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of the change in our commercial policy which Cobden carried, in order to benefit the poorer classes of the country. When that change aided the manufacturer, and under what circumstances, we can now easily perceive. And the question arises, Were these adverse circumstances sufficiently foreseen? Did Cobden expect (if he contemplated the arrest in growth of our manufacturing industries) that this assistance, coming at a time when foreign nations were still protectionists, would turn the scale against them and compel them to become free-traders ?
But such a supposition is without foundation; for we have Cobden's word that he believed all nations would become free-traders within a comparatively short period after the introduction of free trade into the commercial code of his country.
It appears, then, that Cobden did not contemplate any kind of difficulty in the way of the British manufacturer. Even supposing him to have pursued a tortuous course, he could not have framed a measure to counteract the evil effects of a future danger, the possibility of which he never entertained. But so far as we have been able to learn, Cobden did not examine the possible future effects of his policy, in all those varied conditions by which it might be surrounded. We know his enthusiasm in the cause of free trade was unbounded. We know, too, that he erroneously ascribed to free trade all the prosperity which ensued upon the development of the railway and the discovery of the gold-mines (p. 279). And his influence in directing popular attention into false views of cause and effect was overwhelming. In this respect he was
veritably “the man in possession.” But the excitement of the times, and his prejudiced opinions (and no man can deny that Cobden was prejudiced), led him into taking an over-confident course, which a profound analysis of all the contingent phenomena with which he ought to have dealt, and a more comprehensive survey of the forces which determine the progress of nations, would have forbidden. It is true of Cobden that had he reasoned more he would have felt less of the virtue of free trade. We cannot but marvel at the audacity of the man who asserted that “ England had but to commence the glorious career of free trade; when all nations, observing the extent of her prosperity, and envious of it, would straightway follow her lead.” But when the same man effects a policy, on the fragile grounds that other nations are certain to pursue the same, though we marvelled at his over-confidence in the first instance, it is impossible not to censure his temerity in the next. For upon what was this certainty founded ?1 Cobden could not believe that the internal and external conditions of any other nation in the world were in all respects similar to those of his own country. But free trade, he declared, was best for his country. Because, we presume, we wanted but little corn then (1845), and we had a large surplus of manufactured goods to exchange. A system of free markets, therefore, would redound to our benefit.
1 Other nations had but to see the prosperity conferred on us by free trade, and they would straightway become free-traders. But against this it might be argued that free trade did not cause all the prosperity we enjoyed. And further, that though our conditions were favourable to free trade, the conditions of other nations were not adapted for its equally successful operation.
Now Cobden believed that other nations, whose surroundings were dissimilar to our own, would become free-traders, when they saw the prosperity which the new principle conferred upon us. It is requisite to pause awhile and ascertain whether Cobden's conclusion was a strictly logical one.
We do not desire to detract from Cobden's honesty and sincerity. A man may be ever so prejudiced,1 nor may he be on that account any the less honest and sincere; though, if he is called upon to guide, this prejudice will cause ruin to the nation. Now Cobden's idea of a universal free trade was this, — that the natural productions of a given country would thereby be stimulated into greater activity. But some natural productions of some countries are inconsiderable. How are these going to stand against the invasions of their stronger and more wealthy neighbours? They must till the soil, the British free-trader will say. How, then, are they going to progress ?
At the first step Cobden did not perceive the excessive inequalities which a universal free trade would effect in the condition of nations. But you only require a certain degree of inequality in order to progress. Increase that degree and what happens ? Instead of furthering the aspirations of a people, you crush them.
1 How Cobden's prejudice against the landed proprietors arose is matter of obscurity ; but we know that some attempts were made in Parliament to reflect upon the honesty of his proceeding, in the early part of his career. In connection with the conservation of weak and growing industries, though natural ones, this is what Professor Thorold Rogers says, loco cit., p. 308 : “We have no wish to preserve that which cannot bear the healthy climate of pure competition."
In such an altered state, and having so great advantages, England would reap the larger part of the reward of free trade. And this, without a doubt, was foreseen by foreign statesmen.
These statesmen were in the best position to judge of what was most favourable to the advancement of the people committed to their charge. They saw that the internal and external conditions of their countries were in nearly all respects dissimilar to those of England, the pioneer of manufacture. To argue from the basis that each had natural productions, and these productions would be stimulated by free trade, appeared to them inappropriate to the exact state of their circumstances. The equality into which they were brought by the usage of the phrase “natural productions," was only an apparent one. It was based upon a verbal description, and not upon the facts in existence. These facts had reference to the magnitude of, and moral influence exerted by, some natural productions. For not only would they be absolute losers by a universal free trade, but they would also be put back in the race of civilisation. They concluded that the conditions with which they had to deal were anything but favourable to the practice of free trade.1 :
The difference, therefore, between Cobden and the foreign statesmen's view as to what was best for the
i The introduction of “natural productions” is clearly for the purpose of winning. In 1750, agriculture in England was a flourishing industry ; in 1873 it became disabled. Since 1750, our manufactures have increased steadily to 1849, and rapidly to 1873. Why should manufacture be considered more of a natural production than agriculture ? Because the opportunity presented of raising a brood of capitalists.
progress of nations, is exposed. By the mere use of words, and resting solely upon a verbal description of the state of the case, Cobden thought he could lay the commercial world prostrate at his feet. But the foreigner discovered that England would acquire a permanent supremacy, were a universal free trade adopted. He could point out England's greed in this matter. He could refer to “ Albion's perfidy.” On the contrary, it was easy enough for him to assure his countrymen that, in course of time, they would reap the benefit of England's arbitrary action. (We must here interpolate our opinion, that this arbitrary action has had no influence except such as has been injurious to ourselves. They could afford to wait. Was it possible for Cobden to cause a distrust among foreign nations ? It was his ambition, at first, to do so. He scorned the rulers of the people. He desired to take that by force which he could not achieve by argument.
But all was of no avail. Other nations came to the conclusion that their surrounding circumstances were not similar to those of England; and that, therefore, if the latter found free trade to work beneficially for her, it was not logical to infer that the same cause would have similar favourable results when acting under different conditions.
But the course of events has proved Cobden's endeavour to have been a useless one. International enthusiasm broke down. It is just a possible means of effecting those results Cobden so much desired. But it is extremely improbable that it ever will be brought into action, on this account the difficulty of believing that a mutual policy will always react with the same