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We cannot close our eyes to the fact that Cobden was supported by the manufacturers, for without their influence and pecuniary assistance he must have remained in that condition of insignificance in which he was born. Nor is the practice of the merchants blameworthy, so long as it is not carried on at the expense of any one, or perhaps all the interests of the nation. It is not self-interest that is to be condemned, but selfishness. We ask again, Where resided the injustice? Cobden declined to argue the question within the sacred precincts of the corn merchant's office. The cause of the injustice, therefore, resided in the variation of the seasons. If this was the true cause of the injustice to the consumer—and it has been well summed up in one of those pithy sayings for which the late Lord Beaconsfield is famous, that the history of agricultural distress in this country is the history of agricultural abundance—why was it not exposed in all its nakedness to the people of Great Britain and Ireland? Because Cobden was prejudiced, and, so far as he was concerned, honestly prejudiced, in ascribing the evil to another and false source; and we think he was supported in this error by attending too much to the ultimate social and political consequences of the prin
to gambling speculations, and large and rapid fluctuations of price." "They " (the corn merchants) "buy nothing but the primest samples when they want to lower the duty, and sell only the worst description of wheat when they intend virtually to close the ports, which manoeuvre enables them to buy cheaper abroad, and ultimately to sell dearer at home. It is thus that, by trick and artifice, returns, which are not in themselves fictitious, are nevertheless fictitiously affected." The author of this tract blames the scale for the development of these lower propensities of man. The evil might be overcome by modifying the mode of progression in the scale of duties on imported corn.
ciple of free trade. He was thus impelled, by keeping the end-object only in view, to believe that the real cause lay elsewhere. As he was the leader of the manufacturers, we may perhaps in this fact discover the cause of his reticence regarding speculation, and prices higher than they should have been naturally, and an explanation of the partial view which he took of the high price of bread. But can the belief entertained by Cobden be continued by the present generation? Examine all the facts, place them in their proper sequence; analyse all the doctrines which prevailed throughout the free-trade agitation, and then estimate the cause of the high price of bread,—will you place it in the tyranny and rapacity of the landlord? But the supposition is absurd.
§ 13. The actual factors in the determination of the future price of corn.—What is the correct statement of the question? The law of the land required that the farmer be protected. It gave the preference to his produce before that of foreign growers. If his produce fell short of the demand of his countrymen, seeing that under the then conditions he bought from them, it was but fair to him that they should buy as much corn as he could supply them with. Now such a result could only be effected through the instrumentality of a corn law.1 The working of the Corn Law is, indeed, worthy of a separate description; but this was its single design. Like all other laws, it had its defects; and it
1 Cobden himself subscribed to this proposition. His words are: "We must, at all events, keep the labourer a corn customer of the country."—Page 53.
is certain that its simplicity was perverted for ulterior and selfish ends. We make no comparison of the results of the action of those who effected its repeal, and who denounced the utterly selfish1 working of the law in no measured language. We cannot stay to inquire what sum it was that went into the pockets of the manufacturers between the years 1850 and 1873, nor 'what proportion of that gigantic sum was diverted into the labour market,—suffice it to say, that in the event it seems that the tables have become turned against the promoters of the repeal of the Corn Law. For there is no doubt that they attributed not the motive of selfinterest, but the motive of selfishness, which is a very different motive, to the landlords of their day. They charged them with being unduly and unjustly rich at the expense of all the wheat-consumers of the nation; and as the labourers formed by far the larger part, the labourers mostly suffered. Perhaps we may illustrate this idea of Cobden and the free-traders, of the landlords growing fat upon the blood of the nation. (Fortunate, indeed, for the nation that it contained so many fields of labour!) First of all, we know that this description of the state of affairs is altogether wrong. But Cobden did not believe it was wrong, nor did his intelligent followers detect where the error lay. We also know not only of the false charges—charges which had not the shadow of a foundation to rest upon—against
1 It seems the law was made selfish from the effect of speculation, carried to abuse by the corn merchants. The present paralysis of agriculture shows that the Corn Law was not enacted in the selfish interests of the landed proprietors. The law really protected the self-interest of an important part of the community, whereas Cobden asserted it only favoured the aristocracy.
the landlords, but of the true motives of the manufacturers as well.1 In denouncing the selfishness of the landlords, they successfully for a time concealed their own selfish policy. They succeeded in gaining the support of the people by contrasting their own fascinating policy of national self-interest with the selfish, degrading, and tyrannical policy of the landlords. They had the impertinence to believe the landlords to be what their distorted imaginations, induced by erroneous economical doctrines, depicted. Eeason slumbered, while their fancy led them into every kind of absurdity. Their recklessness demanded that they should lose control over themselves before they lost control of the national trade. But perhaps the worst feature in their conduct is their arrogance in claiming a national character for what was a mere prejudiced, and, as it has turned out, a very clumsy, piece of legislation. It may be said we have grown rich by free trade; but the answer is, that we have not grown equally rich. We have progressed, but not as a body. That is not progress which determines superabundant wealth into the hands of the capitalists, while it increases the pressure of obtaining a subsistence by the sweat of their brow of the lowest of the poor class to the point of starvation. Cobden, however, though his restless energy led him into all kinds of quarrels, could not battle with the seasons. But the means which he advocated would, he said, remove these prejudicial effects. He allowed
1 To support this, allusion may be made to Cobden's change of tactics when advocating the manufacturing and agricultural labourers' distress in 1839 and 1844 respectively, and to the large sums subscribed by the manufacturers to repeal the Corn Laws. In 1845, no less a sum than £250,000 was collected for this purpose.
them some influence, but did not ascribe to them the first place in the causation of agricultural distress, which, it must always be remembered, means high price of bread. In fact, enough has been said to convince the candid reader that, in the pursuit of his ends, he was not particular enough in the management of his means, and that his treatment of the question of free trade was a peculiarly partial one; and how the treatment of the question, partial from the very first, has been continued in the same groove of partiality, may be learnt from a perusal of some recent free-trade literature, and amongst others a work on ' Free Trade v. Fair Trade,' by Sir T. H. Farrer, who complacently shows that while the export trade of every protective nation in the world is extending, that of England alone is shrinking. But at present we must ask the reader to follow us in the elucidation of some of the moral developments which Cobden's honestly intended but arbitrary assertions may create.
It will occur to every one that to raise the cry of protection and starvation, demands the existence of starvation. Now there was no starvation under protection.1 If Cobden meant that there would be starvation in the future under protection, then precision requires that he should have said so. On the other hand, he stated there would always be abundance with a freetrade system. And when we come to analyse what
1 Many different inferences are derived from the occurrence of the so-called Bread riots. But the influence of Chartism in their causation cannot be ignored. It is very probable that the merely temporary high price of bread offered the most favourable occasion for revolutionary leaders to stir up the poorest of the poor, by appealing to their hard lot. Thus Chartist principles would be diffused by turning an economical grievance to attain political ends.