Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
I could not help thinking, as I sat here surveying this vast assemblage, how I wished that all our friends who are scattered over the length and the breadth of this land could be present to-night, to feel their pulses beat in unison with yours, to look you face to face, and join in that triumphant shout, which augurs prosperity to our good cause. We meet here to-night for business. I am almost sorry for it; for we have to give many statistics, which probably are not the most captivating to five thousand people assembled together on this occasion; and, besides, at this time I happen to know that we have a large number of visitors, whom I am especially anxious to see. I am aware that there are many farmers in this assembly, who have come to see the Smithfield Cattle Show, and have been tempted to smuggle themselves into this assembly. I am sorry I cannot give them a farmer's view of our question to-night; but I ask them to look round on this assembly, and then let them, on the day after to-morrow, Friday—it is an ominous day—wend their way to Bond-street, and attend the meeting of the Duke of Richmond's Protection Society; let them remember the scene here—count the odd duke or so, the brace or two of earls, and the half-dozen Members of Parliament, and the score of land-agents and land-valuers—and then, with a vivid recollection of this scene, let them ask themselves which cause is likely ultimately to triumph? I beg of them to compare these two scenes, and to remember that these meetings of such a different character are but types of the comparative merits of our two causes. Then let the tenant-farmer go home and attend to his own business, and not look to dukes or Acts of Parliament to help him. Let him talk about corn-rents, such as the sagacity of the Scotch farmers has secured for nearly twenty years, so soon as it found out the operation of this sliding-scale of corn duties. Let the English farmer put himself on the secure basis of a rent of that description—I mean rent calculated on a certain fixed quantity of corn per annum, fluctuating in price as the value of corn varies in the averages, and then he may bid defiance to all Acts of Parliament. It makes no difference to him, then, what the price may be. He may talk to his landlord about a few other things, such as game and so on, and he will be better employed than in listening to speakers at protection societies, or going to dukes or Members of Parliament.
I believe we have another visitor here to-night. I have had put into my hands a little tract, published by the enemy, and very carefully circulated. On the title-page of this tract—which is addressed to the working classes—there is a quotation from the republican authority, Henry Clay. I am glad they have put his name on the frontispiece, and quoted his sayings; for let the English operatives remember, as my friend Mr. Villiers has already told you, that, since that tract was published, Mr. Henry Clay has been rejected as an aspirant for the Presidency of America. He stood as candidate for that high honour at the hands of three millions of free citizens, on the ground of his being the author and father of the protective system in America. I have watched the progress of that contest with the greatest anxiety, and received their newspapers by every packet. There have I seen accounts of their speeches and processions. The speeches of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster might have done credit to the Dukes of Buckingham and Richmond themselves. All the banners at their processions were inscribed with such mottoes as,—'Protection to native industry.' 'Protection against the pauper labour of Europe.' 'Stand by native manufactures.' 'Stand by the American system.' 'Henry Clay and protection to native industry.' Yes, all this was said to the American democracy, just as your protection societies are saying it to you in this pamphlet. And what said three millions of the American people voting in the ballot-box? Why, they rejected Henry Clay, and sent him back to his retirement. I think this protection society, if they have got a large stock of this tract on hand, will be offering it cheap; it might do for lighting cigars, probably.
Well, what have you new in London? You have heard something of what we have been about down in the north; what is going on among you? I think I have seen some signs, not of opposition, but of something very like what I call a diversion. You have had some great meetings here, professing vast objects, to benefit large classes of people in London. Mr. Villiers has slightly alluded to that subject; but I have a word or two additional to say about it. I call it a 'diversion,' but it is something more; it is rather an attack by monopolists upon the victims of their own injustice. When the people in Turkey are suffering under the tyranny of a Grand Vizier, and are threatening to rise and revenge themselves upon him, and take his head, it is an old trick for that functionary to send emissaries among the populace, who are to point to the bakers' shops, and say, 'The bakers are selling too high.' The people are then told to go and nail the bakers' ears against the door-posts. Now, our monopolists have taken a leaf out of the Turkish Vizier's book. When we were in great distress and trouble in Manchester and its neighbourhood, and the people were starving in the streets, then it was stated that the manufacturing capitalists were 'grinding the faces of the poor,' and depriving them of bread. Now, when the distress is in the agricultural districts, the landed squires meet the farmers at their agricultural societies' tables, and tell them to go and employ the labourer by laying out more capital upon their farms. It is said that they must drain their land; they do not say a word about the farmer having had his pockets thoroughly drained.
Again, when some distress has fallen upon a large portion of the most defenceless part of your community, I find that a large, a useful, a respectable class of that community, the shopkeepers and dealers in ready-made linen and articles of clothing, are selected by the monopolists as the objects of attack for 'grinding the faces of the poor needle-women.' Now, I stand here to vindicate the character of those traders, and to turn back the charge upon those who assail them. I stand here to vindicate Moses and Son themselves against these attacks. Yes, I say Moses and Son themselves are Christianlike in their character compared with the men who are now assailing them whilst they support this system of the Corn-laws. For there is this difference between Moses and Son and those who vote for Corn-laws, and then affect to pity the poor needle-women: if the former buy cheap, they also sell cheap, and have not by unfair means obtained an Act of Parliament to give them a monopoly. But what shall we say of your landlords of Dorsetshire, who, whilst they are paying 7s. a-week for their labour, have passed an Act of Parliament, by which they are enabled to sell even the very bread that these poor wretches consume at an artificially enhanced and unnatural price? And yet here is a great scheme of charity, forsooth, to atone for this mischief; and you are to have fifty thousand people kept, I suppose, in employment by a society, not of 'middle-women,' but of middlemen, ay, very middling men indeed!
Now, I venture on a prediction: that bubble will burst before the meeting of Parliament, and they will try and invent some other. They will not fail to charge us—or any portion of the unprivileged class of the community—with being the authors of their own misdoings. They have set up themselves as being more benevolent than the rest of the community. My friend Mr. Villiers was talking of their being charitable, of their settling everything by alms. But even if they were charitable, and more so than other people, I agree with him, objecting to one large portion of the community being dependent upon alms at the hands of another portion. But I deny that they are such philanthropists. I roll back the charge they make against us, and say that the Free-traders—the much-maligned political economists—are the most truly benevolent people in the country. We had a meeting two or three months ago in Suffolk, had we not? There was a great gathering of landowners, noblemen, squires, and clergymen, met together in a great county assembly in order to—what? To provide for the distresses of the peasantry of that county by a philanthropic plan. They proposed to raise a subscription; I believe they entered into something like one on the ground; they separated then, and what has been done since? How much has been effected for charity? I will venture here to say, that there is one Leaguer in Manchester who has given more money for the parks and pleasure-grounds connected with that town than all the landowners and gentry of the county of Suffolk have subscribed for the benefit of the peasantry.
You will not misunderstand me: we do not come here to boast, but merely to hurl back these charges which are made against the great body of the more intelligent portion of the middle classes of this country, who happen to take scientific and enlightened views upon what ought to be the conduct of the Government of this land. They call us 'political economists' and 'hard-hearted utilitarians:' I say the political economists are the most charitable people in this country; the Free-traders are the most liberal to the poor of this land. I call upon them, if they will have it that the people are to live on charity, at all events, to give us a guarantee that they shall not starve, by really conferring that charity which they propose to bestow upon them. Ay, it is a very convenient thing for them to try and give a bad name to a sort of police who are looking after their proceedings. We avow ourselves to be political economists; and we are so on this ground, that we will not trust our fellow-creatures to the eleemosynary support of any class of the community, because we believe that if we do, we shall leave them in a very hopeless condition indeed. We say, let the Government of the country be conducted on such a principle, that men shall be enabled, by the labour of their own hands, to find an independent subsistence by their wages.
These gentlemen have had another meeting to-day: they are ready in all directions upon every sort of subject except the right one. A gathering took place this morning at Exeter Hall, at which all sorts of men assembled;—what think you for? To devise means, and to raise a society, to look after 'the health of towns.' They will give you ventilation—air—water—drainage—open courts and alleys—anything in the world but bread. Now, so far as the Lancashire districts go, nothing is clearer—for we have it upon the authority of the Registrar-General's report of deaths in that district—than this: that the mortality of that locality rises and falls, year by year. with the price of food; that this connection may be as clearly traced, as though you had the evidence taken before a coroner's inquest. Upwards of three thousand people more per annum were swept off during the dear years than have died since corn has come down to a more natural price, even in a very limited district of Lancashire. And yet these identical gentlemen, who meet together and form their benevolent societies, will talk to you of air and water, and everything in the world but bread, which is the staff and support of life. I have no objection to charity—I advocate it strongly; but I say with my friend, Mr. Villiers, do justice first, and then let charity follow in its wake. I have no doubt these individuals may be actuated by very benevolent motives—I will not charge them here with hypocrisy; but this I do say, that we shall expect them to meet this question, and not to shirk it. I am complaining of one section in particular of the landed aristocracy, who are setting up claims to a superior benevolence, who are conscience-stricken, I am sure, from what I know, on this question of the Corn-law, who yet vote in its support, and who refuse to discuss it, or record their opinions on the subject. I allude in particular to one nobleman who acted in this manner in the last session on Mr. Villiers's motion, notwithstanding he is one who professes great sympathy for the poor of this country. He did not attend on that debate, or take a part in the discussion, but came in at the last moment, at the time of the division, and voted against that motion. I will mention his name: I refer to Lord Ashley. Now, I say, let us, at all events, whilst we admit their good intentions, stipulate that this question shall be discussed by them in the same way as those relating to washing and fresh air. Do not let them blink this matter. What course do they pursue as regards ventilation? They call in scientific men to help them; they go straightway to Dr. Southwood Smith and others, and say, 'What is your plan for remedying this admitted social evil?' and they take the opinion of scientific men, who have given great attention to the subject. We ask them, on this question of supplying the people with food and employment, to call to their councils scientific men, who have devoted their lives to the investigation of this question, and who have left on record their opinions in a permanent form—opinions which have been recognised as sound and indisputable philosophy all over the world. We ask them to take Adam Smith, as they have on other questions taken Southwood Smith; and either prove that he is wrong in his principle for providing food and employment for the people. or vote in accordance with his opinions. It will not be sufficient to wring their hands or wipe their eyes, and fancy that in this intelligent and intellectual age sentimentality will do in the senate; it may do very well in the boarding-school.
Now, what should we say of these same noblemen and gentlemen, who lament over the distress of the people, if they were to refuse to take science, knowledge, experience to their councils, in remedying another class of evils—if they went into a hospital, and found the patients writhing under their bandages after they had just gone through the ordeal of surgical aid from accidents, and these philanthropists were to drive out the surgeons and apothecaries, denouncing them as 'cold-blooded and scientific utilitarians,' and then, after wringing their hands, and turning up the whites of their eyes, set to work and treat these patients after their own fashion? I like these Covent Garden meetings, and I will tell you why; we have a sort of intellectual police here. Byron said this was a canting age, and there is nothing so difficult to meet and grapple with as cant: but I think, if anything has produced a sound, wholesome, and intellectual tone in this metropolis, it has been our great gatherings and discussions within these walls.
There is another meeting to be held to-night, to present a testimonial to Sir Henry Pottinger; I wish to say one word to you about that. First of all, what has Sir Henry Pottinger been doing for these monopolists—I mean the great monopolist merchants and millionnaires, including the house of Baring and Co., who have subscribed 50l. in Liverpool towards the testimonial there, and I suppose have contributed here also? I ask, what has that baronet done to induce this determination on the part of the great merchant-princes in the City? I will tell you: he has been to China, and extorted from the Government of that country (for the benefit of the Chinese people, I admit) a tariff. But of what description is it? It is founded on three principles. The first is, that there shall be no duties whatever laid upon corn, or provisions of any kind, imported into the Celestial Empire; nay, even if a ship comes in loaded with provisions, not only is there no duty upon the cargo, but the ship itself is exempted from port charges; and it is the only exemption of the kind in the world. The second principle is, there shall be no duties for protection. The third is, there shall be moderate duties for revenue. Why, that is the very tariff that we, the Anti-Corn-law League, have been contending for these five years. The difference between us and Sir Henry Pottinger is this, that whilst he has succeeded by force of arms in conferring upon the Chinese people that beneficial tariff, we have failed hitherto by force of argument to extort a similar boon for the advantage of the English people from our aristocracy. A further difference is this: that while these monopolist merchants are ready to offer a demonstration to Sir Henry Pottinger for his success in China, they have heaped obloquy, abuse, and opposition on us, for trying unsuccessfully to do the same thing here. And why have we not succeeded? Because we have been opposed and resisted by these very inconsistent men, who are now shouting and toasting Free Trade for China. I would ask one question or two upon this point. Do these gentlemen believe that this tariff, which Sir Henry Pottinger has obtained for the Chinese people, will be beneficial to them or not? Judging by all they have said to us on former occasions, they cannot really believe it. They have said that low-priced provisions and free trade in corn would injure the working classes, and lower their wages. Do they positively imagine that the tariff will be beneficial to the Chinese? If they do, where is their consistency in refusing to grant the same advantages to their own fellow-countrymen? But if not, if they suppose that tariff to be what they have here asserted a similar tariff would be for Englishmen, then they are no Christians, because they do not do to the Chinese as they would be done by. I will leave them on the horns of that dilemma, and let them take the choice which they will have. There is some little delusion and fraud practised in the way in which they talk of this Chinese tariff as a commercial treaty; it is not a commercial treaty. Sir Henry Pottinger imposed that tariff on the Chinese Government, not as applicable to us, but to the whole world. What do these monopolists tell us? 'We have no objection to Free Trade, if you will give us reciprocity from other countries.' And here they are, 'Hip, hip, hip, hurrahing!' down at the Merchant Taylors' Hall, at this very moment, shouting and glorifying Sir Henry Pottinger because he has given to the Chinese a tariff without reciprocity with any country on the face of the earth.
Will Mr. Thomas Baring stand again for the city of London, think you? He said you were a very low set last year, after he had lost his election. If he should come again, let me give you one word of advice: go and ask him if he will give you as good a tariff as Sir Henry Pottinger gave to the Chinese. If not, let him tell you why he subscribed to this piece of plate to Sir Henry Pottinger, if he does not think such a measure would be a good thing for the English too, as well as for the Chinese. In Manchester we have a good many of the same kind of monopolists, who have joined in this testimonial; they always do things on a large scale in that town, and while you have raised a thousand pounds or so here, pretty nearly three thousand pounds have been subscribed there, a large portion of it by our monopolist manufacturers, who are not the most intelligent, numerous, or wealthy class among us, although they say sometimes they are. They have joined in this demonstration to Sir Henry Pottinger. A friend of mine called to ask me to subscribe towards it. I said, 'I believe Sir Henry Pottinger to be a most worthy man, a great deal better in every respect than many of those who are joining here in subscriptions for his testimonial; I have no doubt that he has done excellent service to the Chinese people; and if they will send over a Sir Henry Pottinger to England, and if that Chinese Pottinger can succeed by such force of argument (for we want no recourse to arms here)—by the power of logic, if there be any such in China—as will prevail to extract from the stony hearts of our landlord monopolists the same tariff for England as that which our General has given to the Chinese, I will join with all my heart in subscribing for a piece of plate for him.'
By the way, gentlemen, we must come to business, notwithstanding. Our worthy chairman has told you something of our late proceedings. Some of our cavilling friends—and there are a good many of this class: men who seem to be a little bilious at times, and are always disposed to criticise; individuals who do not move on themselves, and, not being gregarious animals, are incapable of helping other people to move on, and, therefore, who have nothing to do but to sit by and quarrel with others—these men say, 'This is a new move of the League, attacking the landlords in their counties; it is a change in their tactics.' But we are altering nothing, and we have not changed a single thing. I believe every step we have taken has been necessary, in order to arrive at the present stage of our movement. We began by lecturing and distributing tracts, in order to create an enlightened public opinion; we did that for two or three years necessarily. We then commenced operations in the boroughs; and never at any time was there so much systematic attention, labour, and expense devoted to the boroughs of this country in the way of registration as at the present time. As regards our lectures, we continue them still; only that instead of having small rooms up three pair of stairs back, as we used to have, we have magnificent assemblies, as that now before me. We distribute our tracts, but in another form; we have our own organ, the League paper, twenty thousand copies of which have gone out every week for the last twelve months. I have no doubt that that journal penetrates into every parish in the United Kingdom, and goes the round of the district.
Now, in addition to what we proposed before, we think we have had a new light; we rather expect that we can disturb the monopolists in their own counties. The first objection that is made to that plan is, that it is a game which two can play at; that the monopolists can adopt the move as well as we can. I have answered that objection before, by saying that we are in the very fortunate predicament of sitting down to play a game at a table where our opponents have possession of all the stakes, and we have nothing to lose. They have played at it for a long time, and won all the counties; my friend Mr. Villiers had not a single county voter the last time he brought forward his motion. There are 152 English and Welsh county members, and I really think it would baffle the arithmetic of my friend, the Member for Wolverhampton, to make out clearly that he could carry a majority of the House without having some of them. We are going to try if we cannot get him a few. We have obtained him one already—the largest county in the kingdom; we have secured South Lancashire, and that is the most populous district in the whole kingdom. Lord Francis Egerton sat for that county; he is very powerful, a man of vast property and possessions, and personally respected by all parties. But people are very unfortunate who attack the League. There seems to me something like a fatality hanging over everybody who makes an onslaught upon it.
I am going to mention an anecdote for the benefit of 'Grandmamma,' of the Morning Herald; she is wearing to a rather shadowy and attenuated form, and yet she still cackles in a ghost-like tone at us. About two years ago, in the House of Commons, on Mr. Villiers's motion, Lord Francis Egerton rose and spoke, and after saying some pretty little nothings, such as go down in the House of Commons from a lord, but would not be tolerated from anybody else, he wound up his speech by offering very kindly and gratuitously his advice to the gentlemen of the Anti-Corn-law League; and it was to this effect: that they would be good enough to dissolve; that they could do nothing; and, therefore, had better disband themselves; and concluding by saying, that he offered that advice in all kindness to them. Let an election again come for South Lancashire, and Lord Francis Egerton will see who will dissolve first. Somebody has alluded to the Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Ferrand); he was let loose upon us a long time back. When I first went into the House of Commons, in 1841, it appeared to me that he had been sent there on purpose that he might bait me. What has been the fate of that worthy gentleman? Why, that same House of Commons—a large majority of whom hounded him upon me in 1841—last session voted unanimously that his assertions were 'unfounded and calumnious.' That means, in plain Knaresborough language, that he was a slanderer and a—; I will not give you the other word. There is one other case, which I mention also as a warning and an example to the Morning Herald. At the close of the last session, Sir Robert Peel, in speaking upon Mr. Villiers's motion, felt very anxious indeed to retrieve his lost position with the monopolists behind the Treasury benches; and I think he would have stood upon his head, or performed any other feat, to accomplish it. He thought he would have a fling at the League, and therefore he warned us, in his solemn and pompous tones, that we were retarding the progress of Free Trade, and setting the farmers of the country against us by the way in which we had attacked them. Now, mark what I say: it will not be the League that will fall at the hand of the farmers; but I predict it will be Sir Robert Peel, 'the farmers' friend,' whom they will sacrifice.
I have said that we have one county to present to Mr. Villiers; I should be glad to know if he would like to represent it himself. I have heard but one opinion in Lancashire,—that, as it is the first county we have to present him, he ought to have the refusal of it. The monopolists have long played this game in the counties, and they have worked it out. They began immediately the Reform Bill was passed; and they have lynx-like eyes in finding flaws, or discovering the means of carrying out their own ends. They saw in this Reform Act the Chandos clause, and they set to work to qualify their tenant-farmers for the poll, by making brothers, sons, nephews, uncles—ay, down to the third generation, if they happened to live upon the farm—all qualify for the same holding, and swear, if need be, that they were partners in the farm, though they were no more partners than you are. This they did, and successfully, and by that means gained the counties. But there was another clause in the Reform Act, which we of the middle classes—the unprivileged, industrious men, who live by our capital and labour—never found out, namely, the 40s. freehold clause. I will set that against the Chandos clause, and we will beat them in the counties with it. You have heard how dispro-portionately large the number of votes in the rural districts is to that in the towns. We will rectify the balance by bidding our friends qualify themselves for the counties. They do not know how easy a thing it is to do. I see numbers of people here who have no borough vote at all—men in fustian jackets—young men living in lodgings. I will tell them how they may get a county vote, and far cheaper than a borough vote. It is not so easy for men in all positions to take a 10l. house, occupy it, furnish it, and live up to it, with the taxes and expenses that accrue; but to qualify for the county you have only to invest 50l. or 60l. (and I have known it done for 35l.) in a freehold which will produce you 40s. a year, and you will have a vote for the county. It costs you nothing to keep, and nothing to buy; for you get interest for your money, and you may sell your property whenever you are sick of your vote.
Our opponents have been fond of telling us that this is a middle-class agitation. I do not like classes, and therefore have said that we are the best of all classes; but this I believe, that we have enough of the middle class, and the propertied portion of the middle class, to beat the landlords at their own game in all the populous counties in England. Mr. Wilson told you I had been into Yorkshire. Before the 31st of January there will be 2,000 new votes qualified for the West Riding of that county. I have a guarantee which I can rely upon, that this will be done. Now, I want you to win Middlesex in like manner. I will tell you where you may gain as many votes in that county as by qualifying new votes. You have a thousand or two of good Free-trade votes that are not on the register; I will be bound to say you have 2,000. Look at the case of South Lancashire; you have heard that we have won that county, but we have obtained it without putting in force that 40s. freehold clause. We actually won on the register by the votes that were already in existence, and that were drawn out by that intense contest in May, between Mr. Brown and Mr. Entwisle. The revising barrister came round in October and November, and a majority of 1,700 was gained by the men who were already entitled to be on the register, but had neglected to put their names on the list. We are going to work now in Lancashire, to induce our friends to qualify there as 40s. freeholders. Our opponents in that district tell us that, although they admit we have won upon the present register, we shall not do so for the future; now I will bet my cause to theirs—and it is the longest odds I know of—that we will make them a thousand worse in the next revision.
I will tell you how you can qualify a thousand or two voters in Middlesex. You have a most important district—Hammersmith, Kensington, Chelsea, and all the surrounding suburbs, which are not in the parliamentary boroughs; Marylebone and Westminster do not extend beyond Pimlico. In all that district every house paying 50l. of rent—mind, not 50l. of rate, for a house rated upon an average at 40l. will pay 50l. rent—every one of the tenants of those houses is entitled to be put on the county list as a voter; for the 50l. tenant-at-will clause does not confine itself to farmers, but extends to every dwelling-house within the county; and I have no doubt in the world that there are 500 or 600 Free-trade votes in that district that might be on the register, and ought, and may be, next year. But, then, people must qualify who have not already done so. There are young men, clerks, who complain that they have not got the suffrage, and lodgers have been agitating for votes; I heard them once talk of forming a 'Lodgers' League,' in order to obtain the franchise. Here is a more reasonable way of getting the suffrage; the cheapest both to obtain and keep. There is a large class of mechanics who save their 40l. or 50l.; they have been accustomed, perhaps, to put it in the savings' bank. I will not say a word to undervalue that institution; but cottage property will pay twice as much interest as the savings' bank. Then, what a privilege it is for a working man to put his hands in his pockets and walk up and down opposite his own freehold, and say—'This is my own; I worked for it, and I have won it.' There are many fathers who have sons just ripening into maturity, and I know that parents are very apt to keep their property and the state of their affairs from their children. My doctrine is, that you cannot give your son your confidence, or teach him to be intrusted safely with property, too early. When you have a son just coming to twenty-one years of age, the best thing you can do, if you have it in your power, is to give him a qualification for the county; it accustoms him to the use of property, and to the exercise of a vote, whilst you are living, and can have some little judicious control over it, if necessary.
I know some fathers say, 'I could give my son a qualification, but I do not like the expense of the conveyance.' Well, go to a Free-trade lawyer; you must employ none but professional men of that description in this business. We have drawn out a good many legal patriots already; they have heard the rustling of parchment, and have been caught with the sound. I say, employ no monopolist lawyers; for if you do, they may leave some flaw, by which you will lose your vote, and make it so that it will not be a real bonâ fide qualification. They will secure your title to the estate, but it may not be one which will give you a vote; and they will not tell you, but go and inform the opponent's lawyers in the revision court, who will come and object to you. I tell the fathers of these deserving sons to go to a Free-trade lawyer, and employ him to make the conveyance. Now, I will give a bit of advice to the sons. Do you offer to your father to pay the expense of the conveyance yourself. If you will not, and your father will come to me and make me the offer, I will.
Gentlemen, these are the classes that want the qualification; and, by these means, Middlesex may be made perfectly safe against all comers before the next election. For, recollect, besides qualifying, you must take care that your opponents have no bad votes on the list. I have heard of some very wise men who have said that this is an odious plan, very like the Carlton Club proceedings, to disfranchise the people by striking them off the register. If our opponents will not play the game of leaving bad votes on, and will allow no extension of the suffrage in this way on either side, we have no objection; but if they are to take the law into their hands, and strike off our bad votes, and we are not to do the same by theirs, I wonder when we shall win!
Now, when you go home, and begin talking over this with some of your neighbours, who affect to be wiser than other people, they will tell you, 'Notwithstanding all that Cobden has said, the landlords will beat you at this movement.' They will say, 'See how they can split up their property, and let people have life-rent charges upon it.' As Mr. Villiers has stated, the estates are not theirs in a great many instances; I believe four-fifths of the parchments are not at home; and if they were, whom would they trust with a bonâ fide life-rent charge? Their tenant-farmers have got the vote already. Will they give it to the agricultural labourers, think you? The labourer would like those allotments very much. The only difficulty I can foresee is this. Judging from the accounts I read of their condition in Dorsetshire and Wiltshire, I should think it is very likely, when the revising barristers came round, these voters would be disfranchised, one half of them being in the union workhouse, and the other half in gaol for poaching. No; the landowners have done their worst. They want money, men, and zeal in their cause. I believe we have struck the right nail on the head. We have never yet proposed anything that has met with so unanimous a response from all parts of the kingdom upon this subject. It has taken two hours a day, in Manchester, to read the letters that have come from all parts of the country, unanimously applauding this plan. I may tell you, that we have sent out circulars from Manchester to everybody who has ever subscribed to the League Fund all over the kingdom; and I need not tell you how many thousands they amount to. Everywhere, in all parts of the country, has this question been taken up with the same enthusiastic spirit. We have received a letter from Ipswich; we never thought, never dreamt of touching Suffolk; but we had a letter, saying, that it is perfectly easy for the towns of Suffolk to carry the two divisions of the county on this plan. We look to the more popular districts first; we say it will not be necessary to gain the whole of them; if we obtain North and South Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and Middlesex, the landed monopolists will give up corn in order to save a great deal more.
There is one other point. Many people may say, 'This is something not quite legitimate; you cannot go on manufacturing these votes.' We reply, The law and the constitution prescribe it, and we have no alternative. It may be a very bad system, that men should be required to have 40l. or 50l. laid out on the surface of the earth, in order that they should be represented; but the law prescribes that plan, and there is no help for it. And we say, do not violate the law; conform to it in spirit and in fact; and do so by thousands and tens of thousands, if you can. There is nothing savouring of trick or finesse of any kind in it; you must have a bonâ fide qualification. It will not do now, as it did under the old system, to create fictitious votes; there is now a register, there was none formerly. That is where we will stop them; we will put them through a fine sieve at the registration. No, no; under the old system, when the Lowthers contested Westmoreland against Brougham—the Henry Brougham that was, you know—the contest lasted for fourteen days, and they went on manufacturing collusive and fictitious votes during the whole period, making them as fast as they could poll. The voters went up with their papers, and the day after the polling put them into the fire, or treated them as waste paper. But things are altered now; you must be twelve months on the register, and your name must be hung up at the church doors for a certain period, before you can vote. Therefore we do not intend to win by tricks, for we are quite sure the enemy can beat us at that.
There is one other objection: they will say, you should not tell this; it is very bad tactics. I say, you have nothing to gain by secrecy. There are tens and hundreds of thousands in this country, whose hearts will beat when they see the report of this meeting, and who will read every word of it. Those are our friends. Our opponents will turn their heads away, and will not read what we say. We speak to the sympathising multitude, whose feelings and hearts are with us; and we make an appeal to them; not only to you in Middlesex, but to those who are unqualified throughout the length and breadth of the land. Scotland expects it of you; they say in that country—'Oh! that we had the 40s. franchise here; we could then clear them out of twelve counties in twelve months.' Ireland looks to you, with her 10l. franchise the same as Scotland. England, wealthy England, with nothing but her nominal franchise of 40s. a year, with such a weapon as this in her hand, and not to be able to beat down this miserable, unintelligent, incapable oligarchy, that is misgoverning her! No, I will not believe it. We will cry aloud, not here only, but on every pedestal on which we can be placed throughout the country, though there is no pinnacle like this to speak from; we will raise our voice everywhere,—'Qualify, qualify, qualify.' Do it, not only for the sake of the toiling millions, and the good of the industrious middle classes, but for the benefit of the aristocracy themselves. Yes, do it especially for their sake, and for that of their dependent, miserable serfs—the agricultural labourers. Do it, I say, especially for the welfare of the landed interest, who, if left to their own thoughtless and misguided ignorance, will bring this country down to what Spain or Sicily is now; and with it will reduce themselves to the same beggary that the Spanish grandees have been brought to. To avert this calamity from them, the ignorant and besotted few, I say again—'Qualify, qualify, qualify!'
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