Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
Since I last had the pleasure of meeting you here, I have had the honour of addressing many large assemblies of my fellow-countrymen; but I can assure you I return to this magnificent gathering with increased surprise and gratification at the ardour and enthusiasm that I see to prevail in the metropolis. I am told that we are favoured this night with the attendance of many visitors who are neither very well informed, nor, of course, very much convinced on our question. Now, will you, who sit on the front form in our seminary, condescend to make a little allowance if I give to these young pupils a lesson in the elementary principles of Free Trade, and endeavour to send them away as efficient missionaries as doubtless you have been in our cause? But then, I hope our good friends the reporters will spare their fingers, that they may not convict me of tautology. We will begin at the beginning. Now, we are 'Free Traders;' and what is Free Trade? Not the pulling down of all customhouses, as some of our wise opponents the dukes and earls have lately been trying to persuade the agricultural labourers; I should think it would do with nobody else. By Free Trade we mean the abolition of all protective duties. It is very possible that our children, or at all events their offspring, may be wise enough to dispense with customhouse duties altogether. They may think it prudent and economical to raise their revenues by direct taxation, without circumventing their foreign trade. We do not propose to do that; but there are a class of men who have taken possession of the Custom-house, and have installed their clerks there, to collect revenue for their own particular benefit, and we intend to remove them out of the Custom-house.
Now, I want to impress on our new friends, these students in Free Trade, to remind them of that which I have frequently dwelt upon, and which cannot be too often repeated, that this system of monopoly is analogous in every respect to that which existed 250 years ago under the Tudors and the Stuarts, when sovereigns granted monopolies to the creatures of their courts for the exclusive sale of wine, leather, salt, and other things, and which system our forefathers, at great labour and heavy sacrifice, utterly extirpated. One by one these monopolies were abolished; and, not content with destroying the existing monopolies, they passed a law, which became, as it were, a fundamental principle in our Constitution, that no sovereign, thenceforth or for ever, should have the power of granting a monopoly to anybody for the exclusive sale of any necessary commodity of life. Now, what I want to impress on our young learners is this, that that which sovereigns cannot do, a band of men united together—the selfish oligarchy of the sugar-hogshead and the flour-sack—have done. They have got together in the House of Commons, and by their own Acts of Parliament have appropriated to their own classes the very privileges, the self-same monopolies, or monopolies as injurious in every respect to the interests of the people, as those monopolies were which our forefathers abolished two centuries and a half ago. There is no difference whatever in the effect of a monopoly in the sale of sugar held by a few men, the owners of those specks of land in the West Indies (for specks they are compared with the South American continent, the East Indies, Siam, China, the Indian Archipelago, and those other countries from which sugar might be supplied); there is no earthly difference in its effect on the community, whether a body of men in London take to themselves a monopoly in the sale of sugar, or whether Queen Victoria granted that monopoly to one of the noblemen of her court. Well, our forefathers abolished this system; at a time, too, mark you, when the sign manual of the sovereign had somewhat of a divine sanction and challenged superstitious reverence in the minds of the people. And shall we, the descendants of those men, be found so degenerate, so unworthy of the blood that flows in our veins, so recreant to the very name of 'Englishmen,' as not to shake off this incubus, laid on as it is by a body of our fellow-citizens?
I believe some of our visitors here to-night are of what is called 'the agricultural interest.' They are probably curious to know why it is that we, professing to be Free Traders in everything, should restrict the title of our association to that of 'The National Anti-Corn-Law League.' I will explain the reason. We advocate the abolition of the Cornlaw, because we believe that to be the foster-parent of all other monopolies; and if we destroy that—the parent, the monster monopoly—it will save us the trouble of devouring all the rest. We have had now, for more than twenty years, a succession of Cabinets every one of them claiming the merit in the eyes of the people of England of being Free-trade Administrations; from the year 1823, when Mr. Huskisson proposed his extensive changes in our commercial system,—when he became installed, as it were, the very lion of the aristocratic coteries of London, as a Free Trader—a Free Trader in silks and ribbons, French lace, and the like,—from that time to this we have never wanted a Government willing to take the credit to themselves of being Free Traders. If I wanted an argument to convince you that we are right in the title that we have taken, and the direction we have given to our agitation, I would show it in the conduct of Sir Robert Peel two years ago. He then boasted that he had propounded the largest measure of commercial reform of any Minister in this country; he brought in his tariff with an alteration of 500 or 600 articles therein. I looked over it again and again, expecting to find corn there, but was disappointed. The right hon. Baronet was asked why corn was not there? and his reply was, 'It has always been customary in this country to treat corn differently from every other item in the tariff.' In that significant reply of the Prime Minister do we find a justification for the title of our agitation, and the direction in which we carry it. You will have reform enough in colonial asses, caviare, fiddlesticks, and other equally important matters. You will have all those items very diligently attended to. Do you look after corn, and corn will take care of all the rest. Thus have I told our new visitors what 'Free Trade' means, and why we almost exclusively advocate the repeal of the Corn-laws, instead of taking a wider purpose.
Now, what are the objections alleged against the adoption of Free-trade principles? First of all, take the most numerous body—the working class—by far the most important in the consideration of this question: for probably ninetenths of all the population of this country are dependent on labour, either the hard work of hands, or the equally hard toil of heads. I say, take their case first. We are told this system of restriction is for the benefit of the labourers. We are informed by the earls, dukes, and the squires, that the price of corn regulates the rate of wages; and that, if we reduce the price of corn by a free trade in that article, we shall only bring down the rate of wages. Now, I see a good many working people in this assembly, and would ask them whether, in any bargain ever made for labour in London, the question of corn or its price was ever made an element in that agreement? Why, look at your hackney-coach and watermen's fares, and at your ticket-porters' charges. Your own Corporation, in their bye-laws and Acts of Parliament regulating the wages of a variety of labourers in this metropolis, have been strangely oblivious of this sliding scale of corn, when they have fixed a permanent rate of wages. I think I have heard lately something about women who
I want to know whether the wages of those poor creatures are regulated by the price of corn. I thought I had settled that matter, as far as regards the working man, at the time Sir Robert Peel brought in his Corn Bill two years ago. I then moved an amendment to this effect:—'Resolved, That before we proceed to pass a law having for its object to raise, artificially, the price of bread, it is expedient and just that we should first of all consider how far it is practicable to raise in proportion the wages of labourers in this country.' I was determined I would stop that gap for the monopolists for ever; and accordingly I brought on my amendment; and was then informed by Sir Robert Peel,—'It is quite impossible we can fix the rate of wages in this country. Parliament has no power to settle the rate of wages; that must be settled by the competition of the world's market.' I forced the monopolists to a division on this matter, determined that it should not be a sham motion; and we accordingly had a division. The right honourable Baronet and all his friends walked out at one door, and I had some twenty or thirty who accompanied me out at the other. We had not been back again in the House five minutes before this body of innocents were busy passing a law to prevent the price of their corn being settled by 'the competition of the world's market.' I shall not be surprised some night, perhaps when my friend Mr. Villiers brings forward his next motion, in going down to St. Stephen's, to see a bit of paper fixed to the door of that place with something of this kind written upon it: 'Corn and cattle-dealers to be found within. No competition allowed with the shop over the water.'
Now, the first and greatest count in my indictment against the Corn-law is, that it is an injustice to the labourers of this and every other country. My next charge is, that it is a fraud against every man of capital engaged in any pursuit, and every person of fixed income not derived from land. I will take the trader. I am a manufacturer of clothing, and I do not know why, in this climate, and in the artificial state of society in which we live, the making of clothes should not be as honourable—because it is pretty near as useful—a pursuit as the manufacture of food. Well, did you ever hear any debates in the House to fix the price of my commodities in the market? Suppose we had a majority of cotton-printers (which happens to be my manufacture) in the House: and if we had a majority I have no doubt we should find Sir Robert Peel quite willing to do our work for us: he is the son of a cotton-printer, and I dare say he would do it for us as well as any one else. Let us suppose that you were reading the newspaper some fine morning, and saw an account of a majority of the House having been engaged the night before in fixing the price at which yard-wide prints should be sold: 'Yardwide prints, of such a quality, 10d. a yard; of such a quality, 9d.; of such a quality. 8d.; of such a quality, 7d.,' and so on. Why, you would rub your eyes with astonishment! You would clear your spectacles, if you wore any, and you would doubt your own senses! The very boys in the streets leading to Parliament, and the cabmen and omnibus-drivers, would hoot and hiss us out of the metropolis! Now, did it ever occur to you that there is no earthly difference between a body of men, manufacturers of corn, sitting down in the House, and passing a law enacting that wheat shall be so much, barley so much, beans so much, and oats so much?
Why, then, do you look at this monopoly of corn with such complacency? Simply because you and I and the rest of us have a superstitious reverence for the owners of those sluggish acres, and have a very small respect for ourselves and our own vocation. I say the Corn-law monopolists, who arrogate to themselves power in the House of Commons, are practising an injustice on every other species of capitalists. Take the iron trade, for example—a prodigious interest in this country. Iron of certain qualities has gone down in price, during the last five or six years, from 15l. 10s to 5l. 10s. per ton. Men have seen their fortunes—ay, I have known them—dwindle away from 300,000l. till now they could not sit down and write their wills for 100,000l. Well, did any man ever hear in the House of Commons an attempt made to raise a cry about these grievances there, or to lodge a complaint against the Government or the country because they could not keep up the price of iron? Has any man come forward there proposing that by some law pig-iron should be so much, and bar-iron of such a price, and other kinds of iron in proportion? No; neither has this been the case with any other interest in the country. But how is it with corn? The very first night I was present in the House this session, I saw the Prime Minister get up, having a paper before him, and he was careful to tell us what the price of corn had been for the last fifty years, and what it was now. He is employed for little else but as a kind of corn-steward, to see how the prices may be kept up for his masters.
What are the grounds on which this system is maintained? The farmer is put forward—the interests of the farmer and the farm-labourer are put forward—as the pretext for maintaining this monopoly. I have heard the admission made at agricultural meetings by landlords themselves, that there are twenty farmers bidding for every farm, and that they excuse themselves to the farmers at these very meetings that they let their land at the full value, and they cannot help it. It is not their fault because there are these twenty farmers bidding for every farm that is vacant. Now, I would ask you, or the merest tyro in this question, if there be twenty farmers bidding for every farm, and the law can raise the price of the produce of that farm, do you think that one out of those twenty farmers will get the benefit of that rise in price? Will not the other nineteen take care that it is brought down by competition to the ordinary profit of trade in this country? The farmers have been too long deluded by the mere cry of 'Protection.' We read of it now in every meeting—'Protection to the farmers.' It is destruction to the farmers. The word should be changed from 'protection' to 'destruction,' and it would then be more expressive of the effect of the Corn-law on the farmers.
With respect to the farm-labourers, our opponents tell us that our object in bringing about the repeal of the Cornlaws is, by reducing the price of corn, to lower the rate of their wages. I can only answer upon this point for the manufacturing districts; but, as far as they are concerned, I state it most emphatically as a truth, that, for the last twenty years, whenever corn has been cheap wages have been high in Lancashire; and, on the other hand, when bread has been dear wages have been greatly reduced. Now, I distinctly put this statement on record, and challenge any one to controvert it. Wages may possibly be affected by the price of food in the agricultural districts, and rise and fall in proportion; but if they do, it is simply for this reason—that they have reached their minimum, or the point at which they verge towards what you might call slave labour, when a man gets in the best of times only as much as will keep him in health. When corn rises, equal food must be given to the labourer to eat, just upon the same principle as farmers or others give an equal quantity of corn to their horses in dear years as they do in periods of cheapness, in order that they may be maintained in health, and be equal to the amount of labour which is wanted of them. But whenever the value of labour rises and falls in the agricultural districts with the price of food, it must be because those wages have previously sunk to that point which is next in degree to the wages which slaves obtain for their labour. Now, let me be fully understood as to what Free Traders really do want. We do not want cheap corn merely in order that we may have low money prices. What we desire is plenty of corn, and we are utterly careless what its price is, provided we obtain it at the natural price. All we ask is this, that corn shall follow the same law which the monopolists in food admit that labour must follow; that 'it shall find its natural level in the markets of the world.'
And now, what would be the process of this equalisation of prices? I think I can give you the rationale of it. The effect of free trade in corn will be this: It would increase the demand for agricultural produce in Poland, Germany, and America. That increase in the demand for agricultural produce would give rise to an increased demand for labour in those countries, which would tend to raise the wages of the agricultural labourers. The effect of that would be to draw away labourers from manufactures in all those places. To pay for that corn, more manufactures would be required from this country; this would lead to an increased demand for labour in the manufacturing districts, which would necessarily be attended with a rise of wages, in order that the goods might be made for the purpose of exchanging for the corn brought from abroad. Whether prices would be equalised, according to the opinion expressed by my Lord Spencer, by a rise in the price of bread abroad to the level at which it is here, or whether it would be by a fall in the prices here to the level at which they now exist on the Continent, would not make the least earthly difference to the Free Traders; all they ask is, that they shall be put in the same position with others, and that there should be no bar or hindrance to the admission of food from any quarter into this country. I observe there are narrow-minded men in the agricultural districts, telling us, 'Oh, if you allow Free Trade, and bring in a quarter of corn from abroad, it is quite clear that you will sell one quarter less in England.' Those men, fellow-countrymen, who utter such nonsense as this, are a sample of the philosophers who are now governing this country. What! I would ask, if you can set more people to work at better wages—if you can clear your streets of those spectres which are now haunting your thoroughfares begging their daily bread—if you can depopulate your workhouses, and clear off the two millions of paupers which now exist in the land, and put them to work at productive industry—do you not think that they would consume some of the wheat as well as you; and may not they be, as we are now, consumers of wheaten bread by millions, instead of existing on their present miserable dietary? Mark me: these philosophical men, so profoundly ignorant of what is immediately around them, but who meet us at every turn with prophecies of what is going to happen in future, will tell us, forsooth, that Free Trade will throw their land out of cultivation, and deprive their labourers of employment.
Now, we put against the prophecies of these selfish, ignorant beings the predictions of the most eminent and skilful, in agriculture in this land. I will take my Lord Ducie, who confessedly stands at the head of the arable farmers of this country, and my Lord Spencer, who is admitted to be the first of the grazing farmers of England; I will take the biggest-headed and shrewdest farmers and tenants in every county; and if the monopolists will give me a Committee of the House of Commons, which I intend to move for, they shall be examined before it; and these practical men will, every one of them, predict what I have also predicted (although I claim to be no authority), that, with free trade in corn, so far from throwing land out of use or injuring the cultivation of the poorer soils, free trade in corn is the very way to increase the production at home, and stimulate the cultivation of the poorer soils by compelling the application of more capital and labour to them. We do not contemplate deriving one quarter less corn from the soil of this country; we do not anticipate having one pound less of butter or cheese, or one head less of cattle or sheep: we expect to have a great increase in production and consumption at home; but all we contend for is this, that when we, the people here, have purchased all that can be raised at home, we shall be allowed to go 3000 miles—to Poland, Russia, or America—for more; and that there shall be no let or hindrance put in the way of our getting this additional quantity.
Now, we are met by the monopolists with this objection:—If you have a free trade in corn, foreigners will send you their wheat here, but they will take nothing in return. The argument employed, in fact, amounts to this, if it amounts to anything—That they will give us their corn for nothing. I know not what can exceed the absurdity of these men, if they be honest, or their shallow and transparent knavery, if they be dishonest, in putting forward such an argument as that. If there be a child here, I will give him a lesson which will make him able to go home and laugh to scorn those who talk about reciprocity, and induce to make fools'-caps and bonfires of the articles in the Morning Post or Herald. Now, I will illustrate that point. I will take the case of a tailor living in one of your streets, and a provision-dealer living in another, and this busybody of a reciprocity-man living somewhere between the two. He sees this tailor going every Saturday night empty-handed to the provision-dealer, and bringing home upon his shoulder a side of bacon, under one arm a cheese, and under the other a keg of butter. Well, this reciprocity-man, being always a busbody, takes the alarm, and says, 'There is a one-sided trade going on there, I must look after it.' He calls on the tailor, and says, 'This is a strange trade you are doing! You are importing largely from that provision-dealer, but I do not find that you are exporting any cloths, or coats, or waistcoats, in return?' The tailor answers him, 'If you feel any alarm at this, ask the provision-dealer about it: I am all right, at all events.' Away goes the reciprocity gentleman to the provision shop, and says, 'I see you are doing a very strange business with that tailor; you are exporting largely provisions, but I do not see that you import any clothes from him: how do you get paid?' 'Why, man, how should I?' replies the provision-dealer, 'in gold and silver, to be sure!' Then the reciprocity-man is seized with another crotchet, and forthwith begins to talk about 'the drain of bullion.' Away he flies to the tailor, and says, 'Why, you will be ruined entirely! What a drain of the precious metals is going on from your till! That provision-dealer takes no clothes from you: he will have nothing but gold and silver for his goods.' 'Ay, man,' replies the tailor, 'and where do you think I get the gold and silver from? Why, I sell my clothes to the grocer, the hatter, the bookseller, the cabinet-maker, and one hundred others, and they pay me in gold and silver. And pray, Mr. Busybody, what would you have me to do with it? Do you think my wife and family would grow fat on gold and silver?' Now, if there is any little girl or boy in this assembly, I hope they will go home, and for exercise write out that illustration of reciprocity, and show it to any of their friends who may be seized with this crotchet respecting reciprocity and the drain of gold, and see if they cannot laugh them easily out of their delusions.
Well, now, my friend, Mr. Villiers, has alluded to the subject of revenue. I need not go into that point, for he has completely exhausted it; but it was a most impudent pretence which the monopolists set up, and set up in the face of the income-tax, levied upon us, as it were, to be a scourge of thorns to remind us of our sins of ignorance and our neglect of our interests. To think of their having the impudence to tell this to us, with this fact, not staring in our faces, but visiting us in our pockets; to think that this should ever be advanced again—that the monopolists keep up the revenue—is to me the most monstrous piece of impudence I ever heard of in my life. Now, we want the farmers to understand precisely what the National Anti-Corn-law League is, and what its objects are. We are not going to allow the landlords to carry off the farmers with the old stale watchword and the threadbare arguments again. Why, they had not anything new to offer them, and, therefore, they have started this about the revenue; their agitators are all the old hacks over again; there has not been even a young aristocrat come forward to show a modicum of talent in support of the system. There they are! the same men and the same arguments, and the whole being summed up in 'Protection.' That word 'protection' reminds me of another word that was used by a character in the 'Vicar of Wakefield,' I mean Mr. Jenkinson, who, if ever he wanted to take in anybody, had some talk to them about the 'cosmogony' of the world; and with that word he took in poor Moses with his green spectacles, and actually imposed upon poor Dr. Primrose himself in the same way. Now, this 'protection' is, to my ear, very much like the 'cosmogony' of good Mr. Jenkinson; and I think the men who use it have just about as honest objects in view as Mr. Jenkinson had.
I do not like to turn these meetings into scolding assemblies, for we are too majestic a body to scold any person; but I do like, if possible, to extract a little amusement out of our opponents in this matter; and certainly, when I look through their speeches and read what they have been saying, I must confess I have enjoyed more laughter about these statements than this question has afforded me ever since we began our agitation five years ago. We are going to prepare a pamphlet—I am not sure whether it will not grow into a volume—of elegant extracts from monopolists' speeches! There shall be separate headings to the several extracts. One head shall be, 'argument;' another, 'wit;' a third, 'humour;' a fourth, 'manners;' and a fifth, 'morals;' and you shall see choice specimens of every one of them. There is one worthy gentleman, who, in speaking of the League, has given such a bouquet of flowers of oratory, that I think we ought to put him as a frontispiece to this volume. This gentleman, in the course of about twenty lines, manages to apply about as many abusive epithets to the League:—We are mere 'Jacobins,' 'Jonathan Wilds,' and 'Jack Sheppards.' We are a 'scratch pack of hounds;' and he condescends to explain that that phrase means the odds and ends, or a pack collected from the whole county. The elegant gentleman winds up with the choice appellation of 'ragamuffins.' That is the effusion of Sir Charles Knightley; and I think we must have his portrait for a frontispiece to our volume.
I observe one noble Lord has inquired very innocently, in alluding to our agitation, 'What does all this bobbery mean?' Now, they have let us into a secret in this agitation of theirs. We did not think—I am sure I did not—that there was so much titled ignorance or coroneted vulgarity in the land as I find there is. I confess I did not expect to find the strongest argument coming from such a source, but had hoped to meet with something like decency of manners! Why, who would belong to such a set? If that is the best language they can put out in public, what sort of talk must be theirs in private?
And then for 'violence'—why, we were charged with violence at one time; and I really believe we used to be somewhat violent. Five years ago, when we began, we were small and insignificant, and very poor; fighting our way up in the world. We were really almost compelled to make a noise to attract a hearing. All small things, you know, are generally very noisy; it is the order of nature. See how the little dog barks at the stately steed as he goes along your streets; but the horse takes no notice of him. There was some excuse for us; our cause appeared a desperate one. Now, they must have an excuse, too, for their violence, and I suspect it is the very same we had—they feel their cause to be a desperate one. But I want, in this stage of our agitation, to impress on our friends the necessity of taking warning by the spectacles which our opponents now present, and that they should resolve not to imitate such a bad example. We have got up in the world; we can pay our way. We have the nobles and the gentles of the land in our ranks, and we ought to be very decorous. We can afford to be condescending, even. I should not wonder if we soon begin to ballot for members, and not admit people unless they happen to be 'of the superior kind.'
Our opponents, I presume, intend to spend their money in something like the same way as we have expended ours,—that is, in giving lectures and distributing tracts. How I should like to attend one of their first meetings! Fancy a meeting like this! An orator introduced to deliver a magnificent—magniloquent, I should say—lecture in behalf of starvation! Only think of his exordium and his peroration, with such an inspiring topic! We have heard much boasting of these meetings; we have been told that they are 'farmers' meetings;' but we have not seen the names of any farmers who have made these vulgar speeches of which I have been speaking. Now, as having something like an hereditary right to identify myself with farmers, I do rejoice to say, that, in scanning over all the proceedings of these monopolist gatherings, I have not seen a single instance of vituperation, or anything approaching to vulgarity of language, on the part of the bonâ fide tenant-farmers. The monopolists of corn—the landlords—are the monopolists of all the vulgarity of language! There have been one or two individuals paraded, who have been called 'farmers,' and who have made long speeches; but I have taken pains to inquire a little of their whereabouts, and I find that they are all auctioneers and land-valuers; and it is a remarkable fact, that I have never met with a protectionist orator at the meetings I have attended in the agricultural districts, but he has always turned out an auctioneer or a land-valuer. The land-valuers are a body of men—I mean the land-valuers and auctioneers—who represent the landlord in his very worst aspect; they are persons that have an interest in this system which causes perpetual change and a constant rise in rent; for the more changes there are, or the more failures there are, the more valuing there is for the valuer, and the more selling there is for the auctioneer: though, if you had a system by which prices were steadied, and leases were granted, the land-valuers and auctioneers would not be known in the land; in fact, they are a tribe hardly to be met with in Scotland at the present time.
Now, we expect our opponents will meet us fairly in this matter. We have avoided, although we have been often pressed to do so, interfering with any of their meetings. I hold it to be unjust in this country, wherever meetings are held avowedly upon one side of the question, and to make a demonstration, that anybody should go and interfere with such a meeting, or attempt to put counter-resolutions. I say I hope they will deal fairly with us, but, judging by their conduct in past times, I do not expect they will. I know that monopolist money has been paid for the hire of men to attend and interrupt our meetings ever since we began our agitation. I am now suffering under a hoarseness from an encounter of this kind in the great Town-hall of Birmingham on Monday last. When I arrived in that town I found huge yellow placards posted all over the walls, the cost of which a printer there told me must have been many pounds, professing to emanate from the O'Connor Chartist agitators, calling upon the working men to 'assemble in all their might, and upset these mill tyrants, and drive them out of the town.' Now it is remarkable that there was no printer's name to these placards, therefore there is every reason to suppose they were imported from a distance. The Town-hall was thrown open. A fair public meeting had not been held in Birmingham for six years previously; and I was glad of an opportunity of making my first experiment upon the good sense of the working people of that district. The magnificent building of which I have spoken was crammed, and four-fifths of the audience were working men; for it was in the morning of holiday Monday. About fifty men, however, of another description, were packed in the centre of that meeting. A most notorious individual was placed in the organ-loft by the side of us, who acted as fugleman to the rest. Their object evidently was to prevent the deputation of the League from being heard. While my friend Colonel Thompson—who is even hoarser than I am myself—was speaking, they kept up a continued clamour. When my turn came, I appealed to the 4000 working people, and asked them whether they would allow themselves to be tyrannised over by a handful of men, who, with liberty on their lips, had despotism at heart? In less than five minutes the most disorderly among them were removed from the hall; and the remainder, when they saw two or three of their number carried out by the working men, showed—what such fellows will always show—that they were as great cowards as they had previously shown they were bullies. They were as peaceable as mice in a church for the rest of the meeting; and, I will venture to say, it is the last appearance of that body in the Town-hall of Birmingham.
I know that monopolist money in former times has been so spent and taken by men who have degraded the name they have borne—that is, men of a political party seeking for liberty. I reverence men who make honest efforts, who seek for freedom in any form; but I say that these persons have degraded the sacred name under which they have pretended to work. They have been for the last three years doing nothing but trying to help the aristocracy in maintaining the Corn-laws. Look, I say, at their organ of the press, and you will perceive the character of its leading articles for the last two years. Has it been advocating the object which it professed to be established to promote? No. The staple of its articles are just the counterpart of what you will find in the Morning Post. Look at its leaders—who are they? Men who are ever found trying to thwart us in our honest, single-minded effort to pull down this giant monopoly. Well, then, I say, those men who have been hitherto paid for this work—though I admit that some of them have been fools enough to do the work for nothing—but as they have been paid, I suspect that some of the money that has been raised recently by the monopolists will find its way into the same channel, and that there may be further attempts made of the kind I have alluded to. But I think a body that had the temerity to come into this theatre with such an object would look twice before it made the essay. There may be an attempt made even to interrupt the orderly proceedings of these most important gatherings; for if these meetings continue, and are carried on with the same numbers, order, and decorum with which they are now, speaking a voice that is felt throughout Europe—yes, I know they are felt throughout Europe, and one of the first things inquired for when intelligent foreigners come here is to have an opportunity of seeing such unparalleled demonstrations—I say, if these meetings continue, do you think it will be long before their influence will be found in another place whose locality will be nameless, not far from Parliament-street?
Then, I say, fair play. Let every man follow his own bent in this free country—free, at all events, to hold meetings like this. Let every man attend his own meeting, call together his own, and promote whatever legitimate objects he pleases. We will neither intrude into the meetings of others, nor allow intrusion into ours. If a meeting be held to take the sense of a district, it is the duty of every man to attend; and the votes should be taken to see what the sense of the majority of that district may be. Now, I give notice to the monopolists, that in all my meetings in their counties I invite all comers to oppose me; I will consider their doing so no intrusion. Talk of their meetings! Why, I have been in every county in which they have held them, and I have no hesitation in declaring, that for every hundred they have had gathered together I have had a thousand on every occasion. Take their largest number—in Essex, where it is said they had 600 gathered—we had 6000 at Colchester! Ay, and I promise them that, when the weather comes that is favourable for open-air meeting, I will visit their counties again, and take the opinion of their population. I call my meetings in the same place where their own high authorities always convene theirs—in the county towns, such as Winchester and Salisbury. I could gather ten times the number to hear me as at these recent meetings, though perhaps they may have ten Dukes, fifteen Earls, or a dozen Members of Parliament.
But when I have taken the sense of such meetings in favour of Free Trade, what have the monopolists said upon the subject? That we have carried our resolutions merely by 'the rabble of the towns.' Now, mark this fact: I have observed in every instance that their own organs of the press declare that I am indebted to 'the rabble of the town' for carrying my resolutions. But, now it is this same 'rabble' which they pretend to tell us is opposed to the Anti-Corn-law League! They throw it in our teeth that we are not supported by this very rabble, which they formerly said was our whole support at our openair meetings. They go down to Birmingham and hire fifty, certainly of the dirtiest and most unintelligent fellows they can find, and try to get them to break up the meeting, and then boast that 'the rabble of the town,' as they condescend to call you, are against us.
I will not disguise from you my opinion, that the time is approaching when it will require every effort on the part of Free Traders to carry out the objects which we have in view. I am not one who would, and I never did, underrate the power or the importance of our opponents. There is much work for us to do, but the work shall and will be done. There are men now brought out by this very agitation in every borough and large town that I have visited—new men—not the old hacks of party, but persons drawn out with a solemn and earnest conviction, with a craving after justice and truth in this matter, who are diligently at work in every part of the kingdom. And if we were to be taken off this scene, in which we have been and are now most prominent, and were unable to continue our effort, the question has gone beyond the stage from which it can recede. It only requires that you should continue to disseminate the knowledge which you have, and increase the interest which is felt in London upon this subject, that this question will ultimately be brought to a triumphant issue. It cannot be carried pro or con by such insignificant boroughs as Devizes. Give us the large constituencies—give us, as we will have when another election comes (and you cannot carry this question without a dissolution), every borough in South Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, give us Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Hull, Bristol, and all the large constituencies; give us Liverpool—ay, and give us London—and there is no Minister to be found who can maintain office to carry on a system of monopolies upon the strength of a mere numerical majority of the House of Commons, and by the aid of the representatives of such places as Devizes or St. Albans; there is no Minister who would dare to do it, though the monopolists would be glad to find their tool, if they could, in the face of the united expression of opinion of the great constituencies of this kingdom. But from the moment that you are right in the metropolis—and we are right in all the large towns—that moment the Corn-laws are repealed!
Still, you have work to do in London. I observe that your beaten candidate, who I thought was silenced for ever, at one of his meetings, either by himself or by his chairman, denominated those who voted for Mr. Pattison at the last election as 'the rabble of the City.' Now it so happens that I am entitled to register myself as a voter for the City of London, but have neglected so to do; but I intend at the next revision to register, in order that I may have the honour of joining that 'rabble' which rejected Mr. Baring. Be diligent therefore in disseminating knowledge on this question. The repeal of the Corn-laws will be carried when men understand it. And when you understand it, if you are honest men, you will feel it; if you feel it, at least as I have, you will not be able to be quiet without doing something to put down this great injustice. I exhort you each in your several circles to spread abroad light on this subject. Knowledge is the power—knowledge alone—by which we shall bring this foul system to the dust.
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