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
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.
With this exception the Manchester School may be said to have directed our commercial policy ever since 1842, and to have exercised until quite recent years a very great
influence upon the foreign and colonial policy of both great parties in the State. Yet its steady and convinced adherents, who could be depended upon in fair weather and foul, never constituted a tithe of the House of Commons. Its two principal instruments, Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone, were converts, who made their submissions more or less unconsciously and reluctantly, after years of unbelief, to the doctrine of Free Trade. Yet the precepts of the Manchester men, who, in conjunction with their allies, the Philosophical Radicals, not only altered the course of British policy, but rewrote the laws and reformed the constitution of the whole British Empire, have never been presented as a whole. The only means by which the student can assuage his curiosity is by collecting quite a number of books, many of which are out of print.
In the last chapter of his famous biography of Cobden Mr. Morley tries to show in a few sentences how the Manchester School may be distinguished from the Philosophical Radicals, and illustrates the distinction by a characteristic difference between Mr. Cobden and Mr. Mill:—
‘It was his view of policy as a whole, connected with the movement of wealth and industry all over the world, that distinguished Cobden and his allies from the Philosophic Radicals, who had been expected to form so great and powerful a school in the reformed Parliament. Hume had anticipated him in attacking expenditure, and Mr. Roebuck in preaching self-government in the colonies. It was not until Retrenchment and Colonial Policy were placed in their true relation to the new and vast expansion of commerce and the growth of population, that any considerable number of people accepted them. The Radical party only became effective when it had connected its principles with economic facts. The different points of view of the Manchester School and of the Philosophical Radicals were illustrated in Mr. Mill’s opposition to the alterations which Cobden had advocated in international maritime law. Mr. Mill argued that the best way of stopping wars is to make them as onerous as possible to the citizens of the country concerned, and therefore that to protect the goods of the merchants of a belligerent country is to give them one motive the less for hindering their
Government from making war. With all reverence for the ever-admirable author of this argument, it must be pronounced to be abstract and unreal, when compared with Cobden’s. You are not likely to prevent the practice of war, he contended; but what you can do is to make it less destructive to the interests and the security of great populations. An argument of this kind rests on a more solid basis, and suggests a wider comprehension of actual facts. In the same way he translated the revolutionary watchword of the Fraternity of Peoples into the language of common sense and practice, and the international sentiment as interpreted by him became an instrument for preserving as well as improving European order. He was justified in regarding his principles as the true Conservatism of modern societies.’
If I were asked to sum up in a sentence the difference and the connection, I would say that the Manchester men were the disciples of Adam Smith and Bentham, while the Philosophical Radicals followed Bentham and Adam Smith.
After Hume—of whose useful work I have ventured to rescue an early specimen—Molesworth is, of all the Philosophical Radicals, most closely associated with the Manchester School. Bentham’s watchword, ‘Emancipate your colonies,’ is the key to the best part of Molesworth’s life; and his searching exposure of Colonial Expenditure and Government which appears in this volume was reprinted by the Financial Reform Association as an exposition of Cobdenic policy.
Perhaps the favourite misapprehension about the Manchester School is that in its anxiety to enlarge and secure the freedom of the individual it was not merely jealous but entirely hostile to the activity of the State. This vulgar error may be referred to two main causes. First, the work of the School in the thirty years following the Reform Act was mainly a work of emancipation. The prime necessity of progress was to destroy bad laws and to free society from the chains which fettered its moral and economic development. The second cause was the action of a slow and rather dogmatical section of wealthy adherents, who, after the death of their leader, displayed a real, but narrow and unimaginative, devotion to his principles
by persistently marking time when they should have been pushing forward to the solution of new problems like the land question, which his keen eye had foreseen and marked out for solution. ‘If I were five and twenty or thirty,’ said Cobden a few months before his death, ‘instead of, unhappily, twice that number of years, I would take Adam Smith in hand—I would not go beyond him, I would have no politics in it—I would take Adam Smith in hand, and I would have a League for Free Trade in Land just as we had a League for Free Trade in Corn.’ That those who formed and led the Manchester School were averse to increasing the scope and power of Government, except where a very strong case had been made out, no one will deny. Let us take the strongest possible illustration from a letter written by Cobden in 1836:—
‘I yield to no man in the world (be he ever so stout an advocate of the Ten Hours’ Bill) in a hearty good-will towards the great body of the working classes; but my sympathy is not of that morbid kind which would lead me to despond over their future prospects. Nor do I partake of that spurious humanity which would indulge in an unreasoning kind of philanthropy at the expense of the great bulk of the community. Mine is that masculine species of charity which would lead me to inculcate in the minds of the labouring classes the love of independence, the privilege of self-respect, the disdain of being patronized or petted, the desire to accumulate, and the ambition to rise. I know it has been found easier to please the people by holding out flattering and delusive prospects of cheap benefits to be derived from Parliament rather than by urging them to a course of self-reliance; but while I will not be the sycophant of the great, I cannot become the parasite of the poor.’
Cobden, as the late Lord Farrer once observed, did no doubt underestimate the usefulness of State action, especially in regard to factory legislation, and did overestimate the evils of State intervention. We have learned in the last few years that the State can do a great deal for the poor, especially in large towns, by prescribing certain rules of health and
minimum standards of air-space and sanitation in their homes,
factories, and workshops. But although Cobden and his friends (wrongly as we now think) disliked factory legislation for adults they were no fanatical or hard-and-fast opponents of State action. And to suggest that men whose whole lives were given up to public and parliamentary life, who constantly sought to extend the power, the activity, and the democratic character of local administration, were mere iconoclasts and enemies of Government is preposterous. Did not Cobden spend six months of his life in obtaining a municipal charter for Manchester? And was it not due to the co-operation of these practical politicians with the Philosophical Radicals that the ideas of Bentham, the greatest of all our constructive statesmen, were printed in the Statute-book? Above all, let these shallow critics of the Manchester School remember how jealously Cobden and Fox, with their Radical comrade, Joseph Hume, preached upon the necessity for improving education. The chief enemy of popular education then, as now, was religion, and especially established religion. For the Anglican hierarchy being established, considered that it had a right to administer national money for its own sectarian purposes, and to give, as it were, an Anglican flavour to all forms of instruction. Bright fought with all his might on the side of the Nonconformists. ‘Nothing,’ he said in 1847, ‘tends more to impede the progress of liberty, nothing is more fatal to independence of spirit in the public, than to add to the powers of the priesthood in matters of education. If you give them such increased powers by legislative enactment, you do more than you could effect by any other means to enslave and degrade a people subject to their influence.’ Cobden held that education should be secular, universal, and compulsory—a terrible mouthful for his Lancashire disciples to swallow.
The first great work of the Manchester School was, of course, the repeal of the Corn Laws. It was accomplished by the political education and organization of the people, and by the conversion of the more intelligent members of the
governing classes. There is a fine passage in one of W. J. Fox’s speeches against the corn laws, in which he claimed that in all the successive phases of the free-trade cause just and peaceful means had been employed for the attainment of a good end. Fox was speaking in January, 1845—at the beginning of the end—and he described the history of the movement up to that time with his usual freshness and lucidity. It fell into four stages, beginning with the speculations of Adam Smith and other political economists. ‘The cause of free trade was then enshrined in scientific volumes; it was an intellectual discovery. The latent powers of the philosopher were employed to make a science of that which theretofore had been a mere chaos of isolated facts. They accomplished this; but they did not realize free trade for the country by so doing, because legislators are not chosen for their knowledge of the science of national prosperity.’
The next stage in the process was that from a science it became a policy:—
‘Principles were wrought out into their details, and applied to the practical concerns of the country. Exhibition was made gradually in different directions of the way in which trade and commerce were effected. For this change, let us never forget how largely we are indebted to the pages of the
Westminster Review and to the writings of the author of the
Corn Law Catechism. That noble veteran in our cause, Colonel Peronet Thompson, may be said to have accomplished this stage in the process almost single-handed, to have advanced the politico-economical science into a national policy.’
Peronet Thompson deserves high praise, but the historian will repair the omission of names at least as important at this stage—Huskisson, Joseph Hume, and Sir H. Parnell. But still, though some improvements of the tariff were effected in the twenties and thirties, the corn laws remained intact, and the country was still groaning and starving under a dead weight of protectionist taxation. Free Trade was not yet a party watchword. Whigs and Tories still hoisted their old banners and fought their old sham fight. It was not until Cobden had
thought the subject out, converted the best of the northern manufacturers, and organized the Anti-Corn-Law League that victory was assured. From that time forward right down to the recent development of fiscal imperialism, no English statesman has ventured to doubt that the prosperity of one nation is good for another, that you cannot reduce your imports without reducing your exports, and that the imposition of any duty either upon an import or upon an export must hamper industry and reduce wealth.
After the establishment of free trade, the most important work done by the Manchester School for humanity, liberty, and progress was its exposition of the political economy of war and of the hideous contrast which the results even of successful wars invariably present to the confident anticipations of their promoters. In investigating the panics, spontaneous or preconcerted, which foster militarism and always pave the way for the enlargement of armaments, Cobden probed the problem with unequalled skill. His ‘Three Panics’
*1 showed how, in times of peace, France had been accustomed to maintain a naval force ‘not greatly varying from the proportion of two-thirds of our own.’ It had been the policy of the two Governments to maintain this proportion, and any attempt to disturb it only led to a retaliatory increase, In 1840-41 the French increased their navy almost to an equality with our own. The strain upon our finances was severely felt, and Sir Robert Peel made one of those great original pronouncements, which, coming from a Prime Minister, lend worldly weight to the humble lesson of common sense and morality.
‘Is not the time come,’ said he, ‘when the powerful countries of Europe should reduce those military armaments which they have so sedulously raised? Is not the time come, when they should be prepared to declare that there is no use in such overgrown establishments? What is the advantage of one power
greatly increasing its army and navy? Does it not see that other powers will follow its example? The consequence of this must be, that no increase of relative strength will accrue to any one power; but there must be a universal consumption of the resources of every country in military preparations. They are, in fact, depriving peace of half its advantages, and anticipating the energies of war whenever they may be required.’
Here, then, was a practical policy to lay before the civilized world.
‘The true interest of Europe is to come to some one common accord, so as to enable every country to reduce those military armaments which belong to a state of war rather than of peace. I do wish that the councils of every country (or that the public voice and mind, if the councils did not) would willingly propagate such a doctrine.’
The second half of Cobden’s political life was mainly devoted to the task of impressing this practical policy upon peoples, parliaments, and governments. How many thousands of lives, how many millions of money have been saved by the partial acceptance of his policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries, by the discredit he brought on the theory of the balance of power, by his earnest and (for a time) successful efforts to limit the cost of the army and navy, by his advocacy of arbitration as the only civilized means for the settlement of disputes between nations, no man can tell. His achievements in this sphere alone give him a place among the immortals.
Another distinguished member of the School, Milner Gibson (whose name is especially remembered in connection with the repeal of the taxes on knowledge), was, I believe, one of the first to give point to Ricardo’s moral that if you are to keep Ministers peaceful you must keep them poor. A surplus is always apt to lead to military waste, and every year as the Budget came into view the Manchester politicians stirred up the country to demand the abolition of some oppressive
impost. They knew that if this demand were louder and more popular than the cries of the half-pay officers, contractors, and of the whole tribe of panicmongers, then, but then only, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would yield, and the surplus, instead of causing an increase of public waste, would be used to reduce taxation.
‘I have observed that there is always a great deal of pressure for an increase of the army and navy, and a great complaint about the defencelessness of the country, whenever there is a surplus income over expenditure. Why, it is a tempting thing, a large heap of money at the table of the Exchequer, and the knowledge, on the part of the “Services,” that if John Bull can be sufficiently frightened into the cry for increased defences, there is very good chance of some of the money being divided among them and theirs. Now, they have an eye on the surplus at this moment. I have an eye also on that surplus, which makes me peculiarly interested in this question. I want to apply it to the repeal of the taxes on knowledge; and, by spreading sound information among the people, to do something for their future happiness and prosperity.’
‘It would seem,’ adds Mr. Cobden, in his history of the Second Panic (1851-1853), ‘as if there were some unseen power behind the Government, always able, unless held in check by an agitation in the country, to help itself to a portion of the national savings, limited only by the taxable patience of the public.’
The action of the leaders of the Manchester School in relation to the Crimean War is memorable and glorious. They did all that was in their power to avert the calamity, to strengthen the hands of Lord Aberdeen, of Mr. Gladstone, and of the pacific members of the Cabinet, against the war party and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, our Turcophile ambassador at
Constantinople. In vain. The calamity could not be averted. The nation was only too ready to be misguided by a press which was only too ready to believe, to circulate, and to exaggerate reports of Russian barbarity, and to contrast it with the mythical humanity of ‘the noble Turk.’ When the war had broken out Cobden tried to restrict it to the sea. When that policy was abandoned, he and Bright, with warm assistance at a later stage from Mr. Gladstone, sought, as opportunities presented themselves, to insist upon the duty of concluding a peace which should secure the ostensible objects originally proposed by our Government. Only those who are old enough to remember the fifties, and those who have well studied a most important and most neglected period of English history, can at all realize the storm of contumely which burst upon the heads of Cobden and Bright. They were deserted by many of their best friends. For months the basest demagogues won applause by denouncing them as traitors. But a few years passed, and every man of sense and every statesman of repute acknowledged that the war had been a great mistake, that its objects were either unattained or not worth attainment, that we had ‘put our money’—as Lord Salisbury long afterwards observed—’on the wrong horse.’
In 1857 Palmerston was beaten by a combination of Peelites, Tories, and Manchester men, who united to censure the Government for its conduct in the affair of the lorcha Arrow. But the war fever had not worn off. Palmerston appealed to the country to support his barbarous policy in China, and won what appeared to be a complete triumph. The Manchester School and its allies were thought to have received a crushing blow. Cobden, Bright, Milner Gibson, Fox, and Miall all lost their seats. But opinions and principles cannot be crushed by electoral reverses, and a letter from Bright to Cobden ‘put the case exactly as, to a historical observer five and twenty years later, it would seem that it ought to have been put’
‘In the sudden break up of the “School,” of which we have been the chief professors, we may learn how far we have been, and are, ahead of the public opinion of our time. We purpose not to make a trade of politics, and not to use as may best suit us the prejudices of our countrymen for our own advantage, but rather to try to square the politics of the country with the maxims of common sense and of a plain morality. The country is not yet ripe for this, but it is far nearer being so than at any former period, and I shall not despair of a revolution in opinion which shall within a few years greatly change the aspect of affairs with reference to our foreign policy. During the comparatively short period since we entered public life, see what has been done. Through our labours mainly the whole creed of millions of people, and of the statesmen of our day, has been totally changed on all the questions which affect commerce and customs, duties and taxation. They now agree to repudiate as folly what, twenty years ago, they accepted as wisdom. Look again at our colonial policy. Through the labours of Moles-worth, Roebuck, and Hume, more recently supported by us and by Gladstone, every article in the creed which directed our colonial policy has been abandoned, and now men actually abhor the notion of undertaking the government of the colonies; on the contrary, they give to every colony that asks for it a constitution as democratic as that which exists in the United States.’
After a few words on parliamentary reform, then slowly ripening for another advance, Mr. Bright continued—
‘But if on commercial legislation, on colonial policy, on questions of the suffrage, and, I might have added, on questions of the Church—for a revolution in opinion is apparent there also—we see this remarkable change, why should we despair of bringing about an equally great change in the sentiments of the people with regard to foreign affairs? Palmerston and his press are at the bottom of the excitement that has lately prevailed; he will not last long as Minister or as man. I see no one ready to accept his mantle when it drops from him. Ten years hence, those who live so long may see a complete change on the questions on which the public mind has been recently so active and so much mistaken.’
And so it turned out. In less than a year Palmerston
was out of office. Within seven years Gladstone, after Peel the most powerful and whole-hearted Minister of the Manchester doctrines, was master of policy and expenditure. Eleven years later he was to form a Government, with Bright as his most trusted colleague, which put into operation in every department of public life the principles of the Manchester School. And it may with confidence be asserted that from 1862 to 1882, with the exception of a brief and showy episode of Disraelite Imperialism, British policy at home and abroad was stamped with the Cobdenic stamp. The reform of the tariff was completed; the national debt was reduced, and the national credit was marvellously improved. Armaments were severely limited. National prosperity followed, and was not attended by any relaxation of public economy; small wars were frowned upon, great wars were avoided. Some of the worst mistakes were most nobly rectified. The
Alabama folly issued in a triumph for the cause of arbitration. The annexation of the Transvaal issued in a triumph—to be undone at the end of the century—for the cause of self-government. The Imperialism of 1878 received its quietus in the general elections of 1880. And throughout the period wages were steadily rising, pauperism as steadily diminishing, trade advancing by leaps and bounds. In a word, the nation was progressing, through good government, economy, and wise legislation, to a state of comfort and prosperity never realized before.
The year 1860 is a red-letter year in the annals of the Manchester School. Then it was that Cobden successfully negotiated the commercial treaty with France (virtually a treaty with the whole world), which enabled Mr. Gladstone to reduce the number of dutiable articles in our tariff by one great financial stroke from 419 to 48. In 1842, when Peel’s operations began, they numbered more than a thousand. In 1860, moreover, Mr. Gladstone proposed the repeal of the excise duty on paper, and carried it in the following year, thus putting an end to the last of the taxes on knowledge, the
advertisement duty having been repealed in 1853, and the stamp duty in 1855. In autumn of the same year Lincoln was elected President of the United States, and this great victory for the Abolitionists immediately led to the secession of the Southern States and the civil war between the North and South. From the very first Bright saw the true meaning of the struggle. It was, in the first place, a battle for human liberty, and, secondly, a battle for the maintenance of the Republic. He was not surprised to find the aristocracy and governing classes of England ranged on the Southern side. Privilege, as he said in a fine appeal to the working-classes, naturally hated the American Republic; for there ‘privilege has beheld an afflicting spectacle for many years past. It has beheld thirty millions of men, happy and prosperous, without emperor, without king, without the surroundings of a court, without nobles, except such as are made by eminence in intellect and virtue, without State bishops and State priests—
“Sole vendors of the lore which works salvation,”
without great armies and great navies, without great debt and without great taxes. Privilege has shuddered at what might happen to old Europe if this grand experiment should succeed. But you, the workers,—you, striving after a better time,—you, struggling upwards towards the light, with slow and painful steps,—you have no cause to look with jealousy upon a country which, amongst all the great nations of the globe, is that one where labour has met with the highest honour, and where it has reaped its greatest reward. Are you aware of the fact, that in fifteen years, which are but as yesterday when it is past, two and a half millions of your countrymen have found a home in the United States; that a population equal nearly, if not quite, to the population of this great city—itself equal to no mean kingdom—has emigrated from these shores? In the United States there has been, as you know, an open door for every man; and millions have entered into it, and have found rest.’
At first even Cobden was inclined to think that the Southerners (who passed for free traders and seemed only to be asking for autonomy) should have been allowed to secede; but he soon came round to his friends’ view, and their combined strength was strained to the utmost to preserve the neutrality of the English Government. As it was, the fitting out of the
Alabama in an English port almost brought us into collision with the American Republic. The havoc wrought by this privateer led to heavy claims against Great Britain; but Bright had the satisfaction of living to see these claims submitted to an international tribunal sitting at Geneva, and the award satisfied by the payment (in 1872) of a sum about equal to the cost of two weeks of the late Boer War. No one would have more rejoiced at the result than Cobden, who saw in international arbitration a most hopeful machinery for consummating peace and good will among nations. No one would more heartily have echoed Gladstone’s description of ‘the fine imposed on this country’ as ‘dust in the balance compared with the moral value of the example set when these two great nations of England and America, which are among the most fiery and most jealous in the world with regard to anything that touches national honour, went in peace and concord before a judicial tribunal to dispose of these painful differences rather than resort to the arbitrament of the sword.’
It must be recognized that during the last ten years our governing classes have recoiled from the doctrines of the Manchester School. The Imperialism of Pitt and North and Palmerston and Disraeli has been revived. The annual expenditure on armaments has been doubled. A sum not far short of 300 millions has been spent in attempts to add reluctant subjects to the Empire. Great additions have been made to taxation; and, to crown all, Mr. Chamberlain, an old colleague of Mr. Bright, has thrown over Free Trade, and is urging the country to go back to that antique system of protectionist and differential duties which was destroyed by the
Manchester School of politicians. Yet such is the
prestige of free trade that nearly all those who ask for preferential dealings with the colonies, and for retaliation against our largest and richest customers, profess that they are favourable to free trade as an abstract principle; and some of them confidently assert that if Cobden and Bright were alive they would be followers of Mr. Chamberlain. In this book will be found authentic documents, which cannot but dispel many ‘sleek illusions.’ If the new policy is good, let it justify itself. It may appeal in some of its articles to Cromwell, in others to Pitt, in others to Disraeli. But if it seeks to make the Manchester School a party to its action, and to found itself on Manchester doctrines, its case will prove to be unarguable in the court of history.
About the arrangement of this book, little need be said. A glance at the table of contents will show exactly what is to be found in it; and the index has been carefully compiled in order that readers may find their way readily to the various subjects and controversies in which the Manchester School was engaged. A good index seemed in this case particularly desirable, now that the whole battle-ground of the Manchester School, from Corn Laws to Education, is to be the scene of a similar and almost identical contest. I have tried in this volume to do tardy justice to W. J. Fox (‘Fox of Oldham’), one of the greatest orators of the nineteenth century, and a most stalwart champion of freedom, to rescue Molesworth from his biographer, and to illustrate the splendid services rendered by Milner Gibson to the newspaper press, the book trade, journalists, authors, and readers. I have not forgotten Joseph Hume, the patriarch of retrenchment, who, on entering Parliament, placed himself at the door of the national exchequer, and watched incomings and outgoings with the vigilance of an inquisitor, torturing every year the pensioners and the sinecurists, and gradually turning them out of doors.
Part I. consists of Cobden’s first pamphlet, in which are
already formulated nearly all the destructive doctrines of the Manchester School. Part II. is concerned with the repeal of the Corn Laws, and includes a selection of speeches and writings sufficient to show how the leaders of the Manchester School presented the case for cheap and untaxed bread and the abolition of our protective and preferential system to the labouring classes, the manufacturers, and the farmers. Those who would read the story of the greatest and most fruitful of all peaceful agitations will turn to Morley’s
Life of Cobden and Mongredien’s
History of the Free Trade Movement. If they would know something of the geographical distribution of Free Traders and its sturdy supporters in Lancashire and Yorkshire (from first to last the backbone of the movement), they will turn to Prentice’s
History of the League. Nor must they omit the collections of Cobden’s speeches and writings, or of Bright’s speeches, or the works of Fox. What this volume does is to make available a great fund of material collected from many different sources. I wish I could record the good work done in Scotland, the heroic exertions of Manchester, Rochdale, and Huddersfield, which, small and comparatively poor as it was, subscribed, in 1843, over £1800 (more than any other town in Yorkshire) to the funds of the League. If ever a history worthy of the movement should be written, it would tell of heroic townsmen as well as of heroic towns. Such names as Ashton, Ashworth, Bazley, Crossley, Marshall, Philips, Potter, Rathbone, Salt, Schwann, Thomasson, Robert Wallace (‘stout old Wallace of Kelly,’ as Cobden called him), Willans, and George Wilson, chairman of the League, would not be forgotten. Editors like Edward Baines, Alexander Ireland, Samuel Lucas, Abraham Paulton, Archibald Prentice, would play their old part in the drama. Staunch Benthamites like Francis Place and Dr. Bowring, Colonel Peronet Thompson, a Liberal of the old school, whose
Catechism of the Corn Laws was written ten years before the controversy became a hand-to-hand struggle, Villiers, who led the Free Traders in
Parliament till Cobden appeared, Elliott, the Corn Law rhymer, are names that have already been inscribed on the tablets of Free Trade.
The Third Part is concerned with wars, panics, and armaments, a trilogy of woes which still finds actors and applause in the most civilized and democratic communities. Here we see the moral spirit which penetrates and inspires the whole Cobdenic system.
The extracts contained in Part IV., on colonial and fiscal policy, are of peculiar interest at the present time. It is not generally known that Cobden ever delivered himself upon the subject of the German Zollverein, nor has that letter ever been republished since it first appeared in the journal of the League. The companion letter by the late Lord Farrer, I have, with his son’s consent and approval, reprinted and revised. Lord Farrer was a true Cobdenite, and of all Cobden’s disciples he came nearest to the master in grasp of figures and lucidity of thought and expression. With what indignation, with what fiery and resolute opposition Cobden and Bright would have encountered proposals for returning to that protective and preferential system of which considerable relics were preserved until 1860, can be imagined only by those who recollect their letters and speeches at times when Protection raised its head. The Fifth and last Part, short as it is, may serve to show that the leaders of the Manchester School were alive to other needs less pressing, indeed, in the forties, but not less important than the emancipation of trade. The promotion of education, the development of municipal life, the reform of the land laws, all found a place in Cobden’s scheme, and all that has happened since his death has justified the wisdom of his choice.
Life of Cobden, chap. viii.
Life of Cobden, chap. viii.
Part I, Essay I