Page images
PDF
EPUB

very selfish policy.1 Nor do we believe, though Cobden rated them as such, that all his opponents were the ignorant and selfish creatures he misrepresented them to be.2

In thus evincing a partiality which all will agree is unphilosophical, and many regard as unjust, he rendered himself prone, as all prejudiced men do, to serious error. It would be of small moment did the errors of such men end with their own discomfort; but they become serious indeed when their consequences reach the comforts of those for whose wellbeing reform was originally effected. We do not think that Cobden was calm enough or sober enough in his view of men and things. He was too attached to his own ulterior projects. He called them dreams.3 But the objects which were present to his imagination matter little to this or any succeeding age. What we are concerned

1 Cf., "We do not wish to sacrifice any right of the richest or most powerful class, but we are resolved that that class shall not sacrifice the rights of a whole people."—John Bright.

On what grounds, we ask, did the Manchester school sacrifice agriculture? Compare the precept with the example.

2 "I will teach them the A B C of this protection. It is of no uso trying to teach children words of five syllables when they have not got out of the alphabet."—P. 183.

3 P. 187: "But I have been accused of looking too much to material interests. Nevertheless, I can say that I have taken as largo and great a view of the effects of this mighty principle as ever did any man who dreamt over it in his own study. I see in the free-trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace. I have looked even farther. I have speculated and probably dreamt in the 'dim' future on what the effect of the triumph of this principle was, say a thousand years hence." Perhaps so. But will it actually occur within this moderate interval of time?

with is the certainty and security of the means he adopted to effect his ends. If these fail, it is clear the ends become of small importance. We think many will be inclined to blame, not the sincerity of the man, but his unhappy temperament, which urged him headlong in a wild commercial career. We think, too, that most people judge those to be best qualified for the art of governing the various disorders which occur in the progress of our commerce and society, who are gifted with a disposition enabling them to take just, because rational, views.1 In order to this, it is necessary to regard each difficulty from the two sides of those who have a grievance and those from whom the grievance is supposed to flow, and every opinion concerning its removal in the same way; or, if you like it better, to take the egoistic and altruistic views of principles advanced to adjust commercial and social wrongs.

Now the altruistic views of his reforms Cobden did not efficiently regard. He glanced at them merely. He was, on this account, most unfitted to undertake the conduct of great affairs.2 But he succeeded! There are many elements needed to become successful. Cobden was earnest and enthusiastic; he could generate

1 The evidence, to be derived from a study of Cobden's speeches, that he pleaded the cause of free trade, and that he did not sit in judgment on it, is overwhelming.

2 And yet there are still some who think that the treaty with France (1860) was a great masterpiece. See Professor Thorold Rogers in 'Cobden and Political Opinion,' chap. ix. The existence of a treaty precludes the existence of free trade. Therefore, one or the other, or both parties to it, must bo more or less protected. It seems the eye of the free-trader is not large enough to seo that all the protection is ou the side of the French people.

that enthusiasm in the breasts of others which he felt in his own. Nor did he hesitate to abuse; and thus he used the lowest means to succeed. But, besides all these, he could persuade. We think that it cannot but be seen now that the intelligence of the main body of his followers was deceived. Cobden first deceived himself; his dangerous faculty rendered it an easy task for him to involve and continue others in error.

§ 10. Cobden and the future price of corn: "protection and starvation."—This was his appeal to the mob. It was by this means that he raised up passion in the multitude, and then directed their angry eyes, when judgment was obscured, to look upon protection as the cause of their distress. It was a loathsome thing, this protection; and it must be trampled under foot. But the great landed proprietors stood in the way. They must be sacrificed; the Napoleon of commerce decreed it. And so we read of his insults to the aristocracy, whose only object, he declared, was to grind down the people's wages to the lowest limits of subsistence. It was the landlords who hindered the agricultural labourer from advancing in the scale of civilisation.

Such reasoning was, of course, the intellectual produce of a hot-headed partisan. We presume, if we may venture to do so, seeing that he has been described as a well-read man,1 that Cobden was aware, from its description in the' History of Prices' by Tooke, of the extreme distress

1 Professor Thorold Rogers. Cobden knew very well how to select his arguments. Instead of giving all the evidence necessary to lead to a sound conclusion, he gives just enough to establish his biassed view.

which prevailed throughout France in the year 1839. This was due to the scarcity of corn from unfavourable harvests. Unfortunately, too, this country was at that time suffering from distress. We had a Corn Law; the Frenchman had not. And yet Cobden thought himself justified in attributing all our distress to the Corn Law. Was this logical? Can you with propriety infer, when there are many causes of distress in existence, that only one prevails, unless you adduce special grounds1 for the exceptional case? But the protectionist might argue from the fact that distress prevailed in France, without any Corn Law, that the Corn Law was not the cause of distress in England. He might adduce the opinion that the Corn Law was required to prevent the country from being swamped with foreign corn. And he might, too, bring the weighty authority of Huskisson to bis support. The protectionist states that you may have distress from scarcity without a Corn Law. If, therefore, protection be a cause of scarcity, how does it act ?2 Obviously, the Corn Law only obtruded itself upon the notice of the agitator during bad seasons. During these bad seasons, the supply of corn from

1 It was Cobden's contention, that by reducing the price of corn, the prosperity of manufacture would be assured. But had not manufacture prospered under the Corn Law. Add the years of prosperity, and compare them with the years of distress ; the prosperous years will be found to be far more numerous than adverse ones. A point to remember also, is, that during protective distress, the rate of profit did not decline.

5 The free-trader replies, protection fetters trade. But does not also free trade put fetters on our industries? Take agriculture. Thus you will perceive that the so-called fetters have not in reality been destroyed by free trade ; and that they have only had their position altered by it.

foreign parts might be inadequate to meet the demands of the country. Can you prove that they were then inadequate to the assumed requisite demands? There is only Cobden's statement of the impossibility of adequate supplies, and many of his statements affecting the corn question were certainly not the most reliable. But it was only at certain times that this possibility of an alarming scarcity was likely to become an actual fact. Here, however, we may remind the reader that Cobden, who, we have already mentioned, most probably derived his information from M'Culloch, failed to hit upon the exact state of the corn-growing countries of the Continent from a perusal of the ' Commercial Dictionary.' It is possible he may have overlooked the passage; but Professor Eogers asserts that his experience was " world-wide," and his memory very retentive. But here it is, nevertheless. And you will see that attention to these passages, which we are about to quote, would have rendered unnecessary that vicious tampering with the progress of our agriculture which subsequently was effected. It is a direct denial, and out of his own mouth, to what M'Culloch says on another occasion, when he is treating the corn question from the free import point of view.1 He proved conclusively in one place that any large quantity of wheat could not be brought into this country under 50s. a quarter; and he states the circumstances which intervened to prevent an excessive supply. Thus, from Odessa, it was the difficulty of conveying corn from the interior; for as this was done by means of cattle, the quantity was limited by the number of cattle. From Danzig 1 See his pamphlet on the Corn Laws.

« PreviousContinue »