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Chapter LVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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Several of the most conspicuous followers of Sir Robert Peel also in their speeches recognised the abstract principles of free trade in a way which was ominous for the continuance of the landlords' monopoly. Among the most interesting instances of this was that of Mr. Gladstone, the young statesman who was destined afterwards to play so great a part in carrying forward the reforms of his chief.

The Minister still claimed the character of the landowner's friend; and in the House of Commons, out of 658 members, 125 was the utmost number that could be considered as free traders. But the progress of the League agitation this year was immense. Five years had elapsed since the Anti-Corn-Law Association in Manchester had put forth its humble appeal for five- shilling subscriptions, and now in one single year 50,000 had been given for the objects of the association, and it was resolved to raise a further fund of 100,000. Mr. Bright had been returned for Durham in July, and already his manly and touching appeals for justice for the people had struck the ear of the House. Like his fellow-labourers, Mr. Cobden, Colonel Thompson, Mr. George Wilson, and others, he had been busy in all parts of England, addressing audiences sometimes of 10,000 persons. The League speakers had also visited Scotland, and had been everywhere received enthusiastically. The great Free Trade Hall in Manchester was finished, and had been the scene of numerous gatherings and free trade banquets, at which 7,000 or 8,000 persons had sat sometimes down together. The metropolis, however, was still behind the great provincial cities in supporting the movement; and the League, therefore, resolved on holding a series of great meetings in Drury Lane Theatre, which was engaged for one night a week during Lent. The first of these important meetings was held on the 15th of March, and was attended by so large a number of persons that the pit, boxes, and even the higher gallery were filled immediately upon the opening of the doors. The succeeding meetings were no less crowded and enthusiastic. Attempts were made to obstruct these meetings, but without success. The use of Drury Lane Theatre had soon to be relinquished, the Earl of Glengall and the committee of shareholders having prohibited Mr. Macready, the lessee, from letting it for political purposes. The League were, in like manner, refused admittance to Exeter Hall; but they were soon enabled to obtain the use of Covent Garden Theatre, where they quickly prepared for a series of great meetings, which proved to be no less crowded and enthusiastic. Their proceedings, with the speeches of Mr. Cobden, Mr. Bright, Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Wilson, Colonel Thompson, and the other most important members of the League, were reported at great length in all the daily papers. A foreign traveller, Mr. J. G. Kohl, who visited England about this period, and was present at many of the proceedings of the League, gives, in his work entitled "Ireland, Scotland, and England," an interesting account of the movement, as it appeared to an enlightened observer, who had been brought up amidst the torpid political life and restricted liberty of a Continental state. "I could not help," he says, "asking myself whether in Germany men who attacked with such talent and energy the fundamental laws of the state, would not have been long ago shut up in some gloomy prison as conspirators and traitors, instead of being permitted to carry on their operations thus freely and boldly in the broad light of day; and, secondly, whether in Germany such men would ever have ventured to admit a stranger into all their secrets with such frank and open cordiality. I was astonished to observe how the Leaguers, all private persons, mostly merchants, manufacturers, and men of letters, conducted political business like statesmen and ministers. A talent for public business seems an innate faculty in the English. Whilst I was in the committee-room immense numbers of letters were brought in, opened, read, and answered, without a moment's delay. These letters, pouring in from all parts of the United Kingdom, were of the most various contents; some trivial, some important, but all connected with the objects of the party. Some brought news of the movements of eminent Leaguers or of their opponents, for the eye of the League is ever fixed upon the doings both of friend and enemy. Others contained pecuniary contributions from well-wishers of the cause, for each of whom the president immediately dictated an appropriate letter of thanks. Other letters related anecdotes, showing the progress of the cause, and the gradual defection of the farmers, the most resolute supporters of Peel. The League has now, by means of local associations in all parts of the kingdom, extended its operations and influence over the whole country, and attained an astonishing national importance. Its festivals, Anti- Corn-Law bazaars, Anti-Corn-Law banquets, and others of like nature, appear like great national anniversaries. Besides the acknowledged members of the League, there are numbers of important men who work with them and for them in secret. Every person who contributes 50 to the League fund has a seat and a voice in their council. They have committees of working men for the more thorough dissemination of their doctrines among the lower classes, and committees of ladies to procure the co-operation of women. They have lecturers, who are perpetually traversing the country to fan the flames of agitation in the minds of the people. These lecturers often hold conferences and disputations with lecturers of the opposite party, and not unfrequently drive them in disgrace from the field. It is also the business of the travelling lecturers to keep a vigilant watch on every movement of the enemy, and acquaint the League with every circumstance likely to affect its interests. The Leaguers write direct letters to the Queen, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, and other distinguished people, to whom, as well as to the foreign ambassadors, they send copies of those journals containing the most faithful accounts of their proceedings. Sometimes they send personal deputations to distinguished opponents, in order to tell them disagreeable truths to their faces. Nor do the Leaguers neglect the potent instrumentality of that hundred-armed Briareus, the Press. Not only do they spread their opinions through the medium of those journals favourable to them; they issue many periodicals of their own, which are exclusively devoted to the interests of the League. These contain, of course, full reports of all meetings, proceedings, and lectures against the corn laws; extracts from Anti-Corn-Law publications repeating for the thousandth time that monopoly is contrary to the order of Nature, and that the League seeks only to restore the just order of Providence; original articles headed, 'Signs of the Times,' 'Anti-Corn-Law Agitation in London,' 'Progress of the Good Work,' &c. &c.; and last, not least, poems entitled, ' Lays of the League,' advocating in various ways the cause of free trade, and satirising their opponents generally with more lengthiness than wit. Nor does the Anti-Corn-Law party omit to avail itself of the agency of those cheap little pamphlets, called ' Tracts,' which are such favourite party weapons in England. With these tiny dissertations, seldom costing more than twopence or threepence, and generally written by some well-known Anti-Corn-Law leader, such as Cobden and Sturge, the League are perpetually attacking the public, as with a bombardment of small shot. I saw three or four dozen of such publications announced at the same time by one bookseller, Mr. Gadsby. Still tinier weapons, however, are the Anti-Corn-Law wafers, consisting of short mottoes, couplets, and aphorisms of every class, grave and gay, serious and satirical, witty and unmeaning; but all bearing on the one point of monopoly and free trade. These are sometimes taken from the Bible, sometimes from the works of celebrated writers and orators, sometimes from speeches and publications of the Leaguers themselves, and sometimes are produced by the inventive ingenuity of the editor. Eighteen sheets of these wafers are sold in a pretty cover for one shilling, and each sheet contains forty mottoes. Astonishing, indeed, is the profuse expenditure of labour, ingenuity, wit, and talent, and likewise of stupidity, folly, and dulness, with which, in this wonderful England, the smallest party operations are carried on Even in children's books do both the Leaguers and Anti- Leaguers carry on their warfare, thus early sowing the seeds of party spirit in the minds of future generations. All the publications of the League are not only written, but printed, bound, and published at the League Rooms in Market Street, Manchester. I went through the various rooms where these operations were carried on$ until I came at last to the great League Depot, where books, pamphlets, letters, newspapers, speeches, reports, tracts, and wafers, were all piled in neat packets of every possible size and appearance, like the packets of muslin and calico in the great warehouses of Manchester."

The conclusion of the remarks of this shrewd observer are equally interesting, as showing how little, with all this gigantic movement, the task of the League appeared near completion; and how far were the most sanguine observers from anticipating the events of the next three years. "I cannot," Mr. Kohl continues, "join the sanguine expectations of the Leaguers, that Sir Robert Peel will be the last English minister who will venture to uphold monopoly. It is well-known how long such struggles generally last, and how very frequently, when the longed-for prize appears on the point of being attained, it is suddenly snatched away from that oft- deluded Tantalus, the people. The immediate aim of the Leaguers is the abolition of the corn laws, but they do not propose to stop at the attainment of this object. They will then turn the same weapons which brought down the corn laws against all other trade monopolies and Custom House regulations, first in England and then in other countries, until at length all commercial restrictions between different nations shall be totally done away with, and trade rejoice in the golden sunshine of freedom all over the world. A tempting object, but alas! a long and doubtful road."

In the report prepared by the League, it was stated that during a very considerable portion of the year there were employed in the printing, and making up of the electoral packets of tracts, upwards of 300 persons, while more than 500 other persons were employed in distributing them from house to house among the constituencies. To the Parliamentary electors alone of England and Scotland there had been distributed in this manner, of tracts and stamped publications, five millions. Besides these, there had been a large general distribution among the working classes and others, who are not electors, to the number of 3,600,000. In addition, 426,000 tracts had been stitched up with the monthly magazines and other periodicals, thus making altogether the whole number of tracts and stamped publications issued by the council during the year to amount to upwards of nine millions, or in weight more than one hundred tons. The distribution had been made in twenty-four counties, containing about 237,000 electors, and in 187 boroughs, containing 259,226 electors, making in boroughs and counties together the whole number of electors supplied 496,226. The labours of the lecturers employed during the year had been spread over fifty-nine counties in England, Wales, and Scotland, and they had delivered about 650 lectures during the year. A large number of meetings had been held during the year in the cities and boroughs, which had been attended by deputations of members of the council, exclusive of the metropolis. One hundred and forty towns had been thus visited, many of them twice and three times; and the report further stated that such had been the feeling existing in all parts of the kingdom that there was scarcely a town which had not urged its claim to be visited by a deputation from the council of the League.

The Covent Garden meeting became thenceforth an annual feature in the political events of the metropolis, and the effects of this movement in the chief city of the kingdom were seen in the election of Mr. Pattison, the free trade candidate, for the city of London. Another sign of the times was the accession to the ranks of the Anti-Corn-Law League of Mr. Samuel Jones Lloyd, the wealthy banker, a conspicuous City man, and a great authority on financial matters. This gentleman addressed a letter to the council of the League in October, 1844, in which, after mentioning his reluctance to join a public body, for whose acts he could not be responsible, he said, " The time is now arrived when this must be overruled by other considerations of overwhelming importance. The great question of free trade is now fairly at issue, and the bold, manly, and effectual efforts which have been made by the League in its support command at once my admiration and my concurrence." Still more remarkable was the progress of the League in its scheme of converting the agriculturists themselves to their views. The truths which they had always maintained - that the tenant farmer had no real interest in maintaining the corn laws, the agricultural labourer, if possible, less, and that even the landed proprietor, on a far-seeing view of his interest, would be on the same side as themselves - were based upon arguments easily understood by calm reasoners, and were even beginning to make way with these classes themselves. Not a few great landowners and noblemen had openly classed themselves among their supporters. Poremost among these was Earl Fitzwilliam, who was one of the most effective speakers at Anti-Corn-Law meetings by the side of Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright. The Marquis of Westminster, in sending a donation of 500 to the League fund on New Year's day, 1844, wrote a letter to the chairman, beginning -

" Sir, - Having on a former occasion expressed to you my anxious wishes for your success in the arduous contest with monopoly in which you are engaged, I cannot refuse myself the pleasure of congratulating you upon the rapid progress you have since made in the struggle with that formidable adversary. As you have found your foe to be daring and resolute, so have your energies increased in a wonderful manner; and, in spite of opposition, you have carried the war most effectually into the enemy's strongholds. With such vigorous and sustained efforts, the victory must be yours; and my hopes of ultimate triumph, and that at no very distant date, therefore, much exceed my fears of failure."

Among the noblemen openly supporting their cause were Lord Kinnaird, Earl Ducie, the Earl of Radnor, Lord Morpeth, and Earl Spencer."

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