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was the determination of that "due and proper " protection which was essential to the maintenance and growth of each several industry. And this is the sum of Huskisson's reforms. He replaced a system of monopoly (where acting injuriously to the national interests) by one of protection: he defined, with reference to the conditions with which he had to deal, the "due and proper" support which, in his opinion, was necessary. But these conditions were mutable. Hence the degree of protection was to be subject to alteration. The more stable "young and growing" industries became, the less would be the support they required.
But there was much confusion in Huskisson's time as to the nature of his reforms. That confusion arose either from the immediate misconception of the system of making trade more free under protection; or from the inference that Huskisson, because he advocated and carried out with advantage—always excepting the silk duties—the policy of free trade under protection, was therefore an abstract free-trader — i.e., one who would allow the principle of free trade to operate without restrictions, if he were powerful enough to effect the change.
That such was not the fact, is proved by the endeavours which Huskisson made to remove all sources of misinterpretation. On one occasion he spoke as follows: "Looking at these difficulties with the strongest conviction of the necessity of a revision of the
Thus Huskisson was in reality no man's friend. His own party feared him as a reformer,—they regarded his schemes with alarm; while the free-traders made it appear as if Huskisson was one with them on the matter of duties. Now nothing is more certain than that his practical policy had no resemblance whatever to the theoretical policy of the free-traders.
Yet an erroneous impression continues to exist on this point. What is the explanation of it?
Cobden, when (1842) he discussed the position of Huskisson with reference to the Corn Laws, relied upon a single statement, which he cut out of a speech (that had been delivered in 1830 under extraordinary circumstances), to prove that Huskisson was in favour of the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was the last utterance of the great commercial reformer. An opinion had been disseminated that Huskisson vacillated in his attitude to the Corn Laws. That opinion had been supported by what Sir Eobert Peel said concerning him. Here, then, was a splendid opportunity for a man who was constructing a case for free trade to drag Huskisson to his side. So Cobden stated that he had found the last codicil to Huskisson's will. He discovered, indeed, a treatment that was likely enough to be popular. But he promulgated an error that was certain to be grievous.
In fact, Cobden was guilty of just the same unfair conduct as that of which he accused the protectionists. They demonstrated that Adam Smith was a protectionist. "Yes," Cobden said, "but only by cutting out certain passages, and violently placing them together." Cobden proved that Huskisson was a free-trader. How? Not by a close examination of his work, but by taking a superficial and prejudiced view of it.
Circumstances in Cobden's days were favourable to the success of this faulty means. There had always been a party of men in sympathy with an absolute freetrade policy. Such would ever be ready to accept the slightest or any proof at all, so long as it advanced their ends. But there was another reason why the opinions of great men were subordinated to the prevalent feeling engendered by the free-trade agitation. It resided in the increased wellbeing which would immediately accrue to the labouring classes from the gigantic attempt of their masters to blight the manufacturing industries of their rivals in all parts of the world. This could not be, unless the mastermanufacturers had superior advantages. Thus it was the interest of the town-labourers to follow the fortunes of their masters, and vote for the cheap loaf. The manufacturers would get what they wanted—cheaper labour; the operatives—an increased value of wages. For a time, then, all would work smoothly enough. But how long would it last?
This was the turning-point of the question. The labouring community was told by the protectionists that, in the long-run, the foreigner would only take gold in return for his corn. This position was laughed at by Cobden, who replied that if we did not buy foreign corn with our manufactures, we should then have an annual present of so many quarters of wheat given to us. His hypothesis was, that foreign importation of corn would stimulate our manufactures. The more corn we purchased, the more goods we should produce to pay for it. But after having got the people, as he averred, ranged upon his side, what did Cobden do, when challenged by the protectionists to let the problem be settled by an appeal to the country? He deplored the procedure. He charged the protectionists with preaching the democratic doctrine, that questions of the highest policy ought to be decided by the people.
Now the fact is, that the free-trade agitation (and we have it on the authority both of Cobden and of Sir Eobert Peel) was supported by the gold of the manufacturers. And the fact is also, that as soon as he had succeeded in effecting a split in the Ministry, Cobden dispensed with the support of the "intelligent" public. Not one defeat, said he, nor two, nor three, would make him swerve from a belief in his principles. How can the question, then, have been decided by the people? And yet it is maintained that the question was decided by the people,—even more than this, that it has been irrevocably settled.
But a little inquiry will lead to the conclusion that