Home >> Chamber's Encyclopedia, Volume 4 >> Organs And Process Op to The Railway Clearing House >> Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden

repeal, free-trade, country, commerce, corn-laws and rejected

COB'DEN, RICHARD, an eminent English politician, who was very aptly designated "the apostle of free-trade," was b. at Dunford, near Midhurst, Sussex, in 1804. His father, who was the owner of sonic little property, which he cultivated himself, died while the subject of this article was yet young, leaving his family in comparatively poor circumstances. Richard was received into a wholesale warehouse belonging to his uncle,'where he soon exhibited great aptitude for business. After some time, he became a partner in a Manchester house, his presence here being speedily made manifest by the superior quality and tastefulness of the printed calicoes of the firm. In 1834-35, C. traveled in Turkey, Greece, and Egypt, and also visited the United States, the result of his travels appearing in two pamphlets, entitled respectively England, Ireland, and America, and Russia; the latter intended as an antidote against the " Russophobia " then prevalent. In these pamphlets, he also ridiculed the workings of diplomacy, and asserted England's mission to be the avoidance of war and the extension of commerce. In 1837, he contested unsuccessfully, on free-trade principles, the borough of Stockport: and in 1838 he carried in the Manchester chamber of commerce a motion to petition parlia ment for the repeal of all duties on corn. This was followed by similar action all over the country; and in the following year, petitions bearing some two millions of signa tures for the repeal of the corn-laws were carried to London by 200 delegates. The motion of Mr. Villiers for repeal being rejected by a large majority of the house of commons, the friends of free-trade determined to form the anti-corn-law league (q.v.), of which C. became the most active and prominent member. To his lectures a11 over the country, and his speeches in parliament (to which lie was returned in 1841 by the constituency which rejected him in 1837), all characterized by great information, clear ness, and acute and convincing reasoning, was in great part due, as sir Robert Peel acknowledged, the abolition of the corn-laws at so early a period as 1846. Having accom

plished this great work, C. again visited the continent, and during his absence he was elected both for Stockport and the West Riding of Yorkshire. He chose the latter con stituency, which he continued to represent till 1857, when, on an appeal to the country by lord Palmerston to support him in his Chinese policy, of which C. was a strenuous opponent, he was rejected. Shortly after the repeal of the corn-laws, the public testified its gratitude to him for the services he rendered in this matter by sub scribing for him a magnificent testimonial of between £00,000 and L'70,000. C. now gave up business, and devoted himself exclusively to politics. Ile continued to labor assiduously for the extension of free-trade principles, for parliamentary and financial reform, for repeal of the taxes on knowledge, and was particularly earnest in enunciat ing national and international peace views; and to this feeling with regard to war, he owed his rejection at the general election of 1857. In 1859, having in the interval, on account of ill health, retired from politics altogether, he was, during his absence in America, elected to Rochdale. Lord Palmerston, who was at this time called upon to form a new ministry, with a just appreciation of the great services which C. had ren dered to his country, offered him a seat in the cabinet, which C., as the uncompromising opponent of the noble lord's foreign policy, felt bound to decline. After his election for RoL4dale, the state of his health did not permit him to take any part in parliament ary proceedings, but as her majesty's plenipotentiary, he (1859-60) arranged and con cluded a treaty of commerce with France. C. spoke out strongly in favor of the north during the American civil war. He died April 2,1865.