Free Trade and Other Fundamental Doctrines of the Manchester School
By Francis W. Hirst
DURING the last decade it has been the fashion to talk of the Manchester School with pity or contempt as of an almost extinct sect, well adapted, no doubt, for the commercial drudgery of a little, early Victorian England, but utterly unfitted to meet the exigencies or satisfy the demands of a moving Imperialism. Many of the authors and abettors of public extravagance, and especially of what is called imperial expenditure upon war and armaments, believed themselves to be champions of free trade. It never occurred to them that protection would trickle into the ship, if the plank of economy were removed. But the commercial system of free trade depends for its political safety upon public thrift, because the more the revenue that is required the stronger is the demand of the governing classes that indirect taxation, which bears most heavily upon the poor, shall be increased. During the last three years we have seen indirect taxation increased–‘a widening of the basis’ it is called–and we have seen how this policy led at last to the revival of protection in the shape of a shilling duty on corn. But the corn tax has only lasted a year. The principle which triumphed in 1846 has survived the challenge of 1902 and received a triumphant vindication in the Budget of 1903. In each case the instrument of victory was a Conservative Premier, under whom the party, the interests, and the opinions opposed to the Manchester School were arrayed in a hostile and apparently invincible phalanx…. [From the Introduction]
First Pub. Date
London: Harper and Brothers
Collected essays and speeches by various writers, including Richard Cobden and John Bright, 1820-1896
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Part I, Essay 1
- Part I, Essay 2
- Part I, Essay 3
- Part II, Essay 1
- Part II, Essay 2
- Part II, Essay 3
- Part II, Essay 4
- Part II, Essay 5
- Part II, Essay 6
- Part II, Essay 7
- Part II, Essay 8
- Part II, Essay 9
- Part II, Essay 10
- Part II, Essay 11
- Part II, Essay 12
- Part III, Essay 1
- Part III, Essay 2
- Part III, Essay 3
- Part III, Essay 4
- Part III, Essay 5
- Part III, Essay 6
- Part IV, Essay 1
- Part IV, Essay 2
- Part IV, Essay 3
- Part IV, Essay 4
- Part V, Essay 1
- Part V, Essay 2
- Part V, Essay 3
- Part V, Essay 4
- Part V, Essay 5
Part II, Essay VI
In this splendid oration delivered at a crowded meeting in Convent Garden Theatre on January 25th, 1844, Fox sounds the note of determination and triumph. The Manchester School refuses to accept the favourite Whig remedy of a fixed duty. George Wilson, who was in the chair, announced that in future meetings of the League in London would be held every week instead of every month.
I HAVE to address you in the first meeting of a new year of agitation, at a time when confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty are prevailing through the country—when the legislature is expected shortly to meet—when the people look on rather when sullen expectancy than with any degree of hopefulness—when the League has gone on marshalling its strength, augmenting its funds, and multiplying its numbers—when political parties are on the look-out to see what chance may turn up for retaining their position, or for getting into the position of their adversaries when
Anti-League associations are forming in different counties—and when, therefore, it is appropriate and desirable to reiterate, in terms that have been often heard, but cannot be too frequently repeated—to reiterate the League principle—the one aim and object of this association, that for which we are banded together—without which we will never be content; till we attain which our organization and exertions will continue—the one broad, simple principle of Free Trade; and, as applied to the greatest practical case, the total, the immediate, and the unconditional abolition of the corn laws.
That is the star by which we steer; to that single point we bear right on, heedless of all other considerations. We care not for parties; we care not for demarcations of faction, new or old; we care not for the consistencies or inconsistencies of this or that leader
of any portion of the House of Commons,—the total, the unconditional, and the immediate abolition of the corn laws is what we ask, and all we ask. We require no more, we will take no less, from Sir Robert Peel on the one side, or Lord John Russell on the other. We ask no more, and we will take no less, from Lord Melbourne on the one side, and the Duke of Wellington on the other—or from my Lord Brougham on all sides. We wage no further warfare with those who concede this principle; we wage everlasting warfare with all who will not grant it; and because if is a principle, in our own minds it admits of no compromise whatever. That is our watchword. If a certain class in the country reiterates the cry, ‘No surrender,’ we reply by ‘No compromise.’ If this movement were what it has been sometimes mistakenly represented—if it were a mere manufacturer’s combination—if it endeavoured to put certain portions of the trade and commerce of this country on a different, a safer, and more profitable footing, and this were all—if this were a mere party movement, an action of hostility towards one set of politicians, and an endeavour to introduce into their place another set of politicians,—if this movement were a class feeling—if we really did the absurd thing that has been ascribed to us in the published resolutions of societies—if we hated agriculture—an inconceivable absurdity! For how can any man hate that without which he gets no bread to eat?—or if this were a mere popular or a mere cuckoo cry, set up by individuals for their own personal aggrandizement, or for political ends, like ‘No Popery,’ and similar cries that have so often led multitudes astray, and wrought confusion in the country, why, then there might be compromise in the matter. But we say it is ‘the very stuff o’ the conscience;’ it is a principle upon which we have made up our minds as embracing the right of man anterior to the existence of civilized society; for if anything can be called a natural right, it is that of man’s exchanging the produce of his honest labour freely in the world’s markets for whatever he may desire which may
be most welcome to him, ministering to his existence or enjoyment.
This is not a question that admits of degrees; it is not a thing to be settled piecemeal. We respect all rights; but we have no respect for wrongs. We understand not the doctrine of tolerating a certain portion of robbery, iniquity, and oppression upon the community, and on individuals. We take up our position on the
right and the
wrong of the case—for property of all sorts, as realized by human skill and labour, and as sanctioned by human laws and institutions. We avow our respect for, and we hold in sacred veneration, the property of the class which has most opposed itself to our claims: the broad acres of the landowner are his; we mean not to touch them—we set up no scramble for their division. We interfere not with his regulation of that which, by inheritance or by purchase, belongs to him. Let him do as he will with his own; he is amenable to opinion if he violates decency and morality; but so far as he keeps within the limits which the great objects of human society prescribe, we respect his rights even there. Let him have his game, or let him decimate his hares and rabbits; let him grant leases or refuse them; let him cut down the ancient timber on his estate to put cash into his pocket, or let him have a great respect for, and be conservative of, timber and institutions. We meddle with nothing whatever of this; let him have his whole rights. The land is his; the produce of the land is his, or theirs to whom he hires out that land; but there is one thing which is not his, and that is, the industry of other people, their labour, their skill, their perseverance, their bones and sinews, their daily toil; and the bread which they earn by that toil and work he has no right to diminish by taxation. They are his fellow-countrymen, and not his slaves.
The labourer’s bones and muscles are his own property, and not the landlord’s. We claim for ourselves that which we concede to him—the fair produce of whatever power,
privileges, or advantages we possess. Here our principle claims the same respect, the same sacred veneration, for the rights of property of the man who has nothing in the world but the physical strength with which he goes forth in the morning to earn his dinner at noon, and that of the inheritor of the widest and most princely domain which can be boasted of in this country of Great Britain. And in our regard for this principle, we are opposed, not only to the protectionist form of invasion of the industrious man’s property, but to any other mode or plan of invasion of that property which might be substituted by any other parties or for any other purpose. Our principle is as opposed to a fixed duty as it is opposed to a sliding scale. The one is as much an invasion of the common rights of the people as is the other; for what is its tendency, under whatever pretext it can be levied? There is no doubt that any duty on the importation of corn must enhance the price of food; and whatever enhances the price of food takes away from the fair earnings of the industrious.
When we call to mind the condition of great multitudes of the industrious classes—when we think how they rise early and sit up late, and eat the bread of carefulness—by what miserable and wearing toil their poor pittance is won from the world—when we remember how many there are the whole history of whose lives is summed up in the well-known verse—
‘Work, work, work,
Till the eyes be red and dim;
Work, work, work,
Till the brain begins to swim,’—
when we look on such a destiny as this, if a fixed duty would take but a farthing out of the pound, we say it should not be taken off their pittance to augment the stores of the Dukes of Buckingham and Richmond, or any other landlord. Why, there are cases in which the imposition of a fixed duty on corn, whatever the amount, would lead to more objectionable results, perhaps, than those which belong to the sliding-scale.
It has been often urged, and I believe it has been felt as an objection, ‘What will you do with your fixed duty, your 10
s., your 8
s., or your 5
s.—what will you do with it when the price of food rises, as at times it does rise, to a famine price?’ And it has been replied, ‘Then it must be relaxed.’ And what power shall determine the relaxation, and by what test? Only realize in your imagination, for a moment, the condition of a prime minister who has to watch the country to see whether the time is come, or coming, at which the fixed duty on corn must be relaxed by a special interposition of the Government, because food is reaching a famine price! He must note in the papers how many are picked up fainting in the streets from want of food; how many cases of starvation will prove that bread has risen to the price at which the relaxation must take place; what amount of disease, how much typhus, will be a justification of the relaxation of that duty. These are the inquiries a prime minister must make in such a case. He must watch the country, and feel its pulsation, as the regimental surgeon stands by when a soldier is flogged—finger on wrist, eye on the bleeding wound, ear upon the sound of the cat on the bare back, with a stop-watch noting whether the instant has yet arrived when he is to interpose and say, ‘Hold, enough!’ Is this a fitting position for the chief of the legitimate Government of a free nation?
One violation of justice always leads to another. Forget justice, and charity will not long be remembered, and humanity will cry in vain. A fixed duty! It is only protection under another name; and ‘protection’ is the very thing against which this League wages warfare, which it exists to put down and annihilate for ever. We have no more charity for protection in this form than in another. What is it? ‘The protection of agriculture.’ What portion of agriculture? What class of persons? Strip it of devices and sophisms and circumlocutions, it is the protection of rent, and nothing else. The protection of the farmer! The tenant farmer! has it ever enriched him? The
protection of the labourer! what has been his history for many a year past? He has been protected downwards from one stage to another of descent; protected out of his old clothes into rags; protected out of his cottage into a ruined hovel, with but one filthy room in it for wife and family all to pig together. He has been protected till his wife and children are so ragged that they cannot go to church for the rites of religion. He is protected out of the field into the union workhouse, or perhaps into a court of justice, or a gaol; and at last he is protected into that narrow home,
‘Where the wicked cease from troubling,
And the weary are at rest,’
finding in the cold shelter of the grave more reality of protection than he ever got from the corn laws.
Protection! Why, what should we protect? Not a losing trade, for that is taxing all the community for the advantage of a class; that is, pursuing an object that cannot repay the labourer. Not a thriving trade, for that needs no protection. And why should any one class be singled out? What is there in the condition of the recipient of rents that he is to be protected at the expense of all the rest of the community? Why not protect the philosopher, the artist, the poet? What can protection do for them, or for anything that is intrinsically valuable? There was a poet born this day—some Scotchmen here will immediately remember to whom I refer, for many are engaged elsewhere in celebrating the birthday of Robert Burns. Nature made Burns a poet, and aristocratic protection made him an exciseman. But the protection he most desired was that which his own stout heart and strong arm could give him. He was a man who would not humble himself in the dust before an aristocrat. He could adopt such language as this in reference to servility—
‘For me, sae low I need nae bow,
For the Lord be thankit I can plough;
When I downa yoke a naig,
Then, Lord be thankit, I can beg.’
And the independence of the beggar was with him, and is, in reality, a more desirable thing than that pecuniary independence which is obtained by plundering others of their rights and their means of subsistence. It was justly said by an honourable gentleman who preceded me—If it be considered as a question of
revenue, what is there in the world from which a revenue ought not sooner to be derived than from human food? Tax anything but that! But revenue is mere pretext in the case. In fact, the operation of these laws is full of petty juggling: some saying ‘revenue’ when they mean ‘protection,’ others saying ‘protection’ when they mean ‘revenue’.
Sir Robert Peel contrived, in the first year of his tariff, to realize a duty of eight shillings a quarter on corn—three shillings a quarter more than it had ever before brought to the country. Those who are crying out that this is a question of revenue are only leading us by a roundabout way towards the same object—the putting money into the pockets of a class derived from the earnings of the rest of the community. But it is not the less an invasion of their rights, though the circuitousness of the method obscures and mystifies the process. They draw it silently and unobservedly, as they think, on account of this roundabout way of getting at it. But, after all, there it is! They are like the dishonest churchwarden who carried round the plate for the sacrament money for the poor, and who, upon such occasions, always took care to put sawdust in his pockets, that a few shillings might drop in without jingling. The corn laws are the landowners’ sawdust; but the money goes not in a less quantity because its abstraction is more noiseless in the way of robbery by Act of Parliament than in any other irregular abstraction of property. With such men and such dealings as these we make no compromise.
Indeed, why should the League compromise now? ‘Compromise’ is not exactly the word that belongs to our present position. If we dreamed not of it when we were weak, we are not likely to listen to it now that we are strong; if it was not
our word when we were but few, it is little likely to be so now we are many. Allow me to say, that you in London scarcely imagine at present what the strength of the League is. It would be worth your while to send a deputation down into the North, there to mark and observe the nature of that strength; its progressiveness and its intensity. You should see the multitudes flocking together in those districts, men, women, and children, persons of all ranks and classes, as to a work that called forth the deepest sympathies of human nature. Yes, you should see them coming and mingling together in the same assembly—masters and men pouring out from the same factories. There is no heed paid there to the calumnies and stories which are circulated in some quarters; there are no symptoms there of the tyranny which has been talked of elsewhere. Whether it exists in other cases I know not; it certainly does not in the towns I have visited, and where I have seen this question agitated; but there come the operatives from the factories, not choked with ‘devil’s dust,’ as Mr. Ferrand says, but ready to ‘down with their own
dust‘ in the cause; contributing, and that largely; women bringing their portion, and showing that they feel that it is indeed a woman’s part to help the helpless, to sympathize with the oppressed, to relieve the struggling; old and young combining, the very children feeling, as it were, an atmosphere of patriotic exertion, and having a presentiment that in times to come, when the victory of Free Trade shall be gained, and men will look back upon it as a matter of history and glorious achievement, that they, too, will have pride in saying, ‘I, also, was a repealer in my infancy!’ Could you see the spirit with which they are animated, the enthusiasm that pervades their meetings, you would feel that indeed the death-doom of monopoly was sealed; and whenever London shall take its proper position, when the feeling in the provinces shall be proportionately responded to here, when you meet with their religious principle in this matter, when you meet with their pecuniary liberality in this great cause, when
you are animated with this firm determination, why, then the work
is accomplished, and these laws will be totally and finally abolished.
Not but that compromise would be as remote from the thoughts of the leaders of the League if they were alone in this great struggle. This was manifest from the spirit of the seven men at the meeting in Manchester several years ago, when they banded themselves for this purpose. Their principle from the beginning was, complete abolition and repeal, and nothing short of repeal; and I believe that they and others would have adhered to it, although no public sympathy had been aroused—though none of these great meetings had been held to cheer them on in their course; for when once a principle like this gets possession of the soul of man, it is indomitable. It is the fight of martyrdom and of victory! There may be victims, there cannot be defeat; there may be delay, but there cannot be eventual repulse. It is to individual devotion—to the determination never to compromise a principle—that we owe most of the world’s great blessings. Without it we should have had no political freedom, no Protestant Reformation, no Christian religion!
Could the League falter in its course now—a thing which I hold to be morally impossible—it would still not signify in the great cause; for the leaders in such a cause as this, could they prove traitors, cannot stop the movement; they are but foremost in the ranks; they are marching on ‘regular as rolling water;’ and if they will not themselves keep in advance, why, they will only be trampled under foot in the progress of the country towards the great consummation. I say again, ‘No compromise;’ because we are challenged, we are summoned to the conflict. The landowners of England are throwing down the gauntlet; they are going to wage warfare with the League, and they say they will put down the League. We will try that question with them. They are not the bold barons of Runnymede; the age of chivalry is gone; and most of all, it is gone in their ranks, for there is
little chivalry in becoming traders in corn, and taxing the country to enhance their profits.
But what do these people mean by a course which tends to isolate them from every other class of the community? Suspicion in their tenants; hatred and insubordination in their labourers. They wage war on the other great classes in the empire; repudiating, not their debts, but their diamonds; rejecting from their ranks such men as the Spencers, the Westminsters, the Ducies, and the Radnors; disrobing themselves of what should constitute their dignity and their armour. And what do they mean, I say, by standing aloof from the world, and dreaming that they are strong enough to trample under foot its inhabitants, and to reap its plunder? Nothing can await them but discomfiture and confusion. They must soon feel that their state, the more they persist in such a course, is one of insecurity and apprehension; they will feel the ground tremble under them, as it is said to have shaken wherever the fratricide Cain set his foot; and ramble where they will, no sympathy will cheer their course, no kind and gushing feeling will welcome their arrival: their real interest is, then, to reunite themselves with the nation, in conjunction with which they may have respect, wealth, and happiness; in warfare with which they can only bring on the destruction of their class.
As to these meetings of the tenantry—ordered to come, as they seem to be in some cases, and declining to come, as they evidently do in others—the deception and exaggeration of their numbers and their contributions have already been mentioned to you. I have no doubt that large exaggerations do take place wherever a numerous meeting is reported; and would the
Morning Herald favour us, as it sometimes obliges the Government, with the private notes of its reporters, we should then know something more of the real state of the case. I have seen but one account—and that in a local paper—of a genuine meeting of tenant-farmers, placed beyond
suspicion as to the class of persons and the freedom of their discussion. That was a meeting which lately took place at Evesham of the tenant-farmers, members of the Agricultural Society of the Vale of Evesham. About twenty-five of them met together to discuss the subject of leases; and after fairly and fully hearing both sides of the question from two of their number, who had studied the subject and were opposed in opinion, they came to two divisions: one division was on the desirableness of leases, on which twenty voted for it and two against it; the other was on the subject of corn-rents, where there were eighteen for and three against. And such will be the result of these Country Protection Associations, if the farmers are allowed fair play. Meanwhile, from their number, it is a pity they do not seek an aggregate meeting. I think, inconvenient as this place is for your number, they might perhaps be accommodated here, and Mr. Paulton could find a private box for the Protection Society of each county. The conscientious friends of the present sliding-scale, and of Sir Robert Peel, might, perhaps, all be accommodated in the manager’s box, and then when their discussion was done they might join in yours, and compare notes with you on the great question at issue.
But it will never avail for the landlords to attempt to drive the farmers to such meetings in the same manner as they drive them to the poll at elections—there is more required; and it is difficult to make persons in their present doubting, inquiring, and perhaps suspicious and sullen state of mind, go through the manual exercise which their chairman may desire. I understand that at one of these meetings, when a resolution was to be passed, the chairman had great difficulty in getting a show of hands; he had to tell the farmers, over and over again, that
now they were to hold up their hands; but the farmers, by perhaps a voluntary blunder, instead of holding up their hands, turned up their noses. On the argumentation at these meetings I shall make no remark; for out of nothing, nothing can come. They have been generally a sheer tissue of
abuse; and the only fragments or grains that are to be found in these bushels of chaff are the old iterations of fallacies which every labourer can detect, of wages rising with the price of corn, of the need of protection against competition, of the desirableness of independence of the foreigner, and so on; things that we may heartily rejoice to hear are brought into something like discussion; for when all the rest of the world has exploded them as nonsensical, it is well that they should be now put forward and subjected to investigation, in those regions where they are still turned to account. It is a favourite theme, this independence of foreigners. One would imagine that the patriotism of the landlord’s breast must be most intense. Yet he seems to forget that he is employing guano to manure his fields; that he is spreading a foreign surface over his English soil, through which every atom of corn is to grow; becoming thereby polluted with the dependence upon foreigners which he professes to abjure.
To what is he left, this disclaimer against foreigners and advocate of dependence upon home? Trace him through his career. This was very admirably done by an honourable gentleman, who just now addressed you, at the Salisbury contest. His opponent urged this plea, and Mr. Bouverie stripped him, as it were, from head to foot, showing that he had not an article of dress upon him which did not render him in some degree dependent upon foreigners. We will pursue this subject, and trace his whole life. What is the career of the man whose possessions are in broad acres? Why, a French cook dresses his dinner for him, and a Swiss valet dresses him for dinner; he hands down his lady, decked with pearls that never grew in the shell of a British oyster; and her waving plume of ostrich-feathers certainly never formed the tail of a barn-door fowl. The viands of his table are from all countries of the world; his wines are from the banks of the Rhine and the Rhone. In his conservatory, he regales his sight with the blossoms of South American flowers. In his smoking-room, he
gratifies his scent with the weed of North America. His favourite horse is of Arabian blood; his pet dog, of the St. Bernard’s breed. His gallery is rich with pictures from the Flemish school, and statues from Greece. For his amusements, he goes to hear Italian singers warble German music, followed by a French ballet. If he rises to judicial honours, the ermine that decorates his shoulders is a production that was never before on the back of a British beast. His very mind is not English in its attainments; it is a mere picnic of foreign contributions. His poetry and philosophy are from Greece and Rome; his geometry is from Alexandria; his arithmetic is from Arabia; and his religion from Palestine. In his cradle, in his infancy, he rubbed his gums with coral from Oriental oceans; and when he dies, his monument will be sculptured in marble from the quarries of Carrara.
And yet this is the man who says, ‘Oh! let us be independent of foreigners! Let us submit to taxation; let there be privation and want; let there be struggles and disappointments; let there be starvation itself; only let us be independent of foreigners!’ I quarrel not with him for enjoying the luxuries of other lands, the results of arts that make it life to live. I wish not only that he and his order may have all the good that any climate or region can bear for them—it is their right, if they have wherewithal to exchange for it; what I complain of is, the sophistry, the hypocrisy, and the iniquity of talking of independence of foreigners in the article of food, while there is dependence in all these materials of daily enjoyment and recreation. Food is the article the foreigner most wants to sell; food is that which thousands of our operatives most want to buy; and it is not for him—the mere creature of foreign agency from head to foot—to interpose and say, ‘You shall be independent; I alone will be the very essence and quintessence of dependence.’ We compromise not this question with parties such as these; no, nor with the legislature.
We are not going to the legislature this session. No
more petitioning. Members of the House of Commons! Members of the House of Lords! do as you please, and what you please; our appeal is
to your masters. The League goes to the constituencies, to the creators of legislators, and tells them they have made the article badly, and instructs them how to form it better on the first occasion. Here we carry on the warfare; appealing, not, as has been falsely said, to calumny, delusion, or to corruption, but calling up in those who possess political power the intelligence and independence which dignify humanity. And the contrast in the elections that have already taken place since this course was adopted by the League is remarkable: while their adversaries seek out for every little spot, for every speck of dirt and corruption, in human character, and build upon that; while those who espouse the interest of the great land monopoly, hunt up the tailor and shoemaker, or the glovemaker, and say, ‘Have you not a little monopoly of your own?—keep up our great monopoly, and we will uphold your little monopoly;’ ‘Tickle me, Toby; tickle me, do;’—while they endeavour in every way to play upon all the foolishness and baseness of human nature—the League has endeavoured to work by intelligence and principle, and by these alone; calling out, not what is brutal, but what is most divine in human nature; thus realizing that spirit of independence, without which no institution, no forms of freedom, no rights of voting, nothing that society can enact or sanction, ever made a people free and great, or ever will. For this reason it was that they were held to be such ‘monstrous interlopers,’ such ‘strangers.’ This raised the cry in London and Salisbury: ‘Here are people come up amongst us whose homes are in Lancashire; great strangers, who have no business here.’
This was the same sort of indignation that Doctor Caius manifested in
The Merry Wives of Windsor, when he found Slender’s man in his closet. When he inquired of Dame Quickly who was there, the lady only inflamed his wrath the more by saying, ‘He is an honest man.’ Why, the
monopolists use the same language as Doctor Caius: ‘Vat shall de honest man do in my closet? there is no honest man shall come into my closet.’ But the honest man has got into their closet with a search-warrant, and finds there what shall bring them to shame and confusion, exposing the sophistry, laying bare the tricks, and paving the way for future struggles of a similar description, and of yet more resplendent consequences. We have no compromise on such a question as the corn laws, because we cannot compromise with crime; and I hold these laws to be one great crime, both in themselves and in their consequences. On the very face of the thing they are a fraud; for when a class says to a nation, ‘Exclude all foreign corn ; be independent of foreigners,’ does it not imply that they, the home growers, will furnish the supply? Do they not, by the very fact of interposing to prevent our getting provisions abroad, undertake that there shall be food of their raising at home?
Have they done this? Have they produced it at a price at which the great mass of the community, however industrious, could afford to purchase a sufficient quantity? Have there not been want and starvation both in this country and Ireland, while there has been ample abundance to increase the wealth of the landowners, but not to minister to the necessities of the community? Have they the power? Why, the very increase of our population, some 230,000 a year, would require to feed it the addition every year of a county as large as that of Surrey, for its produce to administer to this additional number of mouths a sufficient quantity of bread and meat. Can they do this? Can they add another county to England? Can they make, as it were, another England? Can they create and furnish us with the produce of a new Ireland; or can they keep the old Ireland?
I say that those laws are a crime, because they occasion the destruction of human food. Not long ago—about the time I was at Liverpool—large quantities of American butter were brought out of the warehouses; a hole was bored in each
firkin—the butter would not answer, as a commercial speculation, to pay the duty on it—and into those firkins pitch and other substances were poured, in order that this butter might be rendered altogether unfit for human use. I believe that ultimately it was actually made into grease for the wheels of the locomotives’ engines. At Sunderland the same thing has occurred twice within no great number of weeks, with respect to wheat kept there in bond. The people were starving, and the wheat was all the while rotting within the warehouses, until at last it was brought out from under the Government lock and key, by her Majesty’s servants the Custom-house officers, taken to a dunghill, mixed with all sorts of substances, and after being rendered utterly unfit for use for the common purposes of human food, was there converted into manure—and this at a time when the people were talking about the Poor Laws, charities, subscriptions, and collections, and of their tender feelings for the sufferings of the poor.
And there is more yet of crime. Let any one look at the table of committals for offences, and compare it with the price of wheat from year to year. The exceptions are very rare in which a rise in the price of corn is not also attended by an increase in the number of committals. In the years from 1834 to 1836, when wheat was at 44
d. a quarter, the average number of committals was 21,000; from 1837 to 1841, when wheat averaged 63
d., the annual number of committals was 25,000: 4000 criminals a year added by this horrible sliding-scale of guilt and misery! To take extreme years: in 1835, wheat was a little under 40
s. a quarter; the number of committals was 20,731. In 1842, when wheat was 57
d., the committals rose to 31,309. There are calculations indicating, by the experience of many years, the results of this system. It is a horrible operation to trace out these iniquitous laws, depressing the circumstances, murdering the soul as well as the body, making even the generous and meritorious tendencies of our nature subservient to crime, rendering the love of a man for his own family, and
those dependent upon him, a motive and an incentive to guilt, creating crime, and mocking the Queen’s proclamation for the suppression of vice, by an Act of Parliament for the production of criminality.
Oh! I do declare, before heaven and earth, that I would rather hold up my hand at the bar of the Old Bailey as a culprit driven to crime by the feeling which these iniquitous laws produce, than be one of those who have profited by their enactment to coin money out of the hearts, lives, and consciences of their fellow-creatures.
Nor is this all. The annual table of mortality shows analogous results to those of the table of crime; with the price of wheat, the number of deaths falls and rises. In 1798 and in 1802, wheat was 59
s. a quarter; the average of deaths, 20,508 in London. In 1800, an intermediate year, and therefore not liable to any exception on the ground of increased population, when wheat was upwards of 60
s., the number of deaths was 25,670:5000 deaths in that year analogous with the increase in the price of food, directly tending to impress on our mind the connection of cause and effect. It seems as if that grim monster had forgotten his impartiality—as if the bony tyrant had become the very servant of monopoly; and though it is still, in some measure, true that ‘the rich and the poor lie down together in the grave,’ yet wealth, by its laws, sends the poor there first, and sends them there in numbers to prepare for its own reception. The effect of the classification of society by the different degrees of safety and good lodging and nutriment is, that while of the middle and higher class only one child in five fails to attain the age of five years, in the working class half the number die before they reach that period.
Are we to be told that further experiments should be made in laws connected with phenomena such as these? Are we to give Peel’s bill a longer trail, or any form of monopoly whatever? Are we to have more experiments of privation and disappointment and suffering, of crime and of death? It
was an old medical axiom to let experiments be made upon vile and worthless bodies; but here are laws making the most cruel of all experiments, even upon the body of a great and suffering nation. I say, this is enough to arouse every feeling of our souls, and to proclaim a crusade of men, women, and children, of all ranks and classes, against this iniquity; listening to no compromise until it be put down utterly and for ever. For this we band ourselves.
You, inhabitants of the metropolis, will, I trust, take your rightful position, and go forward in the van, and lead on the march of the provinces. For this we combine our exertions, determined not to rest until we behold realized that great object of our anticipation—the giant form of emancipated labour throned on the ruins of all existing monopolies. For this we strive from year to year; and while there is one atom left of restriction on the statute-book—while there is any enactment injurious to the rights of industry and of labour—while there is any imposition on the food of the people—we will never desist from agitation; no, never, never, never! Towards this consummation from year to year we hold onward our course, endeavouring in all its realizations to effect not only good for ourselves, but for other classes also, however blind they may be to their own interests: for we see in universal freedom the best security for the largest property, as well as the rightful and honourable encouragement for those who have no property at all. We believe commercial freedom will develop intellectual and moral freedom—teaching the different classes their dependence on each other, uniting nations in bonds of brotherhood, and tending to realize the anticipations of the great poet before referred to, whom this day gave to Scotland and the world—
“Now let us pray, that come it may,
As come it shall for a’ that:…
That man to man, the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.”