Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden
By Richard Cobden
The Speeches contained in these two volumes have been selected and edited at the instance of the Club which was established for the purpose of inculcating and extending those political principles which are permanently identified with Cobden’s career. They form an important part of the collective contribution to political science, which has conferred on their author a reputation, the endurance of which, it may be confidently predicted, is as secure as that of any among the men whose wisdom and prescience have promoted the civilization of the world…. [From the Preface by James E. Thorold Rogers]
James E. Thorold Rogers, ed.
First Pub. Date
London: T. Fisher Unwin
In two volumes. Collected speeches, 1841-1864. First published as a collection in 1870. 3rd edition. Includes biographical "Appreciations" by Goldwin Smith and J. E. Thorold Rogers.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Richard Cobden: frontispiece of Cobden's Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, courtesy of Liberty Fund, Inc.
- Preface, by J. E. Thorold Rogers
- An Appreciation by Goldwin Smith
- An Appreciation by J. E. Thorold Rogers
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 1
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 2
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 3
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 4
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 5
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 6
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 7
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 8
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 9
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 10
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 11
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 12
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 13
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 14
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 15
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 16
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 17
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 18
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 19
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 20
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 21
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 22
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 23
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 24
- Vol. I, Free Trade, Speech 25
- Vol. I, Letter from Mr. Cobden to the Tenant Farmers of England
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 1
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 2
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 3
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 4
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 5
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 6
- Vol. I, Finance, Speech 7
- Vol. II, Russian War, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Russian War, Speech 2
- Vol. II, Russian War, Speech 3
- Vol. II, American War, Speech 1
- Vol. II, American War, Speech 2
- Vol. II, China War, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 2
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 3
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 4
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 5
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 6
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 7
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 8
- Vol. II, Foreign Policy, Speech 9
- Vol. II, India, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Peace, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Peace, Speech 2
- Vol. II, Policy of the Whig Government, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Parliamentary Reform, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Parliamentary Reform, Speech 2
- Vol. II, Parliamentary Reform, Speech 3
- Vol. II, Parliamentary Reform, Speech 4
- Vol. II, Parliamentary Reform, Speech 5
- Vol. II, Education, Speech 1
- Vol. II, Education, Speech 2
- Vol. II, Education, Speech 3
- Vol. II, Education, Speech 4
[The most important or engrossing public business discussed in the Session of 1850 was the dispute between the Foreign Office and the kingdom of Greece in the affair of Pacifico. Towards the end of the year occurred what was called the Papal Aggression, the Pope having divided England into dioceses. This act caused great excitement, and a law was passed, under the name of the ‘Ecclesiastical Titles Act,’ prohibiting the Roman Catholic prelates from adopting territorial designations. From the commencement the Act was a dead letter. In the following speech Mr. Cobden commented on the apathy of the Government of Lord Russell.]
It used to be my practice, when I was agitating with my friend Bright, to stipulate that I should speak before him, and I need not tell you why. In entering this room to-night, I was under the same difficulty that he has expressed. I was not quite aware of the character of the present meeting; but when I looked round upon the countenances of the gentlemen assembled, I perfectly understood the character of the meeting. It comprises, I can vouch for it from personal knowledge, the pith and marrow of the Reform and Free-trade party in South Lancashire. It comprises men who worthily represent those who cannot be present in this room,—men without whose co-operation no election can be carried in South Lancashire, Manchester, or Salford, and against whose opposition it is equally important to know that no victory can be won. I appear here tonight as a spectator and visitor, to be a witness of your reception of those who represent you in Parliament. I am glad to have had the opportunity of beholding the cordial, the kind, and the flattering reception with which you have greeted them. It is right they should be so received by you. They are the men who stand the brunt of abundance of abuse; they have to meet detraction coming from your own city, and professing to express your own sentiments. The shafts of calumny, the mean insinuations of base motives, are continually flung at them—those unfair weapons of political warfare which are never resorted to except when men are either conscious of a bad cause, or acting solely from personal pique and spite. This is the abuse and this is the calumny with which these men have to contend, not only in the arena where they have to fight your battles; but I repeat it, in the very city which they represent, whose best sentiments they express. It is right, when they have to bear the brunt of such attacks, that they should, when they meet you, receive the reward which you
bestow upon them. But I, for my part, come here, not to answer to you for my conduct in Parliament, nor to share the tribute of respect and gratitude which you have bestowed upon them; it is as a listener and spectator that I rise here, at half-past ten o’clock, to say a few words; for, after the speeches you have just heard, I should be doing great injustice not only to you but to myself if I were to attempt long to arrest your attention.
This has been called a meeting to talk over all sorts of subjects. Now I am not going to deal in vague generalities. I do not mean to say that anybody who preceded me has done so, for they have been special enough; but I will not range the wide topics of political controversy. I will say, generally, that after we succeeded in the Free-trade controversy, I set myself a certain task in public life. I thought that the natural and collateral consequence of Free trade was first to endeavour to give the people, along with physical comfort and prosperity, improved intellectual and moral advantages. I thought that the country which had bargained for itself to enter into the lists of competition with the wide world, seeking no favour, but asking only for a fair field and free competition, would set about to economise its resources, and in every way to attempt to mitigate a load of taxation which must impede the career of any nation that is unduly burdened in its competition with more favoured countries. I thought that, when we had said, ‘We offer to trade with the whole world, and we invite the whole world to trade with us,’ by that very declaration we told the wide world we sought peace and amity with them. Entertaining these views, I set myself the task, as a public man, of endeavouring, by every effort which, in my humble capacity, I could bring to bear, to stand prominently forward as the advocate of education, peace, and retrenchment. I do not come here to enter into a discussion on these questions, each one worthy of an essay by itself; but I will say this, that whilst upon all these subjects we have met with keen opposition, and upon two with obloquy and derision, I see such progress making, and made, as will encourage me to persevere in the advocacy of these principles with renewed and redoubled efforts. I find education assuming a prominence and importance, even by the admission of those who, until lately, have been opposed to it in every form, that I cannot have a doubt in my mind, that public opinion will be brought to bear on that topic with such irresistible force, that, ere long, we shall find a solution for this, which is one of the most difficult problems of our social existence. I find the question of peace, even in the eyes of those who have been attempting to ridicule its advocates, has become a leading topic of the day. Those who have derided us for helping forward the movement in favour of peace, do not hesitate to signalise this as an age which has the pleasing advantage over all preceding ages, of being characterised by symptoms which indicate that we are approaching an era when peace will become the maxim of the whole world. I find that what I told you in the Free Trade Hall, just three years ago,—that we might live to see the time when the expenditure which sufficed for 1835 would suffice again—is in process of being realised. We have already made such progress, that some four or five millions of reduction in our expenditure has taken place. I have no doubt that further retrenchments are going on at this very moment; and I now repeat, not only my conviction that we may return to the expenditure of 1835, but that we shall, ere long, attain that point, and that we shall not stop even there.
As fiscal questions will engage a good deal of attention in the ensuing Parliament, I would have you draw a rigorous distinction between two questions which are very often jumbled together, causing great confusion in the public mind. I mean the difference between a surplus caused by increased revenue, and a surplus occasioned by reduced expenditure. The Government comes forward with a surplus of 2,000,000
from an increase in the receipts of the various existing taxes; and the Government is then too apt to take credit to itself for the great merit of having effected the superabundant revenue. They do not tell you, and you are too apt to forget it, that this surplus is merely the effect of your having given out of your pockets 2,000,000
l. more into the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in one year than you did in the last year; and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells you, ‘I have 2,000,000
l. more than I estimated, I will return it to you.’ ‘Thank you for nothing,’ is all you should ever say for that. But I wish that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer brings forward his Budget, you would look critically to the amount of the reduction of his Estimates for the next year’s expenditure as compared with the Estimates of last year. If, in the ensuing session, the Chancellor of the Exchequer does that which we may do, bring forward a reduction in our establishments, then you may leave an estimated surplus over the expenditure of next year of nearer 5,000,000
l. than 2,000,000
l. The surplus that is now being estimated is upon the present year’s Estimates. I want to see the next year’s Estimates and the Budget, that we may judge of the Government by their Estimates, and not by any revenue they may have reached. I am not going into any tedious fiscal argument to-night. I only want to take this opportunity of saying two words upon a question which has been already alluded to. I have not since the close of Parliament addressed any audience upon general political topics. I have addressed peace meetings; I have addressed meetings of freehold land societies; I have addressed education meetings; but I have addressed no meeting where so wide a range of discussion and observation has been permitted as is now open to us in this assembly. I very much regret it, because I should like to say a few words upon a controversy which has been raging in this country for two or three months, and to which if I did not refer I should be guilty of cowardice, seeing it is always my practice to deal with the prominent topics of the day. In these few words I beg to say I speak to you solely as a politician. For the last two or three months there has not been a calm in this country. We have heard of a great political calm, but there has been no calm. On the contrary, there has been an agitation. It has, I admit, been mainly sectional, but it has been widespread, and it has almost exclusively occupied the attention of the leading public prints.
I need not tell you that the question is that which is called the ‘Papal Aggression.’ The remark I wish to make is, that the discussion of this topic, as a political topic, has overlaid, arrested, and smothered for a time every other political topic. It is well known that in this country the public mind entertains but one question at a time; therefore the first remark I wish to make is, that the discussion of this topic, as a political topic, has prevented the public mind from occupying itself with fiscal questions, and questions affecting reform in the representation, and other questions which politicians have had for many years at heart, so that we approach the meeting of Parliament without the opportunity being afforded, or taken, by the country, of signalling to the Government the views we take upon those questions. I wish you to bear in mind that when we meet, ere another fortnight, in Parliament, our time will then, I fear, be very much occupied with the discussion of this same question; for, if we may believe Mr. Hugh Stowell in what he told us at a very large assembly, every political question, whether fiscal, social, or reformatory, must be suspended until this one great question be settled by the House of Commons. What, I want to ask, is this demand? Is this a question that can be settled by politicians? I speak as a politician. I may settle it in my own mind as a Protestant, and as a Protestant I may have my own opinions.
I have my own opinions, for it is everybody’s duty to have his own opinions, and if he has an aggressive opponent, I doubt if it be not his duty to defend actively the opinion he entertains—always, of course, as an individual. But I want to ask, if there is any reason why religious questions should not be removed out of the domain of politics, just as they are in the United States of America? Lord Carlisle, when he, I will not say descended from his seat in the Cabinet to deliver an address to the Mechanics’ Institution of Leeds, but when he honoured himself by coming out of the Cabinet for that purpose, made a remark which, coming at the time it did, I think, expressed more than the ordinary meaning of the words, when he said, ‘I confess I do envy the complete toleration which exists in the United States.’ I think that was a significant expression, and might be taken, probably, to justify those who believe in the rumour, that the Cabinet is not quite united upon the question of Papal Aggression. In the United States, the Pope may appoint bishops whenever he pleases; he may parcel out that vast Continent into as many dioceses as he pleases, including even California; he may send as many cardinals as he pleases; and no matter by what pompous phraseology all that be done, the United States politicians, and the United States Legislature at Washington, would be perfectly indifferent to it all. Why cannot we, in this country, as politicians, while giving the same security to private and individual judgment, leave the settlement of this question as it is in the United States? Is it that we are so ignorant, or that we are so liable to be misled? Then, I say, let us look sharp, and follow the advice given by Mr. Lawrence, the American Minister, and educate ourselves.
But I am told that the reason is that we have a State Church in England. Well, but does a State Church render the people of this country less able to protect themselves by their own unaided judgment, knowledge, and sound sense, from aggression? Are the people less able to protect themselves against error because they have a State Church? Will that be the confession? No. But the State Church has been made the obstacle, or attempted to be made the obstacle, in every parish, to the promotion of the same liberality that exists in America, against every proposal with regard to liberty, whether civil, religious, or commercial. There is no advance made in the path of freedom of any kind, but we are, and have been, continually threatened with obstruction by the cry of ‘The Church in danger.’ Yet, I must say, that in every case the partisans of the Church have found their predictions singularly falsified. After the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act, after the accomplishment of Emancipation, after the Reform Bill was secured, there was the same cry; but I believe it will be admitted by both Churchmen and Dissenters, that the Church never was so active and prosperous, never were so many churches built, and never had the Establishment greater authority, than after the last of those great reforms down to the present day. Where, then, are the grounds for fear, on the part of Churchmen, for the security of the Church? But I say here that we will have toleration and religious freedom in this country, cost what it may. I do not stand here as the advocate of the partisans of the Roman Catholic body. As a politician, I do not presume to offer my opinions on the faith of any man. On the polity of that Church, I might possibly be allowed to offer an opinion; yet at the present moment, when county meetings are held and advertised (partly at the expense of Roman Catholics themselves, who pay rates as well as Protestants); when, I say, so much abuse is lavished upon them, I should be loath to offer any observation upon the polity of that Church. But I may be allowed to say that I am no friend to the organisation of the Roman Catholic body. It is too centralising for me; it is too subduing to the intellect for me; and if I changed my religion at all, I should
be as little likely as any gentleman in this room to go into their chapel, nay, as any one upon the face of the earth. But, at the same time, let the Roman Catholics living in England judge for themselves, not only of their own faith and motives, but of the mode in which they would constitute the organisation that will always follow religious teaching. Why should you dictate to the Roman Catholic bishops whether they will govern by a cardinal, an archbishop, or diocese? They do not come to me, as a politician, to ask me to give force and validity to their titles, or to give them stipends out of the public purse. What right have I, then, as a politician, to come before a public meeting, or to get up in the House of Commons, and say a word upon the subject of their faith, or on the polity of the Roman Catholic Church?
We shall be told pretty often, no doubt, that unless Government interferes, the privileges and prerogatives of the Queen of England will be invaded by the Pope,—not by Cardinal Wiseman. Cardinal Wiseman is a British subject; he cannot invade the prerogative of the Crown without being guilty of high treason; and if he is so guilty, let him be tried by the law. But what prerogatives have been invaded by the conduct of the Pope? Not the temporal prerogative. Why, the Pope has at this moment in his army a few thousand French and Austrian troops. And I have it on the best authority, that if these troops were removed, dire would be the dismay and speedy the flight of the whole body, Pope and cardinals. It is not, then, the army of the Pope that can threaten the temporalities of the Crown. Are the temporal prerogatives threatened by sea? You may have a list of the active naval force of the Pope; it amounts to two gun brigs and a schooner. Put one quarter of the effective service which is stationed on the coast of Sussex, and it would be quite sufficient to guard the whole island against the Pope’s navy. It is not, then, the temporal sovereignty or the secular privileges of the Queen that can be endangered by the Pope, but her spiritual dominion, we are told, is to be perilled.
Now are we, as politicians, who are called upon fairly enough to vote money for ordnance, and for shot and shells, to meet and repel the aggressive enemy that meets us with spiritual weapons? Are we to forge the spiritual artillery with which we are to meet the aggression? If we are, I beg you to consider how capitally we are suited in the House of Commons for that purpose. I won’t say a word to asperse the character of that body, of which I form a humble unit,—I mean the general character of that body, as a religious body. You may say, if you will, and believe, if you please,—I leave you to enjoy the pleasures of your credulity,—that a large majority of that House of Commons are living in an especial odour of sanctity and piety. You may believe it, if you please; I offer no opinion on it, for being one of the body, and having to face them in about a fortnight, I hope you will excuse my expressing an opinion on the subject. But admitting, if you please,—admitting that we are, the great majority of us, eminent for our piety,—how are we constituted? Are we all Churchmen, owning the spiritual authority of the Queen? Why, we are about forty or fifty of us Roman Catholics, and, mark me, you will have a great many more Roman Catholics returned from Ireland at the next election. We have an Independent or two, we have three or four Unitarians, and we have a Quaker, I am happy to say, and I wish we had a good many more; and we have a fair prospect of having a Jew.
Now, is not that a very nice body of men to uphold the Queen’s supremacy as the head of England’s Church? Why, gentlemen, if you wanted to give us a task in the House of Commons which should last till Doomsday, and that we should therefore put off, as no doubt Mr. Hugh Stowell would require, all reforms, whether fiscal or parliamentary, till that remote day, then give us the task of settling this question of Papal
Aggression. I say, give it to the politicians to settle, if you want it never to be settled at all. As has been well expressed here by Mr. Bright, politicians have been at the work already for four or five hundred years. They have used every available method. They have tried fire and faggot: that is the most effectual means, I admit—but, then, you must exterminate also those who hold the opinions from which you differ. That was too shocking even for the sixteenth century, and so it was given up—I mean the attempt to exterminate those who professed these opinions. Then came the penal laws, which went every length short of extermination. What has been the tendency of the last century? Constant relaxation—a tendency more and more to religious toleration. What has been the course taken by the leading statesmen of this country? Why, to their honour be it said, the greatest and most illustrious statesmen of the last sixty years were so far in advance of the latent bigotry still existing in this country, that they were ready to sacrifice their fame—I mean such a fame as temporary popularity—they were willing to forego place, patronage, everything which statesmen and politicians hold most dear, rather than lend themselves to the continuance of that system. But I very much fear there are men now in the Cabinet, who owe all their distinction in public life to having been identified with that principle of toleration to which we are constantly more and more progressing, but who are now ready to sully their fair fame, and belie, I had almost said, the whole of their past political career, on entering into the political session of 1851. Gentlemen, I entreat you to remove this question of religious opinions,—remove it out of the domain of politicians, if you wish not only to make progress in those questions which we cannot delay, and if you wish to prevent a retrograde policy. It will not end in a mere return to the paths of religious monopoly, but will be certain to conduct you into a retrograde track, in questions affecting our temporal interests, and for which many of those who fancy themselves sincere, are now lending their voices when they raise this cry for religious intolerance. I agree with Mr. Gibson completely, that if this country permits one step backward, in the career of religious toleration, you are endangering yourselves on questions in which you feel most nearly interested. I never felt the slightest doubt in the world come across my mind on the subject of retaining everything we have gained in the way of social improvement, until I saw the account of a county meeting in Essex, which has had its counterpart nearly in every part of England, and at which Sir John Tyrell was one of the most prominent actors, when he called for three cheers for Lord John Russell.
Look at the actors throughout the country, in this present movement against what is called the Papal Aggression. Who are they? Have you seen those men advocating the repeal of the Corn-laws? Have you not seen in every case, that the most prominent actors in these county meetings are the men who resisted the establishment of that principle of commercial reform? Let me ask you if by any accident,—such accidents as may happen in our Constitution, which are precipitated at any moment,—you who entirely agree with me upon the subject of commercial freedom, and generally upon questions of liberal policy in secular affairs, let me ask you to answer me this question: Suppose a general election were to take place, and those who are prominent in opposing religious toleration succeeded (and I am not sure that they would not succeed), in returning to Parliament a majority for re-enacting the disabilities and restrictions upon Roman Catholics, would not that be a majority that would either tamper with the Corn-laws, or take care to indemnify themselves for what has been taken from them? It is so; and those who are acting have not been so discreet, in this case, as to conceal their belief in the possibility of retrieving their monopoly. I say to those who have generally been favourable to commercial freedom, who
have been, in fact, friendly to civil and commercial freedom, and who join in this cry, and lend themselves to the support of this party who are in favour of religious restrictions,—I say that they would, in my opinion, bring back on themselves the commercial monopolies and political monopolies; and I say to them as inconsistent men,—for I don’t address myself to those who oppose freedom in every shape,—but to those who were generally with us in advocating civil and commercial freedom,—I say if they gain the triumph of religious intolerance, and if they gain along with it a monopoly in food, they richly merit their fate.
But there is one thing that has been said by those who preceded me,—they have alluded to the bigotry, and fanaticism, and ignorance, which prevailed fifty years ago amongst the mass of the people of this country. Now, there is one symptom, and almost the only symptom, which has consoled me in this agitation for religious disabilities, and it is this:—the calm, passive, and, in many respects, contemptuous silence and indifference with which it has been regarded by the great mass of the people of this country. If the same tumults had occurred fifty or sixty years ago, owing to the prevailing ignorance and bigotry of the mass of the people of this country, half the Roman Catholic chapels would have been in flames, and half their occupants’ lives in danger. And I thank the demonstration only for this: that it has given me, more than anything else, a conviction of the great progress that has been made in real intelligence by the great mass of the people, especially in the north of England. I will not say so much of the south. And I cannot say much for the Corporation of London. Why, only think of that Corporation professing to represent the City. Only think of it! Last year it was setting itself up and agitating in a ferment of enlightened intelligence and patriotism, in favour of religious liberty to the Jews. Now it is denouncing the superstitious ceremonies of the Roman Catholics. When has there been such a spectacle, so absurd a spectacle, exhibited as that which was shown, when the London Corporation took that great gingerbread coach, the pattern of 200 years ago, and clothed themselves in that Bartholomew-fair dress of theirs, and took a man with a fur cap, whose pattern dates back, I believe, five centuries, with a long sword in his hand, and all the other paraphernalia of the Corporation of London, and went down by the railroad to Windsor, in order to present an address to the Queen, in order to put down—Popish mummeries! If you want to see mummeries, go and see the Lord Mayor’s procession. I have seen the grand ceremonies in the Vatican at Easter, I have seen the most gorgeous religious processions the Church of Rome can boast of, but I never saw anything half so absurd, or half so offensive to intelligence or commonsense, as the mummeries in which the Corporation of London indulge every year. Now I am glad to say of the north of England, that the mass of the people here have not joined in this intolerant outcry. I only regret that circumstances have prevented this meeting from being held in the Free Trade Hall, that I might have heard the cheer which I should have had from five thousand auditors, in expressing the sentiments I have just enunciated.
Now, gentlemen, only one word more, as a politician again, but not as a party politician, if you please. Something has been said about conduct or misconduct during the last session. I don’t come here to answer to you, because I have not the honour of representing many of you. But this I will say, I am exceedingly tolerant of every Member of the House of Commons who strains a point to vote with the Government, provided he has been some fifteen or twenty years longer in the political arena than I have been. I believe my friend Mr. Brotherton, for instance, aims as much at benefiting the mass of the people in this country, in
every form by which he can effect it, as I do; but I believe Mr. Brotherton has a stronger sentiment of reliance and sympathy towards the present Government than I have, and it is easily accounted for. Mr. Brotherton entered Parliament after the passing of the Reform Bill, and shared the struggles in obtaining that Bill, which I still regard, notwithstanding what Mr. Dyer said, a great progress in political reform. He shared all the struggles in carrying that Bill, and it is natural that he should have those sympathies. But I will say this in vindication of myself, that I entered somewhat at an advanced time of life for a man who has taken up the discussion of a public question, and I did it resolved to devote my labours to the solution of that question, without reference to the temporary interests or conveniences of any existing political party; and the result of that agitation in the case of the Corn-laws has convinced me that if anything is to be done in this country for the great mass of the people, if you are to succeed in establishing any reform of magnitude, it can only be done by the people out of doors, and in the House resolving to do that one thing, and totally disregarding the existing political parties in that House.
I desire to see something accomplished. I have set myself the task of accomplishing certain things, and amongst them that which is most dear to my heart is the advocacy of a more peaceful and conciliatory policy in the intercourse of nations, or, as I would especially say, in the intercourse between this country and weaker nations. If you want to wound my principles most acutely, it will be to show me England violating the principle of a conciliatory and humane policy when it has to deal with a weak Power, which is like a child in its grasp. I look upon inhumanity, rudeness, or violence, on the part of England towards a powerless state like Greece, with additional resentment, just as I should regard that man as a coward as well as a despot who molested and ill-used a child. Feeling, then, that my principles were violated in the case of Lord Palmerston, in the Greek affair, I voted against him on that occasion, and I should do so again, if ten thousand seats in Parliament depended on the issue of my vote.
Now, gentlemen, let me give one word of advice to those who are in Manchester or elsewhere, and take up a hasty conclusion against some of our Members, with whom you generally agree, and in whose judgment and sagacity you have some confidence, to beware how you take a side against them, merely because you see a certain line of policy argued in certain public prints. Give them credit for being wary; they have a better opportunity of sifting public men than you have. A man must be a fool. if he does not, after being in Parliament seven or eight years, and sitting in Committees with nearly all the Members, discover the motives of Governments when they are disclosed, not on the public arena, but where they are chatted over by friends in private. Depend upon it your Members will have rather better opportunities than you will have of judging the conduct of public men. And if you happen to think that Lord Palmerston, although he did try to maintain a fixed duty long after Lord Aberdeen had become the advocate of total repeal and untaxed bread,—if, notwithstanding certain other symptoms I could mention, which prove that Lord Palmerston is not the champion for liberty that you suppose,—if, I say, notwithstanding you have an impression in favour of Lord Palmerston, your Members come to a different conclusion, why, give them credit for the same honesty of purpose and intelligence with yourselves; and bear in mind, that they have the better opportunity of forming an opinion than yourselves. I have no desire to stand out singularly in my vote. As was well expressed by Mr. Bright, it is a very unpleasant thing to do so; it would be far more agreeable to make companionship with those men on the Treasury-benches, instead of treading on their toes
and poking them in the ribs, and making them uncomfortable. Is it any satisfaction to me, do you think, that Lord Palmerston’s organ, the
Globe, has denounced me, over and over again, as a disappointed demagogue, and hurled language at me which no other journal, the
Times, for instance, has ever levelled at me? I know perfectly well that on the Manchester Exchange, and the Leeds Exchange, and the Liverpool Exchange, where the
Globe paper is taken, and is understood to be a Whig paper, when persons see it speak in such terms of the Member for the West Riding, they are apt to think there must be a great deal in it, and that the Member must be making himself especially ridiculous in the House of Commons. I am not a disappointed demagogue; if ever there was anybody who ought to be satisfied with his public career, it is I. I thank you for giving me the only response which could relieve me from the imputation of great egotism in saying so.
Well, as I said before, my position is not the same as that of Mr. Brotherton. I cannot see the line of demarcation between Whig and Tory which he sees. I cannot see what principle the Whigs advocate which the Tories do not advocate. I find in Lord John Russell, in the House of Commons, not simply great impatience but petulance, and I had almost said great insolence, in his dealings, particularly in the remarks he has made to our friend, Mr. Bright. He, I am sure, is very indifferent to the remarks themselves, but they are sufficiently important as indicating the tone of the man who is supposed to be the leader of our party. I must confess that, in regard to fiscal matters, I am bound to say, I believe the Opposition party would do quite as much in the way of retrenchment as the Whigs; I am not sure that they would not do more. I believe Sir James Graham, for instance, would show less subserviency to the Duke of Wellington, in military arrangements, than Lord J. Russell or Lord Palmerston. I believe in Colonial policy, whilst Sir R. Peel resolutely refused to add another acre to our tropical possessions, the present Government are taking possession in Asia, as well as Africa, of tracts of tropical territory, which, I believe, notwithstanding anything that may be said to the contrary by the Manchester Association, are only calculated to entail additional expense upon us, instead of benefiting us, as a free-trading community; and I fear that next session we shall be placed in a still worse dilemma. If we are to believe the reports that Lord J. Russell, instead of being the champion of religious liberty, is going to embark in a crusade against religious freedom, I shall find myself then still further alienated from the present party. But this I say: if I do not see that I have at least the liberty of voting in the House of Commons for something different to that which now exists,—if I cannot hope to see some change and some reform,—at least if I am not allowed the free advocacy of my own opinions for some distinct principle different from that which is now the rule of conduct with Whig and Tory,—why am I to be sitting up till twelve o’clock every night in the House of Commons? This disappointed demagogue wants no public employment; if he did, he might have had it before now. I want no favour, and, as my friend Bright says, no title. I want nothing that any Government or any party can give me; and if I am in the House of Commons at all, it is to give my feeble aid to the advancement of certain questions on which I have strong convictions. Deprive me of that power; tell me I am not to do this, because it is likely to destroy a Government with which at the present moment I can have no sympathy; then, I say, the sooner I return to printing calicoes, or something more profitable than sitting up in the House of Commons night after night in that way, the better both for me and my friends. I have come here, then, merely to renew personal acquaintances,—or rather, anxious by a short sojourn in this neighbourhood and in Yorkshire, not to
lose old acquaintances which I highly prize and value. I come, moreover, in order to have an opportunity of testing the current of public opinion a little, and sounding its depth, to see whether it be an unusual tide, or a steady, permanent stream. I think this meeting has demonstrated to me, that whatever exists in other parts of the country, here at least there is no reaction; and that, remembering. what are our recorded opinions, you in Lancashire, and I hope my friends in Yorkshire, will always be found true to the principles of liberty and toleration.