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Cobden reminds the Liberals in Parliament that the motto of their party is “Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!” (1862)

The free trader and anti-war advocate Richard Cobden (1804-1865) told his Liberal Party (founded 1859) colleagues in the British Parliament in a speech in August, 1862 that their party motto was ‘Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!’:

… I shall take the liberty of reminding the House what have in former times been our professed principles. My hon. Friend evidently is in a doleful key, and does not seem to anticipate much gratification or renown from this investigation. In his case, however, I would make an exception; for, if I were called upon to make such a selection, he is the man I would fix upon as having been at all times, in season and out of season, true and faithful to his principles. What have been the professed principles of the so-called Liberal party? Economy, Non-intervention, Reform. Now, I ask my hon. Friend—and it is almost a pity we cannot talk this matter over in private—if we were to show ourselves on some great fête-day, as ancient guilds and companies used to show themselves, with their banners and insignia floating in the air, and if we were to parade ourselves, with our chief at our head, with a flag bearing the motto, ‘Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!’ whether we should not cause considerable hilarity? Of these three ancient mottoes of our party, I am inclined to attach the first consideration to the principle of Economy, because the other two may be said to have for their object to attain that end. 

… It is not my intention on this occasion to speak as a Member of any party, or as representing other Members in this House. But I may say, that I know in what I have to state, that I am the exponent of the opinions of many Members of this House, both present and absent; and, though I do not wish to assume the character of a political leader in any form, still, if I had yielded to some of the representations made to me, I should have made some such statement as I am about to make very much earlier in the Session. I repeat, that I do not profess here to be a party leader, and have never in this House cared much for party politics, for I have generally had something to do outside of party; but I am of opinion, that in a free representative community the affairs of public life must be conducted by party. A party is a necessary organisation of public opinion. If a party represents a large amount of public opinion, then the party fills an honourable post, and commands the confidence of its fellow-countrymen; but if a party has no principles, it has been called a faction;—I would call it a nuisance. If a party violates its professed principles, then I think that party should be called an imposture. These are hard words, yet they are precisely the measures which, sooner or later, will be meted out to parties by public opinion; and, late as it now is, it may be well if we, who represent both the majority and minority in this House, should view our position, in order to see how we shall be able to bear the inquest when the day comes, as it will come, for our conduct and our character to be brought into judgment.

Now, with regard to the majority, which I suppose we on this side of the House may call ourselves, I shall take the liberty of reminding the House what have in former times been our professed principles. My hon. Friend evidently is in a doleful key, and does not seem to anticipate much gratification or renown from this investigation. In his case, however, I would make an exception; for, if I were called upon to make such a selection, he is the man I would fix upon as having been at all times, in season and out of season, true and faithful to his principles. What have been the professed principles of the so-called Liberal party? Economy, Non-intervention, Reform. Now, I ask my hon. Friend—and it is almost a pity we cannot talk this matter over in private—if we were to show ourselves on some great fête-day, as ancient guilds and companies used to show themselves, with their banners and insignia floating in the air, and if we were to parade ourselves, with our chief at our head, with a flag bearing the motto, ‘Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!’ whether we should not cause considerable hilarity? Of these three ancient mottoes of our party, I am inclined to attach the first consideration to the principle of Economy, because the other two may be said to have for their object to attain that end. 

Now, how has our party fulfilled its pledges on the principle of Economy? Do my hon. Friends know to what extent they have sinned against the true faith in this respect? Are they aware that this so-called Liberal party, the representatives of Economy, are supporting by far the most extravagant Government which has ever been known in time of peace; that we have signalised ourselves as a party in power by a higher rate of expenditure than has ever been known, except in time of war? I don’t mean merely that we have spent more money, because it might have happened that we had grown so much more numerous, and so much richer by lapse of years, that the proportionate amount of the burden on each individual was not greater; but not only have we as a party spent more money absolutely, but we have been more extravagant relatively to the means and numbers of the people… 

About this Quotation:

Cobden used the word “retrenchment” in a number of contexts to summarize his beliefs in free trade, cheap limited government, and a non-interventionist foreign policy. In his political theory “retrenchment” could mean cuts in the size of the government bureaucracy, cuts in the size of the military establishment, or cuts to government expenditure in general made possible by each of these two policies. For example, in 1835 he talked about the need for “an unflinching economy and retrenchment” even if it meant a threat to monarchical and aristocratic institutions; in 1836 he referred to the need for “ retrenchment, and a reduction of the duties and taxes upon the ingredients of our manufactures and the food of our artisans” if the government truly wished to “protect and extend our commerce”; in 1850 Cobden argued that “peace, non-intervention, and retrenchment, should be the watchwords of the Whig party” (the forerunner of the LIberal Party which was formed in 1859) and they he supported a policy of “economy, entrenchment, or possibility of reducing our establishments for ever”; in 1851 he stated that he was “the advocate of education, peace, and retrenchment”. In the speech from 1862 in the House of Commons which is our quote here Cobden reminds his colleagues that “the professed principles of the so-called Liberal party” were “Economy, Non-intervention, Reform” and that if they were to march in a local fête along with the guilds and artisanal companies the flag they would fly as they marched should have sown on it “the motto, ‘Economy, Retrenchment, and Reform!”. If one were to draw up a composite motto for Cobden’s faction within the Liberal party it might well be just “Peace, Retrenchment, and Reform.”

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