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free trade in corn, and after that had been achieved, free trade in all other commodities would follow as matter of course. But Cobden did not live to witness the dream that he had dreamt realised. He did not live to see the agricultural interest, which he made so great pretension to advance, in great part ruined; and the tenant-farmers, though some of them were deceived in 1846, know now who was their true friend.1 He did not live to see foreign commodities taking the place of British ones in British markets. These disastrous events, indeed, had no place in his vision. For he dreamt of only what he thought would be; not of what might possibly happen.
He left, it is true, his country, with her trade in the fairest prospect of reaping present advantages, but in the worst possible position for maintaining those advantages in the future. The error, from which he started, pursues him throughout all his subsequent undertakings. Free trade in Cobden's time was only a name. For the tendencies which it created had not as yet grown up so as to be within the range of ordinary observation, so careful ought we to be in the detection of early signs. He thought free trade caused the national prosperity following 1850, eloquently described as "unparalleled and without example." To have induced anything like a manufacturing prosperity, free trade must have reduced bread to so low a price that the manufacturers could reduce wages on the strength of it; or it must have opened up the mar
1 Cobden's statement was: "Whenever the time comes when the farmers understand who it is that has been telling them the truth—the farmers to cast off relations with landlords, and to co-operate with those who have proved themselves to have some sense and foresight in the matter."—P. 212.
the price of British goods in British markets has no influence whatever, in the great majority of cases, upon prices in American and German markets? And will they answer the question on which side the balance inclines when the foreigner can, by that very policy which was intended to ruin him, influence prices in our markets, while we have no such advantage in his markets? It is this influence which renders competition, as the manufacturers have learnt, so unequal; and it is this influence which is brought about by our partial free-trade policy.
It was when British manufacturing interest predominated in foreign markets that those markets were gradually closed against our goods. Some of those duties are no longer merely protective—they have been made prohibitive. They stand at a higher rate than did our silk duties in 1824! Those duties were lowered from 70 to 30 per cent. Such surely was an encouragement to foreign producers. It is certain the alteration arrested the progress of our silk industry. But it is to be observed that our silk market was comparatively a small one. And we should have considered this fact to have been sufficient to afford a due and proper protection to it from the attacks of its more powerful neighbour.
We adduce this measure, to illustrate the tendency to reduce protection to its lowest limits on the part of all those who conducted our commerce on protective principles. And it is this tendency to make trade more free under protection that is so characteristic of the greatest of all our commercial reformers, William Huskisson. But his successors appear to have acted upon new grounds entirely, and to have argued that if any degree of diminution of protection will render trade more active, you have only, in order to acquire the greatest activity, to do away with protection altogether. For such a conclusion there was no experience. That experience, available to all, referred to a diminishing protection, not to its destruction. All arguments, therefore, concerning free trade were hypothetical arguments; and free trade had yet to be tested by experience, after it had passed through the hands of the theorists.
Now it is useless to argue from general principles when the sequence of phenomena is within our grasp. And in that sequence we would venture to suggest to the reader three points of departure: (1) The injustice of our free-trade system during its early operation upon those foreign markets yet open to us; (2) the influence upon them when they were closed by extravagantly high protective duties; (3) the reaction of free trade upon this country, all, or nearly, surrounding nations remaining protective, and evincing tendencies to increase " protection." 1
1 It appears, from the rapid conclusions of the free-traders, that the commercial policy of the United States is going to be an exception to what must be regarded as the general rule. The policy of President Cleveland has been announced as a free-trade policy. In the sense of making trade more free, it is a free-trade policy. But this system of opening up trade, while its general conduct is still under protection, must be carefully separated from an absolute free-trade policy.
BECAUSE SOME INDIRECT TAXATION IN COURSE OF TIME BECOMES INJURIOUS, ALL INDIRECT TAXATION IS NOT SO.
"Could you prove to us that the true principles of mercantile dealing required us to purchase corn in the cheapest market, and to withdraw the capital which has fertilised the inferior soils of this country for the purpose of applying it to the rich but unprofitable wastes of Poland, still we should hesitate, we should remember with pain the cheerful smiling prospects which were thus to be obscured. We should view with regret cultivation receding from the hill-top which it has climbed under the influence of protection, and from which it surveys with joy the progress of successful toil. If you convinced us that your most sanguine hopes would be realised—that this country would become the great workshop of the world—would blight, through the cheapness of food and the demand for foreign corn, the manufacturing industry of every other country—would present the dull succession of manufacturing towns connected by railways, intersecting the abandoned tracts which it was no longer profitable to cultivate,—we should not forget, among all these presages of complete happiness, that it has been under the influence of protection to agriculture, continued for two hundred years, that the fen has been drained, the wild heath reclaimed, the health of a whole people improved, their life prolonged, and all this not at the expense of manufacturing prosperity, but concurrently with its wonderful advancement."—Sir Robert Peel (March 15, 1839).
COBDEN AND PUBLIC ENTHUSIASM—DANGERS INHERENT IN THE EXAMPLE WHICH HE GAVE—COMPARISON BETWEEN "MANUFACTURING ACTIVITY AND HIGH PRICE OP WHEAT," AND " MANUFACTURING DEPRESSION AND LOW PRICE OP BREAD"—THE PRESENT TENDENCY TO SEDUCE WAGES A PROOF THAT WAGES ARE GOVERNED BY PRICE OP CORN, AS THE OLDER PROTECTIONISTS MAIN