Cobden, Richard


Cobden, Richard
(1804–1865)
   A British free trade and peace campaigner, Richard Cobden was possibly the most effective political activist of his time. Cobden was born to an unsuccessful farmer and shopkeeper in Sussex. After the failure of his father’s business, he was sent away to a minor and abusive boarding school where he was extremely unhappy. Taken into an uncle’s firm at age 15, he became a successful commercial traveler selling calico and other textiles. He learned French, read widely, and soon set up his own business.
   In 1832, he moved from London to Manchester, where he continued to prosper. In 1835, Cobden published his first “pamphlet,” a work of some 150 pages entitled “England, Ireland and America,” under the pseudonym “a Manchester manufacturer.” Cobden argued that Ireland and America were of far greater economic importance to England than any of the European countries with which traditional great power diplomacy concerned itself. Arguing that force could not make markets for bad or expensive goods, Cobden foresaw that the United States would soon be Britain’s greatest economic competitor. He urged that wars and colonies be avoided, and taxes and debts reduced. In subsequent writings, he argued that not merely war but international diplomacy itself served only the interests of a parasitic aristocracy: “As little intercourse as possible betwixt the Governments, as much connection as possible between the nations, of the world,” was one of his more compelling slogans. Colonies, for Cobden, were likewise of no commercial value, a doctrine reinforced by his reading of Adam Smith. The Anti-Corn Law League was started by a group of Manchester manufacturers in 1839 to oppose tariffs on imported wheat imposed after the Napoleonic wars. By the early 1840s, Cobden and his associate John Bright took the lead in organizing the league. Cobden’s rural background and knowledge of Adam Smith enabled him to effectively frame the arguments for free trade as more than mere capitalist self-interest.
   Elected to Parliament in 1841, Cobden became the Parliamentary spokesman for a national movement. Sir Robert Peel moved to abolish the Corn Laws in 1846, personally praising Cobden’s advocacy. After the Corn Laws’ repeal, Cobden toured Europe as the triumphant advocate of free trade and expressed great confidence that Britain’s move would be followed by other nations. Free trade, Cobden argued, would lead the nations of the world to appreciate their true interdependence, and thus to live in peace with one another. Cobden was offered the possibility of a place in the cabinets of both Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston, but he refused, wishing to maintain his role as the voice of principle. He was probably the most consistent and effective ideologue in Victorian England. Free trade assumed in England, if not elsewhere, a kind of totemic status, the cause of “protection” - tariffs - becoming in Benjamin Disrael i’s words, “not merely dead, but damned.” The Cobden Club, founded by leading Liberals after Cobden’s death in 1865, adopted the device, “Free Trade, Peace, Goodwill among Nations,” a classic statement of mid-Victorian bourgeois optimism. In the later years of the century, at a time when many considered Cobden’s “little England” doctrines to be obsolete, his followers were among the most obdurate opponents of imperialism.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Cobden, Richard. Political Writings. 2 vols. Edited by Peter Cain. London: Routledge, 1995;
    Hinde, Wendy. Richard Cobden: A Victorian Outsider. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987;
    Hobson, J.A. Richard Cobden: The International Man. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1919.
   MARK F. PROUDMAN

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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  • Cobden, Richard — born June 3, 1804, Dunford Farm, near Midhurst, Sussex, Eng. died April 2, 1865, London British politician. He gained an independent fortune in the calico wholesale business. After travel to study trade policies in Europe and the U.S., he wrote… …   Universalium

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  • Cobden, Richard — (1804 1865)    British statesman.    Index: Sy A more advanced radical than Sydenham, 20.    Bib.: Morley, Life of Richard Cobden; Dict. Nat. Biog …   The makers of Canada

  • Cobden,Richard — Cob·den (kŏbʹdən), Richard. 1804 1865. British politician who was a leading supporter of free trade and an opponent of protectionism. * * * …   Universalium

  • COBDEN, RICHARD —    a great political economist and the Apostle of Free Trade, born near Midhurst, Sussex; became partner in a cotton trading firm in Manchester; made a tour on the Continent and America in the interest of political economy; on the formation of… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Richard Cobden — Died Suffolk Street, London Cause of death Asthma and bronchitis Resting place West Lavington, West Su …   Wikipedia

  • Richard Cobden — (1804 1865) fut en même temps un industriel britannique et un homme d État radical et libéral, associé à John Bright dans l’élaboration de l Anti Corn Law League. Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Cobden — Richard Cobden Richard Cobden Richard Cobden (1804 1865) fut en même temps un industriel britannique et un homme d État radical et libéral, associé à John Bright dans l’élaboration de l Anti Corn Law League. Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • COBDEN (R.) — COBDEN RICHARD (1804 1865) Industriel et homme d’État anglais. Né dans une petite famille de fermiers du Sussex, Richard Cobden est un type de self made man. D’abord employé, puis représentant de commerce, il devient à partir de 1832 un… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Cobden — Cobden, Richard, berühmter Vertreter des Freihandels, geb. 3. Juni 1804 in Dunford bei Midhurst in Sussex als Sohn eines kleinen Grundeigentümers, gest. 2. April 1865 in London. Nachdem er in seiner Jugend hatte Schafe hüten müssen, verließ er… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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