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
THIS part of the work has involved considerable difficulties. Cobden and Bright never concealed their opinion that war is very seldom either just or necessary. They regarded freedom of trade and freedom of government as powerful allies of peace. They were among the earliest and most effective champions of arbitration. They strenuously opposed the growth of military and naval expenditure, not only because overgrown establishments are incentives to needless wars, but also because they actually weaken the resources of the nation, just as over-insurance may easily cripple and ruin an individual trader. It is worthy of note that the views expressed with so much courage and moderation by Cobden and Bright upon the two great wars of their time have since been endorsed by public opinion, and by the judgment even of those statesmen who opposed them. With the Cobdenic policy of armaments, Mr. Gladstone, a true disciple of Sir Robert Peel, was always in active sympathy; but there were moments which demanded still larger outlook and a still sounder moral judgment when that great Liberal minister went sadly astray. Cobden understood better than Bright the sympathy which Gladstone and others felt for the States of the South; and indeed, for a moment at the outset, Cobden was himself a little doubtful about the merits of the struggle. The action of the Manchester School, and the strong moral support which it won for the North among the working-classes of Lancashire and Yorkshire, probably saved this country from a great war, which could hardly have ended otherwise than with the incorporation of Canada in the United States. Their foresight in 1853-4 was equally conspicuous, and a far larger measure of courage was required. Upon this point no better or more eloquent witness can be called than Mr. Gladstone. ‘I have not,’ said he, in paying a last tribute to Bright, ‘through my whole political life, fully embraced what I take to be the character of Mr. Bright, and the value of that character to the country. I mention this because it was at a peculiar epoch—the epoch of the Crimean War—that I came more fully to understand
than I had done before, the position which was held by him and by his eminent, and I must go a step further and say, his illustrious friend, Mr. Cobden, in the country. These men had lived upon the confidence, the approval, and the applause of the people. The work of their lives had been to propel the tide of public sentiment. Suddenly there came a great occasion on which they differed from the vast majority of their fellow-countrymen. I myself was one of those who did not agree with them in the particular view which they took of the Crimean conflict. But I felt profoundly what must have been the moral elevation of the men who, having been nurtured through their lives in the atmosphere of popular approval and enthusiasm, could at a moment’s notice consent to part with the whole of that favour which they had hitherto enjoyed, and which their opponents thought to be the very breath of their nostrils. They accepted, undoubtedly, the unpopularity of opposing that war, which, although many may have since changed their opinion with regard to it, commanded, if not the unanimous, yet the enormously prevailing approval and concurrence of the country. At that time it was—although we had known much of Mr. Bright before—that we learnt something more. We had known the great mental gifts which distinguished him; we had known his courage and his consistency; we had known his splendid eloquence, which then was or afterwards came to be acknowledged as the loftiest that has sounded within these walls during his generation. But we had not till then known how high the moral tone of those popular leaders had been pitched, what bright examples they set to the whole of their contemporaries and to coming generations, and with what readiness they could part with popular sympathy and support for the sake of the right and of their conscientious convictions.’
In evidence given quite recently before a parliamentary committee on expenditure, Lord Welby has thrown a new light upon Cobden’s financial genius. It was known that he had a firm grasp of economic principles, a wide knowledge (based upon reason, experience, and travel), of economic facts, that his figures were never at fault, that he had unequalled gift for lucid exposition and apt illustration; but it was not known, I think, that Mr. Gladstone, when about to create the post of Comptroller and Auditor-General, offered the position to Cobden, as the man who, though he had not had a single month of official life, was best fitted to undertake the supreme official control and supervision of all the spending departments of Government.
Part III, Essay I
The following is from a speech delivered by Cobden in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on January 10th, 1849, in support of the following resolution: ‘That this meeting resolves to co-operate with the Liverpool Financial Reform Association, and other bodies, in their efforts to reduce the public expenditure to at least the standard of 1835, and to secure a more equitable and economical system of taxation.’ Those who are willing to study it carefully will learn many political secrets. A summary of the speech was conveyed to the
Times the same night ‘by electric telegraph,’ and a verbatim report appeared on January 12th. It was described by the
Times in an unusually friendly article as ‘one of his best speeches,’ which ‘everybody will read with pleasure and with the conviction that he is learning a good deal of truth in a very lucid form.’
We have often, gentlemen, met in this hall to advocate a cause which has brought upon us the charge of being the farmers’ enemies; and now we come forward in another character—we appear here as the farmers’ friends. We have been accused of having subjected the agriculturists of this country to a competition with foreigners. They have complained to us that they are more heavily taxed than the foreign farmers. Now, gentlemen, we come forward to offer them the right hand of fellowship and union, to effect a reduction of ten millions in the cost of our Government. I have moved, and in your name I hope it will go forth to the country, that we co-operate with the financial reformers of Liverpool in their agitation for financial reform, on the condition that we advocate a return to the expenditure of 1835. In 1835, the affairs of this Government were carried on for ten millions less of money than they are this year, and I have
ventured to propose, in a letter
*77 which may have probably met the eyes of some of those present, that we should go back to that expenditure. I have waited three weeks before I should have the opportunity of saying a word in public in defence of my views, to see what would be said against that recommendation. I must confess that my opponents have not given me much to answer. I have heard it said, and it is probably the most valid argument that can be urged, that the population has increased since 1835. True, it has; our numbers are 12½ per cent. more than they were then, and our opponents say that we must allow a larger sum for the government of a great number than a smaller; and I admit the argument so far as civil government goes, and in my plan I allow forty per cent. more for the civil government than was expended in 1835. But I deny that thirteen years of duration of peace is an additional argument why we should have an increase of our forces.
It appears that in 1835 we spent £11,600,000 for our army, navy, and ordnance, and I propose that we now shall not expend more than £10,000,000. What I take from the expenditure for warlike purposes in 1835, I add to the civil expenditure in 1848. We spent for purposes of civil government in 1835, £4,300,000; I allow £5,900,000 for the civil expenditure of the Government now; and taking into account the saving which I contemplate in the cost of collecting the revenue, and in the management of the Crown lands, which I have seen estimated by a financial reformer at something like half a million—taking these into account, I am allowing more than actually we are now expending for the ordinary expenses of the civil government of this country, and thus we get rid altogether of the objection, that increase of population requires an increase of expenditure to govern the people. Then, there has been another argument used also, and it is this: that, during the last year, and the year before, there was a deficiency
of revenue. We have spent more than we have received, and we borrow money; and, therefore, even if my financial plan should be carried out, there still will not be the ten millions to dispose of in the remission of taxes. Well, my answer to that is this—and these cunning financiers who meet me with this argument ought to know it—that if the revenue has fallen off during the last year and the year before, it has been because the balance-sheets of our merchants and manufacturers have been equally adverse. The revenue has been deficient because the profits have been annihilated in the trade of every man in the country; but now that you have food at moderate prices, trade revives, and instantly you see the revenue increasing, and next year, perhaps this year—the next year, certainly—will see you with a surplus revenue as certainly as you had a deficiency last year. But I say, gentlemen—and I want to keep the financial reformers to this point, because we must have one simple article of faith, or we cannot march together—I say, give me the expenditure back again of 1835, and I will guarantee you the remission of ten millions of taxation. If you want—if the country wants to reduce their duty on tea one-half; if you wish to abolish altogether the duty upon timber, upon butter, upon cheese, upon soap, upon paper, upon malt, upon house-windows; if you wish to put an end to a system that curtails those necessaries and comforts—then raise your voices throughout the country, simultaneously, for the expenditure of 1835.
Now, where is the difficulty? Where is the difficulty of returning to the expenditure of 1835? Why, the whole question lies in the amount of your warlike armaments. The whole question is, Will the Government be content to waste ten millions of money in unproductive services like your fighting establishments—I mean your fighting establishments in a time of peace? Will our Government be content with ten millions? and if not, why not? I want the arguments—why not? I was asked the other day by an M.P., ‘When are you going into the details to show how you propose to carry on
the Government upon your plan?’ My answer was this: ‘I should be a very bad tactician, and but a poor logician, if, when I have made a proposal that the Government should support its warlike establishments with ten millions of money, I did not call upon them to give me an answer, and to show me why they cannot maintain them with ten millions.’ I put them on the defensive. I ask them whether they have made the most of the money they receive. How do you think they dispose of the money? Why, you maintain one hundred and fifty admirals, besides fifty retired admirals. Well, but how many do you think you employ? Why, during the heat of the great French war—the greatest war on record—when you had nearly one thousand pennants flying, you never employed more than thirty-six admirals at one time—and at this time you have but fourteen admirals in active service. With all their ingenuity of putting admirals to work when they are not wanted, they can only find employment for fourteen. Well, then, I find in the army you have a colonel for every regiment who does the work; and you have another colonel of every regiment, who is the tailor to the regiment—who never goes near it—who never sees it—whom the men would not know if he did go near it; but he supplies clothes to them, and gets the profits of a tailor. These are illustrations how money is wasted. But I won’t confine myself to the abuses and waste that occur. I tell you plainly from the outset, that, in order to effect such a reduction of expenditure for your armaments as you require for a relief to the country, a material relief—that will be felt in the homes and at the firesides of the population of this country—you must reduce the number of men. You must be content with a smaller manifestation of brute force in the eyes of the world. You must trust something to Providence—something to your own just intentions—and your good conduct to other nations; and you must rely less upon that costly, that wasteful expenditure, arising from so enormous a display of brute force.
Now, gentlemen,’ I will bring this matter home to my
opponents with a very few figures. How is it we have had this great increase in the cost of our-armaments? Has it been only an increase of waste, an increase in the number of admirals, and an increase in the number of colonels? No; it is because you have augmented the number of your men. I hold in my hand a statement made by Lord John Russell in the House of Commons last session. I will quote his own figures. He gives me the increase of the army, navy, and ordnance, since 1835; and in 1835 the number of men in all these services was 135,743; in last year they were 196,063. The increase in the number of men in the army, navy, and ordnance, since 1835, has been 60,320. Now, what has been the increase of the expenditure? In 1835, the total cost of all these services was £11,600,000. In the present year it is upwards of £18,000,000. The increase of the men has been as nearly as possible fifty per cent., and the increase in the money has been about fifty per cent. also. It is perfectly understood when Parliament votes the men, it must vote corresponding establishments in every direction; and, therefore, while I admit there are abuses, and great waste and mismanagement, I say, if you want a material reduction in the cost of your armaments, you must at once boldly proceed on the plan of reducing the number of armed men.
Why should you not reduce them? Why have they been increased? There has always been a ready excuse for adding to the force when an augmentation of the army, navy, or ordnance has been proposed; but what I complain of is, that when the alleged occasion of the increase has passed away, we never have a diminution. In 1835, as I have told you, our armaments were at the lowest point. In 1836, a cry was got up that the Russians were coming to invade us. I remember penning a pamphlet, to expose the absurdity of the cry, that the Russians were preparing to invade the coast of Norfolk some foggy morning; but that cry was an excuse for an increase in our navy. Then, again, in
1839, after the unfortunate scenes at Monmouth, in which Frost, Williams, and Jones were concerned—I suppose I must call it rebellion—there was immediately a proposal made by Lord John Russell for an increase of 5000 men to the army. That increase was made specifically to meet the case of the Chartist riots; but when tranquillity returned, we never heard a word about reducing those 5000 men. If you follow step by step the increase in our armaments, you will find the same course pursued. At one time, we must needs go and settle affairs in Syria, and we sent a large fleet to bombard Acre, and fight Ibrahim Pasha, or some other Pasha. Then we had a quarrel with the French at Tahiti. Then in 1845, there was a dispute about the Oregon boundary. As President Polk talked a great deal about fighting, and some men in the House of Representatives uttered more nonsense than usual, our Government proposed a large increase in the navy, and we had the ‘squadron of evolution’ fitted out—this squadron of evolution is still going on with its evolutions. This was as a demonstration against America; but the Oregon question was settled—the Tahiti question is settled—the Chartists, I hope, are now well employed and comfortable; where, then, is the pretence for keeping up all these increased armaments?
But I have not forgotten the last excuse. You remember, this time last year, standing on this platform, I raised my voice in conjunction with yours—and we stood almost alone—against that wicked attempt to impose on us by increasing our national defences to protect us against an invasion from France. By way of parenthesis, for your encouragement and the encouragement of the country, let me just remind you of the progress of opinion since then. We then had to contend against the increase of our overgrown establishments—we had an up-hill battle, but we succeeded. Now, here is a proposal before the country to reduce the cost of our armaments nearly one-half, and that proposal is receiving more favour with the public within twelve months than our resistance to an increase of the armaments did last year.
And why is it? Because, in spite of all the efforts to mystify the public mind on the subject, events on the Continent have trumpet-tongued declared, that the attempt to frighten us with the threat of an unprovoked attack from France, was a vile slander upon that nation. We were told this time last year, ‘It is true the French are quiet now, because Louis Philippe, the Napoleon of Peace, is on the throne; but wait till he dies, and you will see how the French people, that are now kept in by this wise monarch, will break loose on their neighbours.’ Louis Philippe is politically dead; the French people were thrown entirely on their own resources—the bridle on their necks, the bit in their mouths, the masses were all-powerful, and the Government, on its knees, was ready to follow them to the utmost bent of their passions. Has there been amidst that 35,000,000 of people, your next neighbours, one whisper that could justify the accusations made against them last year by those wicked alarmists and panic-mongers whom I will never forgive, or, if I do, I will never forget to remind them of their wickedness? Has there been one act of the French people to warrant the imputation that they wished to come and attack you? But I won’t confine myself to that. There were countries nearer home which everybody supposed the French more likely to attack than to attempt to conquer England. Has there been the slightest wish displayed on the part of the French people to make the Rhine the boundary of their empire? Have they invaded Belgium? Have they entered Holland? Have they conquered Italy? Have they shown the slighest disposition for conquest in any way? On the contrary, wherever a public man has sought to conciliate the French people, has he not addressed them in terms of peace, and promised them, above all things, that he will follow a pacific policy? Take their President—a Napoleon Buonaparte—I say nothing of his fitness to be President of the Republic, that is the affair of the French people, not ours; but observe, when such an individual canvasses the French people for their suffrages, how he accosts them. Does he
promise them a war against England, or at least an invasion of Belgium? What said Louis Napoleon in his address to the French people?—
‘With war, there can be no mitigation of our sufferings. Peace shall, therefore, be the most cherished object of my desires. At the time of her first revolution France was warlike, because others compelled her to be so. She was attacked, and she rolled back the tide of conquest upon her invaders. But now that nobody attacks her, she can devote all her resources to peaceful amelioration, without abandoning a firm and honourable policy.’
Now, does that look as if you had been wisely spending your money in fortifying yourselves, and keeping up your enormous standing armaments, because certain parties, who are interested in clothing regiments, or being admirals, with nothing to do, choose to tell you that the French people are a mighty hobgoblin, ready to come over and devour you some morning. I have dwelt longer on this subject, because what I stated with reference to the great mass of the French people last year was perverted: I said that property in France was more divided than in any other country in the world. I said there were 8,000,000 or 10,000,000 of real proprietors in France. The whole soil of that vast empire—and it is the richest on the surface of Europe—is cut up in small properties, held in fee-simple by those who cultivate it. And when those who write in certain aristocratic journals talk of dangers arising to a country from the minute subdivision of its property, I am very much disposed to whisper in their ears whether the lessons of history have not taught us that the danger is wholly different. Let them point out the nation that has been ruined because its property was in too many hands. Does not ruin rather proceed from property being accumulated by a small number of persons, and the consequent indulgence of luxury and corruption by the few, and the degradation and misery of the mass? The argument I drew last year, and which I repeat here now, confirmed by experience since, is this, that the people in France, being nearly all proprietors, and having to pay for any war they may wish to carry on, will not
vote for a war, as they would have to vote for more taxation. I believe that Louis Napoleon, Cavaignac, and Guizot, whose book was published only yesterday, and every man in France, including M. Thiers, will agree with me, that if there be one passion more predominant than another among the mass of the French people, it is the desire for peace. But I do not confine myself to France. I will take Germany; I will take Italy; and I ask, where, amidst their convulsions—where monarchs have abdicated, where popes and potentates have run away in the disguises of lacqueys, or gone down on their knees before the mob in their ascendant—where, in all Europe, has there been among the mass of the people one sign or symptom of a desire for aggressive war on their neighbours?
Beware of another mystification. One of the most favourite of the enemy’s devices is this—they raise a confusion in your minds by pointing to the internal disorders in foreign countries, and persuade you it is a state of war. I told you the people abroad were for peace, and so they are; but when the revolutions broke out, these fallacy-mongers exclaimed, ‘Here’s Cobden, just come back from the Continent, tells us the people are all for peace—now they are all for war.’ They have been in a state of revolution to obtain precisely the same ends for which this country went through a revolution two centuries ago. And though in France the gain, even in the way of practical liberty, has not been so great as in other countries—for they had a great amount of practical freedom before their last revolution—yet, when you compare the state of Germany and Italy with what it was when I was there not two years ago, I say that, with their convulsions, slight and evanescent compared with our war against prerogative under our first Charles, Germany and Italy have gained an amount of freedom which required ten years’ civil war in England to achieve. I left them in those countries with every newspaper and every book under the strict control of the censor. I left them with closed courts of justice administering law, not by oral testimony in presence of the
accused, but by written documentary evidence. I left them without a representative form of government, without trial by jury; and now, though they may blunder and stumble in the path of freedom, they are at least in the highway for obtaining the same constitutional privileges—as soon as they can use them they may have them—as we have ourselves. In spite of all the attempts of the press and public men to cry out ‘Reaction,’ and applaud the despots and their soldiers, who are willing to fight for tyranny, I, in the presence of this great assembly and in their name, do express sympathy for the people who are struggling for their liberties. Do not think I am talking to you of politics foreign to your interests here. It is by studied misrepresentation of what is going on upon the Continent that our enormous standing armaments are maintained and defended in this country. I say that the progress of constitutional rights on the Continent must be favourable to the preservation of peace, because I think I have proved to you that the mass of the people on the Continent, like the mass of the people in this country, are favourable to peace, and averse to war.
But you have another safeguard. I defy you to show me how any Government or people on the Continent can strengthen themselves, even if they choose to carry on a war of conquest. Let France invade Germany, it only makes Germany unite like one man—the whole Teutonic race are united as one man to repel the French. What is their predominant sentiment? The union of Germany, not for aggressive force, but for defensive succour. What is the cry in Italy? Italian nationality. What is the contest between Lombardy and Austria? The house of Austria may call Lombardy part of its territory, but there is another race, the Latin race, which says, ‘We will not be governed by a Teutonic race; and, though the Austrians may keep down the Italians by Radetzki and his 100,000 troops, Lombardy will be a source of weakness, not of strength, to them. I defy you to show me any partition
where an accession of territory has not been rather a source of weakness than of strength. Take the very worst that can happen. Suppose any power on the Continent is going to attack its neighbour, is there any reason why we should be armed to the teeth in order to take part in the struggle? In ancient times, when the people were counted as nothing, and when sovereigns told out their subjects as a shepherd would his flock; when a royal marriage united the crowns of two kingdoms, and the people of both became the willing subjects, or even serfs, of the one sovereign, there might have been danger in an acquisition of territory. But now that the people count everywhere for something, and we see on the Continent of Europe great lines of demarcation of race—the Italian Peninsula, for instance, one; Spain, another; Germany, another—and when you find the great mosaic mass of Austrian dominion broken up, as it were, into Sclaves and Magyars, I see new limits assigned to conquest. I repeat, there is no longer any reason to fear that one empire will take possession, by force of arms, of its neighbour’s territory; but, if it should, the accession of territory would be a source of weakness, not of strength. Take it at the worst, then; let the nations of the Continent attack each other; who is coming to attack you, if you only let their politics alone?
This brings me to another position which has an important bearing on the reduction of our armaments, and that is, we must let other people manage their own affairs. The Spaniards, who have very wise maxims, say, ‘A fool knows more of what is going on in his own house than a wise man does in that of his neighbour.’ Now, if we will apply that to nations, mind our own business, and give foreigners the credit of being able to manage their own concerns better than we can do for them, or they with our interference, it will save us a great deal of money, and they will have their affairs settled better and sooner than if we intermeddled with them. But what are we doing? There cannot be a petty squabble in any country in Europe or the
globe, but we must have a great fleet of line-of-battle ships sent from England to take part in it. We have just interfered between Naples and Sicily—what is the consequence? We are detested by both parties. In all Italy it is the same. They speak of Englishmen with contempt and execration; not because they undervalue our qualities as men—no, they pay as high a tribute to the qualities of Englishmen as we could desire—but, as a nation, as a Government, interfering with their politics, from one end of the Peninsula to the other, the Italians cordially hate and detest us. So with regard to Spain—we have spent hundreds of millions on Spain, and what is the present state of feeling there? I travelled from one end of Spain to the other, and I never heard the name of the Duke of Wellington mentioned, although he fought their battles, as we persuade ourselves—I never saw his portrait or bust through all my travels, but I saw Napoleon’s and his marshals’ everywhere. At this very moment, Napoleon and France are more popular in Spain than England and Englishmen. It is the same in Greece—the same in Portugal. The English people are hated, because we interfere with their politics. Is not that a very undignified attitude for a great nation like this to occupy? If we kept aloof from their squabbles, and contented ourselves with setting foreigners a good example—if we put our own houses in order—if we set our mud cabins in Ireland in order—we should show a great deal more common sense than in attempting to manage the affairs of other nations when we are not responsible for their government. But an argument has been used why we should interfere; and I like to hear it, for it shows that our opponents are at their last extremity. They say, ‘If we don’t interfere France will interfere;’ and so it is—we have sent a fleet to Naples, because the French had a fleet there. I remember, at the last stage of the anti-corn law agitation, our opponents were driven to this position—’Free trade is a very good thing, but you cannot have it until other countries adopt it too;’ and I used to say, ‘If free trade be a good thing for us, we will have it: let others take it, if it be a good for them; if
not, let them do without it.’ So I say now, if our constant interference with the affairs of the Continent be a costly, useless, pernicious policy for us, and if France—if Austria, choose to adopt that policy and ruin themselves by it, let them do so, but don’t let us follow their example. This is common sense, although it does not pervade high quarters in this country.
We have another argument to meet. We are told we must keep up enormous armaments, because we have got so many colonies. People tell me I want to abandon our colonies; but I say, do you intend to hold your colonies by the sword, by armies, and ships of war? That is not a permanent hold upon them. I want to retain them by their affections. If you tell me that our soldiers are kept for their police, I answer, the English people cannot afford to pay for their police. The inhabitants of those colonies are a great deal better off than the mass of the people of England—they are in the possession of a vast deal more of the comforts of life than the bulk of those paying taxes here; they have very few of those taxes that plague us here so much—excise, stamps, and taxes, those fiscal impediments which beset you every day in your callings, are hardly known in our colonies. Our colonies are very able to protect themselves. Every man among them has his fowling-piece, and, if any savages come to attack them, they can defend themselves. They have another guarantee—if civilized men treat savages like men, there is never any occasion to quarrel with them. With regard to our navy, they tell us it is necessary because of our trade with the colonies. I should have thought it was just that trade which wanted no navy at all. It is a sort of coasting trade; our ships are at home when they get to our colonies. We don’t want any navy to protect our trade with America, which is a colony emancipated; and we may thank our stars it has broke loose; it never would have been such a customer if the aristocracy of England had held that field of patronage for their younger sons. You don’t want a ship of war to
protect your trade with the United States; and last year you exported to them £10,900,000 of your produce, more by upwards of a million than you exported to all your colonies together, India excepted. Sir William Molesworth, in that admirable speech of his on the colonies, showed that, by a better administration, not by taking away altogether your force from the colonies, but by an improved system of government, you might save £2,000,000 per annum.
You have to make up your mind to one thing—you cannot afford all this waste. It is not a matter of choice with you. I tell you, you are spending too much money as a nation. It is not merely your general taxation—your local taxation likewise oppresses you. Mark me, the greater the cost of your armaments falling on general taxation, the more you will have to spend in poor rates and other taxes. The more you waste of the capital of the country, the more people will be wanting employment; and when they want employment, it is the law of England that the poorest, who are the first to begin to suffer under a course of national extravagance or decay, have the right to come to those above them and demand subsistence, under the name of poor rate; so that, in proportion as the extravagance of Government increases, poor rates and the expenses of a repressive police increase also. You must, therefore, lessen the national expenditure, or the catastrophe cannot long be deferred. I have detained you already too long, but there is one thing I wish to impress upon you before I sit down. It is of paramount moment to the English people that we should not allow ourselves to entertain an undue or exaggerated notion of our own importance as a nation, or to take a too unfavourable view of other countries. It is through your national pride that cunning people manage to extract taxes from you. They persuade you that nothing can be done abroad unless you do it; and that you are so superior to all other countries,
that your next neighbour, France, for instance, is nothing but a band of brigands, and unless you are constantly on the watch, they will be ready to pounce upon you and carry off your property. Until, as a nation, we give credit to other people for being able to work out their own liberties—unless we believe there is something of honour and honesty in other countries to shield us from unjust aggression on their part, we must always be armed to secure ourselves from the imaginary attacks of our neighbours. Other nations are far too intelligent to require that we should always be armed to the teeth, in order to let them know how strong we are. I don’t believe that the French will come to attack the English merely because we happen to have a few less ships of war or a few less regiments than we now possess. Their Government will look far beyond your manifestation of force. They will inquire what is the wealth, the power, the public spirit of our people? are we a contented nation, attached to our institutions, governed well, united as one man against an enemy? and if they see the indications of this latent national power, depend on it they won’t wantonly rush into war with us, even if we do not always go armed to the teeth, and do not always show ourselves ready for fighting.
Take the case of the United States. America has three times, within the last few years, had a misunderstanding with two of the greatest Powers of the world—twice with England, once with France. We had the Maine boundary and the Oregon territory to settle with the United States, and America had her quarrel with France, arising out of a claim for compensation of £1,000,000, which the French Government refused to pay. What was the issue of those controversies? When the claim was refused by France, General Jackson, then the head of the American Government, published his declaration, that if the money was not paid forthwith, he would seize French ships and pay himself. At that time—I have it from Americans themselves—the French had three times the force of ships-of-war
that America had; Admiral Mackau was in the Gulf of Florida with a fleet large enough to ravage the whole coast of America and bombard her towns; but did France rush into war with America? She paid the money. Why? Because she knew well, if she provoked an unjust war with the United States, their men-of-war were nothing compared with the force that would swarm out of every American port when brought into collision with another country. France knew that America had the larger mercantile marine; and, though at first the battle might be to the stronger in an armed fleet, in the end it would be that country which had the greatest amount of public spirit, and the greatest number of mercantile ships and sailors. What was the case with England? In 1842 there was a talk of war with America, on account of the Maine boundary question. Bear in mind that America never spent more than £1,200,000 on her navy, in any year of peace previous to 1842. We are spending this year £7,000,000 or £8,000,000; but will anybody tell me that America fared worse in that dispute because her resources in ships-of-war were far inferior to ours? No; but we increased our navy, and we had a squadron of evolution, as it was called. America never mounted a gun at New York to prevent the bombardment of the city; but did she fare the worse? We sent a peer of the realm (Lord Ashburton) to Washington; it was on American soil that the quarrel was adjusted, and rumour does say that America made a very good bargain. It is the spirit of a people, the prosperity of a people, the growing strength, the union, the determination of a people, that command respect.
Now, what I want you as a nation to do, is to believe that other countries will just take the same measure of us that we took of America. They won’t come and attack us merely because we reduce our armaments to £10,000,000. On the contrary, other countries, I believe, will follow our example. I believe, if we are not very quick, France will set us the example. I see General Cavaignac, and all their best men,
advocating a reduction of the army. A formal proposal has been made to reduce their army one-half, as the only means of saving the country from financial confusion. Let us encourage these good men in their good work. And, though our Government do not set the example, let us, from this Free Trade Hall, tell General Cavaignac and his followers that we will undertake to reduce the cost of our fighting establishments, man for man, as they do theirs.
When they tell us that we are in danger of a collision at any moment with foreign powers—when they tell us that a couple of drunken captains of frigates at the Antipodes may suddenly embroil this country in war with France, and that this is a reason why we ought always to be armed and prepared for hostile conflict—I ask you, as reasonable Christian men, why should we not adopt the proposal which has been made at so many public meetings, and which I shall submit to the House next session—to insert a clause in a treaty with foreign nations, binding each other that in case of collision between two drunken captains, or a dispute arising from the conduct of some indiscreet consul at Tahiti—in case of a misunderstanding on any point whatever, each should be bound to submit the subject-matter of dispute to arbitration—that, instead of drawing the sword being the point of honour to which nations shall resort, it shall be to fulfil honourably the treaty by which the dispute shall be referred to arbitration, and abide honourably by the decision when pronounced?
To conclude, I tell you, if anything is to be done in this matter of financial reform, it must be done by the people out of doors. There never was a time when independent men in the House of Commons—I mean the very few independent, both by circumstances and by feeling, of both the two great parties who have hitherto divided sway in this country, were so weak as they are at this moment. And why? Because the party in power is nominally the same party as ourselves; because their followers mingle more or less with ourselves,
and we are neutralized at every turn, or, at all events, we find a wet blanket on our shoulders, whenever we go into the House of Commons. Now, if you want to carry financial reform, it must be carried precisely in the same way that Free Trade was carried. You must speak out of doors in a voice that will be heard and felt in the House of Commons. The representative system, as we have got it, is a very clumsy machine. The House of Commons nominally has to look after the pursestrings of the people, and see that taxes are lightly and equably laid on; but you are obliged to leave your business, and form financial associations, to compel the House of Commons to do that which it is designed to do, but does not. There is no help for it. We must do it ourselves. I honour that excellent and tried veteran friend of ours—Mr. Hume. I admire his efforts; I venerate the constancy, the downright pluck, the granite-like hardihood and consistency of the man, who, through good and bad repute, for thirty-seven years, has advocated the people’s interest in the most material and useful form. We will back him. We will strengthen his hands, and enable him to do that in future which he has not been able to do in times past.
Part III, Essay III