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David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 4) online

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should expire from stench and mortification of mind. It pleased
God, however, to bless me with health, and, though deprived of
liberty, by dint of sobriety and temperance, I outlived the base
attempt to destroy me. What crime had I committed ? For
what was it that I was condemned to this horrible punishment ?
Simply for writing a paragraph in which I expressed the indig-



lOO WILLIAM COBBETT

nation I felt at an English local militiaman having been flogged
under a guard of German bayonets! I only expressed the in-
dignation I felt, and I should have been a base creature, indeed,
if I had not expressed it. But now military flogging excites
universal indignation. If there be at present any of the jury
Alive who found me guilty and sentenced me to that punish-
ment, what remorse must they not feel for their conduct when
they perceive that all the writers in every periodical of the pres-
ent day, even including the favorite publication of the Whig
Attorney-General, are now unanimous in deprecating the system
of military flogging altogether! Yet, for expressing my disap-
probation of that system I was tossed into a dungeon like Daniel
into the lion's den. But why am I now tossed down before this
court by the Attorney-General ? What are my sins ? I have
called on the Government to respect the law; I have cautioned
them that hard-hearted proceedings are driving the laborers to
despair! That is my crime! If the Government really wish to
avoid disturbances in the country, let them give us back the old
laws; let them give the people the old game law, and repeal the
new law; and let them do away with the other grinding laws
that oppress the poor. I have read with horror which I cannot
describe of a magistrate being accused to the Lord Chancellor of
subornation of perjury; I have read of that magistrate being re-
instated, and I have shuddered with horror at supposing that a
poor starving laborer may be brought before such a man, and in
conjunction with another such magistrate may be doomed to
seven years' transportation for being out at night. And such a
magistrate may be himself a game-preserver! This is a mon-
strous power, and certainly ought to be abolished. The ministry,
however, will perhaps adopt the measures I have recommended,
and then prosecute me for recommending them. Just so it is
with parliamentary reform, a measure which I have been fore-
most in recommending for twenty years. I have pointed out
and insisted upon the sort of reform that we must have; and
they are compelled already to adopt a large part of my sugges-
tions, and avowedly against their will. They hate me for this;
they look upon it as I do, that they are married to Reform, and
that I am the man who has furnished the halter in which they
are led to church. For supplying that halter they have made
this attack on me through the Attorney-General, and will slay me
if they can. The Whigs know that my intention was not bad.



WILLIAM COBBETT jqj

This is a mere pretense to inflict pecuniary ruin on me, or cause
me to die of sickness in a jail, so that they may get rid of me,
because they can neither buy nor silence me. It is their fears
which make them attack me, and it is my death they intend.
In that object they will be defeated, for, thank heaven, you
stand between me and destruction. If, however, your verdict
should be — which I do not anticipate — one that will consign me
to death by sending me to a loathsome dungeon, I will with my
last breath pray to God to bless my country and curse the
Whigs; and I bequeath my revenge to my children and the
laborers of England.



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
SANl'A BARBARA COLLEGE LIBRARY




RICHARD COBDEN

(1804-1865)

|iCHARD CoBDEN Sacrificed his life by leaving his sick room and
hastening to London in the spring of 1865 to resist in the
House of Commons the proposed fortification of Canada. His
Free Trade agitation had always been subordinated to the high moral
purpose of promoting peace on earth and good-will among men. As
he considered free commerce between nations the surest means of
avoiding wars and abolishing armies, the proposition to fortify Canada
at a time of strained relations between the United States and England
aroused him to undertake a journey which proved fatal. When his
death was announced to the House of Commons, his character and pub-
lic services were praised as "an honor to England" by his former po-
litical antagonists, and his old friend and coadjutor, John Bright, over-
powered by emotion after speaking a sentence or two in a tremulous
voice, said he must leave to a calmer moment what he had to say "of
the manliest and gentlest spirit that ever quitted or tenanted a human
form."

In truth the production of men of the Cobden type is the greatest
glory of modern England, and to the labors of such men she owes more
of her greatness than to the splendid heroism of her warriors. A
widow's son, with only such rudimentary education as could be ob-
tained at a country grammar school, he found time in the midst of very
assiduous and successful attention to commercial pursuits, to make
himself one of the best informed and ablest teachers of his generation.
After he had built up a business yielding him a profit of i8,ooo a year,
he turned aside from it and began to write the magazine articles and
pamphlets which eventually revolutionized the politico-economic policy
of England.

Omitting wholly the details of the great and incessant labors by
which he forced Sir Robert Peel to repeal the Corn Laws in deference
to public opinion, the barest mention can be made of his work as an
international treaty reformer, and his remarkable series of peace con-
gresses in the interest of arbitration as a substitute for war, as per-
haps the most remarkable among many other distinguished services
to his own country and to mankind. He became such a power in Eng-
land that cabinet positions and even a baronetcy and seat in the Privy

102



RICHARD COBDEN jqo

Council were offered him by Lord Palmerston and refused. Through-
out his long parliamentary career he was one of England's foremost
debaters of political, economical, and commercial questions, while at
the same time he was the writer of essays that are enduring text-
books for the guidance of after generations.

He was born at his father's farmhouse near Midhurst in Sussex,
June 3d, 1804, and died in London, April 2d, 1865.



FREE TRADE WITH ALL NATIONS
(Delivered at Manchester, January 15th, 1846)

I SHALL begin the few remarks which I have to offer to this
meeting by proposing, contrary to my usual custom, a resolu-
tion ; and it is, ^' That the merchants, manufacturers, and
other members of the National Anti-Corn-Law League claim no
protection whatever for the manufactured products of this coun-
try, and desire to see obliterated forever the few nominally pro-
tective duties against foreign manufactures, which still remain
upon our statute books.'' Gentlemen, if any of you have taken
the pains to wade through the reports of the Protectionist meet-
ings, as they are called, which have been held lately, you would
see that our opponents, at the end of seven years of our agita-
tion, have found out their mistake, and are abandoning the Corn
Laws; and now, like unskillful blunderers, as they are, they want
to take up a new position, just as we are going to achieve the
victory. Then they have been telling something very like fibs,
when they claimed the Corn Laws as compensation for peculiar
burdens. They say now that they want merely protection in
common with all other interests, and they now call themselves
the advocates of protection to native industry in all its branches;
and, by way of making the appeal to the less-informed portion
of the community, they say that the Anti-Corn-Law League are
merely the advocates of Free Trade in corn, but that we want to
preserve a monopoly in manufactures.

Now, the resolution which I have to submit to you, and
which we will put to this meeting to-night — the largest by far
that I ever saw in this room, and comprising men of every class
and of every calling in this district — let that resolution decide,
once and forever, whether our opponents can with truth lay that
to our charge henceforth. There is nothing new in this proposi-



^Q . RICHARD COBDEN

tion, for at the very beginning of this agitation — at the meeting
of the Chamber of Commerce — when that faint voice was raised
in that small room in King Street in December 1838, for the total
and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws — when that ball was set
in motion which has been accumulating in strength and velocity
ever since, why, the petition stated fairly that this community
wanted no protection for its own industry. I will read the con-
clusion of that admirable petition. It is as follows: —

« Holding one of the principles of eternal justice to be the inalien-
able right of every man freely to exchange the result of his labor
for the productions of other people, and maintaining the practice of
protecting one part of the community at the expense of all other
classes to be unsound and unjustifiable, your petitioners earnestly
implore your honorable House to repeal all laws relating to the im-
portation of foreign corn and other foreign articles of subsistence,
and to carry out to the fullest extent, both as affects agriculture and
manufactures, the true and peaceful principles of Free Trade, by
removing all existing obstacles to the unrestricted employment of in-
dustry and capital. >*

We have passed similar resolutions at all our great aggregate
meetings of delegates in London ever since that was issued.

I don't put this resolution as an argument or as an appeal to
meet the appeals made in the protection societies' meetings. I
believe that the men who now, in this seventh year of our dis-
cussion, can come forth before their country, and talk as those
men have done — I believe that you might as well preach to the
deaf adder. You cannot convince them. I doubt whether they
have not been living in their shells, like oysters; I doubt whether
they know such a thing is in existence as a railroad, or as penny
postage. They are in profound ignorance of everything, and in-
capable of being taught. We don't appeal to them, but to a
very large portion of this community, who don't take a very
prominent part in this discussion — who may be considered as
important lookers-on. Many have been mislead by the reiterated
assertions of our opponents; and it is at this eleventh hour to
convince these men, and to give them an opportunity of joining
our ranks, as they will do, that I offer this proof of disinterested-
ness and the fairness of our proposals. I don't intend to go into
an argument to convince any man here that protection to all
must be protection to none. If it takes from one man's pocket,



RICHARD COBDEN



105



and allows him to compensate himself by taking an equivalent
from another man's pocket, and if that goes on in a circle through
the whole community, it is only a clumsy process of robbing all
to enrich none, and simply has this effect, that it ties up the
hands of industry in all directions. I need not offer one word
to convince you of that. The only motive that I have for saying
a word is, that what I say here may convince others elsewhere —
the men who meet in protection societies. But the arguments I
should adduce to an intelligent audience like this, would be spoken
in vain to the Members of Parliament who are now the advo-
cates of protection. I shall meet them in less than a week in
London, and there I will teach the A B C of this protection. It
is of no use trying to teach children words of five syllables, when
they have not got out of the alphabet.

Well, what exhibitions these protectionists have been making
of themselves! Judging from the length of their speeches, as
you see them reported, you might fancy the whole community
was in motion. Unfortunately for us, and for the reputation of
our countrymen, the men who can utter the driveling nonsense
which we have had exhibited to the world lately, and the m.en
who can listen to it, are very few in number. I doubt exceed-
ingly whether all the men who have attended all the protection
meetings, during the last month, might not very comfortably be
put into this hall. But these protection societies have not only
changed their principles, but it seems they have resolved to
change their tactics. They have now, at the eleventh hour,
again resolved that they will make their body political, and look
after the registration. What simpletons they must have been to
have thought that they could have done any good without that!
So they have resolved that their societies shall spend their money
in precisely the same way that the League have been expending
theirs. They have hitherto been telling us, in all their meetings
and in all their newspapers, that the League is an unconstitu-
tional body; that it is an infernal club which aims at corrupt-
ing, at vitiating, and at swamping the registrations; and now,
forsooth, when no good can possibly come of it — when they
most certainly should have wisely abstained from imitating it,
since they cannot do any good, and have kept up the strain they
formerly had, of calling the League an unconstitutional body,
they resolve to rescind their resolution, and to follow his Grace,
the Duke of Richmond's advice, and fight us with our own weap-



io6 RICHARD COBDEN

ons. Now, I presume, we are a constitutional body. It is a
fortunate thing that we have not got great dukes to lead us.
But, now, of what force is this resolution ? Like everything they
do, it is farcical — it is unreal. The protection societies, from
the beginning, have been nothing but phantoms. They are not
realities. And what is their resolution — what does it amount to?
They resolve that they will look after the registration. We all
know that they have done their worst in that way already. We
all know that these landlords may really make their acres a kind
of electioneering property. We know right well that their land-
agents are their electioneering agents. We know that their rent-
rolls have been made their muster-rolls for fighting the battle of
protection. These poor driveling people say that we buy qualifica-
tions, and present them to our friends; that we bind them down
to vote as we please. We have never bought a vote, and we
never intend to buy a vote or to give one. Should we not be
blockheads to buy votes and give them, when we have ten thou-
sand persons ready to buy them at our request ?

But I suspect that our protectionist friends have a notion that
there is some plan — some secret, sinister plan — by which they
can put fictitious votes on the register. Now I beg to tell them
that the League is not more powerful to create votes than it is
to detect the flaws in the bad votes of our opponents; and they
may depend on it, if they attempt to put fictitious voters on the
register, that we have our ferrets in every county, and that they
will find out the flaws; and when the registration time comes,
we'll have an objection registered against every one of their ficti-
tious qualifications, and make them produce their title-deeds, and
show that they have paid for them. Well, we have our protec-
tionist opponents; but how we may congratulate ourselves on the
position which they have given to this question by the discussion
that has been raised everywhere during the last few months!
We cannot enter a steamboat or a railroad carriage — nay, we
cannot even go into an omnibus, but the first thing that any
man does, almost before he has deposited his umbrella, is to ask,
^' Well, what is the last news about the Corn Laws ? ^* Now, we,
who remember how difficult it was, at the beginning of our agi-
tation, to bring men's minds to the discussion, of this question,
when we think that every newspaper is now full of it — the same
broad sheet containing, perhaps, a report of this meeting, and
of the miserable driveling of some hole-and-corner agricultural



RICHARD COBDEN



107



gathering — and when we think that the whole community is en-
gaged in reading the discussion and pondering on the several
arguments, we can desire no more. The League might close its
doors to-morrow, and its work might be considered as done the
moment it compels or induces people to discuss the question.

But the feeling I have alluded to is spreading beyond our
own country. I am glad to hear that in Ireland the question is
attracting attention. You have probably heard that my friend
Mr. Bright and I have received a requisition, signed by mer-
chants and manufacturers of every grade and party in Belfast,
soliciting us to go there and address them; and I deeply regret
that we cannot put our feet on Irish ground to advocate this
question. To-day I have received a copy of a requisition to the
mayor of Drogheda, calling a meeting for next Monday, to peti-
tion for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws, and I
am glad to notice at the head of that requisition the name of
the Catholic Primate, Doctor Croly, a man eminent for learning,
piety, and moderation; and that it is also headed by the rest of
the Catholic clergy of that borough. I hope that these examples
will not be without their due effect, in another quarter. We
have, I believe, the majority of every religious denomination
with us — I mean the dissenting denominations; we have them
almost en masse ^ both ministers and laymen; and I believe the
only body, the only religious body, which we may not say we
have with us as a body, are the members of the Church of Eng-
land.

On this point I will just offer this remark: The clergy of the
Church of England have been placed in a most invidious, and, I
think, an unfortunate position, by the mode in which their tithe
commutation charge was fixed some years ago. My friend Colonel
Thompson will recollect it, for he was in Parliament at the time,
and protested against the way in which the tithe commutation
rent-charge was fixed. He said, with the great foresight he had
always shown in the struggle for the repeal of the Corn Laws,
that it would make the clergy of the Church of England parties
to the present Corn Law by fixing their tithe at a fixed quantity
of corn, fluctuating according to the price of the last seven years.
Let it be borne in mind, that every other class of the community
may be directly compensated for the repeal of the Corn Laws — I
mean every class connected with agriculture — except the clergy.
The landlords may be compensated, if prices fall, by an increased



I08 RICHARD COBDEN

quantity of produce; so also may the farmer and the laborer; but
the clergy of the Church of England receive a given number of
quarts of wheat for their tithe, whatever the price may be. I
think, however, we may draw a favorable conclusion, under all the
circumstances, from the fact that I believe there has not been
one clergyman of the Church of England at all eminent for
rank, piety, or learning, who has come out, notwithstanding the
strong temptation of personal interest, to advocate the existing
Corn Law. I think that we may take this as a proof of the very
strong appeal to justice which this question makes, and perhaps
augur also that there is a strong feeling among the great body
of the members of the Church of England in favor of Free Trade
in com.

Well, there is one other quarter in which we have seen the
progress of sound principles — I allude to America. We have re-
ceived the American President's message; we have had also the
report of the Secretary of the Treasury, and both President Polk
and Mr. Secretary Walker have been taking my friend Colonel
Thompson's task out of his hands, and lecturing the people of
America on the subject of Free Trade. I have never read a
better digest of the arguments in favor of Free Trade than that
put forth by Mr. Secretary Walker, and addressed to the Congress
of that country. I augur from all these things that our question
is making rapid progress throughout the world, and that we are
coming to the consummation of our labors. We are verging now
towards the session of Parliament, and I predict that the ques-
tion will either receive its quietus, or that it will lead to the dis-
solution of this Parliament; and then the next will certainly re-
lieve us of our burden.

Now, many people are found to speculate on what Sir Robert
Peel may do in the approaching session of Parliament. It is a
very hazardous thing, considering that in one week only you will
be as wise as I shall, to venture to make a prediction on this
subject. [A cry of "We are very anxious.*^] You are very anx-
ious, no doubt. Well, let us see if we can speculate a little on
futurity, and relieve our anxiety. There are three courses open
to Sir Robert Peel. He may keep the law as it is; he may
totally repeal it; or he may do something between the two by
tinkering his scale again, or giving us a fixed duty. Now, I
predict that Sir Robert Peel will either keep the law as it is, or
he will propose totally to abolish it. And I ground my predic-



RICHARD COBDEN I09

tion on this, because these are the only two things that anybody
in the country wants him to do. There are some that want to
keep protection as it is; others want to get rid of it; but no-
body wants anything between the two. He has his choice to
make, and I have this opinion of his sagacity, that, if he change
at all, he will change for total repeal. But the question is,
^^ Will he propose total and immediate repeal ? ** Now, there, if
you please, I will forbear to offer a prediction. But I will ven-
ture to give you a reason or two why I think he ought to take
total and immediate repeal. I don't think that any class is so
much interested in having the Corn Law totally and immediately
repealed as the farming class. I believe that it is of more im-
portance to the farmers to have the repeal instantaneous, instead
of gradual, than to any other class of the community. In fact, I
observe, in the report of a recent Oxfordshire protection meet-
ing, given in to-day's paper, that when Lord Norreys was alluding
to the probability of Sir Robert Peel abolishing the Corn Laws
gradually, a farmer by the name of Gillatt cried out, ^'We had
better be drowned outright than ducked to death. >> Gentlemen,
I used to employ another simile — a very humble one, I admit. I
used to say that an old farmer had told me, that if he were going
to cut off his sheep-dog's tail, it would be far more humane to
cut it off all at once than a piece every day in the week. But
now I think that the farmer's simile in Oxford is the newest
and the best that we can use. Nothing could be more easy
than to demonstrate that it is the true interest of the farmers, if
the Com Law is to be abolished, to have it abolished instantly.
If the Corn Law were abolished to-morrow, my firm belief is, that
instead of wheat falling, it would have a tendency to rise. That
is my firm belief, because speculation has already anticipated Sir
Robert Peel, and wheat has fallen in consequence of that appre-
hension. I believe that, owing to the scarcity everywhere, — I
mean in all parts of Europe, — you could not, if you prayed for
it, if you had your own wishing-cap on, and could make your
own time and circumstances — I believe, I say, that you could
never find such an opportunity for abolishing the Corn Laws to-
tally and immediately as if it were done next week; for it so
happens that the very countries from which, in ordinary times,
we have been supplied, have been afflicted, like ourselves, with
scarcity — that the countries of Europe are competing with us
for the very small surplus existing in America. They have, in



no RICHARD COBDEN

fact, anticipated us in that market, and they have left the world's
markets so bare of corn, that, whatever your necessities may be,
I defy you to have other than high prices of com during the
next twelve months, though the Corn Law was abolished to-
morrow,

European countries are suffering as we are from the same
evil. They are suffering from scarcity now, owing to the absurd
legislation respecting the article of corn. Europe altogether has
been corrupted by the vicious example of England in her com-
mercial legislation. There they are, throughout the continent of
Europe, with a population increasing at the rate of four or five
millions a year; yet they make it their business, like ourselves,
to put barriers in the way of a sufficiency of food to meet the



Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 4) → online text (page 10 of 39)