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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Richard Cobden: The Effects Of Protection On Agriculture

Richard Cobden [1804-1865], statesman and economist, has won world fame as a powerful advocate of free trade, but he was also a consistent liberal in all domestic and foreign questions. He supported the Union cause in England and opposed British expansionist policies. His greatest ora­torical triumph was his speech in the House of Commons on March 13, 1845, favoring the repeal of the "protective” Corn Law. When he had finished, Prime Minister Peel, who was expected to reply, is said to have crumpled up his notes and said to a colleague, “You may answer this; I cannot.” Parts of this speech follow.

I hold that the landed proprietors are the parties who are responsible if the laborers have not employment. You have absolute power; there is no doubt about that. You can, if you please, legislate for the laborers, or yourselves. Whatever you may have done besides, your legislation has been adverse to the laborer, and you have no right to call upon the farmers to remedy the evils which you have caused. Will not this evil— if evil you call it—press on you more and more every year? What can you do to remedy the mischief? I only appear here now because you have proposed nothing. We all know your system of allotments, and we are all aware of its failure. What other remedy have you? For, mark you, that is worse than a plaything, if you were allowed to carry out your own views. [Hear!] Aye, it is well enough for some of you that there are wiser heads than your own to lead you, or you would be con­ducting yourselves into precisely the same condition in which they are in Ireland, but with this difference—this increased difficulty— that there they do manage to maintain the rights of property by the aid of the English Exchequer and 20,000 bayonets; but divide your own country into small allotments, and where would be the rights of property? What do you propose to do now? That is the question. Nothing has been brought forward this year, which I have heard, having for its object to benefit the great mass of the English population; nothing I have heard suggested which has at all tended to alleviate their condition.

You admit that the farmer’s capital is sinking from under him, and that he is in a worse state than ever. Have you distinctly provided some plan to give confidence to the farmer, to cause an influx of capital to be expended upon his land, and so bring increased employment to the laborer? How is this to be met? I can not believe you are going to make this a political game. You must set up some specific object to benefit the agricultural interest. It is well said that the last election was an agricultural triumph. There are two hundred county members sitting behind the prime minister who prove that it was so.

What, then, is your plan for this distressing state of things? That is what I want to ask you. Do not, as you have done before, quarrel with me because I have imperfectly stated my case; I have done my best, and I again ask you what you have to propose? I tell you that this “Protection,” as it has been called, is a failure. It was so when you had the prohibition up to 80s. You know the state of your farming tenantry in 1821. It was a failure when you had a protection price of 60s., for you know what was the condition of your farm tenantry in 1835. It is a failure now with your last amendment, for you have ad­mitted and proclaimed it to us; and what is the condition of your agricultural population at this time?

I ask, what is your plan? I hope it is not a pretense—a mere political game that has been played throughout the last election, and that you have not all come up here as mere politicians. There are politicians in the House—men who look with an ambition—probably a justifiable one—to the honors of office. There may be men who—with thirty years of continuous service, having been pressed into a groove from which they can neither escape nor retreat—may be holding office, high office, maintained there probably at the expense of their present convictions which do not harmonize very well with their early opinions. I make allowances for them; but the great body of the honorable gentlemen opposite came up to this House, not as politicians, but as the farmers’ friends, and protectors of the agricultural interests. Well, what do you propose to do? You have heard the prime minister declare that, if he could restore all the protection which you have had, that pro­tection would not benefit agriculturists. Is that your belief? If so, why not proclaim it? And if it is not your conviction, you will have falsified your mission in this House by following the right honorable baronet out into the lobby, and opposing inquiry into the condition of the very men who sent you here.

With mere politicians I have no right to expect to succeed in this motion. But I have no hesitation in telling you that, if you give me a committee of this House, I will explode the delusion of agricultural protection! I will bring forward such a mass of evidence, and give you such a preponderance of talent and of authority, that when the blue book is published and sent forth to the world, as we can now send it, by our vehicles of information, your system of protection shall not live in public opinion for two years afterward. Politicians do not want that. This cry of protection has been a very convenient handle for politicians. The cry of protection carried the counties at the last election, and politicians gained honors, emoluments, and place by it. But is that old tattered flag of protection, tarnished and torn as it is already, to be kept hoisted still in the counties for the benefit of politicians; or will you come forward honestly and fairly to inquire into this question?

I can not believe that the gentry of England will be made mere drum­heads to be sounded upon by a prime minister to give forth unmeaning and empty sounds, and to have no articulate voice of their own. No! You are the gentry of England who represent the counties. You are the aristocracy of England. Your fathers led our fathers; you may lead us if you will go the right way. But, although you have retained your in­fluence with this country longer than any other aristocracy, it has not been by opposing popular opinion, or by setting yourselves against the spirit of the age.

In other days, when the battle and the hunting-fields were the tests of manly vigor, your fathers were first and foremost there. The aris­tocracy of England were not like the noblesse of France, the mere minions of a court; nor were they like the hidalgos of Madrid, who dwindled into pigmies. You have been Englishmen. You have not shown a want of courage and firmness when any call has been made upon you. This is a new era. It is the age of improvement; it is the age of social advancement, not the age for war or for feudal sports. You live in a mercantile age, when the whole wealth of the world is poured into your lap. You can not have the advantages of commercial rents and feudal privileges; but you may be what you always have been, if you will identify yourselves with the spirit of the age. The English people look to the gentry and aristocracy of their country as their leaders. I, who am not one of you, have no hesitation in telling you that there is a deep-rooted, an hereditary prejudice, if I may so call it, in your favor in this country. But you never got it, and you will not keep it, by obstructing the spirit of the age. If you are indifferent to enlightened means of finding employment for your own peasantry; if you are found obstructing that advance which is calculated to knit nations more together in the bonds of peace by means of commercial intercourse; if you are found fighting against the discoveries which have almost given breath and life to material nature, and setting up yourselves as obstruc­tives of that which destiny has decreed shall go on,—why, then, you will be the gentry of England no longer, and others will be found to take your place.

And I have no hesitation in saying that you stand just now in a very critical position. There is a wide-spread suspicion that you have been tampering with the best feelings and with the honest confidence of your constituents in this cause. Everywhere you are doubted and suspected. Read your own organs, and you will see that this is the case. Well, then, this is the time to show that you are not the mere party politicians which you are said to be. I have said that we shall be opposed in this measure by politicians; they do not want inquiry. But I ask you to go into this committee with me. I will give you a majority of county members. You shall have a majority of the Central Society in that committee. I ask you only to go into a fair inquiry as to the causes of the distress of your own population. I only ask that this matter may be fairly examined. Whether you establish my principle or yours, good will come out of the inquiry; and I do, therefore, beg and entreat the honorable independent country gentlemen of this House that they will not refuse, on this occasion, to go into a fair, a full, and an impartial inquiry.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Thomas Babington Macaulay: On The Reform Bill

Lord Macaulay [1800-1859], historian and poet, was also active in affairs of state, administrative as well as legislative. Following is part of an address he delivered in the House of Commons on March 1, 1831.

My honorable friend, the member for the University of Oxford [Sir Robert Inglis] tells us that if we pass this law [extension of suffrage] England will soon be a republic. The reformed House of Commons will, according to him, before it has sat ten years, depose the king and expel the lords from their House. Sir, if my honorable friend could prove this, he would have succeeded in bringing an argument for democracy infinitely stronger than any that is to be found in the works of Paine. My honorable friend’s proposition is in fact this: that our monarchical and aristocratical institutions have no hold on the public mind of England; that these institutions are regarded with aversion by a decided majority of the middle class. This, sir, I say, is plainly deducible from his proposition; for he tells us that the representatives of the middle class will inevitably abolish royalty and nobility within ten years; and there is surely no reason to think that the representatives of the middle class will be more inclined to a democratic revolution than their constituents. Now, sir, if I were con­vinced that the great body of the middle class in England look with aver­sion on monarchy and aristocracy, I should be forced, much against my will, to come to this conclusion that monarchical and aristocratical insti­tutions are unsuited to my country. Monarchy and aristocracy, valuable and useful as I think them, are still valuable and useful as means and not as ends. The end of government is the happiness of the people, and I do not conceive that, in a country like this, the happiness of the people can be promoted by a form of government in which the middle classes place no confidence, and which exists only because the middle classes have no organ by which to make their sentiments known. But, sir, I am fully convinced that the middle classes sincerely wish to uphold the royal prerogatives and the constitutional rights of the peers.

The question of parliamentary reform is still behind. But signs, of which it is impossible to misconceive the import, do most clearly indicate that, unless that question also be speedily settled, property, and order, and all the institutions of this great monarchy, will be exposed to fearful peril. Is it possible that gentlemen long versed in high political affairs can not read these signs? Is it possible that they can really believe that the representa­tive system of England, such as it now is, will last till the year i860? If not, for what would they have us wait? Would they have us wait merely that we may show to all the world how little we have profited by our own recent experience?

Would they have us wait, that we may once again hit the exact point where we can neither refuse with authority nor concede with grace? Would they have us wait, that the numbers of the discontented party may become larger, its demands higher, its feelings more acrimonious, its organization more complete? Would they have us wait till the whole tragicomedy of 1827 has been acted over again; till they have been brought into office by a cry of “No Reform,” to be reformers, as they were once before brought into office by a cry of “No Popery,” to be emancipators? Have they obliterated from their minds—gladly, perhaps, would some among them obliterate from their minds—the transactions of that year? And have they forgotten all the transactions of the succeeding year? Have they forgotten how the spirit of liberty in Ireland, debarred from its nat­ural outlet, found a vent by forbidden passages? Have they forgotten how we were forced to indulge the Catholics in all the license of rebels, merely because we chose to withhold from them the liberties of subjects? Do they wait for associations more formidable than that of the Corn Ex­change, for contributions larger than the Rent, for agitators more violent than those who, three years ago, divided with the king and the Parliament the sovereignty of Ireland? Do they wait for that last and most dreadful paroxysm of popular rage, for that last and most cruel test of military fidelity?

Let them wait, if their past experience shall induce them to think that any high honor or any exquisite pleasure is to be obtained by a policy like this. Let them wait, if this strange and fearful infatuation be indeed upon them, that they should not see with their eyes, or hear with their ears, or understand with their heart. But let us know our interest and our duty better. Turn where we may, within, around, the voice of great events is proclaiming to us: Reform, that you may preserve. Now, therefore, while everything at home and abroad forebodes ruin to those who persist in a hopeless struggle against the spirit of the age; now, while the crash of the proudest throne of the continent is still resounding in our ears; now, while the roof of a British palace affords an ignominious shelter to the exiled heir of forty kings; now, while we see on every side ancient institutions subverted, and great societies dissolved; now, while the heart of England is still sound; now, while old feelings and old associations retain a power and a charm which may too soon pass away; now, in this your accepted time, now, in this your day of salvation, take counsel, not of prejudice, not of party spirit, not of the ignominious pride of a fatal consistency, but of history, of reason, of the ages which are past, of the signs of this most portentous time.

Pronounce in a manner worthy of the expectation with which this great debate has been anticipated, and of the long remembrance which it will leave behind. Renew the youth of the State. Save property, divided against itself. Save the multitude, endangered by its own ungovernable passions. Save the aristocracy, endangered by its own unpopular power. Save the greatest, and fairest, and most highly civilized community that ever ex­isted, from calamities which may in a few days sweep away all the rich heritage of so many ages of wisdom and glory. The danger is terrible. The time is short. If this bill should be rejected, I pray to God that none of those who concur in rejecting it may ever remember their votes with un­availing remorse, amid the wreck of laws, the confusion of ranks, the spoliation of property, and the dissolution of social order.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

George Canning: The Fall Of Napoleon

The fame of George Canning [1770-1827], statesman and orator, is based mainly on the liberal policies he pursued as head of the Foreign Office. He supported non-intervention and national and liberal movements in Europe. He recognized on behalf of his country the independence of the republics of South America, and thus paved the way for the estab­lishment of the Monroe Doctrine as an international principle. In a speech at Liverpool in 1814, parts of which follow, Canning expresses the feelings of the British people at the victory over Napoleon.

Can any man now look back upon the trial which we have gone through, and maintain that, at any period during the last twenty years, the plan of insulated policy could have been adopted, without having in the event, at this day, prostrated England at the foot of a conqueror? Great, indeed, has been the call upon our exertions; great, indeed, has been the drain upon our resources; long and wearisome has the struggle been; and late is the moment at which peace is brought within our reach. But even though the difficulties of the contest may have been enhanced, and its duration protracted by it, yet is there any man who seriously doubts whether the having associated our destinies with the destinies of other nations be or be not that which, under the blessing of Providence, has eventually secured the safety of all?

It is at the moment when such a trial has come to its issue, that it is fair to ask of those who have suffered under the pressure of protracted exer­tion (and of whom rather than of those who are assembled around me— for by whom have such privations been felt more sensibly?)—it is now, I say, the time to ask whether, at any former period of the contest, such a peace could have been made as would at once have guarded the national interests and corresponded with the national character. I address myself now to such persons only as think the character of a nation an essential part of its strength, and consequently of its safety. But if, among persons of that description, there be one who, with all his zeal for the glory of his country, has yet at times been willing to abandon the contest in mere weariness and despair, of such a man I would ask, whether he can indicate the period at which he now wishes such an abandonment had been con­sented to by the Government of Great Britain.

Is there any man that has a heart in his bosom who does not find, in the contemplation of this contrast alone, a recompense for the struggles and the sufferings of years?

But, gentlemen, the doing right is not only the most honorable course of action—it is also the most profitable in its results. At any former period of the war, the independence of almost all the other countries, our allies, would have to be purchased with sacrifices profusely poured out from the lap of British victory. Not a throne to be reestablished, not a province to be evacuated, not a garrison to be withdrawn, but this country would have had to make compensation out of her conquests for the concessions ob­tained from the enemy. Now, happily, this work is already done, either by our efforts or to our hands. The peninsula free—the lawful commonwealth of European states already, in a great measure, restored, Great Britain may now appear in the congress of the world, rich in conquests, nobly and rightfully won, with little claim upon her faith or her justice, whatever may be the spontaneous impulse of her generosity or her moderation.

Such, gentlemen, is the situation and prospect of affairs at the moment at which I have the honor to address you. That you, gentlemen, may have your full share in the prosperity of your country is my sincere and earnest wish. The courage with which you bore up in adverse circumstances eminently entitles you to this reward.