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PART V: SOCIAL REFORM - Francis W. Hirst, Free Trade and Other Fundamental Doctrines of the Manchester School 
Free Trade and Other Fundamental Doctrines of the Manchester School, set forth in Selections from the Speeches and Writings of its Founders and Followers, ed. with an Introduction by Francis W. Hirst (London: Harper and Brothers, 1903).
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COBDEN ON EDUCATION
On May 22nd, 1851, W. J. Fox, then member for Oldham, moved—‘That it is expedient to promote the Education of the People of England and Wales, by the establishment of Free Schools for secular instruction, to be supported by local rates, and managed by committees, elected specially for that purpose by the ratepayers.’ The motion was supported by Cobden in the following speech, from which a portion is omitted. The motion was defeated by a large majority. Fox's Bill to promote Secular Education may be found in the fourth volume of his collected works.
Now, before the House decides upon the subject, it is, in my opinion, right that we should examine the statistics which are before us. Let us, in particular, look to the amount of money which we have granted for educational purposes. For the last five years we have had a grant of £125,000 a year, while there has been but a very trifling increase on the population, and scarcely any to the persons who have received education in consequence of the State grant. And why? Because it is a subject that the Government dare not touch in this House; because the present system is so unsatisfactory, that, in spite of two large blue-books of correspondence and minutes, and an expenditure of £125,000 per annum, the little education we do get in this country is owing to the efforts of the committee of Privy Council; and I do not blame them for those efforts; but I honour them for trying to do that which cannot be done in this House. No one knows better than Government does that it dares not stir the question with a view of getting a grant commensurate with the wants of the country, in order to carry out the system which at present exists. And now what is it that Government is falling back upon? A local scheme in Manchester, which has already failed in precisely the same way as the Government plan has failed on these religious difficulties. The gentlemen who came to town from Manchester did me also the honour of calling upon me; and I rejoiced to see them endeavouring to overcome the difficulties of realizing a system of education. They told me, as they told the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, that they had the concurrence of all the religious sects—that the Roman Catholics had joined them as well as the Dissenters; but I received a letter from them, after their return to Manchester, that, to their surprise and regret, they had to tell me that not two of the Roman Catholic clergy, as the honourable and learned gentleman had stated, but eighteen, virtually the whole body of the Roman Catholic clergy in that town, had seceded from that plan of education. And why? Simply because the committee that met in Manchester made it a fundamental principle of their scheme, that in all schools erected at the public expense in Manchester the authorized version of the Bible should be read; and that being a condition which the Roman Catholics could not comply with, that, of course, separated them altogether from this plan of education.
Now, I ask any one in this House, if any plan of public education can be satisfactory in the boroughs of Manchester and Salford combined, which excludes the poorest of the poor classes? There are in Manchester and Salford at least 100,000 Roman Catholics. They are the poorest of the population; and, if ignorance be an evil, they are the most dangerous part of the population to be left in ignorance. And yet this is a plan on which the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary relies, in order to relieve him from the difficulty he is in. They are in precisely the same difficulty in Manchester that we are in this House; for I maintain that the little good that is done was done surreptitiously by the Educational Committee of the Privy Council, and not by a vote in this House. What are the minutes of the Privy Council? Do you suppose they represent the debates in this House any more than they do the motion of my honourable friend (W. J. Fox)? Bring forward a vote for the maintenance of Roman Catholic colleges, in which they will be allowed to carry on in their own peculiar way their own doctrines and worship, and do you think that such a vote will pass this House? There is a fundamental evasion and fallacy about the whole of this educational vote. I ask you, when you talk so much of religious education, if this £125,000 is for religious teaching?—because I understood, when we were passing an educational vote, it was not for religious education. When the vote was first agreed to, in 1834, it was called school-money; it was £10,000 or £20,000 to begin with. Afterwards it was changed to a vote for education; but you did not vote the money for religious education. Could you vote any sum in this House, if it were asked fairly for religious instruction? No, it could not be done; and it could not be done for many years past, and never more shall we vote any money in this House as an endowment for religion; and, therefore, when you talk to me about voting for religious education, I say it is not an accurate description of what we vote it for.
The honourable and learned gentleman the Solicitor-General has talked as if there were some great conspiracy in the country—as if there were some parties aiming to deprive the country of its religious faith; and he seems to assume that, if we allow schools to be established without religious teaching, they would practically be establishing schools to teach infidelity; and he also says, that by establishing schools for secular education without religion, we are, in fact, divorcing morality and religion from education. Now, when the honourable and learned gentleman rung the changes about advancing the attributes of our nature, and of promoting the intellectual qualities at the expense of the religious and moral, he might surely give us credit for knowing that it was practically impossible to do anything of the kind. We know that religion is a part of moral training as well as the honourable and learned gentleman does; but what we say is, that there is ample provision in this country already for religious training. There is twice as much spent in this country for religious training as there is in any other country in the world. Then how can it be said that we should exclude religion from education? I want to do nothing of the kind.
Again; we have been taunted with the use of the word ‘secular.’ Well, I do not know any other word we could use. I say once for all, I consider there is provision made for religious training, but not for secular training, and therefore I wish to provide for secular education. I want people to be able to read and write—to be able to write their names when they sign a contract, or register the birth of their children; I want people to be trained in habits of thought and forethought; and I do not know any other term than ‘secular’ for this kind of education. But why ring the changes upon secular education? I say, once for all, that I am not opposed to the Bible, or any other religious book, being read in schools.
What I want is, to have the same system of education in England that they have in Massachusetts, in the United States of America. I will not go to Louisiana or Georgia, but my system is that of Massachusetts; and I challenge honourable gentlemen to test that system by the experience of that State, and the good it has effected there. That State is not open to the argument that it was a thinly peopled country: it is an old country, and one which sends forth vast numbers of emigrants; the people are of our own race, and have our own habits; and I want to know why we cannot adopt the same plan in England that they have adopted with success in Massachusetts? We have just now a competition with all the world in the production of that which ministers to the comforts of mankind. If we see the result of ingenuity in any part of the world, we plume ourselves that we can imitate it. If we go to the Great Exhibition, and find a machine there, however cunningly it may be contrived, we shall find men say that what is done in Boston, in America, we can do in England. But if we adopt the Massachusetts system of education, you say it will make the people an irreligious people. I will meet you on that ground. I have been in Massachusetts, and, testing them by any test you may wish—by the number of their churches, by the number of attendants at their churches, by the amount paid for the teaching of religion, by the attendance at Sunday schools, by the observance of the Sabbath, by the respect paid to religious teachers, by any one test with regard to religion—I can challenge a comparison between Massachusetts and any part of England.
Well, then, the system of education adopted in Massachusetts is a secular system; and do they prevent the children from reading the Bible? Why, I venture to say, that in the report which I hold in my hand of the Board of Education in Massachusetts, there is not a single word about religion from beginning to end; and yet, probably, there is not one in a hundred of these schools where the Bible is not read. I have no objection to a parish having local management having the Bible in its schools as well as any other book; but what they do in Massachusetts we should do here, by saying, as a fundamental principle, no book shall be admitted into the common school which favours the peculiar doctrines of any Christian sect. Well, now, with a people so jealous of their religious independence as the people of Massachusetts are, what they had been able to do surely we can do in England. They had the same battle to go through there that we have. In Massachusetts, originally, they taught the Catechism in their schools, which had been taken there by the Pilgrim Fathers when they left England, and who carried with them as much intolerance almost as they left behind; but another system now prevails, and with the greatest possible advantage.
Practically, I believe that system will work as well in this country as it does in Massachusetts; and if the system proposed by my honourable friend the member for Oldham were carried out, I am persuaded that in ninety-nine out of a hundred of the parishes in England, nobody would object to the Bible being read in the schools, provided it were read without note or comment. In a vast proportion of these parishes there are no Roman Catholics; but I have that opinion of the good sense and rational conduct of men, that, if there were a very small minority—if there were a few families of Roman Catholics who objected to the reading of the Bible—the reading of it could be so adapted to particular times as not to interfere with any one's religious conviction, and in a way that would exclude nobody.
I believe that when the system of free schools is adopted, such will be the estimation in which education will be held by the mass of the people, that it will not be easy to keep children from the schools. Where is the difficulty of our doing what has been done in Massachusetts? I will not be driven from that ground. Give me the Massachusetts plan. I declare my belief, that the mass of the people in Massachusetts are as superior in intelligence to the population of Kent, as the latter are to the people of Naples. I say this advisedly. I ask, then, why we cannot have this system in England. Will you tell me it is on account of the Established Church? Why, surely, having an Established Church with a very rich endowment, which supplies a clergyman to every parish, and the means of religious instruction to the mass of the people—for the mass of the people has religious instruction without paying a farthing for it in the rural parishes—will you tell me, having this advantage, you could not, maintain your ground against another people, who have left religion to voluntary effort, and who have endowed their secular schools?
Now, there has been an objection made that this scheme is intended to supersede existing school-rooms; it has been assumed that the plan of my honourable friend (W. J. Fox) must necessarily throw to waste all existing schools belonging to places of worship. I see no necessity for that at all. I consider that we may make use of the existing school-rooms, as well for this system as for any other, and I never contemplated such a waste as to render useless existing school-rooms. The honourable and learned gentleman the Solicitor-General has told us, and the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Home Affairs is of the same opinion, that if we adopt this plan of secular education we shall shut up all the other schools. That is an admission by the way, that we are going to establish something better than the old system. But they went further, and said, when we shut up the schools we shall deprive the people of religious education, because the great bulk of the people get no religious instruction now, except what they get in their schools.
When my honourable friend the member for Tavistock (Trelawny) ejaculated, ‘What are the clergy doing?’ I thought that was a natural exclamation. We pay £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 a year to the clergy, and it is rather a bold thing for a devotee of the Church to say, if the children do not get religious training in the schools, they will get no religious training at all. The honourable and learned gentleman the Solicitor-General, when he answered that ejaculation of the honourable member for Tavistock, turned immediately to the manufacturing hives, where, from increase of population, he says, there is much ignorance. I beg the honourable and learned gentleman's pardon; but the great mass of ignorance is not in the manufacturing towns but in the rural districts. I admit, indeed, that there is much ignorance in the manufacturing districts, but it is because the surplus population of the agricultural districts go to the manufacturing districts. I do not blame the clergy for being the cause of that ignorance in secular matters, although I think there is a great deal to be said as to the duty of the clergy to see that all persons in their parishes can read, inasmuch as I cannot see how a person can be a Protestant at all who cannot read; yet I do not attempt to fasten upon the clergy all the responsibility for the ignorance that exists in the country parishes. I know that in many districts they have undertaken more than any one else for the cause of education, and I know that they find great difficulty in maintaining their schools by voluntary efforts in some places. In many rural parishes, three-fourths of the land is owned by absentees, and the clergy have very little chance of getting support from absentee landed proprietors.
How, then, are we to raise the funds to maintain the schools? I want a plan by which, for the purposes of secular education, a parish would be able to rate property. Let property be rated, and each proprietor, whether he were an absentee or resident, would contribute towards the education of the people. I am firmly convinced that money cannot be better applied in any of the small rural parishes than in providing good secular education. By such an education, the people will gain self-reliance and self-respect. Let them be taught a little geography; let them learn what is going on in other parts of the world—what, for example, is the rate of wages in the colonies—and they will not then rot in parishes where they are a burden on the poor-rates. £80 or £100 a year laid out on education in a rural parish will do more to keep down the poor-rates, and to prevent crime, than the same amount expended in any other way.
I cannot help expressing the great gratification which I feel at the difference between the tone of the discussion this evening, and the tone of the debate last year. For my own part, I must say that there is no other subject on which I feel so tolerant towards everybody as I do on this subject of education. If I see the Government doing something—I care not how—I am grateful for it. If I see honourable gentlemen opposite—whether High Church or Low Church—trying to secure for the people a better education, I thank them. I see the enormous difficulty of taking any combined step, owing to the religious element, which always stands in the way. If ever there be a time, however, when it is necessary for parties to combine in a system of secular education, apart from religious sects, the present is such a time; for no one can deny that never before was there so much strife and disunion amongst different religious bodies. The honourable member for Stockport (Heald) belongs to a religious community which is torn in twain. Is there to be one set of schools for the reformed, and another for the old Wesleyans? As a matter of economy—as a matter of charity, good-will, and kindness—let us all try to get on neutral ground; let us try to do so, not only on account of the good which will thus be done to the mass of the people of this country, who will never be educated under any other system, but in order that we may have an opportunity of meeting, as it were, out of the pale of those religious strifes which are now more threatening than ever.
THE END AND AIM OF POLITICS
The following extract is taken from a speech by W. J. Fox, delivered at Royton to some of his Oldham constituents, on February 12th, 1853.
In speaking to you on the present occasion, I labour under one disadvantage. I have already addressed two very large meetings in the borough of Oldham. I have forestalled much which I might have said to you on the present occasion; and I have no wish to repeat here what I have already said in another place; but as on those two occasions I adverted to various points of political interest;—as the circumstances of those meetings, and the addresses delivered to me, and the presents made to me, led me to speak of the place of woman in society, of the influence she was qualified to exert, and of the influence which she ought to possess;—as they led me to speak of the general cause of reform and its advocates, of their history, and of their prospects;—as they led me to enter into the subject of education in its various phases, and especially in its relation to and its connection with the suffrage;—as I had also occasion at those meetings to speak of labour, its duties and its rights—to speak of it as the lot of a large portion of humanity, but as a lot which had been manfully endured, and would be working out, as I trust, its own way to improvement, physical, mental, and moral;—as I had to speak of excessive labour, and of my wish for its being reduced so that all might have the opportunity for mental culture as well as for reasonable enjoyment;—I shall pass by those topics on the present occasion, and address myself to that which relates to all of them indeed—namely, to the very spirit and essence of political institutions—to the motive of political zeal—to that which I deem more important than any of the external paraphernalia of mere institutions.
I say, then, that in my view the great end and aim of all politics—the reason why any rational or good man should meddle with politics—is this, that they should be rendered subservient to the development of humanity—to the maturing of man in mind and body, spirit and circumstances; to the making of man—I speak of man and woman under the generic term—all that the great Creator intended him to be and has formed him capable of being. And I believe that every human being that comes into the world has, as the motto of the ring they gave me at Oldham expressed it, education for his or her birthright. I believe that we are entitled to it by the dispensations of nature and of Providence, and that every one in society who bears his part as a citizen is fairly and inherently entitled to his share in the management of the concerns of the community of which he is a member. But why is all this? It is that men and women should be more happy as men and women, not as beasts of burden, or beasts of the field, and still less as brutes and savages of the forest. It is that they may show the intellectual powers and the moral dispositions which belong to our common nature; those which it should be the object of all political arrangements and of all institutions to bring to full maturity—that we may say of each, as was said of Brutus in Shakespeare's play of Julius Cæsar—
Well, now, this is not the object of many forms of government; but I say it is the test by which they should be tried. I say that it is my motive for embarking with so much earnestness in a political career. I say it is that by which we may bring to trial the different systems of government. What does the Emperor of Austria or the Czar of Russia think man was made for? Why, he holds
he thinks men were made to be his soldiers, his servants, his slaves. Millions have died that one man might be called lord; millions have pined in bondage that one might believe that he holds the sceptre of dominion over boundless regions, and that the human beings that live upon the soil are but as so many insects crawling upon the earth in his august presence. Well, I say that human beings cannot thrive under such an arrangement. Humanity sinks, shrivels up, becomes a poor and a despicable thing.
Well, then, there is another theory of politics; and that is, that if we do not exist for one, we exist for a few. There are certain privileged classes whose minds are to be loaded with all the accomplishment and learning of the time; whose houses are to be adorned with all that is grand and beautiful; who are to be the hereditary leaders and chieftains of that portionPolitical theories.of the human race which is found in the country where they dwell. This is the old feudal system, by which one man is to be nourished as in a hothouse to an unnatural degree of expansion, while all the rest are left to ‘bide the pelting of the pitiless storm’ as they may, and are to be only an inferior caste in his presence. It was on such a theory as this that a member of the late Government, in his juvenile days, spoke out a sentiment of which I hope he has lived to be ashamed, but which expresses the political theory that many still hold—I allude to those memorable lines by Lord John Manners, in which he exclams—
Well, I believe we could do much better without our ‘old nobility’ than without law and learning, and art and science.
There is still another theory, which gives, I think, too low an estimate of government and of politics—I mean that of Edmund Burke, who, in his great admiration of our judicial institutions, says that the whole Constitution of England—I do not remember his exact words, but I know I quote the sentiment correctly—King, and Lords and Commons, Church and State—all exist to put twelve honest men into a jury-box. Well, the putting of twelve men into a jury-box is a very desirable thing, especially in times of political persecution; it is our best shield against arbitrary authority; and it is a good thing that our institutions accomplish that; but that is not the whole great object of human life. Government, society, institutions, are surely meant for something better than mere police work—merely to keep one man from picking another's pocket, or breaking his head. It is well that they should do this; but that is not enough.
There is still another theory of society—that of the late wit, Sydney Smith, who said that roast mutton and claret were the great end and object of all government, law, and order. Well, that is a very pleasant theory to the people who can enjoy the roast mutton and claret; but how is it to those who find a difficulty in getting any kind of meat, or beer with it, in order to support their existence?
I can never believe but that men are united in society for some better purpose than any of these. They are united in order that they may perform that great work of co-operation which, on a small scale, achieves so many beneficial results, and which a nation should, I think, exhibit on a large scale in all its institutions. So that I have gone into politics with this question constantly in my mind—What will your theories, your forms, your propositions, do for human nature? Will they make man more manly? Will they raise men and women in the scale of creation? Will they lift them above the brutes? Will they call forth their thoughts, their feelings, their actions? Will they make them moral beings? Will they be worthy to tread the earth as children of the common Parent, and to look forward, not only for His blessing here, but for His benignant bestowment of happiness hereafter? If institutions do this, I applaud them; if they have lower aims, I despise them; and if they have antagonistic aims, I counteract them with all my might and strength.
Well, now, let us apply this—let us see how it works. I am very partial to democratic institutions. I want to see a country governed by its inhabitants—not by one man, a few men, or a privileged class; and governed for the high and noble purposes I have endeavoured to describe. Well, I say democratic institutions are favourable to this. I say that they call forth all a man's best feelings, and his highest aspirations, and his noblest purposes—not for their own sakes, but on account of their tendency. I should not care about what we Radical reformers contend for, if all these changes which we seek were to end in themselves. Whether a man votes by ballot, putting an envelope into a box, or whether he answers a question at the hustings, and gives his vote openly—in fact, whether he votes at all or not—whether government be representative or be arbitrary,—I say that these things are comparatively worthless. It is as means that they are good, and not as ends; and I say that as means they are good. I say that when a man feels that he is recognized as a citizen—that he is not a serf, not one of a slave class—that he can walk abroad, and can exercise his due share in the nomination of those who make the laws—that he has not only the bounden obligation upon him to obey those laws, but that he has also his art and part even in the making of them by the machinery of representation; I say, when a man feels this, it makes him more a man than he was before; it teaches him to respect and venerate himself; it tends even to make him feel that violence, that falsehood, that corrupt arts, are unworthy of him; and that, being a free citizen, he should act like a free citizen, and only do that which may become a man. What is the tendency of slavery? Why, to strip a man of all the best virtues that adorn a man's nature. If a slave has virtues, what are they?—the virtues of a dog rather than of a man! He may be faithful to his owner, he may be obedient and tractable; he may fetch and carry when he is bid; and what then? Is this what man was made for? Can we show nothing higher, nothing better than this? I say, yes! And democracy is to do this for us, teaching us that we are all born free and equal, and, in the words of one of our ancient sovereigns, that ‘laws which bind all, should be assented to by all.’ Now, there are many people who are not looking to this tendency of democracy, and they say, if we had a perfect despot—a despot very wise and very benevolent—that would be better for us than democracy. I say, no; because, suppose the despot does go right as to the external matters of the country, or its material interests at home, and suppose the representative government does blunder—suppose the people make mistakes, and have to reconsider what they have done, and to retrace their path—still, there is this difference between the worst form of democracy and the best form of despotism—that under the despot man has not that self-respect which the self-government of a nation imparts to all who belong to that nation. You cannot give him this under a despotism, though it were the despotism of an angel or an archangel. You cannot do this. He is but a child in leading-strings, instead of a man walking straight forward in his own course, guided by his own intellect, which, if it errs, corrects itself by its errors.
Well, I apply this test to other things. I apply it to the free-trade doctrines. I say, Are those doctrines tending to raise and purify and benefit humanity? Well, I find my justification in the way they used to be attacked. What was the language of protectionists a few years agoFree-trade doctrine. against free traders? They said, ‘You will benefit the foreigner;’ or, ‘If you do this, the foreigner will profit by it.’ ‘Levy a tax upon corn, as it will be paid by the foreigner.’ They would have taught the people of this country, in the very teeth of religion, that they were to consider the foreigner as an enemy; that it was an objection to anything that it would benefit the foreigner. I trust the working people of this country have rejected and thrust from them such unchristian doctrines as these—such selfish and malevolent feelings. Why, it is one of the beauties of free trade, that if we benefit the foreigner, we benefit ourselves. If the foreigner can produce something we want, and if we can produce something which the foreigner wants, then the man who endeavours to prevent the exchange of those articles is an enemy of the human race. He opposes their material interests as well as their moral feelings. He subjects them to privation where they might have abundance; and he teaches them selfishness and enmity, where they ought to feel brotherly regard, and a common interest, and a delight in the prospect of a common course of prosperity. Well has that working man, who laboured in iron and other metals, who became the poet of the poor—I mean Ebenezer Elliott, the author of the ‘Corn Law Rhymes,’ who saw so much further than so many of his class at that time, and who spoke to them so emphatically on this matter—well has he sung, in one of his odes—
I believe that such are the arrangements of nature and Providence, that the freest intercommunication between different states is alike good for all the states concerned in it, and for the different classes of society in each and all those states. What is the end of Providence? Look abroad on the world. See how different climates produce different fruits. See how their varied productions are such, that the inhabitants of one region may reasonably be desirous to have possession of those which are produced in another region. See the infinite diversity, see the changes which a single article has to undergo—how it has to pass from country to country in order to obtain that final shape and form in which it best ministers to humanity. Look at the silkworm spinning her cocoons in the trees of Lebanon. Look at the cotton-plants, rich in their white blossoms, in the fair South of America. Why, their products cross the broad Atlantic—they come here; they are subject to your various industrial operations, and then they go back again, in order to clothe even the natives of the very country from which they came—to give them their garments: and when those garments are worn out, these very articles sometimes undergo another change; they take the form of paper, and circulate through the world the lessons of intelligence and of wisdom. I say, that free trade is a providential doctrine. It teaches us the wisdom of those arrangements by which nations may ultimately, we trust, be led into one great confederation, one brotherhood of communities, rendering and receiving mutual service.
Well, then, again, I test by this principle the influence of systems and of institutions and of policies which are favourable to knowledge on the one hand, or promotive of ignorance on the other. Try them, I say. Despotic countries always pursue a system which tends to shut out knowledge from the minds of the subjects of the despot. The late Emperor of Austria did not like new ideas. His successor, I dare say, has the same antipathy. Despots never do like new ideas, or any ideas at all, but the ideas of their power and grandeur, and of subserviency to their greatness. But spread knowledge over a nation, and what is the result? Governments assume a truer and more beneficial form; that mighty power called public opinion is created—a power which cannons cannot batter down—which bayonets cannot stab to death—which no might of princes, potentates, or armies can bring to nothing—which holds on its course in spite of all, and in due time will be sure to triumph over all.
On this principle I prefer the peace policy to a war policy. I judge them by the contrast they afford. This countryPeace and war. has had experience of both. From 1790 to 1815 we had experience of a war policy. From 1815 to the present time we have had experience of a peace policy. What is the difference between 1790 and 1815? How many reforms were effected? how many wise and good laws were passed, for which, at this moment, you are blessing the authors? What was done, what was felt, while the war-whoop resounded through the nation? Benevolence was a thing almost to be laughed to scorn. Hatred of the French, who were called our national enemies, was burning in the minds of the great majority. The few who protested were subjected to insult, to outrage, to rioting; some of them confined for years, only for wishing to make their fellow-creatures wiser and better; others driven from their country into exile;—and the only relief to these was the blaze of illuminations, darkened by the mourning which so many families in all our large towns had to wear for relatives who had fallen in the battle. Oh, scarcely a soil was there on the face of the earth that was not fertilized by British blood; not a famous river, or a sea, that was not discoloured and stained by British blood; while treasure was poured forth like water, and the country had an enormous burden of debt left upon it that will take many a long generation yet to wipe away....
THE MALT TAX, TEMPERANCE, AND RETRENCHMENT
This interesting speech was delivered by Cobden on April 14th, 1864, and was one of his last speeches in the House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone abolished the malt tax in 1880.
I Listened to the speech of my honourable and gallant friend—and I may say my representative—who opened this debate, with great pleasure. He brought forward his motion with much ability, and I have not a word to say in opposition to the views he advocates. But as an experienced agitator, I must be allowed to tell him that he has erred grievously in the mode in which he has introduced this subject for the first time formally to the House. There is no rule more deserving the attention of any one who takes charge of a question in this House than this—that he should never allow it to jostle or to become entangled with another question, good in itself, but with which it has no necessary connection. The mode in which his motion is introduced into the House is such as absolutely to preclude a fair division upon its merits; because my honourable and gallant friend asks the House to consider not merely the merit of the malt tax, but the merits of another tax which he proposes to remove out of the way in order that the malt tax may occupy its place. With regard to the sugar duty, looking at the matter only as a question for the consumer—although I am not going to deal with the malt tax solely in the light of a consumer's tax—I confess I should infinitely prefer abolishing the sugar duty to abolishing theThe claims of sugar. malt tax. Perhaps there is no tax—after the tax on bread—upon which there may be so much said to justify total repeal as the duty on sugar. We live in a country where we have not so much of the sun's rays as more southern climes are favoured with. We know that it is the solar heat which bestows sugar upon the earth, and the consequence is that our fruits want the flavour which in other and more genial climes they possess. We require, therefore, more sugar as an admixture to our food. Again, the people of this country are large consumers of tea. We are denied the wine which they have in France and other countries, and the people consequently drink tea in larger quantities than any other in Europe. That consumption of tea implies the necessity of the consumption of sugar. Then, again, sugar appeals to the sympathies of all—not merely to the working man, for whose benefit alone, in seeking for a reduction of the malt tax, our sympathies are involved, but to his wife and children—not merely to the man in health, but to the invalid and to helpless infancy. I am very sorry, therefore, that this question, which is most important in itself, and excites so much interest, has been injudiciously complicated with another question, so as to deprive us of a fair vote upon its merits.
In dealing with the malt tax, I said I would not regard it solely as a consumer's question. Standing here as an advocate of free trade, and having applied free-trade principles with so much rigour to the farmer and the landowner, whom I will not separate in this matter, I am fairly bound to admit that, if theyThe malt tax and free agriculture.come before this House and state that the operation of the malt tax is such as to impede the processes of scientific husbandry, and to interfere with the most desirable rotation of crops—that if they establish the truth of that upon the judgment of practical farmers—this is a question that affects the interests of the producer as well as the interests of the consumer. I am bound to say that we have never lost sight of the producer in the great changes which we have been effecting in our fiscal system during the last twenty years. We all know that Sir Robert Peel began his commercial reforms, which have been followed up to the present day, by laying down and acting upon the maxim, that it was necessary, before exposing the manufacturers of this country to competition with the manufacturers of the rest of the world, to relieve them in every possible way from all disadvantages in the supply of their raw material and in the processes of manufacture. I was surprised that the honourable baronet the member for the West Riding (Sir F. Crossley), in his speech, rather lost sight of this principle which we have always claimed in the interests of the manufacturer. He said, that as the farmers of this country did not produce sufficient barley for its consumption they were not entitled to the removal of the difficulty and impediment which the malt tax imposed upon them. I consider that the fact that they do not produce enough of barley for this country is no argument why they should not have the full application of the economical fiscal system which we have been carrying out for the last twenty years. We admit the foreigner to free competition with them; the foreigner may not have this malt tax to interfere with his husbandry; and therefore I repeat it is no sufficient answer to say that the landowners and farmers of this country do not produce the full quantity of barley necessary for the consumption of the people. The question really is: What is the force and validity of the plea put forward by the producer? I have inquired of the most intelligent farmers with whom I am acquainted, and I will mention one because he lives in a county which has lately been the theatre of a great contest turning upon this question. I have had the great pleasure and advantage of being acquainted with Mr. Lattimore, one of the best farmers in Hertfordshire, for more than twenty-two years. He stood by my side at the commencement of the movement for free trade in corn, and much to his credit and greatly in proof of his enlightenment, was always an advocate of that principle. Mr. Lattimore is now one of the most ardent advocates of the removal of the malt tax; and, as one to whom I owe more than to any one for the information I acquired with reference to agriculture and its bearing upon free trade, I cannot but regard with the greatest respect the evidence he offers me upon the subject. Mr. Lattimore has stated publicly—and I believe he has stated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister—that the operation of the malt tax tends to interfere with the proper and judicious rotation of crops. Some soils are not so well suited as others for the growth of barley. Thus, taking Norfolk, where the soil is of a superior character for the growth of barley, and then taking those districts where the soil is not peculiarly suited for that kind of grain, and where the crop is of an inferior quality, you cannot sell that inferior barley for malting purposes, because the duty being the same upon barley of high quality as of low quality, it acts as a prohibitory duty in the sale of inferior grain for malt. Besides that, Mr. Lattimore tells me that he finds malt a necessary article for the consumption of stock, particularly lambs and sheep, at particular seasons. I have visited his farm, and I have seen his lambs at Easter season feeding upon malt dust brought from Ware. He was at that time paying, weight for weight, as much for his malt dust as he was selling his wheat for; and he tells me that he has been obliged to abandon the purchase of this malt dust, because it was so dear that he could no longer use it. I take the evidence of such men to be conclusive in the matter. The farmers stand, in my opinion, precisely in the same position with regard to barley, from which the malt is made, as they did with regard to hops before the hop duty was repealed. We all know that in Kent a very superior quality of hops is grown, and that in Sussex the quality is inferior. The duty being the same in both cases, its effect was to operate most oppressively upon the inferior quality of hops grown in Sussex. It was, in fact; a protective duty upon the superior hops grown in Kent; and it was on that ground that the hop-growers raised an agitation for the repeal of the duty. It was not an agitation in which the consumers were the movers. The movement originated exclusively with the hop-growers of Sussex, because they wanted to escape from the severe disadvantage under which they were labouring in consequence of the duties pressing upon them so heavily. Such is the position in which the farmer is now placed, and it appears to me that he has good grounds to come here and ask that the trade in malt should be made free, as a complement to those free-trade measures and that economical policy which have been enforced in every other direction during the last twenty years. It may be said that there has been a measure proposed for the purpose of enabling malt to be manufactured for the consumption of cattle. Well, I believe it is generally understood that that device will be a failure. I believe the farmers attach very little importance to it. But, independently of regarding the question merely as a consumer's question, I maintain that it would be a great relief to the very poorest part of the community, because I think the consumption of beer,The consumption of beer. probably more than of any other article, belongs to the very poorest of our labourers—I now speak of the male labourers more than any other. I am of this opinion, because all of us who are acquainted with rural life know that, if they could, the agricultural labourers of this country would all enjoy the beverage of beer. With their limited wages, and with the general habit of agricultural labourers to be married men, I think there is very small danger of these men ever carrying the indulgence too far. But, depend upon it, it would contribute very much to the contentment of that class, and to make them less dissatisfied when comparing their lot with that of the rest of the community, if, instead of being obliged to resort to the brook or the spring for their beverage, they could enjoy some share of the produce of the land on which they are employed in the shape of a draught of beer. I am not one myself who attaches very much importance to the beverage which men may take. I think more depends upon what they eat than upon what they drink. But I would like to lay down this as a rule in dealing with this question and with all other questions—that we do not sit here to legislate with the view of passing sumptuary laws either with respect to drink, or meat, or clothing. We do not pretend by our fiscal regulations to make men moral, and I think it is quite out of place to introduce the subject at all in discussions like the present. I should say that it would be a disadvantageous argument, in treating this question, to contend that by repealing the malt tax you would necessarily have a very much larger individual consumption of beer. If I, instead of my honourable and gallant friend, were dealing with this question, I would never put the case upon that argument. It does not follow if you take the duty off malt that the present beer drinkers will increase their consumption of beer. You may have many mouths drinking beer that now cannot get it at all, and you may have those who now drink beer consuming the same quantity at a very much less expense. Honourable gentlemenSobriety and cheap liquor.will find a passage in Adam Smith upon this very subject. He says in a passage which is well worthy of consideration, speaking as an advocate of the repeal of the malt tax, just as he would have advocated a repeal of the corn law, that it does not follow that because intoxicating drinks are cheap, therefore the people in the country where they are cheap should be necessarily intemperate; and he mentions the fact that in those countries where wine is cheap there the population is generally the most sober. And he states, as a fact, that though the regiments in France that had been brought from the northern provinces into the southern portion of the country were found at first to indulge their appetites to some excess, yet that familiarity with the cheap wines of the south speedily produced an effect rather sobering than otherwise. Now, who are the sober people amongst us at the present moment? Why, doubtless, the great progress in sobriety in this country during the last thirty or forty years has been precisely amongst those classes who have had in abundance the means of intoxication always at their hands. My honourable friend here (Mr. Lawson), who, I believe, wishes, with strictly benevolent views, to put temptation out of the working-man's way by the regulation of the number of public-houses, would not pretend to say that he would deprive any one of the fullest opportunities of indulging in his wine or his beer in his own house. I therefore think it would be wrong to assume that necessarily there would be a greatly increased consumption of beer arising out of a change in this law. I tell you what would happen if you abolished the malt tax. I have no doubt there would be a great consumption of other excisable and duty-paying articles. If beer were cheaper, the families of working men would consume more tea, sugar, tobacco, and other things that pay duty. Therefore, it is quite possible that you might have a very large increase in your revenue, arising from these other sources, without necessarily implying any large increase in the consumption of intoxicating liquor.
Well, we now come to consider the question of the financial difficulty of this great problem. I assume that whatever is proposed to be done would be done with the view of the ultimate abolition of this tax. I do not say thatFinancial difficulties. any Chancellor of the Exchequer would be likely to propose to do this in any one year; but if I were dealing with this question out of the House, I should look to total repeal, and nothing less, as my ultimate object. Now, where is the difficulty in the way of accomplishing this? I exhort my honourable and gallant friend opposite not to think of ever putting on a substitute in the form of another tax in the place of this. Let him depend upon it that this House will never put on any other tax as a substitute for the malt tax. How, then, are you to meet this case? Well, in the first place, if you abolished this tax, you would not lose that amount of revenue, because there would be a decided increase from other sources. In the next place, you do not intend to abolish itReduce expenditure. all in one year—that is certain. Well, then, I maintain you must all steadily look to a reduction of our expenditure. I consider that we have been running riot in our extravagance. For the first five years after I entered this House, when Sir Robert Peel was at the head of affairs, we spent £20,000,000 a year less than the average of the last five years. Will anybody pretend to tell me there is not a margin for saving and economy in that? This Parliament has been unparalleled in its extravagance. Names have been given to different parliaments. One was called ‘the Long Parliament,’ another was called ‘the Unlearned Parliament,’ and this ought to be called for ever ‘the Prodigal Parliament.’ Well, then, you have an opportunity for economy, in watching stringently your expenditure, and you have the natural growth of revenue which comes from reduction of taxation; and if you remain at peace you will have the growth arising from the elasticity and buoyancy of your finances which leaves you every year with a surplus of two or three millions. All this leads me to conclude, that if honourable gentlemen opposite are in earnest about this matter, they may ultimately accomplish what they have now in hand. What I should recommend to my honourable and gallant friend is that he should not take the opinion of the House on this motion. If he does, I should be in the same predicament as three or four other gentlemen who have spoken, who, while favourable to the motion, tell us that they shall be obliged to vote against it, inasmuch as it has been put in antagonism with the reduction on sugar. I should hope that my honourable and gallant friend will withdraw the motion, having the advantages of the discussion, which is all he can hope for at this moment, bearing in mind, too, that these are questions which are not carried in a session. One or two gentlemen have spoken of free trade in corn as if it were carried straight off; but I know, to my cost, that that question took us seven years of weary labour. You have now only just begun. You have only to press this question as a producer's question in addition to the interests of the consumer, and with that perseverance which I think will characterize honourable gentlemen opposite, when they are once roused to a question, and they are sure soon to accomplish their object, to the great benefit not only of that part of the community which they represent, but also to the satisfaction of all classes.
WAGES AND CHEAP FOOD
On the Results of Free Trade in England
This letter was addressed by John Bright to a member of the Hackney Liberal Association, during the by-election which ensued on the death of Fawcett. Professor Stuart, the Liberal candidate, was returned by a large majority.
I Observe that your Tory candidate and his friends are seeking support as fair traders in opposition to free traders. They complain that we are allowed by our Government and our tariff, to buy freely all the products of foreign countries, and that, owing to some foreign tariffs, we cannot sell our own products as freely as we wish to do. We can fix the duties in our own tariff and on our imports, but we cannot fix the duties in the tariffs of foreign countries and on their imports. All this is true enough and plain enough, but what is not plain and not true is the strange belief held by fair traders that being injured by not being able to sell so freely as we wish to do, owing to duties in foreign tariffs, we should remedy the evil by giving up the power to buy freely by putting duties on our own tariff.
To sell freely would be a great advantage, as to buy freely is a great advantage; but neither to buy freely nor to sell freely, as the fair traders recommend, would, in my view, enormously increase the injury to our trade arising from the foreign tariffs which now obstruct our foreign trade.
Let your workmen reflect on the change in their condition which free trade has wrought within the last forty years since the reform of our tariff. The corn law was intended to keep wheat at the price of 80s. the quarter; it is now under 40s. the quarter. The price of tea is now less than the duty which was paid upon it in former days. Sugar is not more than one-third of its cost when a monopoly of East and West India sugar existed. As to wages in Lancashire and Yorkshire, the weekly income of thousands of workers in factories is nearly if not quite double that paid before the time when free trade was established. The wages of domestic servants in the county from which I come are, in most cases, doubled since that time. A working brick-setter told me lately that his wages are now 7s. 6d. per day; formerly he worked at the rate of 4s. per day. Some weeks ago I asked an eminent upholsterer in a great town in Scotland what had been the change in wages in his trade. He said that thirty or forty years ago he paid a cabinet-maker 12s. per week; he now pays him 28s. per week. If you inquire as to the wages of farm labourers, you will find them doubled, or nearly doubled, in some counties, and generally over the whole country advanced more than 50 per cent., or one-half, whilst the price of food and the hours of labour have diminished. It may be said that milk and butter and meat are dear, which is true; but these are dear because our people, by thousands of families, eat meat who formerly rarely tasted it, and because our imports of these articles are not sufficient to keep prices at a more moderate rate. The fair traders tell you that trade in some branches is depressed, which is true, though their statements are greatly exaggerated. We have had a great depression in agriculture, caused mainly by several seasons of bad harvests, and some of our traders have suffered much from a too rapid extension in prosperous years. I have known the depression in trade to be much greater than it is now, and the sufferings of traders and workmen during our time of protection, previous to 1842, when the reform of our tariff began, were beyond all comparison greater than they are now. In foreign countries where high tariffs exist, say in Russia, in France, and in the United States, the disturbance and depression of manufacturing industries are far greater at this moment than with us. Their tariffs make it impossible for them to have a larger foreign trade; we have a wide field for our exports, which they cannot enter. We have an open market for the most part in South America, in China, in Japan, and with a population of more than 200,000,000 in our Indian Empire, and in our colonies, with the exception of Canada, and the province of Victoria in Australia. The field for our manufacturing industry is far wider than that for any other manufacturing nation in the world, and I cannot doubt that we shall gradually rise from the existing depression, and shall reap even greater gain from our policy of free trade in the future than we have reaped in the past. In 1846, when the cruel corn law was repealed, we did not convert our landowners and farmers, we only vanquished them. Even now there remains among them a longing for protection; they cling still to the ancient heresy, and, believing in the ignorance or forgetfulness of our working men, they raise their old cry at every election of members of Parliament. If I have any influence with your own or any electors, let me assure them that for centuries past there has been no change of our national policy which has conferred and will confer so great good on our industrious people as that policy of free trade which the two greatest ministers of our time, Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone, have fixed, I cannot doubt for ever, on the statute-book of our country.
The recent contest in the United States has overthrown the party of protection and monopoly. It may prove a great blessing to the English nation on the American continent. When England and America shall have embraced the policy of free industry the whole fabric of monopoly the world over will totter to its fall.
TO FARM LABOURERS ON AGRICULTURAL POLICY
This letter was written by John Bright on December 29th, 1884, in reply to a request for guidance from Warwickshire. The farm labourers had just been enfranchised.
You suggest that I should write something that may be of use to the new voters under the Franchise Bill which has just become law. If I were speaking to your new voters, and especially if to those who are farm labourers, I should say something like that I am about to write.
I should tell them that there is a great difference between the two parties which will ask for their votes in the spring of 1886—a difference which they may see in all things during the last fifty years. The Reform Bill of 1832 was carried by the Liberal party against the violent opposition of the Tories. It was the first step, in our time, towards a better representation of the people in Parliament. In the year 1867, now seventeen years since, the suffrage was first given to workingmen, when household suffrage was granted in our cities and towns. This was gained by the agitation promoted by the Liberal party in the country, and was pressed upon the Tory Government during the discussions in the House of Commons in the session of 1867.
The Liberal party in the country and in Parliament has advocated household suffrage for the counties for several years, during which the Tories have constantly opposed it. This year the Bill giving household suffrage in the counties has become law, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Tories to obstruct it.
The Liberal party gave to all voters the protection of the ballot, which the Tory party strongly opposed. Every voter is now able to vote as he wishes. No landlord, or farmer, or employer of any kind can know how any vote is given—and now the poorest man is as safe in giving his vote as the richest. This is a great safeguard for the voter. The arrangement of seats under the Bill now before Parliament is the work of the Liberal party. The Tory party when in office did not propose it, and it is only under a Government of Liberals that so great and wise a measure could have been passed into law.
Political freedom, therefore, and a real representation of the people, rich and poor, the country owes to the Liberal party. But we owe much more to the Liberal party.
We owe to it the repeal of the cruel corn law, and the removal of the hindrances to trade, caused by monstrous taxes on almost everything brought from foreign countries. The corn law, by shutting out foreign corn, was intended to keep the price of wheat at, or near, 80s. the quarter; its natural price without corn law is probably about 40s. the quarter.
Bread is, and will be, about half the price at which the corn law intended it to be in all years when English harvests were not good.
A great minister, Sir Robert Peel, repealed the corn law. The agitation of the Anti-Corn-Law League, the Irish famine in 1846, and the help and votes of the Liberals in Parliament, with the support of a portion of the Tories, gave him power to repeal this wicked and cruel law. Some of the Tories are now proposing to restore it, and again make the labourers' bread dearer, so that farmers may be able to pay rents which they say are too high unless the law is put in force to raise the market price of wheat, and the baker's price of bread! The Tory party and country gentlemen were very angry with Sir Robert Peel because he would not maintain the corn law. His party deserted him, and drove him from office and from power because he preferred the interests of the nation, and the comforts of the labouring classes to dear bread and high rents for the landowners.
When the corn law was gone, other bad things went with it. The Liberal Government which came in after Sir Robert Peel destroyed the monopoly in sugar. Other great changes have been made, chiefly by Mr. Gladstone, supported always by the Liberals. The new voters who are not young will remember the price of bread in former days; they will know that sugar is about one-third of the price it once was, and that they now can buy three pounds for the price they formerly paid for one pound; and they know that tea costs less now than the tax alone which was imposed upon it before the free traders began the reform in our tariff and the repeal of duties on imports from foreign countries. And during these years there has been a general and large rise in the wages of working-men and labourers in all parts of the country. Farm-labourers' wages have risen one-half or more, and in some counties they have nearly doubled since the days of protection and the corn law.
But the Liberal party has done more than give the mass of our people a real representation and a real power in Parliament. It has done more than give them freedom for their industry. It has given them the means to understand what Parliament is doing, and what it ought to do, for it has given them the vast advantage of a free press, and to their children the not less vast advantage of cheap and good schools. Now almost every labourer can have an admirable newspaper weekly for a penny, or every day one somewhat smaller in size, but not less admirable in quality, for a halfpenny! Newspapers, not so large and not so good as these, cost sevenpence when the Liberal party began to deal with this question. The taxes on paper and on the printed newspaper strangled the press, and the tax on advertisements was as great when a gardener sought a situation and employment as when a rich man advertised a mansion or an estate.
All this is gone—these scandals and cruelties of the past are gone. The Liberals spoke and worked; the Tory opposition, step by step, was overcome, and one after another these great evils vanished, and no longer disgrace English legislation.
And what of the cheap and good schools? The child of the labourer may gain an education that will give him as good a prospect, as regards labour and trade, as the child of a richer man has. He will grow up with a sense of self-respect; he will see before him a path along which he may find independence and comfort. The present gain of this is great; the future gain is beyond all we can estimate.
And what of the future? What will household suffrage in counties and the new arrangement of seats do for the new voters, and especially for the farm labourers? If the new voters know their interests, and if the Liberals are returned in great power to the new Parliament, two things will have a chance of being done. The land laws will be reformed, and much of them reformed out of existence. In past times and now our land laws have been framed to protect the great estates of great families. Great estates lead to great farms, and great farms lead to the result that it is almost impossible for farm labourers to become farmers, and thus the path of the intelligent and hard-working labourer to an improved position and condition for himself and his family is barred and blocked. The holding of great estates under entails and settlements, and often heavily mortgaged and burdened, makes it impossible for them to be well cultivated, and thus the demand for labour is lessened, and a better rate of wages is prevented. This whole system of land laws must be broken down, and the new and great reform will do little if it does not get rid, as far as possible, of the mischiefs of the past.
The game laws, too, will come under revision. Parliament may accept the principle that the creatures which live on and from the land are the property, if there be any property in them, of the farmer, at whose cost, and by whose labour, the farm is cultivated. When this principle is admitted in our law, then what is called ‘preservation of game’ may cease; murderous conflicts on game preserves may be no longer known, and labourers may not have before them an almost constant and irresistible temptation to become poachers and breakers of the law. If the new voters will help the Liberal party, the Liberal landowners, the Liberal farmers, the Liberal shopkeepers and tradesmen, in the towns and villages of the counties and county divisions, we may see much good done by a new Parliament.
If what I have written shall give information or useful counsel, I shall be glad. I have for more than forty years endeavoured to press forward in the country and in Parliament the changes to which I have referred. They have all, so far as they have been effected, in my view, been of great service to the country. The period of reform is not yet ended; it will rest, in no small degree, on the good sense of the new constituency, combined with what is intelligent and just in the old body of electors, whether, as on two past occasions, in 1832 and in 1867, a large measure of electoral reform shall be followed by great measures of improvement in the legislation of our country. Perhaps I have written at too great length in reply to your letter—if so you will forgive me. The subject is too grave and too great to be treated in a paragraph.
An Exhaustive -Review of Recent Scientific Progress.