- An Appreciation By Goldwin Smith
- An Appreciation By J. E. Thorold Rogers
- Free Trade. I. Her Majesty's Speech.—amendment On the Address. House of Commons, August 25, 1841.
- Free Trade. II. Corn-laws.—mr. Villiers' Annual Motion. House of Commons, February 24, 1842.
- Free Trade. III. Distress of the Country. House of Commons, February 17, 1843.
- Free Trade. IV. Corn-laws. House of Commons, May 15, 1843.
- Free Trade. V. London, September 28, 1843.
- Free Trade. VI. London, October 13, 1843.
- Free Trade. VII. Manchester, October 19, 1843.
- Free Trade. VIII. London, February 8, 1844.
- Free Trade. IX. Effect of Protective Duties. House of Commons, March 12, 1844.
- Free Trade. X. London, May 8, 1844.
- Free Trade. XI. London, July 3, 1844.
- Free Trade. XII. Manchester, October 24, 1844.
- Free Trade. XIII. London, December 11, 1844.
- Free Trade. XIV. London, January 15, 1845
- Free Trade. XV. Agricultural Distress. House of Commons, March 13, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVI. London, June 18, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVII. Manchester, October 28, 1845.
- Free Trade. XVIII. Birmingham, November 13, 1845.
- Free Trade. XIX. London, December 17, 1845.
- Free Trade. XX. Manchester, January 15, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXI. Corn-laws. House of Commons, February 27, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXII. Manchester, July 4, 1846.
- Free Trade. XXIII. House of Commons, March 8, 1849.
- Free Trade. XXIV. Leeds, December 18, 1849.
- Free Trade. XXV. Aylesbury, January 9, 1853.
- Letter From Mr. Cobden to the Tenant Farmers of England.
- Finance. I. Manchester, January 27, 1848.
- Finance. II. Manchester, January 10, 1849.
- Finance. III. House of Commons, March 8, 1850.
- Finance. IV. International Reduction of Armaments. House of Commons, June 17, 1851.
- Finance. V. House of Commons, December 13, 1852.
- Finance. VI. House of Commons, April 28, 1853.
- Finance. VII. House of Commons, July 22, 1864.
AYLESBURY, JANUARY 9, 1853.
It gives me particular pleasure to follow a gentleman who has addressed you in the capacity of a tenant-farmer, one who, to my knowledge, in his own business, by the growth of more corn, and raising more cattle, and employing more labour to a given area of soil, excels most of his neighbours—a man so well entitled to speak to you on the subject of the interests of the agriculturists of this country. We are met here under the denomination of a reform meeting—a parliamentary and financial reform meeting; but it will be known to every one present that the general impression, both here and abroad, is, that this is a meeting for the purpose, so far as I am concerned in the matter, of discussing the question of protection or Free Trade, especially with reference to tenant-farmers' interests in this matter. I remember speaking to an audience in this hall six years ago, and on that occasion going through the arguments necessary to show that the Corn-law was founded upon impolicy and injustice; I remember on that occasion maintaining the proposition that the Corn-law had not proved beneficial to any class of the community, and I ventured to say that the country would be more prosperous without the system of agricultural protection than it had been with it. Well, I am here now to maintain that by every test which can proclaim the prosperity or adversity of a nation, we stand better now without the Corn-law than we did when we had it. [Cheers, and some cries of ‘No.'’] I am rather glad to see that there are some dissentients from that proposition; our opponents will not say that this is a packed meeting. We have got some protectionists here. And now, if you will only just keep that order which is necessary for any rational proceedings, I will endeavour to make you Free-traders before you leave.
I have said that, by every test which can decide the question of national prosperity or national adversity, we stand in a better position than we did when we had the Corn-law. What are the tests of a nation's prosperity? A declining or an improving revenue is one test. Well, our revenue is better than it was under a Corn-law. Our exports and our imports are better than they were under the Corn-law. Take the question of pauperism. I will not shrink even from the test of pauperism in the agricultural districts; I have the statistics of many of your unions in Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, and I warn the protectionist orators, who are going about persuading themselves that they have a case in the matter of pauperism, that when Parliament meets, and Mr. Baines is enabled to bring forward the Poor-law statistics up to the last week (not going to the ‘blue books,’ and bringing forward the accounts of the previous year), I warn the protectionists that, with regard to the test of pauperism, even in the agricultural districts, it will be seen that things are more favourable now, with bread at a moderate price, than they were in 1847, when prices were to their hearts' content, and the loaf was nearly double the price it is now. Take the state of wages; that is a test of the condition of the people. What are the people earning now, compared with 1847, when the protectionists were so well satisfied with their high prices? Why, as a rule, throughout the country, there is more money earned now than there was then; and they are getting the comforts and necessaries of life in many cases at two-thirds, and in some cases at less than that, of the prices of 1847. [A Voice: ‘It is not so with the agricultural labourers.'’] I will come to them by-and-by. What I want you to agree with in the outset is that your labourers are not the nation; and if your agriculture be an exception to the rule, we must find out the reason why it is so; we will come to that by-and-by.
I remember quite well, when I came here to see you before, how my ears used to be dinned by the argument, that if we had free-trade in corn, the gold would all be drained out of this country, for that you could not bring in 5,000,000 quarters of grain without being drained of your gold; that the foreigner would not take anything else in exchange. Why, we have had between 30,000,000 and 40,000,000 quarters within these last four years, and the Bank of England was never so encumbered with gold as it is now. I have spoken of wages, and I say that in every branch of industry the rate of wages has improved. You may say that agriculture is an exception. We will come to that, but I do not make an exception in favour of any trade in your district; I do not make an exception in the case of the employment of women in your district, for I have made particular inquiry, and I find, even in the article of straw-plaiting, that families who could not earn 15s. in 1847, are now earning 25s. ['No,' and some confusion.] I say families. I know we have some of the most extensive manufacturers in this hall. Then there is the lace trade, the pillow-lace trade, employing a great number of women in Buckinghamshire. [Renewed confusion, owing to a gentleman pressing his way towards the platform. A Voice: ‘He is a reporter.'’] Well, we are delighted to see the gentlemen of the press; the more of them the better; what we say here will be read elsewhere, and we speak for that purpose. I was about saying, that even the wages of the pillowlace makers have advanced, and they are getting their bread at two-thirds the former price. Even the poor chair-makers of this and the adjoining county—a trade that has hardly known what it was to have a revival—are getting better. I repeat it, there is not an exception of any trade in which there is not an advantage gained by the moderate price of food that now prevails. ['Not the lace makers?'] They are getting more employment.
But I want now to come to the question which interests you in this immediate neighbourhood. If every other great interest of the State is thriving—and no one can deny it—how is it that agriculture is depressed? how is it that the interests of agriculture are found in antagonism with the interests of the rest of the community? Why, these people have been proceeding upon a false system, they have been upon an unsound basis; they have been reckoning upon Act of Parliament prices; they have made their calculations upon Act of Parliament prices, and now they find they are obliged, like other individuals, to be content with natural prices. What is the reason that agriculture cannot thrive as well as other trades? We find meetings called, purporting to be meetings of farmers, complaining of distress? and what is their remedy for that distress? Is it to go and talk like men of business to their landlords, and ask them for fresh terms of agreement, fresh arrangements, that they may have the raw material of their trade—the land—at the natural price, and free from those absurd restrictions that prevent their giving the natural value to it? No. Go to a meeting where there is a landlord in the chair, or a land-agent—his better-half,—and you find them talking, but never as landlords and land-agents, but as farmers, and for farmers. And what do they say? Why, they say, ‘We must go to Parliament, and get an Act of Parliament to raise the price of corn, that you may be able to pay us your rents.’ That is what it amounts to.
Now, what ought to be the plan pursued by the landlord and tenant on an occasion like this? The landlord, as Mr. Disraeli very properly observed yesterday at Great Marlow, is an individual who has land, which is a raw material, and nothing more, to dispose of; and the farmer is a capitalist, who offers to take this raw material, in order that he may work it up and make a profit by it: in fact, the farmer and the landlord stand in precisely the same position that the cotton-spinner and the cotton-merchant stand in. The cotton-spinner buys his cotton wool from the cotton-merchant, in order that he may spin it up at a profit. If he can get his raw material cheap, he can make a profit; and if not, he cannot. But we never hear of the cotton-spinner and the merchant going together to Parliament for a law to keep up the price of cotton. I declare, when I find landlord and tenant running about raising a cry for ‘protection,’ and going to Parliament for a law to benefit them by raising the price of corn, I cannot help feeling humiliated at the spectacle, because it is a proof of want of intelligence on the one side, and, I fear, want of honesty, too, on the other.
Now, suppose you were to see a crowd of people running up and down the streets of Aylesbury, shouting out, ‘Protection! protection! oh, give us protection! we are all rowing in the same boat!’ and when you inquired who these people were, you were told they were the grocers of Aylesbury and their customers, who were crying out for a law which would raise the price of all the hogsheads of sugar in the grocers' stores,—would you not say that this was a very curious combination of the grocers and their customers? Would not you say that the interest of the men who had the hogsheads of sugar to sell, and who wished therefore to raise the price, could not be identical with that of the men who had to buy the sugar? Yet, that is precisely the position in which the tenant-farmers and the landowners stand. [Cries of ‘No, no,’ and ‘Yes.'’] Well, will any gentleman rise on this platform, and explain where I am wrong? Now, the plan I would recommend the tenant-farmers and the landholders to pursue is precisely the plan which has been adopted by my own tenants and myself. I will explain how I acted in this matter. I promised I would explain my conduct, and I will do so; and if those newspapers that write for protectionist farmers report nothing else of what I may say to-night, I beg them to let their farming readers know what I am now going to say. [A Voice: ‘How large are your farms?'’] I will tell you all about it. I happen to stand here in the quality of a landlord, filling, as I avowed to you at the beginning, a most insignificant situation in that character.
I possess a small estate in West Sussex, of about 140 acres in extent, and a considerable part of it in wood. It is situated in a purely farming district, in the midst of the largest protectionist proprietors in Sussex; the land is inferior; it has no advantages; it is nearly ten miles distant from a railroad; it has no chimneys or growing manufacturing towns to give it value. Now this is precisely the kind of land which we have been told again and again by Lord John Manners the Marquis of Granby, and other protectionist landlords, cannot be cultivated at all with wheat at 40s., even if it were given to the cultivator rent-free. This property came into my possession in 1847. [A Voice: ‘You got it from the League funds.'’] Yes; I am indebted for that estate, and I am proud here to acknowledge it, to the bounty of my countrymen. That estate was the scene of my birth and of my infancy; it was the property of my ancestors; it is by the munificence of my countrymen that this small estate, which had been alienated by my father from necessity, has again come into my hands, and that I am enabled to light up again the hearth of my fathers; and I say that there is no warrior duke who owns a vast domain by the vote of the imperial Parliament who holds his property by a more honourable title than that by which I possess mine.
My first visit to this property, after it came into my possession, was in 1848. At that time, as you are aware, prices ranged high in this country; but never expecting those prices would continue, I thought that the proper time for every man having an interest in the land to prepare for the coming competition with the foreigner. I gave orders that every hedge-row tree upon my estate should be cut down and removed. I authorised the two occupying tenants upon the property to remove every fence upon the estate, or, if they liked, to grub up only a portion of them; but I distinctly said I would rather not see a hedge remaining on the property, inasmuch as it was surrounded with woods, and I did not think fences were necessary. That portion of the land which required draining, I had instantly drained at my own cost. The estate, as I have said, was situated in the midst of large protectionist landowners, who, as a matter of course, were great game preservers; and it had therefore been particularly infested with hares and rabbits. I authorised the tenants on my land to kill the rabbits and hares, and to empower any one else they pleased to kill them.
So troublesome had been the hares and rabbits on that little property, that they even entered the gardens and allotments of the labourers; and one of those labourers appeared before the Committee of the House of Commons on the Game-laws in 1845, and stated that the rabbits had not only devoured his vegetables, his cabbages, and his peas, but had actually dug up his potatoes! At that time—in 1845—the property did not belong to me: but I took care to explain to this worthy man, in 1848, when I visited the estate, that if the hares or rabbits ever troubled him, or the other labourers living upon my property, that under the present law any man may destroy hares on his own holding without taking out a licence, and I advised the labourers to set gins and snares upon their allotments and in their gardens, to catch all the hares and rabbits they could; and when they caught them, to be sure and put them in their own pots and eat them themselves. That is the way in which I dealt with the game on my property. I must confess that I have no taste whatever for the preservation of such vermin, which I believe to be utterly inconsistent with good farming, and the greatest obstacle to the employment of the labourers. For my own part I would rather see a good fat hog in every sty belonging to my labourers, than have the best game preserve in the country.
That, then, was the course which I took in 1848, to prepare for the coming competition with the foreigner. It was a time when prices ranged high; nothing was settled about rents. In the course of the last year, however, I received a letter from one of my tenants, saying, ‘When I took this land from your predecessor, it was upon the calculation of wheat being at 56s. a quarter; it is now little more than 40s., and I should like to have a new arrangement made.’ I wrote in reply, ‘The proposition you make is reasonable. We will have a new bargain. I am willing to enter upon an arrangement, estimating the future price of wheat at 40s.; but whilst I am willing to take all the disadvantages of low prices, I must have the benefit of good cultivation, and therefore we will estimate the produce of the land to be such as could be grown by good farmers upon the same quality of soil.’ Now, from the moment that this reasonable proposition was made, there was not the slightest anxiety of mind on the part of my tenants—not the least difficulty in carrying on their business of farming under a system of Free Trade as well as they had done under the system of protection. From that moment the farmers on this small property felt themselves no longer interested in the matter of Free Trade and protection; and the labourers felt that they had as good a prospect of employment as they had before, and they had no interest in the question of protection. We settled our terms. I have bargained for my rent. It is no business of the public what rent I get. That is my business, and the business of the farmers; but if it is any satisfaction to my protectionist friends, I will admit that I am receiving a reduced rent, notwithstanding that I have drained the land, and given them the game, and removed the hedges, and cleared away every hedge-row tree.
What, then, becomes of the argument that it is impossible to carry on agriculture in this country with wheat at 40s. a quarter? I am getting some rent—and not so very large a reduction from the rent I got before; and it is enough for me to say that the land is being cultivated, and that farmers and labourers are employed and contented.
Now, with regard to a lease, I said to both my tenants, ‘Either take the land from year to year, with an agreement binding each of us to submit to arbitration the valuation of unexhausted improvements when you leave the land; or, if you like, take a lease, and I will bind you down to no covenants as to the way in which you are to cultivate the land while you possess it.’ What possible excuse, then, can the landowners in any part of the country have for coming forward and telling us that land cannot be cultivated because wheat is 40s. a quarter? The answer I intend to give to those noble dukes and lords who are running about the country, and who are so angry with me, and are scolding me so lustily, is this—'Let me have the arranging of the affairs between you and your tenants,—the terms, the rent, and condition of the holdings,—and I will undertake to ensure that your land shall be cultivated better than it was before, that farming shall be as profitable to the farmer, that the labourer shall have as full employment, and at as good wages, provided you allow me to enter into the same arrangement that I have made with my own tenants.' But that would not suit these parties. It would make a dry, dull, unprofitable matter of business of what is now made a piece of agitation, which ought to be called moonshine.
Now, if I had been a protectionist, I might have made money by this. I will show you how I should have done so. When my tenants wrote to me to say there ought to be a fresh agreement between us, what would have been my answer had I been a protectionist? I should have said, ‘That is true, my good friends; we will have a meeting at Great Marlow or High Wycombe, and we will petition Parliament to pass a law to protect you.’ Well, we should have had a meeting, my tenants would have been invited to attend, and would have shouted, ‘We are all rowing in the same boat!’ and after two or three hours of dull speeches, you would have had a conclusion with ‘three groans for Cobden.’ After this meeting was over, my tenants might have gone home, and might have been prepared, until the next audit, to pay their full rents as before. And if I were a protectionist landowner, I should have then wanted some fresh excuse against the next audit-day. Consequently, I should probably have told the farmers to come to the next meeting, at 17, Old Bond-street, to memorialise her Majesty,—for they were not to be told to petition the House of Commons, but to lay their complaints at the foot of the throne. After my poor tenants had done all this, and had gone home, and prepared their rents for the next audit-day, then some fresh excuse must be found, and we might have told the farmers, that instead of memorialising the Queen, they should agitate for a dissolution of Parliament. In this case, we should have been safe in respect to our rents for the next three years, because that is an agitation which would last such a period.
In the mean time what would be the consequence to my tenants? With heartsickening delay, and with the hopelessness inspired into their souls by these dreary, dull, protectionist speeches, telling them that they could not cultivate their land even if no rent were paid; and with the constant drain on their resources to pay their old rents, without amelioration in their holdings, one-half the tenants might be ruined, and I am not sure that a large proportion will not be ruined by the tactics of the protectionists at the present moment. But was it necessary for any farmer to be ruined if the landlords pursued the same system as myself? This is simply and purely a rent question. And if the farmers cannot carry on their business, it is because they pay too high a rent in proportion to the amount of their produce. I do not say that in many cases the rents of the landlords might not be excessive, provided the land were cultivated to its full capacity. But that cannot be done without sufficient capital, and that sufficient capital cannot be applied without sufficient security, or without a tenant-right, or a lease amounting to tenant-right. We want to bring the landowner and the tenant together, to confront them in their separate capacity as buyers and sellers; so that they might deal together as other men of business, and not allow themselves to play this comedy of farmers and landlords crying about for protection, and saying that they are rowing in the same boat; when, in fact, they are rowing in two boats, and in opposite directions.
There is a new red-herring thrown across the scent of the farmers; they are told that protection cannot be had just now; but in the mean time they must have half the amount of the local rates thrown on the Consolidated Fund. I am really astonished that anybody should have the assurance to get up, and, facing a body of tenant-farmers, make such a proposal to them for the benefit of the landowners. The local rates at present are paid on the real property of the country. Such is the nature of the poor-rates and of the county-rates, &c. They are not assessed on the tenant's capital. [Hear, and a cry, ‘Mr. Lattimore said they are.'’] He said no such thing. [Some expressions of dissent.] He did not say that the assessment was on the ploughs and oxen of the tenantry. It is on the rent of land, and not on the floating capital; for it is known to everybody that the assessment is on the rent, and, if the rate is assessed on the rent, why the tenant charges it to the landlord when he takes his farm. He calculates what the rates and taxes are, and, if the farm is highly rated, he pays less rent. Did you ever know a landlord let his land tithe-free on the same terms as land which had the tithe on it? At present the rates were laid on the rent of land, and were ultimately paid by the landlord. I admit that at first the tenant pays it out of his pocket, but he gets it again when he pays his rent. But only think of this wise proposal of the farmers' friend, who says, ‘in order to relieve you tenant-farmers, I will take one half of these 12,000,000l. of local taxes off, and put it on the Consolidated Fund—that is to say, on tea, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and other articles which you tenant-farmers and labourers consume.’ There is a pretty project for benefiting the tenant-farmers!
But there is another scheme; there are two ways of doing this. The other way is by assessing the rates on the floating capital of the country. The argument is—why should not the shop-keepers, the bankers, and the fundholders be assessed? But if you allow the bringing in of stock-in-trade to be assessed, you must bring in the farmers' stock-in-trade to be assessed. I now ask the farmers in Aylesbury and its neighbourhood, what they would gain if the value of all stock held upon land within the neighbourhood of Aylesbury were assessed? Has not Mr. Lattimore told you that the estimated value of the farming stock of this kingdom is 250,000,000l.? then I can only say it is five times as much as the capital invested in the cotton trade, and more than that employed in the great staple manufactures together; and under such circumstances, how can those landlords tell the farmers that they would put rates on the floating stock? And is it not, then, a wise proposal to make to the farmers, to take off half of the rates, and to put the assessment on the floating capital, of which the farmer possesses the greater proportion? I am humiliated when I read of these meetings, in which the farmers listen and gape at such speeches; and I feel a relief that it is not my duty to attend at such meetings, and that I have no landlord to oblige by being present at these meetings.
What is the course, then, which ought to be pursued by the farmers at the present time? If they had such leaders like Mr. Lattimore, and the courage to follow him, they would meet together simply as farmers—as tenant-farmers only. If it had been a question affecting one of our mechanical trades in Lancashire and Yorkshire, the persons connected with that trade would have met together, and would have discussed among themselves exclusively what should be the course to be pursued under the circumstances. But the farmers are led out to parade by land-agents, and land-valuers, and landlords, who talk in their name, delude them in the face of the country, and make a lamentable exhibition of them to the rest of the country. The tenant-farmers should do on the subject of corn as the manufacturers did in reference to their interests—they should meet together in one community.
But let me not be misunderstood. I do not say that on other questions the small squire and tenant-farmer should be separated. I do not say that the landlords and the farmers should not go to the same church together, and meet in the same market. But when the tenant-farmers meet to talk on the subject of Free Trade, they should meet together alone, and should exclude every landlord from their council. This I say in reference to any occasion when the tenant-farmers meet together to talk about the subject of protection, in which they have an interest totally distinct from the land-lord who lets them their land; and they should not only exclude the great landed proprietor, but also the man whose predominant interest is that of the landowner, though he may be at the same time a tenant-farmer to a subordinate extent. The occupying tenants are men who employ their capital on the raw material, as Mr. Disraeli called it, and it was a good term. The tenant-farmers in this matter of protection have a totally distinct interest from the landowners, or small squires, or land-agents; and until they meet in their several localities totally distinct from all other classes, they never will have a chance of arriving at a just appreciation of their own position, or their own difficulties. They never will be able to combine together to get such terms and conditions as are necessary to enable them to carry on their business under the system of Free Trade.
Let me not be misunderstood. I do not say that under a natural state of things all classes have not a common interest in the general prosperity of the country. Let them only act towards each other with fairness, justice, and with honesty, and they would be promoting in the end not only their own, but the general interests of the community. We have come here, I believe, to talk about financial and parliamentary reform, as well as other matters, and as I have been suffering from a cold, as you perhaps are aware, I will leave to other speakers to deal with those general topics, having preferred myself to touch more particularly upon the question concerning the tenant-farmers and the landlord.
LETTER FROM MR. COBDEN
TO THE TENANT FARMERS OF ENGLAND.
TO THE FARMING TENANTRY OF THE UNITED KINGDOM.
Gentlemen,—The question for you now to determine is, Shall the repeal of the Corn-law be gradual or immediate? Deny it who may, this is the only question that deserves a moment's consideration at your hands. Public opinion has decreed that protection to both agriculture and manufactures shall be abolished; and Ministers and statesmen have at last reluctantly bowed to a power from which there is no appeal. Let no designing or obtuse politicians delude you with the cry that the House of Lords, or a dissolution of Parliament, can prevent the repeal of the Corn-law. All men of average sagacity are now agreed that Free Trade in corn and manufactures is inevitable. How, then, shall we apply this new principle?—timidly and gradually, like children; or boldly and at once, as becomes men and Englishmen? Upon this point, I wish to submit to your consideration a few remarks which I believe to be of the utmost importance to your interests; they are offered in good faith by one who has sprung from your own ranks, and who, although deemed by some to be your enemy, will, I hope, live to be regarded as a promoter of the independence and prosperity of the farming tenantry of the kingdom.
The Government measure proposes to abolish the Corn-law in February, 1849, putting on for the three intervening years a new scale of duties, sliding from 10s. to 4s. The moment this law is passed, the duty will drop from 15s. to 4s. Here will be change the first, fright the first, and with many, I fear, panic the first. But there will be no settlement. You will not be able to foretell whether the duty during the years 1847 and 1848 will be 4s. or 10s. It is quite probable that, in February, 1849, the duty will be 10s.; if so, on the 1st of that month, it will drop again suddenly, from 10s. to 1s. Here will be change the second, fright the second, and, possibly, panic the second. The fall of duty in these two changes would have amounted to, first, from 15s. to 4s.; next, from 10s. to 1s.; making, together, 20s.; but, mark, if the duty were immediately reduced, from 15s. to 1s., the fall would be only 14s. So that, by this clumsy contrivance, you are not only to be kept for three years in a state of suspense and embarrassment, and exposed to double panics, but are liable to a drop of 20s., instead of 14s., duty; you are actually subjected to the shock of the withdrawal of 6s. more of protection!
But this is only a small part of the danger to which you will be exposed by the delay. From the moment that the new Corn-law is passed, foreigners and corn-importers will begin to make preparations for the day of its extinction; they dread a sliding-scale in any shape, owing to former losses, and will keep their eyes steadily fixed upon the 1st of February, 1849.
What a precious policy is this which advertises for three years to all the land-owners and speculators of the entire world, offering them a premium to hold back their supplies, and then to pour upon our markets, in one day, a quantity of corn which, but for this contrivance, might have been spread over twelve or eighteen months! And what may your fate be under these probable circumstances? Supposing the crop of 1848 to be abundant in this country, you will be liable, in the spring of 1849, to the sudden and unnatural influx of the corn accumulated by foreigners for this market; thus beating down prices artificially, to the loss of all parties, but more especially of the British farmer.
How different would be the operations of an immediate repeal of the Corn-law! There would then be no stock of foreign corn waiting for the opening of our ports. Nobody expected last year in Poland or America that the English Corn-law would be repealed—nobody prepared for it; not a bushel of grain was raised upon the chance of such an unlooked-for contingency. Is there an intelligent farmer in the kingdom that will not at once exclaim, ‘If we are to have a repeal of the Corn-law, give us it this spring, when the foreigner is unprepared for it, and when not a single quarter of corn sown after the news reaches him can be brought to this market in less than eighteen months.’
But the present is, beyond all comparison, the most favourable moment ever known for abolishing the Corn-law. If ever it could be repealed without even temporary inconvenience to the farmer, this is the time. There is a scarcity at present over nearly all the Continent. One-half of Europe is competing for the scanty surplus stock of grain in America. Millions of our countrymen are deprived of their ordinary subsistence by the disease of the potato, and they must be sustained at the public expense upon a superior food. Do what we will, we cannot, during the present year, secure low prices. Abolish the Corn-law to-morrow, and still wheat must rise during the spring and summer. If the farmers had the power of ordering time and circumstances, they could not contrive a juncture more favourable to them than the present for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-law. Nay, I believe that if the Corn-law could be abolished by a secret edict tomorrow, the farmers would never make the discovery of open ports by any injurious effect produced upon their interests.
I cannot believe that Sir Robert Peel is favourable to the gradual repeal; he supported it by no other argument in his speech than the fear of panic amongst the farmers; but he has told us again and again, in proposing his former alterations in the tariff, that he believes all such changes are less injurious, if suddenly made, than when spread over a period of years. I have the strongest conviction, derived from his own past changes in the tariff, that he is right. Why then should you, in deference to unfounded fears, be deprived of the benefits of experience? If you speak out in favour of an immediate settlement, who will oppose your wishes? Not the Government—they are anxious, so far as public opinion and the exigencies of the moment will allow, to conciliate your favour; not the great landed proprietors, whose interests and yours are in this respect identical, who desire also, on political grounds, to put a period to an agitation, the prolonged duration of which they believe to be injurious, and who would willingly take any step which shall at once consult your interests and dissolve the League.
Let me entreat you to take this subject into your instant and earnest consideration. Do me the justice to believe that I have no other object in view in writing this letter but to serve your interests. If you should be induced to concur in its views, you will avoid the only danger to which, in my opinion, the farmers were ever exposed from the repeal of the Corn-law—that of the transition state. From the first I have always entertained and expressed the conviction that Free Trade, far from permanently injuring the farmers, would ultimately tend to their prosperity and independence. I never disguised from myself, however, the temporary evils to which they might be exposed in the change. But let us unite in seizing the present opportunity, and the triumph of sound principles may be achieved without the bitter ingredient of one particle of injury to any class or individual. From the most exalted personage in the realm down to the humblest peasant, all may witness, with unalloyed pleasure, one of the greatest victories ever achieved over past prejudice and ignorance, whilst each class may derive peculiar gratification at the close of our long domestic struggle. The Sovereign may glory that her reign was reserved for the era of a commercial reformation, more pregnant in beneficial consequences to the destimes of mankind than all the wars of her illustrious ancestors; the landed aristocracy will see in the consummation of our labours an opening for the resumption of their social influence, based upon the only sure foundation—the respect and confidence of the people; whilst to the middle and industrious classes will be presented a constantly widening field for the employment of their peaceful energies, together with greater means and more leisure for that moral amelioration which, I trust, will accompany their improved physical condition.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
30th January, 1846.
MANCHESTER, JANUARY 27, 1848.
[On Jan. 4, the Morning Chronicle published a letter of the Duke of Wellington to Sir John Burgoyne, in which the great change which modern improvement in attack had induced on all systems of national defence was insisted on The Duke urged that a large addition must be made to the military forces of the country, in order to make it secure. Mr. Cobden, in a meeting at Manchester, where general politics were discussed, combated this opinion.]
I have, in the first place, to tender you my thanks, and the thanks of those gentlemen who represent North and South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, for the honour which you have done us. I believe that a very large proportion of the Members of those divisions of the two counties are now Free-traders, and, I have no doubt, will be found to do their duty to the satisfaction of this assembly.
Now, gentlemen, I have been asked a dozen times, I dare say, what is the object of this meeting. I confess to you that I do not wish to regard it as a meeting to celebrate past triumphs, still less to glorify ourselves or one another. I wish rather that it should be made to show that we are alive to the future—that, having secured upon the statute-book a guarantee for free trade in corn, we intend to make that the prelude to free trade in ships—that we intend to prevent the West India proprietors from taxing this community for their advantage—and that, in fact, we intend to carry out in every article of commerce the principles of Free Trade, which we have applied to corn.
Now, gentlemen, our esteemed Representative (Mr. Milner Gibson) has so ably and efficiently anticipated some points which I intended to refer to in connection with the sugar question, and other applications of our principles of Free Trade, that I am relieved from the necessity of repeating them, and I thank him most heartily for the speech which he has delivered upon this occasion, which is one of the ablest that I ever heard in this hall. I believe that the question of Free Trade, the question of Free Trade in all its details, is understood by this assembly—that what I have told you to be the future objects of this meeting has the concurrence of every one in this assembly, and I have no doubt that every Member of Parliament now upon this platform will aid us in carrying our principles into effect.
But now, gentlemen, I wish to allude to another subject, and although I deem that subject to have an intimate connection with the question of Free Trade, yet I wish to be distinctly understood, and I do not for a moment presume that, in what I am going to say, I shall speak the sentiments of any Member of Parliament or gentleman beside me. I speak only for myself, and I wish to be understood as compromising no other individual. I allude, as you may probably anticipate, to the intention which has been announced of increasing our warlike armaments.
Now, gentlemen, you will bear me out, that throughout the long agitation for Free Trade, the most earnest men who co-operated with us were those who constantly advocated Free Trade, not merely on account of the material advantages which it would bring to the community, but for the far loftier motive of securing permanent peace between nations. I believe that it was that consideration which mainly drew to our ranks that great accession of ministers of religion which gave so powerful an impetus to our progress at the commencement of our agitation; and I, who have known most of the leading men connected with the struggle, and have had the opportunity of understanding their motives, can say that I believe that the most earnest, the most persevering, the most devoted of our coadjutors, have been prompted by those lofty, those purely moral and religious motives to which I have referred, especially for the object of peace. Well, gentlemen, I am sure that every one of those men have shared with me the shock which my feelings sustained, when, within one short twelvemonths after we had announced our adoption of Free Trade to the world, we were startled with the announcement that we were going to increase our warlike armaments.
I ask, what is the explanation of this? Probably we may find it in the Duke of Wellington's letter—in the private efforts which he announces therein that he has made with the Government, and to the correspondence which he has had with Lord John Russell. I may attribute this, then, to the Duke of Wellington and his letter, and to his persevering efforts. Well, I do not profess to share the veneration which some men entertain for successful warriors. But is there amongst the most ardent admirers of the Duke one man, possessing the ordinary feelings of humanity, who would not wish that that letter had never been written or never published? His Grace has passed the point of the ordinary duration of human existence, and I may say, almost without a figure of speech, that he is tottering on the verge of the grave. Is it not a most lamentable spectacle that that hand, which is no longer capable of wielding a sword, should devote its still remaining feeble strength to the penning of a letter,—and that letter may possibly be the last public letter which he may address to his fellow-countrymen,—which is more calculated than anything in the present day to create evil passions and animosities in the breasts of two great and neighbouring nations? Would it not have been a better employment for him to have been seen preaching forgiveness and oblivion of the past, rather than in reviving recollections of Toulon, and Paris, and Waterloo; and, in fact, doing everything to invite a brave people to retaliatory measures, to retrieve themselves from past disasters and injuries? Would it not have been a more glorious object to contemplate, had he poured the oil into those wounds which are now almost healed, rather than have thus applied the cautery—reopening those wounds, and leaving to other generations the task of repairing the mischief which he has perpetrated? I will leave the subject of the Duke's letter with this remark, which I made when I read it and came to the conclusion, where he says, ‘I am in my 77th year'’—I said, that explains it all, and excuses it all. We have not to deal with the Duke of Wellington; we have to deal with those younger men, who want to make use of his authority to carry out their own special purposes.
Now, what I wish to impress on you and the people of England is, that the question before us is not a military, not a naval question, but a question for civilians to decide. When we are at war, then the men with red clothes and swords by their sides may step in to do their work—and, as Sir H. Smith fitly described it, in a speech which he recently made, a damnable trade it is. But we are now at peace, and we wish to reap the fruits of peace, and in order to do so we must calculate for ourselves the contingency of a possible war. That is a civilian's question—that is a question for the decision of the tax-payers who have to pay the cost of a war. It is a question for the merchant; it is a question for the manufacturer, for the shopkeepers, for the operatives, for the farmers of this country—ay, and, pardon me, my Lord Ellesmere, it is a question for the calico-printer.
What is this prospect of a war? Where does it come from? You, I say, are competent to judge on this subject better than military men. You are more impartial; you are disinterested; at all events, your interest does not lie on the side of war. Any man who can read a book giving an account of France—any man who can read a translation from a French newspaper—any man who will take the trouble of studying the statistics of the progress of their commerce and wealth—any man who can study these things, is as competent as a soldier to pronounce an opinion on the probability of a war. I have had better opportunities than any soldier of studying these things, and I say that there never was a time in the history of France and England when there was a greater tendency to a pacific policy in France, and especially towards this kingdom, than there is at the present time. Why, the French people have gone through a process which almost disqualifies them for going to war. They have gone through a social revolution, which has so much equalised property that the tax-payers are equally spread all over the country, and, paying a large portion of the taxes in indirect taxation, they have a direct interest and a most sensitive feeling in the expenditure which would be necessary to go to war. There are in France far more people of property than in England. There are some five or six millions of real proprietors of the soil in France. You have not one-tenth of that number in England. These are all thrifty, painstaking, careful men—all with their little savings, their little hoards of five-franc pieces—all anxious to do something for their children, for there is not a more domestic and affectionate race in the world than the French. I have seen with horror, and shame, and indignation, the way in which some of our newspapers speak of the French people. They have placed us before the community, before the world, in so ignominious, so degraded a condition—they have marked us as such an ignorant people, to say nothing of our prejudices and want of Christian charity, that, I say, nothing but an uprising of the people in multitudinous assemblages like this, and repudiating the doctrines put forth by those pretending to speak and write in their behalf, can set us right with the world or with ourselves.
There is one paper in this city, which I would always wish to treat with respect, if it will allow me—there is, I say, one paper here which, I see, last week gravely entered into this argument, gravely adopted this line of reasoning, that it is necessary we should have a police in Manchester, and that we have had a constantly increasing police here to protect us—against what? thieves, ruffians, pickpockets, and murderers; and, therefore, we must have increasing naval and military armaments to protect us against the French. Are the majority of the French people thieves and pickpockets, ruffians and murderers? If they are, could they exist as an organised community? And yet they are a community as orderly as ourselves, for there has been as little tumult in France during the last five or six years as there has been in England.
I see that there is another newspaper in London, a weekly newspaper, which used to write with some degree of credit to itself, but I presume that it has been panic-stricken,—that it has lost its wits. That paper tells us that the next war with France will take place without any declaration of hostilities on the part of that country, and that, literally, we have to protect our Queen at Osborne House against these ruffianly Frenchmen, who may, otherwise, come and carry her off What a lesson has our courageous Queen read to these men! She went over to France, unfriended, unprotected, and threw herself on shore at the Chateau d'Eu, literally in a bathing-machine. Now, there is either great courage on one side, or great cowardice on the other.
But, gentlemen, this is a sort of periodical visitation which we have. I sometimes compare it to the cholera—for I believe that the last infection which we had of this kind came about the time of the cholera. The last time that a cry of this sort was got up, we were threatened with an invasion of the Russians, which my friend (Mr. Milner Gibson) has told you of. Now, I am rather identified with and interested in that invasion of Russia. It was that which made me an author; it was that which made me a public man; and it is quite possible, if it had not been for the insanity of some of the public newspapers—and some of them are just as insane now as they were then—that I should not have come into public life. They then told us that the Russians would be coming over here some foggy day, and that they would land at Yarmouth. If it had not been for that insanity I should never have turned author, never have written pamphlets, but must have been a thrifty, painstaking calico-printer to this day.
Now, again, what I want is, that you should understand a little better about these foreigners. You may remember that about three weeks or a month ago I had occasion to address a few remarks to the electors assembled at Newton, on the occasion of the election of my friend Mr. Henry; and that there I let fall some observations favourable to the reduction of our armaments, and showing how necessary it was that we should reduce our expenditure in that department, in order to enable us to carry out fiscal reform. I little dreamt then, that within a few hours of the time when I was speaking, a large meeting was being held at Rouen, the Manchester of France, at which there were 1,800 electors assembled, to promote, at a public dinner, the progress of parliamentary reform, and that a gentleman was there making a speech so similar to my own, that he sent me a newspaper containing a report of it, and expressed his astonishment that two speeches, made without collusion, should have so nearly resembled each other. I will, if you please, read that gentleman's remarks, and notice the cheers of the company as I go on. It is Mons. Vicienne who speaks:—
'How long will it take to turn from theory into practice the very simple idea that, apart from the precepts of religion, which we do so often quote, but so seldom practise, and upon the merest calculations of an enlightened self-interest, nations have a far different mission upon earth than to excite in each other mutual fear? How long will it be before they discover the selfish objects of those who have an interest in persuading them that the name of a foreigner is synonymous with that of enemy? When will they learn that, as children of the same Father, their real and only enemies, those which they ought to struggle to destroy, are ignorance, oppression, misery, and superstition?—[cheers]—that in proclaiming their mutual friendships, they will tend to the consolidation of peaceful relations with each other? When will they discover that the maintenance of formidable armaments, in countries whose nationality is not seriously menaced, inflicts an evil upon all, and confers benefits on none? [Shouts of "That's true—that's true."] But, better to define my idea, do you not think that if, confident in the maintenance of an honourable peace, we were to deduct from the 500 millions francs which our army and navy cost us, 20 millions to be applied to the education of the people, and a like sum for the purpose of converting 20,000 soldiers into road-makers; if we gave back to agriculture and manufactures 50,000 more soldiers, leaving in our pockets the sum which they cost to pay and support them—think you not that this would be a good result of the entente cordiale, I will not say between the Governments—we know what that is worth—[laughter]—but the nations, which have no dynastic interests to serve, and do not play at diplomacy. [Cheers.] Do you not think that this example of common sense and feeling of security given by us would have its influence upon the other countries of Europe, would lead to other disarmaments, would facilitate everywhere those fiscal reforms which are postponed from day to day on the plea of the necessities of the treasury, and would give to productive industry that capital and labour which are now diverted into unproductive channels? [Expressions of assent.]'
Now, at the same meeting, another gentleman, an eminent Member of the Chamber of Deputies, spoke, and said:—
'Heaven grant that the day may come when the world shall be one nation! God gave us the earth, not to bathe it with blood, but that we might make it smile with fertility. [Cheers.] Oh! gentlemen, which nation has found the grandest success in war? What country can exhibit such glorious triumphs as France, whose soldiers rushed to the field of battle in search of death, or rather immortality? [Applause.] But after glory comes reverses; we have found that if war has its immense triumphs, it has also its immense disasters. Besides, what changes are going on around us! If war, during so many ages, was the rule, and peace the exception, in our day peace ought to be the rule and war the exception. [Cheers.] See, in fact, what is passing throughout civilised Europe. People are fraternising by their industry, and by those novel means of communication which are almost annihilating distances. In four days you are at the extremity of Germany; in five days you may visit Berlin and Vienna; in seven days you are upon the banks of the Vistula. In a short time we shall be as near to the empire of Russia; already travellers are carrying ideas of liberty into that country, frightening tyranny, which will one day fall from its seat. Enough of conquering! Who would wish again to arm people against each other? Why should they think of the aggrandisement of territory when there are no longer any barriers between nations? [Prolonged cheering.] Let me not be told that this is a dream—a Utopia; already we begin to realise it. By their intercourse, nations are beginning to know and understand each other; they are ridding themselves, one and all, of those ancient prejudices and hatreds which have hitherto separated them. Why should they not fraternise together? Why should they be enemies? Are they not the children of one God? Have they not all the same immortal spirit, which is the emanation from heaven? And, upon earth, have they not the same interests to protect and develope? [Prolonged sensation—bravos!] And I demand of you, if France, warlike and conquering, has seen the nations offering to her the tribute of their acclamations, what a part will she perform in this long peace of the world! [Applause and long interruption.]'
Now, gentlemen, those extracts are very long, but I thought they would interest you—to know what was passing in a popular assembly, representing the active public opinion of the chief manufacturing town in France; and when you see such sentiments as those applauded in the way in which they were in a French assembly, why will you, people of Manchester, believe that the French are that nation of bandits which some of your newspapers would make you believe? I do not mean to say that there may not be predjudices in France to root out; and Heaven knows that we have prejudices enough in England to extirpate; but this I do say, that it is not with a few insignificant brawlers in Paris—men without station, stake, or influence in their country—it is not with those we should attempt to pick a quarrel, but it is rather to such men as those from whose speeches I have quoted that we should hold out the right hand of fellowship.
Now, I will be practical with you on this question of armaments, for I shall not have another opportunity of speaking to you again before this question comes before the House of Commons. I have said that it is a question for civilians to determine—that military and naval men should have no voice in it—that it is for you only, the tax-payers. Do not let me be misunderstood. I am not going to enter into the technicalities of war. I do not claim for civilians—Heaven forbid I should—a knowledge of the horrid trade of war. I only contend that, whilst we are in a state of profound peace, it is for you, the tax-payers, to decide whether you will run the risk of war, and keep your money in your pockets, or allow an additional number of men in red coats and blue jackets to live in idleness under the pretence of protecting you. Now, I say this, that I am for acting justly and fairly, for holding out the olive-branch to all the world, and I am for taking on myself, so far as my share goes, all the risk of anything that may happen to me, without paying for more soldiers and sailors.
But it is not merely the question, whether you will have more armaments, that you civilians are competent to decide. You have already expended this year 17,000,000l. sterling in your armaments, and it is a question on which you are competent to decide, whether the best possible use is made of your money—whether, for instance, the navy, for which you pay so largely, is really employed in the way best calculated to answer the design of those men who profess themselves so anxious to accomplish it, if you will give them more money—that is, the protection of your shores. Where do you think all your great line-of-battle ships go? I have picked up a few secrets abroad—for you know that I have travelled by water as well as by land. I venture to say that there is not more perfect idleness, nor more demoralisation, the consequence of idleness, going on in the same space on the face of the earth as in our ships of war, from their want of having something to do. Where do you find them? Where are those great line-of-battle ships, of whose payment and equipment you hear, and which you read of going out of your harbours with such a display of power? Do they go where we have any great commerce? Go to Hamburg, and there you will never see an English man-of-war. Go to the Baltic, where we carry on so much trade, and you will rarely see one. There is rough weather, and not many attractions on shore there. Well, go, then, to America. There is North America, with which, I suppose, we do one-fifth or one-sixth of the foreign trade of this country—at least, I hope we shall very shortly come to that. Do you think any of these great men-of-war are upon that coast? Why it is the rarest thing indeed for one to be seen in those waters, and if one does appear there the fact is recorded in the American newspapers. They do not go there; for there are no idle people on shore, and the officers do not like the society they meet with. In fact, the ships are not wanted there, and they would do more harm than good if they went there.
Well, then, where do they go? I am trying to get the information for you. I moved for a return, just before the close of the last little session of Parliament, which will throw some light on the subject, and I ask you to keep your eye on that return. I will tell you what it is. I moved for a return of the amount of our naval force that has been in the Tagus, and the waters of Portugal, on the 1st of each month during the last twelve months—the name of the ships, the complement of guns, and the number of men. Now, when that report turns up, I should not be surprised if you see that you have had a naval force in the Tagus and the Douro, and on the coast of Portugal, which, in the number of guns, will not fall much short of the whole American navy. Lisbon is a pleasant place to be at, as I can vouch, for I have seen it. The climate is delightful. Geraniums grow in the open air in the month of January. I do not quarrel with the taste of the admirals or captains who go and spend twelve months in the Tagus, if you will let them. But now, I ask, what are they doing in return for the money which they cost you? Are they promoting, even in the remotest degree, English interests there? Nothing of the kind. Our fleet has been in the Tagus, at the absolute disposal of the Queen of Portugal, positively and literally nothing else. Our papers have avowed that our fleet went there to protect her Majesty of Portugal, and to give her and her court an asylum, in case the conduct of her people should compel her to seek it.
Now, this is a subject upon which every gentleman, nay, every lady, is competent to judge. I never like to speak disrespectfully of any country, and, therefore, I do not wish to be thought to speak slightingly of Portugal, when I say that it is one of the smallest, poorest, and one of the most decayed and abject of European countries. I am sorry for it, but such is the fact. What in the world has England to gain by going and taking this country under her protection? Is it her commerce that you seek for? Why, you are sure of her commerce, for this simple reason—that you take four-fifths of all her port wine, and if you did not, no one else would drink it. Now, I would not like to be thought capable of using an atrocious sentiment, and what I am about to say I mean only as an illustration of an economical argument; but, positively, if the earthquake which once demolished Lisbon were to come again, and sink the whole of Portugal under the sea, it would be an immense gain to the English people. That, however, is not the fault of Portugal; for our ships go there—to do what? Why, to help the Queen and Government of Portugal to misgovern the people. When they rebel, our forces go on shore and put them down by the strong arm. Why, our statesmen actually undertook to say who should govern Portugal, and to exclude a particular family from all participation in the Government. They also stipulated that the Cortes should be elected on constitutional principles. Well, the Cortes was elected, and the people have returned almost every man favourable to that very statesman whom Lord Palmerston and Co. said should not have any influence in Portugal.
Now, gentlemen, I ask you just to follow out this question of English interference with Portugal. Understand the whole subject—the increase of your armaments which is thus caused; apply your common sense to it. There is a constant complaint that the English public do not give any attention to foreign politics. What is the reason of that? It is common sense, and a very sound instinct on the part of the English people. They turn their heads and eyes from foreign politics, because they know that they have never done them any good. But you must do one thing: you must change from apathy to knowledge; you must superintend your foreign minister; and when you do that, I undertake to say that you may save a great deal of money—and that will be one good result, at all events, in these bad times. What I wish to bring home to your convictions is this, that if the people in Brighton—if the old ladies of both sexes there are frightened lest they should be taken out of their beds some night by the French—why not bring home the fleet from the Tagus, and let it cruise in the Channel? I am no sailor, but I feel sure that no sailor would gainsay this,—that it would be a great deal better practice, better exercise, better for the crew, for the condition of the ships, for the quality of the officers and men, if the fleet were sailing in the Channel, than lying in demoralising idleness at Lisbon.
Now, gentlemen, if you go into the Mediterranean—if you follow your ships there—you will find precisely the same thing going on. Why, the Mediterranean is crowded with English ships of war—not to look after your commerce: they can do no good in that way. We have settled that question: we have repudiated protection. But there you find them, nevertheless. Leaving Portsmouth, they sail directly for Malta; and Malta is the great skulking-hole for your navy. I was at Malta at the commencement of winter, in the month of November. Whilst I was at Malta, a ship arrived there from Portsmouth; it had come direct; it had 1,000 hands on board when it left Portsmouth; it came into Valetta Harbour, when I was there, with 999 people on board, men and boys, having lost one hand on the passage. Soon after the arrival of that vessel I started from Valetta, went to Naples, and from thence to Egypt and Greece, and when I returned she had never stirred. Her officers had gone on shore to live in the club, and the lieutenant and other officers in command found the utmost difficulty for even a pretence of work. The crew were ordered to hoist up the sails and to let them down again; and they scrubbed the decks until they scrubbed the planks almost through. Well, I was introduced to the American Consul at Malta, and he spoke to me in a very friendly manner on the subject of our navy. He said, ‘We Americans consider your navy to be very slack.’ ‘Slack!’ I said; ‘what do you mean by slack?’ ‘Why,’ he said, ‘they are too idle; they are not sufficiently worked. You cannot have a crew in good order if they lie for three or four months in a harbour like this. We have never more than three or four vessels in the Mediterranean, and rarely one larger than a frigate; but the instructions which we have from the Government at Washington are these,—that the American ships are never to be kept in port at all; that they are to go from one port to another, to take care of the traders, and see if there are any pirates, although there are not often any of them in the Mediterranean. But the vessels are always in motion, and the American sailors and American ships are in a better state of discipline and equipment than the English ships, on account of their idleness.’ Now, again, this is a question on which every man and woman in the country is competent to form an opinion; and I say that if any one talks to me about increasing our armaments, I tell them, if they are frightened in the Channel, let them bring home those useless ships which are lying in the Tagus and the Mediterranean. If they tell me that the ships of war in the Tagus are lying there for the protection of the Queen of Portugal, I tell them that her subjects are her proper protectors.
Now, one word, rather personal to myself, without the slightest reference to the opinions of the gentlemen around me; I had been, somehow or another, rather singled out on this question of armaments. I dropped a few remarks at Stockport on the subject, in the most harmless and incidental way. To confess the honest truth, I did not go there to say anything about armaments or taxation; but, in the course of my speech, as people here can testify, a man shouted out, ‘But ain’t taxation something to do with it?' and then, under the impulse of the moment, I alluded to the army, navy, and ordnance, as the only item on which a reduction of taxation can be effected. The papers in London—I suppose for their own convenience' sake—tried to make me ridiculous, if they could, by making me say that I wanted to save the whole expenditure on the army, navy, and ordnance. I have no hesitation in declaring what my opinions are on this subject. I stated at Stockport, very candidly, what I shall state here—what I stated in my pamphlets twelve years ago on this subject—that you cannot have a material reduction in your armaments until a great change takes place in public opinion in this country with regard to our foreign policy. I have stated that opinion over and over again in my writings. I said at Stockport that you cannot reduce that item until there is a change in public opinion, and the English people abandon the notion that they are to regulate the affairs of the world. Indeed, those were my very words at Stockport, as people here can testify. I wished to do no injustice—to offer no factious opposition to Ministers with respect to the maintenance of our armaments. All I wanted was to invoke public opinion, as I do now, and as I always will invoke public opinion. When the public opinion, the majority of the influential opinion of the country, is on my side, I shall be content to see my views carried out. Until that time, I am content to be on this question, as I have been on others, in a minority, and in a minority to remain, until I get a majority.
But, gentlemen, the real and practical question before the country is not the question of a reduction of armaments. This, however, has been very carefully mystified. It is not a question, as this paper in Manchester, in its latest number, says, whether we shall dismantle fleets and leave our arsenals defenceless. That is not the question, and it is dishonest to put that as the question. The real question is, will we have an increase of the army, navy, and ordnance? Now, when I admit that public opinion does not go with me to the extent which would enable me to carry a great reduction in our armaments, I at the same time maintain—speaking for the West Riding of Yorkshire—speaking for Lancashire—speaking for Middlesex—speaking for London—speaking for Edinburgh—speaking for Glasgow—I say that, on the question of the increase of our armaments, public opinion is with me in those places, and against the Ministers. And if that public opinion is expressed, and expressed through public meetings, I, for one, have no hesitation in saying that a large portion of the press has neglected and forsaken its duty on this question. I say that if public opinion be expressed in public meetings throughout the country, before the estimates are brought on in the House of Commons, there will be no increase of our armaments. But whether that manifestation of public opinion takes place or not, I—speaking for myself, as an individual Member of the House of Commons—say that not one shilling shall be added to the estimates for our armaments, without my having forced a division of the House upon it.
I began by identifying this question of our armaments with the question of Free Trade, and I tell you, in conclusion, that the question of Free Trade is jeopardised all over Europe by the course which it is intended to take. Why, I receive the papers from Paris, and what do they tell me? There is a band of Free-traders there associated together; they publish their weekly organ, as we published our Anti-Corn-law paper. It is called the Libre Exchangé, and is edited by my talented and excellent and able friend, M. Bastiat. That paper, last week, was mourning in sackcloth and ashes over the course which they there think England is going to pursue. And what says the organ of the protectionists, the Moniteur Industriel? They are deluging, not only France, but England, with the last week's number of that paper, in which they leap with exultation at the condition of this country. ‘We told you,’ says that journal, ‘that England was not sincere on the Free trade question. She has no faith in her principles; she sees that other nations are not following her example, and she is preparing her armaments to take that by force which she thought to take by fraud.’
Now, I exhort my countrymen everywhere to resist this attempt to throw odium on our principles, which, if carried out, the Free-Traders believe would bring peace and harmony among the nations. The most enthusiastic of us never said, as some of the papers pretend that we did say, that we expected the millennium soon after we had got Free Trade. We never expected but that we should have to give time to other nations for the adoption of our principles, precisely as we required time to adopt them ourselves. But what we did hope was this: that the Continent of Europe, with eyes steadily fixed on this country, in connection with this question, would, at all events, not have seen that we were the first to have doubt as to the tendency of our own principles, and to be arming against the world when we pretended to be seeking only their friendship and kindness. We permitted too many of the good and peaceful men who joined this agitation to try to make it the harbinger of peace, which it was intended to be; we planted the olive-tree, never expecting to gather the fruit in a day; but we expected it to yield fruit in good season, and, with Heaven's help and yours, it shall do so yet.