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Arguments against the Corn Laws

We want to bring the landowner and the tenant together, to confront them in their separate capacity as buyers and sellers; so that they might deal together as other men of business, and not allow themselves to play this comedy of farmers and landlords crying about for protection, and saying that they are rowing in the same boat; when, in fact, they are rowing in two boats, and in opposite directions

But let me not be misunderstood. I do not say that on other questions the small squire and tenant farmer should be separated. I do not say that the landlords and the farmers should not go to the same church together, and meet in the same market. But when the tenant-farmers meet to talk on the subject of Free Trade, they should meet together alone, and should exclude every landlord from their council.

The tenant farmers in this matter of protection have a totally distinct interest from the landowners, or small squires, or land-agents; and until they meet in their several localities totally distinct from all other classes, they never will have a chance of arriving at a just appreciation of their own position or their own difficulties.

Cobden, Speeches

We are on the eve of great changes. Put yourselves in a position to be able to help in the work, and so gather honour and fame where they are to be gained. You belong to the aristocracy of the human kind - not the privileged aristocracy - I don't mean that, but the aristocracy of improvement and civilisation. We have set an example to the world in all ages; we have given them the representative system. The very rules and regulations of this House have been taken as the model for every representative assembly throughout the whole civilised world; and having besides given them the example of a free press and civil and religious freedom, we are now about giving a still greater example; we are going to set the example of making industry free - to set the example of giving the whole world every advantage of clime, and latitude, and situation, relying ourselves on the freedom of our industry. Yes, we are going to teach the world that other lesson. Don't think there is anything selfish in this, or anything at all discordant with Christian principles. I can prove that we advocate nothing but what is agreeable to the highest behests of Christianity. To buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest. What is the meaning of the maxim? It means that you take the article which you have in the greatest abundance, and with it obtain from others that of which they have the most to spare; so giving to mankind means of enjoying the fullest abundance of earth's goods, and in doing so carrying out to the fullest extent the Christian doctrine of "Doing to all men as ye would they should do unto you".

Cobden, Speeches

In the first place, we want free trade in corn, because we think it just; we ask for the abolition of all restriction upon that article, exclusively, simply because we believe that, if we obtain that, we shall get rid of all other monopolies without any trouble. We do not seek free trade in corn primarily for the purpose of purchasing it at a cheaper money rate; we require it at the natural price of the world's market, whether it becomes dearer with a free trade - as wool seems to be getting up now, after the abolition of the 1d. a pound - or whether it is cheaper, it matters not to us, provided the people of this country have it at its natural price, and every source of supply is freely opened, as nature and nature's God intended it to be; - then, and only then shall we be satisfied. If they come to motives, we state that we do not believe that free trade in corn will injure the farmer; we are convinced that it will benefit the tenant-farmer as much as any trader or manufacturer in the community. Neither do we believe it will injure the farm-labourer; we think it will enlarge the market for his labour, and give him an opportunity of finding employment, not only on the soil by the improvements which agriculturists must adopt, but that there will also be a general rise in wages from the increased demand for employment in the neighbouring towns, which will give young peasants an opportunity of choosing between the labour of the field and that of the towns. We do not expect that it will injure the land-owner, provided he looks merely to his pecuniary interest in the matter; we have no doubt it will interfere with his political despotism - that political union which now exists in the House of Commons, and to a certain extent also, though terribly shattered, in the counties of this country. We believe it might interfere with that; and that with free trade in corn men must look for political power rather by honest means - to the intelligence and love of their fellow-countrymen - that by the aid of this monopoly, which binds some men together by depressing and injuring their fellow-citizens. We are satisfied that those landowners who choose to adopt the improvement of their estates, and surrender mere political power by granting long leases to the farmers - who are content to eschew some of their feudal privileges connected with vert and venison - I mean the feudal privileges of the chase - if they will increase the productiveness of their estates - if they chose to attend to their own business - then, I say, free trade in corn does not necessarily involve pecuniary injury to the landlords themselves.

Cobden, Speeches

They call us 'political economists' and 'hard-hearted utilitarians': I say the political economists are the most charitable people in this country; the Free Traders are the most liberal to the poor of this land. I call upon them, if they will have it that the people are to live on charity, at all events, to give us a guarantee that they shall not starve, by really conferring that charity which they propose to bestow upon them. Ay, it is a very convenient thing for them to try and give a bad name to a sort of police who are looking after their proceedings. We avow ourselves to be political economists; and we are so on this ground, that we will not trust our fellow-creatures to the eleemosynary support of any class of the community, because we believe that if we do, we shall leave them in a very hopeless condition indeed. We say, let the Government of the country be conducted on such a principle, that men shall be enabled, by the labour of their own hands, to find an independent subsistence by their wages

Cobden, Speeches

Protection is a very convenient vehicle for politicians; the cry of 'protection' won the last election; and politicians looked to secure honours, emoluments, places by it; but you, the gentry of England, are not sent up for such objects. Is, then, that old, tattered and torn flag to be kept up for the politicians, or will you come forward and declare that you are ready to inquire into the state of the agricultural interests? I cannot think that the gentlemen of England can be content to be made mere drum-heads, to be sounded by the Prime Minister of England - to be made to emit notes, but to have no articulate sounds of their own. You, gentlemen of England, the high aristocracy of England, your forefathers led my forefathers; you may lead us again if you choose; but though - longer than any other aristocracy - you have kept your power, while the battle-field and the hunting field were the tests of manly vigour, you have not done as the noblesse of France or the hidalgos of Madrid have done; you have been Englishmen, not wanting in courage on any call. But this is a new age; the age of social advancement, not of feudal sports; you belong to a mercantile age; you cannot have the advantage of commercial rents and retain your feudal privileges too. If you identify yourselves with the spirit of the age, you may yet do well; for I tell you that the people of this country look to their aristocracy with a deep-rooted prejudice - an hereditary prejudice, I may call it - in their favour; but your power was never got, and you will not keep it, by obstructing the spirit which is calculated to knit nations more closely together by commercial intercourse; if you give nothing but opposition to schemes which almost give life and breath to inanimate nature, and which it has been decreed shall go on, then you are no longer a national body.

How can protection, think you, add to the wealth of a country? Can you by legislation add one farthing to the wealth of the country? You may, by legislation, in one evening, destroy the fruits and accumulations of a century of labour; but I defy you to show me how, by the legislation of this House, you can add one farthing to the wealth of the country. You guide that intelligence; you cannot do better than leave it to its own instincts. If you attempt by legislation to give any direction to trade or industry, it is a thousand to one that you are doing wrong; and if you happen to be right, it is a work of supererogation, for the parties for whom you legislate would go right without you, and better than with you.

Cobden, Speeches

Now, what is the mode in which these gentlemen go to work to benefit the agricultural labourers? They call them together for a ploughing match, then they bring them into the room and give them a glass of wine, and they give a reward of thirty shillings to one man who has ploughed best! Then they inquire who has served for twenty-five years in the same place, and, perhaps, they condescend to give him thirty shillings as a reward for good conduct. Then the farmers - the farmers who sit at the table - have their names read over, and prizes are awarded: to one for successfully cultivating turnips, to another for having produced a good fat ox, and to another for having accumulated the greatest quantity of lard a pig. And this is the way in which agriculture is to be improved! What should you think if a similar plan was adopted to assist you in your business? Let us suppose that a number of monopolists came down once a year, and then it is only about two hours and a half long - that they held a meeting, in which they would have a spinning match and weaving match. And after they had been into some prize mill to see this spinning and weaving match, they sat down to dinner; and Job Hargreaves or Frank Smith is brought in, stroking his head down all the while as he comes before the squirearchy, and making his very best bow, to receive from the chairman thirty shillings as a reward for having been the best spinner and the best weaver! And, this being disposed of, imagine such a manufacturer getting a prize of five pounds for the best piece of fustian! And another 'ditto', 'ditto', for the best yard-wide calico! Then imagine a shopkeeper rising from his seat to the table while the chairman puts on a grave face, and addressing him in complimentary terms, presents him with five pounds for having kept during the past year his shop-floor and his counters in the cleanest state! Then they call up a manufacturer, and he has an award of five pounds, because the inspectors had found his mill to be in the best working condition. Then the merchant rises up, and gets his reward of five pounds for having been found by the inspectors to have kept his books in the best order by double entry.

You laugh at all this, and well you may; you cannot help it. Where is the difference between the absurdity, the mockery of bringing up men in round frocks to a dinner-table and giving them thirty shilling, because they had ploughed well, or hoed well, or harrowed well - bringing up farmers to give them prizes for having the cleanest field of Swedish turnips, or for having managed their farm in the best way? Where is the difference, I ask, between offering these rewards and giving out here of such rewards as I have just now alluded to? Let us suppose, if you can keep your countenances, that such a state of things existed here. Now what must be the concomitant order of things? It would argue, in the first place, that the prizemen who were so treated were an abject and servile class. It would argue that the trader who could condescend to be treated so would himself be little better than a slave. And if you needed such stimulants as these to make you carry on your business as you ought to do, where do you think you would be found in the race of industry as compared with other classes? Where would you be if you were so childish as to be fondled and dandled by a body of Members of Parliament? Why, there would not be a country on the face of the world that you could compete with - that is evident. You would like them, be going to these same Parliamentary men, begging them to be your dry nurses, in order that they might pass an Act of Parliament to protect you in your trade.

Cobden, Speeches.

The Corn Law is the keystone of all the monopolies that afflict this country, and when once it shall have been knocked down, it will need no help from you or from us to bring down the whole structure.

Cobden, Speeches

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