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83.: 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, 15 October 1847
[vol. 1, p. 162]
My dear friend, I learned of your return to London in this morning’s journals with a great deal of pleasure. I have not had any news of you for so long! I hope that you will not neglect to write to me as soon as you are rested a little from your fatigue and that you will tell me about the reactions you have had to our program in northern Europe.
Here progress is very slow, where there is any progress at all. The crisis over subsistence products and the financial crisis have managed to put our doctrines in the shade. It appears that Providence is accumulating problems at the start of our work and is taking pleasure in making it more difficult. Perhaps it is part of the divine plan to make success dearly bought and to allow no objection to remain unheard, in order that freedom should become part of our laws only after it has become firmly embedded in public opinion. With this in mind, I will not view the delays, difficulties, obstacles, and trials as misfortunes for our cause. By prolonging the struggle, these will enable us to clarify not only the principal issue but also a great many ancillary matters which are equally as important. Success in legislation is receding, but public opinion is maturing. I would therefore not complain if we were equal to our task. We are, however, very weak. Our militant members have been reduced to four or five stalwarts, almost all of whom are very busy in other spheres. I myself lack practical education; my type of approach, which is to examine principles, makes me unfit to debate events when they accumulate, as I should. What is more, I lose intellectual strength when my physical strength fails. If I could negotiate with nature and exchange ten years of sickly life for two years of vigor and health, the bargain would be quickly struck.
We are also encountering major obstacles from your side of the Channel. My dear Cobden, I must speak frankly to you. In adopting free trade, England has not adopted the policies which logically result from it. Will it do so? I do not doubt this, but when? That is the question. The position that you and your friends will be adopting in Parliament will have an immense influence on our undertaking. If you repudiate your diplomatic policy with energy and if you manage to reduce the size of your naval forces we will be strong. If not, what sort of figure will we cut in the eyes of the public? When we forecast that free trade will lead English policy down the path of justice, peace, economy, and colonial independence, will France be bound to take our word for it? There is an inveterate distrust of England here, which I would go so far as to call a feeling of hostility, which is as old as the very names French and English. Well then, this feeling is excusable. Its mistake is to disapprove globally of all your parties and fellow citizens. But should not nations judge each other by their external acts? It is often said that nations should not be confused with their governments. This adage is both true and false, and I dare say that it is false with regard to those peoples who have constitutional means of influencing public opinion. Bear in mind that France is not educated in economics. Whenever the French read history, therefore, and when they note the succession of invasions by England, when they study the diplomatic means which led to these invasions, when they see a centuries-old system followed assiduously whether the Whigs or the Tories are at the helm of state, and when they read in your newspapers that England currently has thirty-four thousand sailors on warships, how do you expect them to trust in the strength of a principle, which incidentally they do not understand, to bring about a change in your policy? Something else is needed, namely deeds. Restore free trade to your colonies, repeal your Navigation Act,190 and above all disband your naval forces and retain only those that are essential for your security, and in so doing reduce your overheads and debts and relieve your population, cease to threaten other peoples and the freedom of the seas, and then, you may be sure, France will pay attention.
My dear Cobden, in a speech I gave in Lyons, I dared to forecast that this legislature, which has seven years more to run, would bring your political and economic systems into harmony. “Before seven years are up,” I said, “England will have reduced its army and navy by half.” Do not make me tell a lie.191 I met only with incredulity. I am being blamed for being a prophet; I am taken for a fanatic with short-term views who fails to understand British wiles. I, for my part, have confidence in two forces, the force of truth and the force of your true interests.
I do not have a detailed knowledge of what is happening in Athens and Madrid. What I can tell you is that Palmerston and Bulwer inspire universal mistrust. You will answer that if Mr. Bulwer is scheming in Madrid, M. Glucksberg192 is doing the same. So be it. But if the former is acting against the interests of France as the latter is doing against the interests of England, there is nevertheless this difference, that England boasts that it knows where its interests lie. We are still imbued with our old ideas. Is it surprising that our actions reflect this? You, on the other hand, who have shed these ideas, should now reject the acts that go with them. Repudiate Palmerston and Bulwer. Nothing would do more to place us, free traders, in an excellent position in the public’s eyes. What is more, I would like you to tell me the position you intend to take on this matter in Parliament. I will start to influence public opinion here.
I must admit, my dear friend, that, although I am against any form of charlatanism, if you have a majority and are in a position to bring in a new policy in accordance with the principles of free trade, I would like you to do this with some pomp and ceremony. If you reduce your navy, I would like you to link this measure specifically to free trade and proclaim loudly that England had gone down the wrong path and that, because her current purpose is diametrically opposed to that it has pursued up to now, its means need to be the opposite as well.
I will not talk to you about wine. I see that your financial situation does not allow you to pursue major tax reform. However, is it too much to ask for a moderation in the dues which will not be harmful to your revenues? I would like it to be you personally who puts forward this proposal, and I will tell you why some other time. I have room only to assure you of my friendship.
[190 ]The Navigation Act was repealed in 1849 by the cabinet of John Russell.
[191 ]Of course, this prediction did not come true. A couple of years after his death the Crimean War broke out (1854-56), and by the end of the century Britain had the largest navy and the most extensive empire in the world.
[192 ]Louis Charles Decazes.