Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was an English
manufacturer and Radical and Liberal statesman, associated with two
major free trade campaigns, the
Anti-Corn Law League
Anti-Corn Law League and the
As a young man, Cobden was a successful commercial traveller who
became co-owner of a highly profitable calico printing factory in
Manchester, a city with which he would become strongly identified.
However, he soon found himself more engaged in politics, and his
travels convinced him of the virtues of free trade (anti-protection)
as the key to better international relations.
In 1838, he and
John Bright founded the Anti-Corn Law League, aimed at
abolishing the unpopular Corn Laws, which protected landowners’
interests by levying taxes on imported wheat, thus raising the price
of bread. As a
Member of Parliament from 1841, he fought against
opposition from the Peel ministry, and abolition was achieved in 1846.
Another free trade initiative was the
Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860,
promoting closer interdependence between Britain and France. This
campaign was conducted in collaboration with
John Bright and French
economist Michel Chevalier, and succeeded despite Parliament’s
endemic mistrust of the French.
1 Early years
2 First publications
3 First steps in politics
4 Corn Laws
5 Tribute, journey and resettlement
6 Peace campaigner
7 Second Opium War
8 Cobden–Chevalier Treaty
9 American Civil War
13 Further reading
14 External links
Cobden was born at a farmhouse called Dunford, in
Midhurst, in Sussex. He was the fourth of eleven children born to
William Cobden and his wife Millicent (née Amber). His family had
been resident in that neighbourhood for many generations, occupied
partly in trade and partly in agriculture. His grandfather Richard
Cobden owned Bex Mill in
Heyshott and was an energetic and prosperous
maltster who served as bailiff and chief magistrate at
took rather a notable part in county matters. His father William
however forsook malting in favour of farming, taking over the running
of Dunford Farm when Richard died in 1809. A poor business man, he
sold the property when the farm failed and moved the family to a
smaller farm at nearby Gullard’s Oak. Conditions did not improve
and by 1814, after several more moves, the family eventually settled
as tenant farmers in West Meon, near Alton in Hampshire.
Cobden attended a dame school and then Bowes Hall School in Teesdale,
County Durham. When fifteen years of age he went to
London to the
warehouse business of his uncle Richard Ware Cole where he became a
commercial traveller in muslin and calico. His relative, noting the
lad's passionate addiction to study, solemnly warned him against
indulging such a taste, as likely to prove a fatal obstacle to his
success in commercial life. Cobden was undeterred and made good use
of the library of the
London Institution. When his uncle's business
failed, he joined that of Partridge & Price, in Eastcheap, one of
the partners being his uncle's former partner.
In 1828, Cobden set up his own business with Sheriff and Gillet,
partly with capital from John Lewis, acting as
London agents for Fort
Manchester calico printers. In 1831, the partners sought to
lease a factory from Fort's at Sabden, near Clitheroe, Lancashire.
They had, however, insufficient capital between them. Cobden and his
colleagues so impressed Fort's that they consented to retain a
substantial proportion of the equity. The new firm prospered and soon
had three establishments – the printing works at
sales outlets in
London and Manchester. The
Manchester outlet came
under the direct management of Cobden, who settled there in 1832,
beginning a long association with the city. He lived in a house on
Quay Street, which is now called Cobden House. A plaque commemorates
his residency. The success of the enterprise was decisive and rapid,
and the "Cobden prints" soon became well known for their
Had Cobden devoted all his energies to the business, he might soon
have become very wealthy. His earnings in the business were typically
£8,000 to £10,000 a year. However, his lifelong habit of learning
and inquiry absorbed much of his time. Writing under the byname Libra,
he published many letters in the
Manchester Times discussing
commercial and economic questions. Some of his ideas were influenced
by Adam Smith.
Manchester home on Quay Street.
In 1835 he published his first pamphlet, entitled England, Ireland and
America, by a
Manchester Manufacturer. Cobden advocated the
principles of peace, non-intervention, retrenchment and free trade to
which he continued faithful. He paid a visit to the United States,
landing in New York on 7 June 1835. He devoted about three months to
this tour, passing rapidly through the seaboard states and the
adjacent portion of Canada, and collecting as he went large stores of
information respecting the condition, resources and prospects of the
nation. Another work appeared towards the end of 1836, under the title
of Russia. It was designed to combat a wild outbreak of Russophobia
inspired by David Urquhart. It contained also a bold indictment of the
whole system of foreign policy founded on ideas of the balance of
power and the necessity of large armaments for the protection of
Bad health obliged him to leave Britain, and for several months, at
the end of 1836 and the beginning of 1837, he travelled in Spain,
Turkey and Egypt. During his visit to
Egypt he had an interview with
Mehemet Ali, of whose character as a reforming monarch he did not
bring away a very favourable impression. He returned to Britain in
First steps in politics
Richard Cobden outside St Ann's Church, Manchester
Richard Cobden in Camden
Cobden soon became a conspicuous figure in
Manchester political and
intellectual life. He championed the foundation of the Manchester
Athenaeum and delivered its inaugural address. He was a member of the
chamber of commerce and was part of the campaign for the incorporation
of the city, being elected one of its first aldermen. He began also to
take a warm interest in the cause of popular education. Some of his
first attempts in public speaking were at meetings which he convened
at Manchester, Salford, Bolton,
Rochdale and other adjacent towns, to
advocate the establishment of British schools. It was while on a
mission for this purpose to
Rochdale that he first formed the
acquaintance of John Bright. In 1837, the death of William IV and the
accession of Queen Victoria led to a general election. Cobden was
candidate for Stockport, but was narrowly defeated.
Other interests included his friendship with
George Combe and his
involvement with the
Manchester Phrenological Society in the 1830s and
1840s, although biographers such as John Morley, Donald Read and Wendy
Hinde have tended to downplay this because of their desire not to
portray it as the long-standing, if sometimes light-hearted,
involvement in pseudoscience that in fact, according to David Stack,
it was. Some, such as Richard Gowing have gone so far as to ignore it
completely but the sympathetic interest is evident in Cobden's
frequent references to it. In 1850, he asked Combe to provide a
phrenological reading of his son.
Main article: Anti-Corn Law League
Corn Laws were taxes on imported grain designed to keep prices
high for cereal producers in Great Britain. The laws indeed did raise
food prices and became the focus of opposition from urban areas, which
then had far less political representation than rural Britain. The
corn laws imposed steep import duties, making it too expensive for
anyone to import grain from other countries, even when food supplies
were short. The laws were supported by Conservative landowners and
opposed by Whig industrialists and workers. The Anti-Corn Law League
was responsible for turning public and ruling-class opinion against
the laws. It was a large, nationwide, middle-class moral crusade with
a utopian vision. Its leading advocate was Richard Cobden. According
to historian Asa Briggs, Cobden repeatedly promised that repeal would
settle four great problems simultaneously:
First, it would guarantee the prosperity of the manufacturer by
affording him outlets for his products. Second, it would relieve the
England question' by cheapening the price of food and
ensuring more regular employment. Third, it would make English
agriculture more efficient by stimulating demand for its products in
urban and industrial areas. Fourth, it would introduce through
mutually advantageous international trade a new era of international
fellowship and peace. The only barrier to these four beneficent
solutions was the ignorant self-interest of the landlords, the
'bread-taxing oligarchy, unprincipled, unfeeling, rapacious and
In 1838, the league was formed in Manchester; on Cobden's suggestion,
it became a national association, the Anti-Corn Law League. During the
league's seven years, Cobden was its chief spokesman and animating
spirit. He was not afraid to take his challenge in person to the
agricultural landlords or to confront the working class Chartists, led
by Feargus O'Connor.
In 1841, Sir
Robert Peel having defeated the Melbourne ministry in
parliament, there was a general election, and Cobden was returned as
the new member for Stockport. His opponents had confidently predicted
that he would fail utterly in the House of Commons. He did not wait
long after his admission into that assembly in bringing their
predictions to the test. Parliament met on 19 August. On the 24th,
during the debate on the Queen's Speech, Cobden delivered his first
address. "It was remarked," reported
Harriet Martineau in her History
of the Peace, "that he was not treated in the House with the courtesy
usually accorded to a new member, and it was perceived that he did not
need such observance." Undeterred, he gave a simple and forceful
exposition of his position on the Corn Laws. This marked the start of
his reputation as a master of the issues.
Meeting of the
Anti-Corn Law League
Anti-Corn Law League in
Exeter Hall in 1846
On 17 February 1843 Cobden launched an attack on Peel, holding him
responsible for the miserable state of the nation's workers. Peel did
not respond in the debate but the speech was made at a time of
heightened political feelings. Edward Drummond, Peel's private
secretary, had recently been mistaken for the prime minister and shot
dead in the street by a lunatic. However, later in the evening, Peel
referred in excited and agitated tones to the remark, as an incitement
to violence against his person. Peel's party, catching at this hint,
threw themselves into a frantic state of excitement, and when Cobden
attempted to explain that he meant official, not personal
responsibility, he was drowned out.
Peel reversed his position and in 1846 called for the repeal of the
Corn Laws. Cobden and the League had prepared the moment for years but
they played little role in 1846. After Peel's aggressive politicking,
Corn Laws passed the House of Commons on 16 May 1846 by 98
votes. Peel had formed a coalition of the Conservative leadership and
a third of its MPs joining with the Whigs, with two-thirds of the
Conservatives voting against him. That split Peel's party and led to
the fall of his government. In his resignation speech he credited
Cobden, more than anyone else, with the repeal of the Corn
Tribute, journey and resettlement
Cobden had sacrificed his business, his domestic comforts and for a
time his health to the campaign. His friends therefore felt that the
nation owed him some substantial token of gratitude and admiration for
those sacrifices. Public subscription raised the sum of £80,000. Had
he been inspired with personal ambition, he might have entered upon
the race of political advancement with the prospect of attaining the
highest office. Lord John Russell, who, soon after the repeal of the
Corn Laws, succeeded Peel as prime minister, invited Cobden to join
his government but Cobden declined the invitation.
Cobden had hoped to find some restorative privacy abroad but his fame
had spread throughout Europe and he found himself lionised by the
radical movement. In July 1846, he wrote to a friend "I am going to
tell you of a fresh project that has been brewing in my brain. I have
given up all idea of burying myself in
Egypt or Italy. I am going on
an agitating tour through the continent of Europe." He referred to
invitations he had received from France, Prussia, Austria,
Spain and added,
Well, I will, with God's assistance during the next twelve months,
visit all the large states of Europe, see their potentates or
statesmen, and endeavour to enforce those truths which have been
irresistible at home. Why should I rust in inactivity? If the public
spirit of my countrymen affords me the means of travelling as their
missionary, I will be the first ambassador from the people of this
country to the nations of the continent. I am impelled to this by an
instinctive emotion such as has never deceived me. I feel that I could
succeed in making out a stronger case for the prohibitive nations of
Europe to compel them to adopt a freer system than I had here to
overturn our protection policy.
He visited in succession France, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia, and
was honoured everywhere he went. He not only addressed public
demonstrations but also had several private audiences with leading
statesmen. During his absence there was a general election, and he was
returned (1847) for
Stockport and for the West Riding of Yorkshire. He
chose to sit for the latter.
Richard Cobden moved his family from
Manchester to Paddington,
London, taking a house at 103 Westbourne Terrace. In 1847 he had
also repurchased the old family home at Dunford and in 1852 or 1853
rebuilt the house there, which he then continued to occupy until his
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When Cobden returned from abroad, he addressed himself to what seemed
to him the logical complement of free trade, namely, the promotion of
peace and the reduction of naval and military armaments. His
abhorrence of war amounted to a passion and, in fact, his campaigns
Corn Laws were motivated by his belief that free trade was
a powerful force for peace and defence against war. He knowingly
exposed himself to the risk of ridicule and the reproach of
utopianism. In 1849, he brought forward a proposal in parliament in
favour of international arbitration, and, in 1851, a motion for mutual
reduction of armaments. He was not successful in either case, nor did
he expect to be. In pursuance of the same object, he identified
himself with a series of peace congresses which from 1848 to 1851 were
held successively in Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, London, Manchester
On the establishment of the
Second French Empire
Second French Empire in 1851–1852, a
violent panic, fuelled by the press, gripped the public. Louis
Napoleon was represented as contemplating a sudden and piratical
descent upon the British coast without pretext or provocation. By a
series of speeches and pamphlets, in and out of parliament, Cobden
sought to calm the passions of his countrymen. In doing so, he
sacrificed the great popularity he had won as the champion of free
trade, and became for a time the best-abused man in Britain.
However, owing to the quarrel about the religious sites of Palestine,
which arose in the east of Europe, public opinion suddenly veered
round, and all the suspicion and hatred which had been directed
against the emperor of the French were diverted from him to the
emperor of Russia.
Louis Napoleon was taken into favour as Britain's
faithful ally, and in a whirlwind of popular excitement the nation was
swept into the Crimean War.
Again confronting public sentiment, Cobden, who had travelled in
Turkey, and had studied its politics, was dismissive of the outcry
about maintaining the independence and integrity of the Ottoman
Empire. He denied that it was possible to maintain them, and no less
strenuously denied that it was desirable. He believed that the
jealousy of Russian aggrandisement and the dread of Russian power were
absurd exaggerations. He maintained that the future of European Turkey
was in the hands of the Christian population, and that it would have
been wiser for Britain to ally herself with them rather than with what
he saw as the doomed and decaying Islamic power. He said in the House
You must address yourselves as men of sense and men of energy, to the
question – what are you to do with the Christian population? for
Mahommedanism [Islam] cannot be maintained, and I should be sorry to
see this country fighting for the maintenance of
Mahommedanism ... You may keep
Turkey on the map of Europe, you
may call the country by the name of
Turkey if you like, but do not
think you can keep up the Mahommedan rule in the country.
The torrent of popular sentiment in favour of war was, however,
irresistible; and both Cobden and
John Bright were overwhelmed with
Second Opium War
At the beginning of 1857 tidings from China reached Britain of a
rupture between the British plenipotentiary in that country and the
governor of the Canton province in reference to a small vessel or
lorcha called the Arrow, which had resulted in the British admiral
destroying the river forts, burning 23 ships belonging to the Chinese
Navy and bombarding the city of Canton. After a careful investigation
of the official documents, Cobden became convinced that those were
utterly unrighteous proceedings. He brought forward a motion in
parliament to this effect, which led to a long and memorable debate,
lasting over four nights, in which he was supported by Sidney Herbert,
Sir James Graham, William Gladstone, Lord John Russell and Benjamin
Disraeli, and which ended in the defeat of Lord Palmerston by a
majority of sixteen.
But this triumph cost him his seat in parliament. On the dissolution
which followed Lord Palmerston's defeat, Cobden became candidate for
Huddersfield, but the voters of that town gave the preference to his
opponent, who had supported the Russian war and approved of the
proceedings at Canton. Cobden was thus relegated to private life, and
retiring to his country house at Dunford, he spent his time in perfect
contentment in cultivating his land and feeding his pigs.
He took advantage of this season of leisure to pay another visit to
the United States. During his absence the general election of 1859
occurred, when he was returned unopposed for Rochdale. Lord Palmerston
was again prime minister, and having discovered that the advanced
liberal party was not so easily "crushed" as he had apprehended, he
made overtures of reconciliation, and invited Cobden and Thomas Milner
Gibson to become members of his government. In a frank, cordial letter
which was delivered to Cobden on his landing in Liverpool, Lord
Palmerston offered him the role of President of the Board of Trade,
with a seat in the Cabinet. Many of his friends urgently pressed him
to accept but without a moment's hesitation he determined to decline
the proposed honour. On his arrival in
London he called on Lord
Palmerston, and with the utmost frankness told him that he had opposed
and denounced him so frequently in public, and that he still differed
so widely from his views, especially on questions of foreign policy,
that he could not, without doing violence to his own sense of duty and
consistency, serve under him as minister. Lord Palmerston tried
good-humouredly to combat his objections, but without success.
But though he declined to share the responsibility of Lord
Palmerston's administration, he was willing to act as its
representative in promoting freer commercial intercourse between
Britain and France. But the negotiations for this purpose originated
with himself in conjunction with Bright and Michel Chevalier. Towards
the close of 1859 he called upon Lord Palmerston, Lord John Russell
and Gladstone, and signified his intention to visit
France and get
into communication with
Napoleon III of
France and his ministers, with
a view to promote this object. These statesmen expressed in general
terms their approval of his purpose, but he went entirely on his own
account, clothed at first with no official authority. On his arrival
Paris he had a long audience with Napoleon, in which he urged many
arguments in favour of removing those obstacles which prevented the
two countries from being brought into closer dependence on one
another, and he succeeded in making a considerable impression on his
mind in favour of free trade. He then addressed himself to the French
ministers, and had much earnest conversation, especially with Eugène
Rouher, whom he found well inclined to the economical and commercial
principles which he advocated. After a good deal of time spent in
these preliminary and unofficial negotiations, the question of a
treaty of commerce between the two countries having entered into the
arena of diplomacy, Cobden was requested by the British government to
act as their plenipotentiary in the matter in conjunction with Henry
Wellesley, 1st Earl Cowley, their ambassador in France. But it proved
a very long and laborious undertaking. He had to contend with the
bitter hostility of the French protectionists, which occasioned a good
deal of vacillation on the part of the emperor and his ministers.
There were also delays, hesitations and cavils at home, which were
Photo of Cobden taken by
Mathew Brady (c. 1865)
He was, moreover, assailed with great violence by a powerful section
of the British press, while the large number of minute details with
which he had to deal in connection with proposed changes in the French
tariff, involved a tax on his patience and industry which would have
daunted a less resolute man. But there was one source of embarrassment
greater than all the rest. One strong motive which had impelled him to
engage in this enterprise was his anxious desire to establish more
friendly relations between Britain and France, and to dispel those
feelings of mutual jealousy and alarm which were so frequently
breaking forth and jeopardizing peace between the two countries. This
was the most powerful argument with which he had plied the emperor and
the members of the French government, and which he had found most
efficacious with them. But while he was in the midst of the
negotiations, Lord Palmerston brought forward in the House of Commons
a measure for fortifying the naval arsenals of Britain, which he
introduced in a warlike speech pointedly directed against France, as
the source of danger of invasion and attack, against which it was
necessary to guard. This produced irritation and resentment in Paris,
and but for the influence which Cobden had acquired, and the perfect
trust reposed in his sincerity, the negotiations would probably have
been altogether wrecked. At last, however, after nearly twelve months'
incessant labour, the work was completed in November 1860. "Rare,"
said Mr Gladstone, "is the privilege of any man who, having fourteen
years ago rendered to his country one signal service, now again,
within the same brief span of life, decorated neither by land nor
title, bearing no mark to distinguish him from the people he loves,
has been permitted to perform another great and memorable service to
his sovereign and his country."
On the conclusion of this work honours were offered to Cobden by the
governments of both the countries which he had so greatly benefited.
Lord Palmerston offered him a baronetcy and a seat in the privy
council, and the emperor of the French would gladly have conferred
upon him some distinguished mark of his favour. But with
characteristic disinterestedness and modesty he declined all such
Cobden's efforts in furtherance of free trade were always subordinated
to what he deemed the highest moral purposes: the promotion of peace
on earth and goodwill among men. This was his desire and hope as
respects the commercial treaty with France. He was therefore deeply
disappointed and distressed to find the old feeling of distrust still
actively fomented by the press and some of the leading politicians of
the country. In 1862 he published his pamphlet entitled The Three
Panics, the object of which was to trace the history and expose the
folly of those periodical visitations of alarm as to French designs
with which Britain had been afflicted for the preceding fifteen or
American Civil War
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American Civil War
American Civil War threatened to break out in the United
States, Cobden was deeply distressed. But after the conflict became
inevitable his sympathies were wholly with the Union, because of the
perception that the Confederacy was fighting for slavery. His great
anxiety, however, was that the British nation should not be committed
to any unworthy course during the progress of that struggle. When
relations with the
United States were becoming critical and menacing
in consequence of the depredations committed on US commerce by vessels
issuing from British ports, actions that would lead to the post-war
Alabama Claims, he brought the question before the House of Commons in
a series of speeches of rare clearness and force.
Cobden's grave in West Lavington churchyard in West Sussex
For several years Cobden had been suffering severely at intervals from
bronchial irritation and a difficulty of breathing. Owing to this he
had spent the winter of 1860 in Algeria, and every subsequent winter
he had to be very careful and confine himself to the house, especially
in damp and foggy weather. On 2 April 1865 he died peacefully at his
apartments in London.
On the following day Lord Palmerston said "it was not possible for the
House to proceed to business without every member recalling to his
mind the great loss which the House and country had sustained by the
event which took place yesterday morning." Disraeli said he "was an
ornament to the House of Commons and an honour to England."
In the French Corps Législatif, also, the vice-president, Forcade La
Roquette, referred to his death, and warm expressions of esteem were
repeated and applauded on every side. "The death of Richard Cobden,"
said M. la Roquette, "is not alone a misfortune for
England (UK), but
a cause of mourning for
France and humanity." Drouyn de Lhuys, the
French minister of foreign affairs, made his death the subject of a
special despatch, desiring the French ambassador to express to the
government "the mournful sympathy and truly national regret which the
death, as lamented as premature, of
Richard Cobden had excited on that
side of the English Channel." "He is above all," he added, "in our
eyes the representative of those sentiments and those cosmopolitan
principles before which national frontiers and rivalries disappear;
whilst essentially of his country, he was still more of his time; he
knew what mutual relations could accomplish in our day for the
prosperity of peoples. Cobden, if I may be permitted to say so, was an
international man." Cobden has been called "the greatest
classical-liberal thinker on international affairs" by the libertarian
and historian Ralph Raico.
He was buried at West Lavington church in West
Sussex on 7 April. His
grave was surrounded by a large crowd of mourners, among whom were
Gladstone, Bright, Milner Gibson, Charles Villiers and a host besides
from all parts of the country. In 1866 the
Cobden Club was founded in
London, to promote free-trade economics, and it became a centre for
political propaganda on those lines; and prizes were instituted in his
name at Oxford and Cambridge.
Cobden had married in 1840 Catherine Anne Williams, a Welsh lady, and
left five surviving daughters. Of these, Jane, a British Liberal
politician, married the publisher
Thomas Fisher Unwin and was known as
Mrs Cobden Unwin; Ellen was the first of the painter Walter
Sickert's three wives; and Anne married the bookbinder T. J. Sanderson
and he added her surname to his. They afterwards became prominent
in various spheres, and inherited their father's political interest.
His only son died, to Cobden's inexpressible grief, at the age of
fifteen, in 1856.
Cobden, and what was called "Cobdenism" and later identified with
laissez-faire, was subjected to much criticism from the school of
British economists who advocated protectionism, on the ideas of
Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List. However, during much of what
remained of the nineteenth century, his success with the free-trade
movement was unchallenged, and protectionism came to be heterodox. The
tariff reform movement in Britain started by Joseph Chamberlain
brought new opponents of Manchesterism, and the whole subject once
more became controversial. The years of reconstruction following World
War II saw a renewed fashion for government intervention in
international trade but, starting in the 1980s,
Margaret Thatcher in
the UK (under the influence of Enoch Powell via Keith Joseph) and
Ronald Reagan in the U.S. led a revival of laissez-faire that, as of
2006[update], holds some sway in mainstream economic thinking.
Cobden left a deep mark on British history. Though he was not a
"scientific economist", many of his ideas and prophecies were valid.
He considered that it was "natural" for Britain to manufacture for the
world and exchange for agricultural products of other countries.
Modern economists call this comparative advantage. He advocated the
repeal of the Corn Laws, which not only made food cheaper, but helped
develop industry and benefit labour. He correctly saw that other
countries would be unable to compete with Britain in manufacture in
the foreseeable future. "We advocate", he said, "nothing but what is
agreeable to the highest behests of Christianity – to buy in
the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest." After the repeal of the
Corn Laws, British manufacturing did see significant productivity
rises, while British agriculture ultimately went into decline due to
import competition. He perceived that the rest of the world should
follow Britain's example: "if you abolish the corn-laws honestly, and
adopt free trade in its simplicity, there will not be a tariff in
Europe that will not be changed in less than five years" (January
1846). His cosmopolitanism which made him in later Imperialists' eyes
a "Little Englander" – led him to deplore any survival of the
colonial system. Cobden also saw the connection between peace and free
trade. "Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with
each other and governments less." "The great rule of conduct for us in
regard to foreign nations is – in extending our commercial
relations – to have with them as little political connection as
His biography, Richard Cobden's Life by John Morley, written with the
input of contemporaries such as
John Bright and Sir Louis Mallet, was
published in 1881 (Roberts Brothers: Boston).
In 1866 the
Cobden Club was founded to promote "Peace, Free Trade and
Goodwill Among Nations". This was due to the efforts of Thomas Bayley
Potter, Cobden's successor at his
Rochdale seat, who wanted an
institution which would support Cobden's principles. On 15 May
1866 the inaugural meeting of the club was held at the
Reform Club in
London and the first club dinner was held on 21 July 1866 at the Star
and Garter Hotel in Richmond, presided over by Gladstone. The club
energetically diffused free trade literature for propaganda
Joseph Chamberlain's proposal for Tariff Reform, launched in 1903,
reignited the free trade versus protectionism debate in Britain. For
the centenary of Cobden's birth 10,000 people assembled at Alexandra
London in June 1904. Cobden "symbolized the liberal
vision of a peaceful, prosperous global order held together by the
benign forces of Free Trade" like no other nineteenth century
figure. Addressing the meeting, the Liberal leader Sir Henry
The motive which inspired those who composed the assemblage was
twofold. They wished to show their admiration of, and their gratitude
towards, a great Englishman whose sympathetic heart, wisdom,
intuition, courage and praise-worthy eloquence wrought for them a
great deliverance in the days of their fathers. They also wished to
declare their adherence to the doctrines which he taught, and their
determination that the power of those doctrines should not, God
helping them, be impaired. What they owed to him and to themselves was
to make it clear in the sight of all men that they meant to hold fast
to the heritage which he, perhaps more than any other individual, won
for them; and that the fruits of the battle which he waged against
tremendous odds should not be lightly wrested from them. They were not
there to acclaim Cobden as an inspired prophet, but they saw in him a
great citizen, a great statesman, a great patriot, and a great and
popular leader... Cobden spent his life in pulling down those
artificial restrictions and obstructions which at the present time
rash and reckless men were seeking to set up again –
obstructions not merely to commerce, but also to peace and good will,
and mutual understanding; yes, and obstructions to liberty and good
government at home. Those who expressed astonishment that the
intelligent workman did not look askance at the manufacturer, Cobden,
had overlooked the fact that he gave the people cheap food and
abundant employment, and did far more; that he exploded the economic
basis of class government and class subjection.
Stanley Baldwin said in December 1930, during the Great Depression,
that the Conservatives were "a national party of all those who believe
that any improvement in the industrial and economic position of this
country can only be achieved by cutting loose from the
the last generation and putting this country on what is and must be a
protectionist basis". Two weeks later Baldwin attacked the Labour
government's handling of the Imperial Conference: "At that Conference
the Government had a splendid opportunity of doing something practical
to help British industry and to bind the Empire together in a close
partnership of trade. They failed to seize this opportunity because
the Dominion proposals could not be reconciled with the ancient and
obsolete free-trade theories of Cobdenism". Britain abandoned free
trade in 1932 and adopted a general tariff. In 1932 the former Labour
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Philip Snowden said there was never a
greater mistake than to say that
Cobdenism was dead: "
never more alive throughout the world than it was to-day.... To-day
the ideas of Cobden were in revolt against selfish nationalism. The
need for the breaking down of trade restrictions, which took various
forms, was universally recognized even by those who were unable to
throw off those shackles". F. W. Hirst said in 1941, during the
Second World War, that Cobden's ideas "stand out in almost complete
opposition to the "gospel" according to Marx":
Cobden's international ideas were based on patriotism and peace, the
harmony of classes, reform by constitutional methods, goodwill among
men and nations. Cobden... believed in individual liberty and
enterprise, in free markets, freedom of opinion and freedom of trade.
[His] whole creed was anathema to Karl Marx. He had no sense of
patriotism or love of country. He urged what he called "the
proletariat" in all countries to overthrow society by a violent
revolution, to destroy the middle classes and all employers of labour,
whom he denounced as capitalists and slave drivers. He demanded the
confiscation of private property and a new dictatorship, the
dictatorship of the proletariat. Just as Cobden interpreted and
practised the precepts of Adam Smith, so Lenin interpreted and
practised the precepts of Karl Marx. These two great men though dead
yet speak. They stand out before the civilised world as protagonists
of two systems of political economy, political thought and human
society... when this war is over, we in Britain will certainly have to
choose whether our Press and Parliament are to be free, whether we are
to be a conscript nation, whether private property and savings are to
be secured or confiscated, whether we are to be imprisoned without
trial; whether we are again to enjoy the right of buying and selling
where and how we please – in short whether we are to be ruled
as slaves by the bureaucracy of a police state or as free men by our
chosen representatives. This conflict will be symbolised and
Richard Cobden and Karl Marx.
Ernest Bevin, Labour Foreign Secretary, said on 26 July 1947 that "We
cannot go back to the Cobdenite economy". In 1966 the Labour Prime
Harold Wilson attacked
Philip Snowden for holding the views
of "Puritan Cobdenism" which "prevented any expansionist action to
relieve unemployment" by the government during the Great
The communities of Cobden, Ontario, Cobden, Illinois, Cobden,
Cobden, Victoria in Canada, the U.S. and Australia
respectively were all named after Richard Cobden
Cob Stenham was also named after him. Cobden in the South Island, New
Zealand named after him
Richard Cobden Primary School in
Camden Town and Grade II listed
Cobden Working Mens Club in Kensal Road, North Kensington,
named after him.
Cobden Bridge in
Southampton was named after him.
Cobden Street in Bury, Darlington,
Dalton in Furness
Dalton in Furness Nottingham and
Lancashire are all named after him. There is also Cobden
Square in Bedford and a Cobden Road in
Sussex] and Edinburgh. Next to Cobden Street in Nottingham there is
also Bright Street. There are two Cobden Streets in Burnley,
Richard Cobden pub in
Worthing is named after him and the Cobden
View pub in
Sheffield has his face above the door. There was a Richard
Cobden pub in Cocking, West
Sussex which closed and became a private
residence in the 20th century.
Richard Cobden pub in
Chatham, Kent is named after him and later
became the subject of the song The
Richard Cobden by the UK band Vlks.
A statue of Cobden is in St Ann's Square in
above) and his bust is in
Manchester Town Hall.
There is a statue of him, funded by public subscription (to which
Napoleon III contributed) in the square by Mornington Crescent
Underground station, London.
The statue of Cobden in
Stockport town centre was moved in 2006 as
part of an urban regeneration scheme but is now back in place.
In Bradford Wool Exchange, West Yorkshire, between the ground floor
arches are carved portraits of notable people, including Cobden (the
others are Titus Salt, Stephenson, Watt, Arkwright, Jacquard,
Gladstone and Palmerston and (facing Bank Street) Raleigh, Drake,
Columbus, Cook and Anson). Flanking the porched entrance below the
tower are statues of Bishop Blaise, the patron saint of woolcombers,
and King Edward III who greatly promoted the wool trade.
An obelisk erected in his memory in 1868 is located at West Lavington
in West Sussex. Upon the statue are the words 'Free Trade. Peace
Goodwill Among nations.'
Cobden Press, an American libertarian publisher of the 1980s, was
named after him and continues to this day as imprint of the Moorfield
^ Morley (1905), p. 2.
^ Hurley, Ann (2007). "The Father and Mother of Cobden". Hurley and
Skidmore Family History. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
^ Morley (1905), p. 3.
^ Morley (1905), p. 5.
^ McGilchrist (1865), p. 17.
^ Stack (2017), pp. 47-49.
^ Asa Briggs, The Making of Modern
England 1783–1867: The Age of
Improvement (1959) p. 314
^ Morley (1905), pp. 388–89.
^ Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel: The Life of Sir
Robert Peel after 1830
(1971) pp. 562–615 on repeal.
Help for RO".
^ "Dunford House West Lavington (Ymca) Dunford House, Heyshott".
BritishListedBuildings.co.uk. 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
^ a b Legends and Lore of Southern Illinois, John W. Allen, 1963, p.
^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica (Ninth ed.). 1878/1902. Check
date values in: date= (help)
^ Raico, Ralph (2011-03-29) Neither the Wars Nor the Leaders Were
Great, Mises Institute
^ Howe, Anthony; Morgan, Simon (2006). Rethinking nineteenth-century
Richard Cobden bicentenary essays. Ashgate. pp. 231,
239. ISBN 0-7546-5572-5.
^ SD19 – Cobden-Sanderson Archived 25 July 2008 at the Wayback
^ [C. J. L. Brock], The History of the Cobden Club. By Members of the
Club (London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1939), p. 12.
^ Brock, pp. 12–13.
^ Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England. 1846–1946 (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1997), p. 124.
^ Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation. Commerce, Consumption, and Civil
Society in Modern Britain (
Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 1.
^ Trentmann, p. 134.
^ Speeches by The Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. From His
Election as Leader of the Liberal Party to His Resignation of Office
as Prime Minister. 1899–1908. Selected and Reprinted from The Times
(London: The Times, 1908), pp. 152–53.
^ The Times (18 December 1930), p. 19.
^ The Times (31 December 1930), p. 14.
^ The Times (8 July 1932), p. 9.
^ Francis W. Hirst,
Richard Cobden and John Morley. Being the Richard
Cobden Lecture for 1941 (The Cobden Club, 1941), pp. 37–38.
^ John Jewkes, Ordeal by Planning (Macmillan, 1948), p. 112, n. 2.
^ The Times (13 October 1966), p. 12.
^ "Gravelroots: Old photographs of Cocking". Retrieved 28 January
^ Rothwell, David (2006). Dictionary of Pub Names. Wordsworth
Reference Series. p. 325.
^ "Object Details – Public Sculptures of
Morley, John (1905), The Life of Richard Cobden, T. Fisher Unwin
Stack, David (2017), "Phrenological Friends", in Howe, Anthony;
Morgan, Simon, Rethinking Nineteenth-Century Liberalism: Richard
Cobden Bicentenary Essays, Routledge,
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain: 1878 Encyclopædia Britannica
Brock, C. J. L. The History of the Cobden Club. By Members of the Club
(London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1939).
Edsall, Nicholas C. Richard Cobden, independent radical (Harvard
University Press, 1986)
Brady, John M. (2008). "Cobden, Richard (1804–1865)". In Hamowy,
Ronald. The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE;
Cato Institute. pp. 74–75. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n49.
ISBN 978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN 2008009151.
Hinde, Wendy. Richard Cobden: A Victorian Outsider (Yale University
Hirst, Francis W.
Richard Cobden and John Morley. Being the Richard
Cobden Lecture for 1941 (The Cobden Club, 1941).
Howe, Anthony. Free Trade and Liberal England. 1846–1946 (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1997).
Jewkes, John. Ordeal by Planning (Macmillan, 1948).
McCord, Norman. The Anti-Corn Law League: 1838–1846 (1958)
McGilchrist, John (1865). Richard Cobden. The Apostle of Free Trade.
Harper & Brothers.
Pickering, Paul A., and Alex Tyrell. The people's bread: a history of
Anti-Corn Law League
Anti-Corn Law League (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000)
Trentmann, Frank. Free Trade Nation. Commerce, Consumption, and Civil
Society in Modern Britain (
Oxford University Press, 2008).
Loades, David Michael, ed. Reader's guide to British history (Fitzroy
Dearborn Publishers, 2003) vol 1. pp 283–84
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Richard Cobden.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Richard Cobden
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Richard Cobden
Richard Cobden at the Online Library of Liberty
The Life of
Richard Cobden by John Morley
Works by or about
Richard Cobden at Internet Archive
Richard Cobden's House, now a barristers' chambers
The Cobden Letters Project at the University of East Anglia.
The Cobden Centre: An organisation set up to keep alive the teachings
of Richard Cobden, "honest money, for social progress"
"Archival material relating to Richard Cobden". UK National
Portrait of Cobden on the Baring Archive Moscow Railway sources page
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cobden, Richard".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.).
Cambridge University Press.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Member of Parliament for Stockport
With: Henry Marsland
Edmund Beckett Denison
Member of Parliament for West Riding of Yorkshire
1847 – 1857
With: Viscount Morpeth to 1848
Edmund Beckett Denison from 1848
Edmund Beckett Denison
Sir Alexander Ramsay
Member of Parliament for Rochdale
ISNI: 0000 0001 0910 6344
BNF: cb123422224 (data)