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Right HONOURABLE LORD JOHN RUSSELL.
You were the first statesman who, as leader of a great party in the British Legislature, pronounced that “Protection has not been the support, but the bane of Agriculture.” Those who had, up to then, 1845, laboured to prove that truth, were filled with hope, which soon became a national joy, when they heard these words.
This Volume comprises a selection of Letters and Essays, written by me, and addressed to the demerits of Protection, from 1842 to 1847, inclusive. The two succeeding Volumes are a BIOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF FREE TRADE AND THE League. They embrace Memoirs of Persons identified with the rise and progress of commerce and constitutional liberty, from earliest English History, to 1850.
In looking around, in 1846, when I first announced this work, to inquire which of her Majesty's subjects had a name, that, in a dedication, would do such a book the greatest honour, the history of two centuries, and the legislation, expansive of constitutional liberty in my own time; (without which an Anti-Corn-Law League could not have existed) answered—RUSSELL.
Your Lordship’s obedient servant,
- ONE WHO HAS WHISTLED AT THE PLOUGH.”
In the early years of the Anti-Corn-Law League, free trade was viewed, alike by its advocates and opponents, as a question with manufactures and commerce on one side and agriculture on the other. But having been bred to agricultural employment, and accustomed to think though not to write much; having travelled some, and been observant in travelling, I was strongly impressed with a belief that, of all the interests to be promoted by free trade the agricultural interest would be most benefited, and of all persons interested in agriculture, living on or living by the land, the landowners were the parties who had most to gain. My reasons for so thinking will be found in various forms and places throughout this work. I saw and admired the sight of gigantic Manchester lifting up its head and crying, “ No monopoly !” and I believed in the faith of that giant, that it, and those who were leagued with it, would some day overcome the mistaken monopolists, and compel them to yield. Yet low far distant did that time seem ; what unknown and unlooked-for elements of national unhappiness might be engendered in compelling the agriculturists to surrender their unserviceable, yet dearly cherished protection ! Nobody in this country has so large a stake in peace and order as the commercial classes, the owners of money and machinery. Nobody is more sensible of that than themselves. Nothing was more remote from their designs than the use of unconstitutional means to compel the agriculturists to yield. But how hopeless seemed the task of convincing two-thirds of the House of Commons, four-fifths of the House of Lords, and all the agricultural constituencies, that it was just to the other classes of the nation that they should yield, should submit to receive lower incomes and live at less expense. Yet so far as I had listened to anti-corn-law speeches or had read them, the advocates of free trade looked for success by these means, and these only. I speak of the time previous to 18+2.
Wherefore, believing that tie agriculturists would be gain
ers by the surrender of their monopoly, I at last thought it might do good, and could do no harm, to give my opinions and the reasons for holding them to the public. But how was I, unknown as a writer, to get into print; or if into print, to get readers, to say nothing of believers? I tried, sent an article to an evening paper which was understood to be the London organ of the free traders, and waited a few days with some anxiety to see it published. It was not published. I then sent a note to the editor, calling his attention to it, and requesting that, if he did not intend to use it, to leave it out for ine at the office, and I would call for it. I did call, and was told that it had been “thrown on the fire with other rubbish of the same kind.”
This answer, coming from the paper which was generally understood then to be (which I now know to have then been) the paid organ of the League, led me to believe that there was no hope that such anti-corn-law opinions as mine could or would be admitted in support of corn-law repeal.
However, I tried again; re-wrote something of the same kind, and sent it to another paper. It was not inserted. The reason given was, that the publication of such opinions would do more harm than good to the cause of corn-law abolition; that they would only be ridiculed, for they were in fact ridiculous. And the editor added, that he regretted to say this of an article which “otherwise displayed a knowledge of the corn-law question and evinced some talent.”
This last was rather more soothing than to have ones “rubbish” thrown into the fire. It was some small encouragement to try again;yet how to try again, when everybody seemed to think it “ ridiculous” to advocate the abolition of protection to agriculture for the benefit of the land and the landowners, I did not so clearly see. I pondered on the subject for several weeks, and examined it on every side, to see if I was not labouring under some hallucination. No; the more calculations made ; the more recollections of agriculture gathered from previous observation; the more reflection given to the capacity of the soil of England to produce and the capacity of the people of England to consume, the firmer was my conviction that free trade and large trade would be beneficial to the owners and cultivators of the English soil more than to any other classes or interests whatsoever. And though I did