Page images

upon the material of leather, as coach and harness makers, saddlers, boot and shoe makers, in which trades there were a

eat number employed, especially in the rural districts. The landlord had secured a heavy duty upon foreign green hides, and a heavy duty on foreign bark, both for his own protection; and it was therefore necessary that there should be a duty upon manufactured leather, so long as the duties securing the landlords' monopoly price for the raw material are continued. We could judge for ourselves; but we had no business to go all over the country, and say that every protective duty on every manufacture ought to be removed, in order to obtain the removal of the injurious monopoly in corn. He must protest against the principle of giving anything for the removal of this crying injustice, and contend that we ought to demand its removal as a simple unqualified right. If we did not make this demand in language not to be misunderstood, we might seek in vain to obtain our object; we should have a demand for a high duty set up, and this would be acceded to by many of those ordinarily called “liberals” and “friends of the people,” one of the most eminent of whom had actually proposed a duty of 10s. a quarter, gradually to be reduced; which, in fact, was to submit to robbery to the extent of L.25,000,000 a year, for the estimated consumption of corn in this country was 50,000,000 of quarters. Were we to begin by taking off a small fragment of the mischief, and wait ten years for its total removal, while in the meantime our people might die of starvation? To concede anything in the way of a duty on corn was to compromise a principle which, he thought, would be no credit to a community so deeply interested in having simple, plain, and unqualified justice—the right to exchange the produce of their industry for cheap food, wherever it could be got. He had some objection even to adopt the phrase of a late eloquent statesman (Mr Canning)—one of the most expert makers of good jokes and bad laws that ever disgraced this country—he would, however, take his phrase, “ antagonist principle,” and say. that that principle should not be as Canning put it in parliament, “absolute prohibition on the one hand, and overwhelming supply on the other,” the latter being an absurdity, but it should be put to the whole people as cheap and abundant food on the one hand, and scanty and dear food on the other; scanty, because we are prevented obtaining it from any other than British growth; and dear, for the purpose of keeping up the landlords' rents. It was said that this was not a political party question. He hoped it was not such now; but when he ... back at the majorities in the House of Commons repeatedly recorded in favour of this monopoly, he saw they were chiefly tory majorities. He was willing, in courtesy, to admit that the great majority of the landowners being tories, o account for this, and that it might be, as it undoubtedly is, a landlords' question. And certainly very large landlords of the whig party seemed mysteriously to come about, and ally themselves to the tories, when any question was raised about cheap food for the people. But he hoped and prayed that this was no longer to be made a party question by any set of men. Let it be a British question—a question of humanity, of justice, and one of which it is dangerous to delay the decision—dangerous to submit quietly (nor would the country submit quietly) to its perpetuation. He would move, as a rider to the petition, the following amendment :“That your petitioners submit, that the acts of 1815 and 1822, relating to the importation of corn, and more especially the existing law, of 1828, passed with a full knowledge of the pernicious effects of the former acts, are instances of ignorant and selfish legislation, which stamp with indelible disgrace the parliaments that passed them; and the continuance of this law, fraught as it is with cruel injustice to the industrious consumers, is inconsistent with the duty which all governments owe to the people, of keeping open to them the best and cheapest markets for an abundant supply of food; and this law is alike opposed to the principles of humanity, and to the peace and welfare of the country.” He had not conferred with any gentleman on the subject, or asked any one to second his motion. Mr J. B. Smith having seconded the motion, for the sake of discussion, without pledging himself to the course he might take thereafter, Mr Alderman Cobden” said, in the course he took he had no personal feelings to gratify; on the contrary, his respect for the directors and their president would have inclined him to concur if possible in their recommendation. He could not, however, view this as a personal question; but one of paramount and vital importance to the community around us and to the country at large. He would confess that he felt disappointed that the directors had not come forward with a new petition; it was with that expectation that he had withdrawn his amendment of last Thursday. And it would be in the recollection of those who had attended on the former occasion, that the speakers who advocated an adjourn

* Mr Cobden had been elected Alderman in the new corporation since the previous meeting.

[ocr errors]

ment, did so with an express desire that the petition to be prepared for this day should contain some of those important facts that had been brought in a condensed form before the chamber by Mr Smith and others. (Hear hear.)

Mr Alderman Tootal here interposed on the part of the directors, and reminded Mr Cobden, that Mr Smith had on the last meeting expressed himself willing to accept the petio tion, with the addition of the prayer now added. o

Mr Alderman Cobden continued: Much as he respected Mr Smith, and greatly as he felt himself indebted to him for his labours in the important subject in hand, he could not defer to his opinion on such a point. He reiterated his disappointment, that the directors had not incorporated some of those facts, without which the arguments in the petition would have no more weight, however ingeniously urged, than a thesis drawn up by some tyro in political economy at a university. (Hear, hear.) The reasoning was that which had been given by Adam Smith, and every other political economist since his time; but that reasoning would have no weight in the quarter to which this petition was to apply. The facts brought forward by Mr Smith, as to the progress of manufactures abroad, and those relating to the progress of mechanical establishments abroad, should be referred to ; and if any gentleman present doubted those facts, and doubted the proofs of them in the hosiery produced to the chamber, that was an excellent reason why the chamber should again adjourn; for those facts should either be ascertained or disproved, and, if ascertained, then forced upon the attention of government and the legislature with all the authority which this chamber could give to them. There was another question which had been glanced at, and which was very much misunderstood, which ought to be referred to—he meant the great commercial league in Germany, upon which our national prejudices and pugnacity had been very much invoked, but upon which, those who had the guidance of public opinion had studiously avoided the truth. That great league, so far as regarded its own people, was a benign measure; it was calculated to unite the German famil in one bond by the establishment of a common tariff, and ultimately one common standard of weights and measures, and one system of money. (Hear, hear.) It was a union formed for the first time in the annals of the world, without a political bond. (Hear.) It was not an alliance of princes for their own purposes of aggrandisement, involving the disputes of legitimacy—not a mere parchment treaty of diplomatists, that might be torn in pieces any moment as thousands had been before—but a bond of union, a commercial confederacy,

a partnership entered into between the German people, for the purpose of facilitating their trade; allowing travellers to pass the frontiers into every country from Belgium to Russia, from the Tyrol to the Baltic, without let or hindrance, without being stopped at barriers in the shape of custom houses, in the interior, as was formerly the case, three four times a day. But we were told by those who guide blic opinion, that the German league was formed as a hostile measure towards England, forsooth; that the Prussian cabinet had no other object in it than to annoy and harass us. It was thus that our bristles were set up, and we were sent abroad with our nationality misdirected, to fight against Russians, Prussians, or against any people or principle in the world, so that it only diverted us from the real cause of all our mischiefs—the landlords' corn laws. (Applause.) That German league had for its object the settling of one uniform tariff for the whole country, but that was not to be fixed for a perpetuity. Every three years a congress of the leagued states met together, and arranged the commercial terms of that tariff for the next three years. When travelling lately within the pale of that league, he had made it his business to inquire minutely into its operation; he procured semi-official introductions, with a view of ascertaining the truth; and it was his firm conviction, from what he heard every individual say with whom he conversed, even including the Saxon manufacturer, throughout Prussia, Saxony, Wirtemburg, and Bavaria, that it was in our power at any time to effect a reduction in the duties upon our manufactures. All intelligent men concurred in saying—“Repeal your corn law, and we will remove the duty on your goods.” He would give in his own words the saying of a person of great intelligence in Prussia, upon this subject. “If you will send us,” said he, “a commercial agent, to represent a commercial people, and competent to agree to take in exchange for your manufactures our products, we shall have no difficulty in arranging an extensive trade together; but whilst you send us an agriculturist to represent an agricultural people, we cannot hope to deal with you, for we are agriculturists ourselves.” (Hear, hear.) The extent to which that vast league was operating to our injury might be judged of from the fact, that it comprised 26,000,000 of the most intelligent and the richest people of the continent, containing four monarchies with their capitals, and a score of minor independent sovereignties, each having a nucleus in its capital for the consumption of luxuries and articles of considerable cost in the fabrication ; so that we must see the extent to which we were injured, and to what extent that league was calculated to foster the industry of a state like Saxony, whose manufactures now, instead of being confined to the consumption of two millions and a half of people, had the whole range of a country comprising twentysix millions. This was a most important element in the competition we must now .. from Germany. Those who were now manufacturing in Berlin, Leipsic, or in any other part of the country, would have access to the whole of the markets of Germany. But the league not only stimulated them, but had security to give to them. (Hear, hear.) Hence a feeling of confidence had sprung up ; they had overrun the country with railroads, joint-stock banks were established; and this confidence was so great as even to sustain paper money. All those evidences of security and confidence were mainly the growth of that commercial league, and all that security and confidence would become elements in a powerful competition with ourselves, since we had hitherto, of all nations, alone possessed and enjoyed this confidence and security. The Dresden and Leipsic railroad company had permission to issue 500,000 dollars in paper, one of which notes he held in his hand. These were absorbed and circulated immediately, payable as they were on demand, though (as one of the intelligent directors had told him), five years ago, not one dollar of those notes would have kept ifi circulation. (Hear.) Surely some reference should be made. in our petition, to the great progress making in internal improvements abroad—as ordinary roads, railroads, and those other improvements of which we had hitherto had the monopoly in Europe. We had this no longer; railroads were being constructed in almost every part of the continent, and Belgium was more completely intersected with railroads than any other country in the world. They were now constructing in Prussia a line of railroad to run through the empire; in Saxony they had nearly finished one from Dresden to Leipsic, and that from Magdeburg to Leipsic was in a forward state; so that probably by the end of next year, we should be able to go by steam from Hull direct to Leipsic. This communication gave to the stocking manufacturer of Chemnitz an equality, at least, with our Nottingham manufacturers. Russia, and even Switzerland, were busily engaged in constructing railroads; and this ought to be referred to in the petition, as one reason why we could not afford to be left in our present adverse position in o of food. But one prominent object which we should

ave in view, should be to point out to the government of the country, the impending evils which hang over the working classes in this densely-populated country; and he did not

« PreviousContinue »