The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]



Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FREE TRADE. II. CORN-LAWS.—MR. VILLIERS' ANNUAL MOTION. HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEBRUARY 24, 1842. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>.

Editor's Intro

Because Cobden never wrote a comprehensive description of his political theoryw have to piece it together from snippets in his speeches and pamphlets. I searched for the following key words:

industrious classes; middle classes; aristocracy, the aristocracy and squire-archy; landowners, landed aristocracy; landed oligarchy, (a most ignoble oligarchy - sugar oligarchy); hereditary legislators; sinister influences; we are governed by classes and interests; a class question

The final speech on government expenditure lists the parasitical institutions and groups who benefited from the taxpayer and which RC wanted to cut or abolish: FINANCE. III. HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 8, 1850

Discusses pros and cons of using violence in political war against aristocracy in "PARLIAMENTARY REFORM. II. LONDON, NOVEMBER 26, 1849". Threatens them with even more radical change than Anti-Corn Law League agitation.

Typical are the following speeches between 1842-1850:


I have marked the key passages in bold.



[On Feb. 18, 1842, Mr. Villiers proposed his annual motion, to the effect, ‘that all duties payable on the importation of corn, grain, meal, and flour, do now cease and determine.’ After five days' debate, the motion was negatived by a majority of 303 (393 to 90), on Feb. 24. Mr. Cobden was one of the tellers. The majority of the Conservative party voted or paired; but 108 of the Opposition were absent. On the last day of the debate, Mr Ferrand, Member for Knaresborough, made a violent personal attack on Mr. Cobden. In explanation, Mr. Cobden stated, once for all, that he intended never to be driven into personal altercation with any Member of the House. He was advised by Mr. Byng, then the senior Member of the House, to be utterly indifferent to Mr. Ferrand's personalities. Shortly after the rejection of Mr. Villiers' motion, Sir R. Peel made certain alterations in the sliding-scale, the maximum duties on wheat, barley, rye, oats, peas, and beans, from foreign countries, being 20s., 11s., 11s. 6d., 8s., and 11s. 6d. the quarter, and from British colonies, 5s., 2s. 6d., 3s., 2s., and 3s.; a shilling duty being payable when wheat rose to 73s., barley to 37s., oats to 27s., rye, peas, and beans, to 42s., if the corn was of foreign origin, while, if colonial corn were imported, the shilling duty commenced on wheat at 58s., and a 6d. duty on barley at 31s., oats at 33s., rye, peas, and beans at 34s. Similar duties were to be levied on meal and flour.]

If the hon. Gentleman (Sir Howard Douglas) who has just sat down will give the House another promise, that when he speaks he will always speak to the subject, the House will have a more satisfactory prospect of his future addresses. I have sat here seven nights, listening to the discussion on what should have been the question of the Corn-laws, and I must say that I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. C. Villiers) has just grounds for complaint, that in all those seven nights scarcely two hours have been given to the subject of the bread-tax. Our trade with China, the war in Syria, the bandying of compliments between parties and partisans, have occupied our attention much and often, but very little has been said on the question really before the House. I may venture to say that not one speaker on the other side of the House has yet grappled with the question so ably propounded by my hon. Friend, which is—How far, how just, how honest, and how expedient it was to have any tax whatever laid upon the food of the people? That is the question to be decided; and when I heard the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) so openly express his sympathy for the working classes of this country, I expected that the right hon. Baronet would not have finished his last speech on this question without at least giving some little consideration to the claims of the working man in connection with the Corn-laws.

To this view of the subject I will therefore proceed to call the attention of the Committee; and I call upon hon. Gentlemen to meet me upon neutral ground in discussing the question in connection with the interests of those working classes, who have no representatives in this House. While I hear herein strong expressions of sympathy for those who have become paupers, I will ask hon. Gentlemen to give some attention to the case of the hard-working man before he reaches that state of abject pauperism in which he can only receive sympathy. In reading the debates upon the passing of the first stringent Corn-law of 1814, I am much struck to find that all parties who took part in that discussion were agreed upon one point,—it was that the price of food regulated the rate of wages. That principle was laid down, not by one side of the House, but by men of no mean eminence on each side, and of course of opposite opinions in other respects. Mr. Horner and Mr. Baring, Mr. F. Lewis, the present Lord Western, Mr. (now Sir) G. Philips, were all agreed on that head, though some advocated and others opposed the measure. One of the speakers, indeed, went so far as to make a laboured computation to show the exact proportion which the price of food would bear to the rate of wages. The same delusion existed out of doors too. A petition was presented to the House in 1815, signed by the most intelligent of the manufacturing and working classes, praying that the Corn Bill might not be passed, because it would so raise the rate of wages, that the manufacturers of this country would not be able to compete with the manufacturers abroad. In reading the debates of that date, I have been filled with the deepest sorrow to find how those who passed that measure were deluded. But I believe that they were labouring under an honest delusion. I firmly believe, that if they had been cognisant of the facts now before the House, they would never have passed that Corn Bill. Every party in the House was then deluded: but there was one party, that most interested, the working classes, who were not deluded. The great multitude of the nation, without the aid of learning, said—with that intuitive and instructive sagacity which had given rise to the adage, ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God'’—what the effect of the measure would be upon wages, and therefore it was, that when that law was passed this House was surrounded by the multitudes of London, whom you were compelled to keep from your doors by the point of the bayonet. Yes, and no sooner was the law passed than there arose disturbances and tumults everywhere, and in London bloodshed and murder ensued; for a coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against the soldiers who were called out and fired upon the people. The same hostility to the measure spread throughout the whole of the north of England; so that then, from the year 1815 down to 1819, when the memorable meeting was held at Peter's-field in Manchester, there never was a great public meeting at which there were not borne banners inscribed with the words ‘No Corn-laws.’

There was no mistake in the minds of the multitude then, and let not hon. Gentlemen suppose that there is any now. The people may not be crying out exclusively for the repeal of the Corn-laws, because they have looked beyond that question, and have seen greater evils even than this, which they wish to have remedied at the same time; and, now that the cries for ‘Universal Suffrage’ and ‘The Charter’ are heard, let not hon. Gentlemen deceive themselves by supposing that, because the members of the Anti-Corn-law League have sometimes found themselves getting into collision with the Chartists, that therefore the Chartists, or the working men generally, were favourable to the Corn-laws. If one thing is more surprising than others in the facts which I have mentioned, it is to find in this House, where lecturers of all things in the world are so much decried, the ignorance which prevails upon this question amongst hon. Members on the other side of the House. [Oh! oh!] Yes, I have never seen their ignorance equalled amongst any equal number of working men in the North of England. Do you think that the fallacy of 1815, which I heard put forth so boldly last week, that wages rose and fell with the price of bread, can now prevail in the minds of working men, after the experience of the last three years? Has not the price of bread been higher during that time than for any three consecutive years for the last twenty years? And yet trade has suffered a greater decline in every branch of industry than in any preceding three years. Still there are hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, with the Reports of Committees in existence and before them proving all this, prepared to support a bill, which, in their ignorance—for I cannot call it anything else—they believe will keep up the price of labour.

I am told that the price of labour in other countries is so low that we must keep up the price of bread here, to prevent wages going down to the same level. But I am prepared to prove, from documents emanating from this House, that labour is cheaper here than in other countries. I hear a sound of dissent; but I would ask those who dissent, do they consider the quality of the labour? By this test, which is the only fair one, it will be proved that the labour of England is the cheapest labour in the world. The Committee on machinery, last session but one, demonstrated that fact beyond all dispute. They reported that labour on the continent was actually dearer than in England in every branch of industry. Spinners, manufacturers, machine-makers, all agreed that one Englishman on the Continent was worth three native workmen, whether in Germany, France, or Belgium. If they are not, would Englishmen be found in every large town on the Continent? Let us go to any populous place, from Calais to Vienna, and we should not visit any city with 10,000 inhabitants without finding Englishmen who are earning thrice the wages the natives earn, and yet their employers declare that they are the cheapest labourers. Yet we are told that the object of the repeal of the Corn-laws is to lower wages here to the level of continental wages.

Have low wages ever proved the prosperity of our manufactures? In every period when wages have dropped, it has been found that the manufacturing interest dropped also; and I hope that the manufacturers will have credit for taking a rather more enlightened view of their own interest than to conclude that the impoverishment of the multitude, who are the great consumers of all that they produce, could ever tend to promote the prosperity of our manufacturers. I will tell the House, that by deteriorating that population, of which they ought to be so proud, they will run the risk of spoiling not merely the animal but the intellectual creature, and that it is not a potato-fed race that will ever lead the way in arts, arms, or commerce. To have a useful and a prosperous people, we must take care that they are well fed.

But to come to the assumption that the manufacturers do want to reduce the rate of wages, and that the Corn-law will keep them up, we are still going to pass a law which will tax the food of our industrious and hard-working people; and what must be the result? The right hon. Baronet, in answer to a fallacy so often uttered on the other side of the House, said, ‘We do now compete with the foreigner: we export to the extent of 40,000,000l. or 50,000,000l. a year.’ That is true; but how? By taxing the bones and muscles of the people to double the amount of good supposed to be done to them by the Corn-laws. A double weight being put upon them, they are told to run a race with the labourers of Germany and France. We exult in a people who can labour so; but I would ask, with Mr. Deacon Hume, Whose are the energies which belonged to the British people, their own property or that of others? Think you, that for giving them an opportunity merely to strive and struggle for an existence, you may take one-half of what they earn? Is that doing justice to the high-mettled racer? You do not treat your horses so; you give them food, at all events, in proportion to their strength and their toil. But Englishmen, actually, are worse treated; tens of thousands of them were last winter worse off than your dogs and your horses.

Well, what is the pretence upon which you propose to tax them? We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman that his object is to fix a certain price for corn: and hearing that proposition from a Prime Minister, and listening to the debates, I have been almost led to believe that we are gone back to the times of the Edwards, when Parliament was engaged in fixing the price of a table-cloth, or a napkin, or a pair of shoes. But is this House a corn-market? Is not your present occupation better fitted for the merchant and the exchange? We do not act in this way with respect to cotton, or iron, or copper, or tin. But how are we to fix the price of corn? The right hon. Baronet, taking the average of ten years at 56s. 10d., proposes to keep the price of wheat at from 54s. to 58s. Now Lord Willoughby D'Eresby will not be content with less than 58s. Some hon. Members opposite are for the same price at the lowest; and I see by the newspapers that the Duke of Buckingham, at a meeting of farmers held at Aylesbury on the preceding day, said the price ought to be 60s. But there is one hon. Gentleman, whom I hope I shall have the pleasure to hear by-and-by go more into detail as to the market price which he intends to secure for his commodity in the market. I see in that little but very useful book, the Parliamentary Companion, which contains most accurate information, and in which some of the Members of this House give very nice descriptions of themselves, under the head of Mr. Cayley, M.P. for North Yorkshire (p. 134), the following entry:—'Is an advocate for such a course of legislation, with regard to agriculture, as will keep wheat at 64s. per quarter, new milk cheese at from 52s. to 60s. per cwt., wool and butter at 1s. per lb. each, and other produce in proportion.'

Now it is all very amusing, exceedingly amusing, to find still that there are gentlemen, at large, too, who will argue that Parliament should interpose and fix the price at which they should sell their own goods. That is very amusing indeed; but when we find the Prime Minister of this great country coming down to parliament and avowing such a principle, it becomes anything but amusing. I will ask the right hon. Baronet, is he prepared to carry out this principle in respect to cotton and wool? I pause for a reply.

[Sir R. Peel: ‘I have said that it was impossible to fix the price of food by any legislative enactment.'’]

Then upon what are we now legislating? I thank the right hon. Baronet for that avowal. Will he oblige me still further by not trying to do it? But supposing he will try, all I ask of him is—and again I shall pause for a reply—will he try to legislate to keep up the price of cottons, woollens, silks, and such like goods? There is no reply. Then we have come to this, that we are not legislating for the universal people. Here is the simple, open avowal, that we are met here to legislate for a class against the people. I do not marvel, therefore, though I have seen it with the deepest regret and indignation, that the House has been surrounded during this debate by an immense body of the police force. (A laugh.) I cannot let this subject drop with a laugh. It is no laughing business to those who have no wheat to sell, and no money to purchase food to sustain life.

I will refer the House to the great fall in the price of cotton. At this day, in Manchester, the price of that article is 30 per cent. less than it was ten years back. It is the same with respect to ironmongery. During the average of the last ten years it has also fallen 30 per cent., and yet with this great reduction of price the man engaged as an iron-monger is to take his goods and to exchange them with the agriculturist for the produce of the land at the present high price of corn. Is this fair and reasonable? Can it be called legislation at all? Sure I am that it is not honest legislation. It is no answer to this argument, if the Prime Minister of this country comes forward and declares that he has not the power to obviate this evil; yet it is not too much to assert that the man placed in that high and responsible situation should step forward to stay the progress of such unjust and partial legislation.

I have only yet touched the skirts of the question. I would remind the House that it will not be a laughing question before it is settled. I would ask the right hon. Baronet whether, whilst fixing the scale of prices for wheat, he intends to introduce to the House a sliding scale for wages as well? I know only one class of the community whose wages are secured by the sliding scale, and those are the clergy of this country. I would ask what is to be done with the artisan; I know that I shall be told that a resolution has been passed declaring that the scale of wages cannot be kept up. I am well acquainted with the answer which the poor distressed hand-loom weavers got when they addressed the House and claimed its protection. They were told that the House had been studying political economy, and that the weavers had entirely mistaken their position, and that their wages could not be maintained up to a certain price. That was the answer which those poor men received. Why, I will ask, should a law be passed to keep up the price of wheat, whilst you admit that wages cannot be also sustained at a certain price? It is not complicated statistics, learned references to authorities, or figures nicely dovetailed, that will satisfy the starving people of this country, and convince them that a band of dishonest confederates had not been leagued together for the purpose of upholding the interests of one body against the general good of the country.

We have been told that the land of this country is subjected to peculiarly heavy burdens? But what is the nature of those burdens? A facetious gentleman near me has attempted an explanation of this matter, and has declared that ‘the heavy burdens’ meant only heavy mortgages. The country has a right to expect that the right hon. Baronet will inform the House what those burdens are to which the landed interest is exposed. When questioned on this point, the right hon. Baronet states that there exist a variety of opinions on the subject; and that is the only explanation that can be obtained. I boldly declare that for every one burden imposed on the land I am able to show ten exemptions.

I will refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Mr. Stewart). He complained of the delay which had occurred in obtaining a return moved for some time back with reference to the land-tax to which the land abroad was subjected. I should like to know why our Consuls abroad have not made some official return on the subject. They surely might have forwarded the Government the desired information. Being without any official intelligence on this point, it will not be in my power to give the House any explicit information on the subject. With reference to the land-tax in France, it has been stated by M. Humann, in the Chamber of Deputies, that the land-tax paid in France was 25 per cent. upon the value of the soil, and equal to 40 per cent. of the whole revenue of the country. In this country the land-tax amounts to 1,900,000l., and the value of the landed property, as stated by one of your own men, Mr. Macqueen, was about 230,000,000l. This tax is but a mere fraction compared to the duty levied in this country on the poor man's tobacco. I think that if the right hon. Baronet does not soon propound his views on this subject to the House, he will be treating them with great disrespect.

I look back to the past debate with feelings not altogether devoid of satisfaction. Many important admissions have been made. I never heard it admitted, until the right hon. Baronet made the admission, that the tax upon food actually contributes to the revenue of the proprietors of the land. What are the peculiar burdens imposed on land which led to the introduction of the present tax on corn? I have a right to demand an answer on this point. The only plea for levying such a tax is to benefit one class of society.

It has been admitted by the head of the Government that this country never can be entirely independent of the foreign grower of corn; that our state was a kind of supplementary dependence; that in some years we must look abroad for a supply of food, and that this is when we want it. I perfectly agree with the right hon. Baronet, that corn ought only to be admitted free of all restrictions when it is ‘wanted.’ That is, the particular moment or crisis when it is desirable to open our ports for the admission of foreign corn. But I would ask the House and the Government of the country, who are to decide when the corn is wanted? Is it those who need food and are starving, or those who fare sumptuously every day and roll in all the luxuries of life? What right has the right hon. Baronet to attempt to gauge the appetite of the people? It is an inordinate assumption of power to do so. Such a thing cannot be tolerated under the most monstrous system of despotism which the imagination of man has ever conceived. Do we sit here for the purpose of deciding when the people of this country want food? What do the Members of this House know of want? It is not for them to say when the starving people of this country ought to have food doled out to them. The people are the best judges upon that point.

The right hon. Baronet has been guilty of having made contradictory statements with reference to the condition of the hand-loom weavers. What is the state of the poor in Ireland? I refer to the work of Mr. Inglis. That gentleman declared, at the conclusion of his publication, that one-third of the people of Ireland are perishing for want of the common necessaries of life.

I have heard other admissions during the debate, some of a very startling character, with reference to which I will make an observation. It has been affirmed by the right hon. Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces (Sir E. Knatchbull), that a tax upon corn is necessary in order to enable the landed interest to maintain their rank in society. I do not think that the noble Lord (Stanley) who sits near the right hon. Baronet the Paymaster of the Forces, is dealing fairly by the people of England. It was very justly observed some years ago by the Times newspaper, that the Corn-laws were nothing but an extension of the Pension List; but it might have been added that it was also an extension of a system of pauperism to the whole of the landed aristocracy. If this country is to be ground down by an oligarchy, we had better at once adopt the system pursued in ancient Venice, where the nobles entered their names in the Golden Book, and took the money directly out of the people's pockets. It would be more honest to imitate those nobles openly, than do so in a covert manner. But one class will not submit to be heavily taxed, whilst the other lives in opulence and splendour.

The right hon. Baronet is not ignorant of the state of the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country. He is not legislating in the dark. I will tell the right hon. Baronet, that bad as trade is now, it will soon be much worse. The Government must be aware that the measure proposed for the settlement of the Corn-law question will not extend the commerce of the country. The House has been told that the measure must be pushed forward without any delay, and this is the result of a communication which the right hon. Baronet has received from the corn-dealers. But I would ask, why there should not be corn-merchants as well as tea-merchants? Why should not the corn-merchants be able to bring back, in exchange for other commodities, a cargo of corn, as well as a cargo of sugar or of tea? If something is not done, we shall see our large capitalists struggling against bankruptcy. In the last speech which the right hon. Baronet addressed to the House, he adopted an apologetic tone of reasoning. An excuse might be offered for the right hon. Baronet if he had been placed in his present position by the people, or by the Queen; but he has placed himself in his present situation.

With reference to the proposition of the noble Lord (J. Russell) the Member for the City of London, I must say that although it is not good, it is infinitely better than the measure submitted to the House by the hon. Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Baronet has been reconstructing his party ever since the carrying of the Reform Bill. He must know that his party is composed of monopolists in corn, tea, sugar, timber, coffee, and the franchise. Out of that band of monopolists the right hon. Baronet has formed the party which supported him, and which formed his Government. They bribed, they intimidated, until they got possession of office.

I will say a word to the noble Lord and his right hon. associates on this (the Opposition) side of the House, who, whilst advocating generally Free-trade principles, have manifested a squeamishness in supporting the motion for a total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws. With all deference to them, that shows too great sympathy with the few, and too little with the many who are suffering. I would ask them, if they had had the power of rescinding the Corn-law Bill by their votes in 1815, would they then have talked of compensation, or of a nine or ten years' diminishing duty? No, they would not. Why then, I would ask, do they now think that twenty-seven years' unjust enjoyment entitles them to an increased benefit in the shape of compensation? I have frequently known the difficulty met before. I give hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords on my side of the House full credit for sincerity, but, for their benefit, I will state the answer I once heard given to the difficulty on the hustings, an answer which was most satisfactory to my mind. On the hustings, there was a great difficulty amongst Whiggish gentlemen. They were arguing on the danger and hardship which might follow the immediate repeal of the Corn-law, when a poor man in a fustian jacket said, ‘Why, mon, they put in on all of a ruck1’ I may explain, for the benefit of those unacquainted with the Lancashire dialect, that the meaning was, all at once; and so the Corn-laws were. They were put on in 1815 at once, and against the remonstrances of the people. Let them, then, abolish the law with as little ceremony.

I will not further detain the House. The question resolves itself into a very narrow compass. If you find that there are exclusive burdens on the land, do not put a tax upon the bread of the people, but remove the burdens. If you are not prepared to ameliorate the condition of the people, beware of your own position—nay, you must take care that even this House may not fall under the heap of obloquy which the injustice you are perpetuating will thrust upon you.



‘Ruck,’ in the Lancashire dialect, means ‘heap’; they put it on all in a heap, or all at once.



Richard Cobden, "FREE TRADE. XIV. LONDON, JANUARY 15, 1845"

Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FREE TRADE. XIV. LONDON, JANUARY 15, 1845 in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>.

Editor's Intro




Really I, who have almost lived in public meetings for the last three years, feel well nigh daunted at this astonishing spectacle. Is there any friend or acquaintance of the Duke of Richmond here? If there be, I hope he will describe to his Grace this scene in Covent Garden Theatre to-night. I do not know how he may be impressed, but I am quite sure that if the Duke of Richmond could call such a meeting as this—ay, even one—in the metropolis, I should abandon in despair all hope of repealing the Corn-laws. But this is only one of many; and when we look back at the numerous gatherings we have had of a similar kind, and when we remember that not one discordant opinion, violation of order, or even breach of etiquette, has occurred at any of our meetings,—why, there is an amount of moral force about these great assemblages which I think it is impossible for any unjust law long to resist.

I appear before you to-night as a kind of connecting link—and a very short one—between two gentlemen who have not so recently presented themselves here as I have: the one (Mr. Milner Gibson) a most able and efficient fellow-labourer in the House of Commons, whose speech you have just heard; and the other (Mr. W. J. Fox) one of the most distinguished and accomplished orators of the age, who will follow me; and I promise you, that, on this occasion, I shall endeavour, in deference to your feelings and in justice to myself, to be very brief in my remarks. Indeed I scarcely know that I should have had any pretence for appearing before you at all, had it not been that we are now preparing for our Parliamentary campaign, and probably, unless I took this occasion, it would be some time before I should have a similar opportunity. And, as we are preparing for our Parliamentary labours, it may be as well, if we can possibly dive into futurity, to try to speculate, at least, upon what the course of proceeding may be, in connection with our question.

Now, I think I can venture, without any great risk of failure, to tell you what will be the course which the Prime Minister will pursue on this question. He will attempt his old arts of mystification. He has acquired somehow, we are told, a great character as a ‘financier.’ Well, that is a distinction which, amongst men of business, does not place a person always on the very highest grade of respectability. ‘A clever financier!’ ‘He has put the revenue of the country in a satisfactory state!’ Yes, he has done so; and how? Why—I hope, to your satisfaction, through the medium of the income-tax. We, as Free-traders, have nothing to do with fiscal regulations here, nor with systems of taxation for revenue; but as I foresee that it will be the policy of the Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, to raise a dust, shuffle the cards, and mix up rev enue, taxation, and Free Trade together, I think we cannot do better than begin this year 1845, even at the risk of repetition, by letting the country know what we, the Anti-Corn-law League, really want, and that we are not to be made parties to this or that system of taxation, inasmuch as we ask for nothing which involves any change of taxation of any kind.

I have said again and again—and I reiterate the statement—that Free Trade means the removal of all protective duties, which are monopoly taxes, paid to individuals, and not to the Government; and that, in order to carry out our principle of Free Trade, to realise all the League wants, and to dissolve our association to-morrow, it does not require that one shilling of taxation should be removed, which goes solely to the Queen's exchequer; but that it will increase the national revenue in proportion as you take away those taxes which we now pay to classes and to individuals. We are told that there is a surplus of revenue; and there is a great boast made of it. The income-tax has been productive. Those men with sharp noses, and ink-bottles at their buttons,—who have gone prying about your houses and at your back-doors, to learn how many dinner-parties you give in a year, and to examine and cross-examine your cooks and foot-boys as to what your style of living may be,—these men have managed to make a very respectable surplus revenue. Now, there seems to be a great contest among different parties who is to have this surplus revenue; that is, what are the taxes which are to be removed? The parties dealing in cotton goods say, ‘We must have the tax taken off cotton-wool?’ another class says, ‘We want the tax off malt;’ and a third party steps in and says, ‘Let us have half the duty taken off tea.’ But, although there may be many parties wanting a reduction of taxes, you do not find any class of the community organising themselves against taking off any one tax. Then, how is it that we, who simply desire to remove the tax on bread, meet with such a mighty opposition in the land? Why, because, as I have just said, the tax that we pay on bread is a tax that goes to the tithe and the landowner, and not to Queen Victoria. Do you think it will do us any more harm to take off a tax that is paid to the squires, that to take off one which goes to her Majesty's exchequer? It seems to be a principle universally admitted, that when you come to reduce a tax paid to the Queen, it will be a benefit to the community at large—the only question being which party shall get the most; but when you propose to reduce the duty on bread, a thousand imaginary dangers are immediately raised.

Talk to a gentleman about the bread-tax, and he says, ‘That is a very complicated question.’ Speak about that other ingredient of the tea-table—tea—and there is not a gentleman, or gentlewoman, who will not say immediately, ‘I think it would be a very good thing indeed to reduce the tax on tea.’ Propose the removal of the tax on bread, and visions of innumerable dangers rise up directly. ‘Why,’ it is said, ‘you want to lower the wages of the working man, and to make us dependent for food on foreigners’ Take the case of sugar: we, as Free-traders, do not desire to diminish the Queen's revenue on that article; we simply want to bring the tax down to a level with the colonial impost on sugar, that we may have the same duty paid on all, and that the whole proceeds shall go to the Queen, and none of it to the owners of estates in the West Indies. Nobody opposes the reduction of duty on sugar, so far as the Queen gets it; but if we propose to take away the tax for the protection of the colonial interest, as it is called, we have a powerful body arrayed against us, and all the same dangers apprehended which we find alleged in the case of bread. Gentlemen, this may serve to illustrate very clearly, to those who are not in the habit of reasoning upon these matters very closely, what our object really is. We propose to reduce the taxes paid to monopolists; and I put it to any person whether it can be less injurious to the country to pay taxes to individuals who make no return in the shape of services to the State—who neither provide army nor navy, nor support police, church, or any other establishment—to pay taxes to these irresponsible individuals, than to the Queen's Government, which makes some return for them? What I wish to guard ourselves against is this—that Sir Robert Peel shall not mix up our question of Free Trade with his dexterity in finance. If he likes to shift the cards, and make an interchange between tea, cotton, tobacco, malt, and the income-tax, and ply one interest against the other, it is all very well; let him do so; it may suit his purpose as a feat in the jugglery of statesmanship. But let it be understood that we have nothing to do with all this mystification and shuffling. Ours is a very simple and plain proposition. We say to the right hon. Baronet, ‘Abolish the monopolies which go to enrich that majority which placed you in power and keeps you there.’ We know he will not attempt it; but we are quite certain that he will make great professions of being a Free-trader notwithstanding.

Oh! I am more afraid of our friends being taken in by plausibilities and mystifications than anything else. I wish we had the Duke of Richmond or his Grace of Buckingham in power for twelve months, that they might be compelled to avow what they really want, and let us have a perfect understanding upon the matter. We should not then be long before we achieved the object of our organisation. Sir Robert Peel will meet Parliament under circumstances which may perhaps call for congratulation in the Queen's speech. Manufactures and commerce are thriving, and the revenue is flourishing. Was that ever known when corn was at an immoderately high price? The present state of our finances and manufactures is an illustration of the truth of the Free-trade doctrines. As the chairman has told you, I have been, during the last two months, paying a visit to nearly all the principal towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and have seen much prosperity prevailing in those places, where, four years ago, the people were plunged in the greatest distress; and I am glad to tell you that I have everywhere met larger and more enthusiastic meetings than I did in the time of the greatest crisis of distress. We have passed through that trying ordeal which I had always dreaded as the real and difficult test of this agitation; I mean the period when the manufactures of this country regained a temporary prosperity. We are proof against that trial; we have had larger, more enthusiastic, and more influential meetings than ever we had before; and I am happy to tell you, that, so far as the north of England goes, the present state of prosperity in business is merely having the effect of recruiting the funds of the Anti-Corn law League.

There is not a working man in the manufacturing districts who has not his eyes opened to the enormous falsehoods which have been told by the monopolists during the last four or five years. You know that the operatives do not deal learnedly in books: they are not all of them great theorists, or philosophers; but they have, nevertheless, a lively faith in what passes under their own noses. These men have seen the prices of provisions high, and they have then found pauperism and starvation in their streets; they have seen them low, and have found the demand for labour immediately increase, and wages rising in every district of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and a state of things prevailing the very opposite of that which was told them by the monopolists. In fact, in some businesses the men now have their employers so completely at their mercy, that they can dictate their own terms to them. We have heard of one gentleman in the north—not one of the Leaguers, but a large employer of labour—who remarked, ‘My hands will only work four days a-week now; if we have free trade in corn, and business is as prosperous as you say it would then be, I should not be able to manage them at all.’

I was at Oldham the other day, and, during our proceedings at a public meeting in the Town-hall, a working man rose in the body of the assembly, and begged to say a few words upon the subject for which we were convened; and his statement put the whole question as to the effect of high and low prices on the wages of the operative into so clear a form, that I begged it might be taken down; and I will now give it you verbatim as he delivered it. I think it is the whole secret given in the compass of a nutshell:—

'Joseph Shaw, a working man, in the body of the meeting, said:—Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, I rise for the purpose of making a few remarks on the subject of the Corn-laws. I have but once before spoken before a Member of Parliament, viz. Mr. Hindley, at a public meeting at Lees. I have spoken once at Ashton and Saddleworth, but never before in Oldham. I have thought on the subject of the Corn-laws for the last twenty years and more, and I have ever seen great reason to condemn them. As there is no probability that I shall ever see Sir Robert Peel, as he never comes down into this neighbourhood, and I being not able to bear the expense of going to London, I wish you (addressing Mr. Cobden) to be so kind as to tell him what you have heard a working man say on the subject of the Corn-laws in a large and respectable public meeting in the town of Oldham. I am now and have been long of opinion that the Corn-laws are very injurious to the working classes, and I will tell you how I prove it. I have been in the habit of observing that when the prices of food have been high, wages have been low, which sufficiently accounts for the dreadful state of Stockport and the other manufacturing towns and districts two or three years since. At that time, when wheat was up to about 70s. a quarter, the working man would have 25s. per quarter to pay for it more than now when it is down to 45s., and consequently would have 25s. less to lay out for clothing and other necessaries for his comfort during the time he was consuming a quarter of wheat. I have further to state that, since the prices of eatables have come down, I have seen a deal more new fustian jackets in our village of Lees than I have seen for four or five years during the time of high prices; and I will also tell you how I account for that. When provisions are high, the people have so much to pay for them that they have little or nothing left to buy clothes with; and when they have little to buy clothes with, there are few clothes sold; and when there are few clothes sold, there are too many to sell; and when there are too many to sell, they are very cheap; and when they are very cheap, there cannot be much paid for making them: and that, consequently, the manufacturing working man's wages are reduced, the mills are shut up, business is ruined, and general distress is spread through the country. But when, as now, the working man has the said 25s. left in his pocket, he buys more clothing with it (ay, and other articles of comfort too), and that increases the demand for them, and the greater the demand, you know, makes them rise in price, and the rising in price enables the working man to get higher wages and the masters better profits. This, therefore, is the way I prove that high provisions make lower wages, and cheap provisions make higher wages. (Cheers.)

Now, it is not possible that there can be one intelligent man like this, rising up in a public meeting, and giving so clear a view of the workings of this system, without there being a tolerable share of intelligence among his fellowworkmen in that neighbourhood. One by one these fallacies of our opponents have been by the course of experience cut from under the feet of the monopolists. Now, I do not see that we can do better, at the beginning of the year, than reiterate the grounds on which we advocate our principles, and state again what our profession of faith is. The gentlemen below me, with their pens in their hands, may drop them for the present, for I have stated them over and over again. We do not want free trade in corn to reduce wages; if we, the manufacturers (I speak now of them 3s a class, but the observation applies to all), wanted to reduce wages, we should keep up the Corn-law, because the price of labour is the lowest when the corn is highest. We do not want it to enable us to compete with foreigners; we do that already. You do not suppose that the Chinese give the manufacturer or merchant who comes from England a higher price for his goods than they will to any other people. Suppose one of the manufacturers who votes for the Corn-law here, sent out his goods to China, and said—'You will give us a little higher price for our longcloths than you give to these Germans or Americans, for we have a Corn-law in England, and I always vote for that side which keeps up the bread-tax; and I hope, therefore, you will give me a higher price.' What would the man with a pigtail say? He would reply, ‘If you are such blockheads as to submit to have your bread taxed in your own land, we are not such fools as to give you a higher price for your longcloths than we can get them at from the Germans and Americans.’ You compete with foreigners now; and all we say is, that you will be able to do so better if you have your bread at the same price as your competitors have. Then the object of free trade in corn is simply this—to have more trade; and the Oldham operative has shown you how more trade will raise wages. We want increased trade, and that in the articles which will minister most to the comfort of the working man. Every cargo of corn which comes in from abroad in exchange for manufactured goods, or anything else—for you cannot get it unless you pay for it with the produce of labour—will serve the working man in two ways. In the first place, he will eat the corn which is thus imported; inasmuch as we of the middle, and those of the upper classes, already get as much as we require, and the poor must eat it, or it will not be consumed at all. But it must be paid for as well as eaten; and therefore every cargo of corn that comes to England will benefit the working men in two ways. They and their families must eat it all; and it can only be paid for by an increased demand for their labour, and that will raise their wages, whilst it moderates the price of their provisions. Doubtless it will also be of advantage to other portions of the community, but it can only benefit them through the working class—that is, through those who now do not get enough to eat.

Then we have the farmer's objection to meet, and he says: ‘If you bring in foreign corn, for every quarter of corn that you so import, we shall have a market for one quarter less in England.’ That statement proceeds upon the old assumption, that the people of this country are now sufficiently fed. The middle classes, I admit, have enough; and a great many of the upper classes get much more than is good for them; but the working men of this land,—and in that term I include the Irish, Welsh, Scotch, and the agricultural poor of England,—I maintain that all these are not half fed: I mean to say they are not half as well fed as the class to which I belong, nor as the working classes are in the United States of America. I have seen them on both sides of the Atlantic, and I will vouch for the fact We have all heard of the anecdote of the Irishman in Kentucky: the poor fellow had gone out to America; he did not know how to write, and he asked his master to write a letter for him. He began it thus:—'Dear Murphy, I am very happy and comfortable, and I have meat once a-day.' His master said—'What do you mean? Why, you can have meat three times a-day, and more if you like.' ‘Ah, sure! your honour, that's true; but they will not believe it at all, at all.’ Now, why should not the working people of this country be allowed to have as much meat and bread, if they can get it by the produce of their industry, as the people of America enjoy? It is a hard penalty to be obliged to send 3, 000 miles for food; but it is an atrocity—ay, a fearful violation of Nature's law—if, in addition to that natural penalty which the Creator himself has imposed upon us, of sending across the Atlantic for a suffi cient supply of food, men—the owners of the soil in this country—step in, place obstacles in the way, and prevent the poorest people in the land from having that food which their fellow-creatures 3,000 miles off are willing to send them. Then let the people be sufficiently fed, and the introduction of more corn, cattle, butter, and cheese, will not hurt the farmer in this country. We of the middle classes, who now eat his good provisions, and those who are now sufficiently fed, will continue to be his customers; and all we say is, let those who now do not obtain enough, get it from abroad in exchange for the produce of their own honest labour.

The reduction of duty on wool is an illustration of the truth of what I am now saying. During the last year there have been about twenty million pounds weight more of foreign and colonial wool brought into this country than there was the year before; the penny duty was abolished totally and immediately, and here is this vast influx of that article from abroad: and yet the farmers of this country have been getting from twenty to thirty per cent. more for their home-grown wool than they did previously. Now, why is this? Simply because the extension and prosperity of our manufactures have gone on even in a greater ratio than this largely-increased importation of wool. So I maintain that, if you will give freedom to the commerce of this country, and let loose the energies of the people, their ability to consume corn and provisions brought from abroad will increase faster than the quantity imported, whatever it may be. I really feel almost ashamed to reiterate these truisms to you; but that they are necessary, the present position of our question proves. Gentlemen, my firm conviction is, that this measure cannot be carried in-doors within the House of Commons; that the next session of Parliament will see no progress made by that body. We, Free-traders, there, may expose their utter futility in argument—make them ridiculous, cover them with disgrace, in debate; they may talk such stuff that children would be ashamed of out of the House of Commons; but they will, notwithstanding, vote for the Corn-law. Yes, it will be like drawing the kid out of the maw of the wolf, to extort the repeal of that law from the landowners of this country.

I remember quite well, five years ago, when we first came up to Parliament to petition the Legislature, a certain noble earl, who had distinguished himself previously by advocating a repeal of the Corn-laws, called upon us at Brown's Hotel. The committee of the deputation had a private interview with him, during which he asked us what we came to petition for? We replied, for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws. His answer was, ‘My belief is, that the present Parliament would not pass even a 12s. fixed duty; I am quite sure they would not pass a 10s.; but as for the total repeal of the Corn-law, you may as well try to overturn the monarchy as to accomplish that object.’ I do not think any one would go so far as to tell us that now; I do not suppose that, if you were to go to Tattersall's, ‘Lord George’ would offer you very long odds that this law will last five years longer. We have done something to shake the old edifice, but it will require a great deal of battering yet to bring it down about the ears of its supporters. It will not be done in the House; it must be done out of it. Neither will it be effected with the present constituency; you must enlarge it first. I have done something towards that end since I last saw you. I have assisted in bringing four or five thousand new ‘good men and true’ into the electoral list—four or five thousand that we know of in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cheshire; and I believe there are five or ten times as many more throughout the country, who have taken the hint we gave them of getting possession of the electoral franchise for the counties. Some people tell you that it is very dangerous and unconstitutional to invite people to enfranchise themselves by buying a freehold qualifi cation. I say, without being revolutionary or boasting of being more democratic than others, that the sooner the power in this country is transferred from the landed oligarchy, which has so misused it, and is placed absolutely—mind, I say ‘absolutely'’—in the hands of the intelligent middle and industrious classes, the better for the condition and destinies of this country.

I hope that every man who has the ability to possess himself of the franchise for a county, will regard it as his solemn and sacred duty to do so before the 31st of this month. Recollect what it is we ask you to do: to take into your own hands the power of doing justice to twenty-seven millions of people! When Watt presented himself before George III., the old monarch asked him what article he made; and the immortal inventor of the steam-engine replied, ‘Your Majesty, I make that which kings are fond of—power.’ Now, we seek to create a higher power in England, by inducing our fellow-countrymen to place themselves upon the electoral list in the counties. We must have not merely the boroughs belonging to the people; but give the counties to the towns, which are their right; and not the towns to the counties, as they have been heretofore. There is not a father of a family, who has it at all in his power, but ought to place at the disposal of his son the franchise for a county; no, not one. It should be the parent's first gift to his son, upon his attaining the age of twenty. There are many ladies, I am happy to say, present; now, it is a very anomalous and singular fact, that they cannot vote themselves, and yet that they have a power of conferring votes upon other people. I wish they had the franchise, for they would often make a much better use of it than their husbands. The day before yesterday, when I was in Manchester (for we are brought up now to interchange visits with each other by the miracle of steam in eight hours and a half), a lady presented herself to make inquiries how she could convey a freehold qualification to her son, previous to the 31st of this month; and she received due instructions for the purpose. Now, ladies who feel strongly on this question—who have the spirit to resent the injustice that is practised on their fellow-beings—cannot do better than make a donation of a county vote to their sons, nephews, grandsons, brothers, or any one upon whom they can beneficially confer that privilege. The time is short; between this and the 31st of the month, we must induce as many people to buy new qualifications as will secure the representation of Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and Middlesex. I will guarantee the West Riding of Yorkshire and Lancashire; will you do the same by Middlesex?

I am quite sure you will do what you can, each in his own private circle. This is a work which requires no gift of oratory, or powerful public appeals; it is a labour in which men can be useful privately and without ostentation. If there be any in this land who have seen others enduring probably more labour than their share, and feel anxious to contribute what they can to this good cause, let them take up this movement of qualifying for the counties; and in their several private walks do their best to aid us in carrying out this object. We have begun a new year, and it will not finish our work; but whether we win this year, the next, or the year after, in the mean time we are not without our consolations. When I think of this most odious, wicked, and oppressive system, and reflect that this nation—so renowned for its energy, independence, and spirit—is submitting to have its bread taxed, its industry crippled, its people—the poorest in the land—deprived of the first necessaries of life, I blush that such a country should submit to so vile a degradation. It is, however, consolation to me, and I hope it will be to all of you, that we do not submit to it without doing our best to put an end to the iniquity.






Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FREE TRADE. XVIII. BIRMINGHAM, NOVEMBER 13, 1845. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>

Editor's Intro




[The first indications of the potato disease of 1845, were noticed in the month of August. On Oct. 13, Sir Robert Peel, in a letter to Sir James Graham, said that there was no effectual remedy to impending scarcity, except the removal of ‘impediments to import.’ On the 31st, a meeting in Dublin, presided over by the Duke of Leinster, memorialised the Lord Lieutenant, to the effect that the Government should, without hesitation or delay, take the most prompt measures for the relief of the Irish people. On Nov. 1, Sir Robert Peel declared that it was impossible ‘to maintain the existing restrictions on the free importation of grain.’ The majority of the Cabinet were opposed to this step. In consequence, Sir Robert Peel resigned office on Dec. 5, and Lord John Russell was instructed to form a Government. On Dec. 20, Lord John Russell announced that he was unable to form a Government, and Sir Robert Peel resumed office. Lord Stanley (the late Lord Derby) declined to take part in this new Government, the basis of which, though not yet declared, was the gradual abolition of the Corn-laws. Parliament opened on Jan. 22, and on Jan. 27, Sir Robert Peel proposed his plan of a total repeal at the end of three years.]

I feel deeply indebted to you for the kind manner in which you have received the announcement of my name, and I may add that I am truly encouraged and gratified by the aspect of the meeting, and the numbers which have assembled here this evening. The greatest gratification next to that which I received from the manner in which the electors of Wolverhampton returned my friend, Mr. Villiers, to Parliament, is that such a tribute has been paid to him by the men of Birmingham on this occasion, because it will put into his hands additional weapons in the House of Commons, which I am sure he will use right manfully for the common benefit of us all. I did not come here for the purpose of making an argumentative speech on the subject of commercial freedom, for all now are made aware, from experience of the results, how injuriously the restriction of commercial freedom acts, and the poorest and least informed can see that those consequences which were predicted from the existing system are approaching. We are now near a state of famine, and this, as my friend, Mr. Villiers, has already stated, is one of the results which were frequently predicted as to be expected from the law which prevented the importation of corn. It was a prediction which had been made by every enlightened speaker and writer on the subject, from the time of Lord Grenville's protest in the House of Lords, in 1815, down to the last pamphlet which had been written in relation to the question. We have to expect, from time to time, amidst occasional gleams of happiness and prosperity, such seasons of gloom as that which we now witness in consequence of the operations of the Corn-law, for that is its necessary result. A consequence, which has been well described by my friend, Col. Thompson that veteran champion of Free Trade, in one of those graphic comparisons for which he is so remarkable, when he said the country, under the influence of the law, was like a bird fastened with a spiral spring—it might wing its way aloft for a short time, but only to be again inevitably drawn back to where it ascended from.

What, then, is to be done? It seems that we have been deluding ourselves, when we thought that the Government was going to do something. We, it seems, have not a Government such as several continental nations enjoy. Are you not exceedingly gratified that you are not deemed worthy of as good treatment at the hands of your Government as the Russians, Turks, and Dutch receive from theirs? When these Governments find that there is likely to be a scarcity, they do that which common sense would dictate to any one; which any community out of Bedlam would do at once, if left to their own unbiassed judgment. Seeing that there was a prospect of an insufficient supply of food at home, they opened wide their ports to admit the needed supply from any part of the world from which it might come. This was precisely what we expected from our rational Government. What have thirteen noblemen and gentlemen been lately meeting in Cabinet Council to discuss? I wish I had the names of the thirteen notables, for they would be historic curiosities to be handed down to posterity. What have they been deliberating upon? Was it whether they, from their own rents and revenues, should make a large purchase of grain or potatoes abroad, in order to supply the wants of the people at home? Was it whether they should vote a subsidy out of the public taxes, with which to buy food for a starving people? It was none of these. The difficulty upon which they solemnly deliberated was this—whether they should allow the people of this country to feed themselves?—and it seems they have decided that they shall not. Rumours reach you—we cannot tell you how well founded—that there is in the Cabinet a division on this matter. You are told that Sir Robert Peel and Sir James Graham have ranged themselves on the one side, and the Duke of Wellington and Lord Stanley on the other—that they are thus at variance with one another on this question, and that the Duke and his party have decided that you, the people of England, shall not be allowed to feed yourselves. Now this is the question on which we are at issue with these mighty personages. If I mistake not, you have tried the metal of the noble warrior before in Birmingham. He is a man whom we all like to honour, as possessing those qualities which entitle men to our esteem wherever possessed—high courage, firmness of resolve, and indomitable perseverance. But let me remind the noble Duke, that, notwithstanding his victories on the field, he never yet entered into a contest with Englishmen in which he was not beaten. I say we shall feed ourselves. And, now that this battle must and shall be fought, I hope the veteran Duke will live long enough to test the quality of his countrymen again.

But, after all, it is not the Duke who is the Government—it is Sir Robert Peel. We hear in the House of Commons, in the palmy days of prosperity, when Peel brings forward his measures, and dictates to his servile colleagues what his policy shall be, the little word ‘I,’ repeated over and over again, reminding us that ‘I, as Premier, act upon my own responsibility'’—that ‘I’ do this, and ‘I’ do that. If he is the Prime Minister, we hold him responsible for his acts. Now, I see many attempts made to shirk that responsibility, and sometimes in a very shabby manner, by trying to make it appear that we who cry out against this responsibility mean to do him some personal violence. Was ever such a schoolboy trick as that resorted to by a man in his situation? He is fairly ashamed of it now, as are all who sit behind him, and who faithfully supported him in it. But we find the news papers still dealing with this hypocritical and absurd argument. Why, for my own part, I would not touch a hair of his head, were he ever so much in my power. But what is the meaning of this responsibility on the part of a Minister? The Queen, with us, is not responsible. If we were governed by a Czar, or by a Grand Turk, we would then hold the sovereign responsible. In a system of constitutional government like ours, however, it is the Minister alone who is responsible. None but the Queen can issue an Order in Council for the opening of the ports, and the Queen would have done this long ago, but that she has to wait until Sir Robert Peel chooses to inform her that the Cabinet have consented to her doing so. We, then, as loyal subjects, are only pursuing a constitutional course when we bring him to the bar of public opinion, and declare him responsible for the acts of the Government.

We are told, to be sure, by those who still put forth their daily nonsense in defence of monopoly, that to admit foreign corn is not to hit the right way, by which the present difficulties can be surmounted. Instead of enlarging the supply of food, we are told that certain great public works are to be undertaken. Railroads are to be constructed and lands to be drained in Ireland, and the fisheries are to be promoted, and all these devices are to be carried through by the instrumentality of the public purse. Anything will be done but the right thing. That reminds me of the old story of the man who had a horse, which was in the last stage of decline, for want of sufficient nourishment, and who told his friend that the horse would not thrive, although he had given him old shoes, chips, and even oyster-shells. His friend replied to him, ‘Suppose you try corn.’ Now we say to those gentlemen who want to feed the people with pickaxes, shovels, fishing-nets, and draining-tiles, ‘Suppose you try a little corn.’ You, who do not sit in the House of Commons, would be astonished how reluctantly we bring our opponents' noses to the corn-crib. Now, mark me. Be prepared in the present emergency, and constantly on your guard. There will be an effort made to extract some enormous jobbery out of the anticipated famine. The landlords in Ireland have not cultivated their lands, their bogs, and wastes, as they should have done; and now they will get the Government to do it for them out of the public taxes of all which, of course, they will reap the benefit. Now, be on your guard. I have no objection, after everything else which should first be resorted to has been done—after the ports have been thrown open, without let or hindrance—if charity is to be administered to the Irish people, that it should rather be bestowed in the shape of payment of wages than as eleemosynary grants.

I read in the papers of to-day the speech of the King of Belgium to the Chambers in that country, in which he congratulated them that they have opened the ports for the admission of foreign corn, and that being done, they are enabled, by a vote of public money, to execute certain public works, to make up for the deficiency in employment, and thereby supply the people with food. In Belgium, you see, they do not expect to feed their people with mere pickaxes and shovels. They first let in the needed supply of foreign corn, and then, by supplying funds for the execution of public works, provide the people with the means of feeding themselves without resorting to charity. Was ever a people so insulted as are the English people by the arguments of the monopolists? What is our present dilemma? It is neither more nor less than the want of food. Now what do people work for? Not for work itself, certainly, but for the food which they are enabled to procure by it. The monopolist writers think, or so pretend, that it is work that is wanted at present. Now work is never wanted but as a means of getting something out of it. We have the highest authority—that of sacred writ itself—for considering work a curse, but a curse which is mercifully sweetened by the rewards of labour. But where are the rewards to come from if there is an insufficient supply of food to meet the wants of the people? The Irish are about to suffer from a famine. It will not confine its effects to those who can work upon railroads, but will also, in all probability, affect every man, woman, and child scattered over the face of that country, and, with the exception of the wealthy portion of the population, the mass of the inhabitants of towns. Those able to work, and those not able, will equally suffer. Are these the people into whose hands, with your supply of food manifestly deficient, you can put pickaxes and shovels, and expect them to work, without holding out to them the prospect of receiving the ample and legitimate reward of labour?

What happened in the spring of 1822, I am afraid, is very likely to happen again. Mark my words, and I speak them in sorrow, that next spring will develope the calamitous result of our present suicidal policy. It was only in the spring after the harvest of 1821 that the evil to which I have just alluded was felt. In the spring of 1822, when the country people had eaten up the potatoes which were left them, they flocked in crowds to the towns for subsistence; for it is in towns that you find ample supplies of food generally accumulated, and in the towns the starving masses had to be fed from the charity of their fellow-countrymen. Depend upon it you will have to feed large masses of the people of Ireland in a like manner out of a public fund before midsummer. But where is the subsistence to come from which you are to administer to them? It is not in this country, and must be procured elsewhere. But does it not behove the Minister of the Crown to see, in the present emergency, that not a moment is lost in accumulating in this country such a stock of food as may not be procurable next spring, when famine presses heavily upon us, for less than double the price which some time ago we would have been called upon to pay for it? Mark how our present rulers are tampering with the existing alarming condition of the country. You behold the organs of the Government giving vent to statements, the object of which is to induce us to believe that the evil does not exist to the extent which has been assigned to it. Is there, then, a deep-laid conspiracy on the part of any one to lead us falsely into the anticipation of evils which there is no real ground to apprehend? That cannot be. Have we not seen that solemn masses have been offered up in Roman Catholic chapels, beseeching the Disposer of all Events that He would graciously avert the impending calamity? Did we not see in yesterday's paper that the primate and bishops of Ireland had ordered prayers to be offered up, to arrest, if possible, the progress of the threatened evil? Have we not had boards of guardians, on more occasions than one, memorialising Government to do what they could to moderate the severity of the apprehended famine? If all this be so, can it, then, be possible that any person or persons have entered into a wide and diabolical conspiracy, for the purpose of trifling with the most sacred feelings of humanity, or is the statement of the evil a lamentable and incontrovertible fact? That statement is unfortunately but too melancholy a truth, and yet the Government is tampering with this most critical juncture of our national welfare, and leads us to infer that it is prepared to do nothing.

Well, then, as Mr. Villiers and Earl Ducie have well advised you, it is high time for the people to speak out. There have been scarcely any demonstrations as yet in the country in favour of the immediate opening of the ports. And why? Because every one expected that every successive mail from London would carry to him the welcome decision of the Cabinet that the ports had been already opened. People did not choose to waste their strength and their energies in preparing for a demonstration, which was to take place at the end of a week's time, in favour of an object which they thought would be accomplished every twenty-four hours. It now behoves the people of every town to meet, as the people of Manchester are going to meet, and throw upon the Government the whole responsibility of the present state of things, and call upon them immediately to open the ports; and, when once opened, they will never be shut again. That is the true reason why the ports have not already been opened. If there had been no Anti-Corn-law League, they would have been opened a month ago. It is because they know well in the Cabinet, and because the landlords also well know, that the question of total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws is at stake, that they will risk, like desperate gamblers, all that may befall us during the next six months, rather than part with that law.

Well, if they won't open the ports, somebody must make them. You will be the laughing-stock of all Christendom if you do not make them: only think of the Dutchman—think of Mynheer whilst smoking his pipe, and seeing the ships coming in from America laden with corn for him. How he will laugh at your stupidity when he sees Englishmen starving, while Dutchmen are well fed! We are not sunk quite so low as that yet. But for Sir Robert Peel, what a critical moment in his fortune has now past! I say past, for let him do the act at the end of this month, which he ought to have done ten days ago, still he will not be the same man that he would have been had he done it then. There is not even a child in statesmanship that could not have then told Sir Robert Peel, ‘Now is the critical period of your political fortune—this is the tide of your political life; if you take it at its flood, you go on to such a fortune as no statesman ever attained in this country before; but if you miss it—if you allow the flood to pass by you—you will prove to the world that you have been all your life a pretender, and a mere hoax on the credulity of your countrymen.’

We have all been thinking for some time past that Peel was the man—not the coming man—but the come man. Everybody began to say, ‘Peel is the man for a practical statesman, to govern a practical people;’ and I have no hesitation in saying, that if Sir Robert Peel had taken the course I have suggested, of boldly bearding the Iron Duke, and at once dismissing him and his tail from the Cabinet, I have no hesitation in saying, so far as Lancashire and Yorkshire are concerned, he would have rallied around him the whole of the mighty population of those counties as one man in his support. We should have buried Whig or Tory from the moment we found Sir Robert Peel had abolished the Corn-laws. There would have been a union of all men and all classes in those districts in support of the man who had the courage and the honesty to put an end to this atrocious and long-continued injustice. But he has not done it, and I venture to prophesy that he won't do it. Somebody else will have to do it, and we are not yet so badly off in England but that we may find somebody willing and able to do the will of the country whenever it is unmistakingly expressed. We are told that it would be useless to pass a law to admit foreign corn, for there is none to come in. Then what has the Cabinet been deliberating about so long? If there was no corn to come in, why did the Government hold four or five Cabinet Councils to decide whether it should come in or not? Some of the protectionists tell us, that even if our supply is deficient, the remedy is not to look to foreign countries, but to our native produce. But that is not the rule they follow in anything else but corn. I heard not long ago Mr. Gladstone expound most eloquently the great importance of permitting the free admission of foreign lard, flax, hides, and many other things, as being necessary as the raw materials for our manufactures. Though flax is grown in England, though we produce hides, and make lard, these are admitted from abroad; but with regard to corn, the argument is, that we are not to look to foreign countries for an increased or supplementary supply of that article. And so it is. It is the corn question upon which the mighty struggle will be, after all. And I will whisper in your ear the reason why;—corn is the article upon which rents are fixed, and by which tithes are regulated. Do not deceive yourselves, and suppose you will get a free admission of foreign corn—that is, wheat—except after a considerable struggle. They do not mind so much about Indian corn. Lord Sandon the other day wrote from Liverpool, that he has no objection to Indian corn coming in. And why? It does not regulate tithes, or operate on fixed rents in this country.

My noble friend, Lord Ducie, was quite right when he said that the land-owner might do as well without Corn-laws as with them, and the farmer and farm-labourer much better. But, unfortunately, everybody in the same position is not up to the light of my noble friend. The squire and land-owner in general think differently from my noble friend, and they actually hiss him at their agricultural meetings. I tell this as a specimen of their intelligence. But they only act according to their own convictions and their own ignorant prejudice. And here let me remind you, that this country is governed by the ignorance of the country. And I do not say this without proof; for amongst those Members of the majority of the House of Commons who uphold the Corn-law protective principle, there is not a man of anything like average intellect who dares to speak in their favour. You cannot appeal to a single statesman that deserves a moment's regard as such, who has uttered anything like an authoritative dictum in their favour. There is no single writer of eminence who has not repudiated the doctrines of the monopolists. They are condemned alike by all the intelligence of this and of past ages, and yet they rule this country at this time with more tyranny than even the Grand Turk himself governs with. These people, though possessing no intelligence themselves, yet find people to do their work for them. They will find Sir Robert Peel to do it, and that against his own conscientious convictions; for there can be no doubt that Sir R. Peel is at heart as good a Free-trader as I am myself. He has told us so in the House of Commons again and again; nor do I doubt that Sir R. Peel has in his inmost heart the desire to be the man who shall carry out the principles of Free Trade in this country. But he has been tampering with the question in order to adapt his policy to the ignorance of his party, and we see the state into which the country has been brought the while.

We have, however, one consolation—we have run the fox to earth at last, and know he cannot double on us again. The question cannot be dealt with in another session, as it has been when the country has been blessed with her abundant crops, and when trade was good, and the people all employed. If you had seen the jaunty airs Sir Robert Peel gave himself when we talked of Free Trade in past sessions, you would have been amused, if not astonished. But that is all at an end now, and next session we shall have him fairly pinned, and he knows it too. And I can tell you, that if there is one man who will go up to Parliament next session with a heavier heart than another, that man is Sir Robert Peel. It is my belief, that if in the mean time he does not take the step of throwing open the ports, he will not dare to face us at all next session. Of this I am quite sure, that if the leading Members of the Opposition, in another session, take the position they ought to take—in the van of the people; and, having the people at their back, stand boldly forth as the advocates of those sound principles we are met here to support, and will show themselves ready and determined to apply them as fairly, as effectually, and as permanently as my honourable friend, Mr. Villiers, would, and Sir Robert Peel takes his place in Parliament without first opening the ports, I undertake to say that they will shake him out of office in a week.

But I do not like altogether the idea of giving Peel up. He is a Lancashire man—and in my part of the country we are proud of Lancashire men. We used to think that Sir Robert cast a sheep's eye on the tall chimneys, and that he had something of a lingering kindness for Lancashire; and I can tell him it would have been a proud day for the Lancashire men, when they saw a Lancashire man, and the son of a Lancashire manufacturer, stand forward to rescue the commerce of the country from the shackles of that feudal and senseless oppression it has so long laboured under. I must not forget that I am charged with a message from Lancashire to you. You have already heard what we have done by our twelve months' labour at the registration. We have secured that county for the Free-traders; and you have also heard what we have done in the neighbouring northern counties with their constituencies of 70,000 or 80,000—constituencies greater than those of all the counties south of Middlesex put together. We sent Mr. Hickin to Staffordshire to attend the last revision—he followed the barrister to every court; and the result is, we have gained between 1,000 and 2,000 votes. The expense of this proceeding has been paid by the League out of its funds, and when we asked you to contribute your money to the League, it was with the view of spending it in the same way for your benefit. I believe South Staffordshire is safe at the next election for two Free-traders. But we must not rest there—we must do the same in other counties. In South Lancashire we have put such a majority of Free-traders on the registry, that, unless I am much mistaken, our opponents will not dare to contest another election with us. I say every man in Birmingham who can afford it must buy a 40s. freehold, and so qualify himself to vote for South Staffordshire. In Manchester, we say to every man who has a good coat on his back, ‘You must buy a freehold, and qualify for the county.’ But you have a county nearer here—you are partly in North Warwickshire as well as Coventry; and if you qualify, what is to prevent your returning two Free-traders for that place at the next election? Shame on you if you doubt it! Think of the beauty of the 40s. freehold! Why, it is the best part of the Reform Bill—it is an inheritance handed down to us from our ancestors five hundred years ago. A man for 50l. can buy one of these freeholds, and place himself, as regards the county franchise, upon an equality with the squire who has an estate of 5,000l. a-year.

The landowners have multiplied their 50l. tenants-at-will, and, do what they will, they cannot stretch out their land like India-rubber; but you can make every cobbler's stall, every butcher's shamble, every stable, the means of conferring the franchise, and placing its owner on an equality with the man who holds an estate of 50,000l. a-year. I say, too, if you choose, you can ensure the return of two Free-traders for Worcestershire. Worcester must also be won. There was a desultory effort made to gain North Warwickshire the other day, which ended disgracefully, and which showed the necessity of some local organisation. ‘Tis votes, not meetings, that persuade Sir Robert Peel. In Staffordshire, the revising barrister acknowledged that the League had purged the registry of an immense number of fictitious votes. The finger of scorn should be pointed at any of the middle classes in the northern towns who did not become co-electors. The man is not fit to be a freeman who, when he could afford it, refuses to pay 50l. for the franchise. Having qualified every man you can, you must proceed to a systematic purging of the registers. Many silly persons object to this as disfranchising the people; but if our opponents strike off our votes, are theirs to remain untouched? (’No, no.') We should be in such a position as to be able to tell the Government, 'You must give up the Corn-laws, or give up a good deal more.'

The aristocracy of this country have the army, the navy, the colonies, and a large amount of expenditure, at their disposal. ‘Tis a perfect paradise for the aristocracy in this country, if they knew only how to behave themselves—not as angels, but as decent, honest, rational men. Whom have they to govern? Practical, industrious, intelligent men, whose thoughts centred in their business, and who would gladly leave to those above them the toil of government, if those were willing to allow commerce and industry fair play. What a people for an aristocracy to govern! And yet they risk all for the sake of a miserable tax on bread, which is of no earthly benefit even to themselves. Be prepared for a crisis as to this law, which may come on even before the next dissolution. You will see by the swaying of parties, and the general agitation of the public mind in the next session, that some great change is approaching; and when you discover these symptoms, don’t mind who goes out or in, but keep your eyes steadily fixed on this corn question; and when the crisis does come, let the multitudinous numbers of Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire be prepared to act with united strength against the vile fabric of monopoly, over which, when levelled with the earth, will be driven the ploughshare of peace, that prosperity may arise out of its ruins.





Richard Cobden, "FREE TRADE. XIX. LONDON, DECEMBER 17, 1845"

Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FREE TRADE. XIX. LONDON, DECEMBER 17, 1845. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>

Editor's Intro



I think some of the protection societies would be glad to have our overflow to-night. If this agitation continues, we shall have to build an edifice as large as St. Paul's to hold the Leaguers. I believe to-day we have had application for 30,000 tickets of admission; we have now many hundreds round this building more than can be accommodated; and we have a great many more inside than can be comfortable. But I feel confidence in the disposition of all good Leaguers to accommodate each other; and I must say that I have seen in front of me every disposition to be quiet; but it is the same to-night as I have observed generally in my great experience at public meetings, that if there is any disturbance it is always amongst the aristocracy upon the platform.

I think this meeting is a sufficient proof of the exciting circumstances under which we meet to-night. I need not say a word. [Mr. Cobden was here interrupted by a slight disturbance arising from the extremely crowded state of the stage.] Some gentlemen at the back of the stage wish to have my assurance that there is no room in front; I can assure them that there is not vacant space for a mouse. I think the aspect of the meeting is a sufficient illustration of the present crisis of our great movement. The manner in which we are gathered together; the excited feeling which animates all present—all indicate that there is something peculiar in the present phase of our movement. I do not know how it is, but if I see other people inclined to throw up their caps and become exceedingly excited, it always makes me feel and look grave; for I always think there is the most danger when people are the least on their guard in this wicked world. Doubtless we have brought our cause to a new position—we have got it into the hands of politicians. The ‘ins’ and the ‘outs’ are quarrelling over it. But I am very anxious to impress upon you and our friends throughout the kingdom—for what we say here is read by hundreds and thousands elsewhere—that it is not our business to form Cabinets—to choose individuals who shall carry out our principles; we are not to trust to others to do our work; we are not to feel confident that the work will be done till it is done; and I will tell you when and when only I shall consider it done—when I see the sheet of the Act of Parliament wet from the printer's containing the total abolition of the Corn-laws.

I have always expected in the course of our agitation that we should knock a Government or two on the head before we succeeded. The Government of 1841 can hardly be said to have been killed by the Corn-law; it took the Corn-law as a last desperate dose in order to cure it of a long and lingering disease—but it proved fatal to it. I think we may say, too, that the recent Government has died of the Corn-law; and our business must be, gentlemen, to try and make the fate of the last Government a warning to the next. We do not certainly exactly know yet why Sir Robert Peel ran away from his own law; we have had no explanation. I have been in town for three or four days. I thought when I came from the country I might probably get a little behind the scenes, and learn something about it; but I am as much in the dark now as when I came from Lancashire. I cannot learn why it was that Sir Robert Peel bolted. From what did he run? It was his own law, passed in 1842; it was deliberated upon about six months in 1841. It was not passed at the pressing solicitation of the people for any such law. I know that almost the whole of the people petitioned against it. It was his own handiwork, done in defiance of the people; and now, in 1845, with still the same Parliament, with a majority of 90 to back him, the very men who passed the law being still at his back, he suddenly runs away and leaves his sliding-scale as a legacy to his successors. Gentlemen, if he had carried his own law with him—if he had only carried off his sliding-scale to Tamworth—I do not think we should have made many inquiries about him. But he has left his law, and we do not know how he is going to deal with it in future.

I suppose, when we meet in Parliament, which may be early next month—at all events, the sooner the better—the first thing I shall look to with some degree of interest will be an answer to the question, What is the reason of this sudden dissolution of the Cabinet? I shall await Sir Robert Peel's explanation with very great interest. He will doubtless be able to tell us whether the facts collected by his commissioners in Ireland as well as in England were of such a nature as to impress him with the idea that we are verging on a probable famine in one country, if not in both. If that be the case, I suppose he will also tell us that, so far as he was concerned, he was the advocate in his Cabinet for the suspension of his own handiwork—the sliding-scale. Well, that being the case, I presume, when Parliament meets, he will assist us to do that which he could not accomplish himself with his refractory Cabinet. I expect—I do not know whether I may be rash in expecting it—from Sir Robert Peel straightforward conduct.

There are people who tell us that this Corn-law must not be suspended suddenly, that it must not be dealt with rashly and precipitately, and that, if we are to have the repeal of the Corn-law, it must be done gradually, step by step. Well, gentlemen, that might have been in the eyes of some a very statesmanlike way of doing it six or seven years ago. Some people would have thought last year, when wheat was at 47s. a quarter, that if a law had been passed then providing for the extinction of the Corn-law in two or three years, that that would have been no very bad measure to have been obtained; but who will propose now to pass a law imposing a fixed duty on corn next spring, to go off 3s. or 4s. the spring after, and 3s. or 4s. the spring after that, till it comes to nothing? That would not suit the exigencies of the present movement. Our wise Legislature, our wise Conservative statesmen, would not deal with this question when they might have dealt with it with some advantage to their own policy. We were pressing on the Government to deal with the Corn-laws last year and the year before, when wheat was at 47s. a quarter, but we were told then we were rash men; that the Corn-law had not had a fair trial; that ours was not the way to deal with it; that we must wait to see how it worked.

Well, now they are seeing how it has worked. But there is no time for temporising now. Nature has stepped in; Providence has interfered, and has inflicted a famine upon the land, and set at nought all the contrivance, delay, and modifications of statesmen. They have but one way of dealing with this question. It is of no use asking us for a feather-bed to drop our aristocracy upon; they might have had a feather-bed, if there had been one to offer them; but there is no feather-bed for them now. They must have the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws; not because the League has demanded it; not out of any deference to the Shibboleth of clubs like ours. No, we do not ask them to bow to any such dictation as that; we will not inflict any unnecessary humiliation upon our landowners; but they have put off this good work so long, until Nature has stepped in, and now they must bow to the law of Nature without any delay.

Gentlemen, we meet Parliament next session—I take it for granted—with but one proposition before us,—that is, the immediate and total abolition of the Corn-laws. No Minister can take office without proposing that measure, whether Sir Robert Peel or Lord John Russell. I defy them to take office and come before Parliament without the Queen's Speech proposing that measure. No; we will not exult over them; it is not our doing, after all; we have prepared the public in some degree to take advantage of a natural calamity, but we are not so well prepared as we should have been if they had given us a year or two more; the potato rot has tripped up the heels of Sir Robert Peel, but it has also stopped our registration agents a little. We should like to have had another year of qualification for counties. If we had had another year or two, we could have shown the monopolist landowners that we can transfer power in this country from the hands of a class totally into the hands of the middle and industrial classes of this country. We shall go on with that movement, and I hope it will never stop; but we shall have to deal with the crisis of the Corn-law question next session.

The Queen's Speech, within a month of this time, must recommend the abolition of the Corn-laws. I want to get into the House of Commons again to have some talk about that question. Oh! it is very heavy work, I assure you; it is heavier work every day to come into these enthusiastic meetings, and talk of this question, for we meet no opponents. I do not know how it is, but I have that quality of combativeness, as phrenologists call it, and unless I meet with some opposition I am as dull as ditch-water. Well, there is no man to be found at large out of the House of Commons who can be got in public to say a word in defence of the Corn-laws; that is, you cannot hear any attempted defence out of their own protection societies, and you know they are privileged people.

I am anxious to meet them in the House of Commons upon this subject; but it will be an odd scene when we assemble next session, for we shall not know where to sit. There will be such greetings in the lobbies, one asking the other, ‘On which side are you going to sit?’ And then, the greatest curiosity of all, the greatest subject of interest, will be to see where Sir R. Peel is to sit. I should not wonder if we shall have to find him a chair, and put him in the middle of the floor.

Now, I shall be somewhat interested in witnessing the arguments that will be used by the protectionists in defence of this Corn-law. Recollect, the debate will come on with reference to the exigency of the moment. The Corn-law must be suspended instantly, if Lord John Russell takes office. He will be a bold man if he does. But if he does, I suppose he will either suspend the law the next day by an Order in Council, or he will call us together; and he will throw down his proposition, ‘Either you must suspend that Corn-law at once, or I will not hold office a week.’ Then the debate will turn as to the necessity of suspending this Corn-law; and we shall have gentlemen getting up from Dorsetshire and Essex, protesting that there is a great abundance of everything in the country, that there is no scarcity at all, no potato rot, and that there is a full average quantity and quality of wheat. [Cheers, and cries of ‘Plenty of curry.'’]

Then I should not wonder, gentlemen, if we were to hear some moral receipts for feeding the people. You know Dr. Buckland has lately been publishing a paper read at Oxford to the Ashmolean Society, I believe, and he has shown that people can live very well on peas, can get on tolerably well upon beans, and, if there is nothing else to be had, they can live pretty well upon mangold-wurzel; and he gives an instance of one good lady who lived, I do not know how many days, by sucking the starch out of her white pocket-handkerchief. Now, mangold-wurzel, starch, and beans, mixed with a little curry-powder, would do very well.

Well, gentlemen, we shall have a division as well as a debate. I should like to see the names of those good men in the House of Commons who will vote against opening the ports—that is, the men who will decree that we shall not be treated as well as the Prussians, the Turks, the Poles, and the Dutchmen; if they outvote us upon that proposition, we shall have a general election. I should like to see some of those curry-powder candidates go down to their constituents. I would advise you to get doses of the curry-powder water ready; a little hot water, and a pinch of curry-powder stirred up, makes a man very comfortable to go to bed with, they say. Try it upon some of the protectionist candidates.

Gentlemen, this is no laughing subject, after all. As my friend, Mr. Villiers, says, it is a question very much between Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell now. I have no reason, and I think you will all admit it, to feel any very great respect for Sir Robert Peel; he is the only man in the House of Commons that I can never speak a word to in private without forfeiting my own respect, and the respect of all those men who sit around me. But though I say that, and though I am justified in saying it, yet this I will say, that so deeply have I this question of the Corn-laws at heart, that if Sir Robert Peel will take the same manly, straightforward part that Lord John Russell has taken—if he will avow an intelligible course of action—that is what I want, no mystification—if he will do that, I will as heartily co-operate with him as with any man in the House of Commons.

I should think now the time was come when every statesman, of whatever party, who has a particle of intelligence and conscience, must be anxious to remove this question of supplying the food of the people out of the category of party politics; for see what a fearful state it places the Ministry in. They maintain a law for the purpose of regulating the supply of food to the people; if the food falls short, the people assail the Government as the cause of their scarcity of food: this is a responsibility that no Government or human power ought to assume to itself. It is a responsibility that we should never invest a Government with, if that Government did not assume to itself the functions of the Deity.

Gentlemen, why should we tax the Government with being the cause of our suffering when we are visited with a defective harvest? Why should a Government fly away? Why should a Prime Minister retire from office because there is a failure and rot in the potatoes? Suppose we had a devastating flood that swept away half our houses in a day, we should never think of charging the Executive Government with being the cause of our calamities. The Government does not undertake to build houses, or to keep houses for us. Suppose half of our mercantile marine was swept away with a hurricane, and if the whole of it was submerged in the flood, we should never think of flying at the Government, and making them responsible for such a calamity. On the contrary, if we had such a dire event by flood or fire happening to the country, we should instinctively rally round the Government, one helping the other in order to mitigate the horrors of such a calamity. And why should it be otherwise with supplying the food of the people? Why, because the Government of this country—Ministers and Parliament in this land—have arrogated to themselves functions which belong not to man, but to nature—not to laws of Parliament, but to the laws of Providence—not to regulations of statesmen, but to regulations of the merchants of the world; it is because they have taken upon themselves superhuman functions that we make them responsible for divine inflictions.

Then, gentlemen, I hope that every intelligent statesman in this country will be anxious to get rid of this question of protection to agriculture. But there is another reason why our intelligent statesmen ought to wish to bury it so deep that even its ghost cannot haunt us again—this ragged and tattered banner of protection—and it is this, that if you leave a rag of it behind, these protectionist squires will hoist that ragged standard again. And my firm conviction is, that they will find farmers enough to rally round that old rag—they will have the same organisation, the same union in the counties between the protectionist squires and their dupes the protectionist farmers—that would prove a hindrance to everything like an enlightened and rational government on the part of any Administration. I say, then, whether it be Sir Robert Peel, or whether it be Lord John Russell, put an end to this protective principle; destroy it altogether; leave no part of it behind. And the only way you can do that is by proposing honestly, totally to abolish the Corn-laws, and the rest of the system will abolish itself very soon afterwards.

There are terms talked about; they talk of some terms; they talk of re-adjusting taxation. I am told Sir Robert Peel has got a scheme as long as my arm for mixing up a hundred other things with this Corn-law. I say we will have no such mystification of our plain rights. We have had too much of his mystification before. In the north of England, where we are practical people, we have a prejudice in favour of doing one thing at a time. Now, we will abolish the Corn and Provision Laws if you please; that shall be one thing we will do; and anything else they propose to do we will take it upon its merits, as we take the Corn-law upon its demerits. They propose a modification of taxation; and I am told that Sir Robert Peel has some such sop in view to compensate the landowners. He has not been a very safe guide hitherto to the landowners of this country; he has led them into a quagmire with his leadership. I predict that if Sir Robert Peel provokes a discussion upon the subject of taxation in this country, that he will prove as great an enemy to the landowners as he is likely to prove, according to their views of the question, in his advocacy of protection for them.

I warn Ministers, and I warn landowners, and the aristocracy of this country, against forcing upon the attention of the middle and industrious classes the subject of taxation. For, great as I consider the grievance of the protective system, mighty as I consider the fraud and injustice of the Corn-laws, I verily believe, if you were to bring forward the history of taxation in this country for the last 150 years, you will find as black a record against the landowners as even in the Corn-law itself. I warn them against ripping up the subject of taxation. If they want another League, at the death of this one—if they want another organisation, and a motive—for you cannot have these organisations without a motive and principle—then let them force the middle and industrious classes of England to understand how they have been cheated, robbed, and bamboozled upon the subject of taxation; and the end will be—(now I predict it for the consolation of Sir Robert Peel and his friends)—if they force a discussion of this question of taxation; if they make it understood by the people of this country how the landowners here, 150 years ago, deprived the sovereign of his feudal rights over them; how the aristocracy retained their feudal rights over the minor copyholders; how they made a bargain with the king to give him 4s. in the pound upon their landed rentals, as a quit charge for having dispensed with these rights of feudal service from them; if the country understand as well as I think I understand, how afterwards this landed aristocracy passed a law to make the valuation of their rental final, the bargain originally being that they should pay 4s. in the pound of the yearly rateable value of their rental, as it was worth to let for, and then stopped the progress of the rent by a law, making the valuation final,—that the land has gone on increasing tenfold in many parts of Scotland, and fivefold in many parts of England, while the land-tax has remained the same as it was 150 years ago—if they force us to understand how they have managed to exempt themselves from the probate and legacy duty on real property—how they have managed, sweet innocents that taxed themselves so heavily, to transmit their estates from sire to son without taxes or duties, while the tradesman who has accumulated by thrifty means his small modicum of fortune is subject at his death to taxes and stamps before his children can inherit his property; if they force us to understand how they have exempted their tenants' houses from taxes, their tenants' horses from taxes, their dogs from taxes, their draining-tiles from taxes—if they force these things to be understood, they will be making as rueful a bargain as they have already made by resisting the abolition of the Corn-law.

Do not let them tell me I am talking in a wild, chimerical strain; they told me so, seven years ago, about this Corn-law. I remember right well, when we came to London six years ago, in the spring of 1839, there were three of us in a small room at Brown's Hotel, in Palace Yard, we were visited by a nobleman, one who had taken an active part in the advocacy of a modification of the Corn-laws, but not the total repeal; he asked us, ‘What is it that has brought you to town, and what do you come to seek?’ We said, ‘We come to seek the total and immediate repeal of the Corn-laws.’ The nobleman said, with a most emphatic shake of the head, ‘You will overturn the monarchy as soon as you will accomplish that.’ Now, the very same energy, starting from our present vantage-ground, having our opponents down as we have them now—the same energy—ay, half the energy, working for seven years—would enable a sufficient number of the middle and working classes of this country to qualify for the counties, and might transfer the power utterly and for ever from the landowners of this country to the middle and working classes, and they might tax the land, and tax the large proprietors and rich men of every kind, as they do in all the countries of Europe but England.

Again and again I warn Sir Robert Peel—I warn the aristocracy of this country—that, on the settlement of this question, they do not force us into a discussion upon the peculiar burthens upon land.

Well, they cannot meet us now with any modification of the law, because—however it might have suited past years to have let them down on a feather-bed, as they call it, to have given a salve to their wounds—the crisis of the potato rot will not wait for it now; they dare not open the question of taxation. What will they attempt to do, then? What can they do? Why, I would advise them, as friends, to do justice speedily and promptly; and if we take the repeal of the Corn-laws, and ask no further questions—if we let bygones be bygones—they ought to be abundantly satisfied with the bargain. I am disposed, gentlemen, to ask no questions, to let by-gones be bygones. I want no triumph; I want no exaltation. I think no one will accuse us of having crowed over converts, or exulted over repentant sinners. We exist as an association, solely for the object of converting people. It would be a very bad piece of tactics if we ever offered the slightest impediment to an honest conversion to our ranks. We began in a minority of the intelligent people of England. I am willing to admit it, we had to inform the country and to arouse it; we live only to convert; and I am very glad indeed to congratulate you upon having converted some very important allies lately.

I feel very great pleasure in noticing a statement which appears in to-day's paper in the news from Ireland. It is a report of a speech of Mr. O'Connell. We of the Anti-Corn-law League have every reason to feel indebted to Mr. O'Connell for the uniform and consistent course which he has taken in reference to the Corn-laws. From the beginning he has acted and co-operated with us both in our great meetings and in the House of Commons; but I have never considered him as acting here upon English ground. I have always regarded him as promoting a measure for the benefit of his own countrymen in Ireland, when he has co-operated with us for the repeal of the Corn-laws; because we have had the best possible proof, in the continued misery and semi-starvation of the Irish people, that whatever good the Corn-law may have done to the landowner in England, it is quite certain that it has never been of any benefit to the people of Ireland, a large majority of whom never taste anything better than lumper potatoes. Then, both upon Irish and English grounds, I am glad we have an opportunity of co-operating with Mr. O'Connell. I rejoice that upon this question, at all events, there cannot be a line of demarcation drawn between the two countries. Our interests are theirs, and theirs are ours. They want more bread, God knows, in Ireland; and if we can help Mr. O'Connell to give it them they shall have it.

I am not going to talk argumentatively to-night; and I have but to add, that the times that are coming are just those that will most require our vigilance and activity. Demonstrations now are comparatively valueless; we shall want you all next spring. There is a great struggle for that period. The Duke of Richmond has told us he shall trust to the hereditary legislators of the country. Well, I might say,—

'Hereditary bondsmen, know ye not?

I will back the ‘hereditary bondsmen’ against the hereditary legislators upon this question. But, no; we have not all the hereditary legislators opposed to us I am glad of it; we have the best of them in our ranks; we always had the best of them with us. If they have not all joined our club we do not care about it, so long as they adopt our principles.

I have never been for making this a class question. I have preached from the first that we would have the cooperation of the best and most intelligent of all ranks in life—working, middle, and upper classes. No, no; we will have no war of classes in this country. It is bad enough that in free and constitutional States you must, have your parties; we cannot, in our state of enlightenment, manage our institutions without them; but it shall never be our fault if this question of the Corn-laws becomes a class question, between the middle and working classes on the one side, and the hereditary legislators on the other. No, no; we will save the Duke of Richmond's order from the Duke of Richmond. We have got Lord Morpeth, and we have also Lords Radnor, Ducie, and Kinnaird, and a good many more; and among the rest Earl Grey, our earliest and most tried champion of the aristocracy. This is one proof that ours is not a class question, and that we are not at war with the whole landed aristocracy; but if the Duke of Richmond sets up the Noodles and Doodles of the aristocracy, why, before we have done with them, they shall be as insignificant and more contemptible than the round-frocked peasantry upon his Grace's estate.

This is a question that, during the next three months, will allow of no sleeping: we must be all watching. I have confidence in Lord J. Russell; I think, if you have his word you have his bond. I do not know at this moment whether he will take office or not; but if he does, and has Lord Morpeth and Lord Grey associated with him, you are as safe with them as you are with Lord John Russell himself. I do not know who besides he may have. [A Voice: ‘Yourself.'’] Yes, I will be the watchman, so long as bad characters are abroad.

But Lord John may have some difficulty, perhaps, in making up a Cabinet as willing to stick to the principles of Free Trade as himself; and he may not find them quite so willing to coerce those refractory legislators as he may wish. We must back him; we must show him the power we can give him to carry this question. They talk of Lord John Russell having made a mistake in putting out that letter to the citizens of London. I have heard some mean and shabby people say, if he had not put out that letter, how much freer he would have been now. Why, Lord John Russell would have been nothing now without that letter. The Queen would not have sent for him without that letter. Lord John Russell would no more have commanded the people's confidence, or excited their hopes or enthusiasm, without that letter, any more than Sir Robert Peel himself would have done. It is a proof not only of the vitality of the principle, that, without joining the League, he did not join us by the mere enunciation of a principle which the people quite understand and feel. Lord John Russell, as if by change of a magic lantern, became from the most obscure the most popular and prominent man of his day.

Ours is the only party that is now solid, growing, and consolidated in this country; all that is good of the Whig party has joined the Free-traders—the Whig party is nothing without the Free-trade party. The Tory or Conservative party, call them what you will, are broken to atoms by the disruption in the ranks of their leaders. The League stands erect and aloft, amidst the ruins of all factions. Let us hold on to the principle which has made us as strong as we now find ourselves; let us hold on to it, not turning to the right or to the left. No man, or body of men, Ministers or ex-Ministers, have a right to expect it, nor shall they have it; we will not turn a hair's breadth to keep men in office, or put them out of office; and if we maintain this ground—ay, for another six months—then we shall be near that time which I so long for, when this League shall be dissolved into its primitive elements by the triumph of its principles.






Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


PARLIAMENTARY REFORM. I. HOUSE OF COMMONS, JULY 6, 1848. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 2 War, Peace, and Reform. <>

Editor's Intro




[On June 20, 1848, Mr. Hume moved the following resolution:—'That this House, as at present constituted, does not fairly represent the population, the property, or the industry of the country; whence have arisen great and increasing discontent in the minds of a large portion of the people; and it is therefore expedient, with a view to amend the National Representation, that the elective franchise shall be so extended as to include all householders, that votes shall be taken by Ballot, that the duration of Parliaments shall not exceed three years, and that the apportionment of Members to population shall be made more equal.' On July 6, the motion was rejected by 267 (321 to 84).]

I rise under great disadvantages to address this House, after the hon. and learned Gentleman (Serjeant Talfourd) who has just sat down; and the difficulty of my position would be very much increased if I were called upon to address myself to this question in the manner, and with the eloquence and fancy, by which his speech has been distinguished; but I make no pretence to follow in such a track. I can only help observing, that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not given us any facts as the groundwork of his reasoning. There is one statement, however, made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which is not a fact, but on which the opponents of my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) seem very much to rely. The statement to which I allude is to this effect,—that the wishes of the country are not in favour of the change which my hon. Friend proposes. That assertion, as we all know, was made by the noble Lord the Member for London. Now, it must be generally felt that this statement is of more importance than any other that has been uttered upon this subject. On other subjects connected with the Government and Constitution of this country there may be much diversity of opinion; but I ask, is there any great diversity of opinion, at this moment, amongst the great class, who are now excluded from the franchise? I put it to the noble Lord to say, does he, or do his friends, mean to say, or do they not, that the masses of the unrepresented population in this country have no desire to possess political power and privileges? Will any one utter such a libel on the people of England? Will any one say that they are so abject, so base, so servile, as not to desire to possess the rights of citizens and freemen? I have not believed, and I do not believe, that such are the sentiments of my fellow-countrymen. I should entertain a very poor opinion indeed of the people of this country if I were to give a vote in favour of such a proposition; but yet it forms an important element in the reasonings of the Gentlemen who oppose my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose. If you admit the most evident truth that can come under the notice of any man, you must admit that at least six-sevenths of the male population of this United Kingdom are earnestly pressing for and claiming the rights which you are denying them. I will go further, and tell the House that a very large proportion of the middle class regret that so many belonging to a humbler order of society than themselves should have been included amongst the unrepresented portion of the community. They express a sincere desire that the franchise should be extended; they look with great interest to the result of this night's division; and I undertake to say, that you will find those Members of this House who represent large and independent constituencies, comprising, for the most part, persons belonging to the middle class, you will find such Members voting with my hon. Friend—they are the men who will go into the lobby in favour of his motion. It is thus that the strongest and most useful appeal will be responded to by the great mass of the middle orders, and thus, I think, it will be shown, that the middle class entertain no such feeling of hostility against the admission of working men to political power as they are said to indulge. In proportion as the middle class are free and independent, in so far do they desire the freedom and independence of the rank nearest to themselves, in that proportion do they desire to open the portals of the Constitution to the poor man. Some hon. Members in this House have contended against this truth; but I take the liberty of saying, that I have for a long time been accustomed to watch the progress of opinion on this subject out of doors; and this I tell the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I can prove it, even to his satisfaction, that I have had better opportunities than he possesses of estimating the state of opinion out of doors upon this matter; and I beg to inform him, that this opinion in favour of my hon. Friend's motion has arisen spontaneously—that there has been no organization; and the best proof of this assertion that I can offer is to be found in the fact, that the number of public meetings to consider, discuss, and petition upon this subject, has been no fewer than 130. I find it so recorded in the Daily News, and I repeat that this is a purely spontaneous movement. I have no hesitation in frankly acknowledging that we were five years agitating for a repeal of the Corn-laws, before we reached so advanced a point as that which the friends of the present question now occupy. Respecting the repeal of the Corn-laws, the mass of the people were said, truly enough, perhaps, to have been galvanized from a centre. But, with regard to the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Montrose, the practice has been reversed; and whatever manifestations of opinion have been displayed out of doors, they have arisen without any exertion of central influence.

I do not say that all men are agreed upon this subject—that there are no diversities of opinion; but I say there is much less of this than those who resist my hon. Friend's motion at all like to see. We have had petitions from those who favour the Charter, and from those who desire universal suffrage, and very many in favour of the particular plan upon which we are now speedily to divide. I have not anything to say against those petitions in favour of the Charter, or in favour of universal suffrage. I am not contending against the right of a man, as a man, to the franchise—I mean the right that a man ought to enjoy apart from the possession of property; but I feel I should not be justified in taking the line of argument adopted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and by the noble Lord the First Minister of State, who addressed himself to the advocates of universal suffrage, and seemed to argue that they were more right than the advocates of household suffrage. If he intends to vote for universal suffrage, I can understand the force of that argument; but as I am not going to oppose universal suffrage, and as I do not stand here to support it, I leave him in the hands of the advocates of universal suffrage, and, judging by what has been done, they seem disposed to make the most of the argument which has been put into their hands.

I will not occupy the time of the House in discussing this point further, but rather prefer to direct attention to this circumstance,—that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not display his usual legal skill and knowledge in dealing with the question of household suffrage, for it certainly is not surrounded with the difficulties which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has imagined. To judge from his speech, it would seem to be the law, that no one except the landlord and occupier of a house enjoys a vote in right of that house. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have known that the Court of Common Pleas has decided that lodgers paying more than 10l. annually, and rated to the poor-rates, are entitled to be placed on the list of voters—that is to say, in cases where the landlord does not live on the premises. That is the state of the law as established by the Reform Act, and my hon. Friend seeks only to extend that privilege a little; it therefore can scarcely be considered a matter difficult of arrangement. The mere extension of the existing rule gets rid of all difficulty, and gives the franchise to prudent young men—too prudent to marry and take houses with insufficient means; to them, being lodgers, and paying a rent exceeding 10l., the plan of my hon. Friend gives the franchise. The law of the land already goes very near to this.

The allusion which the hon. and learned Gentleman made to the case of Cooper must be fresh in the recollection of the House. I am sorry he alluded to that part of Cooper's career, who, I believe, greatly regrets those events, and would be glad to forget the part that he took in the affair at the Staffordshire Potteries. I again say, I am sorry that the subject was introduced here, for we want no additional examples to prove to us that a very good poet may be a very bad politician. The object of the motion of the hon. Member for Montrose is, that he may bring in a bill for the purpose, among other things, of giving votes to householders; that is to say, that parties not only paying taxes to the country, but rates to the poor, should have a voice in the election of Members to this House. In advocating this principle, we are really acting on the theory that exists as to the franchise of this country; for we say that the people of this country elect the Members of this House. Is that sham, or is it reality?

Now, if there is one thing more than another that the people do not like, it is sham. The people like realities. The theory of this country is, that the people like political power; and there is nobody responsible, as the hon. and learned Gentleman in his poetical flight seemed to imagine, for the education of the people and the preparation of them for the political franchise. If there had been any such responsible parties, the thing would have been done long ago. But, I ask, what danger is there in giving the franchise to householders? They are the fathers of families; they constitute the laborious and industrious population. What would be endangered by giving this class the franchise? When our institutions are talked of, I always hear it said that they live in the affections of the country, and that the Queen sits enthroned in the hearts of the people; and I have no fear of danger from any such wide extension of the suffrage as we now contemplate. I do not believe that it would lead to any change in the form of our government. I say, God forbid that it should. I sincerely hope, if there is to be a revolution in this country in consequence of which the monarchical form of government shall give way to any other form, that that revolution may happen when I shall be no longer here to witness it, for the generation that makes such a revolution will not be the generation to reap the fruits of it. I do not believe that the people of this country have any desire to change the form of their government, nor do I join with those who think that the wide extension of the suffrage, of which we now speak, would either altogether or generally affect a change in the class of persons chosen as representatives. I do not think that there would be any great change in that respect. The people would continue, as at present, to choose their representatives from the easy class,—among the men of fortune; but I believe this extension of the suffrage would tend to bring not only the legislation of this House, but the proceedings of the Executive Government, more in harmony with the wants, wishes, and interests of the people. I believe that the householders, to whom the present proposition would give votes, would advocate a severe economy in the Government. I do not mean to say that a wide extension of the suffrage might not be accompanied by mistakes on some matters in the case of some of the voters; such mistakes will always occur; but I have a firm conviction that they will make no mistake in the matter of economy and retrenchment. I have a firm conviction, that, if proper political power were given to the people, the taxation necessary for the expenditure of the State would be more equitably levied.

What are the two things most wanted? What would the wisest political economists, or the gravest philosophers, if they sat down to consider the circumstances of this country, describe as the two most pressing necessities of our condition? What but greater economy, and a more equitable apportionment of the taxation of the country? I mean, that you should have taxation largely removed from the indirect sources from which it is at present levied, and more largely imposed on realised property. This retrenchment and due apportionment of taxation constitute the thing most wanted at present for the safety of the country; and this the people, if they had the franchise now proposed, would, from the very instinct of selfishness, enable you to accomplish. Let me not be mistaken. I do not wish to lay all the taxation on property. I would not do injustice to any one class for the advantage of another; but I wish to see reduced, in respect to consumable articles, those obstructions which are offered by the Customs and Excise duties. You ought to diminish the duties on tea and wine, and you ought to remove every exciseman from the land, if you can; and I believe that the selfish instinct—to call it by no other name—of the great body of the people, if they had the power to bring their will to bear on this House, would accomplish these objects, so desirable to be effected in this country.

Then where is the danger of giving the people practically their theoretical share of political power? We shall be told that we cannot settle the question by household suffrage; and I admit that by no legislation in this House in 1848 can you settle any question. You cannot tell what another generation or Parliament may do. But, if you enfranchise the householders in this country, making the number of voters 3,000,000 or 4,000,000, whereas at present they are only about 800,000, will any one deny that by so doing you will conciliate the great mass of the people to the institutions of the country, and that, whatever disaffection might arise from any remaining exclusion (and I differ from the hon. and learned Gentleman, who thought that more disaffection would thereby be created), your institutions will be rendered stronger by being garrisoned by 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 of voters in place of 800,000?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has expended a great deal of his eloquence on the question of electoral districts. Now, when you approach a subject like this, with a disposition to treat it in the cavilling spirit of a special pleader, dealing with chance expressions of your opponents, rather than looking at the matter in a broad point of view, it is easy to raise an outcry and a prejudice on a political question. But, as I understand the object of the hon. Member for Montrose, it is this,—he wishes for a fairer apportionment of the representation of the people. He said that he did not want the country marked out into parallelograms or squares, or to separate unnecessarily the people from their neighbours; and I quite agree with the hon. Member for Montrose, that his object can be attained without the disruption of such ties. The hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with this question as if we were going to cut up some of the ancient landmarks of the country, as the Reform Act cut up some counties in two, and laid out new boundaries. But I will undertake to do all that the hon. Member for Montrose proposes to do without removing the boundary of a single county or parish; and, if I do not divide parishes or split counties, you will admit that I am preserving sufficiently the old ties. I must say that I consider this question of the reapportionment of Members to be one of very great importance.

When you talk to me of the franchise, and ask me whether I will have a man to vote who is twenty-one years of age, and has been resident for six or twelve months, whether a householder or lodger, there is no principle I can fall back upon in order to be sure that I am right in any one of those matters. I concur with those who say that they do not stand on any natural right at all. I know no natural right to elect a Member to this House. I have a legal right, enabling me to do so, while six-sevenths of my fellow-countrymen want it. I do not see why they should not have the same right as myself; but I claim no natural right; and, if I wished to cavil with the advocates for universal suffrage, I should deal with them as I once good-humouredly dealt with a gentleman who was engaged in drawing up the Charter. He asked me to support universal suffrage on the ground of principle; and I said, ‘If it is a principle that a man should have a vote because he pays taxes, why should not, also, a widow who pays taxes, and is liable to serve as churchwarden and overseer, have a vote for Members of Parliament?’ The gentleman replied that he agreed with me, and that on this point, in drawing up the Charter, he had been outvoted; and I observed that he then acted as I did,—he gave up the question of principle, and adopted expediency.

I say that, with respect to the franchise, I do not understand natural right; but with respect to the apportionment of Members, there is a principle, and the representation ought to be fairly apportioned according to the same principle. What is the principle you select? I will not take the principle of population, because I do not advocate universal suffrage; but I take the ground of property. How have you apportioned the representation according to property? The thing is monstrous. When you look into the affair, you will see how property is misrepresented in this House; and I defy any one to stand up and say a word in defence of the present system. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire alluded the other night to the representation of Manchester and Buckinghamshire, and made a mockery of the idea of Manchester having seven representatives. Now, judging from the quality of the Members already sent to this House by Manchester, I should wish to have not only seven such Members, but seventy times seven such. I will take the hon. Member's own favourite county of Buckingham for the sake of illustration, and compare it with Manchester. The borough of Manchester is assessed to the poor on an annual rental of 1,200,000l., while Buckinghamshire is assessed on an annual rental only of 760,000l. The population of Buckinghamshire is 170,000, and of Manchester 240,000; and yet Buckinghamshire has eleven Members, and Manchester only two. The property I have mentioned in respect to Manchester does not include the value of the machinery; and, though I will grant that the annual value of land will represent a larger real value of capital than the annual value of houses, yet, when you bear in mind that the machinery in Manchester, and an enormous amount of accumulated personal property, which goes to sustain the commerce of the country, is not included in the valuation I have given, I think I am not wrong in stating that Manchester, with double the value of real property, has only two Members, while Buckinghamshire has eleven. At the same time, the labourers in Buckinghamshire receive only 9s. or 10s. a week, while the skilled operatives of Manchester are getting double the sum, and are, consequently, enabled to expend more towards the taxation of the country.

If this were merely a question between the people of Buckinghamshire and Manchester,—if it were merely a question whether the former should have more political power than the latter, the evil would in some degree be mitigated, if the power really resided with the middle and industrious classes; but, on looking into the state of the representation of the darling county of the hon. Member, I find that the Members are not the representatives of the middle and industrious classes, for I find that eight borough Members are so distributed as, by an ingenious contrivance, to give power to certain landowners to send Members to Parliament. I will undertake to show that there is not more than one Member in Buckinghamshire returned by popular election, and also that three individuals in Buckinghamshire nominate a majority of the Members. If called on, I can name them. What justice is there in, not Buckinghamshire, but two or three landowners there, having the power to send Members to this House to tax the people of Manchester? When this matter was alluded to on a former occasion, the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire treated the subject lightly and jocosely, as regarded the right of Manchester to send its fair proportion of Members to this House, and that jocularity was cheered with something like frantic delight in this House; but I think this is the last time such an argument will be so received. I maintain that Manchester has a right to its fair proportion of representatives, and I ask for no more.

I will now refer to the case of the West Riding of Yorkshire. That contains a population of 1,154,000; and Wilts contains a population of 260,000. The West Riding is rated to the poor on an annual rental of 3,576,000l., and Wilts on an annual rental of 1,242,000l., yet each returns eighteen Members; and when I refer to Wilts, I find six of its boroughs down in Dod's Parliamentary Companion as openly, avowedly, and notoriously under the influence of certain patrons, who nominate the Members. I hold in my hand a list of ten boroughs, each returning two Members to Parliament, making in all twenty Members; and I have also a list of ten towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire which do not return any Member; yet the smallest place in the latter list is larger than the largest of the ten boroughs having two Members each. Is there any right or reason in that? According to a plan which I have seen made out, if the representation were fairly apportioned, the West Riding of Yorkshire should have thirty Members, whereas it now has eighteen only. We do not wish to disfranchise any body of the people,—we want to enfranchise largely; but what we would give the people should be a reality, and they should not be mocked by such boroughs as Great Marlow, where an hon. Gentleman returns himself and his cousin; as High Wycombe, Buckingham, and Aylesbury; but there should be a free constituency, protected by the ballot.

With respect to Middlesex, the assessment to the poor is on an annual rental of 7,584,000l.; and the assessment of Dorsetshire is on an annual rental of 799,000l. Yet they both have fourteen Members, while the amount of the money levied for the poor in one year in Middlesex is as large within 6l. as the whole amount of the property assessed to the poor in Dorsetshire. The assessment to the poor in Marylebone is on an annual rental of 1,666,000l., being more than the annual rental of two counties returning thirty Members. Why should not the metropolis have a fair representation according to its property? I believe that the noble Lord at the head of the Government did intimate a suspicion of the danger of giving so large a number of Members to the metropolis as would be the result of a proportional arrangement. I am surprised at the noble Lord holding such an opinion, as he is himself an eminent example and proof, that the people of the metropolis might be entrusted safely with such a power. I observed, that in the plan for the representation in Austria, it was proposed to give Vienna a larger than a mere proportional share in the representation, because it was assumed that the metropolis was more enlightened than the other parts of the country.

Now, notwithstanding all that may be said to the contrary, I maintain that the inhabitants of your large cities—and of a metropolis especially—are better qualified to exercise the right of voting than the people of any other part of the empire; for they are generally the most intelligent, the most wealthy, and the most industrious. I believe that the people of this metropolis are the hardest-working people in England. But where is the difficulty? An hon. Gentleman has objected to large constituencies, on the ground that Members would then be returned by great mobs. Now, my idea is, that you make a mob at a London election by having too large a constituency. Some of your constituencies are too large, while others are too small. Take Marylebone, or Finsbury, with a population of between 200,000 and 300,000; the people there cannot confer with their neighbours as to the election of representatives. But you may give a fair proportion of representatives to the metropolis; and you may lay out the metropolis in wards, as you do for the purpose of civic elections. I do not undertake to say what number of electors should be apportioned to each ward, that is a matter of detail; but if the subject were approached honestly, it would not be difficult to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I believe that if the metropolis were laid out in districts for the election of Members of Parliament, the people would make a better choice of representatives than any other part of the kingdom. Do not be alarmed by supposing that they would send violent Radicals to Parliament. You would have some of your rich squares, and of your wealthy districts, sending aristocrats: while other parts of the metropolis would return more democratic Members. It is a chimera to suppose that the character of the representation would be materially changed; the matter only requires to be looked into to satisfy any one that it is a chimera. I tell you that you cannot govern this country peaceably, while it is notorious that the great body of the people, here in London and elsewhere, are excluded from their fair share of representation in this House. I do not say that you should have an increased number of representatives. I think we have quite as many representatives in this House as we ought to have; but if you continue the present number of representatives, you must give a larger proportion to those communities which possess the largest amount of property, and diminish the number of Members for those parts of the country which have now an undue number of representatives. You cannot deal with the subject in any other way; and you cannot prevent the growing conviction in the public mind, that whatever franchise you may adopt—whether a household or a 10l. franchise—you must have a more fair apportionment of Members of this House. Do not suppose that this is a mere question of mathematical nicety. No; where the power is, to that power the Government will gravitate. The power is now in the hands of persons who nominate the Members of this House,—of large proprietors, and of individuals who come here representing small constituencies. It is they who rule the country; to them the Government are bound to bow. But let the great mass of the householders, let the intelligence of the people be heard in this House, and the Prime Minister may carry on his Government with more security to himself, and with more security to the country, than he can do with the factitious power he now possesses.

Upon the ballot I will say but a few words; and for this reason—because it stands at the head of those questions which are likely to be carried in this House. I mean, that it has the most strength in this House and in the country among the middle classes, and particularly among the farmers, and among persons living in the counties. Some hon. Gentlemen say, ‘Oh!’ They are not farmers who say ‘Oh, oh!’ they are landlords. The farmers are in favour of the ballot. I will take the highest farming county—Lincolnshire. Will any one tell me that the farmers of Lincolnshire are not in favour of the ballot? I say this question stands first; it will be carried. Why, no argument is attempted to be urged against it, except the most ridiculous of all arguments, that it is un-English. I maintain that, so far from the ballot being un-English, there is more voting by ballot in England than in all the countries in Europe. And why? Because you are a country of associations and clubs,—of literary, scientific, and charitable societies,—of infirmaries and hospitals,—of great joint-stock companies,—of popularly governed institutions; and you are always voting by ballot in these institutions. Will any hon. Member come down fresh from the Carlton Club, where the ballot-box is ringing every week, to say that the ballot is un-English? Will gentlemen who resort to the ballot to shield themselves from the passing frown of a neighbour whom they meet every day, use this sophistical argument, and deny the tenant the ballot, that he may protect himself not only against the frowns but against the vengeance of his landlord?

As to triennial Parliaments, I need not say much on that subject. This, also, will be carried. We do not appoint people to be our stewards in private life for seven years; we do not give people seven years' control over our property. Let me remind the House that railway directors are elected every year. Something has been said by the Prime Minister as to the preference of annual to triennial Parliaments. I think I can suggest a mode of avoiding all difficulty on this point. Might it not be possible to adopt the system pursued at municipal elections—that one-third of the members should go out every year? I mention this only as a plan for which we have a precedent. If one-third of the Members of this House went out every year, you would have an opportunity of testing the opinion of the country, and avoiding the shocks and convulsions so much dreaded by some hon. Gentlemen.

I will only say one word, in conclusion, as to a subject which has been referred to by the hon. and learned member for Reading (Mr. Serjeant Talfourd) and the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). They complain that leagues and associations were formed out of doors, and yet in the same breath they claim credit for the country that it has made great advances and reforms. You glorify yourselves that you have abolished the slave-trade and slavery. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, with the warmth and glow of humanity by which he is distinguished, to the exertions which have been made to abolish the punishment of death. Whatever you have done to break down any abomination or barbarism in this country has been done by associations and leagues out of this House; and why? Because, since Manchester cannot have its fair representation in this House, it was obliged to organise a League, that it might raise an agitation through the length and breadth of the land, and in this indirect matter might make itself felt in this House. Well, do you want to get rid of this system of agitation? Do you want to prevent these leagues and associations out of doors? Then you must bring this House into harmony with the opinions of the people. Give the means to the people of making themselves felt in this House. Are you afraid of losing anything by it? Why, the very triumphs you have spoken of—the triumphs achieved out of doors—by reformers, have been the salvation of this country. They are your glory and exultation at the present moment. But is this not a most cumbrous machine?—a House of Commons, by a fiction said to be the representatives of the people, meeting here and professing to do the people's work, while the people out of doors are obliged to organise themselves into leagues and associations to compel you to do that work? Now, take the most absurd illustration of this fact which is occurring at the present moment. There is a confederation, a league, an association, or a society,—I declare I don't know by what fresh name it may have been christened, formed in Liverpool, a national confederation, at the head of which, I believe, is the brother of the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, Mr. Gladstone, a gentleman certainly of sufficiently Conservative habits not to rush into anything of this kind, if he did not think it necessary. And what is the object of this association? To effect a reform of our financial system, and to accomplish a reduction of the national expenditure. Why, these are the very things for which this House assembles. This House is, par excellence, the guardian of the people's purse; it is their duty to levy taxes justly, and to administer the revenue frugally; but they discharge this duty so negligently, that there is an assembly in Liverpool associated in order to compel them to perform it, and that assembly is headed by a Conservative.

It is not with a view of overturning our institutions that I advocate these reforms in our representative system. It is because I believe that we may carry out those reforms from time to time, by discussions in this House, that I take my part in advocating them in this legitimate manner. They must be effected in this mode, or they must be effected, as has been the case on the Continent, by bayonets, by muskets, and in the streets. I am no advocate for such proceedings. I conceive that any man of political standing in this country—any Members of this House, for instance—who join in advocating the extension of the suffrage at this moment, are the real conservators of peace. So long as the great mass of the people of this country see that there are men in earnest who are advocating a great reform like this, they will wait, and wait patiently. They may want more; but so long as they believe that men are honestly and resolutely striving for reform, and will not be satisfied until they get it, the peace and safety of this country—which I value as much as any Conservative—are guaranteed. My object in supporting this motion is, that I may bring to bear upon the legislation of this House those virtues and that talent which have characterised the middle and industrious classes of this country. If you talk of your aristocracy and your traditions, and compel me to talk of the middle and industrious classes, I say it is to them that the glory of this country is owing. You have had your government of aristocracy and tradition; and the worst thing that ever befell this country has been its government for the last century-and-a-half. All that has been done to elevate the country has been the work of the middle and industrious classes; and it is because I wish to bring such virtue, such intelligence, such industry, such frugality, such economy into this House, that I support the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose.






Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


PARLIAMENTARY REFORM. II. LONDON, NOVEMBER 26, 1849. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 2 War, Peace, and Reform. <>.

Editor's Intro




[The object of the meeting held at the London Tavern, and of which Mr. Samuel Morley, now Member for Bristol, was Chairman, was to advocate the scheme of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Association. Mr. Cobden's Speech introduced the following resolution:—'That this meeting is of opinion, that the Freehold Land movement, adapted, as it is, to the varied position and circumstances of all classes of the people, is calculated to improve the parliamentary representation of the country.']

If I understand the character of this meeting, it is assembled solely for business purposes. We are the members and friends of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Society, and we meet here to promote the objects of that society. It is an association framed for the purpose of enabling individuals, by means of small monthly contributions, to create a fund by which they may be enabled, in the best and cheapest way, to possess themselves of the county franchise. You will see, then, that this society has a double object in view: it is a deposit for savings, and a means of obtaining a vote. Now we don't meet here to-day, as a part or branch of the Birmingham Society, which was formed a few days ago, and called the Birmingham Freeholders' Union. That is a society composed of individuals, from all parts of the kingdom, who choose to subscribe to it, for the purpose of enabling a committee in Birmingham to stimulate throughout the country by lectures, and by means of a periodical journal called the Freeholder, to be published on the first of next month, the formation of freehold land societies. We do not meet as part of an agitating body, but merely to promote the objects of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Society. The plan of that society is, to purchase large estates—large, comparatively speaking, and to divide them amongst the members of the association at cost price. In that explanation consists the main force and value of this association. The principle, you will see in a moment, is calculated to give great advantages to those who wish to join associations of this kind. I know that some gentlemen, who have given their attention to building societies, will say that this is not a building society. Why, the building societies, as they are called, are none of them, strictly speaking, building societies. They may be properly called mutual benefit security societies; but this Freehold Land Association is enrolled under the Building Society Act, and certified by Mr. Tidd Pratt, the revising barrister; and the object is, that members of the association shall have all the benefits the Act of Parliament can give them, and all the security it confers; and we propose to give them some other additional advantages. It has been said by those who look closely into the rules of this association, ‘You have no power under the Building Act to purchase estates and divide them.’ That is perfectly true. We have no such powers; but the directors will, at the risk of the parties who buy the estates, undertake to purchase land, and to give the members of this-association the refusal of that land. So that our object is to give you all the benefits of the Building Societies Act, and also the refusal of portions of the estates which have been bought at the risk of others.

I need not tell you, that a great deal of the success of all associations of this kind depends, first, on correct calculations being made in framing the society; and next, and, perhaps, most of all, on the character and stability of those who have the responsible management. Now, with regard to the calculations on which this society is founded, I should be very sorry to allow this opportunity to pass, without coming to a perfectly clear understanding with all who are concerned in the association, as to what I propose, as a member of the board of directors, to undertake to do towards the share-holders. It has been stated that we undertake to find a freehold qualification for a county at a certain sum, say 30l. I believe that, in the first prospectus, that sum was stated; but, when I heard of it, I stipulated that it should be withdrawn, for I will be no party to any stipulation of the kind. I do not appear here, having myself land to sell. All I promise you is, that, while I remain for twelve months as a responsible director, all the property bought shall be divided without profit, and that the members of the association shall have its refusal at cost price. But, whether it cost 20l., or 30l., or 40l., or 50l., is a matter to which I do not undertake to pledge myself, because it is a matter which I cannot control. It has happened, at Birmingham, that many persons obtained as much land as gave them a qualification for as little as 20l., but that may be a lucky accident. I will not be a party to any pledge that we shall procure land for others on equally favourable terms.

Well, having cleared the ground, so that there may be no misunderstanding, I next come to the consideration of the character of those who have the direction of the affairs of the society. I am very happy to see our chairman (Mr. S. Morley) here on this occasion. He is one of the trustees, and I need not tell you that he stands very well in Lombard Street. The other trustees are responsible men; not merely responsible in point of pecuniary circumstances, but men, any one of whom I should be happy, were I making my will tomorrow, to leave as trustees for my children, of every farthing I had in the world. This is the only test you can, with safety, apply. If you have not men, whose private characters will bear such a test as that, you had better have nothing at all to do with them in public matters. Besides the trustees, you have the board of directors. I have attended every meeting of the board of directors when in town, and there is not one of the gentlemen I have found at the board whom I should not be happy to meet in private life, and to call my friend. I believe, therefore, leaving myself, if you please, out of the question, that the affairs of the association are in truly responsible and honourable hands. And here I beg not to be misunderstood. We do not come here to puff ourselves off at the expense of other associations. There are other societies formed, or forming, and, no doubt, their directors are as trustworthy as those of our association. We are not so badly off in England that we cannot find honour and honesty enough for every situation in life. You will get the strictest integrity for 20s. a week, and as much as you wish to hire.

It has been objected (and I confess there was some difficulty in my mind on the subject) that, in working an association of this kind, you may not be able to find freehold property, in convenient situations, or of convenient size, to carry out the movement. There may be that difficulty; but there are difficulties in every useful undertaking in this world, and there always will be. Those who make it their business to turn a green eye on our proceedings, will, no doubt, find plenty of difficulties; but, from every inquiry I have made, since my connection with the board of directors, I believe that there will be no insurmountable obstacle in working out our plan. It is perfectly true that, in seeking property, you may not find it at your own doors. If you live in a street in this metropolis, you may not be able to buy building-land in the immediate neighbourhood of your own residence, but you must be content to go farther from home, just as you would in other investments. One man buys Spanish bonds, and another Russian and Austrian bonds. Others, again, buy railway shares, which are running all over the country, and some of them running away. But give me a freehold investment in the earth, which never does run away, and it does not matter whether it is in my own parish or not, so that I have good title-deeds, and receive my rent by the penny post, I need not care, then, whether I see it or not. With that proviso, that you cannot always get land at your own doors, I do not see any difficulty in qualifying a person in the county in which he resides, with a freehold franchise. Many people think, that the only object for which they should buy land is, to build a house upon it; but there are other ways of disposing of it. Gardens, for instance, than which nothing is more sure of a rent; for if you buy land in the neighbourhood of any town, that land is always increasing in value; since, whatever the Corn-laws may have done to the agriculturist, you may depend upon it that, if food be cheap, population will be increasing in towns, and land, in the neighbourhood of towns, will increase in value. Whatever the foreigner may send us in the shape of wheat, he cannot send us garden-ground.

Now, for the purpose of illustration, I will take the case of Surrey. Many of you, I have no doubt, come from the other side of the river. I will suppose, then, that our friend Mr. Russell, the indefatigable solicitor of this association, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and co-operating with for many years, has heard that there is a bit of land to be sold in the neighbourhood of Guildford. I will suppose that there is a farm, or one hundred acres of land, to be sold, within a mile or two of that town, and that Mr. Russell goes, with one of the directors, to look at it. They get a valuer to examine it; and, having learned the price at which this farm can be bought, they buy it; and then, instead of letting the hundred acres to one farmer, they determine to cut it up into plots of one or two acres. Now, if the shopkeepers and mechanics of the town were told that this land was to be let, I will venture to say that there is not one of the plots which would not let at the rate of 40s. an acre.

I know the avidity with which the peasantry of our towns and villages take half an acre or an acre of land. It is an article which is in greater demand than any other. I could find land in Wiltshire, which is, I am sorry to say, let to the peasantry at the rate of 7l. or 8l. an acre. I am supposing that a person wished to buy as much land as would give him a county vote, but, living in a borough, did not require land for his own purposes. Such a person might let his acre of land for 40s., in the form of garden allotments, without any difficulty.

And here I wish much to guard myself against being supposed to countenance a very popular, but, in my opinion, a most pernicious delusion. I would not have it imagined that I am a party to the plan of transferring people from their employments in towns to live on an acre or two of land. If a person leaves a workshop, a foundry, or a factory, and tries to live on even two or three acres of land, why all I can say is, that he will be very glad to get back to his former occupation. No, no; we have no such scheme as that. If a man has followed a particular pursuit, whatever it may be, up to the age of five-and-twenty, and if he is still receiving wages or profit from that pursuit, that man had better, as a general rule, follow his business than go to any other. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he will succeed better in that pursuit than in any other to which he can turn his hand. But what we say is this, that it is a very good thing for a man who is receiving weekly wages to have a plot of land in addition. Nothing can be more advantageous to people living in the country than to have, besides their weekly wages, a plot of ground on which they can employ themselves with the spade, when they have not other employment. With the proviso which I have mentioned—guarding myself against being supposed to be a party to the delusion to which I have alluded—I say, that if you have a freehold qualification in the neighbourhood of an agricultural town at a distance from you, but in the same county, even in that case the security will be good, the rent will be received, and the value of your plot of land will always be increasing instead of diminishing. If your object be to get a vote, and to have along with that vote a freehold property, even at the worst, if you cannot get a bit of garden-ground near the metropolis, you can always get it in the county. The freehold being in the county, you can claim to vote in any part of that division of the county. If the property be situated at one end, you can poll at the other. I have looked at this matter with some care, and, I will confess, with some suspicion; and I must say that I see no difficulty in the way of everybody qualifying, and obtaining good security for his money.

I have explained practically what is the object of this association; suppose I go a little more widely into the question. Leaving our immediate practical object to others who will follow me, and who will answer any questions that may be put to them, let us look at this matter generally. Now, here we are, standing in the ancient ways of our Constitution. Nobody can say that we are red republicans or revolutionists. Here we are, trying to bring back the people to the enjoyment of some of their ancient privileges. Why, we have dug into the depths of four centuries, at least, to find the origin of this 40s. freehold qualification. But now, as to the practicability of our plan, as a means of effecting great changes in the depository of political power in this country. That is the question. Can you by this means effect a great change in the depository of political power? Because I avow to you that I want, by constitutional and legal means, to place, as far as I can, political power in this country in the hands of the middle and industrious classes; in other words, the people. When I speak of the middle and industrious classes, I regard them, as I ever did, as inseparable in interest. You cannot separate them. I defy any person to draw the line where the one ends and the other begins. We are governed in this country—I have said this again and again, and I repeat it here to-night—we are governed, in tranquil and ordinary times, not by the will of the middle and industrious classes, but by classes and interests which are insignificant in numbers and in importance in comparison with the great mass of the people. Every session of Parliament, every six months that I spend in the House of Commons, convinces me more and more that we waste our time there—I mean the seventy or eighty men with whom I have been accustomed to vote in the House of Commons, and to whom your chairman has alluded in terms of so much kindness—I say, we waste our time in the House of Commons, if we do not, in the recess, come to the people, and tell them candidly that it depends upon them, and upon them alone, whether any essential amelioration or reform shall be effected in Parliament. I repeat, that in ordinary times we are governed by classes and interests, which are insignificant, in real importance, as regards the welfare of the country; and if we did not occasionally check them—if we did not, from time to time, by the upheaving of the mass of the people, turn them from their folly and their selfishness,—they would long ago have plunged this country in as great a state of confusion as has been witnessed in any country on the Continent. Take the class of men who are ordinarily returned by the agricultural counties of this country. What would they do, if you let them alone? Nay, what are they trying to do at this moment? Why, at the very time, when even the Austrian Government is proposing to abandon the principle of high restrictive tariffs; when the Government of Russia has in hand a reduction of duties; when America has participated in the spirit of the times; when Spain, which some wicked wag has called the ‘beginning of Africa,’ has imitated the example set by Sir R. Peel three years ago; these county Members and Members for agricultural districts are thinking of nothing but how they may restore protection. Surely such people must be the descendants of those inquisitors who put Galileo into prison! Galileo was imprisoned because he maintained that the physical world turned upon its axis, whereas these men insist that the moral world shall stand still; and, if left to themselves, they would soon reduce England to the state in which Austria is now. But is it a wholesome state of things, that nothing can be done in this country except by means of great congregations of the people forcing the so-called representatives of the people to something like justice and common sense in their legislation? Nothing of importance is ever done by Parliament until after a seven-years' stand-up fight between the people on the one side, and those who call themselves the people's representatives on the other. Now, I say that this is an absurd state of things, and that, by constitutional and moral means, we must try to alter it; and I believe that we have now before us a means by which such an alteration can be effected.

I am here speaking on a subject to which I have given much attention for many years. It is more than six years since it was attempted to secure the repeal of the Corn-laws by means of the 40s. franchise, as part of the tactics of the Anti-Corn-Law League. I should be sorry to claim to myself exclusively the merit of first suggesting it. I rather think that Mr. Charles Walker, of Rochdale, recommended it before I announced it publicly. But from the moment that the plan devised was put forth at a great meeting in Manchester, I never doubted of the ultimate repeal of the Corn-laws; although until then I could never conscientiously say that I saw a method by which we could legally and constitutionally secure their abolition. I will give you the result of our labours at that time in two or three counties. You know that the West Riding of Yorkshire is considered the great index of public opinion in this country. In that great division, at present containing 37,000 voters, Lord Morpeth was, as you are aware, defeated on the question of Free Trade, and two Protectionists were returned. I went into the West Riding with this 40s. freehold plan. I stated in every borough and district that we must have 5,000 qualifications made in two years. They were made. The silly people who opposed us raised the cry that the Anti-Corn-Law League had bought the qualifications. Such a cry was ridiculous. The truth was, that men qualified themselves, with a view of helping the League to obtain the repeal of the Corn-laws; and you are aware that, in consequence of this movement, Lord Morpeth walked over the course at the next election. We followed the same plan in South Lancashire, and with a similar result. Our friends walked over the course at the next election, although at the previous one we had not a chance. My friend, the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Locke King), joined us in carrying out our plan in his division; and its adoption was there also attended with success. I am not sure that it would not have been better in some respects if the Corn-laws had not been repealed so soon—though of course I should like to have had them suspended for three or four years; for in that case we should have carried half the counties of England. Now, when I came back from the Continent, after the repeal of the Cornlaws, I told my friends—(I have never disguised my feelings from that day to this)—as the result of constant reflection for several years, ‘If you want to take another step, constitutionally and legally, you must do it through the 40s. freehold; by no other process will you succeed.’

Let us talk this matter over, as men of common sense. Ask yourselves how do you purpose to obtain reforms? Do you intend to try violence and fighting? No, no; you see the result of that everywhere that it has been tried. Violence does no good to those who resort to it. I do not mean to blame those in other countries, who have not the right of meeting in assemblies like this, if they do not pursue the same course that we do. I do not blame them, because, being without experience, and not being permitted to gain experience, they do not succeed, when they make a bold and sudden trial of constitutional forms. No; I leave those to blame them, who will blame us equally, for adopting constitutional means. The very same parties who are now so intolerant, with regard to the failure of Hungarians, and Italians, and Germans, were the constant assailants of my friends and myself, at the early stage of the League agitation. Every species of abuse, every sort of misrepresentation, every kind of suppression, was resorted to by them, until we became strong; and when we were both strong and fashionable, we were beslavered with their praise; and I confess I liked it less than their abuse. No; we do not come here to censure other countries. England is under no necessity for resorting to force or violence. Our ancestors did all that for us, and they were obliged to do it. During the greater part of the seventeenth century, England presented a scene of commotion almost as great as that which has been witnessed in Hungary, Germany, and Italy; and to the great sacrifices then made, we owe almost all the liberties we possess at present. But to go back to the kind of warfare pursued in the seventeenth century, would be to descend from the high position, which, at the expense of so many sufferings, our ancestors obtained for us.

But as everybody admits that we must not go into the streets to fight, let me ask my friends what other step they intend to take? Petition Parliament! Petition Parliament to reform itself! Why, no; the clubs would not like that; it would not suit their cards. Nobody thinks of getting a reform of Parliament by petitioning. Well, then, how are you to get it? I find that every person is brought to the same dead lock, as regards substantial reform or real retrenchment, that I was in when, in 1843, I sat down to think of the freehold movement. You must aim at the accomplishment of your object, through the plan which the Constitution has left open to you. Men of common sense, when they have a certain thing to do, look round for instruments for effecting their purpose. In other countries, men who resort to physical force, always adopt that plan. They adapt their tactics to the physical features of the country. If the people of Switzerland have to fight for their liberties, they retire to the mountains, and there defend them; in Hungary, the army of the people, retreating beyond barren heaths, puts two rivers between itself and the enemy; while the patriots of Holland in former days cut their dykes and let in the water to drown their enemies. These are the means adopted by parties who have to use physical force. What are we to do, who have to fight with moral force? Why, here is a door open, which is so expansive that it will admit all who have the means of qualifying themselves through 40s. freeholds. These are our tactics—these are our mountains—these our sandy plains—these our dykes. We must fight the enemy by means of the 40s. freehold.

Now, what chance have we of succeeding? I have paid a great deal of attention to this subject, and I shall proceed to trouble you with a very few figures, from which you will be astonished to find how little you have to do. We have as near as possible at this moment a million of registered electors for the whole kingdom. According to a valuable return made on the motion of Mr. Williams, the late Member for Coventry, the total number of county votes on the register in 1847 was 512,300. What proportion of them do you suppose are the votes of occupying tenants? 108,790. All that boasted array of force, which constitutes the basis of landlord power in this country, and about which we have frightened ourselves so much, amounts only to 108,790 tenants-at-will in the fifty-two counties of England and Wales. Why, half the money spent in gin in one year would buy as many county freeholds as would counterpoise these 108,790 tenant-farmers. What resources have we to aid us in the process of qualifying for these counties? I shall surprise you again, when I inform you how very few people there are who are qualified for the counties. I will take, for illustration, three or four of the counties at random. There is Hampshire: there are in Hampshire, according to the last census, 93,908 males above twenty years old. The registered electors in the same county amount to 9,223; so that only one-tenth of the adult males are upon the register, and 84,685 are not upon it. In Sussex, there are of males above twenty years old, 76,676; of registered electors only 9,211, or one-eighth of the entire number of adult males: 67,466 adult males are not voters. Take the purely agricultural county of Berkshire, which has 43,126 males above twenty years old; 5,241, or one-eighth, was the number of registered electors; 37,885 are not voters for the county. In Middlesex, the numbers I find are as follows:—males above twenty years old, 434,181; registered electors, 13,781, or one-seventeenth; 420,400 not being voters. In Surrey, the males amount to 154,633; of these, 9,800, or one-sixteenth, is the proportion of registered electors; and thus 144,833 are not voters. Why, if only one in ten of the men who are not qualified to vote in London and Southwark, would purchase votes in the neighbouring counties, it would almost suffice to carry every good measure that you and I desire. In round numbers, there are sixteen millions of people in England and Wales; there are four millions of adult males above twenty years of age. There are 512,000 county electors in the fifty-two counties of England and Wales; so that at this moment there is but one in eight of the adult males of England and Wales who is upon the county register, and seven-eights of them have no votes. That is our ground of hope for the future We must induce as many as we possibly can of these unenfranchised people to join this association, or some other association; or by some means endeavour to possess themselves of a vote.

I do not disguise it from you, there is a class in this country that has not the means of finding money to purchase a vote. The great bulk of the agricultural peasantry, earning 8s., 9s., 10s. a week—it is impossible that you can expect that any considerable portion of that class can possess a vote; but when I speak of the mechanics and artisans of our great towns, I will say, there is not one of them that, if he resolutely set to the work, may not possess the county franchise, in a few years; and, having the county franchise, who will not be in a position to help his poorer and humbler neighbour.

I am perfectly well aware that this is work that cannot be done in a day; and, if it could be done in a day, it would not be worth doing. I have no faith in anything that is done suddenly. My opinion is, that no very great change in the policy or the representation of this country will be effected in less than seven years. Many great struggles have lasted seven years. The great war of independence in America took seven years; the civil war, in which our ancestors were engaged against prerogative, in the reign of Charles I., lasted seven years; the Anti-Corn-law contest lasted seven years. I think we might assert of these great public questions, that the danger is, that when you have effected your object suddenly, you do not know how to value it, and have not the conviction that it is valuable and worth preserving. That is the great advantage of having to struggle some time for a great object; and I tell you candidly, when I enter on this 40s. movement, it is with the idea, that it will be a long and arduous struggle. I am prepared, if health and strength are given to me, to give some portion of every working day for the next seven years to the advancement of this question. I do not propose this in exclusion of other reforms; I do not propose this as an obstacle to any other plan which other persons may have in view. If anybody thinks he can carry reform in Parliament by any other plan than this, I hope he will show us how he would do it; I do not see any other way. Let no one who has any other popular object or great reform to carry in this country—if he does not co-operate with us, let him not look disparagingly at our efforts; for I tell him, that in proportion as this 40s. freehold qualification movement makes progress, just in that proportion will he find that the votes of the House of Commons on all liberal questions will also make progress. And when I say that it may be necessary to work for seven years to accomplish this object—that is, to effect a great change in the depository of public power in this country (for this is the object, and I avow it), although it may be necessary, that for these seven years there should be continuous work in this matter, it does not follow you will not reap the fruits long before the seven years are expired. They are wise people in their generation whom we wish to influence. They gave up the Corn-laws, for they saw the question was settled when we carried South Lancashire, the West Riding, East Surrey, and Middlesex. I always said, if we can carry these counties, they will give up the Corn-laws.

In proportion as you exert yourselves for this great movement, you will become powerful. Every class of men that sets itself vigorously to work, by means of the 40s. qualification, to place as many as possible of that class on the register, will find itself elevated, politically and socially, by the position it has given itself. Take the mechanical class. Nothing could so elevate them in the eyes of their countrymen as to know they had a voice in the representation of the country—that the knights of the shire were partly indebted to them for their election. Take the class of Dissenters. Their very existence is ignored by the County Members; the most moderate measure of justice they ask is the removal of church-rates. I do not believe that there are ten County Members who would vote for that moderate instalment of justice—[from the meeting, ‘Not five!'’]—perhaps not five; but I have heard the most insulting language from County Members towards Dissenters on that very question. Why is it? Because this numerous and really influential body of men have not had self-respect enough to guard themselves, by the possession of the franchise, so as to be in a position to protect their religious liberties, by the exercise of the dearest privileges of free men. Throughout the country you will find great bodies of Dissenters, who are religious men, moral men, and, which always is the consequence of morality, men who keep themselves from those excesses which produce poverty and degradation; and these are the very men who ought to possess the franchise. We tell them to place themselves on the county list. We do not wish to give them complete dominion and power in the country. I say to no class, come and gain exclusive power or influence in the country; I am against class legislation, whether from below or above; but I say, if you wish to have your interests consulted—your legitimate rights respected; if you wish no longer to have your very existence ignored in the counties; then come forward, and join such a movement as this, and by every possible means promote the extension of the 40s. freehold qualification.

In conclusion, let nobody misunderstand me. I do not come here to seek this or that organic change, without having practical objects in view, which I believe to be essential for the interests of this country. I believe our national finances to be in a perilous state. I say that the extravagant expenditure of the Government is utterly inconsistent with the prudent, cautious, economical habits, which the great body of this people are obliged to follow. I want to infuse the common sense which pervades the bulk of the people into the principles of the Government, and I declare I see no other way of doing it, but by increasing the number of voters, and no other way of doing so, independent of the House of Commons, but by joining yourselves to this movement, and possessing the 40s. freehold.





Richard Cobden, "FREE TRADE. XXIV. LEEDS, DECEMBER 18, 1849"

Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FREE TRADE. XXIV. LEEDS, DECEMBER 18, 1849. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>

Editor's Intro



[In 1847, Mr. Cobden was returned unopposed for the West Riding of Yorkshire, and sat for that constituency for nearly ten years. For some time after the repeal of the Corn-laws he was absent from England, but on his return he made several speeches on topics of public interest during the year 1849.]

There is a peculiar advantage in Members of the House of Commons coming, from time to time, in contact with the people, and especially with their own constituencies. It enables us to take their judgment upon the course which we, their Representatives, have followed in times past; and, what is equally important, it enables us to confer with them as to the line of conduct which we should pursue in future. I was, therefore, anxious to-night to have had the opportunity of listening, at greater length, to the speeches of the inhabitants of Leeds; and I sincerely regret that my friend, Mr. Baines, and other gentlemen who have spoken, should have curtailed their remarks out of consideration for me, or a desire that I should be heard addressing you instead of them. I think more good would have arisen if they had favoured us, at greater length, with their views and opinions upon the important questions now before us. Amongst the questions which have been launched this evening by our worthy chairman, is one which I fondly hoped I should never again have had the necessity of speaking upon,—I mean the old, worn-out, the disgusting question of protection. Why, I thought it was dead and buried years ago. It is now eleven years this very month, and I believe this very week, since the first great meeting was held in Manchester, from which originated the Anti-Corn-law League. On that occasion, in December, 1838, two hundred persons from all parts of the kingdom assembled, and many gentlemen here present were at the meeting. For seven years afterwards there was a continual agitation of the Free-trade question throughout the country, and I believe nearly 1,000 public meetings were held upon it in every part of the kingdom. Hundreds of tons' weight of tracts were printed and distributed upon the subject; debate after debate took place upon it in Parliament—sometimes scarcely anything else was debated there for months—and now, at the end of eleven years, we are told that we are to have this question up again for discussion. And why, and on what ground? Amongst other pleas why we should have this question again re-agitated is, that the agriculturists were betrayed, and protection was suddenly abandoned, after seven years of discussion only! Now, gentlemen, so far as I am concerned, I have allowed certain people to go about talking in the country, and talking in the House of Commons, without ever having condescended to answer them. Nay, I candidly confess that I felt the most supreme contempt for all they said. I viewed it as nothing but the contortions of a body that had lost its head; just as we read of unfortunate criminals whose limbs writhe and move by a sort of spasmodic action after they had been decapitated. I thought their party, having lost its brains, had still some muscular action left in it, but I never believed it was to be treated again as a sentient intelligent body, worthy the holding a discussion with in this country.

But, gentlemen, I have been told, by those in whose judgment I have confidence, that we have allowed our opponents to go unanswered too long, and that there is, amongst a very large portion of the farming class in this country, a belief that, from our silence, protection is gaining ground again in this country. Why, let them understand that our silence has been the result of supreme contempt. In those meetings, which we read of in the agricultural districts, we hear the reiterated assertion that the whole country is preparing to go back again to protection, and I concur with the view taken by our respected chairman, that we ought, if possible, to prevent the delusion which is being practised upon the farmers, which prevents the farmers having an adjustment and arrangement with their landlords—that we ought, if possible, to put an end to that delusion here, in order that agriculture may resume its old course, and the landlord and farmer may come to some agreement as to terms between each other. Where is the proof of reaction? I admit that, in some of our rural villages, where men,—or rather, we ought to call them, old women—still put horse-shoes over their stable-doors to keep the witches from their horses—there may, in some of those parishes, be found men who will gape and cheer when told that we are going back to protection. But I think there is somebody else to be consulted before they put on another bread-tax; and amongst other parties to be consulted, I calculate the West Riding will have a voice in it. Now, where is the proof of reaction in the West Riding? We have in this Riding—the population of which I have the honour to represent—about 1,400,000 souls, which is about one-twelfth part of the whole population of England, and a far larger proportion of its wealth, intelligence, and productive industry. Well, I presume this community is to have a voice in this question of the bread-tax. In answer to these village heroes, these men, who, when they have put their parish in a turmoil, that vastly resembles a storm in a tea-pot, fancy the whole of England gathered together, when it is nothing but an agitation of the squire, his agent, and probably a parson and a doctor. In answer to these protectionist noodles, and their organs of the press, who are continually telling the farmers, what they have been telling them now for eleven years, that they are going to have protection and keep it, I tell them they never shall have one farthing's worth of protection. These are only a couple of predictions. Some time or other, I presume, the farmers will wish to have friends who tell them the truth. Whenever the time comes when the farmers understand who it is who has been telling them the truth,—those who say they are going to have protection, or those who say from this platform they never shall have one farthing more of Corn-law,—when that time comes, then I think the age of delusion will be over in the agricultural districts. I want to know how long they will require before they make up their minds whether I am right, or those squires are right. The time will come. I give them seven years, if they like; only let it be understood, that they remember the promise made on the one side by their own leaders, and here by the men of the West Riding; and then I calculate the farmers will throw off their foolish blind guides, and co-operate with those who have proved themselves to have some sense and foresight in the matter. What is it these landlords want to do with you? There is no disguise about the matter now. When we were agitating the Corn-law question before, they said their object was plenty, the same as ours; but what is their cry now? Why, they complain that you get the quartern loaf too cheap, and they want to raise the price of it to you; and that is the only business they have in hand. You get a couple of stones of decent flour now for 3s.; two or three years ago you paid 4s. for a single stone. Well, those landlords were satisfied when you were paying 4s. a stone for flour, and now they are dissatisfied when you get two stones for 3s., and they want to go back again to the 4s. for the one stone. Will you let them? [Cries of ‘No, no.'’] No; you are not Yorkshiremen if you will. We are told that all parts of the country are in distress and dissatisfaction. That is the old story again. Because the landlords feel a little uneasy—they who have been so long accustomed to consider themselves the whole community—(I believe many of them think so)—they get up and say the whole community is suffering from extreme distress.

Now, I say, the West Riding of Yorkshire has been growing more prosperous, and suffering less and less distress, in proportion as the price of corn, of which those landlords complain, has become more moderate; and, if they can ever return—if they can ever succeed in returning again to the price I have mentioned, 4s. for the stone of flour, you will have your town swarming with paupers, your mills stopping work, and every class in this community suffering distress, as they were in 1842. And that is what they want to bring you back to; for, having looked into the matter with attention for ten years past, I declare that I find no period since the war when the manufacturing interest has been, for two years together, in a state of moderate prosperity, but the landlord class in this country have been up in arms, and declaring they were ruined, and calling out for those measures which, if successful, must again throw the manufacturing community into that state of distress from which they had emerged; and, if we look back to the debates in Parliament, we find the landlords always assuming, that, because they were in distress all the community were in distress likewise. I remember, in 1822, reading in the debates in the House of Commons, that Lord Castlereagh himself was obliged to remind the landlords of that day, that, though they were suffering some inconveniences from the price of corn, the manufacturing interest was eminently prosperous. Do we hear complaints now from Manchester, Lancashire, or Yorkshire, Lanark, Nottingham, Staffordshire, Leicester, or Derbyshire? No, they have not been for many years past, both capitalists and labourers, in a more healthy state than they are at this moment. Is the revenue falling off? No, the revenue is flourishing, too. Where, then, are the signs and symptoms of national distress? It is the danger of rents and tithes. Well, now, we are told by these protectionist scribes that there is a reaction, because there have been two or three elections for places which have returned protectionists, and for which formerly they say, Free-traders sat. They talk of Kidderminster and Reading. That opens up another question. I tell them that the decision of such places as Reading and Kidderminster will not have a feather's weight in the scale, in deciding this question of the bread-tax. Let them see a Member returned for any one of the metropolitan districts, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham, Leeds, West Riding, Halifax, Bradford, Huddersfield. Let any one of these large communities, where the constituencies are free and beyond corruption and coercion—let them but return one man pledged to restore one shilling of the Corn-laws from any one of those great constituencies, then I will admit that there is reaction. Why, I feel so anxious that the farming class of this country should be emancipated from this delusion, and placed in a position to cultivate their land, and to come to a proper adjustment with their landlords, and that they shall not be carried away after this ignis fatuus any longer, that, I declare, if they will allow me to offer a test—which may be called a national test—and if they will promise to abide by it, I will promise to accept the Chiltern Hundreds at the opening of Parbament, and come down for re-election; and, if they can return a Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire pledged to restore one shilling of Corn-law, in any shape whatever, then I will give up the whole question. But do not let them talk to us about these petty boroughs, and, still less, do not let them talk to us about Ireland. I see these men's reliance; I have long seen symptoms of this unholy alliance between the protectionist part of the House of Commons and the landlordism of Ireland, the very name of which stinks in the nostrils, not only of the people of England, but of the whole civilised world. Yes, I see that the landlords of Ireland are putting forth their strength, and mustering their factions, to restore protection; and, I am told, upon very good authority, that, let a dissolution take place the next year, and ninety at least out of the one hundred and five Irish Members would come up pledged to restore the Corn-law. Well, I say, if the whole of them came up to restore the Corn-law, they could not do it.

That, again, opens up another question—the question of the representation of the people. The representation of Ireland is a mockery and a fraud—rotten, rotten to the very core. Why, I do not believe, after giving some attention to the matter, that there are more bonâ fide voters on the register of Ireland at this moment, entitled to vote, than the 37,000 electors that are upon the Register of the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is acknowledged by all parties; nobody will deny it: but I tell the men nominated by landlords, and sent up under pretence of representing the 8,000,000 of the people of Ireland, they shall not decide the question of your bread, and the bread of the people of England. No; they very much mistake the temper of this people if they think that we will submit to a famine law at the hands of the landlord class of Ireland, who have not only brought their own people to beggary, and ruin, and starvation, but they have beggared and ruined themselves at the same time. What were we doing last session? One half of our time was spent either in caring for the paupers of Ireland, or in passing laws to enable the landlords of that country to be extricated, by extra-judicial means, from ruin and bankruptcy, brought on by their own improvidence. And now, what is this class—this bankrupt landlord class—aiming at? Is it to pass a law to prevent corn being brought to Ireland? No, that is not their immediate object; because, in ordinary times, you cannot have Ireland importing food from abroad, for they have nothing with which to pay for it. But if England subscribes its 8,000,000l. to fill up the void of starvation in that country, then, indeed, you may buy the Indian corn from America to feed the people. But in ordinary times, Ireland must be an exporter of corn; and the object of the landlords of Ireland is to prevent you, the people of England, from getting corn from America and Russia, in order that you may be forced to go for corn from Ireland, and thus enable them to extort increased rents from their beggared tenantry. Do they think that Englishmen and Yorkshiremen are going to submit to a transaction like this? No; let the English landlords—that portion of them who are entering upon this new crusade against your bread-basket—let the English landlords enter this unholy alliance with the bankrupt and pauperised landlords of Ireland, and become themselves equally degraded in the eyes of the world—and I much mistake the temper of Englishmen, especially of Yorkshiremen, if you do not make such an example of the conspirators as will make them regret the day that they ever attempted it. Now, we have given them fair notice that we know what they are about, and what their objects are, and that we are perfectly wide awake in Yorkshire. We do not intend that they shall have one shilling more of protection. And something else we do not intend they shall have. There is another thing they are going to do—if we will let them—and which I always suspected they would do. They will try to extort it from us in some other shape; and so the new dodge is, that they shall put their taxes off their shoulders on to yours. There is a society formed in Buckinghamshire, I believe, for the relief of burdens upon real property.

Well, I belong to another association; and it is to relieve the burdens of those who have no property. Their plan is this—that the burdens hitherto put upon the land shall henceforth be paid out of the taxes wrung from the agricultural labourer upon his ounce of tea, and the half-starved needle-woman in London upon her half-pound of sugar. That is the thing, undisguised, and stripped of the transparent veil of mystification that is thrown over it by those new champions of the agricultural interest, who talk to us in strange parables anything but English—I hardly know whether it is Hebrew, or what it is. Yes, all their mystification amounts to this, that the 12,000,000l. of local taxes for poorrates, highway-rates, church-rates, and the rest, shall be, half of them, if they cannot get the whole—they had rather put the whole upon your shoulders—shall be taken off the land, and put upon the Consolidated Fund; that is, taken out of the taxes raised upon the necessaries and comforts of the masses of the people. Well, I tell them I have had my eye upon them from the first, and always expected it; and, mind you, I am afraid we shall have some people joining in this from whom I expected better things. Allusion has been made to-night to my friend Mr. Gisborne, and no one has a higher opinion of his sterling character and racy talent than I have; but, I think, he has got a twist upon this subject of the burdens of real property. He asked, in the speech to which my friend has referred, ‘By what right or justice should the whole of these local taxes be laid upon the real property of the country?’ My first answer to him is this: Because those burdens have been borne by the real property of the country from two to three centuries at the least. Poor-rates have been nearly three centuries borne by the real property of the country, and the others are nearly as old as our Saxon institutions. Well, these taxes having been borne by the real property of the country for three centuries, this property has changed hands, either by transfer, succession, or in trust, at least a dozen times; the charges have been endorsed upon the title-deeds, and the property has been bought or inherited at so much less in consequence of those charges, and, therefore, the present owner of real property has no right to exemption from those burdens, having bought the property knowing it to be subject to those burdens, and having paid less in consequence. That is my first answer, and I think it is sufficient. But I have another. The poor have the first right to a subsistence from the land, and there is no other security so good as the land itself. Other kinds of property may take wings and fly away. Moveable property has very often been known to ‘flit’ the day before quarter-day; capital employed in trade may be lost in an unsuccessful venture in China; wages sometimes disappear altogether: and, therefore, the real and true security to which the people of this country should look, is in the soil itself.

But I have another reason why this property should bear those local burdens, and it is this—it is the only property which not only does not diminish in value, but, in a country growing in population and advancing in prosperity, it always increases in value, and without any help from the owners. These gentlemen complain that those rates have increased in amount during a recent period. I will admit, if they like, that those local rates have increased. During the last one hundred years they have increased, I will say, seven millions of money. That is taking an outside view. Well, but the real property upon which those rates are levied—the lands and houses of this country—has increased in value four times as much; and, therefore, they stand in an infinitely better situation now, paying twelve millions of local rates, than ever they did at any former period in the history of this country. I think I have given my friend Mr. Gisborne some fresh points for consideration, showing why the landlords should pay those taxes.

Now, I warn the landlords against the attempt to enter the lists in this country with the whole mass of the population—I warn them, in these days, and in the temper and spirit of the time, from entering upon a new conflict with this population, to try and put on the shoulders of this already overburdened people those taxes which of right belong to them as a class. Let them bear in mind what Sir Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, told us in the last session of Parliament—that, even including these local rates, and including what they pay of the general taxation of the country, the landed proprietors pay a less amount of taxation, in proportion to the whole amount raised in this country, than any other people of Europe. [A voice: ‘They ought to pay it all.'’] Well, I tell them that if they renew the struggle with the whole population of this country, whether for the resumption of the breadtax, or to transfer the burdens which in justice belong to them, to the shoulders of the rest of the community, they will have the question re-agitated in a very different spirit from what it was before. Let them take my word for it, they will never have another agitation carried on with that subserviency to politico-economical argument which was observed by the Anti-Corn-law League. It cost me some argument, as my friends know, to prevent the League from going into other topics; but, let another agitation arise, a serious one, such as these individuals would try to persuade their followers to enter upon—let it be seen that they bring the Parliament into such a state of confusion that Government is compelled to dissolve—let it be seen that a protectionist statesman, like Lord Stanley, is prepared to get into the saddle, and to spur over the country with his haughty paces—and they will hear this question argued in a very different manner from what it was before. They will have the whole aristocratic system, under which the country has been governed for the last 150 years, torn to pieces; they will have the law of primogeniture, and the whole feudal system which exists in this country, and exists on sufferance only after it has been abolished everywhere else—they will have these questions brought up in a way which they, weak and foolish men, little expect,—and let them once enter the list again, either for another Corn-law, or for the transference of this taxation upon your shoulders, and I give them my word of promise that they will come out of the conflict right happy to abandon not only the Corn-law and any taxation which they are going to try to avoid, but they will be glad to escape by a composition of much heavier terms than that. Bear in mind, when I speak of this question, I speak of the landlords, and not of the farmers. I treated, on a former occasion, most tenderly the landlord class. I will tell you why I did so. I always had more faith in the proprietors than the farmers for repealing the Corn-laws; and therefore, I never trod heavily on the toes of the landlords; but if this question is to be revived again by the landlord class, I promise them that I will probe the whole question to the bottom, and there shall not be a farmer, however dull he may be, but shall understand right well that they are humbugs who tell them, that, in questions of rent and the revision of taxation, landowners and farmers, forsooth, row in the same boat—and I will undertake to satisfy you that when they talk of the difficulty of cultivating the land under this system of Free Trade, there is no difficulty whatever, provided the landlords and tenants come to an adjustment according to the present and future price of corn.

I speak from experience. I stand before you—you may perhaps be surprised to hear it—but I stand before you as one of the humblest members of the much-talked-of landlord interest. I happen to be possessed of a very small estate in Western Sussex, very near to the Duke of Richmond, and I am next door neighbour to Lord Egmont, who is the most notorious personage I know for making foolish speeches at agricultural meetings, and for overrunning his neighbours' land as well as his own with game. I wish, instead of roaming about the country, calling me a republican, at protection meetings, that Lord Egmont would go down to West Sussex, and cause some of those rabbits and hares to be destroyed which give some humble people, on land of mine, the trouble of killing for him. Being myself a landlord, and possessing land-right in the midst of the greatest landed proprietors, and the most ferocious protectionists, I have had an opportunity of testing how far it is practicable by reasonable arrangements with tenants—I have two of them, they are very small, but they are sufficient to test the principle—I have had the opportunity of seeing how far it is practicable, with tenants upon land, not of first-rate quality, to secure them, in future, as good prospects as in times past, and under Free Trade, as well as protection. I am not going to tell you how I did it; but I will promise, before the meeting of Parliament, I will go into Buckinghamshire—I will have a public meeting at Buckingham or at Aylesbury, and will explain the whole case, and give every particular—how the landlord, instead of bawling for protection, can, by the commonest exercise of judgment, justice, and policy, enable the whole of his land to be cultivated, just as it was before, and every farmer and labourer to be in better spirits in future than in time past.

Now, I am going into Buckinghamshire to tell the farmers the whole case; and I will tell the whole case and a little more; but I am not going to trouble you with it now. I will turn to the question of the general taxation of the country. I quite agree with gentlemen who preceded me, that you will not have the agricultural counties, or their Members, with you, for the reduction of the general expenditure of the country, until you can make them fully convinced that you will not let them indemnify themselves from high taxation by raising the price of your loaf. As soon as they are satisfied that they must pay their taxes out of the moderate prices which prevail, they will join with you in compelling Government to reduce its expenditure. For myself, I can conscientiously declare that, from the moment I returned from the Continent, two years since, I have always had the present position of the country in view. I have always contemplated a transition state, when there would be pinching and suffering in the agricultural class, in passing from a vicious system to a sound one; for you cannot be restored from bad health to good, without going through a process of languor and suffering; and my great aim has been, from the moment I returned from the Continent, to try to ease that transition by reducing the expenditure of the country, feeling that, if you could, within a few years, cause a large reduction in the expenditure of the State, you will give such an impetus to trade and commerce, and so improve the condition of the mass of the people, that you would aid very materially in relieving the farmers and labourers from the inconvenience of that transition state, from which they cannot escape. It was with that view that I preferred my budget, and advocated the reduction of our armaments: it is with that view, coupled with higher motives, that I have recommended arbitration treaties, to render unnecessary the vast amount of armaments which are kept up between civilised countries. It is with that view—the view of largely reducing the expenditure of the State, and giving relief, especially to the agricultural classes—that I have made myself the object of the sarcasms of those very parties, by going to Paris, to attend peace meetings. It is with that view that I have directed attention to our colonies, showing how you might be carrying out the principle of Free Trade, give to the colonies self-government, and charge them, at the same time, with the expense of their own government. There is not one of these objects that I have taken in hand, in which I have not had, for a paramount motive, serving of the agricultural class, in this transition state from protection to Free Trade.

How, hitherto, have I been requited by them? Have I had a single aid from any of them? No. At the close of last Parliament I was taunted by their leader on account of my want of success. Have you heard them say one word about the reduction of the expenditure of the country? Has their leader—if I may call him so—for they have a plurality—has he ever said one word to indicate the slightest wish that they desired to reduce the expenditure? No. I am convinced that it would be distasteful to the landlord party to have a general reduction of the expenditure, particularly in that great preserve of the landlord class for their younger sons, the army and navy. I believe they are averse to retrenchment—at least, they have done nothing to aid those who wished to accomplish it; and now, I tell them again, as I told them before from this great metropolis of industry, that to a farthing of protection to agriculture they shall not go. And if they will make us pay high taxes to keep up useless establishments, and unnecessary sinecures, and wasteful expenditure, in every department of the State, why, they shall pay their share of that taxation, with wheat at 40s. per quarter.

Gentlemen, allusion has been made to our expenditure for the army, navy, and ordnance. Mr. Marshall has referred to the case of our colonies. He was unfortunate in speaking when the crowd was at the door; but I hope that his facts and his arguments will fully appear reported in the papers, because they went to the very bottom of this question. You cannot materially reduce your expenditure, unless you relieve yourself from the unnecessary waste of expenditure in the colonies. Sir Robert Peel has, again and again, in his budget speeches, pointed out clearly the vast expenditure in our colonies. He has, again and again, said that two-thirds of our army are either necessary for garrisons in our colonies, or else to supply depots at home to furnish relief for those retiring; or else that thousands of men may be always on the wide ocean, visiting one place or another. He has pointed that out time after time; and he has repeated these things so often, that I have long been of opinion that Sir Robert Peel is anxious to diminish public taxation, by preventing this waste of national resources. He saw the mischief; he would like public opinion to be directed to it; and, if public opinion enabled him to effect a change, I am sure that Sir Robert Peel is the man who would like to accomplish it.

You send drilled Englishmen to serve as policemen to Englishmen in Australia, New Zealand, and the Cape of Good Hope. Do not you think that Englishmen there are quite capable of taking care of themselves, without putting you to the expense of doing it? What have they been doing lately? You have spent two millions of money, in the last four years, to defend the settlers of the Cape of Good Hope against the inroads of the barbarous tribes of Caffres. What is taking place at this very moment? Why, these very men, whom you have treated as children, incapable of defending themselves against a few untaught savages—they have proclaimed your own governor in a state of siege—invested your own troops—refused to allow them even provisions—and sent away a ship under the colours of the Queen; and, in their speeches and letters, the leaders of the anti-convict movement do not hesitate to declare that they are ready to defend their country, if necessary, against the whole force of the English empire. Do not you think there is sufficient pluck about them to defend themselves against a few untutored savages? The same thing is going on in Australia. They quote the example of America; and some of these people are holding their great meetings on the 4th of July, the anniversary of American independence. I do not respect them the less—I respect them the more. I think they would be unworthy of the name of Englishmen, if they did not stand up against their country being made the cesspool for our convict population. But what I want to show is this: that there is not the shadow of pretence for requiring our armies to defend them.

But, besides the colonies, we keep up an enormous amount of force against foreign countries, which, I think, may be diminished; and, I believe, all other countries would be willing to diminish their armed forces, provided a fair and reasonable proposition had been made by our Government to the French Government, to reduce our armaments, if they will reduce in the same proportion. No; they do not do so; but we ferret about, and find some new man-of-war in the French dockyard about to be built, or some new 32-pounder gun going to be made, instead of an old 24-pounder, and we set to work, and make that a reason for increasing our armaments. But, do you think your honourable Member here would conduct his business in such a way as that? Do you not think, if he saw another person in the same branch of business, conducting it with a large amount of waste, which threatened both with destruction; and, if he knew that the work was profitless to the individual who began the system, do you not think that, if he found a rival in his business entering upon such a career as that, he would go and say to him, ‘You are entering upon a system which compels me to do the same, and it will lead us both into the Gazette, if we don’t stop it? Do you not think that we had better abandon it?' Now, this very day, I believe, there has been some sort of consultation, some feeling of pulses, between the directors of two rival railroads, to prevent that waste and competition to which they had been subjected by acting upon the principle which we have adopted in regard to foreign armaments. It is not for protecting ourselves against pirates, or barbarous powers, that you keep those powerful armaments. It is that you may keep upon a level with another nation, whom you are taught to imagine is ready to pounce upon you, like a red Indian, the moment he finds you without your armour on or your sword by your side. I think it is a great mistake to suppose that, in order that you may display a great deal of power to the world, all the power should be put into the shape of cannons, muskets, and ships of war. Do not you think that, in these times of industry, when wealth and commerce are the real tests of a nation's power, coupled with worth and intelligence—do you not see that, if you beat your iron into ploughshares and pruning-hooks, instead of putting it into swords and spears, it will be equally productive of power, and of far more force, if brought into collision with another country, than if you put all your iron into spears and swords? It is not always necessary to hold up a scarecrow to frighten your neighbours. I believe a civilised nation will estimate the power of a country, not by the amount laid out in armaments, which may perhaps be the means of weakening that power, but it will measure your strength by your latent resources—what margin of taxation you have that you can impose in case of necessity, greater than another country, to which you are about to be opposed—what is the spirit of the people, as having confidence in the institutions or government under which they live—what is the general intelligence of the people—what is, in every respect, their situation and capacity to make an effort, in case an effort were required? These will be the tests which intelligent people will apply to countries; not what amount of horse, foot, and artillery, or how many ships you have afloat.

Look to America. The United States has only one line-of-battle ship afloat at this moment; and very often she has not one. She keeps a number of small vessels, and always in activity—never allowing three or four to stay in harbour, as ours are, but always running about to see if her merchant ships require assisttance. With only 8,500 soldiers—for that is all her force—and with but one line-of-battle ship afloat—is not America at any time prepared to take her stand in the face of France with 500,000 troops, the finest in the world, and with a navy three times as large as the American navy? Is not the United States always able to take the position of equality? and has she not been even taking very high ground? And we see that this nation, with 500,000 soldiers, have brought their finances into an almost hopeless state, and they dare not come into collision with a country so lightly taxed, and with so much elasticity, as the United States; and if all the Governments of Europe continue this policy, and if the United States pursues hers, I only hope their Government may not assume that arrogant tone which it may assume towards every Government in Europe, which is broken down by the load of debt and taxes, which are the result of the hideous system to which I have referred.

These are the reasons, I have said, and I say again, that you may return with safety to the expenditure of 1835. Nay, more, you will not stop when you get there. But mark me, with all their sarcasms, they are on the high-road to it, and we will compel them to do it. They will be obliged to return to the expenditure of 1835, and to the budget which I brought forward last year, and in a short time. But how? Why, by such a movement out of doors as I have mentioned, and I wish to see it avoided.

And, last, I come to the point of the greatest importance. I am anxious to see our representative system altered. I am anxious to see it, because it will put an end to this double trial of all public questions—trying it in the House of Commons, in the face of what are called Representatives of the people, and then coming to the people, and asking them to compel their so-called Representatives to carry out the policy which they wish them to carry out. I say it is a clumsy machine; for, when you are wishful to have it self-acting, you find that the engine will not perform its work. When you have set up your forty-horse steamengine, you have to call forty horses to do its work. You must not only have an extension of the suffrage, but a redistribution of the franchise. You must have no such absurdity as the constituency of the West Riding of Yorkshire, with its 36,000 electors, outvoted by a constituency of 150 or 200 electors. I wonder how anybody can believe that such things exist, except those who live in the country, and suffer from the inconveniences of it.

But it is not merely a re-distribution of the franchise, but you must shorten the reckonings of Members of Parliament with those constituencies. Now, do you suppose, if a committee were to sit down to make a constitution, without having the precedent of the present constitution to guide you, anybody would make such an absurd proposition as that a Parliament should sit for seven years without giving an account to their constituents? Nobody would dream of it. Ask your railroad companies, your bank proprietors—anybody in the world that has to delegate power to another body—is there on the face of the world an example (except in our Septennial Act) of people giving up their power for seven years' duration? It is no answer to me to say that Parliaments do not last, on an average, more than three years. If we knew that Parliaments only lasted three years, that would be an answer to the question; but men go there expecting that it will last five, six, or seven years, and they act accordingly; and when they come near the end, they begin to go through a process something like a death-bed repentance, and to put their house in order. Yet they do not do it at the end of three years, because when Parliament is dissolved at the end of three years it is only by accident—the decease of the sovereign, or the necessity of testing the opinion of the people; and, therefore, you have no benefit from it.

But, gentlemen, whether you want these or other reforms in Parliament, I reiterate here, what I have said elsewhere—I do not think you will get it by petitioning the House of Commons, or by any other demonstration calling upon the House to reform itself. I tell you why. We have all agreed that we should pursue our agitation by moral means. Well, moral means threaten no noble lords in St. James's Square with brickbats or anything else. They see decent respectable men meeting, and they say, ‘They will never lend themselves to anything violent.’ They look upon it as a moral demonstration, and they are quite content to let these respectable middle-class demonstrations keep the peace for them and confine themselves to moral force. All this is exceedingly proper. Nothing is so absurd as to think of returning to the time of Burdett and Hunt, bawling after noble lords and breaking open and firing the houses of your opponents, and getting knocked upon the head or hung for your pains. But then, if you do pursue moral means, take care you do use all the moral means in your power. And that brings me to the doctrine I have been preaching of late. I say, Qualify yourselves. I could say more upon it, but I shall not say so much here as I shall say elsewhere, because I do not think it is meet that I, as the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, should come here and be carrying on a perpetual canvass with you in order to get you to qualify yourselves to vote for me. Therefore you will be good enough, if I should be speaking at Ipswich or Aylesbury, on this topic, to apply what you like of those observations to yourselves. I have calculated that there are only one in eight of adult males who are qualified to vote for the counties; seven-eighths have no votes for counties. If you can take one-eighth out of those seven-eighths and put them upon the county list, you will have more county voters added than the whole number of county voters now on the list.

I do not think that is difficult to be done; and we are going on rapidly, and we are indebted to a working man, Mr. James Taylor, of Birmingham, for making the greatest and best system of reform I know. Oh, if in the days of Burdett and Hunt, they had had some Mr. Taylor to preach to them, and say, that for every three-pence you drink you swallow a yard of land, we should have had a million of voters qualified. The difference between Mr. Taylor's plan and the old plan was this: formerly the leaders used to say, ‘Come to the House of Commons, make a noise, bawl out, and tell them you want to get in, and ask them to let you in.’ But Mr. Taylor tells you that ‘You have got the key in your own pocket, make use of it—go to the door, unlock it, and enter, without asking anybody's permission.’ I like this plan, because it teaches men self-reliance. When allusion has been made to self-reform—I mean the government of your own appetites—I am glad to see by the response, not only here, but in London and elsewhere where I go, that the English people are determined so to work out their own emancipation.

I am anxious to see this extension of the suffrage accelerated in every possible way: and I think I have always given every possible evidence of my sincerity by direct votes in the House of Commons, and outside the House by urging men to qualify themselves, and use every means to get a vote. I do it, because I believe the extension of the franchise gives us a better guarantee not only for the safety of our institutions, but for the just administration of our public affairs; and I have latterly felt another motive for wishing for an extension of the franchise, in what I have seen going on upon the Continent within the last eighteen months, which has convinced me that the great masses of mankind are disposed for peace between nations. You have the fact brought out in strong relief that the people themselves, however they may be troubled with internal convulsions, have no desire to go abroad and molest their neighbours. You have seen Louis Philippe driven from the throne. We were told that he kept the French nation at peace; but we find the masses of the people of France only anxious to remain at home, and diminish, if possible, the pressure of taxation.

Where do we look for the black gathering cloud of war? Where do we see it rising? Why, from the despotism of the North, where one man wields the destinies of 40,000,000 of serfs. If we want to know where is the second danger of war and disturbance, it is in that province of Russia—that miserable and degraded country, Austria—next in the stage of despotism and barbarism, and there you see again the greatest danger of war; but in proportion as you find the population governing themselves—as in England, in France, or in America—there you will find that war is not the disposition of the people, and that if Government desire it, the people would put a check upon it. Therefore, for the security of liberty, and also, as I believe, that the people of every country, as they acquire political power, will cultivate the arts of peace, and check the desire of their governments to go to war—it is on these grounds that I wish to see a wide extension of the suffrage, and liberty prevail over despotism throughout the world.





Richard Cobden, "FINANCE. III. HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 8, 1850"

Editing History

  • Item added: 18 Sept. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


FINANCE.III. HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 8, 1850. in Richard Cobden, Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. <>.

Editor's Intro




[On March 8, 1850, Mr. Cobden moved the following resolutions:—'That the net expenditure of the Government for the year 1835 (Parliamentary Paper, No. 260, 1847 amounted to 44,422,000l.; that the net expenditure for the year ended the 5th day of January, 1850 (Parliamentary Paper, No. 1, 1850) amounted to 50,853,000l.; the increase of upwards of 6,000,000l. having been caused principally by successive augmentations of our warlike establishments, and outlays for defensive armaments. That no foreign danger, or necessary cost of the civil government, or indispensable disbursements for the services in our dependencies abroad, warrant the continuance of this increase of expenditure. That the taxes required to meet the present expenditure impede the operations of agriculture and manufactures, and diminish the funds for the employment of labour in all branches of productive industry, thereby tending to produce pauperism and crime, and adding to the local and general burdens of the people. That, to diminish these evils, it is expedient that this House take steps to reduce the annual expenditure with all practicable speed to an amount not exceeding the sum which within the last fifteen years has been proved to be sufficient for the maintenance of the security, honour, and dignity of the nation.' The resolution was negatived by 183 (272 to 89).]

The reason why I propose this motion, on this day and at this precise time, is, that I am anxious, before we commence voting away the public money, that we should have an opportunity of taking a view of the whole financial interest of the country in order to a large reduction of the expenditure. I know no other way than this of bringing the general view of our finances before the House, for we have a peculiar way of dealing with the finances and expenditure of this country. The House never has brought before it, as in other countries where constitutional laws and usages are in force, a full statement of the whole income and expenditure, with the view of having the sense of the House taken upon both. We have only statements regarding our finances laid before us in detail. After the Government has decided what any particular estimates shall be, they are brought before the House, and the House has then scarcely any other alternative but that of going through the empty form of sanctioning those estimates.

One of the reasons why we are almost uniformly ready to assent to these estimates is, that a refusal to assent to them would be taken as a vote of want of confidence in Ministers, and therefore tantamount to their dismissal. I think, however, that we ought to have the opportunity of discussing the whole of these questions apart from any such considerations. I do not bring forward this motion in a spirit of hostility to the Government. I have not framed it in the shape of an address to the Crown, praying the Crown to adopt a certain course; but I have put it in the shape of a resolution, to the effect that in the opinion of this House it should take steps to reduce the expenditure of the country to the standard of 1835. Now, I must not be misunderstood, as I was on a former occasion, for there are always attempts made to misrepresent any movement of the kind; I must not be accused of meditating an immediate reduction of expenditure to the standard of 1835. I have framed my motion in precisely the same words as last year. I then moved for a reduction of expenditure to a certain amount with all convenient speed, and I make the same motion now. I do not say that we can return to the expenditure of 1835 in one year or in two, but I asume that in the present state of the country, in the state of our domestic affairs, and of our foreign relations, there is no obstacle to a gradual return to the expenditure of 1835, provided the Executive Government has the sanction of this House for resorting to such a course. If events should happen to change the circumstances of the country, there is no reason why we should not next year reverse the decision we may come to in the present.

I only ask you to consider now, whether, in the existing state of our foreign and domestic relations, we are not entitled to expect from the Government a return to the expenditure of 1835 as speedily as possible? I am anxious to bring forward this motion on another ground. We have heard intimations in this House that there will be motions made for a reduction of taxation. Now, I hold it to be self-evident that we can have no large reduction of taxation unless we have a corresponding reduction of expenditure. I know that there are certain parties who think that we may shift the burden of taxation from one shoulder to another, from one class to another, and thereby give relief to the country. I know there are writers who affect considerable scorn of those who merely take the vulgar view which I do,—that we must reduce expenditure in order to reduce taxation. They call such persons as myself vulgar politicians, and argue that more good is to be done by a shifting and a modification of taxes than by what I propose. Now, I have no faith in any such device for relieving the distress of the country. In fact, there is no means of modifying taxation in this way, by which we can relieve one interest without increasing the burden upon another. I defy you to put your hand on any interest of the country that is willing to receive an addition of taxation; and, therefore, if you propose to modify the pressure, by taking it off one to place it on another, you will find as much resistance from those on whom you are going to lay the tax as of assistance from those who are to be relieved. If we are anxious to effect a reduction of any tax that presses on the industry of the country—I do not confine myself to those that press on trade and commerce, but such, for example, as the malt-tax or the hop-duty—it is only possible to accomplish this by entering on such a path as I now point out to you.

I am anxious that, before we come to a vote on the motion of the hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cayley), or on any similar motion, we should first decide whether or not we are willing to sanction such a reduction of expenditure as will warrant a reduction of taxation. I do not take the expenditure of 1835, to which I wish we should return, as an arbitrary point. I felt anxious, in common with other gentlemen, for the reduction of the expenditure, and I looked about to see what were the causes of the increase of that expenditure. In the course of these inquiries, I naturally turned to the first point from which the increase began. I went back to 1835, but I took it only as a guide to enable me to put my finger on some starting-point—a point to rest my arguments for a reduction upon And I am doing nothing new. That was the course always taken by the Whig party; for a quarter of a century, they always returned to 1792. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) will bear me out, that from the close of the war till the time of the Reform Bill, constant reference was made to 1792 when speaking of the expenditure. And not merely the Whigs but the Tories did so. In 1817, Lord Castlereagh, when moving for the appointment of a committee on this subject, took 1792 as the point to which chief reference was made in his motion.

I am, therefore, not taking an undue course in fixing on 1835, and am not entitled to be ‘pooh-poohed’ by those who have taken the same course on previous occasions. I do not ask you to go back to 1835, because a certain expenditure existed in that year; but it is to enable you to satisfy your own minds as to whether any necessity exists for the increase that has since taken place, and to show the grounds on which persons resist a gradual return to the expenditure of 1835. And when I speak of 1835, I am equally prepared to take the average of 1835, 1836, and 1837. I hope, therefore, that gentlemen opposite will bear with me while I read a few figures, and ask them to discard altogether from their minds any feelings or prejudices that may arise from differences of opinion on other questions. I wish you to go into the subject as a matter of business, and with a desire to arrive at a conclusion beneficial to those whom you represent in Parliament, and who feel on this question precisely as my own constituents do. I will read the particulars of the expenditure for the years ending the 5th of January, 1836, and the 5th of January, 1850. In 1836, the interest of the funded and unfunded debt was 28,514,000l.; last year it was 28,323,000l., making the interest on the debt nearly 200,000l. less now than in 1836. The expenditure for the army in 1836 was 6,406,000l.; last year, 6,549,000l.; for the navy, in 1836, 4,099,000l.; last year, 6,942,000l.; for the ordnance, in 1836, 1,151,000l.; last year, 2,332,000l. The civil expenditure of all kinds, in 1836, was 4,225,000l.; last year, 6,702,000l.—making the whole expenditure of 1836, 44,395,000l., and the whole expenditure of last year, 50,848,000l.

When I brought forward my motion last year, taking the finance accounts of 1848, I stated that the increase of expenditure was nearly 10,000,000l. as compared with 1835; but the finance accounts of the last year, as compared with the previous year, show a reduction of 3,344,000l. We have, therefore, to deal with an expenditure of 50,838,000l. against an expenditure of 44,395,000l. in 1836, leaving an excess in 1850 of 6,453,000l. This was by the last year's finance accounts; but I believe we may assume that in the forthcoming estimates we shall see another reduction of say 1,000,000l., which will bring the excess at the end of the present year, as compared with 1835, to about 5,500,000l. Now, I ask, is not this very satisfactory, and does it not encourage us to pursue the same course which we had already held in this House, viz. pressing on the Exchequer for further and further reductions; for I will venture to say, that if these efforts had not been made in the House, and if they had not been made by gentlemen resident in Liverpool (I mean the Financial Reform Association), the reduction I have referred to would not have been made? We all know that there is an amount of resistance to curtailments in certain quarters, an amount of pressure such as we have just heard on the subject of the brevets, such an amount of importunity from the different professions, that, unless the Executive is backed by this House and the country, it will be impossible to resist the demands made upon us.

Now, then, seeing that we have an excess of expenditure of 5,500,000l., as compared with 1835, how do I propose to reduce that excess so as to return to the expenditure of 44,399,000l. in 1835? I wish it to be understood that I am now dealing with an excess of 6,453,000l., and I propose to take 5,823,000l. from the amount expended on the army, navy, and ordnance last year, leaving 10,000,000l. for those purposes, and the remaining 630,000l. I would take from the civil expenditure, from the cost of collection, and from what may be gained by the better management of the Woods and Forests.

To begin with the civil expenditure. I find that last year it amounted to 6,702,000l., while in 1835 it was 4,225,000l. Of the different items which make up this expenditure I find that last year the civil list was 396,000l., and in 1835, 510,000l. With regard to the civil list, as appropriated to the service of Her Majesty, I have not one word to offer. The amount settled on the Queen on her accession to the Crown having been given as an equivalent for hereditary revenues, it is my opinion that the Queen has as good a title to that amount during her lifetime as any of our ancient nobility possess to their estates; therefore I must not be misunderstood on this point, after so plain an avowal of my convictions. Nobody ever heard me propose any different arrangement from this, and I do not do so now. There is an impression throughout the country that the Queen has an exorbitant income, because the sum of 395,000l. was put down on her civil list; but the country should know that Her Majesty herself had only 60,000l. a year at her disposal, the rest going to the expenditure of different departments of her Majesty's household, to maintain, as it was called, the pomp and state of the Throne. It is on some of these items of expenditure that I should be disposed to raise a question. There are items that I think might, with great credit to the Crown, be transferred to other purposes. Take the case of the buckhounds—a department which costs 6,000l. or 7,000l. a year; is it not an absurdity to suppose that such an establishment can add to the dignity of the Crown? Let that sum be taken to pay one of the Queen's judges, the Chief Justice, for example. It would be much more conducive to the dignity of the Crown to spend the money in that way than in throwing it away upon buckhounds, and I question whether it would not be more satisfactory to Her Majesty. The expenditure of items like these does not contribute in the least to the honour and dignity of the Sovereign. We all know that the Queen lives in the affections of her people; but this affection is not attributable to such idle pageants as these,—it is rather due to those quiet domestic virtues that peep out from the retirement of Osborne than to such displays as are supported by this expenditure of the civil list.

But, to pass on to the next item, which is for annuities and pensions for civil services charged by various Acts of Parliament on the Consolidated Fund. Last year it was 464,000l., and in 1835 it was 524,000l. These I do not propose to touch, as they are granted under Acts of Parliament, and those holding them have no doubt made their arrangements on the faith that they would be theirs for life. But I hope the House will agree with me that we ought to prevent the repetition of such things in future. There are a great number of items under this head that I am tolerably certain never will be repeated; but it will require vigilant guardianship, on the part of this House and the country, if they expected to profit by the demise of these annuities and pensions. It will be seen from the age of the parties who are recipients of these pensions, that in all probability there will be a very considerable and probably rapid diminution of the payments under this head, and we are all aware that the largest annuity has lapsed within the last six months. We may, therefore, expect that something handsome will shortly be got towards my reductions from the payments that would fall in under this head.

The next item is for salaries and allowances, which come under a different category altogether. One thing must have struck those who look over the accounts under this head, and that is the great number of commissionerships. I should very much prefer to a commission, one well-paid responsible functionary. I cannot understand why, when we give to the home or foreign ministers such power as we do, we cannot give to one individual, of good character and talents, the duties of the most responsible commissionership. The public business would be better done by one man than by a dozen; and not only better, but cheaper. Therefore I do hope that in future we shall have boards transformed into individuals.

The next item is for diplomatic salaries and pensions, being last year 160,000l. and in 1835, 176,000l. Here there is a rich harvest to reap. Our ambassador in France has 10,000l. a year, that in Austria 9,900l. Now, what did the United States pay for the same services? The hon. Member for Kent smiles, and I know what is passing in his mind. He thinks that I am going to be exceedingly democratic in what I am about to say. Certainly, if I were going to compare the expenses of the monarchical chief and the elective chief of a republic, I should be dealing unfairly with my case; but when we come to speak of the representatives of two countries living at Paris, one from England and the other from America, and both exposed to the same necessary expenses—for of unnecessary expenses I do not speak—then a comparison may fairly be drawn. Now, our ambassador at Paris has 10,000l. a year; the American ambassador has 2,000l. Our Austrian ambassador has 9,900l.; the American ambassador, 1,000l. Our Turkish ambassador has 6,500l.; the American, 1,300l. Our Russian ambassador has 6,600l.; and the American, 2,000l. Many of our embassies might be suppressed altogether, such as those at Hanover and Bavaria. Gentlemen opposite see all these things as well as I do, and laugh at them in private, whatever they may say in public. They never denounce such extravagance in public, unless, indeed, they sometimes do so for mischief. I believe that the expenses under the diplomatic head might be reduced at least one-half.

I next come to the courts of justice, the payments for which last year amounted to 1,105,000l., and in 1835 to 430,000l., showing an increase of nearly 700,000l. The constabulary force in Ireland, amounting to 550,000l., no doubt adds to the amount under this head, but still there is much useless expense. I am anxious to see the judges well provided for; but really such salaries as 7,000l. and 8,000l., especially in Ireland, are out of the question. I find a judge in Ireland receiving 8,000l. a year, while the highest judicial functionary in the world, sitting at Washington, charged with the settlement of all the international disputes between the States of the Union, and with the interpretation of the Constitution itself, had only 1,200l. a year. Such anomalies as these should not be allowed to exist. The miscellaneous charges I find to be 398,000l., and in 1835, 274,000l., these charges being fixed on the Consolidated Fund. There is 60,000l. for commissions in Ireland; but surely these commissions are not to last for ever. Then there are miscellaneous charges on the annual grants of Parliament, these being last year 3,911,000l., against 2,144,000l. in 1835.

I now come to the payment for public works and salaries of public departments, together with all our colonial and consular establishments. Under this head there has been the most extraordinary profligacy of expenditure. The expense of the House we are in, or which we ought to get into, is a scandal to us. It seems to me, that from the beginning to the end this has been the most melancholy and disgraceful proceeding the country has ever heard of. We have adopted for our style the most costly that can be thought of; and it appears as if we had studied how we could lay on the greatest expense, in such a way that it could neither be seen nor appreciated, when we selected the florid Gothic style for our new Houses. The whole system, the whole proceedings of the House of Commons in this matter, from the top pinnacle of the new Houses to the sweeping of the floors, are characterised by as much disgraceful waste and extravagance as could be found in any portion of the public service. In this department of public works, salaries, &c., I propose a large saving in the expenditure. I hope that in this proposal I shall have the co-operation of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley).

Last year I showed the House, that from 1836 to 1848 there had been a continual succession of increases in the expenditure; and that when the special exigencies which caused the increases had passed away, no return was made to the old expenditure. I refer to such exigencies as the Oregon and Maine boundary disputes, Tahiti, Syria, and the like. We come to the discussion of the subject now with the advantage of another year's experience. We are another year further removed from that great crisis of European affairs which everybody expected was to lead to certain calamitous consequences, in the form of an international war. If there is one consoling remembrance, one drop of sweet in the cup of gall which Europe has drained during the last two or three years, it is this. We have extracted from all that turmoil and convulsion the fact that there is not a disposition, on the part of the bulk of the people of any nation, to pass their own frontiers to make war upon any other nation. I speak of the people as distinct from their Governments, because we have always been told that when Louis Philippe should die, the French people are so inclinable to war that they will break the prison bars, and ravage Europe more like wild beasts than human beings. Well, we have now seen that these same people, while having the reins in their own hands, have shown no disposition to carry war into their neighbours' territories. I do not wish the House to assume that the millennium is come, or that there will never be another international war; I do not ask you totally to dismantle your ships, or leave your ports defenceless; but that in which I am anxious you should concur with me is this,—that during the last twelve months events have rather been confirmatory than otherwise of the views I then expressed with reference to the safety of making a gradual reduction of our armaments.

Another point which I considered last year afforded a chance of a great reduction of the army, was the state of our colonial relations. Now since that time a most important event has occurred. The Prime Minister of the Crown has adopted language in reference to the colonies which I have myself often held as to the principle of self-government on the part of those colonies. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) went the full length of the views which I have ever entertained upon that subject; and has most agreeably surprised me when discussing the constitutions to be established in Australia, and more especially at the Cape of Good Hope. The noble Lord proposes to give to those colonies the right of framing their own constitution, of levying their own taxes, of determining their own tariff, and of disposing of their own waste lands. The noble Lord has thereby disposed of those vast continents which the English people has held to belong to them, and which they once thought might yield them something to aid and assist them in bearing their burdens and maintaining their position in the country. The noble Lord has given those vast continents to the people who live amidst them. Well, it is perfectly right; but look at the consequences. This House cannot hereafter by legislation give 160 acres of land, which the American Government gives so frequently to those who deserve it, if Parliament even desired to favour the most deserving patriot in Her Majesty's service. I do not complain of that; but what I wish to ask with reference to this question is, did the noble Lord intend to stop there? Is this country to give to the colonies as complete independence as, nay, even greater independence than, the separate States of the American Union possess, since they cannot dispose of an acre of waste ground, nor touch their tariff,—are the people of this country, I ask, to be called upon by the same Prime Minister who gives to the colonies the right of governing and taxing themselves to pay and maintain the military police which occupied those colonies? It is utterly impossible, under the altered circumstances arising out of the policy of the Government towards those colonies, that any Minister with a head on his shoulders, after declaring what I have heard declared with reference to Australia, the Cape of Good Hope, New Zealand, and Canada, can permanently impose upon the people of this country the charge of maintaining the military police of those colonies. It is but a military police, and not an army kept up for the defence of the colonies from foreign attack: for this country charges itself with the expense of defending the colonies in the case of war. These military establishments are maintained 10,000 miles away. We send out relief at an enormous expense, and that to maintain a police which the colonists are better able themselves to pay for than are the people of this country.

In assuming that we may make a considerable reduction in the public expenditure by gradually withdrawing our troops from the colonies, let me not be answered by a reference to the case of our arsenals at Gibraltar, Malta, and Ceylon, or in those places where the African race predominated. I confine myself to those colonies where the English race is likely to become indigenous and paramount. What is the object of maintaining these establishments? Is it in order to secure the connection between England and her colonies? Such a ground can hardly be alleged; and yet I know of no other motive, unless it be to preserve the patronage which the system afforded to the Minister. It is for the House to say whether the maintenance of patronage in Downing street is a sufficient reason for taxing the people of this country. It will be found that, taking into account the force kept in those colonies, the force kept at home for the necessary reliefs, and the number of men always on the ocean on their passage to and fro, there are means of reduction to an amount not much short of 20,000 men.

But since 1835 we are placed in a different position with regard to the army required at home. First, with reference to the means of transport, since the introduction of railways, the same number of troops gives a vast increase of power. We have a piece of very interesting evidence on that subject. General Gordon, Quartermaster-General, stated in his evidence before the Committee on Railways in 1844:—'I should say that this mode of railway conveyance has enabled the army (comparatively to the demand made upon it, a very small one) to do the work of a very large one: you send a battalion of 1000 men from London to Manchester in nine hours; and that same battalion marching would take seventeen days; and they arrive at the end of nine hours just as fresh, or nearly so, as when they started.' What has been the practice of individuals in consequence of the facilities afforded by railways? Men of business keep smaller stocks on hand, because they can be easily supplied from their wholesale dealers. The Committee of last year on the Ordnance Estimates recommended the application of the same principle. There were found to be enormous stores scattered over different parts of the country, and the Committee contended that the Government should avail themselves of the railroads as private individuals do. The Government promised to adopt that regulation; but I want them to understand that they may go a little further, and avail themselves of that mode of communication, and thereby do the same amount of work, in case of need, with a smaller number of troops.

Assuming soldiers to be the proper means of keeping order in this country—though I concur in the opinion which was maintained thirty years ago by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Robert Peel), that this is a constitutional and civil country, and that the Government ought not to have recourse to military force at all—but assuming that bayonets are necessary to preserve order, one soldier was at this moment, by means of the facilities of railways, more powerful than ten were in 1835. But this is not the only ground why I believe that we possess prospective means of reducing the army. Since 1835, we have very largely increased our armed force in other ways. We have embodied 14,800 pensioners, 9,200 dockyard men are enrolled, formed into battalions, and regularly drilled; and there are about 3,000 county constabulary. Here is an increase of 26,000 armed men in England, to which I may add an increase of 5,000 constabulary in Ireland. All these things form additional ground why I hope to see a gradual reduction of our armed force.

Take the case of Ireland. Ireland has always been the unhappy excuse for keeping up a large army at home. Ireland is now tranquil. Pass your measures for bringing Ireland into closer approximation with this country,—for giving her your own institutions, and a better representative system,—and I believe we shall do more to preserve order there than if we were to a send a dozen regiments to that country. Ireland has never been so free from political excitement or disorganisation. That country will soon be brought within a short day's journey of London, and need not be treated in any respect in future but as a province But there are now in Ireland 25,000 regular troops, to which are to be added the 5,000 additional constabulary and upwards of 5,000 pensioners, making in all between 35,000 and 36,000 armed men; whereas there were only between 16,000 and 17,000 rank and file in Ireland in 1835. Ireland, then, affords means for a further reduction of the army. But it is not merely by a reduction of the force that I desire to see economy attained.

I cannot speak with practical knowledge of military affairs, but I speak from high military authority when I state that the organisation of the British army is the most extravagant of any army in Europe, and justifies the assertion that it is an army maintained especially for officers. What is the process going on in the army? Last year we withdrew a few thousand drunken men from the service; but the complaint of the country was, that the number of officers ought to have been reduced instead of the number of men. This process is going on again. You have announced it to be your intention to reduce 1,800 rank and file, but nothing is said of withdrawing a major, or a second-captain, or a second-lieutenant, from any of the regiments; but all in the higher grades are maintained as before. Great economy might be gained in the army by a different organisation. It does not require one to be a military man to know that.

With regard to the cavalry regiments, more particularly, does the system require change. According to the present mode in which those regiments are organised, they have become the laughing-stock of all the military men in Europe. There is a very distinguished man now in London, a general officer in the service of Austria, and who acquired some celebrity in the war with Hungary. I asked that officer to look over our army list, and just give me some notion how far it corresponded with the system of his own country, which was regarded as a model of organisation, and which does not differ very much from that of Prussia and France. When he saw the number of officers assigned to one of our cavalry regiments he laughed outright. In the light cavalry, in the time of peace, there are eight squadrons of 180 men each, and of about 200 in war. These are commissioned by one colonel, one lieutenant-colonel, two majors, eight captains of the first rank, eight captains of the second rank, sixteen lieutenants of the first rank, and sixteen lieutenants of the second rank, making fifty-two officers in all. This gives one officer to every twenty-eight men. In the English Guards there are thirty-two officers to a regiment of 351, or an officer to every eleven men; in the cavalry and the line there are twenty-seven officers to a regiment of 328 men, or one officer to every twelve men. Put two English regiments into one, and maintain only half the present number of officers, still you would have twenty more English officers than there were in an Austrian regiment. I would recommend the Government to alter this system, if it be only to take away the justification which it affords to the Liverpool and Manchester Reform Association for alleging that the army is kept up for the purpose of serving the aristocracy. Until you remove this fact, no one, either in this country or abroad, will believe that these forces are organised for promoting the interests of the people. If you wished to reduce the army with the greatest economy to the people, and with the least loss of force, you should reduce the number of regiments by amalgamating them, and retain their bayonets at the expense of the officers. While we discharge the men and retain the officers, we shall destroy that which constitutes the strength of the army, and retain that which constitutes all the expense.

With reference to the navy, the expense of that branch of our force has greatly increased since 1835. In 1835, the estimate was 4,494,000l.; and last year the amount was upwards of 6,260,000l. I know of nothing to deter us from contemplating a gradual reduction in our marine force. If we compare the British service with that of the United States in maritime matters, we shall find, that whilst the United States have only one line-of-battle ship at sea, wherever their commerce extended, the oceans and seas were visited by a body of small vessels of war, because these were intended to be what a navy should be in time of peace—a police protecting the mercantile marine. But this country keeps up an enormous force of line-of-battle ships which never can be used for the safety of commerce. By using small vessels of war, we might save a deal of expense. But large line-of-battle ships are maintained in order to afford opportunities of preferment to the higher classes.

There are other reasons why the navy might now be reduced which did not exist in 1835. Independently of our regular navy, there is an immense available reserved force in the mercantile steamers of the country, which have been built for maintaining the Post-office communications. Last year a Committee sat to inquire into the practicability of using large merchant steam vessels, in case of necessity, as a means of national defence. The Committee reported that it was practicable to call into use an amount of steam-power, should it be desirable for national defence. The report stated that there were 180 steamers of upwards of 400 tons burden, besides between 700 and 800 smaller vessels, which might all be made available in case of war. Beyond this, there are thirty-five other vessels in the mercantile steam navy, which could all be got ready in the course of a few weeks, if needed. There were none of these resources in 1835. They have all grown up since.

With respect to the navy in the Mediterranean, I do not see any use in it. The great line-of-battle ships now in the port of Piræus had much better be lying up in ordinary, or on the stocks. I am very much afraid that, as long as we keep up in time of peace that enormous armament, there will always be a disposition, either on the part of the Government, or of the Foreign Minister, or of the Admiral on the station, to bring these ships in some way into action, in order that at the end of the year the estimates might be renewed for the maintenance of that force. We ought to view this question in the way in which the United States has done. The foreign policy of the United States is a lesson to this country. They never arm themselves to the teeth; they never put out their whole strength; they calculate that foreign countries will give them credit for the strength which they have lying latent. The policy of this country is quite the reverse. We seem to think that foreign nations never give us credit for power, unless we display it by having a large number of line-of-battle ships afloat.

Increase the prosperity and happiness of the people by a reduction of taxation, and they will add to their real power quite as much as if they maintain large armies and powerful fleets. Money is the sinews of war; and those nations that are encumbered by an armed force, as is the case at this moment with Austria and France, are in a position to be bullied by a country that has not the tenth part of the force in ships and regiments, but which has an easy exchequer with a wide margin for expenditure, and which is capable of drawing upon its latent resources. When I say this, I am not for disbanding the army, or dismantling the navy; but I speak in degree, and say that 10,000,000l. of money are enough to be expended upon that army and that navy, upon which 15,000,000l. are now expended.

With respect to the ordnance, it is impossible to deny that great economy might be gained by better management in that department. The Committee on the Ordnance Estimates found it necessary to remonstrate with the Government for keeping too many stores. By adopting the recommendation of the Committee, both in the navy and the ordnance, a saving of fifteen per cent. will be effected, while the stores will be better manufactured. There will be no further loss on the sale of stores, which has amounted during the last year to between fifty and sixty per cent. upon a sum of not less than 500,000l. It has been suggested that the sappers, miners, and engineers, might be usefully employed at the fortresses abroad—Gibraltar and Malta—instead of the troops of the line, who might be better employed elsewhere. I believe a great saving might be effected in the Ordnance department Everybody connected with that branch, of the service is dissatisfied with it, and requires a reorganisation of it. I have come to the conclusion that in a very few years we may very largely reduce the military and naval establishments, without in the slightest degree endangering the peace and security of the country. What are the 10,000,000l. which I propose to reduce? It is as much a the whole expenditure of the United States before the Mexican War, and more than the whole expenditure of Prussia.

Those who think there is any danger to the defences of the country in my proposition, I beg to ask whether they do not see any risk, inconvenience, if not danger, in leaving our taxation in the state in which it now is! Some one in the City has written a pamphlet with a view to show that the country is lightly taxed. It may be perfectly true that there is more wealth in the country now than during the great war; but I maintain that wealth does not pay the taxation of this country. If it did, we should have no rich man in the City writing a pamphlet to show that taxation is no evil. Whatever plan you may pursue, you cannot refrain from altering and abolishing many of those taxes that press upon the industry of the manufacturing and agricultural interests of the country.

There is another doctrine recently enunciated—which is, that the country must not have a remission of taxation, even if it could be effected by a saving of expenditure, but that whatever surplus there is must be applied to the reduction of the National Debt. Whatever may be thought of that doctrine, I am quite content if the country is able to pay the interest upon the principal of the National Debt. It is a poor beginning, with a surplus of 2,000,000l., to attempt paying off a debt of 800,000,000l. There should be some grander scheme than that before talking of paying off a debt of so enormous an amount. I believe it is proposed to limit the plan to paying off the debt which has been contracted with in the last three or four years. I consider that debt no more pressing in its nature than any portion of the debt contracted during the war. It may not be so objectionable, but all the debts were bad, and happy would it be if we could pay them all. But, whether the principal were ever paid or not, the country will never recover the waste which the contracting of those debts has occasioned.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel) in 1842 began a new system—that of reducing the taxes on industry, and of relieving trade and commerce, by substituting for duties on the necessaries of life a more direct system of taxation in the imposition of a tax on income. It was not enacted in the most desirable shape; but, bad as it is, I hope we never shall part with it, though I should like to see some modifications of it. Something greater must be done before we can afford, out of our surplus, to pay any part of the debt, and at the same time have the means of abolishing those taxes which more immediately interfere with the productions of industry.

I humbly submit that both those things must be done; but Government will be compelled to part with the whole of their surplus of 2,000,000l. in relieving those who suffer from indirect taxation and are clamorous for its remission—not because it takes so much money from their pockets, but because it interferes with the progress of business, whether it be the article of paper or any other that is hampered by the Excise. Whatever Government, therefore, is in power, must contemplate a plan of finance by which it must look to have a much larger surplus than 2,000,000l. But how can that be done, if you do not adopt my plan, except it be by some other mode of taxation? I would vote for 10 per cent. direct taxation, if the Government would propose it; but they cannot do that. They can, however, do without it, if they would reduce the expenditure to the standard of 1835. They would then get a present and a growing surplus, and at last a surplus of 10,000,000l. from this time. That would be a sum for abolishing something important. If you divide it into two, with half you might convert some part of the debt into terminable annuities, and with the other relieve the industry of the country from the duties on paper, soap, malt, hops, and other articles. Without such a plan, it will be only child's play to look to a surplus.

Is there not less danger, then, in trusting to our good intentions and to Divine Providence, instead of 10,000,000l. being expended on our armaments? Is it not better to trust to those elements of security, and have it in our power to relax taxation and give contentment to the people in the way which I have put before the House? It is to enable you to take that course that I ask the House to pass the resolutions I am about to move. It is not a vote of want of confidence—it is, in fact, a vote of confidence; for there is a power that resists improvement in this country. It does not appear in public, but works by covert means, and it requires the counteraction of the House to enable the Government to take any step for the relief of the country. I ask you, then, as I regard the interests of those who sent you here, not to look at this as a party question—not to oppose my motion, because I bring it forward—but to vote upon it bonâ fide and upon its merits, and to go out into the same lobby with me in its favour.