. It was the attitude of dissent. It has been said that every important reform in Britain since the start of the nineteenth century has been promoted and brought to success by people who were obstinate, single-minded, disagreeable, and slightly ridiculous to their contemporaries and occasionally to posterity also. There were such people in the League, and each of them had his own reasons for wanting free trade. But it is hard to believe that it was their reasons that gave them the energy, courage, and resolution to see the campaign to its final success. They wanted free trade, one feels, simply because protection was a part of the established order of things, and they simply would not accept that order. Behind their reasoned case for free trade was a destructive temper which itself was indestructible. It gave them the energy which others in the movement lacked and which sustained it when it most needed resolution.
[1.] Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden, I, 230-31; ibid., II, 10; Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, eds. John Bright and James E. Thorold Rogers (London, 1870), II, 421; Gibbon, The Life of George Combe, I, 314; Reminiscences of Richard Cobden, compiled by Mrs Salis Schwabe (London, 1895), p. 295.
[2.] Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden, II, 214; Ashworth, Recollections of Richard Cobden, p. 380.
[3.]Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 65, p. 1317; ibid., Vol. 84, p. 290; ibid., Vol. 101, pp. 638, 650.
[4.] Lloyd W. Mints, A History of Banking Theory in Great Britain and the United States (Chicago, 1945), p. 111.
[5.]Speeches . . . by Richard Cobden, I, 23.
[6.]Proceedings of the Chamber of Commerce, III, 514-16; supra, pp. 55-56.
[7.]Supra, p. 30.
[8.] Ashworth, Recollections of Richard Cobden, p. 223.
[9.]Proceedings of the Chamber of Commerce, IV, 28-29, and passim.
[10.] Elijah Helm, Chapters in the History of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce (London ), p. 79.
[11.]Not Over-Production, but Deficient Consumption, the Source of our Sufferings, 2d ed. (London, 1842).
[12.]Speeches . . . by Richard Cobden, I, 19; Ashworth, Recollections of Richard Cobden, I, 387.
[13.]The Manchester Guardian, Feb. 1, 1861.