Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[At the general election of 1859, Mr. Cobden was returned for the borough of Rochdale, and sat for this town during the rest of his life. The following was one of his annual addresses to his constituents.]
It is to me, as your representative, a very happy and pleasant omen to find my arrival here greeted by so large an assemblage of my friends. It is not an unreasonable thing,—I think it is the least that can be expected from a Member of Parliament, that he should, once a year at least, meet his constituents face to face, to state to them his views upon the passing events of the day, and to hear from them in a public assembly like this what are their wishes and opinions with reference to his future conduct. Generally, when a Member makes his annual appearance, it is expected that he should have something to relate about the proceedings of the immediately preceding session of Parliament. Well, I should be very much at a loss for a text, if you confined me to the topics furnished by our proceedings during the last session. The best I can say of the present Parliament is, that it is drawing near to its end. It failed to perform any service for the country when it was in its prime, and therefore you will not expect any good from it in its decrepitude. The sooner it is returned to the country to undergo the renewal of the representative system, I think the better for the country, and the better for Parliament. Now, I think, when a new Parliament meets, it will have to be furnished with principles from the country. The great lack of the present Parliament is, that it is destitute of principle or purpose. Probably we, whom we will call the Free-traders of this country—we have a right to call ourselves Free-traders here, if we have anywhere—probably we are largely responsible for that state of things in Parliament. We have been, contrary to our professed principles, a kind of monopolists of the public arena for nearly the last quarter of a century. It will be twenty-five years next month since my friend here to my left (Mr. Bright), and so many around me, first joined together to commence that effort which has been alluded to by your Mayor, and which has ended now in the complete recognition of Free-trade principles. Now, during all that time, we may be said to have occupied pretty exclusively the attention of political parties and of statesmen. I found the field occupied by labourers who were advocating other principles. For instance, there were the advocates of parliamentary reform; there were the advocates of religious equality,—and by religious equality, I mean to deal, for instance, with that great and glaring abuse of the system of religious equality—the Irish Church,—which Lord Brougham has denounced as the foulest abuse in any civilised country. Well, we elbowed out of the way these questions; we had a question in hand that would not bear delay—we were advocating a question of bread, and employment for the people. After having accomplished our object,—and this last session of Parliament has finished the work,—it had just languid force enough to carry the last remaining measures to complete the Free-trade system—helped a little by the extraneous and rather exceptional proceeding of a foreign treaty—but at last, this present Parliament has completed the work of Free Trade. By Free Trade, I mean that it has settled that great controversy as between Protection and Free Trade. At least, there protection ends to-day; but our children must carry on the work. There is still the question of direct and indirect taxation; there is still the question of a large reduction of expenditure in the Government. But the great controversy as between Protection and Free Trade is now settled, and I say the next Parliament will require to be endowed with new principles by the country when we have another general election.
Now, some people say that there is great apathy and indifference in the country. I don't think there is a want of interest in the country upon public affairs. I think there is a lively interest in the public proceedings of the whole world, and the public mind is very demonstrative. But what I observe is this, that the attention of the country seems to be rather given to the affairs of other nations than to our own. We are something as a nation as you would be in Rochdale as a borough, if your Town Council were pretty generally employed in discussing the affairs of Preston, Blackburn, or Manchester, instead of its own. And it is curious enough, that whilst we are devoting more than ever of our attention to foreign politics, we are still constantly professing the principle of non-intervention. We have non-intervention on our lips, but there is always a desire for a little intervention in the corner of our heart for some special object or other abroad. I don't charge this against any particular party or any Government. We have all our little pet projects of non-intervention. For instance, some would manage the affairs of the Americans; others would take in charge to regulate the affairs of Poland; others are interested in Italy; and so it is that, in spite of our professions of non-intervention, we are, in fact, I think, as far as my observation goes, interfering more than ever with the affairs of foreign countries. Some people say it is the telegram; they say that Reuter's telegram is the daily morning dram, and that it so stimulates the palate, and comes in contact with the brain—America with a great battle, or Poland, or somewhere else—that we have no taste for the simple element of which our domestic affairs are made up. Now, for instance, we have at the present moment a party in this country advocating an interference in the affairs of America; for when I say interference, I mean that party here who advocate either recognition, or something which means interference, if it means anything.
I have seen lately the report of two meetings of constitutents in the west of England, one at Bristol and the other at Plymouth, in which Members, Liberal Members, representing popular constituencies, have been recommending that the Government should enter into arrangements with some foreign country of Europe, in order to recognise the Southern States of America, and put an end to that war. [A Voice: 'Very proper.'] And you will observe, that the idea which pervaded the public mind, at least which pervaded it in the two cases I allude to—the speakers and the audience—the idea was, that this affair in America was to be settled in a peculiar way, according to the dictates of these particular parties. Well, now, I think, from the beginning, that during this American war, this lamentable convulsion, from which you have suffered so much, I think that one of the great fundamental errors in the conduct of statesmen, in the conduct of Governments, and in the conduct of a large portion of the influential classes in this country, has been, that they have made up their minds that union cannot be the issue of this civil war in America, and that there will be a separation between North and South. I told you when I was here last, when that spirit, if possible, was more rife than now, I told you that I did not myself believe that the war would issue in that way. I have stated that opinion since in the House of Commons; and I declare to you, that, looking at what is called in a cant phrase in London, 'society;' looking at society—and society, I must tell you, means the upper ten thousand, with whom Members of Parliament are liable to come in contact at the clubs and elsewhere in London; looking at what is called 'society'—looking at the ruling class, if we may use the phrase, that meet in the purlieus of London, nineteen-twentieths of them were firmly convinced from the first that the civil war in America could only end in separation. Now, how far that conviction—how far the wish was father to the thought, I will not pretend to say. I believe that the feeling has been a sincere one; and I believe it has also been founded on the belief that, looking at the vast extent of territory occupied by the insurgents in the civil war, it was impossible to subjugate it by any force that could be brought against them by the North.
But there has been, I must say, a most lamentable display of ignorance amongst those classes to which I refer, if you may judge by the conduct of the organs of the press, which may be considered the exponents of their views;—errors, for example, in the course of mighty rivers, which those in England can bear no comparison to, but described in your leading organs in London as running one into the other, utterly regardless of the rights of geography. There are States in America of 1,500,000 inhabitants, where there are vast shipping ports for raw produce to be shipped into various parts of the world. In the interior of that country, in one city, I have seen a mile of steam-boats moored side by side, not lengthways; and those great cities and the great commerce they possess form part of the strength and resource of North America. Your ruling classes in this country know nothing of this; you don't find it in the books of Oxford and Cambridge, which the undergraduates are obliged to learn before they can pass their examination. It is in utter ignorance of these resources that this opinion has grown up. Accident, perhaps, more than anything else, has made me acquainted as well with the statistics and geography of that country as my own. I think no one in this vast assembly will ever live to see two separate nations within the confines of the present United States of America. I have never believed we should, and I believe it less than ever now. But I will tell you candidly, that if it was not for one cause, I should consider as hopeless and useless the attempt to subjugate the Southern States; and I will tell the parties upon whose views I have been commenting, that it is the object and purpose which they have that has rendered success by the Secessionists absolutely impossible. Indeed, if the moral and intellectual faculties of this country had not been misled upon that question, systematically misled, they would have been unanimous and of one opinion. We were told in the House of Commons by one, whom it was almost incredible to behold and think of saying so—who was once the great champion of democracy and of the rights and privileges of the unsophisticated millions,—we heard him say—I heard him say myself—that this civil war was originated because the South wished to establish Free-trade principles, and the North would not allow it. I have travelled—and it is for this that I am now going to mention, that I touch upon the subject at all—I travelled in the United States in 1859, the year before the fatal shot was fired at Fort Sumter, which has made such terrible reverberations since. I travelled in the United States—I visited Washington during the session of the Congress, and wherever I go, and whenever I travel abroad, whether it be in France, America, Austria, or Russia, I at once become the centre of all those who form and who avow strong convictions and purposes in reference to Free-trade principles. Well, I confess to you what I confessed to my friends when I returned, that I felt disappointed, when I was at Washington in the spring of 1859, that there was so little interest felt on the Free-trade question. There was no party formed, no public agitation; there was no discussion whatever upon the subject of Free Trade and protection. The political field was wholly occupied by one question, and that question was Slavery.
Now, I will mention an illustrative fact, which I have not seen referred to. To my mind, it is conclusive on this subject. In December, 1860, whilst Congress was sitting, and when the country was in the agony of suspense, fearing the impending rupture amongst them, a committee of their body, comprising thirty-three members, being one representative from every State then in the Union,—that committee, called the Committee of Thirty-three, sat from December 11th, 1860, to January 14th, 1861. They were instructed by Congress to inquire into the perilous state of the Union, and try to devise some means by which the catastrophe of a secession could be averted. Here is a report of the proceedings in that committee [holding up a book in his hand]. I am afraid there is not another report in this country. I have reason to know so. There are forty pages. I have read every line. The members from the Southern States, the representatives of the Slave States, were invited by the representatives of the Free States to state candidly and frankly what were the terms they required, in order that they might continue peaceable in the Union; but in every page you see their propositions brought forward, and from beginning to end there is not one syllable said about tariff or taxation. From the beginning to end there is not a grievance alleged but that which was connected with the maintenance of slavery. There were propositions calling on the North to give increased security for the maintenance of that institution; they are invited to extend the area of slavery; to make laws, by which fugitive slaves might be given up; they are pressed to make treaties with foreign Powers, by which foreign Powers might give up fugitive slaves; but, from beginning to end, no grievance is mentioned except connected with slavery,—it is slavery, slavery, slavery, from the beginning to the end. Is it not astonishing, in the face of facts like these, that any one should have the temerity, so little regard to decency and self-respect, as to get up in the House of Commons, and say that secession has been upon a question of Free Trade and Protection?
Well, this is a war to perpetuate and extend human slavery. It is a war not to defend slavery as it was left by their ancestors—I mean, a thing to be retained and to be apologised for,—it is a war to establish a slave empire,—a war in which slavery shall be made the cornerstone of the social system,—a war which shall be defended and justified on scriptural and on ethnological grounds. Well, I say, God pardon the men, who, in this year of grace 1863, should think that such a project as that could be crowned with success. Now, you know that I have, from the first, never believed it possible that the South should succeed; and I have founded that faith mainly upon moral instincts, which teach us to repudiate the very idea that anything so infamous should succeed. No; it is certain that in this world the virtues and the forces go together, and the vices and the weaknesses are inseparable. It is, therefore, that I felt certain that this project never could succeed. For how is it? There is a community with nearly half of its population slaves, and they were attempting to fight another community where every working man is a free man. It is as though Yorkshire and Lancashire were to enter into conflict, and it was understood that in the case of one, all the labourers who did the muscular work of the country, whether in the field or in the factory, whether in the roads or in the domestic establishments—in the one case, you would have that bone and muscle, the sinew of the country, eliminated from the fighting population, and not only eliminated from the fighting population, but ready to take advantage of this war, either to run away or fight against you. How could we, so circumstanced, fighting against a neighbouring country, where every working man was fighting for his own—how could we have a chance, if our physical force was crippled, and we were devoid of all moral influences? That is the condition in which these two sections of the United States are now placed. In the one case, you have a condition in which labour is held honourable. Have we not heard it used as a reproach by some people, who fancy themselves in alliance with the aristocracy—some of our Ministers, who would lead us to suppose they are of the aristocratic order?
Now, we hear it used as an argument against the North, that their President, Mr. Lincoln, was a 'rail-splitter.' But what does that prove with regard to the United States, but that labour is held in honour in that country? And with such a conflict going on, and with such an example as I feel no doubt will follow, I cannot, if I speak of such a contest as that, say that it is a struggle for empire on the one side, and for independence on the other. I say it is an aristocratic rebellion against a democratic Government. That is the title I would give to it; and in all history, when you have had the aristocracy pitted against the people, in a hand-to-hand contest, the aristocracy have always gone down under the heavy blows of the democracy. When I speak this, let no one say I am indifferent to the process of misery and destitution, and ruin and bloodshed, now going on in that country. No. My indignation against the South is, that they fired the first shot, and made themselves responsible for this result. I take, probably, a stronger view than most people in this country, and certainly a stronger view than anybody in America, of the vast sacrifices of life, and of economical comfort and resources, which must follow to the North from this struggle. They are mistaken if they think they can carry on a civil war like this, drawing a million men from their productive industry, to engage merely in a process of destruction, and spending their two or three hundred millions sterling—I say they are mistaken and deluded if they think they can carry on a war like that without a terrible collapse, sooner or later, and I am sure that there will be a great prostration in every part of the community. But that being so, makes me still more indignant and intolerant of the cause; but of the result I have no more doubt than I have on any subject that lies in the future.
And now I would ask you—why do some people wish that the United States should be cut up in two? They think it desirable that it should be weakened. Will that view bear discussion for a moment? I hold not. I am of the opinion which our statesmen held in the time of Canning, who thought it desirable for Europe that America should be strong; desirable that she should be strong, because it would thereby prevent European Powers from interfering in American affairs. That has been the case hitherto. That country has prospered. It has never come to interfere with European politics, and it has kept European Governments from interfering in other American States which have not been so prosperous or so orderly as the United States. And now see what has followed. See what has happened already from this disruption of the United States. You have France gone to Mexico; you have Spain gone to San Domingo. Why, there are horrors unutterable now going on in San Domingo, because Spain has gone and invaded that country with the view to re-conquest; and the French Government has embarked in a career in Mexico which I will only characterise as the greatest mistake committed by the monarch of that country. This enterprise would never have been undertaken if the United States had not been in the difficulties of this civil war; and it is the least creditable part of those enterprises that they have been undertaken because America was weak. But it only required that the North should have been a little weaker, and then these silly people would have been going about for an interference in America, and then they would have carried out their project, and you would have had France and other Powers going over to America to meddle in that quarrel.
Now, is that desirable? Don't you think we have enough to do at home? Do you think, now, that Europe has so much wisdom to spare in the management of her affairs, that she can afford to cross the Atlantic to set the new world in order? If so, what is the meaning of the utterances which we have lately heard from Imperial lips, calling for a Congress of the Powers of Europe? And what for? To form a new pact for the European States, because the arrangement entered into at the Treaty of Vienna is, to use the Emperor's own words, torn all to tatters. Well, but that is not very consolatory for us. We fought for more than twenty years, we spent a thousand millions of treasure in that great war, and the only result we have to show is the settlement at the Treaty of Vienna;—and now we are told that it is all torn to tatters! Well, I say, that does not encourage us to enter upon a similar career again—at all events, it means this, that Europe has quite enough to do at home, without going, at the instigation of silly people, to interfere with the affairs of America. I would not be thought to say one word against the project of the Emperor of the French to hold a Congress. There is one passage in his address which prevents my treating it with unqualified opposition or indifference. For the first time a great potentate—the head of the most powerful military nation of Europe—has called a Congress, to devise, amongst other measures, the means of reducing those enormous standing armaments, which are the curse and the peril of Europe at this time. But this I would say, that if there should be a Congress, and this part of the programme—a diminution of armaments is made the primary and fundamental object of that Congress, I am afraid from past experience that it would probably only lead to an increase of the evil. For I remember the Congress in 1856, after the Crimean war, which war was to establish peace, and enable us to reduce our armaments. After that war, we had a Congress in Paris in 1856, and they arranged the peace of Europe.
Well, what has happened since? There are nearly a million more men trained to arms in the two services in Europe now than there were before the Crimean war, and England itself has 200,000 of these men, besides a gigantic scheme of fortifications such as the world never saw before in one project. One of the objects for which the Congress is to be called is to arrange the difficulties and troubles in certain European States. There is the case of Poland particularly referred to. I am not unmindful of the claims of Poland, or of other countries struggling for what they consider their rights; that is, where they can show a programme of grievances such as I believe the Poles can do; but I have not much faith in the power of any one country to go and settle the affairs of another country upon anything like a permanent basis; and there is the ground on which I am such a strong advocate of the principle of non-intervention; it is because intervention must almost, by its very nature, fail in its object. There are two things we confound when we talk of intervention in foreign affairs. The intervention is easy enough, but the power to accomplish the object is another thing. You must take possession of a country, in order to impress your policy upon it; and that becomes a tyranny of another sort. But if you go to intervene in the affairs of Poland, with a view to rescue them from the attacks of Russia, I maintain that so far as England is concerned, you are attempting an impossibility; and if you cannot do it by physical force, if you cannot do it by war, then I humbly submit that you are certain to do it more harm than good if you attempt to do it by diplomacy. Mark what has been done in Poland on this occasion. We have had three Powers, every one writing despatches stating that, unless certain measures are acceded to, Russia is threatened with the force of these united Powers. What has been the effect of that? You have made the whole Russian people united as against these foreign Powers. They might not have been so exasperated against their own people, but immediately foreigners step in, you have had the whole Russian people roused to a patriotic frenzy—not to oppose the Poles, but to oppose some outside Powers that are attempting to interfere with them. The consequence is, that the Poles, who have been encouraged to go on by the hope of foreign interference, have been placed in a position far more perilous to them than if you had never interfered at all. Some people will say, do you intend to leave these evils without a remedy? Well, I have faith in God, and I think there is a Divine Providence which will obviate this difficulty; and I don't think that Providence has given it into our hands to execute His behests in this world. I think, when injustice is done, whether in Poland or elsewhere, the very process of injustice is calculated, if left to itself, to promote its own cure; because injustice produces weakness—injustice produces injury to the parties who commit it.
But do you suppose that the Almighty has given to this country, or any other country, the power and the responsibility of regulating the affairs and remedying the evils of other countries? No. We have not set a sufficiently pure example to be entitled to claim that power. When I see that Russia is burning Polish villages, I am restrained from even reproaching them, because I am afraid they will point Japanwards, and scream in our ears the word 'Kagosima!' Now, that word Kagosima brings me to a subject upon which I wish to say one or two words. I see that my noble Friend, the Secretary of the Admiralty (Lord Clarence Paget), who always enters upon the defence of any naval abomination with so much cheerfulness, that he really seems to me to like the task; he has been speaking at a meeting of his constituents, and he alluded to the horrible massacre which took place in Japan, to which, amongst others, I called your attention; and he says it is quite wrong to suppose that our gallant officers ever contemplated to destroy that town of Kagosima, with its 150,000 of rich, prosperous, commercial people—they never intended it—it was quite an accident. Well, unfortunately, he cannot have read the despatch which appeared in the Gazette, addressed to his own department, the Admiralty, for it is stated in that despatch that the admiral had himself threatened the Japanese envoys who came on board his vessel the day before the bombardment of that city, that it they did not accede to the demands made upon them, he would next day burn their city. The threat was actually made, and the conflagration was only the carrying out of the threat. But there was another fact in connection with that affair for which I feel greatly ashamed and indignant. It is for the way in which it was managed—the stealthy, shabby, mean way in which it was managed—to make it appear that the Japanese were the aggressors in that affair. Lord Russell's instructions to Admiral Kuper were, that he might go and take this Japanese prince's ships of war, or he might shell his palace, or he might shell his forts. He does not tell him to do all these things; he was to go to demand satisfaction, and, in case satisfaction were not given, he suggested to do certain things by way of reprisals, and one of the things he was ordered to do was to take these ships belonging to this prince. Well, the ships were moored—hid, as it were, concealed away—at some distance from the city, and steamers were sent by our admiral to seize these vessels, and they were not within miles of the fort which was firing on our ships. If the admiral had contented himself with trying to seize these ships, which were three steamers of great value, which had been bought from Europeans—had he contented himself, according to his instructions, with trying to seize these steamers, and waited to see if this brought the prince to his senses, there would have been no conflagration. But how did he act? He lashes these steamers alongside his own steamers, and then with his whole fleet goes under the batteries of the Japanese, and waits for several hours; and when the Japanese fire on him, he says that the honour of the British flag required that he should at once commence to bombard the palace, because he had been attacked first.
Now I remember—I remember quite well, in the case of a very analogous proceeding—in the case of our last war with the Burmese, I wrote a digest of the Blue Book giving an account of that terrible war, and to which I gave the title of 'How wars are got up in India'—I remember precisely the same manœuvres were resorted to. Some of the ships of war belonging to the Burmese Government were seized by our naval officers from under their forts, and because they fired on these vessels in the act of carrying off their whole navy, it was said that they commenced the war, and the honour of the British flag required immediately the bombardment of the place. Let us suppose that a French fleet came off Portsmouth, and took three of our ships of war at Spithead, and lashed them alongside their steamers, and then came within range of our forts at Portsmouth; if the commander of these forts had not fired on these ships with all the available resources he had, he would assuredly have been hung up to his own flag-staff on the first occasion. Well, now, is it not deplorable that we English, directly we get east the Cape of Good Hope, lose our morality and our Christianity?—that we resort to all the meanness, and chicanery, and treachery with which we accuse those Oriental people of practising upon us? But we forget what De Tocqueville says in speaking of similar proceedings of ours in India. He says: 'You ought not, as Englishmen and Christians, to lower yourselves to the level of that people. Remember, your sole title to be there at all is because you are supposed to be superior to them.' Do you suppose these things can be done by us Englishmen with impunity—do you think there is no retributive justice that will mete out vengeance to us as a people if we continue to do this; and if there is no compunction on the part of this community?
There is a writer at Oxford University, one who writes bold truths in the most effective manner, who is doing it for the instruction of the next generation of statesmen—that is the Professor of History at Oxford. Mr. Goldwin Smith, treating of this very subject, says: 'There is no example, I believe, in history, from that of imperial Rome down to that of imperial France, of a nation which has trampled out the rights of others, but that ultimately forfeited its own.' Do you think those maxims, which we tolerate in the treatment of three, four, or five millions of people in the East—do you think that they will not turn back to curse us in our own daily lives, and in our own political organization? You have India; you have acquired India by conquest, and by means which no Englishman can look back upon with satisfaction. You hold India; your white faces are predominating and ruling in that country; and has it ever occurred to you at what cost you rule? We have lately had a report of the sanitary state of the army in India; why, if you take into account the losses we sustain in that country by fever, by debauchery, by ennui, and by climate; if you take into account the extra number of deaths and invalids in the army and civil service, in consequence of the climate, you are holding India at a cost—if I may be permitted to use the term—of a couple of battles of Waterloo every year. Is there not a tremendous responsibility accompanied with this, that you are to tolerate your lawless adventurers to penetrate not only into China, but in Japan, in your name? The history of all the proceedings in China at this time is as dishonourable to us as a nation as were the proceedings in Spain in the times of Cortes and Pizarro. When they fought, they did not commit greater atrocities than Englishmen have done in China. They have them mixing up themselves in this civil war and rebellion for the sake of loot, for the sake of plunder, entering towns, and undertaking to head these Chinese—aiding the Chinese Government—in storming these defenceless towns. They are so far off; their proceedings are done at so great a distance, that you don't feel them or see them, or know your responsibility; but they will find you out, and find out your children. I remember when in the House of Commons, I brought the conduct of our agents at Canton, who were opposing the Chinese authority—that is, the authority of the Chinese Government—I was met by the present Prime Minister with this argument: Why do you have such sympathy with this Chinese Government? Why, it is so detestable to government of life and property, and the people are so insecure, that you can buy a substitute for a few hundred dollars if you are ordered to be executed,—another Chinaman, who will go and be executed for you. So terrible is the Government, that they don't value life as they do in other countries. Now, what are they doing? I get up and oppose our assistance to the present Tartar Government, and am answered by the same Prime Minister, why you are defending the Taepings; they are such monsters of humanity, and so odious, and all the rest of the epithets are applied to them which were applied to the Chinese Government. Yet now you are supporting the Government against the rebels, when five or six years ago Lord Palmerston told you the Government was so odious, that life was not valued under it. How is it that our Government is found in alliance with the most odious Governments of the world? There is the Government of Turkey, which is our especial pet and protégé. There is the Government of China; we have lately been in terfering to help the Emperor of Morocco; and the Government of Austria, which is only a Government and an army, and not a nation, is also our pet and ally.
I will only say one word before I sit down, upon a subject which I hope to see the order of the day again. I am talking very much against my own principles upon these distant questions, but it is because they are made home questions and vital questions by the course pursued by other parties; but I want to see us called back to our own domestic affairs, and first and foremost amongst those affairs, I consider—notwithstanding the attempt to shelve—first and foremost, and that which lies at the bottom of all others, is a reform in the representation of the country. It has been a fashion of late to talk of an extension of the franchise as something not to be tolerated, because it is assumed that the manners of the people were not fitted to take a part in the Government; and they point to America and France, and other places, and they draw comparisons between this country and other countries. Now, I hope I shall not be considered revolutionary—because at my age I don't want any revolutions—they won't serve me, I am sure, or anybody that belongs to me. England may perhaps compare very favourably with most other countries, if you draw the line in society tolerably high—if you compare the condition of the rich and the upper classes of this country, or a considerable portion of the middle classes, with the same classes abroad. Well, I admit the comparison is very favourable indeed. I don't think a rich man—barring the climate, which is not very good—could be very much happier anywhere else than in England; but I have to say as follows to my opponents, who treat this question of the franchise as one that is likely to bring the masses of the people down from their present state to the level of other countries.
I have been a great traveller,—I have travelled in most civilised countries, and I assert that the masses of the people of this country do not compare so favourably with the masses of other countries as I could wish. I find in other countries a greater number of people with property than there are in England. I don't know, perhaps, any country in the world where the masses of the people are so illiterate as in England. It is no use your talking of your army and navy, your exports and your imports; it is no use telling me you have a small portion of your people exceedingly well off. I want to make the test in a comparison of the majority of the people against a majority in any other country. I say that with regard to some things in foreign countries we don't compare so favourably. The English peasantry has no parallel on the face of the earth. You have no other peasantry like that of England—you have no other country in which it is entirely divorced from the land. There is no other country of the world where you will not find men turning up the furrow in their own freehold. You won't find that in England. I don't want any revolution or agrarian outrages by which we should change all this. But this I find to be quite consistent with human nature, that wherever I go the condition of the people is very generally found to be pretty good in comparison to the power they have to take care of themselves. And if you have a class entirely divorced from political power, and there is another country where they possess it, the latter will be treated with more consideration, they will have greater advantages, they will be better educated, and have a better chance of having property than in a country where they are deprived of the advantage of political power. But we must remember this: we have been thirty years—it is more than thirty years since our Reform Bill was passed; and during that time great changes have taken place in other countries. Nearly all your colonies since that time have received representative institutions. They are much freer in Australia and New Zealand, and much freer in their representative system than we are in England; and thirty years ago they were entirely under the domination of our Colonial Office. Well, go on the Continent, you find there wide extension of political franchises all over the country. Italy, and Austria even, is stirring its dry bones; you have all Germany now more or less invested with popular sovereignty; and I say, that, with all our boasted maxims of superiority as a self-governing people, we don't maintain our relative rank in the world, for we are all obliged to acknowledge that we dare not entrust a considerable part of the population of this country with political power, for fear they should make a revolutionary and dangerous use of it. Besides, bear in mind, that both our political parties—both our aristocratic parties, have already pledged themselves to an extension of the franchise. The Queen has been made to recommend from her throne the extension of the franchise; and you have placed the governing classes in this country in the wrong for all future time, if they do not fulfil those promises, and adopt those recommendations. They are placed in the wrong, and some day or other they may be obliged to yield to violence and clamour what I think they ought in sound statesmanship to do tranquily and voluntarily, and in proper season. If you exclude to the present extent the masses of the people from the franchise, you are always running the risk of that which a very sagacious old Conservative statesman once said in the House of Commons. He said, 'I am afraid we shall have an ugly rush some day.' Well, I want to avoid that 'ugly rush.' I would rather do the work tranquilly, and do it gradually.
Now, Gentlemen, all this will be done by people out of doors, and not by Parliament; and it would be folly for you to expect anybody in the House of Commons to take a single step in the direction of any reform until there is a great desire and disposition manifested for it out of doors. When that day comes, you will not want your champions in the House of Commons. You have one of them (Mr. Bright) here; you could not have a better. He and I began work at the same time, but I had the misfortune to be seven or eight years older. Now, he has a good Reform Bill in him yet. But I am not sure that I shall live to be able to afford you much help in the matter.
Now, before I sit down, I will merely say, I congratulate you that the prospects and condition of this community are not so bad as they were last year, and I hope they may not be worse than they are now. The ordeal through which you have passed has been creditable to the employers and employed. Some men rise in the world by adversity: I think you have done so. You have shown you are able to bear yourselves manfully against a very cruel and sudden disaster. I do not think that what has occurred will be without its significance, even in a political point of view. I have heard in all directions that it is an unanswerable argument, so far as you are concerned in Lancashire, that the conduct, the bearing, the manliness, the fortitude, the self-respect with which you have borne the ordeal through which you have passed, commend you to the favourable consideration of those who have the power to enlarge the political franchise of this country. I think that what you are going through will have another salutary consequence. It is a cruel suspense to which you are subjected, with cotton at 20d. or 2s. a pound instead of at 5d. or 6d. But be assured that it is working its own cure, and in a way to place the great industry of this country upon a much more secure foundation hereafter than it has been on before. The Cotton Supply Association in Manchester—I am not at all connected with it, and therefore I speak as an outsider, but one that has been looking on—has, I think, rendered a service to this district and to humanity, which probably it will be hardly possible to trace through future ages, in the diffusion of cottonseed throughout that portion of the world where cotton can be grown, and by making the natives acquainted with the use of the machinery necessary to clean it; and by that means, I have no doubt that, in addition to a supply of cotton that will sooner or later come from the valley of the Mississippi from African free labour—for I sincerely hope there will never be another cotton-seed planted in the ground, with a view to your future supply, by a slave in America—that from all those sources you are sure—morally certain—hereafter to be supplied with that essential article for your comfort and prosperity, to a larger extent, and on better terms, and on a more secure basis than ever you have enjoyed before.
Return to top