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then beating on the old tory ship, postponed, for three or four years, any open mutiny amongst the ill-assorted band that followed his fortunes.
Probably the immediate effect of the tariff of 1842 was, to aggravate commercial embarrassments. Perhaps it would be more just to say, that that measure was the occasion rather than the cause, of these embarrassments. During the long period it was pending in parliament, and while the shape it would ultimately assume was doubtful, trade was almost at a stand still. Whether there would be a revival in the autumn, depended upon the character of the next harvest. For five successive years, the crops had been more or less deficient. The country, not yet recovered from the depressing calamities of the last winter, could hardly endure the occurrence of a sixth. The heavy and frequent rains of July, caused the national heart to droop with gloomy forebodings. In this crisis, Sir Robert Peel proposed to adjourn parliament. Mr. Cobden vehemently protested against an adjournment, till the quality and extent of the harvest should be ascertained ; declaring, that it was betraying the trust of their constituents to close the doors of parliament during the existing nervous and unsettled state of public opinion, and leave the country to drift on to confusion without rudder or compass. The adjournment was carried,
Soon afterwards, serious disturbances broke out among the working classes of the midland counties. For weeks, those districts were tossed on a tempest of riots. They originated in an attempt of some imprudent Chartists to raise the wages of the operatives in the central manufacturing towns, by a general “strike.” Probably nothing beyond this was at first contemplated. But demagogues fanned the flame of popular discontent, till it run wild in pillage, robbery and arson, nor stopped till several lives had been sacrificed. An unsuccessful effort was made to connect the League in some way with these disturbances. The suspicion was scouted by all iimpartial minds. The vengeance of the government, always eager to pun. sh those who plunder and kill contrary to established forms, was inflicted alike on those who aimed merely at a peaceful enforcement of their rights, and those who were for punishing their oppressors, regardless of means or onsequences.
From this brimming cup of national calamities, a kind Providence withheld “ the added drop" of another deficient crop. The month of August cheered the country with a succession of clear skies and warm suns enabling the husbandmen to fill their granaries with the well-cured products of an abundant harvest.
But even this did not quite relieve the commercial pressure. In anticipation of a bad crop, the corn-factors had bonded large quantities of foreign breadstuffs, ready for entry when the sliding scale should produce high prices and low duties. But the rich harvest reduced the prices and elevated the duties. In order to meet their monetary engagements, the factors were compelled to enter their grain and sell it for what it would fetch. The consequence was, total ruin to some, serious embarrassments to others, and losses by all, carrying disorder and confusion into the money market.
But, though by a combination of peculiar circumstances, the tariff of 1842 did not essentially advance the cause of free trade, and though the advocates of protection took advantage of the continued commercial embarrassments to proclaim that free trade was a failure, yet, those very circumstances produced a very decided impression on reflecting minds, that the sliding scale was a prolific source of fluctuations in the prices of bread
stuffs, and ought to be abandoned. Some of the landlords were candid enough to admit this. The suddenness with which the large stores of foreign grain in bond were precipitated upon the market, materially reduced prices; and low prices and limited demand coming together, set agriculturists to seriously thinking whether there was not some inherent defect in their favorite system.
The conflict in parliament for the current year having been fought out, the League again turned its attention to the prime source of its powerpopular agitation among the people. Near the close of 1842, it commenced holding meetings in Manchester-resolved to distribute information much more freely, during the coming season, especially among farmers and laborers—and, for this purpose, proposed to raise the princely sum of £50,000. At the request of influential gentlemen, in all parts of the kingdom, it deputed several of its ablest advocates to address meetings throughout the country. Col. Thompson, and Messrs. Cobden, Bright, and R. R. R. Moore, traversed England and Scotland, raising funds, and delivering speeches in elucidation and defence of the principles of the League. That association now commenced the erection of a great Free-Trade-Hall at Manchester, its assemblies having exhausted the accommodations of existing buildings. It was consecrated to the cause in January, 1843, on which occasion it was announced, amidst loud cheers, that £44,000 of the £50,000 had already been raised.
The year 1843 was productive of important events relating to free trade. The League adjourned its regular meetings from Manchester to London. Heretofore, it had confined its popular demonstrations to provincial towns. It now laid siege to the metropolis. Assembling at the Crown and Anchor tavern, till its large room overflowed, it resorted to Freemasons’ Ilall. That great building having proved too small to accommodate its meetings, the doors of Drury Lane Theatre were thrown open by Mr. Macready. The novelty of the idea of discussing such a subject in such a place, lent its attraction to the somewhat prosaic, but eminently practical character of the “performances.” Not Londoners only, but thousands of the strangers who are constantly pulsated through the great commercial heart of the kingdom, nightly heard and applauded the truths uttered by the new actors in this old temple of the muses.
The parliamentary season was not wholly barren of good fruits. During the debates on questions incidentally connected with free-trade, Sir James Graham, a member of the cabinet, stated, that the soundness of the general principles of the Corn-Law repealers, was recognized by every man of common understanding. His colleague, Mr. Golbourn, said, that the abstract truth of their doctrines had never been disputed. Mr. Gladstone, also of the ministry, declared, that the practical application of their principles was only a question of time. Something, too, was done as well as said. Mr. Gladstone's act repealed the restrictions on the exportation of machinery, and Lord Stanley introduced a bill to regulate the trade in corn with the
Canadas. Each of these measures looked furtively towards free-trade. During the pendency of an important debate on the sugar question, we think it was, Mr. Cobden delivered one of his ablest speeches on the relative value to England of her colonial and foreign trade. Scouting the idea that she ought to open her ports freely to colonial dependencies whose productions were scanty, while closing them against countries abounding in breadstuffs and provisions, he uttered the pregnant apothegm, " It is with peoples we should deal, and not with barren wastes.” The League
was greatly strengthened in parliament this year, by the return of the enthusiastic, eloquent quaker, John Bright, to the House of Commons. He came, heralded by the admission of a tory lord in the House of Peers, that he had recently delivered at Durham “the very best speech that ever was heard in favor of the repeal of the Corn Laws.” Like Cobden, Bright was of the middle class, and was elected by the manufacturing interest. In all the subsequent parliamentary conflicts, he stood next to Cobden as the advocate of free-trade doctrines.
Thus far, the meetings of the repealers had been held chiefly in towns and cities. It was proposed by Mr. Cobden to invade the rural “ districts.” He and his associates, during the year 1843, held meetings among the agriculturists, the farmers and yeomen, in some thirty counties. All, and especially the friends of protection, were invited—the discussions were free--and the voting open to all. On the show of hands, the advocates of the League were triumphant in every meeting but one. This series of victories over the monopolists, in battles fought on their own ground, on their own dunghills,” produced a deep impression upon the “agricultural mind.”
Near the close of the year, “ The League” newspaper was established, as the organ of the association whose name it bore. Till the final triumph, its able editor, Mr. Paulton, weekly sent forth through its columns, those logical arguments and telling facts, which, reiterated and elaborated by hundreds of tongues from the platform, contributed essentially to the sue cess of a movement in which he was one of the earliest actors.
On account of the hopeless aspect of things in parliament, arising partly from the return of commercial prosperity, (for governments rarely attempt to remove public evils and redress public wrongs, except under the pressure of some present calamity,) the League, at the commencement of the year 1844, determined, for the time, to abate its efforts in the legislature, and turn its chief attention to agitation outside its doors. In January, it resolved to raise £100,000, and print and distribute ten millions of tracts, for the promotion of its objects during the current year. A meeting convened in Free-Trade-Hall, Manchester, opened the campaign, and stimulated the zeal of the country, by subscribing £20,000.
But the contest was soon divided between the country and the legislature. In March, Mr. Cobden moved, in the commons, for a select committee to inquire into the effects of protective duties upon the interests of tenant farmers and farm laborers. This was a challenge to the landlords to defend a part of their citadel which they had deemed absolutely impregnable. In the preceding stages of the battle, when driven from all other posts, they had been wont to entrench themselves in the position, that the repeal of the Corn Laws would ruin the tenantry and the laborers—a large body of those middle and working classes for whose benefit the League professed to be contending. The facts elicited at the series of agricultural meetings, held by Mr. Cobden the year before, had convinced him that this cry of ruin to the tenantry and laborers was fallacious and delusive. He determined to expose and silence it on the floor of parliament. His speech on that occasion was one of the most profound and effective which the Corn Law discussions called forth. Knowing he was attacking the dernier retreating post of the protectionists, he selected his choicest weapons for the encounter. The speech was widely circulated, imparted a new aspect to the controversy, gave a fresh impuise to his followers, and left an enduring impress on the mind of the nation. The country gentlemen, who crowded to hear it, felt that they had been ignorant upon a subject with which they thought themselves familiar. They retired to ponder on the new truths propounded by their teacher.
This speech was far more potent in its immediate effects, and reached farther in its ultimate consequences, than the orator, or any of his hearers, with one eminent exception, then supposed. It sealed the fate of the Corn Laws. Sir Robert Peel afterwards frankly acknowledged, that that effort of the member for Stockport made so deep a lodgment in his mind, that he came to the conclusion that the total repeal of the Corn Laws was the only sound doctrine, and that their abolition was with him henceforward only a question of time and circumstances.
During this year, some concessions were made by the premier to the spirit of commercial reform, in the reduction of the duties on several articles largely consumed in the kingdom, such as glass, coffee, wool, &c. This, with the tone and tenor of the debates on Mr. Villiers' annual motion for total repeal, on the Ten Hour clause in the Factory bill, and on the sugar question, showed that the government was cautiously feeling its way, and imperceptibly drawing its supporters along the path pointed out by the League.
While these events were transpiring within the walls of parliament, “the pressure from without," always dreaded by conservatives, was month by month growing more steady and strong. As soon as vacancies occurred in the representation, the League rained down upon the constituencies a ceaseless shower of tracts and lectures, and a free trade candidate soon appeared in the field, either to gather the harvest alone, or dispute the ground inch by inch with an opponent.
At the opening of the session of 1845, Peel delighted the repealers, surprised the whigs, and alarmed the protectionists, by proposing a sweeping revision of the tariff. He abolished the duties on a vast number of articles, including cotton and glass, reduced the duty on the important commodity of sugar, and reformed the system in other essential particulars. The cases in which he either wholly repealed the duties, or greatly modified them, amounted to upwards of four hundred. Although he permitted the Corn Laws to remain inviolate through the session, it was evident, from the tone of his speeches, and the tendency of his measures, that their hour was approaching. The landlords were filled with apprehension. Before them were Lord John Russell and the fixed-duty whigs. Behind them were Richard Cobden and the no-duty League. On their right hand and on their left, were Peel and Gladstone, showing signs of leaving them to the tender mercies of the liberalism of Russell, or the radicalism of Cobden, or, worse than all, of doing the work of execution upon their fol. lowers with their own hands, before going over to the enemy! doubt had remained of the ultimate intentions of the premier, it was dissipated by his admissions during the debate on the usual motion of " the never-say-die Villiers," (as the Times called him,) for the total and immediate repeal of the Corn Laws.
The free-traders opened another regular attack upon the public senti. ment of London, planting their batteries, this time, on the boards of Covent Garden. Here, Cobden, Wilson, Bright, Hume, Villiers, Milner, Gibson, W. J. Fox, George Thompson, R. R. R. Moore, and their associates, for several weeks filled that spacious theatre from base to dome, with audiences, more intelligent and enthusiastic, than could be gathered by the artistic devotees of the tragic or the comic muse. Sprinkled here
If any and there among the occupants of the stage, might be seen the wearer of a star or a ribbon, indicating that some of the nobility and gentry would not be the last to join a winning cause. Nor should the ladies be forgotten. For twenty-one days, they held a magnificent free-trade bazaar, in the theatre, which was thronged with wealth and fashion, and contributed some £15,000, to the treasury of the League.
A cold, wet autumn followed the promising summer of this year. The English harvest was deficient in quantity and defective in quality. The potato-rot spread dismay and starvation through Ireland. Long-standing rumors of divisions and bickerings in the cabinet, at length ripened into the certainty of an open rupture and a ministerial crisis. Intelligent men saw that Peel's government could not survive another year. The League, ever apt at seizing the right time for doing the right thing, began to prepare for a general election. The work of registering all voters friendly to free-trade was vigorously entered upon.
The close of the year 1845, and the opening of the year 1846, found the League bending its energies to the kindred measures of raising a fund of £250,000, and registering 100,000 new voters, for the approaching election.
The events of 1816, so far as they relate to the subject we have been considering, are too familiar to need recapitulation here." In June of that year, after long and stormy debates, Sir Robert Peel, in conjunction with the Duke of Wellington, the most unbending and determined of men, and without whose aid the measure must have failed in the House of Peers, carried through parliament a total repeal of the Corn Laws. On an evening near the close of that month, surrounded by a dense mass of the intellectual and moral elite of the united kingdom, crowding not the House of Commons only, but every lobby and all its passages, Sir Robert, before resigning the premiership, delivered an elaborate speech in vindication of the policy pursued while he had administered the affairs of the government. Never were the robes of office laid down with more dignity and grace. We cannot forbear quoting the closing passage of the report of this speech. Alluding to the measures of commercial reform, which terminated in the repeal of the Corn Laws, he said :
“I have already stated, that in proposing those measures, I had no wish to rob others of the credit justly due to them. I must now say, with reference to honorable gentlemen opposite, as I say with reference to my own friends-neither of us is the party which is justly entitled to the credit of them. There has been a combination of parties, and that combination, and the influence of government, have led to their ultimate success; but the name which ought to be associated with the success of those measures, is not the name of the noble lord opposite, (Russell,) nor is it mine. (Cheers.) The name that ought to be, and will be, associated with the success of those measures, is the name of a man, who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives
, has, with untiring energy, by appeals to reason, (loud cheers,) enforced their necessity with an eloquence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned, (cheers;) the name that ought to be associated with the triumph of those measures, is the name of Richard Cohden. (Loud and protracted cheering.) Sir, I now close the address which it has been my duty to make to the house, thanking them sincerely for the favor with which they have listened to me, in performing this last act of my official power. Within a few hours, that power which I have held for the period of five years, will be surrendered into the hands of another, without repining-I can say, without complaint-with a more lively recollection of the support and confidence I have received, than of the opposition and distrust I have, during a recent period, en