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The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay.

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word. If your consciences really are so tender, why do you not
repeal the Act of 1712? Why do you not put the Church of
Scotland back into the same situation in which she was in 1707.
We have had occasion more than once in the course of this session
to admire the casuistical skill of Her Majesty's Ministers. But
I must say that even their scruple about slave-grown sugar,
though that scruple is the laughing-stock of all Europe and all
America, is respectable when compared with their scruple about
the Treaty of Union. Is there the slightest doubt that every
compact ought to be construed according to the sense in which it
was understood by those who made it? And is there the slightest
doubt as to the sense in which the compact between England and
Scotland was understood by those who made it? Suppose that we
could call up from their graves the Presbyterian divines who then
sate in the General Assembly. Suppose that we could call up
Carstairs; that we could call up Boston, the author of the
Fourfold State; that we could relate to them the history of the
ecclesiastical revolutions which have, since their time, taken
place in Scotland; and that we could then ask them, "Is the
Established Church, or is the Free Church, identical with the
Church which existed at the time of the Union?" Is it not quite
certain what their answer would be? They would say, "Our Church,
the Church which you promised to maintain unalterable, was not
the Church which you protect, but the Church which you oppress.
Our Church was the Church of Chalmers and Brewster, not the
Church of Bryce and Muir."

It is true, Sir, that the Presbyterian dissenters are not the
only dissenters whom this bill will relieve. By the law, as it
now stands, all persons who refuse to declare their approbation
of the synodical polity, that is to say, all persons who refuse
to declare that they consider episcopal government and episcopal
ordination as, at least, matters altogether indifferent, are
incapable of holding academical office in Scotland. Now, Sir,
will any gentleman who loves the Church of England vote for
maintaining this law? If, indeed, he were bound by public faith
to maintain this law, I admit that he would have no choice. But
I have proved, unless I greatly deceive myself, that he is not
bound by public faith to maintain this law? Can he then
conscientiously support the Ministers to-night? If he votes with
them, he votes for persecuting what he himself believes to be the
truth. He holds out to the members of his own Church lures to
tempt them to renounce that Church, and to join themselves to a
Church which he considers as less pure. We may differ as to the
propriety of imposing penalties and disabilities on heretics.
But surely we shall agree in thinking that we ought not to punish
men for orthodoxy.

I know, Sir, that there are many gentlemen who dislike innovation
merely as innovation, and would be glad always to keep things as
they are now. Even to this class of persons I will venture to
appeal. I assure them that we are not the innovators. I assure
them that our object is to keep things as they are and as they
have long been. In form, I own, we are proposing a change; but
in truth we are resisting a change. The question really is, not
whether we shall remove old tests, but whether we shall impose
new ones. The law which we seek to repeal has long been
obsolete. So completely have the tests been disused that, only
the other day, the right honourable Baronet, the Secretary for
the Home Department, when speaking in favour of the Irish
Colleges Bill, told us that the Government was not making a rash
experiment. "Our plan," he said, "has already been tried at
Edinburgh and has succeeded. At Edinburgh the tests have been
disused near a hundred years." As to Glasgow the gentlemen
opposite can give us full information from their own experience.
For there are at least three members of the Cabinet who have been
Lords Rectors; the First Lord of the Treasury, and the
Secretaries for the Home Department and the Colonial Department.
They never took the test. They probably would not have taken it;
for they are all Episcopalians. In fact, they belong to the very
class which the test was especially meant to exclude. The test
was not meant to exclude Presbyterian dissenters; for the
Presbyterian Church was not yet rent by any serious schism. Nor
was the test meant to exclude the Roman Catholics; for against
the Roman Catholics there was already abundant security. The
Protestant Episcopalian was the enemy against whom it was, in
1707, thought peculiarly necessary to take precautions. That
those precautions have long been disused the three members of the
Cabinet whom I mentioned can certify.

On a sudden the law, which had long slept a deep sleep, has been
awakened, stirred up, and put into vigorous action. These
obsolete tests are now, it seems, to be exacted with severity.
And why? Simply because an event has taken place which makes
them ten times as unjust and oppressive as they would have been
formerly. They were not required while the Established Church
was the Church of the majority. They are to be required solely
because a secession has taken place which has made the
Established Church the Church of the minority. While they could
have done little mischief they were suffered to lie neglected.
They are now to be used, because a time has come at which they
cannot be used without fatal consequences.

It is impossible for me to speak without indignation of those who
have taken the lead in the work of persecution. Yet I must give
them credit for courage. They have selected as their object of
attack no less a man than Sir David Brewster, Principal of the
University of Saint Andrews. I hold in my hand the libel, as it
is technically called, in which a Presbytery of the Established
Church demands that Sir David, for the crime of adhering to that
ecclesiastical polity which was guaranteed to his country by the
Act of Union, shall be "removed from his office, and visited with
such other censure or punishment as the laws of the Church
enjoin, for the glory of God, the safety of the Church, and the
prosperity of the University, and to deter others holding the
same important office from committing the like offence in all
time coming, but that others may hear and fear the danger and
detriment of following divisive courses." Yes; for the glory of
God, the safety of the Church, and the prosperity of the
University. What right, Sir, have the authors of such an
instrument as this to raise their voices against the insolence
and intolerance of the Vatican? The glory of God! As to that, I
will only say that this is not the first occasion on which the
glory of God has been made a pretext for the injustice of man.
The safety of the Church! Sir, if, which God forbid, that Church
is really possessed by the evil spirit which actuates this
Presbytery; if that Church, having recently lost hundreds of able
ministers and hundreds of thousands of devout hearers, shall,
instead of endeavouring, by meekness, and by redoubled diligence,
to regain those whom she has estranged, give them new
provocation; if she shall sharpen against them an old law the
edge of which has long rusted off, and which, when it was first
made, was made not for her defence, but for theirs; then I
pronounce the days of that Church numbered. As to the prosperity
of the University, is there a corner of Europe where men of
science will not laugh when they hear that the prosperity of the
University of Saint Andrews is to be promoted by expelling Sir
David Brewster on account of a theological squabble? The
professors of Edinburgh know better than this Presbytery how the
prosperity of a seat of learning is to be promoted. There the
Academic Senate is almost unanimous in favour of the bill. And
indeed it is quite certain that, unless this bill, or some
similar bill, be passed, a new college will soon be founded and
endowed with that munificence of which the history of the Free
Church furnishes so many examples. From the day on which such an
university arises, the old universities must decline. Now, they
are practically national, and not sectarian, institutions. And
yet, even now, the emoluments of a professorship are so much
smaller than those which ability and industry can obtain in other
ways, that it is difficult to find eminent men to fill the
chairs. And if there be this difficulty now, when students of
all religious persuasions attend the lectures, what is likely to
happen when all the members of the Free Church go elsewhere for
instruction? If there be this difficulty when you have all the
world to choose professors from, what is likely to happen when
your choice is narrowed to less than one-half of Scotland? As
the professorships become poorer, the professors will become less
competent. As the professors become less competent, the classes
will become thinner. As the classes become thinner, the
professorships will again become poorer. The decline will become
rapid and headlong. In a short time, the lectures will be
delivered to empty rooms: the grass will grow in the courts:
and men not fit to be village dominies will occupy the chairs of
Adam Smith and Dugald Stewart, of Reid and Black, of Playfair and

How do Her Majesty's Ministers like such a prospect as this!
Already they have, whether by their fault or their misfortune I
will not now inquire, secured for themselves an unenviable place
in the history of Scotland. Their names are already inseparably
associated with the disruption of her Church. Are those names to
be as inseparably associated with the ruin of her Universities?

If the Government were consistent in error, some respect might be
mingled with our disapprobation. But a Government which is
guided by no principle; a Government which, on the gravest
questions, does not know its own mind twenty-four hours together;
a Government which is against tests at Cork, and for tests at
Glasgow, against tests at Belfast, and for tests at Edinburgh,
against tests on the Monday, for them on the Wednesday, against
them again on the Thursday--how can such a Government command
esteem or confidence? How can the Ministers wonder that their
uncertain and capricious liberality fails to obtain the applause
of the liberal party? What right have they to complain if they
lose the confidence of half the nation without gaining the
confidence of the other half?

But I do not speak to the Government. I speak to the House. I
appeal to those who, on Monday last, voted with the Ministers
against the test proposed by the honourable Baronet the Member
for North Devon. I know what is due to party ties. But there is
a mire so black and so deep that no leader has a right to drag
his followers through it. It is only forty-eight hours since
honourable gentlemen were brought down to the House to vote
against requiring the professors in the Irish Colleges to make a
declaration of belief in the Gospel: and now the same gentlemen
are expected to come down and to vote that no man shall be a
professor in a Scottish college who does not declare himself a
Calvinist and a Presbyterian. Flagrant as is the injustice with
which the ministers have on this occasion treated Scotland, the
injustice with which they have treated their own supporters is
more flagrant still. I call on all who voted with the Government
on Monday to consider whether they can consistently and
honourably vote with the Government to-night: I call on all
members of the Church of England to ponder well before they make
it penal to be a member of the Church of England; and, lastly, I
call on every man of every sect and party who loves science and
letters, who is solicitous for the public tranquillity, who
respects the public faith, to stand by us in this our hard
struggle to avert the ruin which threatens the Universities of
Scotland. I move that this bill be now read a second time.




The following Speech was delivered at a public meeting held at
Edinburgh on the second of December, 1845, for the purpose of
petitioning Her Majesty to open the ports of the United Kingdom
for the free admission of corn and other food.

My Lord Provost and Gentlemen,--You will, I hope, believe that I
am deeply sensible of the kindness with which you have received
me. I only beg that you will continue to extend your indulgence
to me, if it should happen that my voice should fail me in the
attempt to address you. I have thought it my duty to obey your
summons, though I am hardly equal to the exertion of public
speaking, and though I am so situated that I can pass only a few
hours among you. But it seemed to me that this was not an
ordinary meeting or an ordinary crisis. It seemed to me that a
great era had arrived, and that, at such a conjuncture, you were
entitled to know the opinions and intentions of one who has the
honour of being your representative.

With respect to the past, gentlemen, I have perhaps a little to
explain, but certainly nothing to repent or to retract. My
opinions, from the day on which I entered public life, have never
varied. I have always considered the principle of protection of
agriculture as a vicious principle. I have always thought that
this vicious principle took, in the Act of 1815, in the Act of
1828, and in the Act of 1842, a singularly vicious form. This I
declared twelve years ago, when I stood for Leeds: this I
declared in May 1839, when I first presented myself before you;
and when, a few months later, Lord Melbourne invited me to become
a member of his Government, I distinctly told him that, in office
or out of office, I must vote for the total repeal of the corn

But in the year 1841 a very peculiar crisis arrived. There was
reason to hope that it might be possible to effect a compromise,
which would not indeed wholly remove the evils inseparable from a
system of protection, but which would greatly mitigate them.
There were some circumstances in the financial situation of the
country which led those who were then the advisers of the Crown
to hope that they might be able to get rid of the sliding scale,
and to substitute for it a moderate fixed duty. We proposed a
duty of eight shillings a quarter on wheat. The Parliament
refused even to consider our plan. Her Majesty appealed to the
people. I presented myself before you; and you will bear me
witness that I disguised nothing. I said, "I am for a perfectly
free trade in corn: but I think that, situated as we are, we
should do well to consent to a compromise. If you return me to
Parliament, I shall vote for the eight shilling duty. It is for
you to determine whether, on those terms, you will return me or
not." You agreed with me. You sent me back to the House of
Commons on the distinct understanding that I was to vote for the
plan proposed by the Government of which I was a member. As soon
as the new Parliament met, a change of administration took place.
But it seemed to me that it was my duty to support, when out of
place, that proposition to which I had been a party when I was in
place. I therefore did not think myself justified in voting for
a perfectly free trade, till Parliament had decided against our
fixed duty, and in favour of Sir Robert Peel's new sliding scale.
As soon as that decision had been pronounced, I conceived that I
was no longer bound by the terms of the compromise which I had,
with many misgivings, consented to offer to the agriculturists,
and which the agriculturists had refused to accept. I have ever
since voted in favour of every motion which has been made for the
total abolition of the duties on corn.

There has been, it is true, some difference of opinion between me
and some of you. We belonged to the same camp: but we did not
quite agree as to the mode of carrying on the war. I saw the
immense strength of the interests which were arrayed against us.
I saw that the corn monopoly would last forever if those who
defended it were united, while those who assailed it were
divided. I saw that many men of distinguished abilities and
patriotism, such men as Lord John Russell, Lord Howick, Lord
Morpeth, were unwilling to relinquish all hope that the question
might be settled by a compromise such as had been proposed in
1841. It seemed to me that the help of such men was
indispensable to us, and that, if we drove from us such valuable
allies, we should be unable to contend against the common enemy.
Some of you thought that I was timorous, and others that I was
misled by party spirit or by personal friendship. I still think
that I judged rightly. But I will not now argue the question.
It has been set at rest for ever, and in the best possible way.
It is not necessary for us to consider what relations we ought to
maintain with the party which is for a moderate fixed duty. That
party has disappeared. Time, and reflection, and discussion,
have produced their natural effect on minds eminently intelligent
and candid. No intermediate shades of opinion are now left.
There is no twilight. The light has been divided from the
darkness. Two parties are ranged in battle array against each
other. There is the standard of monopoly. Here is the standard
of free trade; and by the standard of free trade I pledge myself
to stand firmly.

Gentlemen, a resolution has been put into my hands which I shall
move with the greatest pleasure. That resolution sets forth in
emphatic language a truth of the highest importance, namely, that
the present corn laws press with especial severity on the poor.
There was a time, gentlemen, when politicians were not ashamed to
defend the corn laws merely as contrivances for putting the money
of the many into the pockets of the few. We must,--so these men
reasoned,--have a powerful and opulent class of grandees: that
we may have such grandees, the rent of land must be kept up: and
that the rent of land may be kept up, the price of bread must be
kept up. There may still be people who think thus: but they
wisely keep their thoughts to themselves. Nobody now ventures to
say in public that ten thousand families ought to be put on short
allowance of food in order that one man may have a fine stud and
a fine picture gallery. Our monopolists have changed their
ground. They have abandoned their old argument for a new
argument much less invidious, but, I think, rather more absurd.
They have turned philanthropists. Their hearts bleed for the
misery of the poor labouring man. They constantly tell us that
the cry against the corn laws has been raised by capitalists;
that the capitalist wishes to enrich himself at the expense both
of the landed gentry and of the working people; that every
reduction of the price of food must be followed by a reduction of
the wages of labour; and that, if bread should cost only half
what it now costs, the peasant and the artisan would be sunk in
wretchedness and degradation, and the only gainers would be the
millowners and the money changers. It is not only by landowners,
it is not only by Tories, that this nonsense has been talked. We
have heard it from men of a very different class, from demagogues
who wish to keep up the corn laws, merely in order that the corn
laws may make the people miserable, and that misery may make the
people turbulent. You know how assiduously those enemies of all
order and all property have laboured to deceive the working man
into a belief that cheap bread would be a curse to him. Nor have
they always laboured in vain. You remember that once, even in
this great and enlightened city, a public meeting called to
consider the corn laws was disturbed by a deluded populace. Now,
for my own part, whenever I hear bigots who are opposed to all
reform, and anarchists who are bent on universal destruction,
join in the same cry, I feel certain that it is an absurd and
mischievous cry; and surely never was there a cry so absurd and
mischievous as this cry against cheap loaves. It seems strange
that Conservatives, people who profess to hold new theories in
abhorrence, people who are always talking about the wisdom of our
ancestors, should insist on our receiving as an undoubted truth a
strange paradox never heard of from the creation of the world
till the nineteenth century. Begin with the most ancient book
extant, the Book of Genesis, and come down to the parliamentary
debates of 1815; and I will venture to say that you will find
that, on this point, the party which affects profound reverence
for antiquity and prescription has against it the unanimous voice
of thirty-three centuries. If there be anything in which all
peoples, nations, and languages, Jews, Greeks, Romans, Italians,
Frenchmen, Englishmen, have agreed, it has been this, that the
dearness of food is a great evil to the poor. Surely, the
arguments which are to counterbalance such a mass of authority
ought to be weighty. What then are those arguments? I know of
only one. If any gentleman is acquainted with any other, I wish
that he would communicate it to us; and I will engage that he
shall have a fair and full hearing. The only argument that I
know of is this, that there are some countries in the world where
food is cheaper than in England, and where the people are more
miserable than in England. Bengal has been mentioned. But
Poland is the favourite case. Whenever we ask why there should
not be a free trade in corn between the Vistula and the Thames,
the answer is, "Do you wish our labourers to be reduced to the
condition of the peasants of the Vistula?" Was such reasoning
ever heard before? See how readily it may be turned against
those who use it. Corn is cheaper at Cincinnati than here; but
the wages of the labourer are much higher at Cincinnati than
here: therefore, the lower the price of food, the higher the
wages will be. This reasoning is just as good as the reasoning
of our adversaries: that is to say, it is good for nothing. It
is not one single cause that makes nations either prosperous or
miserable. No friend of free trade is such an idiot as to say
that free trade is the only valuable thing in the world; that
religion, government, police, education, the administration of
justice, public expenditure, foreign relations, have nothing
whatever to do with the well-being of nations; that people sunk
in superstition, slavery, barbarism, must be happy if they have
only cheap food. These gentlemen take the most unfortunate
country in the world, a country which, while it had an
independent government, had the very worst of independent
governments; the sovereign a mere phantom; the nobles defying him
and quarrelling with each other; the great body of the population
in a state of servitude; no middle class; no manufactures;
scarcely any trade, and that in the hands of Jew pedlars. Such
was Poland while it was a separate kingdom. But foreign invaders
came down upon it. It was conquered: it was reconquered: it
was partitioned: it was repartitioned: it is now under a
government of which I will not trust myself to speak. This is
the country to which these gentlemen go to study the effect of
low prices. When they wish to ascertain the effect of high
prices, they take our own country; a country which has been
during many generations the best governed in Europe; a country
where personal slavery has been unknown during ages; a country
which enjoys the blessings of a pure religion, of freedom, of
order; a country long secured by the sea against invasion; a
country in which the oldest man living has never seen a foreign
flag except as a trophy. Between these two countries our
political philosophers institute a comparison. They find the
Briton better off than the Pole; and they immediately come to the
conclusion that the Briton is so well off because his bread is
dear, and the Pole so ill off because his bread is cheap. Why,
is there a single good which in this way I could not prove to be
an evil, or a single evil which I could not prove to be a good?
Take lameness. I will prove that it is the best thing in the
world to be lame: for I can show you men who are lame, and yet
much happier than many men who have the full use of their legs.
I will prove health to be a calamity. For I can easily find you
people in excellent health whose fortunes have been wrecked,
whose character has been blasted, and who are more wretched than
many invalids. But is that the way in which any man of common
sense reasons? No; the question is: Would not the lame man be
happier if you restored to him the use of his limbs? Would not
the healthy man be more wretched if he had gout and rheumatism in
addition to all his other calamities? Would not the Englishman
be better off if food were as cheap here as in Poland? Would not
the Pole be more miserable if food were as dear in Poland as
here? More miserable indeed he would not long be: for he would
be dead in a month.

It is evident that the true way of determining the question which
we are considering, is to compare the state of a society when
food is cheap with the state of that same society when food is
dear; and this is a comparison which we can very easily make. We
have only to recall to our memory what we have ourselves seen
within the last ten years. Take the year 1835. Food was cheap
then; and the capitalist prospered greatly. But was the
labouring man miserable? On the contrary, it is notorious that
work was plentiful, that wages were high, that the common people
were thriving and contented. Then came a change like that in
Pharaoh's dream. The thin ears had blighted the full ears; the
lean kine had devoured the fat kine; the days of plenty were
over; and the days of dearth had arrived. In 1841 the capitalist
was doubtless distressed. But will anybody tell me that the
capitalist was the only sufferer, or the chief sufferer? Have we
forgotten what was the condition of the working people in that
unhappy year? So visible was the misery of the manufacturing
towns that a man of sensibility could hardly bear to pass through
them. Everywhere he found filth and nakedness, and plaintive
voices, and wasted forms, and haggard faces. Politicians who had
never been thought alarmists began to tremble for the very
foundations of society. First the mills were put on short time.
Then they ceased to work at all. Then went to pledge the scanty
property of the artisan: first his little luxuries, then his
comforts, then his necessaries. The hovels were stripped till
they were as bare as the wigwam of a Dogribbed Indian. Alone,
amidst the general misery, the shop with the three golden balls
prospered, and was crammed from cellar to garret with the clocks,
and the tables, and the kettles, and the blankets, and the bibles
of the poor. I remember well the effect which was produced in
London by the unwonted sight of the huge pieces of cannon which
were going northward to overawe the starving population of
Lancashire. These evil days passed away. Since that time we
have again had cheap bread. The capitalist has been a gainer.
It was fit that he should be a gainer. But has he been the only
gainer? Will those who are always telling us that the Polish
labourer is worse off than the English labourer venture to tell
us that the English labourer was worse off in 1844 than in 1841?
Have we not everywhere seen the goods of the poor coming back
from the magazine of the pawnbroker? Have we not seen in the
house of the working man, in his clothing, in his very looks as
he passed us in the streets, that he was a happier being? As to
his pleasures, and especially as to the most innocent, the most
salutary, of his pleasures, ask your own most intelligent and
useful fellow citizen Mr Robert Chambers what sale popular books
had in the year 1841, and what sale they had last year. I am
assured that, in one week of 1845, the sums paid in wages within
twenty miles of Manchester exceeded by a million and a half the
sums paid in the corresponding week of 1841.

Gentlemen, both the capitalist and the labourer have been
gainers, as they ought to have been gainers, by the diminution in
the price of bread. But there is a third party, which ought not
to have gained by that diminution, and yet has gained very
greatly by it; and that party is Her Majesty's present
Government. It is for the interest of rulers that those whom
they rule should be prosperous. But the prosperity which we have
lately enjoyed was a prosperity for which we were not indebted to
our rulers. It came in spite of them. It was produced by the
cheapness of that which they had laboured to render dear. Under
pretence of making us independent of foreign supply, they have
established a system which makes us dependent in the worst
possible way. As my valued friend, the Lord Provost (Mr Adam
Black.), has justly said, there is a mutual dependence among
nations of which we cannot get rid. That Providence has assigned
different productions to different climates is a truth with which
everybody is familiar. But this is not all. Even in the same
climate different productions belong to different stages of
civilisation. As one latitude is favourable to the vine and
another to the sugar cane, so there is, in the same latitude, a
state of society in which it is desirable that the industry of
men should be almost entirely directed towards the cultivation of
the earth, and another state of society in which it is desirable
that a large part of the population should be employed in
manufactures. No dependence can be conceived more natural, more
salutary, more free from everything like degradation than the
mutual dependence which exists between a nation which has a
boundless extent of fertile land, and a nation which has a
boundless command of machinery; between a nation whose business
is to turn deserts into corn fields, and a nation whose business
is to increase tenfold by ingenious processes the value of the
fleece and of the rude iron ore. Even if that dependence were
less beneficial than it is, we must submit to it; for it is
inevitable. Make what laws we will, we must be dependent on
other countries for a large part of our food. That point was
decided when England ceased to be an exporting country. For,
gentlemen, it is demonstrable that none but a country which
ordinarily exports food can be independent of foreign supplies.
If a manufacturer determines to produce ten thousand pair of
stockings, he will produce the ten thousand, and neither more nor
less. But an agriculturist cannot determine that he will produce
ten thousand quarters of corn, and neither more nor less. That
he may be sure of having ten thousand quarters in a bad year, he
must sow such a quantity of land that he will have much more than
ten thousand in a good year. It is evident that, if our island
does not in ordinary years produce many more quarters than we
want, it will in bad years produce fewer quarters than we want.
And it is equally evident that our cultivators will not produce
more quarters of corn than we want, unless they can export the
surplus at a profit. Nobody ventures to tell us that Great
Britain can be ordinarily an exporting country. It follows that
we must be dependent: and the only question is, Which is the
best mode of dependence? That question it is not difficult to
answer. Go to Lancashire; see that multitude of cities, some of
them equal in size to the capitals of large kingdoms. Look at
the warehouses, the machinery, the canals, the railways, the
docks. See the stir of that hive of human beings busily employed
in making, packing, conveying stuffs which are to be worn in
Canada and Caffraria, in Chili and Java. You naturally ask, How
is this immense population, collected on an area which will not
yield food for one tenth part of them, to be nourished? But
change the scene. Go beyond the Ohio, and there you will see
another species of industry, equally extensive and equally
flourishing. You will see the wilderness receding fast before
the advancing tide of life and civilisation, vast harvests waving
round the black stumps of what a few months ago was a pathless
forest, and cottages, barns, mills, rising amidst the haunts of
the wolf and the bear. Here is more than enough corn to feed the
artisans of our thickly peopled island; and most gladly would the
grower of that corn exchange it for a Sheffield knife, a
Birmingham spoon, a warm coat of Leeds woollen cloth, a light
dress of Manchester cotton. But this exchange our rulers
prohibit. They say to our manufacturing population, "You would
willingly weave clothes for the people of America, and they would
gladly sow wheat for you; but we prohibit this intercourse. We
condemn both your looms and their ploughs to inaction. We will
compel you to pay a high price for a stinted meal. We will
compel those who would gladly be your purveyors and your
customers to be your rivals. We will compel them to turn
manufacturers in self-defence; and when, in close imitation of
us, they impose high duties on British goods for the protection
of their own produce, we will, in our speeches and despatches,
express wonder and pity at their strange ignorance of political

Such has been the policy of Her Majesty's Ministers; but it has
not yet been fairly brought to the trial. Good harvests have
prevented bad laws from producing their full effect. The
Government has had a run of luck; and vulgar observers have
mistaken luck for wisdom. But such runs of luck do not last
forever. Providence will not always send the rain and the
sunshine just at such a time and in such a quantity as to save
the reputation of shortsighted statesmen. There is too much
reason to believe that evil days are approaching. On such a
subject it is a sacred duty to avoid exaggeration; and I shall do
so. I observe that the writers,--wretched writers they are,--who
defend the present Administration, assert that there is no
probability of a considerable rise in the price of provisions,
and that the Whigs and the Anti-Corn-Law League are busily
engaged in circulating false reports for the vile purpose of
raising a panic. Now, gentlemen, it shall not be in the power of
anybody to throw any such imputation on me; for I shall describe
our prospects in the words of the Ministers themselves. I hold
in my hand a letter in which Sir Thomas Freemantle, Secretary for
Ireland, asks for information touching the potato crop in that
country. His words are these. "Her Majesty's Government is
seeking to learn the opinion of judges and well informed persons
in every part of Ireland regarding the probability of the supply
being sufficient for the support of the people during the ensuing
winter and spring, provided care be taken in preserving the
stock, and economy used in its consumption." Here, you will
observe, it is taken for granted that the supply is not
sufficient for a year's consumption: it is taken for granted
that, without care and economy, the supply will not last to the
end of the spring; and a doubt is expressed whether, with care
and economy, the supply will last even through the winter. In
this letter the Ministers of the Crown tell us that famine is
close at hand; and yet, when this letter was written, the duty on
foreign corn was seventeen shillings a quarter. Is it necessary
to say more about the merits of the sliding scale? We were
assured that this wonderful piece of machinery would secure us
against all danger of scarcity. But unhappily we find that there
is a hitch; the sliding scale will not slide; the Ministers are
crying "Famine," while the index which they themselves devised is
still pointing to "Plenty."

And thus, Sir, I come back to the resolution which I hold in my
hand, A dear year is before us. The price of meal is already, I
believe, half as much again as it was a few months ago. Again,
unhappily, we are able to bring to the test of facts the
doctrine, that the dearness of food benefits the labourer and
injures only the capitalist. The price of food is rising. Are
wages rising? On the contrary, they are falling. In numerous
districts the symptoms of distress are already perceptible. The
manufacturers are already beginning to work short time. Warned
by repeated experience, they know well what is coming, and expect
that 1846 will be a second 1841.

If these things do not teach us wisdom, we are past all teaching.
Twice in ten years we have seen the price of corn go up; and, as
it went up, the wages of the labouring classes went down. Twice
in the same period we have seen the price of corn go down; and,
as it went down, the wages of the labouring classes went up.
Surely such experiments as these would in any science be
considered as decisive.

The prospect, gentlemen, is, doubtless, gloomy. Yet it has its
bright part. I have already congratulated you on the important
fact that Lord John Russell and those who have hitherto acted on
this subject in concert with him, have given up all thoughts of
fixed duty. I have to congratulate you on another fact not less
important. I am assured that the working people of the
manufacturing districts have at last come to understand this
question. The sharp discipline which they have undergone has
produced this good effect; that they will never again listen to
any orator who shall have the effrontery to tell them that their
wages rise and fall with the price of the loaf. Thus we shall go
into the contest under such leading and with such a following as
we never had before. The best part of the aristocracy will be at
our head. Millions of labouring men, who had been separated from
us by the arts of impostors, will be in our rear. So led and so
followed, we may, I think, look forward to victory, if not in
this, yet in the next Parliament. But, whether our triumph be
near or remote, I assure you that I shall not fail as regards
this question, to prove myself your true representative. I will
now, my Lord, put into your hands this resolution, "That the
present corn law presses with especial severity on the poorer




On the twenty-ninth of April, 1846, Mr Fielden, Member for
Oldham, moved the second reading of a Bill for limiting the
labour of young persons in factories to ten hours a day. The
debate was adjourned, and was repeatedly resumed at long
intervals. At length, on the twenty-second of May the Bill was
rejected by 203 votes to 193. On that day the following Speech
was made.

It is impossible, Sir, that I can remain silent after the appeal
which has been made to me in so pointed a manner by my honourable
friend, the Member for Sheffield (Mr Ward.), and even if that
appeal had not been made to me, I should have been very desirous
to have an opportunity of explaining the grounds on which I shall
vote for the second reading of this bill.

It is, I hope, unnecessary for me to assure my honourable friend
that I utterly disapprove of those aspersions which have, both in
this House and out of it, been thrown on the owners of factories.
For that valuable class of men I have no feeling but respect and
good will. I am convinced that with their interests the
interests of the whole community, and especially of the labouring
classes, are inseparably bound up. I can also with perfect
sincerity declare that the vote which I shall give to-night will
not be a factious vote. In no circumstances indeed should I
think that the laws of political hostility warranted me in
treating this question as a party question. But at the present
moment I would much rather strengthen than weaken the hands of
Her Majesty's Ministers. It is by no means pleasant to me to be
under the necessity of opposing them. I assure them, I assure my
friends on this side of the House with whom I am so unfortunate
as to differ, and especially my honourable friend the Member for
Sheffield, who spoke, I must say, in rather too plaintive a tone,
that I have no desire to obtain credit for humanity at their
expense. I fully believe that their feeling towards the
labouring people is quite as kind as mine. There is no
difference between us as to ends: there is an honest difference
of opinion as to means: and we surely ought to be able to
discuss the points on which we differ without one angry emotion
or one acrimonious word.

The details of the bill, Sir, will be more conveniently and more
regularly discussed when we consider it in Committee. Our
business at present is with the principle: and the principle, we
are told by many gentlemen of great authority, is unsound. In
their opinion, neither this bill, nor any other bill regulating
the hours of labour, can be defended. This, they say, is one of
those matters about which we ought not to legislate at all; one
of those matters which settle themselves far better than any
government can settle them. Now it is most important that this
point should be fully cleared up. We certainly ought not to
usurp functions which do not properly belong to us: but, on the
other hand, we ought not to abdicate functions which do properly
belong to us. I hardly know which is the greater pest to
society, a paternal government, that is to say a prying,
meddlesome government, which intrudes itself into every part of
human life, and which thinks that it can do everything for
everybody better than anybody can do anything for himself; or a
careless, lounging government, which suffers grievances, such as
it could at once remove, to grow and multiply, and which to all
complaint and remonstrance has only one answer: "We must let
things alone: we must let things take their course: we must let
things find their level." There is no more important problem in
politics than to ascertain the just mean between these two most
pernicious extremes, to draw correctly the line which divides
those cases in which it is the duty of the State to interfere
from those cases in which it is the duty of the State to abstain
from interference. In old times the besetting sin of rulers was
undoubtedly an inordinate disposition to meddle. The lawgiver
was always telling people how to keep their shops, how to till
their fields, how to educate their children, how many dishes to
have on their tables, how much a yard to give for the cloth which
made their coats. He was always trying to remedy some evil which
did not properly fall within his province: and the consequence
was that he increased the evils which he attempted to remedy. He
was so much shocked by the distress inseparable from scarcity
that he made statutes against forestalling and regrating, and so
turned the scarcity into a famine. He was so much shocked by the
cunning and hardheartedness of money-lenders that he made laws
against usury; and the consequence was that the borrower, who, if
he had been left unprotected, would have got money at ten per
cent., could hardly, when protected, get it at fifteen per cent.
Some eminent political philosophers of the last century exposed
with great ability the folly of such legislation, and, by doing
so, rendered a great service to mankind. There has been a
reaction, a reaction which has doubtless produced much good, but
which like most reactions, has not been without evils and
dangers. Our statesmen cannot now be accused of being
busybodies. But I am afraid that there is, even in some of the
ablest and most upright among them a tendency to the opposite
fault. I will give an instance of what I mean. Fifteen years
ago it became evident that railroads would soon, in every part of
the kingdom, supersede to a great extent the old highways. The
tracing of the new routes which were to join all the chief
cities, ports, and naval arsenals of the island was a matter of
the highest national importance. But, unfortunately, those who
should have acted for the nation, refused to interfere.
Consequently, numerous questions which were really public,
questions which concerned the public convenience, the public
prosperity, the public security, were treated as private
questions. That the whole society was interested in having a
good system of internal communication seemed to be forgotten.
The speculator who wanted a large dividend on his shares, the
landowner who wanted a large price for his acres, obtained a full
hearing. But nobody applied to be heard on behalf of the
community. The effects of that great error we feel, and we shall
not soon cease to feel. Unless I am greatly mistaken, we are in
danger of committing to-night an error of the same kind. The
honourable member for Montrose (Mr Hume.) and my honourable
friend the Member for Sheffield think that the question before us
is merely a question between the old and the new theories of
commerce. They cannot understand how any friend of free trade
can wish the Legislature to interfere between the capitalist and
the labourer. They say, "You do not make a law to settle the
price of gloves, or the texture of gloves, or the length of
credit which the glover shall give. You leave it to him to
determine whether he will charge high or low prices, whether he
will use strong or flimsy materials, whether he will trust or
insist on ready money. You acknowledge that these are matters
which he ought to be left to settle with his customers, and that
we ought not to interfere. It is possible that he may manage his
shop ill. But it is certain that we shall manage it ill. On the
same grounds on which you leave the seller of gloves and the
buyer of gloves to make their own contract, you ought to leave
the seller of labour and the buyer of labour to make their own

I have a great respect, Sir, for those who reason thus: but I
cannot see this matter in the light in which it appears to them;
and, though I may distrust my own judgment, I must be guided by
it. I am, I believe, as strongly attached as any member of this
House to the principle of free trade, rightly understood. Trade,
considered merely as trade, considered merely with reference to
the pecuniary interest of the contracting parties, can hardly be
too free. But there is a great deal of trade which cannot be
considered merely as trade, and which affects higher than
pecuniary interests. And to say that Government never ought to
regulate such trade is a monstrous proposition, a proposition at
which Adam Smith would have stood aghast. We impose some
restrictions on trade for purposes of police. Thus, we do not
suffer everybody who has a cab and a horse to ply for passengers
in the streets of London. We do not leave the fare to be
determined by the supply and the demand. We do not permit a
driver to extort a guinea for going half a mile on a rainy day
when there is no other vehicle on the stand. We impose some
restrictions on trade for the sake of revenue. Thus, we forbid a
farmer to cultivate tobacco on his own ground. We impose some
restrictions on trade for the sake of national defence. Thus we
compel a man who would rather be ploughing or weaving to go into
the militia; and we fix the amount of pay which he shall receive
without asking his consent. Nor is there in all this anything
inconsistent with the soundest political economy. For the
science of political economy teaches us only that we ought not on
commercial grounds to interfere with the liberty of commerce; and
we, in the cases which I have put, interfere with the liberty of
commerce on higher than commercial grounds.

And now, Sir, to come closer to the case with which we have to
deal, I say, first, that where the health of the community is
concerned, it may be the duty of the State to interfere with the
contracts of individuals; and to this proposition I am quite sure
that Her Majesty's Government will cordially assent. I have just
read a very interesting report signed by two members of that
Government, the Duke of Buccleuch, and the noble earl who was
lately Chief Commissioner of the Woods and Forests, and who is
now Secretary for Ireland (The Earl of Lincoln.); and, since that
report was laid before the House, the noble earl himself has,
with the sanction of the Cabinet, brought in a bill for the
protection of the public health. By this bill it is provided
that no man shall be permitted to build a house on his own land
in any great town without giving notice to certain Commissioners.
No man is to sink a cellar without the consent of these
Commissioners. The house must not be of less than a prescribed
width. No new house must be built without a drain. If an old
house has no drain, the Commissioners may order the owner to make
a drain. If he refuses, they make a drain for him, and send him
in the bill. They may order him to whitewash his house. If he
refuses, they may send people with pails and brushes to whitewash
it for him, at his charge. Now, suppose that some proprietor of
houses at Leeds or Manchester were to expostulate with the
Government in the language in which the Government has
expostulated with the supporters of this bill for the regulation
of factories. Suppose he were to say to the noble earl, "Your
lordship professes to be a friend to free trade. Your lordship's
doctrine is that everybody ought to be at liberty to buy cheap
and to sell dear. Why then may not I run up a house as cheap as
I can, and let my rooms as dear as I can? Your lordship does not
like houses without drains. Do not take one of mine then. You
think my bedrooms filthy. Nobody forces you to sleep in them.
Use your own liberty: but do not restrain that of your
neighbours. I can find many a family willing to pay a shilling a
week for leave to live in what you call a hovel. And why am not
I to take the shilling which they are willing to give me? And
why are not they to have such shelter as, for that shilling, I
can afford them? Why did you send a man without my consent to
clean my house, and then force me to pay for what I never
ordered? My tenants thought the house clean enough for them; or
they would not have been my tenants; and, if they and I were
satisfied, why did you, in direct defiance of all the principles
of free trade, interfere between us?" This reasoning, Sir, is
exactly of a piece with the reasoning of the honourable Member
for Montrose, and of my honourable friend the Member for
Sheffield. If the noble earl will allow me to make a defence for
him, I believe that he would answer the objection thus: "I
hold," he would say, "the sound doctrine of free trade. But your
doctrine of free trade is an exaggeration, a caricature of the
sound doctrine; and by exhibiting such a caricature you bring
discredit on the sound doctrine. We should have nothing to do
with the contracts between you and your tenants, if those
contracts affected only pecuniary interests. But higher than
pecuniary interests are at stake. It concerns the commonwealth
that the great body of the people should not live in a way which
makes life wretched and short, which enfeebles the body and
pollutes the mind. If, by living in houses which resemble
hogstyes, great numbers of our countrymen have contracted the
tastes of hogs, if they have become so familiar with filth and
stench and contagion, that they burrow without reluctance in
holes which would turn the stomach of any man of cleanly habits,
that is only an additional proof that we have too long neglected
our duties, and an additional reason for our now performing

Secondly, I say that where the public morality is concerned it
may be the duty of the State to interfere with the contracts of
individuals. Take the traffic in licentious books and pictures.
Will anybody deny that the State may, with propriety, interdict
that traffic? Or take the case of lotteries. I have, we will
suppose, an estate for which I wish to get twenty thousand
pounds. I announce my intention to issue a thousand tickets at
twenty pounds each. The holder of the number which is first
drawn is to have the estate. But the magistrate interferes; the
contract between me and the purchasers of my tickets is annulled;
and I am forced to pay a heavy penalty for having made such a
contract. I appeal to the principle of free trade, as expounded
by the honourable gentlemen the Members for Montrose and
Sheffield. I say to you, the legislators who have restricted my
liberty, "What business have you to interfere between a buyer and
a seller? If you think the speculation a bad one, do not take
tickets. But do not interdict other people from judging for
themselves." Surely you would answer, "You would be right if
this were a mere question of trade: but it is a question of
morality. We prohibit you from disposing of your property in
this particular mode, because it is a mode which tends to
encourage a most pernicious habit of mind, a habit of mind
incompatible with all the qualities on which the well-being of
individuals and of nations depends."

It must then, I think, be admitted that, where health is
concerned, and where morality is concerned, the State is
justified in interfering with the contracts of individuals. And,
if this be admitted, it follows that the case with which we now
have to do is a case for interference.

Will it be denied that the health of a large part of the rising
generation may be seriously affected by the contracts which this
bill is intended to regulate? Can any man who has read the
evidence which is before us, can any man who has ever observed
young people, can any man who remembers his own sensations when
he was young, doubt that twelve hours a day of labour in a
factory is too much for a lad of thirteen?

Or will it be denied that this is a question in which public
morality is concerned? Can any one doubt,--none, I am sure, of
my friends around me doubts,--that education is a matter of the
highest importance to the virtue and happiness of a people? Now
we know that there can be no education without leisure. It is
evident that, after deducting from the day twelve hours for
labour in a factory, and the additional hours necessary for
exercise, refreshment, and repose, there will not remain time
enough for education.

I have now, I think, shown that this bill is not in principle
objectionable; and yet I have not touched the strongest part of
our case. I hold that, where public health is concerned, and
where public morality is concerned, the State may be justified in
regulating even the contracts of adults. But we propose to
regulate only the contracts of infants. Now, was there ever a
civilised society in which the contracts of infants were not
under some regulation? Is there a single member of this House
who will say that a wealthy minor of thirteen ought to be at
perfect liberty to execute a conveyance of his estate, or to give
a bond for fifty thousand pounds? If anybody were so absurd as
to say, "What has the Legislature to do with the matter? Why
cannot you leave trade free? Why do you pretend to understand
the boy's interest better than he understands it?"--you would
answer; "When he grows up, he may squander his fortune away if he
likes: but at present the State is his guardian; and he shall
not ruin himself till he is old enough to know what he is about."
The minors whom we wish to protect have not indeed large property
to throw away: but they are not the less our wards. Their only
inheritance, the only fund to which they must look for their
subsistence through life, is the sound mind in the sound body.
And is it not our duty to prevent them from wasting their most
precious wealth before they know its value?

But, it is said, this bill, though it directly limits only the
labour of infants, will, by an indirect operation, limit also the
labour of adults. Now, Sir, though I am not prepared to vote for
a bill directly limiting the labour of adults, I will plainly say
that I do not think that the limitation of the labour of adults
would necessarily produce all those frightful consequences which
we have heard predicted. You cheer me in very triumphant tones,
as if I had uttered some monstrous paradox. Pray, does it not
occur to any of you that the labour of adults is now limited in
this country? Are you not aware that you are living in a society
in which the labour of adults is limited to six days in seven?
It is you, not I, who maintain a paradox opposed to the opinions
and the practices of all nations and ages. Did you ever hear of
a single civilised State since the beginning of the world in
which a certain portion of time was not set apart for the rest
and recreation of adults by public authority? In general, this
arrangement has been sanctioned by religion. The Egyptians, the
Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, had their holidays: the Hindoo has
his holidays: the Mussulman has his holidays: there are
holidays in the Greek Church, holidays in the Church of Rome,
holidays in the Church of England. Is it not amusing to hear a
gentleman pronounce with confidence that any legislation which
limits the labour of adults must produce consequences fatal to
society, without once reflecting that in the society in which he
lives, and in every other society that exists, or ever has
existed, there has been such legislation without any evil
consequence? It is true that a Puritan Government in England,
and an Atheistical Government in France, abolished the old
holidays as superstitious. But those Governments felt it to be
absolutely necessary to institute new holidays. Civil festivals
were substituted for religious festivals. You will find among
the ordinances of the Long Parliament a law providing that, in
exchange for the days of rest and amusement which the people had
been used to enjoy at Easter, Whitsuntide, and Christmas, the
second Tuesday in every month should be given to the working man,
and that any apprentice who was forced to work on the second
Tuesday of any month might have his master up before a
magistrate. The French Jacobins decreed that the Sunday should
no longer be a day of rest; but they instituted another day of
rest, the Decade. They swept away the holidays of the Roman
Catholic Church; but they instituted another set of holidays, the
Sansculottides, one sacred to Genius, one to Industry, one to
Opinion, and so on. I say, therefore, that the practice of
limiting by law the time of the labour of adults is so far from
being, as some gentlemen seem to think, an unheard of and
monstrous practice, that it is a practice as universal as
cookery, as the wearing of clothes, as the use of domestic

And has this practice been proved by experience to be pernicious?
Let us take the instance with which we are most familiar. Let us
inquire what has been the effect of those laws which, in our own
country, limit the labour of adults to six days in every seven.
It is quite unnecessary to discuss the question whether
Christians be or be not bound by a divine command to observe the
Sunday. For it is evident that, whether our weekly holiday be of
divine or of human institution, the effect on the temporal
interests of Society will be exactly the same. Now, is there a
single argument in the whole Speech of my honourable friend the
Member for Sheffield which does not tell just as strongly against
the laws which enjoin the observance of the Sunday as against the
bill on our table? Surely, if his reasoning is good for hours,
it must be equally good for days.

He says, "If this limitation be good for the working people, rely
on it that they will find it out, and that they will themselves
establish it without any law." Why not reason in the same way
about the Sunday? Why not say, "If it be a good thing for the
people of London to shut their shops one day in seven, they will
find it out, and will shut their shops without a law?" Sir, the
answer is obvious. I have no doubt that, if you were to poll the
shopkeepers of London, you would find an immense majority,
probably a hundred to one, in favour of closing shops on the
Sunday; and yet it is absolutely necessary to give to the wish of
the majority the sanction of a law; for, if there were no such
law, the minority, by opening their shops, would soon force the
majority to do the same.

But, says my honourable friend, you cannot limit the labour of
adults unless you fix wages. This proposition he lays down
repeatedly, assures us that it is incontrovertible, and indeed
seems to think it self-evident; for he has not taken the trouble
to prove it. Sir, my answer shall be very short. We have,
during many centuries, limited the labour of adults to six days
in seven; and yet we have not fixed the rate of wages.

But, it is said, you cannot legislate for all trades; and
therefore you had better not legislate for any. Look at the poor
sempstress. She works far longer and harder than the factory
child. She sometimes plies her needle fifteen, sixteen hours in
the twenty-four. See how the housemaid works, up at six every
morning, and toiling up stairs and down stairs till near
midnight. You own that you cannot do anything for the sempstress
and the housemaid. Why then trouble yourself about the factory
child? Take care that by protecting one class you do not
aggravate the hardships endured by the classes which you cannot
protect. Why, Sir, might not all this be said, word for word,
against the laws which enjoin the observance of the Sunday?
There are classes of people whom you cannot prevent from working
on the Sunday. There are classes of people whom, if you could,
you ought not to prevent from working on the Sunday. Take the
sempstress, of whom so much has been said. You cannot keep her
from sewing and hemming all Sunday in her garret. But you do not
think that a reason for suffering Covent Garden Market, and
Leadenhall Market, and Smithfield Market, and all the shops from
Mile End to Hyde Park to be open all Sunday. Nay, these
factories about which we are debating,--does anybody propose that
they shall be allowed to work all Sunday? See then how
inconsistent you are. You think it unjust to limit the labour of
the factory child to ten hours a day, because you cannot limit
the labour of the sempstress. And yet you see no injustice in
limiting the labour of the factory child, aye, and of the factory
man, to six days in the week, though you cannot limit the labour
of the sempstress.

But, you say, by protecting one class we shall aggravate the
sufferings of all the classes which we cannot protect. You say
this; but you do not prove it; and all experience proves the
contrary. We interfere on the Sunday to close the shops. We do
not interfere with the labour of the housemaid. But are the
housemaids of London more severely worked on the Sunday than on
other days? The fact notoriously is the reverse. For your
legislation keeps the public feeling in a right state, and thus
protects indirectly those whom it cannot protect directly.

Will my honourable friend the Member for Sheffield maintain that
the law which limits the number of working days has been
injurious to the working population? I am certain that he will
not. How then can he expect me to believe that a law which
limits the number of working hours must necessarily be injurious
to the working population? Yet he and those who agree with him
seem to wonder at our dulness because we do not at once admit the
truth of the doctrine which they propound on this subject. They
reason thus. We cannot reduce the number of hours of labour in
factories without reducing the amount of production. We cannot
reduce the amount of production without reducing the remuneration
of the labourer. Meanwhile, foreigners, who are at liberty to
work till they drop down dead at their looms, will soon beat us
out of all the markets of the world. Wages will go down fast.
The condition of our working people will be far worse than it is;
and our unwise interference will, like the unwise interference of
our ancestors with the dealings of the corn factor and the money
lender, increase the distress of the very class which we wish to

Now, Sir, I fully admit that there might be such a limitation of
the hours of labour as would produce the evil consequences with
which we are threatened; and this, no doubt, is a very good
reason for legislating with great caution, for feeling our way,
for looking well to all the details of this bill. But it is
certainly not true that every limitation of the hours of labour
must produce these consequences. And I am, I must say, surprised
when I hear men of eminent ability and knowledge lay down the
proposition that a diminution of the time of labour must be
followed by diminution of the wages of labour, as a proposition
universally true, as a proposition capable of being strictly
demonstrated, as a proposition about which there can be no more
doubt than about any theorem in Euclid. Sir, I deny the truth of
the proposition; and for this plain reason. We have already, by
law, greatly reduced the time of labour in factories. Thirty
years ago, the late Sir Robert Peel told the House that it was a
common practice to make children of eight years of age toil in
mills fifteen hours a day. A law has since been made which
prohibits persons under eighteen years of age from working in
mills more than twelve hours a day. That law was opposed on
exactly the same grounds on which the bill before us is opposed.
Parliament was told then, as it is told now, that with the time
of labour the quantity of production would decrease, that with
the quantity of production the wages would decrease, that our
manufacturers would be unable to contend with foreign
manufacturers, and that the condition of the labouring population
instead of being made better by the interference of the
Legislature would be made worse. Read over those debates; and
you may imagine that you are reading the debate of this evening.
Parliament disregarded these prophecies. The time of labour was
limited. Have wages fallen? Has the cotton trade left
Manchester for France or Germany? Has the condition of the
working people become more miserable? Is it not universally
acknowledged that the evils which were so confidently predicted
have not come to pass? Let me be understood. I am not arguing
that, because a law which reduced the hours of daily labour from
fifteen to twelve did not reduce wages, a law reducing those
hours from twelve to ten or eleven cannot possibly reduce wages.
That would be very inconclusive reasoning. What I say is this,
that, since a law which reduced the hours of daily labour from
fifteen to twelve has not reduced wages, the proposition that
every reduction of the hours of labour must necessarily reduce
wages is a false proposition. There is evidently some flaw in
that demonstration which my honourable friend thinks so complete;
and what the flaw is we may perhaps discover if we look at the
analogous case to which I have so often referred.

Sir, exactly three hundred years ago, great religious changes
were taking place in England. Much was said and written, in that
inquiring and innovating age, about the question whether
Christians were under a religious obligation to rest from labour
on one day in the week; and it is well known that the chief
Reformers, both here and on the Continent, denied the existence
of any such obligation. Suppose then that, in 1546, Parliament
had made a law that they should thenceforth be no distinction
between the Sunday and any other day. Now, Sir, our opponents,
if they are consistent with themselves, must hold that such a law
would have immensely increased the wealth of the country and the
remuneration of the working man. What an effect, if their
principles be sound, must have been produced by the addition of
one sixth to the time of labour! What an increase of production!
What a rise of wages! How utterly unable must the foreign
artisan, who still had his days of festivity and of repose, have
found himself to maintain a competition with a people whose shops
were open, whose markets were crowded, whose spades and axes, and
planes, and hods, and anvils, and looms were at work from morning
till night on three hundred and sixty-five days a year! The
Sundays of three hundred years make up fifty years of our working
days. We know what the industry of fifty years can do. We know
what marvels the industry of the last fifty years has wrought.
The arguments of my honourable friend irresistibly lead us to
this conclusion, that if, during the last three centuries, the
Sunday had not been observed as a day of rest, we should have
been a far richer, a far more highly civilised people than we now
are, and that the labouring classes especially would have been
far better off than at present. But does he, does any Member of
the House, seriously believe that this would have been the case?
For my own part, I have not the smallest doubt that, if we and
our ancestors had, during the last three centuries, worked just
as hard on the Sunday as on the week days, we should have been at
this moment a poorer people and a less civilised people than we
are; that there would have been less production than there has
been, that the wages of the labourer would have been lower than
they are, and that some other nation would have been now making
cotton stuffs and woollen stuffs and cutlery for the whole world.

Of course, Sir, I do not mean to say that a man will not produce
more in a week by working seven days than by working six days.
But I very much doubt whether, at the end of a year, he will
generally have produced more by working seven days a week than by
working six days a week; and I firmly believe that, at the end of
twenty years, he will have produced much less by working seven
days a week than by working six days a week. In the same manner
I do not deny that a factory child will produce more, in a single
day, by working twelve hours than by working ten hours, and by
working fifteen hours than by working twelve hours. But I do
deny that a great society in which children work fifteen, or even
twelve hours a day will, in the lifetime of a generation, produce
as much as if those children had worked less. If we consider man
merely in a commercial point of view, if we consider him merely
as a machine for the production of worsted and calico, let us not
forget what a piece of mechanism he is, how fearfully and
wonderfully made. We do not treat a fine horse or a sagacious
dog exactly as we treat a spinning jenny. Nor will any
slaveholder, who has sense enough to know his own interest, treat
his human chattels exactly as he treats his horses and his dogs.
And would you treat the free labourer of England like a mere
wheel or pulley? Rely on it that intense labour, beginning too
early in life, continued too long every day, stunting the growth
of the body, stunting the growth of the mind, leaving no time for
healthful exercise, leaving no time for intellectual culture,
must impair all those high qualities which have made our country
great. Your overworked boys will become a feeble and ignoble
race of men, the parents of a more feeble and more ignoble
progeny; nor will it be long before the deterioration of the
labourer will injuriously affect those very interests to which
his physical and moral energies have been sacrificed. On the
other hand, a day of rest recurring in every week, two or three
hours of leisure, exercise, innocent amusement or useful study,
recurring every day, must improve the whole man, physically,
morally, intellectually; and the improvement of the man will
improve all that the man produces. Why is it, Sir, that the
Hindoo cotton manufacturer, close to whose door the cotton grows,
cannot, in the bazaar of his own town, maintain a competition
with the English cotton manufacturer, who has to send thousands
of miles for the raw material, and who has then to send the
wrought material thousands of miles to market? You will say that
it is owing to the excellence of our machinery. And to what is
the excellence of our machinery owing? How many of the
improvements which have been made in our machinery do we owe to
the ingenuity and patient thought of working men? Adam Smith
tells us in the first chapter of his great work, that you can
hardly go to a factory without seeing some very pretty machine,--
that is his expression,--devised by some labouring man.
Hargraves, the inventor of the spinning jenny, was a common
artisan. Crompton, the inventor of the mule jenny, was a working
man. How many hours of the labour of children would do so much
for our manufactures as one of these improvements has done? And
in what sort of society are such improvements most likely to be
made? Surely in a society in which the faculties of the working
people are developed by education. How long will you wait before
any negro, working under the lash in Louisiana, will contrive a
better machinery for squeezing the sugar canes? My honourable
friend seems to me, in all his reasonings about the commercial
prosperity of nations, to overlook entirely the chief cause on
which that prosperity depends. What is it, Sir, that makes the
great difference between country and country? Not the exuberance
of soil; not the mildness of climate; not mines, nor havens, nor
rivers. These things are indeed valuable when put to their
proper use by human intelligence: but human intelligence can do
much without them; and they without human intelligence can do
nothing. They exist in the highest degree in regions of which
the inhabitants are few, and squalid, and barbarous, and naked,
and starving; while on sterile rocks, amidst unwholesome marshes,
and under inclement skies, may be found immense populations, well
fed, well lodged, well clad, well governed. Nature meant Egypt
and Sicily to be the gardens of the world. They once were so.
Is it anything in the earth or in the air that makes Scotland
more prosperous than Egypt, that makes Holland more prosperous
than Sicily? No; it was the Scotchman that made Scotland; it was
the Dutchman that made Holland. Look at North America. Two
centuries ago the sites on which now arise mills, and hotels, and
banks, and colleges, and churches, and the Senate Houses of
flourishing commonwealths, were deserts abandoned to the panther
and the bear. What has made the change? Was it the rich mould,
or the redundant rivers? No: the prairies were as fertile, the
Ohio and the Hudson were as broad and as full then as now. Was
the improvement the effect of some great transfer of capital from
the old world to the new? No, the emigrants generally carried
out with them no more than a pittance; but they carried out the
English heart, and head, and arm; and the English heart and head
and arm turned the wilderness into cornfield and orchard, and the
huge trees of the primeval forest into cities and fleets. Man,
man is the great instrument that produces wealth. The natural
difference between Campania and Spitzbergen is trifling, when
compared with the difference between a country inhabited by men
full of bodily and mental vigour, and a country inhabited by men
sunk in bodily and mental decrepitude. Therefore it is that we
are not poorer but richer, because we have, through many ages,
rested from our labour one day in seven. That day is not lost.
While industry is suspended, while the plough lies in the furrow,
while the Exchange is silent, while no smoke ascends from the
factory, a process is going on quite as important to the wealth
of nations as any process which is performed on more busy days.
Man, the machine of machines, the machine compared with which all
the contrivances of the Watts and the Arkwrights are worthless,
is repairing and winding up, so that he returns to his labours on
the Monday with clearer intellect, with livelier spirits, with
renewed corporal vigour. Never will I believe that what makes a
population stronger, and healthier, and wiser, and better, can
ultimately make it poorer. You try to frighten us by telling us,
that in some German factories, the young work seventeen hours in
the twenty-four, that they work so hard that among thousands
there is not one who grows to such a stature that he can be
admitted into the army; and you ask whether, if we pass this
bill, we can possibly hold our own against such competition as
this? Sir, I laugh at the thought of such competition. If ever
we are forced to yield the foremost place among commercial
nations, we shall yield it, not to a race of degenerate dwarfs,
but to some people pre-eminently vigorous in body and in mind.

For these reasons, Sir, I approve of the principle of this bill,
and shall, without hesitation, vote for the second reading. To
what extent we ought to reduce the hours of labour is a question
of more difficulty. I think that we are in the situation of a
physician who has satisfied himself that there is a disease, and
that there is a specific medicine for the disease, but who is not
certain what quantity of that medicine the patient's constitution
will bear. Such a physician would probably administer his remedy
by small doses, and carefully watch its operation. I cannot help
thinking that, by at once reducing the hours of labour from
twelve to ten, we should hazard too much. The change is great,
and ought to be cautiously and gradually made. Suppose that
there should be an immediate fall of wages, which is not
impossible. Might there not be a violent reaction? Might not
the public take up a notion that our legislation had been
erroneous in principle, though, in truth, our error would have
been an error, not of principle, but merely of degree? Might not
Parliament be induced to retrace its steps? Might we not find it
difficult to maintain even the present limitation? The wisest
course would, in my opinion, be to reduce the hours of labour
from twelve to eleven, to observe the effect of that experiment,
and if, as I hope and believe, the result should be satisfactory,
then to make a further reduction from eleven to ten. This is a
question, however, which will be with more advantage considered
when we are in Committee.

One word, Sir, before I sit down, in answer to my noble friend
near me. (Lord Morpeth.) He seems to think that this bill is
ill timed. I own that I cannot agree with him. We carried up on
Monday last to the bar of the Lords a bill which will remove the
most hateful and pernicious restriction that ever was laid on
trade. Nothing can be more proper than to apply, in the same
week, a remedy to a great evil of a directly opposite kind. As
lawgivers, we have two great faults to confess and to repair. We
have done that which we ought not to have done. We have left
undone that which we ought to have done. We have regulated that
which we should have left to regulate itself. We have left
unregulated that which we were bound to regulate. We have given
to some branches of industry a protection which has proved their
bane. We have withheld from public health and public morals the
protection which was their due. We have prevented the labourer
from buying his loaf where he could get it cheapest; but we have
not prevented him from ruining his body and mind by premature and
immoderate toil. I hope that we have seen the last both of a
vicious system of interference and of a vicious system of non-
interference, and that our poorer countrymen will no longer have
reason to attribute their sufferings either to our meddling or to
our neglect.




I thank you, Gentlemen, for this cordial reception. I have
thought it right to steal a short time from duties not
unimportant for the purpose of lending my aid to a an undertaking
calculated, as I think, to raise the credit and to promote the
best interests of the city which has so many claims on my

The Directors of our Institution have requested me to propose to
you as a toast the Literature of Britain. They could not have
assigned to me a more agreeable duty. They chief object of this
Institution is, I conceive, to impart knowledge through the
medium of our own language. Edinburgh is already rich in
libraries worthy of her fame as a seat of literature and a seat
of jurisprudence. A man of letters can here without difficulty
obtain access to repositories filled with the wisdom of many ages
and of many nations. But something was still wanting. We still
wanted a library open to that large, that important, that
respectable class which, though by no means destitute of liberal
curiosity or of sensibility to literary pleasures, is yet forced
to be content with what is written in our own tongue. For that
class especially, I do not say exclusively, this library is
intended. Our directors, I hope, will not be satisfied, I, as a
member, shall certainly not be satisfied, till we possess a noble
and complete collection of English books, till it is impossible
to seek in vain on our shelves for a single English book which is
valuable either on account of matter or on account of manner,
which throws any light on our civil, ecclesiastical,
intellectual, or social history, which, in short, can afford
either useful instruction or harmless amusement.

From such a collection, placed within the reach of that large and
valuable class which I have mentioned, I am disposed to expect
great good. And when I say this, I do not take into the account
those rare cases to which my valued friend, the Lord Provost (Mr
Adam Black.), so happily alluded. It is indeed not impossible
that some man of genius who may enrich our literature with
imperishable eloquence or song, or who may extend the empire of
our race over matter, may feel in our reading room, for the first
time the consciousness of powers yet undeveloped. It is not
impossible that our volumes may suggest the first thought of
something great to some future Burns, or Watt, or Arkwright. But
I do not speak of these extraordinary cases. What I confidently
anticipate is that, through the whole of that class whose benefit
we have peculiarly in view, there will be a moral and an
intellectual improvement; that many hours, which might otherwise
be wasted in folly or in vice, will be employed in pursuits
which, while they afford the highest and most lasting pleasure,
are not only harmless, but purifying and elevating. My own
experience, my own observation, justifies me in entertaining this
hope. I have had opportunities, both in this and in other
countries, of forming some estimate of the effect which is likely
to be produced by a good collection of books on a society of
young men. There is, I will venture to say, no judicious
commanding officer of a regiment who will not tell you that the
vicinity of a valuable library will improve perceptibly the whole
character of a mess. I well knew one eminent military servant of
the East India Company, a man of great and various
accomplishments, a man honourably distinguished both in war and
in diplomacy, a man who enjoyed the confidence of some of the
greatest generals and statesmen of our time. When I asked him
how, having left his country while still a boy, and having passed
his youth at military stations in India, he had been able to
educate himself, his answer was, that he had been stationed in
the neighbourhood of an excellent library, that he had been
allowed free access to the books, and that they had, at the most
critical time of his life, decided his character, and saved him
from being a mere smoking, card-playing, punch-drinking lounger.

Some of the objections which have been made to such institutions
as ours have been so happily and completely refuted by my friend
the Lord Provost, and by the Most Reverend Prelate who has
honoured us with his presence this evening (Archbishop
Whateley.), that it would be idle to say again what has been so
well said. There is, however, one objection which, with your
permission, I will notice. Some men, of whom I wish to speak
with great respect, are haunted, as it seems to me, with an
unreasonable fear of what they call superficial knowledge.
Knowledge, they say, which really deserves the name, is a great
blessing to mankind, the ally of virtue, the harbinger of
freedom. But such knowledge must be profound. A crowd of people
who have a smattering of mathematics, a smattering of astronomy,
a smattering of chemistry, who have read a little poetry and a
little history, is dangerous to the commonwealth. Such half-
knowledge is worse than ignorance. And then the authority of
Pope is vouched. Drink deep or taste not; shallow draughts
intoxicate: drink largely; and that will sober you. I must
confess that the danger which alarms these gentlemen never seemed
to me very serious: and my reason is this; that I never could
prevail on any person who pronounced superficial knowledge a
curse, and profound knowledge a blessing, to tell me what was his
standard of profundity. The argument proceeds on the supposition
that there is some line between profound and superficial
knowledge similar to that which separates truth from falsehood.
I know of no such line. When we talk of men of deep science, do
we mean that they have got to the bottom or near the bottom of
science? Do we mean that they know all that is capable of being
known? Do we mean even that they know, in their own especial
department, all that the smatterers of the next generation will
know? Why, if we compare the little truth that we know with the
infinite mass of truth which we do not know, we are all shallow
together; and the greatest philosophers that ever lived would be
the first to confess their shallowness. If we could call up the
first of human beings, if we could call up Newton, and ask him
whether, even in those sciences in which he had no rival, he
considered himself as profoundly knowing, he would have told us
that he was but a smatterer like ourselves, and that the
difference between his knowledge and ours vanished, when compared
with the quantity of truth still undiscovered, just as the
distance between a person at the foot of Ben Lomond and at the
top of Ben Lomond vanishes when compared with the distance of the
fixed stars.

It is evident then that those who are afraid of superficial
knowledge do not mean by superficial knowledge knowledge which is
superficial when compared with the whole quantity of truth
capable of being known. For, in that sense, all human knowledge
is, and always has been, and always must be, superficial. What
then is the standard? Is it the same two years together in any
country? Is it the same, at the same moment, in any two
countries? Is it not notorious that the profundity of one age is
the shallowness of the next; that the profundity of one nation is
the shallowness of a neighbouring nation? Ramohun Roy passed,
among Hindoos, for a man of profound Western learning; but he
would have been but a very superficial member of this Institute.
Strabo was justly entitled to be called a profound geographer
eighteen hundred years ago. But a teacher of geography, who had
never heard of America, would now be laughed at by the girls of a
boarding-school. What would now be thought of the greatest
chemist of 1746, or of the greatest geologist of 1746? The truth
is that, in all experimental science, mankind is, of necessity,
constantly advancing. Every generation, of course, has its front
rank and its rear rank; but the rear rank of a later generation
occupies the ground which was occupied by the front rank of a
former generation.

You remember Gulliver's adventures. First he is shipwrecked in a
country of little men; and he is a Colossus among them. He
strides over the walls of their capital: he stands higher than
the cupola of their great temple: he tugs after him a royal
fleet: he stretches his legs; and a royal army, with drums
beating and colours flying, marches through the gigantic arch:
he devours a whole granary for breakfast, eats a herd of cattle
for dinner, and washes down his meal with all the hogsheads of a
cellar. In his next voyage he is among men sixty feet high. He
who, in Lilliput, used to take people up in his hand in order
that he might be able to hear them, is himself taken up in the
hands and held to the ears of his masters. It is all that he can
do to defend himself with his hanger against the rats and mice.
The court ladies amuse themselves with seeing him fight wasps and
frogs: the monkey runs off with him to the chimney top: the
dwarf drops him into the cream jug and leaves him to swim for his
life. Now, was Gulliver a tall or a short man? Why, in his own
house at Rotherhithe, he was thought a man of the ordinary
stature. Take him to Lilliput; and he is Quinbus Flestrin, the
Man Mountain. Take him to Brobdingnag, and he is Grildrig, the
little Manikin. It is the same in science. The pygmies of one
society would have passed for giants in another.

It might be amusing to institute a comparison between one of the
profoundly learned men of the thirteenth century and one of the
superficial students who will frequent our library. Take the
great philosopher of the time of Henry the Third of England, or
Alexander the Third of Scotland, the man renowned all over the
island, and even as far as Italy and Spain, as the first of
astronomers and chemists. What is his astronomy? He is a firm
believer in the Ptolemaic system. He never heard of the law of
gravitation. Tell him that the succession of day and night is
caused by the turning of the earth on its axis. Tell him that,
in consequence of this motion, the polar diameter of the earth is
shorter than the equatorial diameter. Tell him that the
succession of summer and winter is caused by the revolution of
the earth round the sun. If he does not set you down for an
idiot, he lays an information against you before the Bishop, and
has you burned for a heretic. To do him justice, however, if he
is ill informed on these points, there are other points on which
Newton and Laplace were mere children when compared with him. He
can cast your nativity. He knows what will happen when Saturn is
in the House of Life, and what will happen when Mars is in
conjunction with the Dragon's Tail. He can read in the stars
whether an expedition will be successful, whether the next
harvest will be plentiful, which of your children will be
fortunate in marriage, and which will be lost at sea. Happy the
State, happy the family, which is guided by the counsels of so
profound a man! And what but mischief, public and private, can
we expect from the temerity and conceit of scolists who know no
more about the heavenly bodies than what they have learned from
Sir John Herschel's beautiful little volume. But, to speak
seriously, is not a little truth better than a great deal of
falsehood? Is not the man who, in the evenings of a fortnight,
has acquired a correct notion of the solar system, a more
profound astronomer than a man who has passed thirty years in
reading lectures about the primum mobile, and in drawing schemes
of horoscopes?

Or take chemistry. Our philosopher of the thirteenth century
shall be, if you please, an universal genius, chemist as well as
astronomer. He has perhaps got so far as to know, that if he
mixes charcoal and saltpetre in certain proportions and then
applies fire, there will be an explosion which will shatter all
his retorts and aludels; and he is proud of knowing what will in
a later age be familiar to all the idle boys in the kingdom. But
there are departments of science in which he need not fear the
rivalry of Black, or Lavoisier, or Cavendish, or Davy. He is in
hot pursuit of the philosopher's stone, of the stone that is to
bestow wealth, and health, and longevity. He has a long array of
strangely shaped vessels, filled with red oil and white oil,
constantly boiling. The moment of projection is at hand; and
soon all his kettles and gridirons will be turned into pure gold.
Poor Professor Faraday can do nothing of the sort. I should
deceive you if I held out to you the smallest hope that he will
ever turn your halfpence into sovereigns. But if you can induce
him to give at our Institute a course of lectures such as I once
heard him give at the Royal Institution to children in the
Christmas holidays, I can promise you that you will know more
about the effects produced on bodies by heat and moisture than
was known to some alchemists who, in the middle ages, were
thought worthy of the patronage of kings.

As it has been in science so it has been in literature. Compare
the literary acquirements of the great men of the thirteenth
century with those which will be within the reach of many who
will frequent our reading room. As to Greek learning, the
profound man of the thirteenth century was absolutely on a par
with the superficial man of the nineteenth. In the modern
languages, there was not, six hundred years ago, a single volume
which is now read. The library of our profound scholar must have
consisted entirely of Latin books. We will suppose him to have
had both a large and a choice collection. We will allow him
thirty, nay forty manuscripts, and among them a Virgil, a
Terence, a Lucan, an Ovid, a Statius, a great deal of Livy, a
great deal of Cicero. In allowing him all this, we are dealing
most liberally with him; for it is much more likely that his
shelves were filled with treaties on school divinity and canon
law, composed by writers whose names the world has very wisely
forgotten. But, even if we suppose him to have possessed all
that is most valuable in the literature of Rome, I say with
perfect confidence that, both in respect of intellectual
improvement, and in respect of intellectual pleasures, he was far
less favourably situated than a man who now, knowing only the
English language, has a bookcase filled with the best English
works. Our great man of the Middle Ages could not form any
conception of any tragedy approaching Macbeth or Lear, or of any
comedy equal to Henry the Fourth or Twelfth Night. The best epic
poem that he had read was far inferior to the Paradise Lost; and
all the tomes of his philosophers were not worth a page of the
Novum Organum.

The Novum Organum, it is true, persons who know only English must
read in a translation: and this reminds me of one great
advantage which such persons will derive from our Institution.
They will, in our library, be able to form some acquaintance with
the master minds of remote ages and foreign countries. A large
part of what is best worth knowing in ancient literature, and in
the literature of France, Italy, Germany, and Spain, has been
translated into our own tongue. It is scarcely possible that the
translation of any book of the highest class can be equal to the
original. But, though the finer touches may be lost in the copy,
the great outlines will remain. An Englishman who never saw the
frescoes in the Vatican may yet, from engravings, form some
notion of the exquisite grace of Raphael, and of the sublimity
and energy of Michael Angelo. And so the genius of Homer is seen
in the poorest version of the Iliad; the genius of Cervantes is
seen in the poorest version of Don Quixote. Let it not be
supposed that I wish to dissuade any person from studying either
the ancient languages or the languages of modern Europe. Far
from it. I prize most highly those keys of knowledge; and I
think that no man who has leisure for study ought to be content
until he possesses several of them. I always much admired a
saying of the Emperor Charles the Fifth. "When I learn a new
language," he said, "I feel as if I had got a new soul." But I
would console those who have not time to make themselves
linguists by assuring them that, by means of their own mother
tongue, they may obtain ready access to vast intellectual
treasures, to treasures such as might have been envied by the
greatest linguists of the age of Charles the Fifth, to treasures
surpassing those which were possessed by Aldus, by Erasmus, and
by Melancthon.

And thus I am brought back to the point from which I started. I
have been requested to invite you to fill your glasses to the
Literature of Britain; to that literature, the brightest, the
purest, the most durable of all the glories of our country; to
that literature, so rich in precious truth and precious fiction;
to that literature which boasts of the prince of all poets and of
the prince of all philosophers; to that literature which has
exercised an influence wider than that of our commerce, and
mightier than that of our arms; to that literature which has
taught France the principles of liberty, and has furnished
Germany with models of art; to that literature which forms a tie
closer than the tie of consanguinity between us and the
commonwealths of the valley of the Mississippi; to that
literature before the light of which impious and cruel
superstitions are fast taking flight on the banks of the Ganges;
to that literature which will, in future ages, instruct and
delight the unborn millions who will have turned the Australasian
and Caffrarian deserts into cities and gardens. To the
Literature of Britain, then! And, wherever British literature
spreads, may it be attended by British virtue and by British




In the year 1847 the Government asked from the House of Commons a
grant of one hundred thousand pounds for the education of the
people. On the nineteenth of April, Lord John Russell, having
explained the reasons for this application, moved the order of
the day for a Committee of Supply. Mr Thomas Duncombe, Member
for Finsbury, moved the following amendment: "That previous to
any grant of public money being assented to by this House, for
the purpose of carrying out the scheme of national education, as
developed in the Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education
in August and December last, which minutes have been presented to
both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty, a select
Committee be appointed to inquire into the justice and expediency
of such a scheme, and its probable annual cost; also to inquire
whether the regulations attached thereto do not unduly increase
the influence of the Crown, invade the constitutional functions
of Parliament, and interfere with the religious convictions and
civil rights of Her Majesty's subjects."

In opposition to this amendment, the following Speech was made.
After a debate of three nights, Mr Thomas Duncombe obtained
permission to withdraw the latter part of his amendment. The
first part was put, and negatived by 372 votes to 47.

You will not wonder, Sir, that I am desirous to catch your eye
this evening. The first duty which I performed, as a Member of
the Committee of Council which is charged with the
superintendence of public instruction, was to give my hearty
assent to the plan which the honourable Member for Finsbury calls
on the House to condemn. I am one of those who have been accused
in every part of the kingdom, and who are now accused in
Parliament, of aiming, under specious pretences, a blow at the
civil and religious liberties of the people. It is natural
therefore that I should seize the earliest opportunity of
vindicating myself from so grave a charge.

The honourable Member for Finsbury must excuse me if, in the
remarks which I have to offer to the House, I should not follow
very closely the order of his speech. The truth is that a mere
answer to his speech would be no defence of myself or of my
colleagues. I am surprised, I own, that a man of his acuteness
and ability should, on such an occasion, have made such a speech.
The country is excited from one end to the other by a great
question of principle. On that question the Government has taken
one side. The honourable Member stands forth as the chosen and
trusted champion of a great party which takes the other side. We
expected to hear from him a full exposition of the views of those
in whose name he speaks. But, to our astonishment, he has
scarcely even alluded to the controversy which has divided the
whole nation. He has entertained us with sarcasms and personal
anecdotes: he has talked much about matters of mere detail: but
I must say that, after listening with close attention to all that
he has said, I am quite unable to discover whether, on the only
important point which is in issue, he agrees with us or with that
large and active body of Nonconformists which is diametrically
opposed to us. He has sate down without dropping one word from
which it is possible to discover whether he thinks that education
is or that it is not a matter with which the State ought to
interfere. Yet that is the question about which the whole nation
has, during several weeks, been writing, reading, speaking,
hearing, thinking, petitioning, and on which it is now the duty
of Parliament to pronounce a decision. That question once
settled, there will be, I believe, very little room for dispute.
If it be not competent to the State to interfere with the
education of the people, the mode of interference recommended by
the Committee of Council must of course be condemned. If it be
the right and the duty of the State to make provision for the
education of the people, the objections made to our plan will, in
a very few words, be shown to be frivolous.

I shall take a course very different from that which has been
taken by the honourable gentleman. I shall in the clearest
manner profess my opinion on that great question of principle
which he has studiously evaded; and for my opinion I shall give
what seem to me to be unanswerable reasons.

I believe, Sir, that it is the right and the duty of the State to
provide means of education for the common people. This
proposition seems to me to be implied in every definition that
has ever yet been given of the functions of a government. About
the extent of those functions there has been much difference of
opinion among ingenious men. There are some who hold that it is
the business of a government to meddle with every part of the
system of human life, to regulate trade by bounties and
prohibitions, to regulate expenditure by sumptuary laws, to
regulate literature by a censorship, to regulate religion by an
inquisition. Others go to the opposite extreme, and assign to
government a very narrow sphere of action. But the very
narrowest sphere that ever was assigned to governments by any
school of political philosophy is quite wide enough for my
purpose. On one point all the disputants are agreed. They
unanimously acknowledge that it is the duty of every government
to take order for giving security to the persons and property of
the members of the community.

This being admitted, can it be denied that the education of the
common people is a most effectual means of securing our persons
and our property? Let Adam Smith answer that question for me.
His authority, always high, is, on this subject, entitled to
peculiar respect, because he extremely disliked busy, prying,
interfering governments. He was for leaving literature, arts,
sciences, to take care of themselves. He was not friendly to
ecclesiastical establishments. He was of opinion, that the State
ought not to meddle with the education of the rich. But he has
expressly told us that a distinction is to be made, particularly
in a commercial and highly civilised society, between the
education of the rich and the education of the poor. The
education of the poor, he says, is a matter which deeply concerns
the commonwealth. Just as the magistrate ought to interfere for
the purpose of preventing the leprosy from spreading among the
people, he ought to interfere for the purpose of stopping the
progress of the moral distempers which are inseparable from
ignorance. Nor can this duty be neglected without danger to the
public peace. If you leave the multitude uninstructed, there is
serious risk that religious animosities may produce the most
dreadful disorders. The most dreadful disorders! Those are Adam
Smith's own words; and prophetic words they were. Scarcely had
he given this warning to our rulers when his prediction was
fulfilled in a manner never to be forgotten. I speak of the No
Popery riots of 1780. I do not know that I could find in all
history a stronger proof of the proposition, that the ignorance
of the common people makes the property, the limbs, the lives of
all classes insecure. Without the shadow of a grievance, at the
summons of a madman, a hundred thousand people rise in
insurrection. During a whole week, there is anarchy in the
greatest and wealthiest of European cities. The parliament is
besieged. Your predecessor sits trembling in his chair, and
expects every moment to see the door beaten in by the ruffians
whose roar he hears all round the house. The peers are pulled
out of their coaches. The bishops in their lawn are forced to
fly over the tiles. The chapels of foreign ambassadors,
buildings made sacred by the law of nations, are destroyed. The
house of the Chief Justice is demolished. The little children of
the Prime Minister are taken out of their beds and laid in their
night clothes on the table of the Horse Guards, the only safe
asylum from the fury of the rabble. The prisons are opened.
Highwaymen, housebreakers, murderers, come forth to swell the mob
by which they have been set free. Thirty-six fires are blazing
at once in London. Then comes the retribution. Count up all the
wretches who were shot, who were hanged, who were crushed, who
drank themselves to death at the rivers of gin which ran down
Holborn Hill; and you will find that battles have been lost and
won with a smaller sacrifice of life. And what was the cause of
this calamity, a calamity which, in the history of London, ranks
with the great plague and the great fire? The cause was the
ignorance of a population which had been suffered, in the
neighbourhood of palaces, theatres, temples, to grow up as rude
and stupid as any tribe of tattooed cannibals in New Zealand, I
might say as any drove of beasts in Smithfield Market.

The instance is striking: but it is not solitary. To the same
cause are to be ascribed the riots of Nottingham, the sack of
Bristol, all the outrages of Ludd, and Swing, and Rebecca,
beautiful and costly machinery broken to pieces in Yorkshire,
barns and haystacks blazing in Kent, fences and buildings pulled
down in Wales. Could such things have been done in a country in
which the mind of the labourer had been opened by education, in
which he had been taught to find pleasure in the exercise of his
intellect, taught to revere his Maker, taught to respect
legitimate authority, and taught at the same time to seek the
redress of real wrongs by peaceful and constitutional means?

This then is my argument. It is the duty of Government to
protect our persons and property from danger. The gross
ignorance of the common people is a principal cause of danger to
our persons and property. Therefore, it is the duty of
Government to take care that the common people shall not be
grossly ignorant.

And what is the alternative? It is universally allowed that, by
some means, Government must protect our persons and property. If
you take away education, what means do you leave? You leave
means such as only necessity can justify, means which inflict a
fearful amount of pain, not only on the guilty, but on the
innocent who are connected with the guilty. You leave guns and
bayonets, stocks and whipping-posts, treadmills, solitary cells,
penal colonies, gibbets. See then how the case stands. Here is
an end which, as we all agree, governments are bound to attain.
There are only two ways of attaining it. One of those ways is by
making men better, and wiser, and happier. The other way is by
making them infamous and miserable. Can it be doubted which way
we ought to prefer? Is it not strange, is it not almost
incredible, that pious and benevolent men should gravely propound
the doctrine that the magistrate is bound to punish and at the
same time bound not to teach? To me it seems quite clear that
whoever has a right to hang has a right to educate. Can we think
without shame and remorse that more than half of those wretches
who have been tied up at Newgate in our time might have been
living happily, that more than half of those who are now in our
gaols might have been enjoying liberty and using that liberty
well, that such a hell on earth as Norfolk Island, need never
have existed, if we had expended in training honest men but a
small part of what we have expended in hunting and torturing

I would earnestly entreat every gentleman to look at a report
which is contained in the Appendix to the First Volume of the
Minutes of the Committee of Council. I speak of the report made
by Mr Seymour Tremenheare on the state of that part of
Monmouthshire which is inhabited by a population chiefly employed
in mining. He found that, in this district, towards the close of
1839, out of eleven thousand children who were of an age to
attend school, eight thousand never went to any school at all,
and that most of the remaining three thousand might almost as
well have gone to no school as to the squalid hovels in which men
who ought themselves to have been learners pretended to teach.
In general these men had only one qualification for their
employment; and that was their utter unfitness for every other
employment. They were disabled miners, or broken hucksters. In
their schools all was stench, and noise, and confusion. Now and
then the clamour of the boys was silenced for two minutes by the
furious menaces of the master; but it soon broke out again. The
instruction given was of the lowest kind. Not one school in ten
was provided with a single map. This is the way in which you
suffered the minds of a great population to be formed. And now
for the effects of your negligence. The barbarian inhabitants of
this region rise in an insane rebellion against the Government.
They come pouring down their valleys to Newport. They fire on
the Queen's troops. They wound a magistrate. The soldiers fire
in return; and too many of these wretched men pay with their
lives the penalty of their crime. But is the crime theirs alone?
Is it strange that they should listen to the only teaching that
they had? How can you, who took no pains to instruct them, blame
them for giving ear to the demagogue who took pains to delude
them? We put them down, of course. We punished them. We had no
choice. Order must be maintained; property must be protected;
and, since we had omitted to take the best way of keeping these
people quiet, we were under the necessity of keeping them quiet
by the dread of the sword and the halter. But could any
necessity be more cruel? And which of us would run the risk of
being placed under such necessity a second time?

I say, therefore, that the education of the people is not only a
means, but the best means, of attaining that which all allow to
be a chief end of government; and, if this be so, it passes my
faculties to understand how any man can gravely contend that
Government has nothing to do with the education of the people.

My confidence in my opinion is strengthened when I recollect that
I hold that opinion in common with all the greatest lawgivers,
statesmen, and political philosophers of all nations and ages,
with all the most illustrious champions of civil and spiritual
freedom, and especially with those men whose names were once held
in the highest veneration by the Protestant Dissenters of
England. I might cite many of the most venerable names of the
old world; but I would rather cite the example of that country
which the supporters of the Voluntary system here are always
recommending to us as a pattern. Go back to the days when the
little society which has expanded into the opulent and
enlightened commonwealth of Massachusetts began to exist. Our
modern Dissenters will scarcely, I think, venture to speak
contumeliously of those Puritans whose spirit Laud and his High
Commission Court could not subdue, of those Puritans who were
willing to leave home and kindred, and all the comforts and
refinements of civilised life, to cross the ocean, to fix their
abode in forests among wild beasts and wild men, rather than
commit the sin of performing, in the House of God, one gesture
which they believed to be displeasing to Him. Did those brave
exiles think it inconsistent with civil or religious freedom that
the State should take charge of the education of the people? No,
Sir; one of the earliest laws enacted by the Puritan colonists
was that every township, as soon as the Lord had increased it to
the number of fifty houses, should appoint one to teach all
children to write and read, and that every township of a hundred
houses should set up a grammar school. Nor have the descendants
of those who made this law ever ceased to hold that the public
authorities were bound to provide the means of public
instruction. Nor is this doctrine confined to New England.
"Educate the people" was the first admonition addressed by Penn
to the colony which he founded. "Educate the people" was the
legacy of Washington to the nation which he had saved. "Educate
the people" was the unceasing exhortation of Jefferson; and I
quote Jefferson with peculiar pleasure, because of all the
eminent men that have ever lived, Adam Smith himself not
excepted, Jefferson was the one who most abhorred everything like
meddling on the part of governments. Yet the chief business of
his later years was to establish a good system of State education
in Virginia.

And, against such authority as this, what have you who take the
other side to show? Can you mention a single great philosopher,
a single man distinguished by his zeal for liberty, humanity, and
truth, who, from the beginning of the world down to the time of
this present Parliament, ever held your doctrines? You can
oppose to the unanimous voice of all the wise and good, of all
ages, and of both hemispheres, nothing but a clamour which was
first heard a few months ago, a clamour in which you cannot join
without condemning, not only all whose memory you profess to hold
in reverence, but even your former selves.

This new theory of politics has at least the merit of
originality. It may be fairly stated thus. All men have
hitherto been utterly in the wrong as to the nature and objects
of civil government. The great truth, hidden from every
preceding generation, and at length revealed, in the year 1846,
to some highly respectable ministers and elders of dissenting
congregations, is this. Government is simply a great hangman.
Government ought to do nothing except by harsh and degrading
means. The one business of Government is to handcuff, and lock
up, and scourge, and shoot, and stab, and strangle. It is odious
tyranny in a government to attempt to prevent crime by informing
the understanding and elevating the moral feeling of a people. A
statesman may see hamlets turned, in the course of one
generation, into great seaport towns and manufacturing towns. He
may know that on the character of the vast population which is
collected in those wonderful towns, depends the prosperity, the
peace, the very existence of society. But he must not think of
forming that character. He is an enemy of public liberty if he
attempts to prevent those hundreds of thousands of his countrymen
from becoming mere Yahoos. He may, indeed, build barrack after
barrack to overawe them. If they break out into insurrection, he
may send cavalry to sabre them: he may mow them down with grape
shot: he may hang them, draw them, quarter them, anything but
teach them. He may see, and may shudder as he sees, throughout
large rural districts, millions of infants growing up from
infancy to manhood as ignorant, as mere slaves of sensual
appetite, as the beasts that perish. No matter. He is a traitor
to the cause of civil and religious freedom if he does not look
on with folded arms, while absurd hopes and evil passions ripen
in that rank soil. He must wait for the day of his harvest. He
must wait till the Jaquerie comes, till farm houses are burning,
till threshing machines are broken in pieces; and then begins his
business, which is simply to send one poor ignorant savage to the
county gaol, and another to the antipodes, and a third to the

Such, Sir, is the new theory of government which was first
propounded, in the year 1846, by some men of high note among the
Nonconformists of England. It is difficult to understand how men
of excellent abilities and excellent intentions--and there are, I
readily admit, such men among those who hold this theory--can
have fallen into so absurd and pernicious an error. One
explanation only occurs to me. This is, I am inclined to
believe, an instance of the operation of the great law of
reaction. We have just come victorious out of a long and fierce
contest for the liberty of trade. While that contest was
undecided, much was said and written about the advantages of free
competition, and about the danger of suffering the State to
regulate matters which should be left to individuals. There has
consequently arisen in the minds of persons who are led by words,
and who are little in the habit of making distinctions, a
disposition to apply to political questions and moral questions
principles which are sound only when applied to commercial
questions. These people, not content with having forced the
Government to surrender a province wrongfully usurped, now wish
to wrest from the Government a domain held by a right which was

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