The Peninsular Campaign was scarcely under way when Canning and Castlereagh, the War Secretary, quarreled and the former resigned from the cabinet. Yet from his place in the House the ex-minister continued manfully to uphold the general who was doing England's work in Spain. There was need of all the support his genius could contribute to this task, for parliament was slow to grasp the deep purpose of the campaign, was impatient for results, and prone to grumble at the bill of expense. Yet in the end Canning enjoyed the satisfaction of pointing to the complete verification of his hopes. He might have been Foreign Minister in the Liverpool ministry at its outset (1812) had he been willing to acquiesce in the leadership of Castlereagh in the House of Commons. This would have given him the direction of English policy in those critical years in which the Napoleonic empire was broken up and European affairs rearranged by the powers at Vienna. He lived to regret this as the greatest error of his career. He was sufficiently humbled after four years to join the government forces as president of the India board, resigning in 1820. In 1821, when on the point of going out to India, of which he had been appointed governor-general, his prospects suddenly changed. On the death of his rival, Castlereagh, Canning became Foreign Secretary and leader of the Commons. The prize which he had long schemed to secure, and had finally given up, suddenly fell into his hand. Canning's mind could not but revert to the lost opportunity of 1812. Not in a century would the Foreign Minister again have a world to set in order. He wrote to a friend, "Ten years have made a world of difference, and have made a very different sort of world to bustle in than that which I should have found in 1812. For fame it is a squeezed orange, but for public good there is something to do, and I shall try—but it must be cautiously— to do it. You know my politics well enough to know what I mean when I say that for 'Europe' I shall be desirous now and then to read 'England.'" The closing sentence was the keynote of his policy. For years it had been customary for representatives of the powers to treat all important matters as "European questions," and England had become habituated to a diplomacy which kept English interests in the background for the sake of the commonweal of Europe—Europe and the Holy Alliance being synonymous. "When Castlereagh," said Canning, "got among princes and sovereigns at Vienna, he thought he could not be too fine and complaisant."
When Canning began to represent England in her relations with foreign countries, he found the Holy Alliance in full vigor. In fact, the Czar, Kaiser, and King had just met at Laybach (1821) and issued a manifesto declaring that "useful and necessary changes in legislation and in the administration of states could only emanate from the free will and from the intelligent and well-weighed convictions of those whom God has made responsible for power. Penetrated with this eternal truth, the sovereigns have not hesitated to proclaim it with frankness and vigor. They have declared that, in respecting the rights and independence of legitimate power, they regarded as legally null and disavowed by the principles which constituted the public right of Europe, all pretended reforms operated by revolt and open hostilities." In plain terms the three monarchs, claiming to rule by divine right, reasserted their determination to interfere in the private affairs of any state to suppress movements which seemed to their majesties to be revolutionary. The powers had already acted according to this program in Piedmont and Naples, and were preparing to interfere in behalf of the Bourbons in Spain, the Spaniards in the revolted American republics, and the Turks in Greece when Canning came to power. To the Congress of Verona, where these and other questions were to be considered by the powers, Canning sent Wellington to speak for England. In accordance with his instructions the duke stood for non- intervention. Europe had no business to restore the Bourbon to the throne from which the nation had thrust him; on the same principle Greece must be allowed to fight out her own cause with the Turk; as for the Spanish-American colonies, why they were already lost to Spain, and England had recognized them as independent states. France undertook to do alone for the Spanish monarch what the Holy Alliance wished to do in the name of Europe. In this England acquiesced, but Russia's attempt to second the French in their Spanish project by military support was stopped by Canning's threat that such an act would only result in England's making the Spanish cause her own. "The admission of the jurisdiction of the Holy Alliance over Europe was a course which he deemed it vital at almost any cost to prevent," says Hill. "The time for Areopagus and the like of that," as Canning put it, "has gone by." And again, "What should we have thought of interference from foreign Europe when King John granted Magna Charta, or of an interposition in the quarrel between Charles I. and his Parliament?" To bring his colleagues around to his view, Canning showed them that the interference of the Holy Alliance in the affairs of Ireland might be justified upon the same grounds on which the argument for intervention in Spain was based. The King, never too fond of the brilliant commoner, whose presence in the ministry he considered scarcely less than a personal affront, had the temerity to criticise the policy which was so obnoxious to his fellow crowned heads. He thought that the English recognition of Spanish-American independence was as wicked as the French alliance in 1778 with the insurgent English colonists under Washington. Canning's recognition of Spanish-American independence was a sagacious stroke. It not only gave strength to his contention that peoples had a right to decide for themselves who should rule them, without consulting the despots of Europe, but its timeliness was masterly. Glorifying his own course in one of his most famous Parliamentary orations, in December, 1826, he explained why he had not joined the Spaniards in making armed resistance to the French invasion. He said: "Is the Spain of the present day, the Spain of which the statesmen of the time and William and Anne were so much afraid? Is it, indeed, the nation whose puissance was expected to shake England from her sphere? No, sir, it was quite another Spain—it was the Spain within the limits of whose empire the sun never set; it was Spain with the Indies which excited the jealousies and alarmed the imaginations of our ancestors. . . . If France conquered Spain, was it necessary in order to avoid the consequences of that occupation that we should blockade Cadiz? No, I looked another way: I sought the material of compensation in another hemisphere. Contemplating Spain such as our ancestors had known her, I resolved that, if France had Spain, it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old!"
Greece began her struggle for independence in 1821. The heroism which her people displayed in their unequal battle with the Turks attracted the attention and sympathy of many persons all over the world, especially those who saw in the modern Greek the representative of the race which had once been the intellectual leader of Europe. The powers of the Holy Alliance, however, were inclined to regard the outbreak with coldness, seeing in it a fresh manifestation of the then growing disposition of European peoples to rise against the tyranny of their anointed kings. England held aloof from their conferences in regard to the matter, trusting to their discordant interests to break up their concert of action, since the Russian czar, as the head of the Greek faith, might be counted upon in the long run to befriend the Greeks, especially as such a step would carry the Russian influence into the Balkan Peninsula and mark a full stride toward Constantinople, then as now the goal of Russian ambition. Canning employed Wellington to negotiate an agreement at St. Petersburg for the rescue of Greece. Ultimately England, Russia, and France signed a protocol which was to establish Greece as a self-governing state, tributary to the Porte, but free in matters of commerce and religion. In 1827 the three powers demanded an armistice looking toward a treaty settlement, and threatened to use force to compel a cessation of hostilities. The Porte defied the powers, and his fleet having fired upon the allied vessels, the battle of Navarino was precipitated in October, 1827. The result was the expulsion of the Turks from the country, and the early establishment of the complete independence of the kingdom of Greece. Canning did not live to see the consummation of his hopes in Greece. His health, which had for several years been much enfeebled, gave way completely, and on August 8, 1827, he died, at the age of fifty-seven. He had then for six months held the highest office in the gift of the nation.
In February, 1827, the illness of Lord Liverpool had made it necessary to reorganize the cabinet and choose a new Prime Minister. After much hesitation the King sent for Canning. Most of his former colleagues declined to serve under him because he was a professed pro-Catholic, and they were still of the opinion that the Protestant constitution of England would be endangered if the Irish demand for Roman Catholic emancipation should be granted. Others were found to take the place of Wellington, Peel, Eldon, and the other Tory leaders, and the Canning ministry got under way, only to be abruptly halted at the grave. The remains of the Prime Minister were deposited in Westminster Abbey, where a statue by Chantry recalls his manly form and expressive countenance.
Even in so slight a sketch as the foregoing, some characteristics of the man stand forth. Canning's wit, while its mordancy cost him many friends, distinguishes him among English statesmen. The talent which had stood him in good stead as boy-editor of "The Microcosm" at Eton, and which is to be seen in the slings and arrows of "The Anti-Jacobin," he never quite lost. His pen was always ready to dash off a scrap of lampooning verse, and flashes of wit and extended passages of humor enlivened the brilliant orations by means of which he explained and defended his policies in Parliament. As an orator his speeches were of exquisite polish, and the voice, gesture, countenance and entire bodily presence of the speaker contributed to their tremendous effect. There were not wanting those who criticised his oratory as savoring more of the stage than the rostrum, but such persons were aristocratic political opponents who would not let the world forget that this man whose genius outshone them all was the son of a third-rate actress. Be it said to Canning's credit that he did not forget his mother, but made her comfort in her declining days the object of his solicitous care.
Mr. Hill, whose study of Canning has been of great assistance in the preparation of these pages, thus goes to the heart of his foreign policy: "The principle which made Canning the antagonist of the propaganda of French principles in Europe during the early part of his political life made him during his later years in an equal degree the antagonist of the principles of the Holy Alliance which it is his great glory as a statesman to have defeated. The Holy Alliance endeavored to impose upon other nations principles and a law of life not their own. As Canning objected to the Holy Alliance, so he would have objected to its present secular substitute, the Concert of Europe, which simply means the agreement of the great powers to inflict their will upon the small ones, not allowing them to develop according to their native forces and genius, but constraining them to such forms and confining them within such limits as suits the convenience of a despotic hexarchy of states, or of a majority of them. The country which is England at home should be England abroad, reserving all its freedom of action. Canning's foreign policy, which was for 'Europe' to read 'England,' and to 'get rid of Areopagus and all that,' was sound and statesmanlike and abundantly justified by its results."
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. How did England join with the rest of Europe in undoing the work of Napoleon? 2. Give the chief events in the early life of Canning. 3. Why did Canning authorize an attack on Denmark? 4. What was his relation to the Peninsular War? 5. What was his "lost opportunity" of 1812? 6. How did he set forth his plans when he became foreign secretary in 1821? 7. What interference in the affairs of Europe did the Holy Alliance attempt? 8. How did Canning defend his recognition of Spanish-American independence? 9. What part did England play in the liberation of Greece? 10. What were the personal qualities of Canning?
GEORGE CANNING. Frank H. Hill. POETRY OF THE ANTI-JACOBIN. Edited by Charles Edmonds.
STEPHENSON AND THE RAILWAY
[GEORGE STEPHENSON, born, Wylam, near Newcastle, June 9, 1781; died, August 12, 1848; driver lad in a colliery; at fourteen, assistant to his father as fireman of colliery engines; at seventeen, engineman; at eighteen, learned to read in night school; 1812, enginewright at Killingworth colliery; 1814, operated his locomotive, "My Lord"; 1822, engineer of Stockton and Darlington Railroad (opened 1825); engineer of Liverpool and Manchester Railroad (opened 1830); produced locomotive "Rocket," capable of thirty miles an hour.]
In a bare room of a laborer's tenement in the colliery village of Wylam, in Northumberland, on the 9th day of June, 1781, was born a babe to whose mind and hand England was to owe as much in future years as to any high-born minister of the crown. Indeed, one might trust the world to give a verdict in favor of George Stephenson, the founder of the steam railway as against his sovereign, King George III. himself.
The father, the "old Rob" of the village boys, was the fireman of the pumping engine at the colliery hard by. His father before him—the Stephensons were no pedigree-hunters, and traced their line no farther- -was a Scotchman who, so far as anything was remembered of him, had come into the north of England as a gentleman's servant. Robert was a favorite with the village children, to whom he gave the freedom of the fire-room, and was a boon companion of his own houseful of boys and girls, kindling their fancy by his headful of tales, and sharpening their observation of the beauties of nature by making them the companions of his walks a-field, where the birds and other living things were the objects of his peculiar interest and love.
As soon as little George was old enough to "take notice" he must have discovered the railway which ran before his father's door, and his earliest responsibilities were connected with the oversight of his younger brothers and sisters lest in their play they should fall under the wheels of the cars or the hoofs of the horses that supplied the motive power. The road was a wooden tramway along which coal cars were dragged from the mines to tidewater.
The first tramways in the northern coal-fields were made by laying a track of planking on wooden sleepers. This device was more than a century old when George Stephenson was born. In some places this had been improved by plating the planks with iron. While the Wylam lad was still a barefoot boy, cast-iron rails were being introduced in Leicestershire, a wheel having been designed with a flange to keep it on the narrow track. Thus the railway was brought to a stage which needed only the application of steam to its motive power to carry it into a new and vastly enlarged phase.
The fireman's son was set to win his share of the family bread before he was ten. He tended a widow's cows, led the plow- horses, and hoed turnips before he entered a colliery as a breaker-boy, where his task was to pick out stones and other foreign substances from the fuel. Sixpence a day was the wage. Soon at twopence more he was promoted to drive the gin-horse that, circling around a capstan, hoisted the buckets of water and coals out of the pit. At fourteen he became his father's assistant in the fire-room at Dewley Burn at a shilling a day. At fifteen he obtained a foreman's position in another colliery. At seventeen he had gone over his father's head, and had charge of a pumping engine at Water-row Pit. When his wages reached twelve shillings a week he thought he was "a made man for life," but his ignoble content was soon disturbed. Always fascinated by machinery, as he was by birds and animals, he made a pet of his engines, studying them with a singular fondness, and making himself master of their principles and their parts. This knowledge prompted him to learn more, especially to find out something about the improved engines of Boulton & Watt, of which rumors had reached the enginemen of the north. To do this he must learn to read, an art which he seems to have considered superfluous until he was eighteen. Never did student work harder than Geordie Stephenson at his new task, amazing his teachers and his mates by his progress at "the three R's." He was now brakesman of a hoisting engine, dividing his small leisure between his studies and his cobblery, for he added to his earnings by mending shoes. His income was now some ninety pounds a year. He saved his first guinea and felt himself a rich man. At twenty-one he married a farmer's house-servant and went to housekeeping in a cottage at Wellington Quay.
It would be a long story, however interesting, to follow the young mechanic through the experiences by which he won a name in all the North Country as the cleverest of "engine doctors," eking out his wages by making lasts, mending watches, and even cutting out coats and trousers for the wives of the pitmen to sew up for their husbands. His desire to provide his motherless boy Robert with better schooling than he had enjoyed sharpened his wits and added strength to his arm. Fortunately the son proved to be not only an apt scholar, but had the rare gift of being able to teach others. Whatever he learned in the good schools to which his father sent him, he imparted to his father. So boy and man progressed together in their educational partnership.
When George Stephenson became chief enginewright of the Killingworth collieries at one hundred pounds a year he thought he had reached the summit of his ambition. The duties of the position made less demand upon him for manual labor, and left him time to carry out some of his mechanical ideas. He devised new hoists and pumps for the mines, and then applied himself to the ever-present problem of cheapening the transportation of the coals between pit mouth and ship side. One of his first improvements of this sort was a gravity railway, so arranged that the loaded cars, running down to the river by their own weight, furnished the power to draw the empty cars to the summit again by cable. When George Stephenson took up the problem of perfecting a "traveling steam engine" he had the advantage of knowing what had been accomplished by other experimenters. For fifty years inventors had been turning out steam engines of considerable promise in the model stage, but of little practical performance. Indeed, about 1803, a Cornishman named Trevithick had produced a locomotive which was used for a time to transport metal and ore to the Pen-y-darran iron works in South Wales. The heavy engine so damaged the tracks that it was soon dismounted and degraded to the work of a steam pump. In 1812 a cog-wheel locomotive, invented by a Mr. Blenkinsop, began running in a colliery a few miles out of Leeds, and served very well its purpose to haul heavy trains almost as fast as a horse could walk. The next year a Derbyshire mechanic produced a "Mechanical Traveler," the legs of which were moved alternately by steam, but the bursting of its boiler on its trial trip put an end to its picturesque career of doubtful usefulness.
One Mr. Blackett, an enterprising collier of Wylam, introduced the ideas of Trevithick and Blenkinsop to the Tyneside and so brought them under the observant eye of the Killingworth enginewright, who had such a clever way of smoothing away difficulties in complicated machinery. After repeated and costly experiments, Mr. Blackett evolved a type of locomotive which, though noisy and clumsy, did better work than any of its predecessors.
After making a careful study of what had been done by others, George Stephenson came to the conclusion that he could improve upon the existing locomotive models. This was about 1813, when he was about thirty-four years old. He said to his friends that "there was no limit to the speed of such an engine, if the works could be made to stand." One of his employers, Lord Ravensworth, advanced the necessary money for constructing his first "Traveling Engine" at West Moor, the colliery blacksmith undertaking to carry out his designs. Dr. Smiles's description of this locomotive may be reproduced: "The boiler was cylindrical of wrought iron, eight feet in length and thirty-four inches in diameter, with an internal flue tube twenty inches wide passing through it. The engine had two vertical cylinders of eight inches diameter and two feet stroke let into the boiler, working the propelling gear with cross heads and connecting rods. The power of the two cylinders was combined by means of spur-wheels which communicated the motive power to the wheels supporting the engine on the rail. . . The engine thus worked upon what is termed the second motion. The chimney was of wrought iron, round which was a chamber extending back to the feed pumps, for the purpose of heating the water previous to the injection into the boiler. The engine had no springs, and was mounted on a wooden frame supported on four wheels." The engine made its trial trip July 25, 1814, on which occasion it showed a speed of four miles an hour in drawing a load of thirty tons. This engine was named "Blucher," after the distinguished Prussian field-marshal.
Blucher was almost immediately improved by its inventor. First he doubled the steam-making power of its boiler by turning the exhaust from the cylinders into the smoke-stack, thus creating a forced draught. Second he built another engine, in which the tooth-wheel driving gear gave way to a simple and direct connection between the piston and the driving wheels which rolled upon the rails. This type of locomotive, developing some six miles an hour, did its work so well in the colliery that it was retained, with very slight alterations, for more than half a century. The report of its success got abroad slowly, and Mr. Stephenson was commissioned to build a railway and a number of locomotives for a colliery in another shire. The success of this piece of engineering encouraged him in sending his son Robert, a youth of fine promise, to Edinburgh to study physical sciences in the university, where in his brief residence he took a mathematical prize.
The year 1823 marked another forward step for George Stephenson and railroads. Two years before a road had been chartered to connect the Durham coal-fields with tidewater. Stephenson heard of the project, and at once proposed to the company to make an iron railroad of the new wooden tramway and equip it with his traveling engines. His arguments and demonstrations won over the skeptical directors. They had their charter amended so as to authorize the use of steam as motive power for the transport of passengers as well as merchandise. Thus began the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the first in the world with a passenger charter. The chief engineer was George Stephenson, on a salary of five hundred pounds. At the same time, with the assistance of the railroad people, he founded the locomotive shops at Newcastle.
The new railroad, the first public line, was opened in September, 1825. As its construction progressed, its engineer had become increasingly sanguine of success. He said to his son Robert at this time: "I venture to tell you that I think you will live to see the day when railways will supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country—when mail coaches will go by railway, and railroads will become the great highway for the King and all his subjects. The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a workingman to travel upon a railway than to walk on foot. I know there are great and almost unsurmountable difficulties to be encountered, but what I have said will come to pass as sure as you live. I only wish I may live to see the day, though that I can scarcely hope for, as I know how slow all human progress is, and with what difficulty I have been able to get the locomotive thus far adopted, notwithstanding my more than ten years' successful experiment at Killingworth."
The first train over the road was such an one as had never been seen before. George Stephenson was at the lever when the engine pulled out with a string of eight cars behind it. One regular passenger coach—the first ever built—held the directors, and twenty-one improvised passenger "wagons" carried some six hundred daring individuals. Coal and flour filled the other cars. The journey was safely accomplished at a speed which is said at times to have reached the hitherto unheard of rate of twelve miles an hour. The road, with its three Stephenson locomotives and many horses, was successful from the first, and its dividends were among the chief inducements which led to the next and more important advance in railroad construction, the Liverpool and Manchester line.
Manchester was the great manufacturing center of the industrial England, which the inventions of Arkwright and Watt had called into existence. Its port was Liverpool. The natural means of communication between the two cities was quite inadequate to the changed conditions. In 1821 surveys were made for a tramway, and before the Stockton road was completed Stephenson had been selected as chief engineer of the new and more ambitious enterprise. Yet his assertion that trains could be moved between the two cities at twenty miles an hour raised serious doubts in many minds as to his sanity. A writer in the "Quarterly Review" thought that even though a few foolhardy persons might trust themselves to a vehicle moving at such speed—twice that of the swiftest stagecoaches—Parliament for the general welfare should limit the speed of all railways to eight or nine miles an hour, as the greatest that could be ventured on with safety.
It was while the grant of a charter to this Liverpool and Manchester Railway was being discussed in a committee of the House of Commons that the shrewd North Country engineer first faced the trained Parliamentary lawyers. He had been cautioned to keep his figures for speed within the most moderate limits so as not to prejudice the company's case, but his belief in his own invention mastered his restraint, though as he afterward said, he did his best "to keep the engine down to ten miles an hour." In fact, his daring prediction of twelve miles per hour struck the learned counsel with horror. They objected that horses would fly in terror from such a monster. He replied that horses had been known to shy at wheelbarrows. They tried to make him admit that the wheels would slip on the smooth rails, but he knew that they would bite without teeth. One of the committee said, "Suppose that a cow were to stray upon the line and get in the way of the engine; would not that be a very awkward circumstance?" To which the countryman had a ready reply, "Very awkward—for the cow!" The opposition, which was largely animated by the existing canal interest, ventured some views which the experience of the next five years was to make most ridiculous. They declared that the plan to carry the rails over the surveyed route across Chat Moss, a wide morass, was impossible; and furthermore, that no locomotive could make headway against the high winds which at times prevailed in that region. Experts were brought to testify that "no engineer in his senses would go through Chat Moss if he wanted to make a railroad from Liverpool to Manchester." "In my judgment," said one of them, "a railroad cannot be made over Chat Moss without going to the bottom." The committee decided against the bill, but at the next session Parliament granted the company the power to construct the road, the question whether or not locomotives should be used upon it being left in abeyance. George Stephenson was chosen to be chief engineer, at one thousand pounds a year.
Chat Moss was conquered by an ingenious device which practically floated the road-bed upon its spongy surface. Tunnels were driven through the hills, deep cuttings were made wherever needed, a ravine was crossed by a viaduct of brick and stone, and more than threescore bridges were thrown across the streams. All the plans for this complicated work passed under the eye, and many of them took their first form in the mind of the chief, whose skill as a mechanic was for the time sunk in his genius for civil engineering. By dint of the most strenuous application, and by the dominance of a spirit of perseverance which no discouragement or obstacle could daunt, Stephenson brought the road to triumphant completion. The next thing was to convince the directors that the steam locomotive was the proper equipment for a public railway. As a beginning, he persuaded the company to place one of his engines upon its construction trains. The experts who were employed to investigate the many proposed applications of power decided, however, that the most feasible equipment was a series of twenty-one stationary engines located at intervals along the right of way and hauling the cars stage after stage by means of a rope wound upon a drum-the principle of the cable railway which afterwards had its day in our streets. Still Stephenson would give the directors no peace. Finally, in order to settle the question of the practical utility of the traveling engine, the company offered a prize of five hundred pounds for the best locomotive engine, to be awarded after a competitive test upon certain conditions, the most notable of which were:
"2. The engine of six tons weight must be able to draw after it, day by day, twenty tons weight at ten miles an hour with a pressure of steam on the boiler not exceeding fifty pounds to the square inch."
"4. The engine and boiler must be supported on springs and rest on six wheels, the height of the whole not exceeding fifteen feet to the top of the chimney."
"7. The engine must be delivered complete and ready for trial at the Liverpool end of the railway not later than the 1st of October, 1829."
"8. The price of the engine must not exceed five hundred and fifty pounds."
George Stephenson and his son Robert threw all their resources into the production of the locomotive which was to carry their colors in the contest. The "Rocket" engine, which was built in their Newcastle shop, was fitted with a tubular boiler six feet long and three feet four inches in diameter. The fire-box was two feet wide and three feet high. On each side of the boiler at its rear end was an oblique cylinder, the piston-rods being connected with the outside of the two driving wheels, which were in front. The two rear wheels were about one-half the diameter of the drivers. The tender, also fourwheeled, was a simple affair, the water being carried in a large cask.
After a successful trial trip, the "Rocket," which weighed but four and a half tons, was sent by wagon across England to Carlisle, and thence to Liverpool. It was one of four steam engines entered in the competition which attracted wide attention. Among the entries was the "Novelty," the production of that talented Swede, John Ericsson, who afterwards, in America, built the iron-clad "Monitor." The "Novelty" showed fine bursts of speed, but failed in point of endurance. The "Perseverance" and "Sanspareil" developed radical defects, but the "Rocket," driven by George Stephenson's own hand was prepared for every turn of the competition, and surpassed all in power, speed, and general serviceability. To its makers the prize was unhesitatingly awarded, whereupon the hardy engineer amazed every beholder by letting out the last link and dashing past the grandstand at the rate of more than thirty miles an hour. The forced draft, which had made the Killingworth freight engines so successful, coupled with the tubular boiler, formed a combination which won the battle for the locomotive once for all, and made the name of George Stephenson a household word.
A year later, on the 15th of September, 1830, the Manchester and Liverpool Railway was formally opened. The Duke of Wellington— the first citizen of the realm—was present with Sir Robert Peel and other distinguished personages, together with a vast throng of sightseers, enthusiastic spectators of the consummation of George Stephenson's dreams. Though marred by a fatal accident, the occasion proved the entire practicability of the railway as a means of transportation. The multitudes who rode in its cars on that memorable day were but a foretaste of the patronage which the line was to receive. Although the intention of its projectors was to limit its traffic chiefly to freight, the road from the first found its offices besieged by persons eager to ride. Thus passenger traffic became established as its leading source of revenue, and thus were the capitalists encouraged to prosecute the extension of the railway system to points where the outlook for freight business was much less than between Liverpool and Manchester. Though these roads were fiercely opposed by the landowners, the canal-men, and turnpike proprietors, they were pressed forward in every direction. Robert Stephenson shared with his father the responsibility of engineering some of the principal lines, though the two men had the grim satisfaction of seeing the experts who had ridiculed the initial project now eagerly bidding for the opportunity of conducting surveys for the new lines.
A mania for building railroads seized the world. The Stephensons were in demand not only throughout Great Britain, but even on the Continent. They had already made a market for their engines abroad, when, in 1835, they were summoned by the King of Belgium to assist in laying out a system of railways for that kingdom. For his services here the engineer was knighted by the King and banqueted at the royal table. Honored at home and abroad; happy in the general adoption of the ideas to which he had clung through opposition and adversity; proud of the son Robert, for whose education he had worked like a slave, and whom he now saw hailed as one of the great engineers of the world; fortunate in business; respected and beloved by men of every class, George Stephenson spent the closing years of his life in affluence and ease. He had earned his peace, for he had fought and won the battle of the locomotive, and so, by improving the means of communication, had advanced the interests of trade, and promoted the welfare of England and of mankind. George Stephenson died in 1848. His son Robert outlived him but eleven years, and was buried in Westminster Abbey as one of the great men of the century. The boldness of his engineering projects, the skill and daring with which he flung his railway bridges and viaducts across rivers, valleys, and straits, had caught and held the imagination of the world. Together the two men wrote the name of Stephenson large and lasting in the record of nineteenth-century England.
Had the nineteenth century nothing else to show save the improvement in transportation, its fame would be secure. Within a dozen years after the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, Great Britain was covered with railways or railway surveys, establishing all the trunk-lines which now exist. The thirty and a half miles of the original line grew by leaps and bounds to a system of nearly two thousand miles, the property of a single company, whose property is valued at five hundred million dollars. Twenty-five years after the day of the "Rocket's" victory eight thousand miles of railway were in operation in the United Kingdom. Another twenty-five years brought the total up to eighteen thousand miles, which had cost for construction nearly four billion dollars. At the same time (1883) the number of locomotives was 14,469, of cars, 490,661. Before Manchester and Liverpool were connected by railway thirty stage-coaches sufficed for the passenger traffic. The railway carried seven hundred thousand passengers between the two cities in its first year and one-half. Fifty years later the passengers on all the English lines numbered six hundred million, of whom eighty-five per cent traveled third-class. The freight traffic in the same year was two hundred and twenty-six million tons. Robert Stephenson lived to see one per cent of the entire population of the United Kingdom employed on the railways. In 1884 the number of such employees was 367,793. These few figures are sufficient to suggest the magnitude of the economic changes which took place in England, and indeed throughout the civilized world, as the direct result of the talent, industry, and perseverance of George Stephenson, the Northumbrian plowboy.
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. Describe the early life of George Stephenson. 2. What attempts at locomotives had been made prior to his time? 3. What success of Stephenson's led to the Stockton-Darlington railway? 4. How did the " Quarterly" comment on the proposed Liverpool line? 5. What was the view of the Parliamentary committee? 6. Describe Stephenson's work on the Liverpool & Manchester line. 7. What competitors had the "Rocket"? 8. Describe the later work of the two Stephensons. 9. Contrast Stephenson's England with that of to-day.
LIFE OF STEPHENSON. Samuel Smiles. ("Lives of the Engineers.")
RUSSELL AND PARLIAMENTARY REFORM
[JOHN RUSSELL, Earl Russell, born, London, August 18, 1792; died, Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park, May 28,1878; educated at Westminster School and Edinburgh University; Member of Parliament, 1813; favored Catholic emancipation; 1830-34, paymaster general; 1831, introduced the first Reform Bill; 1832, carried the third Reform Bill; 1835-39, Home Secretary; 1839-41, Colonial Secretary; 1846-52, Prime Minister; 1852-53, Foreign Secretary; 1854-55, President of the Council; 1855, Colonial Secretary; 1859-65, Foreign Secretary; 1865-66, Prime Minister.]
The Parliament of England is one of the most ancient of political institutions. Constitutional historians find its germs in the council of the wise men—"The Witenagemot"—which was summoned to give advice to the early Anglo-Saxon kings. In the thirteenth century Simon de Montfort had added to the assembly of the nobles certain representatives of the counties, cities, and boroughs. The monarchs found this gathering of the estates of the nation a useful instrument of taxation and the Parliament in turn acquired certain legislative rights. In time the nobles or peers began to sit by themselves, leaving the chosen representatives to meet in a House of Commons. The story of the increasing influence of Parliament is in great part the history of the English nation. Before the close of the seventeenth century the power of Parliament had become the leading force in the state. Yet much remained to be done in the nineteenth century to bring this supreme governing body into living touch with the heart of the nation.
The conservative habit of the English had left the constitution of the House of Commons untouched for so many years that it had lost all but the semblance of a representative body. No uniform qualification for the voter existed. In one locality the franchise was closely restricted, in others every man, however poor, might exercise the right to vote. There were all manner of variations in these "fancy franchises," which had been conferred by special charters at long separated intervals. Neither was there any existing relation between population and representation. Strange as the statement will appear to American readers, accustomed to the reapportionment of congressional representation after every federal census, it is a fact that there had been no radical change in the boundaries of election districts in England for centuries. The population had meanwhile undergone enormous changes. Not only had it increased manifold, but the rise of modern industry had occasioned a redistribution of the people. London had become a swarming hive. Liverpool docks and warehouses were surrounded by a crowded city. Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and other places scarcely known to the England of Tudor and Stuart, were centers of busy industrial life, attracting to themselves multitudes of the inhabitants of the countryside. The counties, large and small, continued to have equal representation in Parliament, though some of them were many times more populous than others. In the boroughs the inequalities were most flagrant. Where a goodly village had been in Tudor times there might now be nothing visible but the crumbling tower of the parish church, yet the place still retained its right to representation in the House of Commons. Such decayed or "rotten" boroughs existed in considerable numbers. Their few voters were controlled by the land-owning nobility. McCarthy says, "The case of Old Sarum is famous. It returned members to Parliament in the days of Edward III., and from that period down to the time of the Reform Bill. But the town of Old Sarum gradually disappeared. Owing to the rise of New Sarum (Salisbury) and to other causes the population gradually deserted it. The town became practically effaced from existence; its remains far less palpable or visible than those of any Baalbec or Palmyra. Yet it continued to be represented in Parliament. It was at one time bought by Lord Chatham's grandfather, Governor Pitt. It was coolly observed at the time that "Mr. Pitt's posterity now have an hereditary seat in the House of Commons as owners of Old Sarum," just as any earl had a seat in the House of Lords by virtue of his hereditary peerage. When the Reform Bill was passed the member of Parliament for the borough of Ludgershall was himself the only voter in the borough and had chosen himself to Parliament on his own nomination. Another place with two members had only seven qualified voters. McCarthy is quite within the truth when he asserts that two-thirds of the House of Commons was made up of the nominees of the peers and great landlords "who owned their boroughs and members just as they owned their parks and their cattle." Thus the power of the landed aristocracy, which was the House of Lords, lacked but little of being the House of Commons as well. The mass of the nation, which was now rapidly gaining in education and wealth, had no way of making its influence felt in Parliament except by the power of public opinion, to which the periodical and pamphlet press was beginning to give expression.
The condition of the representation, the rotten boroughs, as those in decay were called, and the pocket boroughs, a name applied to those which were the property of individuals, opened the way for shameless corruption. Where the electorate was small and the secret ballot unknown bribery had free rein. Seats were openly bought and sold. As early as 1770 the elder Pitt (Lord Chatham) had placed his finger upon this ailing spot in the English body politic, and had said, "Before the end of this century, either the Parliament will reform itself from within, or be reformed with a vengeance from without." His prediction was falsified by the reactionary effect of the French Revolution, which not only made the English aristocracy cautious about readjusting political arrangements, but kept the minds and hands of Englishmen so fully occupied with foreign affairs as to divert attention from their own domestic troubles. At the close of the long struggle with Napoleon the question came rapidly to the front. Financial distress and industrial depression made the populace restless and discontented. The glowing principles which had inspired the French Revolution in its early days with its watchwords of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," gained a deep lodgment in the popular mind. The dissatisfaction vented itself in attacks upon a political system which denied the right of representation to so large a proportion of the wealth-producing population.
The government at first turned a deaf ear to these appeals, then tried to suppress the agitation which swept through the great manufacturing towns. It was one of these bungling attempts to silence free speech in Manchester on August 16, 1819, which led to the trampling and sabring of many innocent persons by cavalrymen, the "Peterloo massacre," which the populace long cherished as a bloody score against, their aristocratic oppressors. For ten years more the democratic press continued to agitate even more bitterly for reform, and a lonely "radical" member of Parliament would bring forward his motions only to have them contemptuously thrust aside. In 1830, however, a ministry came into power which allowed nothing to stand in the way until the long awaited bill had become a law. The condition which contributed to its success, the incidents of the tremendous parliamentary struggle, and the men who carried it through, are all worthy of the most careful attention of the student of human affairs.
The death of George IV. (June 26, 1830) made way for his brother, William IV., and made necessary a general parliamentary election. The summer had seen a liberal revolution in Paris. The Bourbons had been thrust out and Louis Philippe had been accepted as the citizen-king of the French, governing under a liberal constitution. This revolution, and simultaneous movements throughout western Europe, touched an answering chord in the breasts of Englishmen, and the Tories found themselves in a minority when the new Parliament assembled in November. The Duke of Wellington was Prime Minister, the last man from whom the popular cause could expect to receive any concessions. At the opening of the session the premier took occasion to declare his disbelief "that the state of representation could be improved or be rendered more satisfactory to the country at large than at the present moment." "I am fully convinced," he said, "that the country possesses a legislature which answers all the good purposes of legislation, and this to a greater degree than any legislature has answered in any other country whatever." He flatly declared his determined opposition to any measure of reform. Within a fortnight his government met its Waterloo and he resigned.
Earl Gray, the Whig premier who succeeded Wellington, came into office fully resolved to pass a Reform Bill. The responsibility of drafting the measure was intrusted to a young Whig commoner, Lord John Russell, a younger son of the Duke of Bedford, and a scion of one of the great Whig houses. Lord John Russell had entered Parliament in 1813, at the age of twenty-one, for one of the family boroughs. He was now in his thirty-seventh year, and his parliamentary career, if not brilliant for oratory, had at least been marked by intelligent devotion to high ideals. In 1819, before the echoes of Peterloo had died away, he had asked Parliament to disfranchise all boroughs of proved corruption, and transfer their representation to more deserving constituencies. A little later he proved to the House the corruption existing at Gram-pound, and secured the disfranchisement of that borough and the transfer of its voting rights to the great county of York. This was but a small step, but it opened the way to tremendous changes. He was determined, he said, to strip "the dead bones of a former state of England" of their political influence and give it to the "living energy of England of the nineteenth century, with its steam engines and its factories, its cotton and woolen cloths, its cutlery and its coal mines, its wealth and its intelligence." Session after session he returned to this text only to be as often defeated by the Tories. He was more successful in 1828 when he carried the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, relics of a bygone age when it was thought necessary to the safety of the nation to exclude from military or civil office all persons who did not take the communion in accordance with the ritual of the Established Church. "Lord John," as he came to be called in the course of his half-century of parliamentary life, would have advanced from the relief of Protestant dissenters to the emancipation of the Catholics, had not the Tories, in their dread of civil war in Ireland, forestalled him, and made the measure their own (April, 1829).
The first Reform Bill, which had been drafted by Russell, and worked over by Lord Durham and other ministers, was presented to the Commons on March 1, 1831. Its provisions had been kept profoundly secret, and the house was thronged to hear them explained in the low and measured tones of Lord John Russell. The nation was as eager as the immediate auditory to know how far the government would go in granting the popular demand. Touching upon some of the existing anomalies the speaker imagined a foreigner visiting England; having been impressed with British wealth, civilization, and renown, "Would not such a foreigner," he queried, "be much astonished if he were taken to a green mound and informed that it sent two members to the British Parliament? . . . . or if he walked into a park without the vestige of a dwelling and was told that it, too, sent two members to the British Parliament? But if he was surprised at this, how much more would he be astonished if he were carried into the north of England, where he would see large, flourishing towns, full of trade, activity, and intelligence, vast magazines of wealth and manufactures, and were told that these places sent no representatives to Parliament!"
By the provisions of the bill sixty boroughs with less than two thousand members were to lose both members, and forty-seven boroughs were to be reduced to a single member. Of the seats thus vacated eight were to be given to London, thirty-four to large towns, fifty-five to English counties, five to Scotland, three to Ireland, one to Wales. The franchise was to be extended to inhabitants of houses taxed at ten pounds a year, and to leaseholders and copyholders of counties. The changes added about half a million to the number of voters in the United Kingdom.
The country followed the progress of the debate with intense interest night after night. The bill passed to its second reading by a majority of one in the fullest house on record and the country gave itself up to illuminations and other expressions of joy. But the bill got no farther. The majority was too close for the comfort of the ministers, and having been defeated on a matter of detail, they confidently appealed to the country. The King dissolved Parliament, and writs were issued for a general election. It was at this juncture, when London was illuminating to show its satisfaction over the prospect for a reform victory, that the darkened windows of the Duke of Wellington's town house were stoned by the populace. The rallying cries of the Whigs were "The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill," and "Reform, Aye or No?" Popular agitation by associations, newspapers, speech-making, monster meetings, etc., reached an unprecedented height, and the force of public opinion was shown at the polls. In spite of pocket boroughs, family influence, and flagrant corruption, the reformers came back to Parliament with their majority increased to fully one hundred. Of the eighty-two members for the counties where the popular feeling had its freest expression, only six were opposed to Lord Russell's scheme of reform.
Lord Russell's second Reform Bill was introduced on June 24th. The minority, hopeless of success in a stand-up fight, resorted to the obstructive tactics now known as "filibustering." After wasting three months in tedious obstruction the Commons passed the bill by a majority of one hundred and nine, and Lord Grey laid it before the House of Lords in the most impressive speech of his career. He endeavored to persuade the aristocrats before him that only by such concessions could the Constitution of England be saved. Already there were wide-spread evidences of popular discontent in the "nightly alarms, burnings, and popular disturbances." The rotten boroughs could no longer be tolerated with safety to the state. "This gangrene upon our representative system bade defiance to all remedies but that of excision." Deaf to his arguments, and blind to everything but their own privilege and immediate interest, the peers pronounced against the bill.
The rejection of the second Reform Bill by the House of Lords brought England to the brink of revolution. As it was, the newspapers were full of signs that the patience of the nation was exhausted. Mobs and incendiary fires were reported in many districts, and the abolition of the House of Lords found strenuous advocates. It was at one of the numerous indignation meetings that Sydney Smith hit off the attempt of the Lords to stay the progress of reform by comparing it with Mrs. Partington's attempt to check the high tide at Sidmouth with a mop. "The Atlantic was roused. Mrs. Partington's spirit was up. But I need not tell you that the contest was unequal. The Atlantic Ocean beat Mrs. Partington. Gentlemen, be at your ease; be quiet and steady; you will beat Mrs. Partington!"
As soon as the Parliament reassembled in December, Lord John Russell offered the third Reform Bill. It was identical in principle with the others, though the number of the affected boroughs had been slightly altered. It passed its successive stages by ample majorities and was in due order presented to the House of Lords. The ministers were prepared to play their last card. They found the peers determined to mutilate the proposition in disregard of the popular demand, now louder than ever, for "The bill, the whole bill, and nothing but the bill." Earl Grey and his chancellor, Lord Brougham, thereupon requested King William to overcome the opposition by sanctioning the creation of new peers sufficient to insure a majority for the act. But the King held back. The ministers offered their resignations, and the King commissioned the Iron Duke to form a government. But no Tory government could stand a day in the face of the hosts of reform in the Commons and in the nation, as Wellington had reluctantly to confess. The monarch had to yield, and so doing, helped establish the principle more firmly than ever before that the chief power in the English Constitution is lodged in the House of Commons, acting through its ministers. In this case it was Commons against King and Lords, and the Commons had their way. To save themselves from an inundation of new peerages the Lords whose hostility to the bill was irreconcilable absented themselves from Westminster when the vote was taken—"skulked in clubs and country houses" as Lord Russell sharply phrased it. The Duke of Wellington's words will show the temper with which the hide-bound Tories received the act. "Reform, my Lords, has triumphed. The barriers of the Constitution are broken down, the waters of destruction have burst the gates of the temple, and the tempest begins to howl. Who can say where its course should stop? Who can stay its speed? For my own part I sincerely hope that my predictions may not be fulfilled, and that my country may not be ruined."
The immediate effect of the reform was to admit the tradesmen and tenant-farmers, the sturdy English middle class, to a share in the government. Thirty-five years later, after Lord Russell had made three or four futile endeavors to carry still further the principle of reform, his opponents, the Conservatives, led by Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli, passed the Reform Bills of 1867-68, greatly reducing the property qualification of voters, and rectifying inequalities in borough representation. Under this act most of the mechanic and artisan class gained the right to vote. Finally, in 1884, Mr. Gladstone carried the reform another stage, conferring the franchise upon two millions of poor men, including the class of agricultural laborers.
His contribution to the success of reform identified Lord John Russell with the cause of liberty, and made him a leading man. It is not within the scope of this sketch to follow him through the shifting scenes of the honorable career in politics and statesmanship which now opened out before him, and which continued until, when at nearly four-score, the party leadership passed from him to his able associate, William Ewart Gladstone. Among the notable measures in which he had a leading hand was the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, which put the government of cities in the hands of the taxpayers and did away with the effete and corrupt corporations which had exercised it. His "Edinburgh letter," in 1845, hastened Peel's conversion to free trade. He was ever concerned in religion and education. After the overthrow of Peel's government, in 1846, he was raised to the premiership. He held the position until 1852, and again, from October, 1865, to June, 1866. His retirement in the latter year removed from British politics a conspicuous figure. It was a figure which had filled a large place in the affairs of the world, and for the most part filled it well, though never again in his career was it his lot to become such a popular hero as he was during the early battles for reform. Russell's death, in 1878, brought up the varied panorama of his life. McCarthy, in reviewing it, touches upon some of its points of interest. "He had a seat in the administration at his disposal when another young man might have been glad of a seat in an opera box. He must have been brought into more or less intimate association with all the men and women worth knowing in Europe since the early part of the century. He was a pupil of Dugald Stewart at Edinburgh, and he sat as a youth at the feet of Fox. He had accompanied Wellington in some of his peninsular campaigns; he measured swords with Canning and Peel successively through years of parliamentary warfare. He knew Metternich and Talleyrand. He had met the widow of Charles Stuart, the young chevalier, in Florence; and had conversed with Napoleon in Elba. He knew Cavour and Bismarck. He was now an ally of Daniel O'Connell, and now of Cobden and Bright. He was the close friend of Thomas Moore; he knew Byron. Lord John Russell had tastes for literature, for art, for philosophy, for history, for politics, and his aestheticism had the advantage that it made him seek the society and appreciate the worth of men of genius and letters. Thus he never remained a mere politician like Pitt or Palmerston."
No one will now claim that Earl Russell—he was raised to the peerage with this title—is to be ranked with the few greatest of English statesmen, but that he served his country devotedly, honorably, and courageously will not be denied. His contemporary, Lord Shaftesbury, noted his death in his own journal with this just comment: "To have begun with disapprobation, to have fought through many difficulties, to have announced and acted on principles new to the day in which he lived, to have filled many important offices, to have made many speeches and written many books, and in his whole course to have done much with credit and nothing with dishonor, and so to have sustained and advanced his reputation to the very end, is a mighty commendation." And the Queen, in a letter to his widow, wrote: "You will believe that I truly regret an old friend of forty years' standing, and whose personal kindness in trying and anxious times I shall ever remember. 'Lord John,' as I knew him best, was one of my first and most distinguished ministers, and his departure recalls many eventful times."
QUESTIONS FOR REVIEW
1. In what ways did Parliament fail to be "representative" at the opening of the nineteenth century? 2. What circumstances favored agitation of this condition? 3. What was the "Peterloo Massacre"? 4. Who was Lord Russell, and what his early relation to the reform movement? 5. What was the Test and Corporation Act, and when repealed? 6. Describe the first Reform Bill, and its effect upon the House of Commons? 7. How was the second bill treated by the Commons and by the Lords? 8. What circumstances attended the passage of the third bill? 9. How was the principle of reform extended in later years? 10. What peculiar privileges did Lord John Russell enjoy? 11. How is his character shown in the use which he made of them?
LIFE OF EARL RUSSELL. S. J. Reid. RECOLLECTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS. Lord John Russell. THE EPOCH OF REFORM. Justin McCarthy. HISTORY OF THE REFORM BILL. W. N. Molesworth.
COBDEN AND FREE TRADE
[RICHARD COBDEN, born, 1804, at Dunford, near Midhurst, Sussex; died, London, 1865; after grammar school education, entered mercantile house in London, soon becoming a traveling salesman; about 1830 became founder of a cotton-printing concern at Manchester; traveled in Europe and America; wrote pamphlets on commercial and economic questions; 1838, became an ardent supporter of the Anti-Corn Law League; 1841, Member of Parliament for Stockport; advocate of free trade in the House of Commons; received popular testimonial of 79,000 in recognition of his services to the free trade cause; 1847-57, Member of Parliament for West Riding of York; advocate of arbitration and diminished expense for military purposes; 1849, Member of Parliament for Rochdale; 1860, negotiated commercial treaty with France.]
The Reform Bill of 1832 invaded the privileges of the landed aristocracy by destroying in some measure their control of the House of Commons through the pocket boroughs. Sixteen years later a second blow was struck at this class through the repeal of the Corn Laws.
The Corn Laws aimed to secure to English agriculturists a monopoly of the home market for grain. The wars with Napoleon, which paralyzed continental industries, stimulated those of England to abnormal prosperity. Food advanced in price, but labor was in great demand and well paid. The prospect of approaching peace in Europe, in 1813, precipitated hard times in Great Britain. The price of wheat fell and manufactures declined. The land-owning classes, then supreme in Parliament, enacted the Corn Law of 1815 for their own protection. By its provisions the importation of grain from foreign countries was practically prohibited until the price in England reached eighty shillings per quarter. Ten members of the House of Lords protested against the measure on the grounds that all restraint of trade was improper; that the restraint of trade in food was especially iniquitous; that the law would not steady or cheapen prices; and that "such a measure levied a tax on the consumer in order to give a bounty to the grower of corn,"—principles which have a modern sound.
England was at that time living under a system of high protective tariffs upon imported articles of manufacture as well as of food. But in 1823-25 Mr. Huskisson succeeded in having most of the tariffs upon raw materials reduced to a fraction of the former figures, with the result that production was enormously stimulated and valuable foreign markets were opened to English commodities. His only modification of the Corn Law (in 1822) was to reduce by ten shillings the figure at which importations might begin. Later he and Canning made some progress with a "sliding scale" bill, a principle which the Duke of Wellington enacted into law in 1828. This interesting device provided that when the price in the home market reached sixty-four shillings the quarter the duty should be 23s 8d. As the price rose the duty fell. When wheat was 69s, the duty was 16s 8d, and when the price reached 73s, foreign corn might come in on payment of one shilling per quarter.
As has been shown in a foregoing chapter, the past half-century had witnessed a great transformation in the industrial complexion of England—from a nation chiefly agricultural it had become the center of the world's manufactures. Tens of thousands of families had removed from the farms to the cities, "following the work" in the mills and factories, and hundreds of thousands of pounds had been invested in a great diversity of industrial enterprises. The manufacturer and the mill-hand were alike interested in low prices for food. The manufacturer also saw in the high tariff on grain a barrier against the free exchange of commodities. As his output increased it became necessary for him to enlarge his market, but when he attempted to sell his goods to America and Russia the law interposed to block the bargain by excluding those grain-producing countries from selling their superfluous food- stocks in England. Apparently here was a clash between the interests of manufacturer and agriculturist.
In 1836 a few thoughtful men in London, who were opposed to any restraint of trade, formed an Anti-Corn Law Association. But the metropolis was stony soil for such a plant. In 1838 a similar association was organized in Manchester, one of the new industrial cities dominated by modern ideas, crowded with factories, and populous with laboring men and women, a fit center for such an agitation as was to precede the downfall of the tax on food. In Manchester, too, in the person of a calico-printer named Richard Cobden, the agitation found its mainspring and its clear and persuasive voice.
Richard Cobden sprang from a long line of plain Sussex yeomen. His father was a farmer who became bankrupt in 1813, and the lad Richard, one of twelve children, was sent by a well-meaning relative to a Yorkshire boarding-school—a sort of Dotheboys Hall. From such a rough school he passed into the rougher one of life, becoming the lad of all work in the London warehouse of the same kinsman, later a clerk, and at twenty-one a traveling salesman, or "drummer," a position for which his untiring energy and engaging sociability were high qualifications. A great reader, he was also a superior converser and a "mixer" as the present-day phrase goes, adapting himself to his company with unusual facility. John Morley records that all his friends agree that "they have never known a man in whom this trait of a sound and rational desire to know and to learn was so strong and so inexhaustible." "To know the affairs of the world was the master- passion of his life," and the knowledge which he gained and assimilated not merely in his early contact with men in his business, but in the wider journeys of observation to which he treated himself in later years, contributed much to the enrichment of his speeches and writings.
At the age of twenty-four, with two other young men, whose capital like his own was little more than energy, probity, and business knowledge, he founded a firm in London for the sale of Manchester cotton prints on commission. Soon the firm was printing its own goods in Lancashire, and Mr. Cobden, prospering greatly from the first, took up his residence in Manchester, to watch over that end of the business. Though as full of affairs as any man in that hive of industry, Cobden found time to store his mind by reading and by reflection upon the knowledge gained by intercourse with his fellowmen. He visited France, Switzerland, and in 1835, America, where he foresaw a growing market for his wares, and where, as he wrote, he fondly hoped "would be realized some of those dreams of human exaltation if not of perfection" with which he loved to console himself. In 1836-37 he visited the Mediterranean countries, and on his return was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat in the House of Commons.
In May, 1838, Richard Cobden wrote to his brother concerning the political outlook in the nation, the Chartist agitation, the Radical demands, and the general disorganization which existed among the opponents of Tory government. The letter includes these significant words: "I think the scattered elements may yet be rallied round the question of the Corn Laws. It appears to me that a moral, and even a religious, spirit may be infused into that topic, and if agitated in the same manner that the question of slavery has been, it will be irresistible."
The purposes of the Manchester Anti-Corn Law Association are thus stated by Morley: "To obtain by all legal and constitutional means, such as the formation of local associations, the delivery of lectures, the distribution of tracts, and the presentation of petitions to Parliament, the total and immediate repeal of the Corn and Provision Laws." Mr. Cobden became a member of the executive committee, and his mind, voice, and pen were active in the service of the society until its object was attained. In response to his appeal for a campaign fund ("Let us invest part of our property in order to save the rest from confiscation") six thousand pounds poured into the treasury within a month. The local societies, which sprang up like wildfire in the manufacturing towns, were affiliated with that at Manchester, which soon became the headquarters of a far-reaching league.
The leaguers carried political agitation to a point of thoroughness beyond anything which had yet been reached by O'Connell or the abolitionists. They issued a newspaper organ which enunciated its principles and denounced the enemies of free trade. Vast editions of tracts and leaflets were scattered broadcast throughout the land, and a staff of carefully instructed speakers was maintained to itinerate through the rural districts and preach the gospel of free corn in tavern, market- place, and town hall.
In Parliament the battle must be won, and the league soon began its work of capturing seats in the House of Commons. Cobden himself was chosen, in 1841, as member for Stockport. Almost immediately he exercised his gift as a speaker, securing at once the attention of his colleagues by his style of oratory, which, with little formal eloquence or rhetorical elaboration, was powerfully persuasive, enriched by many happy illustrations drawn from life, and infused with a pure and lofty spirit. Whatever the topic under discussion, he was always able to show its relation to the obnoxious tariff, and to point out that the only sure remedy for the prevalent national ills was by way of the repeal of "the tax on bread." At first the young calico-printer—he was but thirty-seven—who embodied the opposition to the Corn Laws, was looked upon as an intruder by the young aristocrats of the House. They made fun of his classical allusions, and magnified his lack of education, attempting to laugh down his logic. But Cobden was not long in proving his ability to take care of himself on the floor of the House. It was no mere politician who caught the ear of the country with words like these: "When I go down to the manufacturing districts, I know that I shall be returning to a gloomy scene. I know that starvation is stalking through the land, and that men are perishing for the want of the merest necessaries of life. When I witness this, and recollect that there is a law which especially provides for keeping our population in absolute want, I cannot help attributing murder to the legislature of this country; and wherever I stand, whether here or out-of-doors, I will denounce that system of legislative murder."
Out-of-doors Mr. Cobden had the strong support of the most eloquent Englishman of his generation, John Bright. The two men had been drawn together early by a common interest in the welfare of the manufacturing classes, and especially in popular education. In September, 1841, Cobden visited his friend in his house, and found him plunged in sadness by the death of his young wife. After words of condolence, he said, with great earnestness, "John, there are thousands of houses in England at this moment where wives, mothers, and children are dying of hunger. Now when the first paroxysm of your grief is passed, I would advise you to come with me and we will never rest until the Corn Law is repealed."
"For seven years," Mr. Bright afterward said, "the discussion on that one question—whether it was good for a man to have half a loaf or a whole loaf—for seven years the discussion was maintained, I will not say with doubtful result, for the result was never doubtful and never could be in such a cause; but for five years or more (1841-46), we devoted ourselves without stint; every working hour almost was given up to the discussion and to the movement in connection with this question."
Mr. Morley's description of the two orators and their mission is memorable: "The public imagination was struck by the figures of the pair who had given themselves up to a great public cause. The picture of two plain men leaving their homes and their business and going over the length and breadth of the land to convert the nation, had about it something apostolic; it presented something so far removed from the stereotyped ways of political activity, that this circumstance alone, apart from the object for which they were pleading, touched and affected people, and gave a certain dramatic interest to the long pilgrimages of the two men who had only become orators because they had something to say which they were intent on bringing their hearers to believe, and which happened to be true, wise, and just.....In Cobden, as in Bright, we feel that there was nothing personal or small, and that what they cared for so vehemently were great causes. .... Mr. Bright had all the resources of passion alive within his breast. He was carried along by vehement political anger, and deeper than that there glowed a wrath as stern as that of an ancient prophet. To cling to a mischievous error seemed to him to savor of moral depravity and corruption of heart. What he saw was the selfishness of the aristocracy and the landlords and he was too deeply moved by the hatred of this to care to deal very patiently with the bad reasoning which their own self-interest inclined his adversaries to mistake for good. His invective was not the expression of mere irritation, but a profound and menacing passion. Hence he dominated his audiences from a height, while his companion rather drew them along after him as friends and equals. Cobden was by no means incapable of passion, of violent feeling, or of vehement expression. His fighting qualities were in their own way as formidable as Mr. Bright's..... Still it was not passion to which we must look for the secret of his oratorical success. In one word, it was persuasiveness. Cobden made his way to men's hearts by the union which they saw in him of simplicity, earnestness, and conviction, with a singular facility of exposition. This facility consisted in a remarkable power of apt and homely illustration, and a curious ingenuity in framing the argument that happened to be wanted.....In such an appeal to popular sentiment and popular passion as the contemporary agitation of O'Connell for repeal, he could have played no leading part. Where knowledge and logic were the proper instruments, Cobden was a master." Nor did his efficiency cease when the audience dispersed. In council chamber and work-room his alert and inventive mind and persuasive conversational eloquence had free scope. His hopeful enthusiasm, his clever devices for stimulating the jaded interest of the masses, and his unfailing good humor made him the chief engineer of the highly complex machinery of the league.
His enthusiasm led to the formation of associations in all the centers of industry; it redoubled the efforts and efficiency of the lecturers who carried the doctrines of the league into the agricultural counties—the enemy's country; it replenished the treasury of the league with thousands of pounds by subscriptions and by grand bazaars, one of which netted ten thousand pounds; it gave life and variety to the newspaper organ of the agitation; and in Parliament it met the government by a constant fire of questions, a bombardment of solid fact, and a harassing recurrence to the necessity of total and immediate repeal as the only salve for the economic sores of the kingdom.
His parliamentary opponents attacked him fiercely. They accused him of hypocrisy in carrying on an agitation professedly for the general good, but really intended to help the cotton manufacturers at the expense of the landowners and agriculturists. They laid at Cobden's door the miseries of the mill-hands of Manchester, crying "Physician, heal thyself." So strongly intrenched was "monopoly" in the House of Commons that it was slow work for the Anti-Corn Law League with its weapons of peaceful agitation to drive it out. Year after year the orators traveled through the three kingdoms, addressing thousands, tracts were distributed by the ton, and enormous sums of money were subscribed (the amount for 1844 being nearly a hundred thousand pounds). In order that the popular opinion thus carefully cultivated might be brought effectively to bear at the next parliamentary election, the league took care that every qualified free trader was registered on the polling lists. At Cobden's suggestion large numbers of workingmen qualified by becoming freeholders.
The eloquence of Bright, the cogent reasoning of Cobden, and the long campaign of education were steadily doing their work. The number of professed free traders in Parliament was still small, but the thoughtful leaders of the great parties, the men who studied the sentiment of the country, and watched the signs of the times, and weighed well the masses of evidence which the league continually brought forward-these men were being converted to the Manchester idea. What Cobden said in a popular assembly in the summer of 1845 was truer than even he may have believed. "What," he asked, "if you could get at the minds of the people would you find them thinking as to the repeal of the Corn Laws? I know it as well as if I were in their hearts. It is this: they are all afraid that this Corn Law cannot be maintained—no, not a rag of it—during a period of scarcity prices, of a famine season, such as we had in '39, '40, and '41. They know it. They are prepared when such a time comes to abolish the Corn Laws.....They are going to repeal it—mark my words—at a season of distress. That distress may come; aye, three weeks of showery weather, when the wheat is in bloom or ripening, would repeal these Corn Laws." He had already shown the precarious condition of the Irish people, whose only food was the potato, and whom the high price of grain kept on the edge of famine. The autumnal rains of 1845 precipitated the crisis, and fulfilled Cobden's prediction. The failure of the potato harvest plunged Ireland into dire distress for food. The league in crowded meetings denounced the tax on bread while men starved. The government of Sir Robert Peel hesitated as to the proper course. To suspend the food tariff might prove a concession to free trade which could never be regained. While Peel's cabinet hung back Lord John Russell, the leader of the Whigs, issued (November 22) his famous Edinburgh letter to his constituents, declaring that the time had come for the repeal of the baneful legislation. Peel was of the same mind, but some of his Tory colleagues resisted. None were more stubborn than Wellington, whose action at this juncture led Cobden to say, "Let me remind him that, notwithstanding all his victories in the field, he never yet entered into a contest with Englishmen in which he was not beaten." The effort of the Whigs to form a ministry having failed, Peel resumed the premiership which he had resigned. Parliament assembled on January 26, 1846, and the Prime Minister's speech foreshadowed his conversion to the policy of Cobden. The next day he explained his program. The Corn Laws were to be totally repealed by gradual reductions of the duty extending over a period of three years. Despite the mockery of Disraeli and the protectionists the bill passed the Commons by a great majority, and bowing to superior power, the Duke of Wellington helped it to pass the House. On June 26th Cobden carried the news to his wife: "Hurrah! Hurrah! The corn bill is law, and now my work is done!"
Cobden's utter consecration of himself for eight years to the Anti-Corn Law agitation had cost him severely. The constant travel, exposure, and hardship of speaking in the open air had seriously impaired his health. His business had been neglected until he had been only saved from bankruptcy by the generosity of friends. The league into which he had poured his best thought and effort honored him by a popular subscription amounting to nearly eighty thousand pounds as a testimonial to his public-spirited devotion. He might have entered the government, but preferred otherwise. During the twenty years of life which remained to him he was the advocate of numerous reforms. Ever a lover of peace, he was a strong champion of the principle of international arbitration, and of the reduction of armaments. The most conspicuous achievement of his later years was his successful negotiation of more liberal commercial treaties between France and England, a service for which he received the thanks of both governments. During the American Civil War his sympathies were strongly enlisted for the North against the cause of the slave- holders, and his speeches helped to restrain the hostile feeling of the aristocracy. Though sometimes exposing himself to ridicule and obloquy by running counter to the popular current, Mr. Cobden's honesty and sincerity were such that his opponents must admit his purity of motive and nobility of soul. His death, in 1865, was recognized as a national loss.
No eulogium pronounced over his grave by Bright, the companion of his labors and triumphs, or by Disraeli and Gladstone, great converts to his economic doctrines, is so memorable as the brief passage in which Sir Robert Peel, in the last hours of his premiership, gave to the free-trade agitator the credit for the great reform: "In reference to our proposing these measures," he said, "I have no wish to rob any person of the credit which is justly due to him for them. But I may say that neither the gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite, nor myself, nor the gentlemen sitting round me—are the parties who are strictly entitled to the merit.....Sir, the name which ought to be, and which will be, associated with the success of these measures is the name of a man who, acting, I believe from pure and disinterested motives, has advocated their cause with untiring energy, and by appeals to reason, expressed by an eloquence the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned, the name which ought to be, and will be, associated with the success of these measures is the name of Richard Cobden. Without scruple, sir, I attribute the success of these measures to him."