Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
[At a public meeting in Rochdale, Mr. Cobden was asked to move the following resolution in favour of Parliamentary and Financial Reform:—'That this meeting views with dismay the enormous public expenditure of the country, which unnecessarily increases the burdens of the people, is subversive of their best interests, and perilous to Constitutional Government. This meeting is also of opinion that a comprehensive measure of Parliamentary Reform, which would secure a more faithful representation of the people, is absolutely essential; and remembering the pledges with regard to Financial and Parliamentary Reform, given by the present Ministry prior to their accession to power, calls upon them to carry out those pledges, or retire from office.' But before he referred to the resolution, he called attention to the relations between Great Britain and the United States.]
Before I address myself to the general subject involved in the resolution which is now before you, I will, with your permission, say a few words upon that subject which is most near to my feelings, as it must be to every one connected with this borough,—I allude to the present state of distress in this district. I should like, if I could, to state something that might contribute towards making the cause of your sufferings better understood, and which might clear up any impressions that may exist with regard to the position or the attitude of this district amongst our fellow-countrymen in other parts of the kingdom. I should like to say a word or two with reference, not only to our own interest in this disaster, but also upon the responsibility and duty arising out of it, which, I think, fall upon all parts of the kingdom.
You are suffering much in the same manner as you would be if England were engaged in a foreign war, and this country were placed in a state of blockade to prevent the ingress of cotton for your mills. That would be a state of things which would be regarded by the whole kingdom as an affair which concerned the whole community. All England, the United Kingdom, would come to your rescue; any necessary amount of expenditure would be incurred in order to rescue you from the danger that assailed you, and to compensate you, indemnify you for the injuries you might have sustained. Well, there is very little difference in principle between such a case and that in which you are now really involved. You are suffering, not from a blockade of Lancashire, you are suffering from a blockade of the Southern ports of the United States; both arise out of a state of war; both arise out of a principle recognised in the conduct of war; and as our Government and this country are assenting parties to such a principle of warfare, and as it is an evil arising out of the war which you cannot provide against, which you cannot remove, and for which you are not responsible,—I say it must involve the same consequences, that your sufferings must be shared, and your case relieved by the efforts of the whole of this community—I mean the whole of the United Kingdom. This principle has been to some extent recognised by the course which has been pursued to a certain extent in other parts of the kingdom. There have been efforts made, and a considerable amount of sympathy manifested, to relieve the distress of this district. I do not measure the amount of assistance to be rendered to you by what has been done: I only say the principle is recognised, and efforts made in all parts of the kingdom to support and cheer you in your sufferings and distress If I could only say one word which would tend to remove that misapprehension which parties might have in other and distant parts of the country, in their efforts of humanity, in looking at your case, I should think my time very well employed on the present occasion. There is no doubt there is much apprehension, particularly in the southern portions of the kingdom, with regard to the state of matters here. I am not surprised at this, because I, who was born in the south, and was an emigrant in this region, and again returned to the south, perhaps may be better acquainted than many of you with the ignorance that prevails in the south of England, and even in London, with reference to the state of society in this district.
Now, an attempt has been made to throw blame upon large numbers of parties who are visited by the great calamity in which you are involved. I would not say one word in defence of the capitalists of Lancashire, because they are very well able to defend themselves, were it not that this misapprehension with regard to their conduct had a tendency to check the sympathy and slacken the charity of our fellow-countrymen elsewhere. I am not going to undertake the defence of this class; but an untrue accusation has been made against that class. Men of all classes have their good and bad individuals; fortunately for the world, the good predominate everywhere. But, with reference to the particular fact with which I wish to deal, I may say there seems to be a general forgetfulness, on the part of those bringing these accusations against the capitalists, that the calamity has fallen both upon the capitalists and the working classes, and if it continues long enough, that it will ruin them both. I will illustrate what I have to say by taking the position of a millowner spinning cotton, and this comparison will be best understood by our fellow-countrymen in the south of England. A millowner who spins cotton is somewhat similar to a flour miller who grinds wheat.
Now, let us suppose a calamity occurred, by which all the wheat millers of the south of England were deprived of the raw material for their mills—that is, wheat—that the mills everywhere had to be shut up; but suppose, in addition, that these mills were liable to be rated for the relief of the poor, and that the cottages generally owned by the millers, where the workpeople lived, were to pay rent, and were to contribute to the poor-rates. Suppose, simultaneously with such a calamity as that, we had received a cry from this part of the country that these corn millers, whose trade was paralysed, ought, in addition, to keep the workpeople who had been thrown out of work. That would be about as reasonable as much that I have read of the accusations brought against owners of mills in this region. I came last week from Scotland by way of Carlisle, Kendal, Lancaster, Preston, Bolton, to Manchester, and I came through a country where there was a succession—I may say a forest—of smokeless chimneys. Why, for all purposes of productive value, the machinery in these mills might just as well have been in the primitive form of iron, in which they were before they were extracted from the mines. They were utterly valueless as property. And we must bear in mind that, though some millowners are rich in floating capital as well as in fixed capital, yet a great bulk of those who own cotton mills in this county are not rich in floating capital. They are rich in bricks, mortar, and machinery, when they can get cotton to make their looms productive.
Now, take your own borough, and what is its position at the present moment? I have got some authentic facts since I have come into Rochdale—facts applicable to the Rochdale relief district. That district contains ninety-five cotton mills employing 14,071 persons; of these there are out of work 10,793, and the remaining 3,278 are not averaging more than two days a week of work. The relief committee are assisting weekly 10,041, who receive no aid from rates; the guardians are relieving weekly 10,000, making a total of 20,041. The number of the destitute is daily increasing. Bear in mind, I am not speaking to you here, so much as I am speaking to my fellow-countrymen elsewhere, who are less acquainted than I could wish them to be with the actual state of this district; and in speaking thus I am speaking in the interests of you, the working men here present, and your families. Now, bear in mind that for all this destitution the whole of the manufacturing capital in this region is liable to be rated. It is not generally known elsewhere that, if the millowner closes his mill, provided that mill be full of machinery, it is still liable to be rated for the relief of the poor. The consequence is that the millowner first loses the whole amount of the interest in his capital, and the depreciation of the capital in suspense. Say his mill is worth 20,000l. and that is a moderate estimate for the average of mills—that is closed, and he immediately loses at the rate of 2,000l. a year, by the loss of interest and depreciation. But, generally, the mill also has a number of cottages attached to it, in which the work-people live. These cottages must cease to pay rent when the workpeople cease to receive wages, but the cottages also continue to be rated to the poor. Take, then, the amount which the millowner, with that small mill worth 20,000l.,—at least the average mill of 20,000l.; take the loss which he is suffering by the loss of interest and depreciation; take also the amount which he is liable to pay for his poor-rate, which may be 5,000l. 01 6,000l. a year; and that millowner, without going to a central committee in Manchester to put down his name for 100l. or 500l., is inevitably, by the very nature of his position, incurring a greater loss by this distress than by any amount contributed by the richest nobleman of this land towards the fund.
It has been said that the millowners and capitalists have not gone to some central meeting, and put down their names for 1,000l., along with some of the bankers and merchants or great landowners who have none of these risks and charges attending their property which I have described. But these millowners and manufacturers are generally scattered and dispersed throughout the country; they have their obligations at their own doors, and they have the apprehension of a very long continuance of this distress which is upon them. I have heard some sagacious men say, since I have been in Manchester,—I hope they have taken a too gloomy view of the situation,—but I have heard some of the longest-headed men with whom I have talked since I have last visited Manchester, say, that they don't believe there will be any more prosperity for the cotton trade for five years to come. I repeat, that I hope they take a too gloomy view of the case; but recollect that, as all is uncertain in the future, and as this fixed property, which constitutes the great wealth of your manufacturers and spinners—this great fixed property in mills and machinery—remains there, always to be rated to the poor, and must be rated to the end, as long as the owner has one shilling of floating capital to pay towards the rates, why, the manufacturer and spinner may well pause and say, 'We welcome you, noble lords and gentlemen from a distance, who throw in your mite in the relief of this great calamity; but, do what you will, and be as bountiful as you please to be'—(and I am sure they will be; the country will never fail you)—'yet still the loss and the suffering and distress to this land must be greater to the millowners and manufacturers than to any other class.' I know that I am speaking, here, in the presence of a great majority of working men; and they will not deny the truth of what I say. You have had your own co-operative mills here, and there is intelligence sufficient amongst the operatives of this town to know that in every word I have said I have been speaking the simple truth. But I will not confine myself to the capitalist class. See what the operative is sure to suffer, and the working man is sure to suffer, by this calamity. Take, as an illustration, what is happening at this moment in Rochdale. Again I take the Rochdale relief district, and, from the best information I can get—and I have no doubt it is accurate—I find that the weekly loss by wages, in this district alone, cannot be less than 6,000l. or 6,500l. a week. So that the working class of Rochdale alone, at this moment—and you are only at the beginning of your distress—are losing from their income at the rate of upwards of 300,000l. a year. I have seen it stated that the relief afforded is about 600l. a week. My esteemed friend behind me, Mr. A. H. Heywood, the treasurer of the relief fund, tells me that the contribution which has been made from that fund to the distressed poor of this district is about 600l. a week; and, I am told, that the board of guardians are distributing at the same time 800l. a week of relief to the poor—I won't call them paupers, because we won't allow them to be called that name;—they are the distressed, or they are the blockaded.
Well, now, 600l. a week doled out by the relief committee, and 800l. given by the board of guardians, make the total relief to be 1,400l. a week. Already it is estimated that the working classes of this district have lost 6,500l. a week in wages, and they are getting relief at the rate of 1,400l. a week, so that the working classes of this town are receiving from both those sources—the volunteer relief committee and the board of guardians—only about one-fourth of the income which they can earn by the honest industry of their hands in ordinary times. Great praise has been given to the working class of this district for the fine, the magnanimous, the heroic fortitude which they have displayed on this occasion. Well, I sometimes think that there is something rather invidious in the way in which this compliment is paid to you by some parties. It seems as if they had always been assuming that you are a set of savages, without reason or a sense of justice, and that, whatever befell you, your first impulse was to go and destroy something or somebody in revenge. They must have a very curious idea of the people of this district. It reminds me of an anecdote that I remember:—When the late Dr. Dalton, the eminent philosopher, was presented to King William IV., his Majesty received him with this remark: 'Well, doctor—well, doctor—are you all quiet at Manchester now?'—the idea in his Majesty's head being that in Manchester and the neighbourhood the normal state was one of insurrection or violence. Well, but at least the conduct of this district, of its working population, will stand out all the more honourably before the country when it is known under what circumstances you have borne yourselves so manfully as you have. Where is there another class of the community,—I join my right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone heartily in saying that—I am a south countryman, and therefore I shall not share in any praise I give you in this district,—but I don't believe there is any other part of the country where the same number of men would have borne so courageously and manfully the same amount of privation. But still, don't let us make it mere empty compliment—because the people of this country do not care a button for compliments. There is something wanted, and I have no doubt that something more will be had. This is a gigantic evil which has fallen upon this district from no fault of its own, which could not have been foreseen or provided against; and, therefore, the consequences of this great calamity must be borne by the whole country. If they can be borne by voluntary aid from all parts of the kingdom, well; if not, they must be helped by Imperial aid in another form.
But I think, if it is known and fairly understood in all parts of the kingdom what the state of things is, and that a great effort is required, greater than any that has yet been made, I believe that the philanthropy and the generosity of this country will not be found wanting. I would suggest that a systematic plan should be adopted of calling county meetings everywhere by the lord-lieutenants. I have known county meetings called before on much slighter grounds of necessity than this. It is said that there is to be a subscription raised in all the churches. I have no doubt that a large sum will be raised in that way. But it requires that the country should know the necessities of the case, and that the public feeling should not be chilled or distorted by base appeals to their prejudices and their passions. Oh, there is a class of writers in this country,—God knows who they are, who support the vendors of such base commodities; but there is a class of writers in this country who seem to worship success, and to find no pleasure so great as to jump upon anybody, or any class, that they think is down for the moment, and to trample it still lower in the mire. For myself, I have no doubt whatever that all classes in this country will do their duty. I have heard since I have been in Lancashire of heroic acts of benevolence performed not only by men, but by women, who have shown a bright example in their districts in the devotion they have evinced to relieve the distress of those immediately around them. I have no doubt that the amount of generosity and charity that is going on in private far transcends that which is known to the public, and that the best friends of the poor are very often the poor themselves. I have not the least doubt, I say, that this district will do its duty, and that when this cloud passes away—as I hope it may before a distant day—I have no doubt that there will be a record of bright and generous acts—I won't say such as is creditable exclusively to this community—but such as will reflect honour upon our common humanity.
Now, gentlemen, coupled with this question is another upon which I must say a few words. We are placed in this tremendous embarrassment in consequence of the civil war that is going on in America. Don't expect me to be going to venture upon ground which other politicians have trodden, with, I think, doubtful success or advantage to themselves—don't think that I am going to predict what is going to happen in America, or that I am going to set myself up as a judge of the Americans. What I wish to do is to say a few words to throw light upon our relations, as a nation, with the American people. I have no doubt whatever that, if I had been an American, I should have been true to my peace principles, and that I should have been amongst, perhaps, a very small number who had voted against, or raised my protest, in some shape or other, against this civil war in America. There is nothing, in the course of this war, that reconciles me to the brutality and the havoc of such a mode of settling human disputes. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this, what is the position which, as a nation, we ought to take with reference to the Americans in this dispute? That is the question which concerns us. It is no use our arguing as to what is the origin of the war, or any use whatever to advise these disputants. From the moment the first shot is fired, or the first blow is struck, in a dispute, then farewell to all reason and argument; you might as well attempt to reason with mad dogs as with men when they have begun to spill each other's blood in mortal combat. I was so convinced of the fact during the Crimean war, which. you know, I opposed, I was so convinced of the utter uselessness of raising one's voice in opposition to war when it has once begun, that I made up my mind that as long as I was in political life, should a war again break out between England and a great Power, I would never open my mouth upon the subject from the time the first gun was fired until the peace was made, because, when a war is once commenced, it will only be by the exhaustion of one party that a termination will be arrived at. If you look back at our history, what did eloquence, in the persons of Chatham or Burke, do to prevent a war with our first American colonies? What did eloquence, in the persons of Fox and his friends, do to prevent the French revolution, or bring it to a close? And there was a man who at the commencement of the Crimean war, in terms of eloquence, in power, and pathos, and argument equal—in terms, I believe, fit to compare with anything that fell from the lips of Chatham and Burke—I mean your distinguished townsman, my friend Mr. Bright—and what was his success? Why, they burnt him in effigy for his pains.
Well, if we are here powerless as politicians to check a war at home, how useless and unavailing must it be for me to presume to affect in the slightest degree the results of the contest in America! I may say I regret this dreadful and sanguinary war; we all regret it; but to attempt to scold them for fighting, to attempt to argue the case with either, and to reach them with any arguments, while they are standing in mortal combat, a million of them standing in arms and fighting to the death; to think that, by any arguments here, we are to influence or be heard by the combatants engaged on the other side of the Atlantic, is utterly vain. I have travelled twice through almost every free State in America. I know most of the principals engaged in this dreadful contest on both sides. I have kept myself pretty well informed of all that is going on in that country; and yet, though I think I ought to be as well informed on this subject as most of my countrymen—Cabinet Ministers included;—yet, if you were to ask me how this contest is to end, I confess I should find myself totally at a loss to offer an opinion worth the slightest attention on the part of my hearers. But this I will say: If I were put to the torture, and compelled to offer a guess, I should not make the guess which Mr. Gladstone and Earl Russell have made on this subject. I don't believe that, if the war in America is to be brought to a termination, it will be brought to an end by the separation of the South and North. There are great motives at work amongst the large majority of the people in America, which seem to me to drive them to this dreadful contest rather than see their country broken into two. Now, I don't speak of it as having a great interest in it myself. I speak as to a fact. It may seem Utopian; but I don't feel sympathy for a great nation, or for those who desire the greatness of a people by the vast extension of empire. What I like to see is the growth, development, and elevation of the individual man. But we have had great empires at all times—Syria, Persia, and the rest. What trace have they left of the individual man? Nebuchadnezzar, and the countless millions under his sway,—there is no more trace of them than of herds of buffaloes, or flocks of sheep. But look at your little States; look at Greece, with its small territories, some not larger than an English county? Italy, over some of whose States a man on horseback could ride in a day,—they have left traces of individual man, where civilisation has flourished, and humanity been elevated. It may appear Utopian, but we can never expect the individual elevated until a practical and better code of moral law prevails among nations, and until the small States obtain justice at the hands of the great.
But leaving these matters: What are the facts of the present day—what appears to be the paramount instinct amongst the races of men? Certainly not a desire to separate, but a desire to agglomerate, to bring together in greater concentration the different races speaking the same language, and professing the same religion. What do you see going on in Italy,—what stirs now the heart of Germany—that moves Hungary? Is it not wishing to get together? I find in the nations of Europe no instinct pervading the mass of mankind which may lead them to a separation from each other; but that there is a powerful movement all through Europe for the agglomeration of races. But is it not very odd that statesmen here who have a profound sympathy for the movement in Italy in favour of unity, cannot at least appreciate a statesman in looking upon the probabilities and the chances of a civil contest—cannot also duly appreciate the force of that motive in the present contest in America? Three-fourths of the white population are contending against disunion; they are following the instinct which is impelling the Italians, the Germans, and other populations of Europe; and I have no doubt that one great and dominant motive in the minds of three-fourths of the white people in America is this:—They are afraid, if they become disunited, they will be treated as Italy has been treated when she was disunited—that a foreigner will come and set his intrusive foot upon it, and play off one against another to their degradation, and probably subjection. Without pretending to offer an opinion myself, these are powerful motives, and, if they are operating as they appear to operate, it may lead to a much more protracted contest than has been predicted by some of our statesmen.
But the business we really have here as Englishmen is not to speculate upon what the Americans will do, for they will act totally independent of us. Give them your sympathy as a whole; say, 'Here is a most lamentable calamity that has befallen a great nation in its pride.' Give them your sympathy. Lament over a great misfortune, but don't attempt to scold and worry them, or dictate to them, or even to predict for them what will happen. But what is our duty towards them in this matter? Well, now, we have talked of strict neutrality. But I wish our statesmen, and particularly our cabinet Ministers, would enforce upon their own tongues a little of that principle of non-intervention which they profess to apply to their diplomacy. We are told very frequently at public meetings that we must recognise the South. Well, but that recognition of the South is always coupled with another object—it is, to obtain the cotton that you want, because, if it was not for the distress brought upon us by the civil war in America, I don't think humanity would induce us to interfere any more than it does in wars going on in other parts of the world.
But, now, let us try to dispel this floating fallacy which is industriously spread over the land,—probably by interested parties. Your recognition of the South would not give you cotton. The recognition of the South, in the minds of parties who use that term, is coupled with something more. There is an idea of going and interfering by force to put an end to that contest, in order that the cotton may be set free. If I were President Lincoln, and found myself rather in difficulty on account of the pressure of taxation, and on account of the discord of parties in the Federal ranks, and if I wanted to see the whole population united as one man, and ready to make me a despot; if I could choose that post, and not only unite every man but every woman in my support,—then I could wish nothing better than that England or France, or both together, should come and attempt to interfere by force in this quarrel. You read now of the elections going on in America. And I look to those elections with the greatest interest, as the only indications to guide me in forming a judgment of the future. You see it stated that in these elections there is some disunion of party. But let the foreigners attempt to interfere in that quarrel, and all old lines of demarcation are effaced for ever. You will have one united population joining together to repel that intrusion. It was so in France, in their great revolutionary war. What begat the union there? What caused the Reign of Terror? What was it that ruined every man who breathed a syllable of dissent from the despotic and bloody Government enthroned in Paris—what was it but the cry of alarm that 'the foreigner is invading us,' and the feeling that these were the betrayers of the country, because they were the friends of the foreigner? But your interference would not obtain cotton. Your interference would have, in the present state of armaments, very little effect upon the combatants there. If people were generally better acquainted with the geography of that country and the state of its population, they would see how much we are apt to exaggerate even our power to interfere to produce any result in that contest. The policy to be pursued by the North will be decided by the elections in the great Western States: I mean the great grain-growing region of the Mississippi valley. If the States of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Winconsin, and Minnesota—if those States determine to carry on this war—if they say, 'We will never make peace and give up the mouth of the Mississippi, which drains our 10,000 miles of navigable waters into the Gulf of Mexico; we will never make peace while that river is in the hands of a foreign Power,'—why, all the Powers of Europe cannot reach that 'far West' to coerce it. It is 1,000 miles inland across the Rocky Mountains, or 1,000 miles up the Mississippi, with all its windings, before you get to that vast region—that region which is rich beyond all the rest of the world besides, peopled by ten or twelve millions of souls, doubling in numbers every few years. It is that region which will be the depository in future of the wealth and numbers of that great Continent; and whatever the decision of that region is, New York, and New England, and Pennsylvania will agree with that decision.
Therefore, watch what the determination of that people is; and if they determine to carry on the war, whatever the hideous proportions of that war may be, and however it may affect your interests, be assured that it is idle to talk—idle as the talk of children—as if it were possible for England to pretend, if it would, to carry on hostilities in the West. And, for my part, I think the language which is used sometimes in certain quarters with regard to the power of this country to go and impose its will upon the population in America, is something almost savouring of the ludicrous. When America had but 2,500,000 people, we found it impossible to enforce our will upon that population; but the progress and tendency of modern armaments are such, that where you have to deal with a rich and civilised people, having the same mechanical appliances as you have, and where that people number fifteen or twenty millions, it is next to impossible for any force to be transported across the Atlantic able to coerce that people. I should wish, therefore, that idea of force—and oh! Englishmen have a terrible tendency to think they can resort to force—should be abandoned on this occasion. The case is utterly unmanageable by force, and interference could only do harm. What good would it do to the population of this country? You would not get your cotton; but if you could, what price would you pay for it? I know something of the way in which money is voted in the House of Commons for warlike armaments, even in time of peace, and I have seen what was done during a year and a half of war. I will venture to say, that it would be cheaper to keep all the population engaged in the cotton manufacture—ay, to keep them upon turtle, champagne, and venison—than to send to America to obtain cotton by force of arms. That would involve you in a war, and six months of that war would cost more money than would be required to maintain this population comfortably for ten years.
No, gentlemen; what we should endeavour to do, as the result of this war, is to put an end to that system of warfare which brings this calamity home to our doors, by making such alterations in the maritime law of nations which affects the rights of belligerents and neutrals, as will render it impossible, in the future, for innocent non-combatants and neutrals here to be made to suffer, as they now do, almost as much as those who are carrying on the war there. Well, if you can, out of this great disaster, make such a reform as will prevent the recurrence of such another, it is, perhaps, all that you can do in the matter. I won't enter into that subject now, because I have entered at some length into it elsewhere, and I shall have to deal with it again in the House of Commons. All I wish to say is this—that it is in the power of England to adopt such a system of maritime law, with the ready assent of all the other Powers, as will prevent the possibility of such a state of things being brought upon us in future. And I will say this, that I doubt the wisdom—I certainly doubt the prudence—of a great body of industrious people allowing themselves to continually live in dependence upon foreign Powers for the supply of food and raw material, knowing that a system of warfare exists by which, at any moment, without notice, without any help on their part or means of prevention, they are liable to have the raw material or the food withdrawn from them—cut off from them suddenly—without any power to resist or hinder it.
Now, that is the only good that I can see that we can do for ourselves in this matter. Yes; there is one other good thing that we might do. We have seen a great country, in the very height of its power, feeling itself almost exempt from the ordinary calamities of older nations,—we have seen that country suddenly prostrated, and become a cause of sorrow rather than of envy or admiration to its friends elsewhere; and what should be the monition to us? Ask ourselves whether there is any great injustice unredressed in this country? Ask if there is any flaw in our institutions in England requiring an adjustment or correction, one that, if not dealt with in time, may lead to a great disaster like that in America? It is not by stroking our beards, and turning up our eyes like the Pharisee, and thanking Heaven we are not as other men are, that we learn; but it is by studying such a calamity as this; by asking ourselves, is there anything in our dealings with Ireland, is there anything in India, is there anything appertaining to the rights and franchises of the great mass of our own population, that requires dealing with? If so, let what has taken place in America be a warning to us, and let us deal with an evil while it is time, and not allow it to find us out in the hour of distress and adversity.
Now, gentlemen, it was impossible to talk to you to-night without dealing with the subject that is uppermost in all our minds. But, before I sit down, I will just say a word or two upon the general subject referred to in the resolution that has been submitted to you. You have been told in the resolution certain things, which, I am sorry to say, I cannot deny; you have been told that the Government have not kept their promises. That is a very common thing. You have been told that they ought either to keep their promises, or retire from office; that would be a very uncommon thing. Certainly they have not kept their promises, if they promised you retrenchment and reform. I was not in England when the new party combination was made, when there was a compact entered into at Willis's Rooms. But I think our friend Alderman Livsey has very properly said—I don't feel sure whether he used the term; if not, I am sure he will excuse me if I attribute it to him—he said that the Radicals were 'sold' on that occasion. ['Hear,' from Mr. Ald. Livsey.] You have had, it is true, a very large addition made to the expenditure of this country. But why has it been made? How has it happened? Why, it is nearly all made for the purpose of warlike defences in a time of peace. There is your great item of expense. It has been incurred to protect you against some imaginary danger. Now, what has been the increase of which I speak? In 1835, when, Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington were at the head of the Government, our military and naval armaments cost under twelve millions per annum. Well, now, including the money voted for fortifications, our expenditure last year was nearly three times that,—nearly thirty millions sterling. Why is that? Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington certainly could not be considered rash, unpatriotic men, who had not a full sense of their responsibility as guardians of the honour and safety of this realm. How is it, then, that we require pretty nearly three times as much to defend us now as was required in the time of Sir R. Peel's Government? Why, there is no doubt that it has been in consequence, entirely, I may say, in consequence of the alleged designs of our next door neighbour; and there is no doubt, also—there can be no doubt—that the person who has been prompting all this expenditure, on the ground that we were in danger of an attack from France, has been the present Prime Minister. There is no doubt about that.
Now, I said something about this when I met you twelve months ago here. I was fresh come from France, where I had as good opportunities as anybody had of knowing all about it. I was living eighteen months in France, and everything was open to me or my friends; anybody might go to the dockyard by my applying for an order. I had access to every document, every public paper. I told you this twelve months ago, what I repeat now, that this country had been as much deluded and hoaxed on the subject of the increase of the French navy as ever this country had been hoaxed since the time of Titus Oates. Now, since this last winter, not being able to speak, and not being able to be idle, I employed myself in writing out an exactly detailed account, year by year, of all the expenditure and amount of armaments that were maintained by France and England for their respective navies,—a most elaborate and detailed account, in which I quoted from official authorities at every step; not an anonymous publication, for I published it under my own name. That little work brought heavy indictments against our public men, charging them with the grossest misrepresentation. I stated—I never attribute motives to any man, for there is nothing so unprofitable; and I admit I may have made the statements in ignorance, but—I made the charge against your Prime Minister and others, but against him most prominently, of grossly deluding the public on the subject of the armaments of France, having, first of all, managed to delude himself on the subject. I am not going to give you any of the details or statistics which I brought together in that little publication, but I will give you a summary in two lines. I took great trouble and pains to make out a tabular statement of the amount of money expended in the French and English dockyards from 1835 every year down to 1859, and I took at the same time a tabular statement of the number of seamen maintained each year by the two countries. The result was as I have already broadly stated—that, so far from the present Government of France having increased its preparations of naval force as compared with our own, it was far less, year by year, in proportion to ours, than it had been from the time of Louis Philippe, when Sir R. Peel was in office. I will give a comparison between the first and last years of the two dates. The expenditure for wages in the English and French dockyards, and the number of seamen in the English and French navies, in 1835, when Sir R. Peel and the Duke of Wellington were in power, and in 1859, the year preceding that in which Lord Palmerston proposed his vast scheme of fortifications, was—in 1835: English expenditure in dockyards, 376,377l.; French, 343,032l. In 1859: English expenditure in dockyards, 1,582, 112l.; French, 772,931l.; making the English increase 1,205,735l., and the French, 429,899l.; so that the English outlay within the period was nearly three times as great as the French. The number of seamen—for the comparative power of any two naval countries is known by the number of its seamen—the number of British seamen employed in 1855 was 26,041; in 1859, 72,400; the number of French seamen engaged in the same periods, was 16,628 and 38,470 respectively; showing the French increase to have been less than half that of England.
Now, I have told you that the whole of the opinion of this country upon the subject of the naval preparations of France has originated in the misrepresentations of our present Prime Minister, and this brings us to the very part referred to in the resolution before you. There is no doubt that, when the present Government came into power, one of their great claims to the confidence of the Liberal party was that they should keep on friendly terms with France, since the danger was that the Tories would go to war with France. Well, what has been the course pursued ever since the present Prime Minister came into office? Why, for three years, he has hardly attended a public meeting of any kind, whether it has been social, political, charitable, or anything else, but he has somehow contrived to insinuate in it something of an apprehension of an invasion from France. Promising us peace with France, he has been calling out 'invasion' ever since. We ought to advertise, 'Wanted, a Minister, who, whilst promising, par excellence, to keep the peace with France, shall give the tax-payers of this country some of the advantages of peace.' The practice of a ruffian that walks your streets is to keep himself from harm by carrying a bludgeon, or perhaps a knife in his pocket. But that is not the mode of preserving peace which respectable people adopt. We want a Minister who, if he has a good understanding with the Government of France, has the skill to employ that good understanding with the Government of France in such a manner as would bring about economy and rational relationships between the two countries by promoting a dimination rather than an increase of forces.
But now, what shall we say of a statesman who, whilst professing to be afraid of an invasion from France, who is constantly telling you that you must be armed—armed, constantly armed and drilled, because you may be attacked any night from the other side of the Channel—but who is, at the very same time, carrying on a most close and intimate system of alliances, even entering into joint expeditions in various parts of the world, and, in fact, going into partnership with a warlike purpose with the very man who at any night might become an invader? Now, I ask you, if you read of Chatham or Sir R. Peel doing such things as that, would they have ever stood out in history as men deserving for one moment the serious esteem of thousands of mankind? Why, it is making statesmanship a joke. It is making a wry face on one side in the way of a laugh, and on the other side it is making a profession of solemnity. It is a mere joke; it is not serious thought. But it is more. If the man is in earnest when he tells you that he apprehends a danger of an invasion at any time from the other side of the Channel, where must be his intelligence, his patriotism, if he enters into partnership with the very man that he is afraid is coming to play him such a clandestine trick as that? If he believes what he says, he ought to avoid all contact with such a man, since he was mistaken in his estimate of the man's character. If he is not serious, why then he still more betrays the country that he rules, because he offers to that man insults; and he is continually giving him and his country an inducement to play that statesman a scurvy trick, and through him the people whom such a statesman drags into an alliance.
Now, I have told you, and I tell it you upon my honour, and could give it you on the most solemn pledge, that I can give it to my countrymen or my constituents—I tell you that there is not a shadow of foundation in fact for all that has been said by the Prime Minister for the last three years upon the subject of an increase of the French navy in relation to our own. For, bear in mind, that cry of invasion would have done nothing unless it had been backed by something more practical and substantial to satisfy the practical English mind. We have been told over and over again—I have heard it myself—that France was making great preparations to equal us as a naval Power. I tell you that there is not the slightest shadow of foundation in fact for such a statement. I have shown you what France spent in her dockyards during the year 1859; that, while we spent in 1859—the year before the fortification scheme (upon which I am going to say a word)—1,582,000l. in our dockyards for wages only, for the wages of artificers, in constructing ships of war, France spent 772,000l., or less than one-half; and as we can build ships so much cheaper than France, that we can send ships to France and pay a duty of twenty per cent. upon them—then, I ask you how could France, having spent less than half for wages in her dockyards, where her artisans are acknowledged to be inferior to ours,—how could France, spending half the money we spent, have been in the way of preparing a fleet to rival or to equal our own? When I was in France, and those statements were constantly made, I confess to you I was ashamed of them as an Englishman—placed there to represent, in a certain sense, the Queen and this great country—I was ashamed of those constant statements that were being made by the Prime Minister of this country to the House of Commons; while the Government of France was lost in bewilderment as to the motives of these repeated assertions. My friend M. Chevallier—who is not only my friend, but also the friend of every man who wishes for progress and the enlightenment and prosperity of mankind—he and I spent many an hour over the statistics of the two countries, trying if we could find a shadow of foundation for the statements that were constantly being made in England with a view to excite you to a jealousy and a fear of the French nation; and we could not find the slightest shadow of a ground for anything that had been said. The Government of France put forward in their organs of the press the most emphatic denial of those statements; but, not merely that, several of our most able practical men in the House of Commons—so astonished and puzzled were they by the constant statements made there by the Prime Minister—actually took the trouble either to go to France themselves, or to send trusty agents. For instance, Mr. Lindsay went to France, and himself consulted the Minister of Marine; Mr. Dalgleish, the Member for Glasgow, who had been appointed on a commission to examine into our dockyards, went to France himself to inquire into the matter; Sir Morton Peto sent a trusted agent, a practical man, who was allowed to go and visit the French dockyards. Others took the same course, and they came back to the House of Commons, and stated their convictions of the utter groundlessness of these statements.
Now, what motive, I ask you, could be sufficient to make a public man like myself come before you and advance these statements, if they were not true? What motive could those Members of Parliament of whom I have been speaking—they were not official men—what motive could they have but the best and most patriotic of motives, in going to France to satisfy themselves of the truth of this matter? Well, then, I say there is not a shadow of foundation for the statements that have been made. I will tell you what there is a truth in,—we have spent money, no doubt, in building useless and antiquated vessels; we went on wasting our money upon sailing vessels long after it was known that nothing but steam-vessels would be of any use; we have gone on squandering our money upon wooden vessels long after it was known that iron would supersede wood. Well, but France has not wasted quite so much as we have. I don't give her or any other Government credit for being quite so economical and so wise as it should be in the matter of its expenditure; but France, not having spent her money quite so foolishly as we generally have, has managed to present something that was going to be done a little earlier than we did; and it was because we had wasted our money in useless constructions that we raised the cry of an invasion from France to cover the misdeeds and defalcations of our own Government. Recollect, I am not now leaving this an open question as to whether France had certain designs upon us. I don't rest my case upon any assumed friendliness on the part of any Government. I am speaking as to matters of fact, and I say that you have been grossly, you have been completely deluded. This country has been misled altogether by the statements that have been made from what should have been the highest authorities upon the subject of the preparations of France.
Well, now, it was under this state of things,—I have told you what the comparative strength of the English and French navies in 1859 was,—that the very year following, Lord Palmerston brought forward his gigantic scheme of fortifications for this country, and that is a subject upon which I wish to say a word or two, because it has in one sense a far more important bearing than any other on our military and naval expenditure. In the session of 1860, the Prime Minister himself brought forward a scheme of fortifications for which he proposed to borrow money. The original scheme embraced vast detached forts in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth, going over the South Downs some seven or eight miles—so vast, so extensive, so far inland, that we passed an Act in the House of Commons to abolish an ancient fair, at which cattle were sold on the South Downs, in order that the place might be occupied with these great forts; it embraced a plan for a large fort in the midland counties, on Cannock Chase; and the whole scheme was devised at an estimated cost of about nine or ten millions sterling, but by those who thought upon the subject—I was in Paris while all this was going on—it was said that it would be more likely to reach twenty or thirty millions than nine or ten, if it were ever allowed to begin. In bringing forward that measure for these fortifications, not one word was said in the speech of the Prime Minister respecting our ability to defend ourselves at sea, though our force was double that of France; he assumed that an enemy would land and burn our dockyards, and these fortifications were devised in order to protect our fleets. Why, I always used to think our navy was intended to defend us, and that we had not occasion to build forts to defend our navy. You remember the anecdote told of Nelson, when he had an audience of George III., during the great French war, and during the time when there was a talk of invasion. The King said, in his curious repetitive way, 'Well, Admiral, well, Admiral, do you think the French will come? do you think the French will come? do you think the French will come?' 'Well,' replied Nelson, 'I can only answer for it that they will not come by sea.' Well, we seem to have abandoned altogether that confidence in our navy. I think, after having spent twice as much as the French for making our navy, and paying for twice as many sailors to man our navy, that we are cowards if we are assuming that any enemy is coming to land upon our shores. But, however, this great scheme of fortifications was brought in, and it was passed like everything else is in this House of Commons.
Now, I will tell you what the effect of that will be, and, perhaps, it has not been sufficiently thought of by the country. You are borrowing the money to make these fortifications—borrowing it for thirty years. Mark the insidious process by which you are allowing this grand scheme to be accomplished. If the Government had to ask every year for the money in the Estimates to come out of the taxes, I would engage for it that the 1,200,000l. wanted the last session would not have been voted, because it would have been needful to lay on fresh taxes, and fresh taxes would not have been laid on. But they borrowed the money, and so this expenditure of pretty nearly a million and a quarter is got from a loan. I will tell you what the consequence will be. You are going on building fortifications, which, according to the estimate of Sir Frederick Smith, the Member for Chatham, who opposed this scheme from beginning to end—and he is about the highest authority we have in the House of Commons, for he has been a professor of engineering, and is a man of high and acknowledged talent—according to the estimate of Sir Frederick Smith, those great forts in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth alone will require 30,000 men to man them, and the other forts will require 60,000 or 70,000 more men to man them. Now, once build those forts, and you must have an army to keep them, otherwise you must blow them up again, because nothing can be more unwise, as everybody will see, than to build forts and leave them unprotected, to be taken and occupied by an enemy. I will tell you what this scheme is. I don't say what men's motives are,—I only tell you what the effect of this scheme will be. We are just now getting into a discussion with respect to the policy of keeping an army for the defence of our colonies. Very soon that discussion will ripen—as all discussions in this country are apt in time to do—into a triumph of the true principle, and the colonists, who are much better able to do so than we are, will be left to defend themselves, or, if they call upon us to defend them, will have to contribute towards the expense. We shall be able to withdraw from the Colonies, nobody can tell how many—it may be 20,000—troops. Here you have a plan—I don't attribute motives—but, if the design was to prepare a mode by which the governing class of this country, who, unless they have been very much maligned, would like excuses for keeping up our military establishments, could keep them up—here will be a good excuse furnished them for keeping every man of those troops at home. You will have the fortifications built, and you must have an army to put into them, and that will be just the result of this fortification scheme.
Well, gentlemen, there is no doubt in the world that all this is the work of one man; it is the work of your Prime Minister. I don't question the man's sincerity, but he is under an impression, he is under a delusion, I don't hardly know what to call it, because I wish to observe the proprieties, but he is under the delusion that he is living in about 1808, and, as long as he lives, you will not rescue him from that delusion. I can make every allowance for one in his position for entertaining such delusions, but what must we say of his colleagues? They are silent. The Prime Minister has to start up every moment to defend every detail of the plan of fortifications. If the Minister at War gets up to say a word upon it, it is in such a languid fashion, with such a total absence evidently of all knowledge on the subject, that it savours of the burlesque. Mr. Gladstone has never said one word in support of this grand scheme. I need not say that such men as Mr. Milner Gibson and Mr. Villiers are entirely silent upon it. It is wholly the work of one man, and that is the Prime Minister; and there is not a man in the House of Commons who, behind the scenes, will not admit that it would be impossible to carry out such a scheme as that, if it were not the act of the present Prime Minister. It is opposed more or less in its details, and denounced by every authority. You saw the opposition to it last session, which was not on the part of the so-called peace men; our friend Mr. Bright was not present for a great period of it, but it was opposed by eminent naval and military authorities. It was opposed by Sir Frederick Smith, the hon Member for Chatham, and by Mr. Bernal Osborne. It was such men as these who opposed this scheme, and yet it was carried by the Prime Minister.
Now, I say, what shall be said of his colleagues? What shall be said of the House of Commons? No doubt these great monstrosities and excrescences in our towns, on our plains, and on our heaths, will be ridiculed by future generations, will be looked at and pointed at as Palmerston's follies. Well, there may be an excuse for a Minister verging on four-score, who was brought up in the middle of the wars of the first French Revolution—there may be an excuse for him. But what excuse is there for the manhood and intellect of this country in allowing itself to be dragged into wasteful extravagance and follies like this, and to be made the laughing-stock of nations, to gratify the whim, the mere whim, of a Prime Minister? Are we not become as politicians an enfeebled generation? Look at the speeches that are made everywhere. What is there in them? Is there no taste for anything having good stuff in it,—having, what you call, the weft in it? We seem to have fallen or entered upon our decline, unless some revival or vigorous effort is made to get us out of the terrible trouble in which this district is now involved. How is it that such a state of things as this can exist in Parliament? I'll tell you how it is: we have not an honest state of parties in Parliament. That is the whole thing in a few words. It is a hard truth, but it is the truth, that parties are not on an honest basis in Parliament. You have got a Prime Minister who is at your head, who professes to lead the Liberal party, and—as I have said to his face in the House of Commons—is about the staunchest Tory we have there. The consequence is, that the Tories—particularly the most antiquated and incorrigible Tories—are not the men who intend to be in office; they could not go farther than he does; and so the Tories who sit below the gangway, on the Opposition side, are supporting the present Prime Minister. And why? For a very good reason. He spends far more money to obstruct reform, and that more effectually, than the Tories would, if they were in office. I volunteer my deliberate opinion that he is spending five millions more of the nation's money every year than would be spent if the Tories were in power. We are in this most anomalous position: the High Tories are in power, but not in office. We, the Liberals, are responsible for what is being done, and if we protest against it, our leader calls in the aid of the Opposition, and the Tories enable him to carry his measures in spite of us. There cannot be anything more unfortunate for the country than such a state of parties. There can be nothing so bad in public or private as a man holding a position for which he is not responsible, which is the position the Prime Minister occupies at this moment. He is not responsible to us; he carries on the policy of the Tories, and is supported by them. And there is no remedy for this state of things, that I am aware of, but in the change that shall make the party which is ruling and governing become responsible for the Government.
Now, let us suppose that, instead of our being on the Government side, we were on the Opposition, and let us suppose Mr. Disraeli in power with Lord Derby. You might say it is the practice of the Tory party to spend as much as they can for the military and the naval services. That is true, unless we have very much maligned them all our days. Not that the Tory party has been desirous of engaging in a larger expenditure than the present Ministry has. But bear in mind, that from the moment they got into office other motives came into play. They will make great sacrifices of their own interests in the way of expenditure in order to preserve office, and when they are in power they will immediately begin to carry out works of reform and retrenchment in order to remain there. But, whilst they are in Opposition, as they are now. they are willing enough to see all this extravagance and all this obstruction of reform on the part of a so-called Liberal Government, because it is doing two things: it is giving them an expenditure which they like, while it does not saddle them with the responsibilities of office. But it is doing another thing: it is so damaging the so-called Liberal party, that they know it is only a question of time as to when we shall go out of power, and the more they can tar us with their own brush before we leave, the less we shall have to say in opposition to them when they get there. I don't argue in favour of bringing any party into power, but what I do say is this, that it is dishonouring to us, the so-called Liberals, to sit where we are on the Government side of the House and see everything administered in opposition to, and in downright derision of, our principles. And it must come to this question, 'Will or can this system go on much longer?' We have two principles at work in our Cabinet, as there are two principles at work in every individual, and in every body of men—there is the good principle, and there is also the evil principle. During the first two years of this Government's existence, the good principle had some influence and power, and it was manifested in those great and those conclusive reforms of the tariff carried out by Mr. Gladstone, in conjunction with the French Treaty. This was, to a certain extent, the triumph of the good principle in the Cabinet. That occurred in 1861. There was the completion of reform in our tariff, so far as protective duties were concerned, and there was the repeal of the paper duty, both being great and comprehensive measures. But during the last session of Parliament the evil principle of the Cabinet was wholly predominant, and gave us no compensation whatever in the form of good measures.
Now, is that to be continued next session? If it be, well then, I say, it is quite impossible, if the so-called Liberal party be true to itself, that they can continue to give their support to the present Government. It would be betraying the people, the constituents that send us to Parliament. We sit there, and know what is going on. We are behind the scenes, and we see what is vulgarly called in the prize ring 'a cross' being fought between the leader of our party and the worst part of the party opposite, by which we are victimised and you are betrayed. But to continue to witness that, and to connive at it, we betray our trust. We must separate ourselves from that state of things if it is to go on any longer. You cannot expect the constituents to fight the battles of reform if they see that their chief who represents them in the House of Commons is in fact handing them over to their enemies. Why, how would M'Clellan's troops fight in the army of the Potomac, if they knew that M'Clellan had a secret understanding with Jefferson Davis and Beauregard? Now that seems to be very much our case, as a Liberal party.
Well, gentlemen, there will be something for us to do next session. We shall see. We shall see whether the good or the evil principle is predominant in the Cabinet, and the proof will be found in the measures of next session. I can only say for myself, that if the next session is to be anything like the last, and I should not be deprived of my vocal powers by the frosts of the winter, you may depend upon it my voice will be raised in protest against such a state of things. And I will do my best to put an end to it. I will not forget the resolution you have passed—that if the Ministry don't carry out their pledges and their principles, the best thing for them will be to go into Opposition.
I have only a word more to say. We are not merely dealing with financial reform. I am of opinion—and the opinion grows every day, in spite of the apparent apathy that is on the surface—I am more and more of opinion that the true solution of our political difficulties—I mean this state of parties—will only be found in reform of Parliament. I hold to that opinion more and more. I don't see what it is to be, or where it is to go to; but this I know, that the longer you wait for reform the more you will have, because these changes always pay great interest for keeping. For my part, I am moderate—people, when they get grey-haired, always get moderate: I should like something done, and done quickly; but of this I am certain, that you can have no great rectification of this state of parties until you have a reform of Parliament, or, at all events, a party in opposition that is honestly advocating a reform of Parliament. We are frequently asked, 'What would that do?' I am not fond of predictions; but, as that has been thrown out as a challenge—as they frequently say, 'What would you get by a reform of Parliament that you don't get now?'—I will answer that challenge. It is my firm belief that, with a thorough representation of the people of this country, the extravagant expenditure in warlike armaments in time of peace would not be possible. I don't say that the whole people would not go to war sometimes. I should not pretend to say that the English people are altogether certain to keep the peace; but this I do say, that there is something in the self-assurance, and in the dignity, and in the high sense of security which great multitudes of men feel, which would prevent their lending themselves to these delusions, to burden themselves with these enormous expenses, in order to protect themselves against imaginary dangers. The late panics with regard to France never penetrated amongst the mass of the working people—they rested amongst a section of the middle and upper classes. If anybody asks me the question in a spirit of defiance, 'What could you do with a reform of Parliament that you cannot do now?' I assure you,—I do not say it as any more than an opinion, though it is my earnest belief, that if you had a thorough representation in Parliament, you could not persuade the people of this country to spend half the money that is now spent under the pretence of protecting them, but which is really spent in order that certain parties may get some sort of benefit out of it. I am very sorry to have detained you so long. ['Go on.'] You know I never give any peroration to my speeches. When I have finished, I sit down.
I have nothing more to say, but to thank you most cordially for this kind and friendly welcome, sincerely hoping that your stout hearts may bear you manfully through your present difficulties, believing, as I do, that our countrymen will come gladly to your rescue, and assuring you, as I do, that wherever I may be, my humble voice and influence shall not be wanting, in any way, to aid you in your present difficulties.
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