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

Richard Cobden

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.

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.”