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corn—was undergoing a natural cure, as shown by the fact that the price of wheat was gradually receding from its former high level; he would have observed those tendencies gradually increasing which would have effected what it was Huskisson's ambition to bring about—a steady price of wheat. But Cobden's treatment of the problem, though comprehensive, was not accurately comprehensive. Those points which were of minor importance he dignified into major significance. The difficult paths which required some finding he left untrodden. But after he had got the landlords in their own trap, as he thought, we think it will appeal to the minds of all those who take a calm and sober view of things that he ought to have left nothing unattempted which would secure the justice of his accusations. For when a charge is made and found not to be substantiated, Cobden must have known that all the epithets which he hurled at the heads of the landlords would certainly recoil upon himself. Against such a disastrous consequence every honourable man strives with all his might to protect himself. But what do we find Cobden doing? Nothing of the kind. On all succeeding occasions, when he addressed his free-trade audiences, he had nothing new to say; what he did was merely to increase his threats, and the baseness of his charges. He continued his vituperations of a class which, on more than one occasion, he admitted formed an important part in the constitution of the country. But instead of abusing, he might have directed his energies towards acquiring fresh information, making new analyses, and discovering other modes of reasoning which, in consequence, he left unused. He might, without any fear of arriving at a
false conclusion, have put himself in the place of the landlords. And here the fact must be recalled, that Cobden first became a landlord after the repeal of the Corn Laws. If, then, he had taken the comprehensive view, of which he was so proud, it must have occurred to him that it was just possible that part of the increased price of wheat went into the pockets of the corn merchants, if, in fact, all of it did not do so. Such a possibility would suggest the reason of its coming into being. This would have brought him to the speculation of the corn markets, and the conditions and their variations which led to that speculation. But any normal function—and speculation is a normal function—may be exaggerated or abused. Over-speculation, therefore, tended, when circumstances were favourable, to become active in the corn markets, as well as in the markets of the manufacturers. But nowhere does Cobden mention this over-speculation in the corn markets, and he winked at the true causes which produced distension of the trade markets. There was evidence enough, then, to show that Cobden's facts and figures were insufficient to justify the weighty conclusions he based upon them. Had Cobden been a master of reasoning, and had he used that system which had often been used before him, and eventually styled the "double method" by John Stuart Mill, he would have extended his inquiry concerning the influence of rent upon the price of corn, by adducing the progress in the variation in the price of corn in other countries. Nor need his labours have been very extensive in this direction. One contrary instance would have sufficed to prove the false nature of his general conclusion. There was a tract published in
1841, which contains an account, by Dr Calvert Holland of Sheffield,1 of the fluctuations in the price of wheat in Danzig, Botterdam, Lisbon, the United States, and other countries during a series of years. Such a statement had then, and has now, very obvious bearings. It demonstrates the fact unknown to Cobden—it could not have been ignored by him—that the fluctuation in the price of corn was just as great in those countries where rents were very low, and the corn markets not disturbed by an export trade, as it was in England, where the rents were very high, comparatively. Now this instance is quite sufficient, according to one of the canons of Mill, to prove that rent cannot be the sole cause of the high price of corn. And therefore Cobden's assumed proposition is proved to be untrue. Indeed, the circumstance that, in the one case where rent was low and in the other where it was high, fluctuation happened in both, goes to prove that some other cause or causes "must" have been present to effect this result. Now this fluctuation in price was dependent, as we know to-day, on the variation2 of those factors which influence the price of corn. Huskisson affords cases in which the price of corn was 20s. higher a fortnight before, than it was immediately after, the harvest. Such an alteration could not be in any way charged to high rent, as a consequence. But we need go no further to
1 Tract by Dr C. Holland, published by Ollivier, Pall Mall, in answer to M'Culloch, who argued that a fixed duty would do away with the assumed evils of the Corn Law of 1828. The Doctor proves that the fixed duty would introduce evils of greater magnitudo than those which he thinks are falsely ascribed to the action of the Corn Law.
2 Sometimes induced fraudulently, as Sir Robert Peel mentions in his Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 346.
show that, though Cobden's purview was fairly comprehensive, yet it was neither sufficiently nor accurately comprehensive enough to enable him to arrive at the true conclusions. But he reached, by its means, a working conclusion, which made for his purpose.
§ 7. The " natural" protection to corn.—Cobden, then, raised a fury against the landlords, because he was ignorant of the true facts of the case. We cannot believe that Cobden, knowing his charge against the landlords to be groundless, but difficult for them to refute, made use of so base a method to effect their overthrow, in order to promote ulterior objects. But it is upon these ulterior schemes that those who have written upon Cobden appear to lay far too great stress. Perhaps they have reason: at any rate they fail to remark upon the extraordinary means which Cobden used to bring about the regeneration of society. If any one can show that these means are moral ones, based as they are upon a succession of errors,1 he must have a perception of morality differing very widely from that which many, and it is to be hoped most, possess to-day. Cobden, however, did not know the false nature of the prime arguments; and we do not convict Cobden of intentional political immorality. But they are known to-day; and therefore, to persist in their recognition as true and moral means of effecting sound reform, is to be taken in the belief that a gigantic system, such as Cobden dreamt of, can rest upon an insecure and false basis. One of the pillars of that system, the only one which has reached completion, has already given way from the strain that has been put upon it. But did Cobden do well in attempting to destroy the powerful position of the landowners? Were they not as justly entitled to their rent as is the capitalist who lets out his mill or money for others to use? They both require the wages of their capital. And when it comes to be known that the capital of the present day has been acquired by the means of free trade at the subsequent expense of the labouring classes; that Cobden saw the field open out to his gaze where plenty and occupation reigned predominant, but that he did not see far enough beyond: he did not see the contracted field where food was scarce, and that abundance which he said he had effected begin to fail, and that labour which was always to be occupied unemployed. When it comes to be known that the analysis of the freetrade movement shows indisputably that the profit of the manufacturer was the sole motive which impelled him to sacrifice for a time the interest of the landowner, and with the landowner that of the tenant-farmers, and with the tenant-farmers that of the agricultural labourers,—then calm and dispassionate people will begin to look into the nature of those other measures which are associated with free trade and Eadical views. Thus shall we find that the free-traders in anticipation wooed the working classes of the following generation, lest the people might presumably be plundered by the landlords of the antecedent one. And further, that there are other sorts of property which can be acquired
1 I.e., statements which you are conscious are false, but use as "truths" to gain the end-object. The manufacturers, on the authority of Cobden, believed that free trade would destroy agriculture. Yet they persisted in their free-trade policy.