« PreviousContinue »
year, while of grain of all kinds it produces no less than 45,000,000 of quarters. Think what pecuniary interests must be involved in the production of such an amount of grain. Think, too, of the amount of social interests connected with those pecuniary interests—how many families are depending for their subsistence and their comforts upon the means of giving employment to thousands— before you hastily disturb the laws which determine the application of capital. If you disregard those pecuniary and social interests which have grown up under that protection, which has long been continued by law, then a sense of injustice will be aroused, which will redound against your scheme of improvement, however conformable it may be to rigid principle.” He entered into a detailed analysis of the operation of his scale at various points. He admitted that the country could not be made independent of foreign supply altogether, but he would have foreign importation supplemental only, and not substantial and primary. He compared his own scale with those which had preceded it, and showed by an elaborate comparison its advantages over them all. Some of his opponents had said, “ Do not disturb, unless you settle ;give up your alterations, and let the old law stand.” He felt all the difficulty of meeting objections by answers which were seized by the opposite side as confirming opposite objections:—“If I try to calm an apprehension here, I see a note taken on the other side; if I try to answer an unreasonable objection there, I am met, not by obstacles, but by the intimation of alarm on this side; and it is whispered from one to the other
that I am conceding too much. This is inseparable from the task I have undertaken. I do believe that in a mere party sense it would have been wiser for me to say, I will stand by the Corn-laws and resist all change. Some tell me that all the change required is an amendment of the averages. But other considerations, other responsibilities, press upon those who are charged with the administration of affairs. I stated before, and H repeat, that in considering this question, the arrangements which ought to be made consistently with enlarged and comprehensive views— avoiding disturbance of capitalembarked in agriculture, and the clouding of the prospects of worldly prosperity and social happiness of those who derive their subsistence from laud—looking again to the state of commerce, to the advantage, when there is to be a supply of corn, of soiutroduciug that corn that there may be the least disturbance of the monetary system of the country, the greatest approach to regular commercial dealings, the greatest encouragement consistent with due protection to agriculture, to manufacturing and commercial industry — having to consider all these questions, having to weigh their relative and comparative importance, the measure upon which we have determined is that which we conscientiously believe to be upon the whole the most consistent with the general interest of the country. We did not confer with agricultural supporters for the purpose of insuring their concurrence; we did not permit the abatement of it in this particular or in that, in order to insure its success.”
He concluded his speech by declaring his assurance, that according to the usual practice in this country, reason and moderation would eventually gravitate towards that which is just. Lord Palmerston followed in a clever speech which concluded the debate. He taunted Sir Robert Peel with the general dissatisfaction which his measure gave, testified on his own side of the House by an eloquent silence. He said, two courses were open to the Minister—either to have stood by the old Corn-laws, in which he would have been cordially supported by a majority in the House, or to have taken a bold course in changing the Corn-laws, in which case he would have obtained support from other quarters. It is not given to man, much less to man in office, to please all parties. Lord Palmerston admitted that the proposed law was a mitigation of that which it was to replace, but he proceeded to show in how trifling a degree ; and he asked why agriculturists should be insured against the contingencies of the seasons, when such an insurance is not attempted in any other trade 2 the merchant is not insured against loss by accidents at sea. The late Ministers had proposed a duty of 8s., but Sir Robert Peel had almost convinced him that that was too high. Without admitting that, however,he contended that the duty should be fixed and known: – “If a moderate fixed duty was established, you would have a complete change in the trade altogether ; you would have an entirely different system of transactions in the corn market. For instead of gambling transactions, you would establish a sound and advantageous trade; and, instead of the merchant hurrying at every rise in price to the foreign market on the Continent-for the distant markets are hardly touched-and
thus at once enhancing the price of corn, you would establish a steady and well-regulated barter, which would at the same time supply your wants and open new fields for the consumption of the produce of your manufacturing industry. Under such an arrangement, the merchant would make his arrangements for buying a supply of corn in those places where it was cheapest, and would bring it home at a period when he thought that it could be best disposed of both to the country and to himself. Above all, you would extend greatly your commercial relations with the United States.” Adverting to the comparative merits of the Whig and Tory propositions, he remarked, that there were larger grounds on which the doctrine of independence of foreign supply ought to be repudiated } the House:—“Why is the eart on which we live divided into zones and climates? Why do different countries yield different productions to people experiencing similar wants Why are they intersected with mighty rivers, the natural highways of nations? Why are lands the most distant from each other brought almost into contact by that very ocean which seems to divide them P Why, Sir, it is that man may be dependent upon man. It is that the exchange of commodities may be accompanied by the extension and diffusion of knowledge—by the interchange of mutual benefits engendering mutual kind feelings — multiplying and confirming friendly relations. It is that Commerce may freely go forth, leading Civilization with one hand and Peace with the other, to render mankind happier, wiser, better. Sir, this is the dispensation of Providence; this is the decree of that
- Power which created and o the universe. But, in the face of it, i. arrogant, Popuous folly, the dol. i.
However, Lord Palmerston hailed the Ministerial concession, small as it was, as breaking ground in removing the intrenchments of monopoly.
The House then divided, when there appeared for Lord John Russell's amendment, 226; against it, 349: majority, 123.
Corn-lans—Debate on Mr. Williers' Amendment—General Character of the Discussion nihich occupied five nights—Speeches of Mr. Pilliers, Mr. T. B. Macaulay, Mr. J. S. Wortley, Mr. Wakley, Mr. Wykeham Martin, Sir Robert Peel, and Mr. Cobden–Mr. B. Ferrand brings heavy Charges against certain Manufacturers Discussion thereon—Reply of Mr. Williers, nhose Amendment is lost by 393 to 90—Public Meetings on the ojo.”; of Anti-Corn-lan, Societies—Letter of Lord Nugent on withdraning from one of these Bodies—Sir Robert Peel is burnt in Effigy in various manufacturing Tonyns—-Meetings of Agriculturists —Their general reception of the Measure—Proceedings of the Aylesbury Association, nhere the Duke of Buckingham presides— The House of Commons goes into Committee on the Resolutions on February 25th–Mr. Christopher proposes a new Scale of Duties as a Substitute for Sir Robert Peel's—An irregular Discussion on the Amendment terminates in its Rejection by 306 to 104- Mr. Wodehouse's Motion respecting Duties on Barley withdrann after some Debate—Mr. Smith O'Brien advocates greater protection to Irish Oats—Various other Amendments proposed, all of n!hich are rejected or withdrann–On Motion for Second Reading of the Bill Lord Ebrington moves that it be read that Day Sir Months— Speeches of Lord Hon'ick, Mr. C. Buller, Sir %: Peel, and other Members—The Second Reading carried by 284 to 176– Rapid Progress of the Bill through Committee—Divers Amendments defeated—Resolution proposed by Mr. Cobden on Third Reading rejected by large Majority—Bill passed in House of Commons on April 5th–In the House of Lords the Second Reading is moved by the Earl of Ripon—Earl Stanhope vigorously opposes it, and censures the Government—His speech on moving the rejection of the Bill—Speeches of the Earl of Hardnick, Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Winchelsea, Viscount Melbourne, and Lord Brougham, n:ho moves another Amendment—Both Motions are rejected by great Majorities—The Bill is read a Second Time-In Committee Wiscount Melbourne moves an Amendment in favour of a Fired Duty – It is rejected after full Discussion by a majority of 68– Three Resolutions condemnatory of all Duties on Foreign Corn are proposed by Lord Brougham—They are disaffirmed by 87 to 6– Warious other Amendments are moved nithout success, and the Bill is read a Third Time and passed.
HE House of Commons hav- pronounced in favour of the prining thus by a large majority ciple of a sliding-scale of corn
duties, it might have seemed equally illogical and superfluous afterwards to discuss a proposition, of which the affirmative had been involved in the preceding decision, viz., whether corn should be subjected to any duties at all. The motion to that effect, however, of which Mr. Villiers had previously given notice, he did not now think proper to withdraw, and after four nights of debate upon Lord John Russell's amendment, the whole subject was re-opened, and five more evenings employed in a discussion of the conflicting arguments for protection or free-trade. It cannot be deemed surprising under these circumstances, that this second stage of a conflict deprived of all its interest by the anticipated certainty of its result, was marked by an unusual degree of flatness and repetition. It would be an useless task to exhibit even a condensed summary of the speeches addressed to the House, during the week thus ocetupied, by the host of Members who successively challen the attention of the Chair. We shall endeavour, after giving a short sketch of the line of argument adopted by the mover of the amendment, to record the few striking or original passages which the debate produced, or such as derived importance from the situation or character of the individual speakers. Mr. Williers thus opened his case: He said that for four centuries the proprietors of the soil had been attempting to legislate for the purpose of raising the value of their properties, and the result of all their efforts had been to prejudice those properties, and greatly to lower the owners in the estimation of the country. The great majority of the people had now made up their minds that the
Corn-laws should not continue ; and they would no longer brook the protracted refusal of all change with which they had hitherto been met. And to what a monstrous anomaly in the condition of England had the law given birth ! A territory unexcelled in the abundant resources of nature and accumulated wealth, yet labouring under such a weight of distress that Government had admitted it could not be exaggerated Food was becoming scarcer, and the people were every hour sinking in the scale of human beings; yet the food which they demanded they could not have, because the owners of the soil had established barriers between our island and the two civilized continents between which it is placed, so that they should not aid us in our hopeless distress. The cause of the distress, however, was now exposed, in spite of every effort to divert attention from the enquiry; and within the year two different Governments had been obliged to concede to the general expression of opinion: one had sacrificed office on that account; the other had found it proper to admit, what it previously denied, that the law must be changed: He objected, however, to both their projects; for there was no ground for the maintenance of the Corn-law; and he had not heard of any writer on ethics who justified the modification of wrong. Some, indeed, conscientiously held that a total change of the law would be prejudicial to agriculture; but he defied proof that the fear rested on any valid ground, and the highest authorities were opposed to it. Here Mr. Villiers quoted Lord Grenville, the London Merchants' Petition of 1820, the Select