Chapter LVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7
Mr. Villiers's Motion again Defeated - The Association becomes the Anti- Corn-Law League - The Anti-Corn-Law Circular - The League Agitation - Colonel Thompson - Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-Law Rhymer - Obstructions to the League Missionaries - Riots at the Anti-Corn-Law Lectures - Attacks of the Press upon the League - Government interference with the Anti-Corn-Law Circular - Great Banquet in the Temporary Pavilion at Manchester - Deputations to the Government and to the Conservative Leaders - Mr. Villiers's Motion in 1840 - Food Riots in Ireland - Change of Tactics of the League - The Walsall Election - The Chartists hired to obstruct the League - The Import Duties Report - Government Proposition of a Fixed Duty - Failure of Government Appeal to the Country as Free Traders - Lord Sydenham's remarkable Prophecy - Wide-spread Distress in the Country - Sir Robert Peel's Sliding Scale - Secession of the Duke of Buckingham - Procession of Anti-Corn-Law Delegates to the House - Financial Statement of Sir Robert Peel - Details of the New Corn Law - Mr. Cobden returned for Stockport - Dissatisfaction of the Country with the Sliding Scale - The Minister burned in Effigy - Proposal for an Income Tax - Great Reform of the Tariff - Conversion of Sir Robert Peel to Free Trade Principles - Dissatisfaction of Supporters of the Government - The " Velveteen Plot " - The Sugar Duties - Position of the Government on the Free Trade Question at the close of the Session of 1842.Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6
On the 12th of March, 1839, Mr. Villiers again moved for a committee of the whole House to take into consideration the act regulating the importation of foreign corn, and the Manchester delegates were once more in London to watch the progress of events. On this occasion the House again decided, by 342 votes to 195, not to take the subject into consideration, and of these 195 there were probably a large number who would have gone over to the other side if the question had been one of total repeal of the bread tax. The defeat was of course expected; but the members of the association immediately assembled again, and issued an address to the public, in which for the first time they recommended the formation of a permanent union, to be called the Anti-Corn-Law League, and to be composed of all the towns and districts represented in the delegation, and as many others as might be induced to form Anti-Corn-Law associations, and to join the League. Delegates from the different local associations were to meet for business from time to time at the principal towns represented; but in order to secure unity of action, it was proposed that the central office of the League should be established at Manchester, and that to its members should be entrusted the duties of engaging lecturers, obtaining the co-operation of the public press, establishing and conducting a stamped periodical publication, and keeping up a constant correspondence with the local associations. The delegates then parted, becoming so many local missionaries for spreading the doctrines of the new crusade. The Manchester Association had issued a large number of handbills and placards. It now began to publish more largely and systematically a series of pamphlets. Among these were " Facts for Farmers," in which it was shown to demonstration that, whatever might be the interest of the landowners, their tenants had no real share in the benefits of their monopoly. The cheapness of the publications secured them an extraordinary sale wherever political questions were discussed. Mr. Villiers's speech, extending to thirty-two closely printed pages, was sold at three halfpence; Mr. Poulett Thompson's speech, occupying sixteen pages, at three farthings. When the appeals were made to the electors of the kingdom during the height of the agitation, as many as half a million each of the more popular tracts were issued at a time. In accordance with the resolution passed by the League at its formation in London, a fortnightly organ of the new movement was started on the 16th of April. Its title was the "Anti-Corn-Law Circular," and it bore on its front page the motto from their good and wise friend Earl Fitzwilliam's address to the landowners: - "Laws based, as the Corn Law is, on injustice and partiality, can never be of long endurance. They are only fit for fair weather, they cannot resist the storm." A preliminary address announced that a copy of the paper would be regularly forwarded to every newspaper, review, and magazine in the empire. The first number contained a " Modern History of the Corn Laws, by Richard Cobden," with various information on the progress of the movement. Meanwhile the work of lecturing went on. Free trade missionaries were dispatched to all parts, and, to the annoyance of the landlords, even preached their obnoxious doctrines to audiences in smock frocks in the agricultural towns and villages, where the views of the country party had hitherto held undisputed sway. Among the most remarkable of these speakers' was Colonel Perronet Thompson, who, as has been already said, by his celebrated "Catechism of the Corn Laws," and his other writings, had done perhaps more than any other man of his time to confute the fallacies of the Protectionist party. The clear and terse style, the shrewd reasoning power, the apt and homely illustration, and, above all, the hearty sincerity and good temper of this remarkable man, were equally acceptable among the most refined or the least educated audiences.
In the same field was to be found the poet Ebenezer Elliott, now best known as the " Corn-Law Rhymer." By his addresses to his fellow-townsmen of Sheffield, his remonstrances with the infatuated followers of O'Connor, who fancied that their own cause was opposed to that of the Manchester League, and by his powerful Corn-Law Rhymes, Elliott rendered services to the movement of the highest value. When the Chartist convention announced their determination of obstructing the new League, Elliott wrote, "The convention, by defending monopoly and advising physical force, are fighting the battle of the aristocracy under the people's colours - a battle ultimately for self-destruction, and which those magnificent wretches seem well able to fight for themselves without your assistance. I learn, from the newspapers of Saturday last, that your representatives in the convention (with the concurrence of your own man), are about to send deputations into the country, to advocate the starvation laws. Of those laws you will very soon have quite enough, and so, thank God, will their authors. If you like such laws, what use do you intend to make of the franchise when obtained? I have no wish to force my opinions upon you. No, be corn-lawed to your hearts' content, for we shall not have long to wait; but in the meantime, it must not be supposed that I am one of the body of men who are willing to be represented by persons capable of supporting such barbarous legislation." A good specimen of Elliott's powers of versification is afforded by the following song: -
" Child, is thy father dead? "
The Anti-Corn-Law missionaries, as might be expected, found their task in some cases no easy one. At Doncaster one was informed, by the authorities, on his arrival, that his appearance was calculated fco lead to a riot; but the borough magistrates refused to permit the presence of police for the protection of the lecturer, on the ground that the peace of the town was likely to be disturbed by his operations. The bills which had been shown in the shopkeepers' windows announcing the lecture were all removed. At Pontefract the Mayor refused the use of the Town Hall. At Tamworth, Sir Robert Peel's borough, the Mayor not only refused permission to the lecturer to use the Town Hall, but the two principal innkeepers also refused to allow the lecture to take place in their rooms. At Louth similar opposition was encountered. About two hours before the time appointed for the lecture a letter was received from the Mayor, stating that a deputation of respectable inhabitants of the borough had waited upon him to request that the lecturer should not be allowed the use of the Town Hall, which had at first been granted to him. A concourse of people, of not less than three or four thousands, then met in the market place, and were addressed by the lecturer. Here a disturbance was occasioned by a well-dressed person in the crowd attempting to seize and destroy the lecturer's notes. Crowds of other persons kept up a perpetual hooting from the windows of adjoining houses, and fireworks were also thrown into the midst of the crowd, where the authorities had neglected to send police to prevent disturbance. After the lecture the speaker exhorted the people to form Anti-Corn-Law Associations, when he was responded to with cries of "We will! we will!" Crowds pressed forward to shake hands with the speakers; and cries of " God bless you and your good cause! " were heard among the people. The lecturers, however, before they left the town, were summoned before the magistrates, and fined for causing a disturbance. As the lecturers left the court, the crowd insisted upon hearing another address; and a farmer among them, whose field lay near the town, told them to go there, where they could not be fined; and, accordingly, the lecturers addressed the crowd from a cart in the farmer's field. At Wakefield - permission to use the Town Hall having been granted, and suddenly withdrawn, in a similar manner - great excitement was caused among the people. The lecturer, who had received no notice of the change in the determination of the authorities, found on his arrival the door of the hall shut, and a large crowd waiting for admission. Great indignation was expressed against the magistrates, and a number of the crowd being connected with the Working Men's Association in that town, who were that evening to have a lecture of their own, at once agreed to forego their own lecture, and to give the emissary from the Anti-Corn-Law League the use of their room, where the lecturer addressed a large and enthusiastic audience.
At Kidderminster an attempt was made to put out the lights in the lecture room, and benches were broken, and considerable damage done. At Stamford, where an audience of 2.000 persons assembled in the theatre to hear a lecture, a working man leaped unhurt from the gallery on to the stage, and planted himself significantly beside one of the rioters; while many from the pit clambered to the boxes, and shouted to the lecturer to go on and fear nothing. In the theatre at Huntingdon, a disgraceful scene of outrage took place, and the lecturer was compelled to flee. In Cambridge, also, the appearance of the lecturers was the signal for disorder. On the first evening they were permitted to deliver their addresses without interruption; but on the following day the students assembled in great strength, and with the sound of trumpets and other instruments of discord, succeeded in preventing their being heard. As usual in that place, the disturbance divided itself into what is called a " town and gown fight; " the subject under discussion is wholly lost sight of, and gownsmen and townsmen indulge their traditional animosity. One gownsman, who had made himself particularly prominent in the disturbance, roused the anger of the town party, who rushed to his box to turn him out. The gownsmen rushed to the defence of their fellow-student. A fierce battle ensued between the two parties, and it required strenuous exertions on the part of the Mayor and the police to put an end to the riot.
Some of these disturbers of the peace of the Anti-Corn- Lawmeetings, though ostensibly Chartists, were proved in the evidence given on the Walsall election case to be employed by the Conservative party. The League, in their publications, complained that it had been a matter of surprise to their lecturers to perceive that they had been dogged and beset in all parts of the kingdom by certain " well-dressed, and apparently well-fed persons," who, under the pretence of advocating the people's charter, had, in reality, been the defenders and supporters of the bread-tax, These men had been known to take a journey of a hundred miles to oppose the lecturers. They made their appearance on one day at Leeds, on the morrow at Leicester, on the following day at Manchester. In whatever part of the kingdom the lecturers appeared, these mysterious men invariably made their appearance to take the part of the bread taxers. One who lectured in London and the suburbs, found wherever he went, three individuals followed him night after night. It was bitterly remarked that the spies of twenty years previously did the work of their employers, by tempting their deluded followers to commit crimes which conducted them to the gallows; and that there were again traitors in the garb of patriotism, who were playing the parts of the Olivers and Castles of other days. The spirit in which the Cambridge "gown" party had received the movement for giving bread and employment to the people, may be judged from the comments of a local paper, which, in speaking of the lecturers, said: - "It is rumoured that these fellows intend to pay us another visit; but if so, they ought to have timely notice that they will be held responsible for any breach of the peace that may ensue. The forbearance of the peaceful portion of the community may be taxed too far, and if the paid hirelings of a disloyal faction are to persist in inflaming the public mind with sentiments destructive of all moral right and order, we cannot call too strongly, at the present crisis, upon the well- disposed portion of the community to assist the authorities in putting down those revolutionary emissaries."
The metropolitan newspapers, on the Protectionist side, were not less illiberal in their remarks upon the movement. In copying the address of the League, the Morning Herald said: -
"It is undoubtedly incumbent on the agricultural body to lose no further time in counteracting the pernicious schemes of the Anti-Corn-Law League. The members of that League are, many of them, unprincipled schemers; whilst of those members who may claim credit for honesty of purpose, there are but few of whom it may not be alleged that they are at best conceited socialists. Insignificant, however, as may be the materials out of which the Anti-Corn-Law League has been fashioned, it were worse than folly to shut our eyes to the probability that much mischief may, at no distant period, result from its increasing efforts to injure the agricultural interests of England. The League has always brought into play all the approved modes of poisoning the stream of public sentiment. Lecturers are paid to perambulate the country, and to declaim against the ' atrocities of landed monopoly! ' What though those men be empty, conceited blockheads? They are permitted to tell their story, day by day, without contradiction, and their uncontradicted falsehoods come, at length, to be regarded as truths Î The League, in like manner, issues, periodically, cheap publications condemnatory of the corn laws. These publications are diffused with incredible zeal, and the result will yet be visible on the state of public opinion. It is time, we repeat, that the agricultural interest should shake off its apathy in this matter. The corn laws are not to be saved by parliamentary majorities alone. Parliamentary majorities are really effective so long as they reflect the sentiments of the majority out of doors. Let public opinion be subjected for a long period to vicious influences, and the disposition in Parliament to defend the corn laws will wax fainter and fainter. We trust, therefore, that the appeal of the committee of the Central Agricultural Society will be responded to with alacrity by the body of the landowners. The agricultural body must, in self-defence, adopt the tactics of their antagonists. If they shall do so, the Anti-Corn-Law League will very speedily be disposed of."
>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5 6