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would remind the reader of the importance of a sufficient supply of wheat, in the event of any such danger appearing as the country had already experienced in the long war. For it was this contingency which formed part of Sir Eobert Peel's apology for the maintenance of the Corn Laws in 1839. Suppose our corn supplies (if we depended in any large degree upon external sources) suddenly cut off; what was to prevent our surplus supplies from being cut off under protection? A large war might easily deprive us of this increment. But wars, say the free-traders, are destroyed or diminished by free trade. We may, with as much facility as Sir Bobert Peel, nowadays inquire, What is there to prevent two-thirds of our corn supply, or part of it, from being cut off under a free-trade system ?1 The remote possibility of a general war, answer the free-traders. But this is assumption. Nobody, we presume, or we are told to presume, desires war for its own sake alone. But the question does not depend upon this mere want of desire; what is of importance to us is this, whether our present system of free imports diminishes in any degree, and in what degree, if any, the chances of war with our neighbours.
To advance the cause of agriculture, a Corn Law became necessary in 1815. Such a law implied a certain amount of restriction. But such restriction2 was not considered to be antagonistic to the wellbeing of the nation. It came, in the opinion of some, to be so afterwards, when, during the free-trade agitation, argu
1 I.e., a system of free imports.
3 Practised within proper limits. It is important to notice this qualification.
ments were manufactured to support the policy of the free-traders. To advance the cause of manufacture, the duties on raw material were removed. By such means the cost of production was decreased, and hence the position of the manufacturers improved. But such improvement was at the cost of no other interest. The revenue alone suffered; but its loss was more than counterbalanced by the advantages of a cheaper article to the home consumer, and the superior means obtained by the manufacturer of maintaining his hold upon foreign markets.
By the remission of these indirect taxes, the manufacturers gained, and with them the whole community shared in the gain. So, by the imposition of the Com Law, agriculture gained, and so did the country, for fixed capital was still kept in use, and a large quantity of labour thereby kept in employment. If there can be any doubt that a low price of bread would have certainly produced a low rate of wages, you need but to think of what would have happened had there been no Corn Law. Bread would have been cheaper. But, as the effect of this cheapness, many of the agricultural labourers would have been thrown out of employment, just as they have been under similar circumstances, but gradually, during the last forty years, and there being a greater supply than demand1 for manufacturing labour, wages must have been reduced. It was essential then, as it is essential now, to improve this demand for labour as much as possible. It is the only factor which directly increases the wages of the ordinary
1 Unless it is assumed that manufacture would have consumed the labour thus thrown out of employment.
labourer. And you can easily perceive the disturbances which those discoveries have upon the equable progress of wages, which fitfully stimulate the demand for labour. But of such discoveries, which tend to minimise labour and increase production, we do not think it too hard a thing to say that they are " a good" to one generation, but an evil to the next.
§ 22. The question of repeal not an economical, hut made a social and political question— Why ?—Thus similar effects, the welfare of agriculture and the welfare of manufacture, were brought about by exactly opposite causes. We see the imposition of restrictions in the one industry; their removal, when it was shown they could be removed without damage, in the other.
And in justice to both sorts of policies, it must be acknowledged that the then conditions of the industries demanded them.
But the question might subsequently arise, and very reasonably too, Would these conditions always retain the same favourable aspect? And you cannot deny that the nation as a whole prospered under them.
Now it is evident that the manufacturers in 1845 thought they might be changed with benefit to themselves and (we must suppose) advantage to the country. But the burden lay upon their shoulders of proving that (1) a change in the surrounding circumstances of agriculture and manufacture had taken place; and (2) the efficacy of a new measure to meet the requirements of that change.
This, it appears, would have been the manly way. But, in its stead, the Corn Laws were abused, the aristocracy slandered, and—new political opinions advanced.
The manufacturers could not say they had not received considerable benefits from the State. Then why should they deny similar benefits to the farming interest? Consider their attitude in Huskisson's time with regard to the duties on wool. They desired that foreign wool should come in free of duty. But they opposed the course which Huskisson judged ought rightly to be pursued. They were against the exportation of British wool without a duty. But Huskisson argued 1 that if we permit foreign wool to enter without being taxed, then in all justice we must allow the free exportation of home-grown wool, which policy was, after some opposition, put into practice. Thus he opposed the selfish measure of the manufacturers and prevailed. He was desirous of affording the manufacturing interest due and proper advantages; but " undue" advantage he resolutely set his face against.
The cost of production had been materially influenced and profits increased by the remission of taxes on the raw material of manufacture. Where was the manufacturer to look for a still further reduction in price and increase of profits? He need not have searched far; for the means of cheapening the cost of transit were in existence and were rapidly being developed. But instead of looking straight before him, he glanced aside at the price of bread. "If this could only be reduced, then I could sell cheaper, produce more, and increase my profits." Did he rightly estimate the influence of the railway upon the development of his trade? If he did, then he knew 1 Speech of May 28, 1827 (vol. iii. p. 148).
that he had a double force working in his favour; for not only would there be a fresh stimulus created by diminishing the distance between consumer and producer, but wages would be less, because bread was cheaper. But it was into the scale of cheap bread that the manufacturer threw his lot. He was pursuing his own selfinterest; but his action became a selfish one when the results of it, immediate or remote, it matters not which, were likely to be fraught with injury to another interest. Now it is against such selfish action that the State, in theory, opposes an impassable barrier. Why was not the influence of Parliament properly brought to bear in the settlement of the spurious dispute between the manufacturers on the one hand, and farmers and the landed interest on the other? Because the dispute had not a single object in view. It was doubled-faced. It was not an economical so much as a social and political dispute. Had it been a purely economical problem to solve, there was no need to arouse the enthusiasm of the populace, whose intelligence cannot be sufficiently advanced to arbitrate on the complicated data of what Cobden dignified into the highest of all sciences, the science of economy. Such an enthusiasm would have been worthless. But it was made a double-faced dispute; because the circumstances of the times were favourable. There was considerable popular discontent. There was depression. The manufacturers were struggling to increase their profits. And one man, Bichard Cobden, strove, in the midst, and by the help of these discordant elements, to put into action a series of measures framed with the object of elevating the labour interests of his country. The first of this series was a