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William Fox on the hypocrisy of those who do not want to be dependent on foreign trade (1844)

The English M.P. and free trade orator William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) points out the hypocrisy of the protectionists who urge the nation to put “England First” by only buying things made there:

What is the career of the man whose possessions are in broad acres (the protectionist land owners)? Why, a French cook dresses his dinner for him, and a Swiss valet dresses him for dinner; he hands down his lady, decked with pearls that never grew in the shell of a British oyster; and her waving plume of ostrich-feathers certainly never formed the tail of a barn-door fowl. The viands of his table are from all countries of the world; his wines are from the banks of the Rhine and the Rhone. In his conservatory, he regales his sight with the blossoms of South American flowers. In his smoking-room, he [185] gratifies his scent with the weed of North America. His favourite horse is of Arabian blood; his pet dog, of the St. Bernard’s breed. His gallery is rich with pictures from the Flemish school, and statues from Greece. For his amusements, he goes to hear Italian singers warble German music, followed by a French ballet. If he rises to judicial honours, the ermine that decorates his shoulders is a production that was never before on the back of a British beast. His very mind is not English in its attainments; it is a mere picnic of foreign contributions. His poetry and philosophy are from Greece and Rome; his geometry is from Alexandria; his arithmetic is from Arabia; and his religion from Palestine. In his cradle, in his infancy, he rubbed his gums with coral from Oriental oceans; and when he dies, his monument will be sculptured in marble from the quarries of Carrara.

It is a favourite theme, this independence of foreigners. One would imagine that the patriotism of the landlord’s breast must be most intense. Yet he seems to forget that he is employing guano to manure his fields; that he is spreading a foreign surface over his English soil, through which every atom of corn is to grow; becoming thereby polluted with the dependence upon foreigners which he professes to abjure.

To what is he left, this disclaimer against foreigners and advocate of dependence upon home? Trace him through his career. This was very admirably done by an honourable gentleman, who just now addressed you, at the Salisbury contest. His opponent urged this plea, and Mr. Bouverie stripped him, as it were, from head to foot, showing that he had not an article of dress upon him which did not render him in some degree dependent upon foreigners. We will pursue this subject, and trace his whole life. What is the career of the man whose possessions are in broad acres? Why, a French cook dresses his dinner for him, and a Swiss valet dresses him for dinner; he hands down his lady, decked with pearls that never grew in the shell of a British oyster; and her waving plume of ostrich-feathers certainly never formed the tail of a barn-door fowl. The viands of his table are from all countries of the world; his wines are from the banks of the Rhine and the Rhone. In his conservatory, he regales his sight with the blossoms of South American flowers. In his smoking-room, he [185] gratifies his scent with the weed of North America. His favourite horse is of Arabian blood; his pet dog, of the St. Bernard’s breed. His gallery is rich with pictures from the Flemish school, and statues from Greece. For his amusements, he goes to hear Italian singers warble German music, followed by a French ballet. If he rises to judicial honours, the ermine that decorates his shoulders is a production that was never before on the back of a British beast. His very mind is not English in its attainments; it is a mere picnic of foreign contributions. His poetry and philosophy are from Greece and Rome; his geometry is from Alexandria; his arithmetic is from Arabia; and his religion from Palestine. In his cradle, in his infancy, he rubbed his gums with coral from Oriental oceans; and when he dies, his monument will be sculptured in marble from the quarries of Carrara.

And yet this is the man who says, ‘Oh! let us be independent of foreigners! Let us submit to taxation; let there be privation and want; let there be struggles and disappointments; let there be starvation itself; only let us be independent of foreigners!’ I quarrel not with him for enjoying the luxuries of other lands, the results of arts that make it life to live. I wish not only that he and his order may have all the good that any climate or region can bear for them—it is their right, if they have wherewithal to exchange for it; what I complain of is, the sophistry, the hypocrisy, and the iniquity of talking of independence of foreigners in the article of food, while there is dependence in all these materials of daily enjoyment and recreation. Food is the article the foreigner most wants to sell; food is that which thousands of our operatives most want to buy; and it is not for him—the mere creature of foreign agency from head to foot—to interpose and say, ‘You shall be independent; I alone will be the very essence and quintessence of dependence.’ We compromise not this question with parties such as these; no, nor with the legislature.

About this Quotation:

William Johnson Fox (1786-1864) was an English Member of Parliament and one of the best free trade orators in the years leading up to the repeal of the protectionist Corn Laws in January 1846. One of his greatest speeches was given in the Convent Garden Theatre on January 25th, 1844 where he ridiculed the protectionist large land owners for defending protection on the grounds that England should not be dependent on foreigners for the things they need, such as food. He then proceeded sarcastically to list all the things these country gentlemen bought from overseas, from the guano they spread on their fields to the marble headstones they erected for their dead relatives, thus brilliantly exposing their hypocrisy. But behind the sarcasm and ridicule was a deep moral fervour which drove many of the Anti-Corn Law Leaguers like Fox and Richard Cobden. This took two forms. Firstly, there was the hatred of the political privileges enjoyed by a particular class of wealthy landowners who benefited from the artificially high price of grain (“corn”) as the expense of the ordinary working people of England. Secondly, that tariffs and trade prohibitions violated the natural rights of people, as Fox put it eloquently, “for if anything can be called a natural right, it is that of man’s exchanging the produce of his honest labour freely in the world’s markets for whatever he may desire which may be most welcome to him, ministering to his existence or enjoyment.”

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