What I contend is that England is today so situated in every particular of her domestic and foreign circumstances that, by leaving other governments to settle their own business and fight out their own quarrels, and by attending to the vast and difficult affairs of her own enormous realm, and the condition of her people, she will not only be setting the world an example of noble morality, which no other nation is so happily free to set, but she will be following the very course which the maintenance of her own greatness most imperatively demands. It is precisely because Great Britain is so strong in resources, in courage, in institutions, in geographical position, that she can, before all other European powers, afford to be moral, and to set the example of a mighty nation walking in the paths of justice and peace.--Cobden
Richard Cobden never had any chance in life. He was born in an obscure
hamlet of West Sussex, England, in Eighteen Hundred Four. His father
was a poor farmer, who lost his freehold and died at the top, whipped
out, discouraged, when the lad was ten years old. Richard Cobden
became a porter, a clerk, a traveling salesman, a mill-owner, a member
of parliament, an economist, a humanitarian, a statesman, a reformer.
Up to his thirteenth year he was chiefly interested in the laudable
task of making a living--getting on in the world. During that year,
and seemingly all at once and nothing first, just as bubbles do when
they burst, he beheld the problem of business from the broad vantage-
ground of humanitarianism. But he did not burst, for his dreams were
spun out of life's realities, and today are coming true; in fact, many
of them came true in his own time. Richard Cobden ceased to be
provincial and became universal.
He saw that commerce, instead of being merely a clutch for personal
gain, was the chief factor in civilization. He realized that we are
educated through our efforts to get food and clothing; and therefore
the man who ministers to the material wants of humanity is really the
true priest. The development of every animal has come about through
its love-emotions and its struggle to exist.
A factory in a town changes every person in the town, mentally and
physically. This being true, does not the management of this factory
call for men of heart and soul--broad-minded, generous, firm in the
right? Then every factory is influenced by the laws of the land, and
each country is influenced by the laws of other countries, since most
countries that are engaged in manufacturing find a market abroad.
Cobden set himself to inquire into the causes of discontent and
failure, of progress and prosperity. And not content merely to
philosophize, he carried his theories into his own enterprises.
Many of our modern business betterments seem to have had their rise in
the restless, prophetic brain of Richard Cobden. He of all men sought
to make commerce a science, and business a fine art. The world moves
It is only a few years ago that we in America thought to have in our
President's Cabinet a Secretary of Commerce and Labor.
Listen to what Cobden wrote in Eighteen Hundred Forty-three:
In the close council of every king, or president, or prince, should
be a man of affairs whose life is devoted to commerce and labor, and
the needs and requirements of peace. His work is of far greater
moment than that of men-of-war. Battleships ever form a suggestion
for their use, and as long as we have armies, men will kill, fight
and destroy. Soldiers who do not want to fight are not of this
earth. Prepare for war and war will come. When government gives to
the arts of peace the same thought and attention that it gives to
the arts of war, we will have peace on earth and good-will among
men. But so long as the soldier takes precedence of the businessman
in the political courts of the world, famine, death, disease and
want will crouch at our doors. Commerce is production, war is
destruction. The laws of production and distribution must and will
be made a science; and then and not until then will happiness come
to mankind and this earth serve as a pattern for the paradise of
another life, instead of being a pandemonium.
* * * * *
Emerson defines commerce as carrying things from where they are
plentiful to where they are needed. Business is that field of human
endeavor which undertakes to supply the materials to humanity that
The clergy are our spiritual advisers, preparing us for a pleasant and
easy place in another world. The lawyers advise us on legal themes--
showing us how to obey the law, or else evade it, and they protect us
from lawyers. The doctors look after us when disease attacks our
bodies--or when we think it does.
We used to talk about "The Three Learned Professions"; if we use the
phrase now, it is only in a Pickwickian sense, for we realize that
there are at present fifty-seven varieties of learned men.
The greatest and most important of all the professions is that of
Commerce, or Business. Medicine and law have their specialties--a
dozen each--but business has ten thousand specialties, or divisions.
So important do we now recognize business, or this ministering to the
material wants of humanity, that theology has shifted its ground, and
within a few years has declared that to eat rightly, dress rightly,
and work rightly are the fittest preparation for a life to come.
The best lawyers now are businessmen, and their work is to keep the
commercial craft in a safe channel, where it will not split on the
rocks of litigation nor founder in the shallows of misunderstanding.
Every lawyer will tell you this, "To make money you must satisfy your
The greatest change in business came with the one-price system.
The old idea was for the seller to get as much as he possibly could
for everything he sold. Short weight, short count, and inferiority in
quality were considered quite proper and right, and when you bought a
dressed turkey from a farmer, if you did not discover the stone inside
the turkey when you weighed it and paid for it, there was no redress.
The laugh was on you. And moreover a legal maxim--caveat emptor, "Let
the buyer beware"--made cheating legally safe.
Dealers in clothing guaranteed neither fit nor quality, and anything
you paid for, once wrapped up and in your hands, was yours beyond
recall--"Business is business," was a maxim that covered many sins.
A few hundred years ago business was transacted mostly through fairs
and ships, and by pedlers. Your merchant of that time was a
peripatetic rogue who reduced prevarication to a system.
The booth gradually evolved into a store, with the methods and customs
of the irresponsible keeper intact: the men cheated their neighbors
and chuckled in glee until their neighbors cheated them, which, of
course, they did. Then they cursed each other, began again, and did it
all over. John Quincy Adams tells of a certain deacon who kept a store
near Boston, who always added in the year 1775, at the top of the
column, as seventeen dollars and seventy-five cents.
The amount of misery, grief, disappointment, shame, distress, woe,
suspicion and hate caused by a system which wrapped up one thing when
the buyer expected another, and took advantage of his innocence and
ignorance as to quality and value, can not be computed in figures.
Suffice it to say that duplicity in trade has had to go. The self-
preservation of the race demanded honesty, square dealing, one price
to all. The change came only after a struggle, and we are not quite
sure of the one-price deal yet.
But we have gotten thus far: that the man who cheats in trade is tabu.
Honesty as a business asset is fully recognized. If you would succeed
in business you can not afford to sell a man something he does not
want; neither can you afford to disappoint him in quality, any more
than in count. Other things being equal, the merchant who has the most
friends will make the most money. Our enemies will not deal with us.
To make a sale and acquire an enemy is poor policy. To a pedler or a
man who ran a booth at a bazaar or fair, it was "get your money now or
never." Buyer and seller were at war. One transaction and they never
met again. The air was full of hate and suspicion, and the savage
propensity of physical destruction was refined to a point where
hypocrisy and untruth took the place of violence--the buyer was as bad
as the seller: if he could buy below cost he boasted of it. To catch a
merchant who had to have money was glorious--we smote him hip and
thigh! Later, we discovered that being strangers he took us in.
The one-price system has come as a necessity, since it reduces the
friction of life, and protects the child or simple person in the
selection of things needed, just the same as if the buyer were an
expert in values and a person who could strike back if imposed upon.
Safety, peace and decency demanded the one-price system. And so we
have it--with possibly a discount to the clergy, to schoolteachers,
and relatives as close as second cousins. But when we reach the point
where we see that all men are brothers, we will have absolute honesty
and one price to all.
And this change in business methods, in our mental attitude towards
trade, has all grown out of a dimly perceived but deeply felt belief
in the brotherhood of man, of the solidarity of the race--also, in the
further belief that life in all of its manifestations is Divine.
Therefore, he who ministers to the happiness and well-being of the
life of another is a priest and is doing God's work. Men must eat,
they must be clothed, they must be housed. It is quite as necessary
that you should eat good food as that you should read good books, hear
good music, hear good sermons, or look upon beautiful pictures. The
necessary is the sacred.
There are no menial tasks. "He that is greatest among you shall be
your servant." The physical reacts on the spiritual and the spiritual
on the physical, and, rightly understood, are one and the same thing.
We live in a world of spirit and our bodies are the physical
manifestation of a spiritual thing, which for lack of a better word
we call "God." We change men by changing their environment. Commerce
changes the environment and gives us a better society. To supply good
water, better sanitary appliances, better heating apparatus, better
food, served in a more dainty way--these are all tasks worthy of the
highest intelligence and devotion that can be brought to bear upon
them, and every Christian preacher in the world today so recognizes,
believes and preaches. We have ceased to separate the secular from
the sacred. That is sacred which serves.
Once, a businessman was a person who not only thrived by taking
advantage of the necessities of people, but who also banked on their
ignorance of values. But all wise men now know that the way to help
yourself is to help humanity. We benefit ourselves only as we benefit
others. And the recognition of these truths is what has today placed
the businessman at the head of the learned professions--he ministers
to the necessities of humanity.
Out of blunder and bitterness comes wisdom. Men are taught through
reaction, and all experience that does not kill you is good.
When the father of Richard Cobden gave up hope and acknowledged
defeat, the family of a full dozen were farmed out among relatives.
The kind kinsmen who volunteered to look after the frail and sensitive
Richard evaded responsibility by placing the lad in a boys' boarding-
school. Here he remained from his tenth until his sixteenth year. Once
a year he was allowed to write a letter home to his mother, but during
the five years he saw her but once.
Hunger and heartache have their uses. Richard Cobden lived to strike
the boarding-school fallacy many a jolting blow; but it required
Charles Dickens to complete the work by ridicule, just as Robert
Ingersoll laughed the Devil out of church. We fight for everything
until the world regards it as ridiculous, then we abandon it. So long
as war is regarded as heroic, we will fight for it; when it becomes
absurd it will die.
Said Richard Cobden in a speech in the House of Commons: "Of all the
pathetic fallacies perpetuated, none seems to me more cruelly absurd
than the English Boarding-School for boys. The plan of taking the
child of seven, eight or ten years away from his parents, and giving
him into the keeping of persons who have only a commercial interest in
him, and compelling him to fight for his life among little savages as
unhappy as himself, or sink into miserable submission, seems too
horrible to contemplate." Yet this plan of so-called education
continued up to about fifty years ago, and was upheld and supported by
the best society of England, including the clergy, who were usually
directly "particeps criminis" in the business.
Logic and reason failed to dislodge the folly, and finally it was left
to a stripling reporter, turned novelist, to give us Squeers and
Dotheboys Hall. This fierce ridicule was the thing which finally
punctured the rhinoceros hide of the pedagogic blunder.
There is one test for all of our educational experiments--will it
bring increased love? That which breeds hate and fosters misery is bad
in every star. Compare the boarding-school idea with the gentle
philosophy of Friedrich Froebel, and note how Froebel always insists
that the education of the mother and her child should go forward hand
in hand. Motherhood is for the mother, and she who shifts the care of
her growing child to a Squeers, not only immerses her child in misery
but loses the opportunity of her life.
When Richard was sixteen he was transferred from the boarding-school
to his uncle's warehouse in London. His position was that of a poor
relation, and his work in the warehouse was to carry bundles and
manipulate a broom. His shy and sensitive ways caught the attention of
a burly and gruff superintendent, whose gruffness was only on the
outside. This man said to the boy, before he had been sweeping a week:
"Young 'un, I obsarve with my hown hies that you sweeps in the
corners. For this I raises your pay a shilling a week, and makes you
monkey to the shipping-clerk."
In a year the shipping-clerk was needed as a salesman, and Richard
took his place. In another year Richard was a salesman, and canvassing
London for orders. Very shortly after he became convinced that to work
for relations was a mistake. Twenty years later the thought
crystallized in his mind thus: Young man, you had better neither hire
relatives nor work for them. It means servility or tyranny or both.
You do not want to be patronized nor placed under obligations, nor
have other helpers imagine you are a favorite. To grow you must be
free--let merit count and nothing else. Probably this was what caused
a wise man to say, "The Devil sent us our relatives, but thank Heaven
we can choose our friends for ourselves."
Relatives often assume a fussy patronizing management which outsiders
never do. And so at twenty we find Cobden cutting loose from
relatives. He went to work as a commercial traveler selling cotton
prints. That English custom of the "commercial dinner," where all the
"bagmen" that happened to be in the hotel dine at a common table, as a
family, and take up a penny collection for the waiter, had its rise in
the brain of Cobden. He thought the traveling salesman should have
friendly companionship, and the commercial dinner with its frank
discussions and good-fellowship would in degree compensate for the
lack of home. This idea of brotherhood was very strong in Richard
Cobden's heart. And always at these dinners he turned the conversation
into high and worthy channels, bringing up questions of interest to
the "boys," and trying to show them that the more they studied the
laws of travel, the more they knew about commerce, the greater their
power as salesmen. His journal about this time shows, "Expense five
shillings for Benjamin Franklin's 'Essays,'" and the same for
"'Plutarch's Lives.'" And from these books he read aloud at the
Cobden anticipated in many ways that excellent man, Arthur F. Sheldon,
and endeavored to make salesmanship a fine art.
From a salesman on a salary, he evolved into a salesman on a salary
and commission. Next he made a bold stand with two fellow-travelers
and asked for the exclusive London agency of a Manchester print-mill.
A year later he was carrying a line of goods worth forty thousand
pounds on unsecured credit. "Why do you entrust me with all these
goods when you know I am not worth a thousand pounds in my own name?"
And the senior member of the great house of Fort, Sons and Company
answered: "Mr. Cobden, we consider the moral risk more than we do the
financial one. Our business has been built up by trusting young,
active men of good habits. With us character counts." And Cobden went
up to London and ordered the words, "Character Counts!" cut deep in a
two-inch oak plank which he fastened to the wall in his office.
At twenty-seven his London brokerage business was netting him an
income of twelve hundred pounds a year. It seems at this time that
Fort and Sons had a mill at Sabden, which on account of mismanagement
on the part of superintendants had fallen into decay. The company was
thinking of abandoning the property, and the matter was under actual
discussion when in walked Cobden.
"Sell it to Cobden," said one of the directors, smiling.
"For how much?" asked Cobden.
"A hundred thousand pounds," was the answer.
"I'll take it," said Cobden, "on twenty years' time with the privelege
of paying for it sooner if I can." Cobden had three valuable assets in
his composition--health, enthusiasm and right intent. Let a banker
once feel that the man knows what he is doing, and is honest, and
money is always forthcoming.
And so Cobden took possession of the mill at Sabden. Six hundred
workers were employed, and there was not a school nor a church in the
village. The workers worked when they wanted, and when they did not
they quit. Every pay-day they tramped off to neighboring towns, and
did not come back until they had spent their last penny. In an
endeavor to discipline them, the former manager had gotten their ill-
will, and they had mobbed the mill and broken every window. Cobden's
task was not commercial: it was a problem in diplomacy and education.
To tell of how he introduced schools, stopped child labor, planted
flowerbeds and vegetable-gardens, built houses and model tenements,
and disciplined the workers without their knowing it, would require a
book. Let the simple fact stand that he made the mill pay by
manufacturing a better grade of goods than had been made, and he also
raised the social status of the people. In three years his income had
increased to ten thousand pounds a year.
"At thirty," says John Morley, "Cobden passed at a single step from
the natural egotism of youth to the broad and generous public spirit
of a great citizen." Very early in his manhood Cobden discovered that
he who would do an extraordinary work must throw details on others,
and scheme for leisure. Cobden never did anything he could hire any
one else to do. He saved himself to do work that to others was
impossible. That is to say, he picked his men, and he chose men of his
own type--healthy, restless, eager, enthusiastic, honest men. The
criticism of Disraeli that "Cobden succeeded in business simply
because he got other people to do his work," is sternly true. It
proves the greatness of Cobden.
* * * * *
And so we find Richard Cobden, the man who had never had any chance in
life, thirty years old, with an income equal to thirty-five thousand
dollars a year, and at the head of a constantly growing business. He
had acquired the study habit ten years before, so really we need
shed no tears on account of his lack of college training. He knew
political history--knew humanity--and he knew his Adam Smith. And
lo! cosmic consciousness came to him in a day. His personal business
took second place, and world problems filled his waking dreams.
These second births in men can usually be traced to a book, a death, a
person, a catastrophe--a woman. If there was any great love in the
life of Cobden I would make no effort to conceal it--goodness me!
But the sublime passion was never his, otherwise there would have been
more art and less economics in his nature. Yet for women he always had
a high and chivalrous regard, and his strong sense of justice caused
him to speak out plainly on the subject of equal rights at a time when
to do so was to invite laughter.
And so let x--Miss X--symbol the cause of Richard Cobden's rebirth. He
placed his business in charge of picked men, and began his world
career by going across to Paris and spending three months in studying
the language and the political situation. He then moved on to Belgium
and Holland, passed down through Germany to Switzerland, across to
Italy, up to Russia, back to Rome, and finally took ship at Naples for
England by way of Gibraltar. On arriving at Sabden he found that,
while the business was going fairly well, it had failed to keep the
pace that his personality had set. When the man is away the mice will
play--a little. Things drop down. Eternal vigilance is not only the
price of liberty, but of everything else, and success in business most
Cobden knew the truth--that by applying himself to business he could
become immensely rich. But if he left things to others, he could at
the best expect only a moderate income on the capital he had already
acquired. Everything is bought with a price--make your choice!
Richard Cobden chose knowledge, service to mankind, and an all-round
education, rather than money. He spent six months at his print-mill,
and again fared forth upon his journeyings.
He visited Spain, Turkey, Greece and Egypt, spending several months in
each country, studying the history of the place on the spot. What
interested him most was the economic reasons which led to advance and
fall of nations. In Eighteen Hundred Thirty-five he started for
America on a sailing-vessel, making the passage in just five weeks.
One letter to his brother from America contains the following:
I am thus far on my way back again to New York, which city I expect
to reach on the Eighth instant, after completing a tour through
Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Pittsburgh, Lake Erie to
Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Albany (via Auburn, Utica, Schenectady), and
the Connecticut Valley to Boston and Lowell. On my return to New
York, I propose giving two days to the Hudson River, going up to
Albany one day, and returning the next; after which I shall have two
or three days for the purpose of taking leave of my good friends in
New York, previous to going on board the "Britannia" on the
Sixteenth. My journey may be called a pleasure-trip, for without an
exception or interruption of any kind I have enjoyed every minute of
the too short time allowed me for seeing this truly magnificent
country. No writer has yet done justice to America. Her lakes,
rivers, forests and cataracts are peculiarly her own, and when I
think of their superiority to all that we have in the Old World, and
still more, when I recollect that by a mysterious ordinance of their
Creator, these were hid from "learned ken" till modern times, I fell
into the fanciful belief that the Western continent was brought
forth at a second birth, and intended by Nature as a more perfect
specimen of her handiwork. But how in the name of breeding must we
account for the degeneracy of the human form in this otherwise
mammoth-producing soil? The men are but sorry descendants from the
noble race that begot their ancestors. And as for the women--my eyes
have not found one that deserves to be called a wholesome, blooming,
pretty woman since I have been here! One-fourth part of the women
look as if they had just recovered from a fit of jaundice; another
quarter would in England be termed in a state of decided
consumption; and the remainder are fitly likened to our fashionable
women, haggard and jaded with the dissipation of a London season.
There, now, haven't I out-Trolloped Mrs. Trollope! But leaving the
physical for the moral, my estimate of American character has
improved, contrary to my expectations, by this visit. Great as was
my previous esteem for the qualities of this people, I find myself
in love with their intelligence, their sincerity, and the decorous
self-respect that actuates all classes. The very genius of activity
seems to have found its fit abode in the
souls of this restless and energetic race.
Among other interesting items which Cobden made note of in America was
that everywhere wood was used for fuel, "excepting at Brownsville,
Virginia, where beds of coal jut out of the hillside, and all the
people have to do is to help themselves." Pittsburgh interested him,
and he spent a week there: went to a theater and heard England hissed
and Columbia exalted. Pittsburgh burned only wood for fuel, the wood
being brought down on flatboats. At Youngstown, Ohio, were three
hundred horses used on the many stagecoaches that centered there.
There was a steamboat that ran from Cleveland to Buffalo in two days
and a night, stopping seven times on the way to take on passengers and
goods and wood for fuel. At Buffalo you could hear the roar of Niagara
Falls and see the mist. Arriving at the Canada side of the Falls he
was shaved by a negro who was a runaway slave, all negroes in Canada
Cobden says: "The States are not especially adapted for agricultural
products, the land being hilly and heavily wooded. American exports
are cotton, wool, hides and lumber." It will thus be seen that in
Eighteen Hundred Thirty-six America had not been discovered.
Arriving in England, Cobden began to write out his ideas and issue
them in pamphlet form at his own expense. For literature, as such, he
seemed to have had little thought, literature being purely a secondary
* * * * *
Cobden's work was statistical, economic, political and philosophic.
From writing he read his pamphlets before various societies and
lyceums. Debates naturally followed, and soon Cobden was forced to
defend his theories.
He was nominated for a seat in Parliament and was defeated. Next year
he ran again and was elected. The political canvass had given freedom
to his wings; he had learned to think on his feet, to meet
interruption, to parry in debate. The air became luminous with
England then had a tax on everything, including bread. On grains and
meat brought into England there was an import tax which was positively
prohibitive. This tax was for the dual purpose of raising revenue for
the Government, and to protect the English farmer. Of course, the
farmer believed in this tax which prevented any other country from
coming into competition with himself.
Cobden thought that food-products should pass unobstructed to where
they were needed, and that any other plan was mistaken and vicious.
The question came up in the House of Commons, and Cobden arose to
speak. Anyone who then spoke of "free trade" was considered disloyal
to his country. Cobden used the word and was hissed. He waited and
continued to speak. "Famine is possible only where trade is
restricted," and he proved his proposition by appeals to history, and
a wealth of economic information that hushed the House into respectful
silence. As an economist he showed he was the peer of any man present.
The majority disagreed with him, but his courteous manner won respect,
and his resourceful knowledge made the opposition cautious.
Soon after he brought up a public-school measure, and this was voted
down on the assumption that education was a luxury, and parents who
wanted their children educated should look after it themselves, just
as they did the clothing and food of the child. At best, education
should be left to the local parish, village or city government.
Cobden was in the minority; but he went back to Manchester and formed
the Anti-Corn-Law League, demanding that wheat and maize should be
admitted to the United Kingdom free of duty, and that no tax of any
kind should be placed on breadstuffs. The farmers raised a howl--
incited by politicians--and Cobden was challenged to go into farming
communities and debate the question. The enemy hoped, and sincerely
believed, he would be mobbed. But he accepted the challenge, and the
debate took place, with the result that he was for the most part
treated with respect, since he convinced his hearers that agriculture
was something he knew more about than did the landlords. He showed
farmers how to diversify crops and raise vegetables and fruits, and if
grains would flow in cheaper than they could raise them, why then take
the money they received from vegetables and buy grain! It was an
uphill fight, but Cobden threw his soul into it, and knew that some
day it would win.
Cobden's contention was that all money necessary to run the Government
should be raised by direct taxation on land, property and incomes, and
not on food any more than on air, since both are necessary to actual
existence. To place a tariff on necessities, keeping these things out
of the country and out of the reach of the plain and poor people who
needed them, was an inhumanity. A tariff should be placed on nothing
but articles of actual luxury--things people can do without--but all
necessities of life should flow by natural channels, unobstructed. An
indirect tax is always an invitation to extravagance on the part of
Government, and also, it is a temptation to favor certain lines of
trade at the expense of others, and so is class legislation.
Government must exist for all the people, never for the few, and the
strong and powerful must consider the lowly and weak.
The landed gentry upheld the Corn Laws and used the word "commercial"
as an epithet. Very naturally they made their tenants believe that if
free trade were allowed, the farmers would be worse than bankrupt, and
commercialism rampant. Cobden stood for the manufacturing public and
the cities. The landlords tried to disparage Cobden by declaring that
smoky, dirty Birmingham was his ideal. Cobden's task was to make
England see that the less men tampered with the natural laws of trade
the better, and that no special class of citizens should suffer that
others might be prosperous, and that business and manufacturing must
and could be rescued from their low estate and be made honorable. And
so the fight went on. From a curiosity to hear what Cobden might say,
interest in the theme subsided, and the opposition adopted the
cheerful habit of trooping out to the cloakroom whenever Cobden arose
Cobden had at least one very great quality which few reformers have:
he was patient with the fools. Against stupidity he never burst forth
in wrath. Impatience with stupidity is a fine mark of stupidity. He
knew the righteousness of his cause, and repeated and kept repeating
his arguments in varied form. His platform manner was conversational
and friendly. He often would use the phrase, "Come, let us just talk
this matter over together." And so he quickly established close,
friendly terms with his hearers, which, while lacking the thrill of
oratory, made its impress upon a few who grew to love the man. John
Bright tells of "the mild, honest look of love and genuineness that
beamed from his eyes," and which told the story even better than his
* * * * *
And so the Anti-Corn-Law agitation continued. Sir Robert Peel, as head
of the Ministry, sought in every possible way to silence Cobden and
bring him into contempt, even to denouncing him as "a dangerous
agitator who would, if he could, do for London what Robespierre did
for Paris." But time went on as time does, and Cobden had been before
the country as the upholder of unpopular causes for more than ten
years. There was famine in Ireland. By the roadside famishing mothers
held to their withered breasts dying children, and called for help
upon the passers-by. Cobden described the situation in a way that
pierced the rhinoceros hides of the landlords, and they offered
concessions of this and that. Cobden said, "Future generations will
stand aghast with amazement when they look back upon this year and
see children starving for bread in Ireland, and we forbidding the
entry of corn into the country with a prohibitive tariff, backing up
this law with armed guns."
The common people began to awake. If famine could occur in Cork and
Dublin, why not in Manchester and London? The question came close,
now. The Anti-Corn-Law League saw its opportunity. Mass meetings were
held in all cities and towns. In Manchester, Cobden asked for funds to
carry on the agitation. He himself headed the list with a thousand
pounds. Twenty-three manufacturers followed his lead in three minutes.
Windsor and Westminster now sat up and rubbed their sleepy eyes, and
Sir Robert Peel sent word to Cobden asking for a conference. Cobden
replied, "All we desire is an immediate repeal of the Corn Laws--no
conference is necessary."
Sir Robert Peel sent in his resignation as Prime Minister, saying he
could not in conscience comply with the demands of the mob, and while
compliance seemed necessary to avoid revolution, others must make the
compromise. The Queen then appointed Lord John Russell as Prime
Minister and ordered him to form a new Cabinet and give an office to
Cobden. Lord Russell tried for four days to meet the issue, and
endeavored to placate the people with platitude and promise. Cobden
refused all office, and informed Lord Russell that he preferred to
help the Crown by remaining an outside advocate.
Every Government, at the last, is of the people, by the people, but
whether for the people depends upon whether the people are awake. And
now England did not care for a radical change of rulers; all the
citizens wanted was that those in power recede from their position and
grant the relief demanded. The Queen now reconsidered the resignation
of Sir Robert Peel and refused to accept it, and he again assumed the
reins. An extraordinary session of the House of Commons was called and
the Corn Laws were repealed. The House of Lords concurred. The
nobility was absolutely routed, and Cobden, "the sooty manufacturer,"
Strangely enough, panic did not follow, nor did the yeomanry go into
bankruptcy. The breadstuffs flowed in, and the manufacturing
population being better fed at a less outlay than formerly, had more
money to spend. Great general prosperity followed, and the gentry, who
had threatened to abandon their estates if the Corn Laws were
repealed, simply raised their rents a trifle and increased the gaming
Sir Robert Peel publicly acknowledged his obligation to Cobden, and
Lord Palmerston, who had fought him tooth and nail, did the same,
explaining, "A new epoch has arisen, and England is a manufacturing
country, and as such the repeal of the Corn Laws became desirable." As
though he would say, "To have had free trade before this new epoch
arose, would have been a calamity." A large sum had been subscribed
but not used in the agitation. And now by popular acclaim it was
decided that this money should go to Cobden personally as a thank-
offering. When the proposition was made, new subscriptions began to
flow in, until the sum of eighty thousand pounds was realized.
Cobden's business had been neglected. In his fight for the good of the
nation his own fortune had taken wing. He announced his intention of
retiring from politics and devoting himself to trade, and this was
that which, probably, caused the tide to turn his way. He hesitated
about accepting the gift, which amounted to nearly half a million
dollars, but finally concluded that only by accepting could he be free
to serve the State, and so he acceded to the wishes of his friends.
Some years later, Lord Palmerston offered him a baronetcy and a seat
in the cabinet, but he preferred still to help the State as an outside
John Morley, the strongest and sanest of modern English statesmen,
"Cobden had an intrepid faith in the perfectibility of man. His
doctrine was one of non-intervention; that the powerful can
afford to be lenient; that mankind continually moves toward the
light if not too much interfered with. By his influence the darker
shapes of repression were banished from the education of the young;
the insane were treated with a consideration before unknown; the
criminal was regarded as a brother who deserved our gentlest
consideration and patience; the time-honored and ineffective
processes of violence and coercion fell into abeyance, and a
rational moderation and enlightenment appeared on the horizon. He
elevated and refined the world of business, just as he benefited
everything he touched. His early death at the age of sixty-one
seemed a calamity for England, for we so needed the help of his
generous, gentle and unresentful spirit. He lived not in vain; yet
years must pass before the full and sublime truths for which he
stood are realized."