Front Page Titles (by Subject) 57.: Letter to Richard Cobden - The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics
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57.: Letter to Richard Cobden - Frédéric Bastiat, The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 1: The Man and the Statesman: The Correspondence and Articles on Politics, translated from the French by Jane and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Jacques de Guenin and Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation editor Dennis O’Keeffe (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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Letter to Richard Cobden
Paris, 25 March 1846
[vol. 1, p. 127]
My dear sir, as soon as I received your letter, I handed over your reply to the address from our Société d’économie politique to M. Dunoyer. I have just translated it, and it appeared to contain nothing that might have unfortunate consequences if it were published. The only thing is that we do not have any clear idea on where we should publish this precious document. Le Journal des économistes will not be published until about 20 April. This is rather late. A significant number of newspapers are committed to the monopoly, many others to anglophobia, and many others again are worthless. An approach will be made to Le Journal des débats. I will tell you the result in a postscript. Certainly, there is nothing but pure, noble, true, and cosmopolitan sentiments in your letter, as in your heart. But our nation is so susceptible to, and also so imbued with, the idea that free trade is good for you but not for us, and that you adopted it in part through Machiavellianism and to inveigle us down this path; these ideas, as I say, are so prevalent and popular that I do not know whether the publication of your address will not be inopportune at the time we are forming an association. People will not fail to say that we are the dupes of perfidious Albion. Men who know that if two and two are four in England they do not make three in France laugh at these prejudices. However, I think it prudent to dissipate rather than confront them. This is why I will be submitting the question of publication to a few enlightened men whom I am meeting this evening and I will let you know tomorrow the result of this consultation.
I stressed the words in part for this reason: our principal point of support for the campaign is the commercial class, the traders. They earn their living by trade and they want as much of it as possible. They are also used to conducting business. Under this twin heading, they are our best auxiliaries. However, they support monopoly in one respect, the maritime aspect, protection for the national fleet, in a word, what is known as the surtax.131
However, it so happens that our shipowners are all taken with the idea that, in his financial plan, Sir Robert Peel has not amended your Navigation Act and that he has left the full force of protection on this; I leave you to imagine the consequences they are drawing from this. I seem to remember that Huskisson amended your Navigation Act. I have your tariff, and I do not see anywhere that goods carried by foreign ships are subject to differential taxes. I would like to be sure of this question, and if you do not have time to enlighten me, could you not ask Mr. Paulton or Mr. James Wilson to write a fairly detailed letter to me on this subject?
I will now tell you a little about our association. I am beginning to be a little discouraged by the difficulties, even physical ones, of doing anything in Paris. Distances are huge, you waste a lot of time in the streets, and in the ten days I have been here I have put only two hours to good use. I would decide to abandon the enterprise if I did not see some elements of usefulness. Peers, deputies, bankers, men of letters, all of whose names are well known throughout France, have agreed to join our society, but they do not want to take the first step. Even supposing we succeeded in bringing them together, I do not think we would be able to count on a very active contribution from people who are so busy, so carried away by the whirlwind of business and pleasure. But the sole mention of their names would have a considerable effect in France and would make it easier for similar and more practical associations to be founded in Marseilles, Lyons, Le Havre,132 and Nantes. This is why I am resolved to waste two months here. What is more, the Paris society would have the advantage of giving a little courage to free-trade deputies, who, rejected by public opinion up to now, have not dared to admit their principles.
I have incidentally not lost sight of what you told me one day, that the movement, which was constructed from the bottom up in England, should be constructed from the top down in France, and for this reason I am delighted to see such major figures join us as Harcourt, Anisson-Dupéron, Pavée de Vandœuvre, and perhaps de Broglie among the peers; Eichthal, Vernes, Ganneron, and perhaps Rothschild among the bankers; and Lamartine, Lamenais, and Béranger among the men of letters. I am certainly far from believing that all these illustrious people have fixed opinions. It is instinct rather than a clear vision of the truth that guides them, but the very fact of their adhesion will commit them to our cause and oblige them to examine it. This is why I hold the cause dear, since without it I would prefer a wholly homogeneous association of a dozen followers who are free from commitments and unbound by the considerations that a name in politics imposes.
What factors sometimes make events great! Certainly if an opulent financier became devoted to the cause, or what would amount to the same thing, if a man who was profoundly persuaded and devoted had a huge fortune, the movement would quickly make progress. Today, for example, I know twenty prominent people who are watching each other, hesitating, and restrained only by the fear of tarnishing the brilliance of their name. If, instead of running from one to the other, on foot, mud spattered on my back, to meet one or two a day only and to obtain only evasive or dilatory replies, I could gather them round my table, in a sumptuous dining room, what difficulties would be overcome! Believe me, it is neither my spirit nor my heart that is failing. But I feel that this superb Babylon is not my place and I must make haste to return to my solitude and limit my contribution to a few articles in newspapers and some writing. Is it not strange that I should have reached the age at which hair goes gray, be a witness of the progress of luxury and repeat like the Greek philosopher,133 “How many things there are that I do not need!” and that I should feel overwhelmed by ambition at my age? Ambition! I dare to say that this ambition is pure, and if my poverty makes me suffer, it is because it is an invincible obstacle to the progress of the cause.
Forgive me, my dear sir, for these outpourings from my heart. I am talking about myself when I should be discussing only public affairs with you.
Farewell; I remain always your affectionate and devoted servant.
[131 ]An extra tax levied on goods imported into France on foreign ships.
[132 ]Free-trade associations were effectively established in Marseilles (17 September 1846), Lyons (13 October 1846), and Le Havre (28 November 1846).
[133 ]Socrates (469-399 b.c.e.).