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a splendid Free-Trade bazaar in the theater, crowding its doors for three weeks with wealth and beauty, and adding £15,000 to the treasury of the League. Ere the autumnal months had passed away, it became evident that Sir Robert Peel's Government must soon grant repeal or yield the ghost. A new election was anticipated. 66 Registration" almost silenced the shout for "Repeal." Effective measures were taken to place the name of every Free-Trade voter on the lists. The close of the year 1845 saw the League busy in raising a fund of £250,000, and marshalling one hundred thousand new electors for the contest.
The session of 1846 opened. The result is known. Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington-the same men who, seventeen years before, emancipated the Catholics-repealed the corn laws. There could be no higher evidence of the ability and tact of Sir Robert, than that on both these memorable occasions he won the support of the most inflexible of men, without whose aid neither of those measures could have passed the House of Peers. Such acts pour a flood of redeeming sunshine upon the characters of both these men.
The corn laws are dead. The principle of protection has received its death-blow in England. By mingling the question of corn-law repeal with that of protection generally, the discussions of seven years carried the mind of Britain forward a quarter of a century in the direction of Free Trade in all its departments. Nobody hopes for a permanent revival of the old order of things, except two or three superannuated ladies in the House of Peers, and half a dozen young Hotspurs in the House of Commons. If the good effected by this great measure has not realized all the promises of its advocates, it has falsified most of the evil predicted by its opponents-being but another proof that public sagacity, warned by the preliminary agitation, foresees changes in existing systems, and gradually prepares to meet them, so that their actual advent heralds
neither all the blessings anticipated by their friends, nor all the disasters prophesied by their enemies.*.
A more particular notice of Mr. Cobden, and some other anti-corn-law advocates, will be given in the next chapter.
*It is undoubtedly true that this corn-law contest had its origin in the conflicting interests of two classes of monopolists, the manufacturers and the landlords. But, the turn which the conflict finally took made it a battle between Free Trade and Protection, and the victory redounded to the advantage of the former. The monopoly of the manufacturers will no doubt be overthrown in its turn. A great maritime monopoly has already shared the fate of the landlord monopoly in the recent repeal of the Navigation Laws.
Notice of Corn-Law Repealers-Mr. Cobden-Mr. Bright-Colonel Thompson—Mr. Villiers-Dr. Bowring-William J. Fox-Ebenezer Elliott-James Montgomery-Mr. Paulton-George Wilson-The Last Meeting of the League.
THE seasonable organization, steady progress, and signal triumph of The National Anti-Corn-Law League are attributable in a very large degree to the sagacity, ability, and courage of RICHARD COBDEN. The early career of one who so suddenly acquired a European reputation is not so familiar as to render uninteresting a few incidents of that part of his life.
The leader of the Commercial Revolution of England is the son of a poor yeoman of Sussex. Commencing active life as a clerk in a London counting-house, he afterward removed to Manchester, where he became the traveling agent of a house largely engaged in the cotton trade. His intelligence, industry, and sound judgment won him the confidence of his employers, and the respect of all with whom he had intercourse. His rise was rapid, and we soon find him associated with an elder brother in a manufacturing enterprise of his own. He was highly successful. He studied public taste then as shrewdly as he afterward studied public opinion. An anecdote will illustrate this. In 1837, a gentleman visited Mr. Cobden's warehouse in Manchester, where he was shown some printed muslins of a peculiarly beautiful pattern, which Mr. C. was just sending into the market. A few days afterward,
this gentleman was walking in the vicinity of Goodwood, and met some ladies of the family of the Duke of Richmond wearing these identical prints; and shortly after, while strolling through Windsor Park, he saw the young Queen going down the slopes sporting a new dress of the same pattern. Of course, this set all the ladies of the kingdom in a rage after "Cobden's prints," which immediately became as celebrated in the market as did Cobden's speeches a few years afterward.
But Cobden was never a mere calico-printer. In his manufacturing days, his capacious mind embraced large views of finance and trade. In 1835, he published, under the signature of "A Manchester Manufacturer," an able pamphlet on "England, Ireland, and America," and, soon after, another on "Russia," in which he advocated a repeal of the corn laws, free trade, peace, and non-intervention in the politics of other nations; strongly urging that England's true policy was to abolish the agricultural monopoly, open her ports to the world, stick to trade and manufactures, and not meddle with foreign controversies. The information which these pamphlets displayed was rare and valuable; the reasonings cogent; the style forcible; and the sentiments eulogistic of "those free institutions which are favorable to the peace, wealth, education, and happiness of mankind.” As an illustration of his thorough mode of sifting a question, it may be stated that, before writing his pamphlet on Russia, he made a tour to the East expressly to gain information on that subject.
Mr. Cobden had now secured a reputation in Manchester and the surrounding district, and became a leading man in all public movements, especially such as related to business and trade. In 1837, he was invited to contest Stockport for a seat in Parliament. He failed of an election by fifty-five votes. In 1840, he was requested to stand for Manchester; but he declined, because he was expected to support, in all things, the Whig Administration; and, being far in advance of it on the subject of Free Trade, he was not the man to put
on a chain to win a seat on the Treasury benches of the House of Commons. He was returned for Stockport at the general election the next year, and his biography has since become a part of English history. Of his services in the cause of Free Trade, I have already spoken at some length.
On the second of July, 1846, the act repealing the Corn Laws having received the royal assent, the League held its final meeting at Manchester. All the elite of that victorious body had assembled from three kingdoms. George Wilson, who had presided as chairman of the council during the entire struggle, called to order. Having given a rapid sketch of the rise, progress, and triumph of the Association, he requested Mr. Cobden to address the Assembly. As he rose, the multitude sprang to its feet as one man, and greeted him with cheer on cheer, cheer on cheer, cheer on cheer. There stood the brave leader, the modest man, the victor in a field more glorious than ever Wellington.won, unable to utter a word for several minutes, for the rapturous shouts of his companions in arms. His speech was characteristic. He bestowed warm culogies upon his co-workers in the League, generously complimented Sir Robert Peel and Lord John Russell for their services in the crisis of the conflict, and delicately alluding to his own labors, insisted, in spite of the thundering "noes" which greeted the statement, that far too large a share of credit had been bestowed on him. He closed by moving that the operations of the League be suspended, and the Executive Council requested to wind up its affairs with as little delay as possible. The next day, a modest letter appeared in the public prints, addressed by him to the electors of Stockport, heartily thanking them for the confidence and kindness with which they had honored him, and announcing that the state of his health induced him to seek a temporary withdrawal from public life. Then followed the European tour; the feastings and toastings at Genoa, Paris, and other Continental cities; the munificent National Testimonial of nearly $100,000; the