Front Page Titles (by Subject) Appendix B: Petition on Free Trade (1841) - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II
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Appendix B: Petition on Free Trade (1841) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume V - Essays on Economics and Society Part II, ed. John M. Robson, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
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Petition on Free Trade (1841)
Morning Chronicle, 17 June, 1841, 6. Unsigned; not republished. Original heading: “Kensington. The following is the petition agreed to at the meeting held at Kensington on Tuesday evening.” Identified in JSM’s bibliography as “The Kensington Petition for free trade, agreed to at a public meeting held on the 15th June 1841, and printed in the Morning Chronicle of June 17th” (MacMinn, 53). No copy in Somerville College.
JSM wrote to Albany Fonblanque (17 June, 1841), saying in part: “The Kensington petition, printed in the Chronicle today, is of my writing, & I had a great share in getting up the public meeting, which, though in a very unpromising neighbourhood, was a very striking demonstration” (Earlier Letters, Collected Works, XIII, 478).
TO THE HONOURABLE THE HOUSE OF COMMONS
The humble petition of the inhabitants of Kensington and its vicinity, in public meeting assembled, sheweth,
That protecting duties, or, in other words, duties imposed on foreign commodities, not to raise a revenue, but to keep up the price of similar articles produced at home, are a tax on the whole community for the pecuniary profit of some class or classes, and are therefore an abuse of the power of legislation.
That the argument frequently urged in defence of such duties, namely, that they encourage production and favour the national industry, is in the opinion of your petitioners, not only unfounded, but the very reverse of the truth, inasmuch as employments which would not be carried on without an artificial high price, are by this very circumstance proved to be employments yielding of themselves a less return than that which the same amount of labour and capital would realise if left to take its natural course. A smaller production is by this means obtained through the sacrifice of a greater, and thus, in addition to what these restrictions take from one portion of the community to bestow upon another, they cause a further and commonly a still greater loss of national wealth, without benefit to any one.
That nevertheless former Parliaments, partly influenced by the class interests of their several members, and partly by mistaken views of public policy now exploded, have imposed protecting duties on almost every article of foreign produce or manufacture which could possibly come into competition with anything produced in our own country or its dependencies, thus throwing upon the public, in the increased price of the articles of their expenditure, burdens which, according to the calculations of the best practical authorities, exceed the amount of all the taxes which the people of this country pay to the state, while of this vast sum a very small portion alone reaches the coffers of the various classes of producers whom the legislature intended to benefit.
That of these burdens, the most revolting in its principle, the largest in its amount, and the severest in its pressure, is the tax on food, imposed by the present corn and provision laws.[*]
That a tax on food is the only tax from which no degree of abject poverty is an exemption, but which in its very nature falls heaviest upon the poorest class, nearly the whole of whose consumption consists of food.
That whatever makes the poor poorer, tends in the same proportion to render them ignorant and vicious, by depriving them of the opportunities and means of good education, while it strengthens and multiplies the temptations to which their condition exposes them. That the corn-laws, as producing these effects, are, in the view of your petitioners, opposed both to the first principles of morality and to the spirit of the Christian religion, as well as to the direct precepts of Scripture, which expressly declares,
“He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him; but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.”[†]
That, so far as your petitioners are able to observe, these evils originate for some time existed, in a considerable portion of the labouring classes, a deeply seated hostility to existing political institutions, and in the country generally a growing alienation among the different ranks of society, the causes of which, your petitioners humbly submit, demand the most serious consideration from your honourable house.
That, so far as your petitioners are able to observe, these evils originate in the persuasion openly entertained by large bodies of persons that the ruling principle in the government of this country is not the public good, but the particular interest of certain classes, who command a majority, both in the other house of Parliament and in your honourable house. Your petitioners respectfully express their conviction that nothing has so much contributed to give rise to this unfortunate impression, or has given so much colour of truth to it, as the existing commercial restrictions, and in particular the corn-laws. That by whatever arguments the supporters of those laws may justify themselves to their own minds, their reasons are not of a nature to be convincing or intelligible to persons whose small loaf is made smaller for no purpose apparent to them but that of still further enriching the rich. A bread tax for the supposed benefit of the landlords, and a people well affected to the state, are two things which, in the opinion of your petitioners, cannot easily co-exist.
That, entertaining these opinions, your petitioners have hailed with joy the announcement by her Majesty’s government of a general revision of the existing import duties, and the introduction into your honourable house of measures, by which some of the most oppressive of those duties, and particularly, the most oppressive of all, the corn-laws, are considerably relaxed.[*] That although in the article of food nothing but entire freedom from taxation would be satisfactory to your petitioners as a permanent arrangement; yet, as a means of transition, to prevent too sudden a shock to existing interests, your petitioners fully subscribe to the propriety of retaining, for the present, a moderate duty on imported corn. And your petitioners are strongly of opinion that the protection thus temporarily conceded should be in the shape of a fixed duty rather than of a sliding scale. Your petitioners can scarcely imagine any mode of regulating a great branch of commerce and industry more injurious to all parties than the present variable scale of duties, under which the home grower can never know what degree of protection he has to reckon upon, nor the importer what rate of duty he will be required to pay.
That although the measures recently promulgated by her Majesty’s government would have commanded, under any circumstances, the warmest support of your petitioners, they derive an additional recommendation from the particular time at which they are proposed, namely, when the approaching revision of the duties levied on our productions by several of our largest customers threatens us with retaliatory measures most ruinous to our foreign trade, while the state of our own revenue leaves us no option but either to lower the tariff, or impose new and onerous taxes upon the property or the already overburthened industry of the country.
Your petitioners, therefore, earnestly entreat your honourable house to give your most serious consideration to these various circumstances, and to adopt the measures recently submitted to you by her Majesty’s government with respect to the duties on imports, and especially on foreign corn.
And your petitioners will every pray.
[[*] ]See 9 George IV, c. 60.
[[†] ]Proverbs, 11:26.
[[*] ]See 5 & 6 Victoria, Sess. 2, c. 14.