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most probably, declare that that system was the right one; but he could not conclude without expressing his opinion, in the words of Lord Liverpool, that, in spite of any decision they might come to, a restriction on the food of the people could not endure.
sect. x.-DEBATE IN THE MANCHESTER CHAMBER or commeRce, BEGUN DECEMBER 13, 1838.
Who, knowing the history of the next twelve years, can read the foregoing speech without admiration of the great master of political science who delivered it? It deals with a fixed duty instead of an abolition of all duties; but at that time a member of the government was a bold man to use such arguments even for a fixed duty. His private opinion, as we have seen from his memoirs, was in favour of free trade in corn. The debate in the Manchester Chamber of Commerce on the 13th of December, 1838, which is here introduced, particularly the strictures on Mr Thomson, by Mr J. B. Smith and Mr Cobden, (the latter then making his first public appearance on this question,) must be read now with a curious interest. This debate arose amid the agitation of the Manchester Anti-Corn Law Association, of which, as it was the forerunner of the National Anti-Corn Law League, the particulars will be found in a future section. The revised report of the proceedings in the Chamber of Commerce was as follows:— In compliance with a requisition signed by nineteen of the directors of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Manufactures, to George William Wood, Esq., M.P., president of the chamber, a special general meeting of the chamber, at which the attendance of all its members was specially requested, was held on Thursday the 13th of December, “to take into consideration the propriety of petitioning parliament for the repeal of the existing corn laws.” The meeting was very numerously attended, being the largest assemblage of its members since the extraordinary meeting held on the subject of an application from Liverpool for pecuniary assistance from government. Mr George William Wood, M.P., president of the chamber, was called to the chair, and, after reading the requisition and notice convening the meeting, he said he had been requested, as the president, to lay before the meeting, on - i. of the directors, the form of a petition which they had unanimously adopted, as one which in their opinion was suitable to be sent by the chamber for presentation to parliament on this occasion. He had been further desired to explain the views which had actuated the directors in the preparation of that petition; and though any partisanship from that chair would be exceedingly improper, it might be allowable, perhaps desirable on..this occasion, to open the subject on behalf of the directors, since no difference of opinion existed amongst them, and he should therefore have to state nothing but that in which they all concurred. It appeared to him that no time could be more propitious for the consideration of this question than the present, when the country had for some years enjoyed low prices, when the expectations and habits of the farmer were familiar with those low prices, and when rents had already accommodated themselves to this state of things. The chairman then entered at length into a consideration of the nature, operations, and effects of the corn laws of 1815 and 1828, with notices of the nugatory statute of 1822. He quoted passages from Mr Canning's speeches, delivered in 1827, condemnatory of the previous law of 1815, and also referred to Mr Grant's speech explanatory of the designs of the framers of the present law. Its avowed object was to secure stability of price; but to adopt a system which forced us to depend mainly upon the products of our own soil for the food of our people, was surely not the way to promote that stability. To give access to as many markets as were attainable, and of as varied a character as possible, appeared to him the most likely way to attain stability of price. This could only arise from the adoption of the principle of commercial freedom— by putting the trade in corn upon the same footing as that which regulated all the other great branches of our commerce, and under which they had long flourished. The farming capital of this country, by the great vicissitudes of price (occasioned by the act of 1815,) succeeded by extreme low prices, twelve or fifteen years ago might be said to have been wholly annihilated, and it was not until lately that the farmers had recovered from that shock. Such a visitation upon any great interest could not but be productive of national mischief. On the other hand, the effect which must be produced by high prices on the condition of the working classes of the whole country was fearful to contemplate. Those who remembered the periods of scarcity thirty years ago, from successive seasons of lamentably bad harvests, the enormous prices to which wheat rose, and the sufferings which the people endured in consequence, must shrink from anything that could tend to bring about a return to such a condition. But the effects of this kind of legislative interference were not confined to what happened at home. It produced a most injurious effect on our foreign relations. We could not expect foreign states to value or seek to cultivate a trade with us in corn, when the demand for it was so uncertain, and so liable to be stopped as suddenly as it arose. To set them an example for adoption, which was, in fact, prohibitive, if not in perpetuity, at least for a long period of time, was to encourage them to follow a similar course with respect to those manufactures, on the export of which so much of the prosperity of this country depends. (Hear.) The merchants and manufacturers of this town were suffering at this moment from the German league; which was a system similar in kind, though not equal in degree, to that by which our importation of corn was governed. They sought to protect, by high duties, their home manufactures in the way we seek to protect by high duties our growth of corn at home. The manufactures of the United States had their origin in similar restrictions. In consequence of our engaging in war with America, she was thrown upon her own resources; manufactures were established; they received legislative protection; then came high duties; and the manufacturing interest of America had reached the high pitch it had now attained, in consequence of the hostilities between the two countries. On one occasion a proposition was made by the president of the United States to abandon their system of prohibitive duties, and to adopt one of moderate duties (having reference only to finance, and not to the protection of manufactures), provided we would adopt a similar course with respect to grain. We refused, and adhered to our prohibition with respect to American flour; and America maintained her position with respect to our manufactures. (Hear, hear.) It would not be just to conclude his observations, without a brief reference to the arguments used by the advocates for the present system of the corn laws. We were told by them, that it would be dangerous to trust to foreign countries for a supply of food. But to a certain degree we did so now; for it was universally admitted, that, taken in the long run, this country does not grow corn enough for the support of its inhabitants, and that in an unfavourable season we must have recourse to other countries to supply our deficiency. Surely we were less likely to be injured than now, by a system, which, instead of leading to an import of a million quarters of foreign corn in one week, should give us a steady, regular, and healthy trade in foreign corn, bringing it in gradually as consumption went on, and which should be to foreign states that kind of demand for their produce which
could alone encourage them to value the trade, and provide for the supply. A regular trade in foreign corn would be a greater security against the danger of foreign commerce than the present system. . If we were to adopt and carry out this principle of prohibition—if there were to be no dependence of one state upon another for the supply of national wants— if we should be driven to live upon our own resources in all things, international commerce could not exist, and one nation must ever be a stranger to another. By adopting the opposite system of free intercourse, we should indeed create a dependence, but that dependence was mutual; and he apprehended that it was according to the intention of a gracious Providence that this state of things should exist. So far from its leading to hostilities and war, it was the surest guarantee for peace. (Hear, and cheers.) . This dependence was not onesided ; for if we depend on other nations for corn, they had to depend on us for what, to them, was more valuable than corn. It was thus that international commerce fructified, not only in the country into which, but in that also from which, it flowed. It was said again, that the repeal of the corn law would be injurious to agriculture. He was one of the last men to wish to see a great national interest suffer, or to be less prosperous than any other interest in the country: but the assertion proved too much, if anything; for, if the prosperity of agriculture had to depend upon such a state of things as he had described, (including prohibition and all its consequences, as a high price of bread to our labouring poor), then he would say, that a somewhat lower state of prosperity to agriculture would be a less evil than such a state f things flowing from its highest prosperity. But he did not believe, that a scale even of low prices, provided they were steady, could be injurious to the farmers of this country. (Hear.) What affected them was great vicissitude in price; and they would have a better assurance of being free from such casualties when corn was cheap, than when subjected to such vicissitudes as had
revailed during the period from 1815 to the present time. }. taxation was another ground alleged by the landed interest why protection should exist. On §. subject it was satisfactory to know, that, during the last few years, much had been done for the relief of the land from its exclusive burdens. [The honourable chairman adverted to the new
oor law, as a great relief and permanent advantage to the anded interest; to the permanent commutation of tithes act, converting tithe into a fixed land tax, and exempting from this tax all future capital expended upon the land; and to the transference of a considerable portion of the county rates to the national expenditure.] On these grounds, therefore, though some things remained which might be considered as pressing upon the land, the landed interest had received a great relief, from the sense of justice entertained by the country and by parliament; and this ground of the argument for high prices, therefore, could not be urged with justice to anything like the extent it might have been some years ago. With respect to its operation, he knew not whether the sentiment he was about to express would be concurred in by all who heard him; but he did think, that in whatever degree it could be satisfactorily shewn that the land had been subject to exclusive taxation, from which the other interests of the country were exempt, and that those other interests had no other exclusive taxation to countervail those charges— to that extent, as an additional charge upon the growth of corn at home, that interest might fairly be considered entitled to protection to the amount of that charge. (Hear.) That, he thought, was was all they could ask; it was all, he was sure, which the country ought to allow them. He had thus endeavoured to explain his views on this important question, and he believed he had spoken in accordance with the views of his fellow-directors. He would conclude by presenting the draft of the petition which had been prepared by the directors in the manner he had described. (Applause.) Mr Samuel Fletcher, (a county magistrate) in moving the first resolution, said, he did not approach the subject as a question at all bearing upon party politics, nor with the design of placing in invidious contrast the agricultural and trading interests of the country, for the purpose of advancing the one at the expense of the other. He considered them so closely identified that they must rise and fall together, and on this ground he questioned the policy of any partial legislation. If they required protection, let it apply equally to the commerce and the agriculture of this country. He questioned, however, if the interests of both, and of the country, would not be best advanced by leaving them to take care of themselves, freed from all legislative interference. (Hear.) It was considered on all hands, that the principle of the corn laws was so bad, that they had failed to afford the farmer the protection he sought from them, while they had placed the importer of foreign corn in a position exposed to all the temptations and hazards of gambling speculation. . The idea of rendering our country independent of others for a supply of food, was nothing more or less than a new edition of the old fable of the belly and the members. He disliked the term independence, whether applied to individuals, countries, or nations; for it had