Page images

these steps: the first would give us cheaper food; the next would give the foreign manufacturer dearer food ; the next would create customers for those who now have none; the next would create, or increase if it already existed, an agricultural interest abroad, which would act as a counterbalance to the preponderance of their manufacturing interest, saying to them, “We want to sell our corn; the English are very good customers of ours; and we will not have these very high duties imposed on them.” If we exchange our clothing for food, which, after all, was the great interchange between different commodities and different countries, one which never could end or be limited in amount, both being necessaries of life, millions of people might exist in countries where they do not and could not now exist; even millions might exist in this country, that never could have existence under the present system. Supposing we doubled our population, or had another twelve millions to feed, who should consume not one quarter of English wheat, but entirely foreign corn, what would be our condition? First, that double population would consume double the quantity of butcher's meat, of milk, butter, potatoes, &c.; there would be double the quantity of occupation land wanted—(hear); and thus the value of land, instead of declining, would actually advance; so that there was no fear for the landowners, except in their continuing the present impolitic laws. We should have half the amount of taxation, with a double population; and with that reduced taxation, there would be double the demand for all English agricultural produce (save corn), which the agriculturist would ever have the monopoly of, or nearly so. If such circumstances would give us a prosperous condition, every approach to it would put us in a more prosperous state. He thought, therefore, we should not alarm the landed interest more than necessary; for, after all, it was more important to have a return for our goods than even to have cheap food; for if government furnished us with food for nothing, we could not trade with those countries whose produce we would not take. (Hear.) He seconded the amendment, believing that the spirit of Mr Cobden's petition was more likely to excite interest and attention, and to do good, than that prepared by the directors. At the suggestion of Mr George Sandars, the chairman read both petitions at length, for the better information of gentlemen not present at the former meeting, and that both might be fairly before the present meeting. Mr Benjamin Pearson (commission merchant), in reference to Mr Cobden's observations respecting Mr Poulett Thomson, said, that how far that right honourable gentleman

had discharged his duty, he (Mr Pearson) was not prepared to say; he did not appear there as his advocate; but it was right for the public to know, that Mr Thomson saw, as clearly as any man, the difficulty attending our foreign commerce from the operation of the corn laws, and had admitted that he ...} met this difficulty in every attempt to form a commercial treaty with other countries. He had acknowledged that that was the grand obstacle to any satisfactory treaty with Prussia, and he deeply lamented the indifference shewn in this town. Mr Thomson was aware that he had both the cabinet and parliament against him; and he was, to his (Mr Pearson's) knowledge, greatly surprised at the supineness manifested here, saying, “I have never been supported by the people of Manchester.” (Hear.) When the question was put to him, “What is the remedy for this?” —“Such is the state of public feeling, the want of interest experienced, that I have no hope of any repeal of the corn laws, but through a famine.” (Hear.) He (Mr Pearson) thought we were already approaching to a state of very great suffering, which he did not see could be lessened, and feared must go on increasing. Every one must admit how much better it was to concede to justice than to clamour. It was the duty of government and parliament strictly to investigate the subject, and to give what belonged to the people. But how could we expect parliament to take up the subject, if a full and clear statement was not made of the facts by the people of Manchester? Approving as he did of the sentiments of the first petition, he thought that of Mr Cobden much better calculated, under existing circumstances, to make an impression on the legislature, and he had heard it moved and seconded with great pleasure. Thomas Potter, Esq., mayor of Manchester, said that he had been a farmer from the age of sixteen to twenty-eight, at which time there were no protective corn laws in operation; and he had an opportunity of knowing all the farmers within o ten miles of York. They were then a rich and happy ody, the only individuals not prosperous being idle or unskilful men, who mismanaged their land; but, to the best of his knowledge, every industrious farmer, acquainted with his business, was prosperous, and was accumulating money. His father occupied a little farm; but, though a scientific farmer, he never took any active part, and he (Mr Potter) had taken the management of it from the day he left school, at the o of sixteen, and he continued to purchase a hundred head of cattle, and five or six hundred sheep, every year. His father had expended a great deal of money, and had at one time some difficulty to make his way, but he died worth fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds; and when he (Mr Potter) and his brother gave up the farm, they came to Manchester with upwards of seven thousand pounds. The effects of the corn laws had been ably exhibited by his friends Mr Smith and Mr Cobden: these laws were passed by the landed interest, the owners of the soil; but it was evident that the farmers had not profited by them, for, generally speaking, no one would dispute that the farmers were a much poorer race than at the time to which he had referred. It was clear, therefore, that this was a tax raised solely for the benefit of the rich, while it injured the farmer, and was oppressing and starving the poor. Ought such a state of things to exist? He believed that it could not exist long ; it was impossible; and he felt convinced that it was injurious even to the landed interest themselves. Disclaiming all party feeling, and with the best feeling to every gentleman present, he must say, that, looking at the two petitions, he considered the former one as too tame, and should certainly support that prepared by Mr Cobden, as much more suitable to our circumstances. Mr G. Sandars could not allow that opportunity to pass without saying a few words. He regretted to see their want of unanimity. An unanimous petition from that chamber would have great weight with government. The difference, however, was so slight, that he hoped it would be got over, resolving itself as it did merely into a question of time. They all advocated a repeal of the present corn laws, but some of them, and he was among the number, were for substituting in the meantime a fixed duty, to be gradually reduced, while others would not consent to any. He had been represented as a friend of monopoly, and as advocating the cause of the agriculturists. He would have spoken on behalf of their interest as he would have done for any interest which he conceived to be threatened with injustice. The absolute and immediate repeal of the corn laws would cut down the landed interest to the extent of fifty or sixty per cent. Compensation to the mortgagee and the holders of long leases had been talked of. If they carried out the principle of compensation, they would require to expend a sum larger than the national debt. (Loud laughter.) He knew that there were many here who would not agree with him, but these were his ideas, and he would not shrink from expressing them. He thought that in the first place the duty should be 15s. per quarter, to be reduced 1s. per annum till it reached 10s. ; and afterwards, if it should be found safe, to go on reducing till it came to 5s. per quarter fixed duty; and ultimately it might be abolished altogether, if it were to appear consistent with the interest of the country. A great deal had been said about the loss of our foreign trade, as a consequence of our refusal to take corn in exchange for their manufactures. He believed there was a great deal of delusion on that point. The price of corn had been of late years as high in America as it had been here— (cries of Oh! oh! president, order)—and it was well known that they had actually been importing it to a considerable extent. He thought there was a great fallacy in the nation about the benefit of cheap bread. (Laughter.) If, as had been said, three loaves instead of two, would be got for 2s. in consequence of a repeal of the corn laws, another consequence would be, that the workman's 2s. would be reduced to 1s. 4d., which would leave matters, in so far as he was concerned, just as they were. As to its effect on trade, it was not corngrowing countries that were our best customers. Poland did not take our goods, while Spain and the West Indies, which were the best customers for our manufactures, had no corn to give us in return for them. The best way would be to endeavour to assimilate prices all over the world, by bringing those in other countries to a level with ours. Our manufacturers would thus be enabled to compete with those of other nations, who would, under these circumstances be inclined, from their superior agricultural advantages, to invest their capital in producing corn. He expressed his regret that they were not unanimous. As a director of the chamber, he had considered it his duty thus to express his sentiments. He would oppose the amendment. (Disapprobation.) Mr Alderman Cobden wished, through the chair, to ask whether Mr Sandars was really in favour of free trade, or of a system of protection. The chairman said he could permit no gentleman to put a question to another as to his individual opinion. Mr Cobden said he wished to put the question to Mr Sandars as a director of that chamber. In that capacity he had given expression to certain opinions; and had, both on a former, and on this occasion, to some extent, identified himself with the board of directors. He thought it vitally important that the members should know what were the principles entertained by the board on so important a question as that of free trade. A petition had been presented from the chamber nearly twenty years ago, embodying, to the fullest extent the avowal of the principles of free trade; and he therefore wished to know whether Mr Sandars merely spoke for himself, or as uttering the sentiments of the board of directors. Mr Sandars said he spoke only for himself.

Mr Cobden wished to know whether the prayer, added to last week's petition, was really, what he believed it to be, for a trade totally free, and deprecating all protection, or a prayer for the repeal of these corn laws, leaving the subject to be debated, whether there should be hereafter a protective duty of 15s., 10s., or 58. per quarter. It was of the strictest importance that the matter should be disentangled from any doubt, and made so precise and clear, that no one could misunderstand it. He took the amended prayer of the petition to be an avowal of the doctrine of free trade, those who advocated which could not advocate a protective duty of any kind. (Hear:)

Mr Sandars explained he was a friend of free trade, but not of a sudden transition from entire prohibition to entire free trade; the difference, as he had said, was merely one of time, and the opinion as to not going below 5s. duty was merely his own individual opinion.

The chairman was not aware that any individual had assumed to himself the right to speak for the general body of directors, and the extent to which unanimity had been claimed for them was, that, out of the twenty-three directors, exclusive of the president, twenty-one signed the requisition; of the two whose names did not appear, one gentleman had been from home during the whole time. He understood, though not present at the deliberation of the board, that again they did the day before this meeting agree unanimously[Mr J. B. Smith-No.--at least nem. con. to recommend the alteration for adoption.-[Mr Smith-No.]–He thought it due to his own character, and the high station he held as president of the chamber, not to permit his word thus to be questioned before the chamber: if he said anything erroneous, he would beg their pardon; but intending throughout to act, with good faith and open candour, he claimed from them that support which he had never known an assembly of gentlemen withhold from their chairman, when he averred a thing to be correct, and it was called in question. (Applause.) The record of proceedings which had led him to state what had thus been questioned, was :-"Resolved nem. dis. That Mr Wood be required, on the part of the directors, to recommend for the adoption of the general meeting of the chamber the petition already prepared, with the alterations presented by him.”—[The chairman read the names of the directors agreeing to this resolution, including that of Mr Smith.) The directors had been asked what principles they avowed ; his reply was, they avowed the principles set forth in the petition presented by them to the meeting, which, though stigma

« PreviousContinue »