Monuments to Free Trade: Bastiat and Cobden

Many statues and monuments are erected in public places to military leaders, kings, emperors, and presidents who take their countries to war, raise taxes, increase economic regulation of the economy, and violate civil liberties. Far fewer are the monuments to people who actually increase the sphere of liberty in which individuals can run their lives and businesses. We have two examples of the latter here: two men who agitated for and eventually helped create the conditions for expanded free trade among the people of Europe in the mid-19th century - Richard Cobden (1804-1865) and Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850).

Richard Cobden began the process by forming the Anti-Corn Law League in Britain in 1838 in the manufacturing city of Manchester in order to eliminate the tariffs and price controls on imported "corn ( i.e. wheat) which was the main staple for working class Britishers. Using innovative techniques to mobilize public opinion in favour of repealing the "corn laws", as they were known, Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League were able to put sufficient pressure on the British government to force their repeal in 1846. Cobden's success inspired the Frenchman Frédéric Bastiat to emulate his tactics by starting a free trade movement in France. Bastiat initially failed to organize the French people as Cobden had done with his Société de la liberté d'échange but he went on to develop some of the best articles and books in favour of free trade ever penned before his untimely death in 1850. The culmination of both their lives' work came in 1860 when Cobden and the French politician Michel Chevalier signed the Anglo-French Treaty of Commerce in 1860 ushering in a period of relative free trade in Europe which lasted until the 1890s when tariff wars between the major European powers again broke out.

Without resorting to tax-payer funded financial support, the admirers of Cobden and Bastiat raised money privately and independently of each other in order to build monuments to these pioneers of the free trade movement. The Society of Political Economy in France and private citizens who supported Cobden in Britain raised money to design, build, and erect statues to these men. Bastiat's was erected in his home town of Mugron in S.W. France; Cobden had statues of him erected in his home town of Manchester as well as in London (which we show here). In addition their supporters created busts and medals in order to celebrate their lives and careers. As the motto on Cobden's commemorative medal states let there be "Free Trade, Peace, Goodwill among Nations".

Online Resources


Gabriel-Vital Dubray, "Frédéric Bastiat" (1878)
W. and T. Wills, "Cobden" (1868)
A monument erected in memory of the French free trade advocate Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) in the town of Mugron in S.W. France (1878). The sculptor was Gabriel-Vital Dubray (1813-1892).
The original monument was largely destroyed by the Nazis in 1942. A contemporary engraving shows what it looked like [see below].
A statue erected in memory of the English free tradeadvocate Richard Cobden (1804-1865) in Camden Town, London (1868). The sculptors were W. and T. Wills.
The plaque lists the works for which Bastiat was best remembered. The top three were part of the original monument: Cobden and the League (1845), Economic Sophisms (1845, 1848), Economic Harmonies (1850); the fourth titleThe Law (1850) was added in 2001 for the bicentennial celebration of his birth. It also states that "This Monument was inaugurated April 23, 1878." What it does not say is that it too was erected by public subscription organized by the Société d'économie politique.
The plaques states that the statue was "erected by public subscription, to which Napoleon III was principal contributor. Presented to the vestry of St. Pancras, June 1868. Thomas Ross, chairman of committee."
Gabriel-Vital Dubray, "Frédéric Bastiat" (1878)

This engraving from the magazine Le Monde illustré appeared shortly after the inauguration of the monument in Mugron on 23 April 1878 and accompanied a report of the event. The well-knpwn sculptor Gabriel-Vital Dubray (1813-1892) had been commissioned to design and create the monument. Dubray was a very successful sculptor who had created many important works during the Third Empire (1852-1870) for which he was made a knight of the Legion of Honor. Many of his works were displayed in churches and even in the Louvre Palace.Thus it was quite a coup to get an artist of his stature and importance to do the Bastiat monument. As the engraving above indicates, Dubray planned an elaborate monument with the classical figure of "Fame" leaning against the pedestal and writing with her pen the titles of the three books for which Bastiat was best remembered and for which he deserved to be famous: the work in which he first introduced the French to the ideas on free trade of Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League Cobden and the League (1845), his best selling collection of witty and clever articles debunking the economic myths of the protectionists Economic Sophisms (1845, 1848), and his incomplete magnum opus on economic theory Economic Harmonies (1850).

It seems that nature did not smile upon Bastiat's monument on that occasion as it rained for most of the day. This did not stop numerous speakers including Léon Say, the Minister of Finance, from reminding the crowd of well wishers of Bastiat's importance to the classical liberal movement in France and his contributions to the deregulation of the French economy. At 7.00 pm a crowd of 150 gathered in the local school for a banquet which lasted until 11.00 pm when they dispersed. But they did not retire to bed apparently. The correspondent for the Journal des économistes remarked wryly that "the streets of Mugron were full of singing and noise for the rest of the night" thus bringing to an end a veritable "festival of peace."

Unfortunately this festival of peace did not survive the orgies of statism and nationalism which were the First and Second World Wars. M. Jacques de Guenin, the director of the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat in France states that in 1942 during the occupation of France by the Nazis any statues containing bronze were to be seized and broken up for their metal content (presumably to make weapons). This was the unfortunate fate of the Bastiat monument - the bust of Bastiat and the figure of Fame were taken for scrap for war matériel. The bust could be reconstituted after the war because the original mold had survived, but the figure of Fame was lost forever. It is both sad and ironic that this would be the fate of Bastiat's monument as Bastiat had dedicated himself to the cause of peace and opposition to war as his writings and his participation in the Peace Congresses of the late 1840s attest.

However, one might say that "Fame" did eventaully return to Bastiat's monument in spite of what the Nazis and 50 years of the European welfare state had done to it. Bicentennial celebrations of Bastiat's birth were organised in 2001, including a major conference on his political and economic ideas and a formal visit to his monument in Mugron to unveil an addition to the list of his most famous works. The title of the pamphlet "La Loi" (The Law) was added in respect to the many American visitors who hold this work of Bastiat's in high regard. "Fame" had at last been recalled to complete the work which she had begun in 1878.

Sources for the images:
Bastiat: the Cercle Frédéric Bastiat website <>
Cobden: public domain images from Wikipedia & other sources