Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume 1
John Bright

Part 4 out of 9

on the American difficulty. He denies that the Cabinet of Washington had
ordered the seizure of the Southern Commissioners, if found under a
neutral flag. The question of legal right involved in the seizure, the
General thinks a very narrow ground on which to force a quarrel with the
United States. As to Messrs. Slidell and Mason being or not being
contraband, the General answers for it, that, if Mr. Seward cannot
convince Earl Russell that they bore that character, Earl Russell will
be able to convince Mr. Seward that they did not. He pledges himself
that, if this Government cordially agreed with that of the United States
in establishing the immunity of neutrals from the oppressive right of
search and seizure on suspicion, the Cabinet of Washington will not
hesitate to purchase so great a boon to peaceful trading-vessels.

Now, then, before I sit down, let me ask you what is this people, about
which so many men in England at this moment are writing, and speaking,
and thinking, with harshness, I think with injustice, if not with great
bitterness? Two centuries ago, multitudes of the people of this country
found a refuge on the North American continent, escaping from the
tyranny of the Stuarts and from the bigotry of Laud. Many noble spirits
from our country made great experiments in favour of human freedom on
that continent. Bancroft, the great historian of his own country, has
said, in his own graphic and emphatic language, 'The history of the
colonization of America is the history of the crimes of Europe.' From
that time down to our own period, America has admitted the wanderers
from every clime. Since 1815, a time which many here remember, and which
is within my lifetime, more than three millions of persons have
emigrated from the United Kingdom to the United States. During the
fifteen years from 1845 or 1846 to 1859 or 1860--a period so recent that
we all remember the most trivial circumstances that have happened in
that time--during those fifteen years more than two million three
hundred and twenty thousand persons left the shores of the United
Kingdom as emigrants for the States of North America.

At this very moment, then, there are millions in the United States who
personally, or whose immediate parents, have at one time been citizens
of this country. They found a home in the Far West; they subdued the
wilderness; they met with plenty there, which was not afforded them in
their native country; and they have become a great people. There may be
persons in England who are jealous of those States. There may be men who
dislike democracy, and who hate a republic; there may be even those
whose sympathies warm towards the slave oligarchy of the South. But of
this I am certain, that only misrepresentation the most gross or calumny
the most wicked can sever the tie which unites the great mass of the
people of this country with their friends and brethren beyond the

Now, whether the Union will be restored or not, or the South achieve an
unhonoured independence or not, I know not, and I predict not. But this
I think I know--that in a few years, a very few years, the twenty
millions of freemen in the North will be thirty millions, or even fifty
millions--a population equal to or exceeding that of this kingdom. When
that time comes, I pray that it may not be said amongst them, that, in
the darkest hour of their country's trials, England, the land of their
fathers, looked on with icy coldness and saw unmoved the perils and
calamities of their children. As for me, I have but this to say: I am
but one in this audience, and but one in the citizenship of this
country; but if all other tongues are silent mine shall speak for that
policy which gives hope to the bondsmen of the South, and which tends to
generous thoughts, and generous words, and generous deeds, between the
two great nations who speak the English language, and from their origin
are alike entitled to the English name.

* * * * *




I am afraid there was a little excitement during a part of my honourable
Colleague's speech, which was hardly favourable to that impartial
consideration to which he appealed. He began by referring to a question--
or, I might say, to two questions, for it was one great question in two
parts,--which at this moment occupies the mind, and, I think, must
afflict the heart of every thoughtful man in this country--the calamity
which has fallen upon the county from which I come, and the strife which
is astonishing the world on the other side of the Atlantic.

I shall not enter into details with regard to that calamity, because you
have had already, I believe, meetings in this town, many details have
been published, contributions of a generous character have been made,
and you are doing--and especially, if I am rightly informed, are your
artisans doing--their duty with regard to the unfortunate condition of
the population amongst which I live. But this I may state in a sentence,
that the greatest, probably the most prosperous, manufacturing industry
that this country or the world has ever seen, has been suddenly and
unexpectedly stricken down, but by a blow which had not been unforeseen
or unforetold. Nearly five hundred thousand persons--men, women, and
children--at this moment are saved from the utmost extremes of famine,
not a few of them from death, by the contributions which they are
receiving from all parts of the country. I will not attempt here an
elaborate eulogy of the generosity of the givers, nor will I endeavour
to paint the patience and the gratitude of those who suffer and receive;
but I believe the conduct of the country, with regard to this great
misfortune, is an honour to all classes and to every section of this

Some have remarked that there is perfect order where there has been so
much anxiety and suffering. I believe there is scarcely a thoughtful man
in Lancashire who will not admit that one great cause of the patience
and good conduct of the people, besides the fact that they know so much
is being done for them, is to be found in the extensive information they
possess, and which of late years, and now more than ever, has been
communicated to them through the instrumentality of an untaxed press.
Noble Lords who have recently spoken, official men, and public men, have
taken upon them to tell the people of Lancashire that nobody has done
wrong, and that, in point of fact, if it had not been for a family
quarrel in that dreadful Republic, everything would have gone on
smoothly, and that nobody can be blamed for our present sufferings.

Now, if you will allow me, I should like to examine for a few minutes
whether this be true. If you read the papers with regard to this
question, you will find that, barring whatever chance there may be of
our again soon receiving a supply of cotton from America, the hopes of
the whole country are directed to India. Our Government of India is not
one of to-day. It is a Government that has lasted as long as the
Government of the United States, and it has had far more insurrections
and secessions, not one of which, I suppose some in this meeting must
regret, has been tolerated by our Government or recognised by France.
Our Government in India has existed for a hundred years in some portion
of the country where cotton is a staple produce of the land. But we have
had under the name of a Government what I have always described as a
piratical joint-stock company, beginning with Lord Clive, and ending, as
I now hope it has ended, with Lord Dalhousie. And under that Government
I will undertake to say that it was not in nature that you could have
such improvement as should ever give you a fair supply of cotton.

Up to the year 1814, the whole trade of India was a monopoly of the East
India Company. They took everything there that went there; they brought
everything back that came here; they did whatsoever they pleased in the
territories under their rule. I have here an extract from a report of a
Member of Council in India, Mr. Richards, published in the year 1813. He
reports to the Court of Directors, that the whole cotton produce of the
district was taken, without leaving any portion of the avowed share of
the Ryots, that is, the cultivators, at their own free disposal; and he
says that they are not suffered to know what they shall get for it until
after it has been far removed from their reach and from the country by
exportation coastwise to Bombay; and he says further, that the Company's
servants fixed the prices from ten to thirty per cent, under the general
market rate in the districts that were not under the Company's rule.
During the three years before the Company's monopoly was abolished, in
1814, the whole cotton that we received from India (I quote from the
brokers' returns from Liverpool), was only 17,000 bales; in the three
years afterwards, owing, no doubt, partly to the great increase in
price, we received 551,000 bales, during which same three years the
United States only sent us 611,000. Thus you see that in 1817, 1818, and
1819, more than forty years ago, the quantity we received from India was
close upon, and in the year 1818 it actually exceeded, that which we
received from the United States.

Well, now I come down to the year 1832, and I have then the report of
another Member of Council, and beg every working man here, every man who
is told that there is nobody to blame, to listen to one or two extracts
from the report. Mr. Warden, Member of the Council, gave evidence in
1832 that the money-tax levied on Surat cotton was 56 rupees per candy,
leaving the grower only 24 rupees, or rather less than 3/4_d_. per
pound. In 1846 there was so great a decay of the cotton-trade of Western
India, that a committee was appointed in Bombay, partly of Members of
the Chamber of Commerce and partly of servants of the Government, and
they made a report in which they stated that from every candy of cotton--
a candy is 7 cwt. or 784 lbs.--costing 80 rupees, which is 160
shillings in Bombay, the Government had taken 48 rupees as land-tax and
sea-duty, leaving only 32 rupees, or less than 3/4_d_. per pound,
to be divided among all parties, from the Bombay seller to the Surat

In 1847 I was in the House of Commons, and I brought forward a
proposition for a select committee to inquire into this whole question;
for in that year Lancashire was on the verge of the calamity that has
now overtaken it; cotton was very scarce, for hundreds of the mills were
working short time, and many were closed altogether. That committee
reported that, in all the districts of Bombay and Madras where cotton
was cultivated, and generally over those agricultural regions, the
people were in a condition of the most abject and degraded pauperism;
and I will ask you whether it is possible for a people in that condition
to produce anything great, or anything good, or anything constant, which
the world requires?

It is not to be wondered at that the quality of the cotton should be
bad--so bad that it is illustrated by an anecdote which a very excellent
man of the Methodist body told me the other day. He said that at a
prayer-meeting, not more than a dozen miles from where I live, one of
the ministers was earnest in supplication to the Supreme; he detailed,
no doubt, a great many things which he thought they were in want of, and
amongst the rest, a supply of cotton for the famishing people in that
district. When he prayed for cotton, some man with a keen sense of what
he had suffered, in response exclaimed, 'O Lord! but not Surat.'

Now, my argument is this, and my assertion is this, that the growth of
cotton in India,--the growth of an article which was native and common
in India before America was discovered by Europeans,--that the growth of
that article has been systematically injured, strangled, and destroyed
by the stupid and wicked policy of the Indian Government.

I saw, the other day, a letter from a gentleman as well acquainted with
Indian affairs, perhaps, as any man in India,--a letter written to a
member of the Madras Government,--in which he stated his firm opinion
that, if it had not been for the Bombay Committee in 1846, and for my
Committee in 1848, there would not have been any cotton sent from India
at this moment to be worked up in Lancashire. Now, in 1846, the quantity
of cotton coming from India had fallen to 94,000 bales. How has it
increased since then? In 1859 it had reached 509,000 bales; in 1860,
562,000 bales; and last year, owing to the extraordinarily high price,
it had reached 986,000 bales, and I suppose this year will be about the
same as last year.

I think, in justification of myself and of some of those with whom I
have acted, I am entitled to ask your time for a few moments, to show
you what has been not so much done as attempted to be done to improve
this state of things; and what has been the systematic opposition that
we have had to contend with. In the year 1847, I moved for that
Committee, in a speech from which I shall read one short extract. I said
that, 'We ought not to forget that the whole of the cotton grown in
America is produced by slave labour, and this, I think, all will admit,--
that, no matter as to the period in which slavery may have existed,
abolished it will ultimately be, either by peaceable means or by violent
means. Whether it comes to an end by peaceable means or otherwise, there
will in all probability be an interruption to the production of cotton,
and the calamity which must in consequence fall upon a part of the
American Union will be felt throughout the manufacturing districts of
this country.'

The committee was not refused;--Governments do not always refuse
committees; they do not much fear them on matters of this kind; they put
as many men on as the mover of the committee does, and sometimes more,
and they often consider a committee, as my honourable Colleague will
tell you, rather a convenient way of burying an unpleasant question, at
least for another session. The committee sat during the session of 1848,
and it made a report, from which I shall quote, not an extract, but the
sense of an extract. The evidence was very extensive, very complete, and
entirely condemnatory of the whole system of the Indian Government with
regard to the land and agricultural produce, and one might have hoped
that something would have arisen from it, and probably something has
arisen from it, but so slowly that you have no fruit,--nothing on which
you can calculate, even up to this hour.

Well, in 1850, as nothing more was done, I thought it time to take
another step, and I gave notice of a motion for the appointment of a
Royal Commission to go to India for the express purpose of ascertaining
the truth of this matter, I moved, 'That a Royal Commission proceed to
India to inquire into the obstacles which prevent the increased growth
of cotton in India, and to report upon any circumstance which may
injuriously affect the economical and industrial condition of the native
population, being cultivators of the soil, within the Presidencies of
Madras and Bombay.'

Now I shall read you one extract from my speech on that occasion, which
refers to this question of peril in America. I said, 'But there is
another point, that, whilst the production of cotton in the United
States results from slave labour, whether we approve of any particular
mode of abolishing slavery in any country or not, we are all convinced
that it will be impossible in any country, and most of all in America,
to keep between two and three millions of the population permanently in
a state of bondage. By whatever means that system is to be abolished,
whether by insurrection,--which I should deplore,--or by some great
measure of justice from the Government,--one thing is certain, that the
production of cotton must be interfered with for a considerable time
after such an event has taken place; and it may happen that the greatest
measure of freedom that has ever been conceded may be a measure the
consequence of which will inflict mischief upon the greatest industrial
pursuit that engages the labour of the operative population of this

Now, it was not likely the Government could pay much attention to this,
for at that precise moment the Foreign Office--then presided over by
Lord Palmerston--was engaged with an English fleet in the waters of
Greece, in collecting a bad debt for one Don Pacifico, a Jew, who made a
fraudulent demand on the Greek Government for injuries said to have been
committed upon him in Greece. Notwithstanding this, I called upon Lord
John Russell, who was then the Prime Minister, and asked him whether he
would grant the Commission I was going to move for. I will say this for
him, he appeared to agree with me that it was a reasonable thing. I
believe he saw the peril, and that my proposition was a proper one, but
he said he wished he could communicate with Lord Dalhousie. But it was
in the month of June, and he could not do that, and hear from him again
before the close of the session. He told me that Sir John Hobhouse, then
President of the India Board, was very much against it; and I answered,
'Doubtless he is, because he speaks as the mouthpiece of the East India
Company, against whom I am bringing this inquiry.'

Well, my proposition came before the House, and, as some of you may
recollect, it was opposed by the President of the India Board, and the
Commission was consequently not granted. I had seen Sir Robert Peel,--
this was only ten days before his death,--I had seen Sir Robert Peel,
acquainted as he was with Lancashire interests, and had endeavoured to
enlist him in my support. He cordially and entirely approved of my
motion, and he remained in the House during the whole of the time I was
speaking; but when Sir John Hobhouse rose to resist the motion, and he
found the Government would not consent to it, he then left his seat, and
left the House. The night after, or two nights after, he met me in the
lobby; and he said he thought it was but right he should explain why he
left the House after the conversation he had held with me on this
question before. He said he had hoped the Government would agree to the
motion, but when he found they would not, his position was so delicate
with regard to them and his own old party, that he was most anxious that
nothing should induce him, unless under the pressure of some great
extremity, to appear even to oppose them on any matter before the House.
Therefore, from a very delicate sense of honour, he did not say what I
am sure he would have been glad to have said, and the proposition did
not receive from him that help which, if it had received it, would have
surmounted all obstacles.

To show the sort of men who are made ministers--Sir John Hobhouse had on
these occasions always a speech of the same sort. He said this: 'With
respect to the peculiar urgency of the time, he could not say the
honourable Gentleman had made out his case; for he found that the
importation of cotton from all countries showed an immense increase
during the last three years.' We know that the importation of cotton has
shown an 'immense increase' almost every three years for the last fifty
years. But it was because that increase was entirely, or nearly so, from
one source, and that source one of extreme peril, that I asked for the
inquiry for which I moved. He said he had a letter in his hand--and he
shook it at me--from the Secretary of the Commercial Association of
Manchester, in which the directors of that body declared by special
resolution that my proposition was not necessary, that an inquiry might
do harm, and that they were abundantly satisfied with everything that
these lords of Leadenhall-street were doing. He said, 'Such was the
letter of the Secretary of the Association, and it was a complete answer
to the hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this motion.'

At this moment one of these gentlemen to whom I have referred, then
President of the Board of Control, Governor of India, author, as he told
a committee on which I sat, of the Affghan war, is now decorated with a
Norman title--for our masters even after a lapse of eight hundred years
ape the Norman style--sits in the House of Peers, and legislates for
you, having neglected in regard to India every great duty which
appertained to his high office; and to show that it is not only cabinets
and monarchs who thus distribute honours and rewards, the President of
that Commercial Association through whose instigation that letter was
written is now one of the representatives of Manchester, the great
centre of that manufacture whose very foundation is now crumbling into

But I was not, although discouraged, baffled. I went down to the Chamber
of Commerce in Manchester, and along with Mr. Bazley, then the President
of the Chamber, I believe, and Mr. Henry Ashworth, who is now the
President of that Chamber, and many others, we determined to have a
Commission of Inquiry of our own. We raised a subscription of more than
2,000_l_.; we selected a gentleman--Mr. Alexander Mackay, the
author of one of the very best books ever written by an Englishman upon
America, _The Western World_--and we invited him to become our
Commissioner, and, unfortunately for him, he accepted the office. He
went to India, he made many inquiries, he wrote many interesting
reports; but, like many others who go to India, his health declined; he
returned from Bombay, but he did not live to reach home.

We were greatly disappointed at this on public grounds, besides our
regret for the loss of one of so much private worth. Some of us, Mr.
Bazley particularly, undertook the charge of publishing these reports,
and a friend of Mr. Mackay's, now no longer living, undertook the
editorship of them, and they were published in a volume called
_Western India_; and that volume received such circulation as a
work of that nature is likely to have.

In the year 1853 there came the proposition for the renewal of the East
India Company's charter. I opposed that to the utmost of my power in the
House of Commons, and some of you will recollect I came down here with
Mr. Danby Seymour, the Member for Poole, a gentleman well acquainted
with Indian affairs, and attended a meeting in this very hall, to
denounce the policy of conferring the government of that great country
for another twenty years upon a Company which had so entirely neglected
every duty belonging to it except one--the duty of collecting taxes. In
1854, Colonel Cotton--now Sir Arthur Cotton, one of the most
distinguished engineers in India--came down to Manchester. We had a
meeting at the Town Hall, and he gave an address on the subject of
opening the Godavery River, in order that it might form a mode of
transit, cheap and expeditious, from the cotton districts to the north
of that river; and it was proposed to form a joint-stock company to do
it, but unfortunately the Russian war came on and disturbed all
commercial projects, and made it impossible to raise money for any--as
some might call it--speculative purpose, like that of opening an Indian

Well, in 1857 there came the mutiny. What did our rulers do then? Sir
Charles Wood, in 1538, had made a speech five hours long, most of it in
praise of the government of the East India Company. In 1858--at the
opening of the session in 1858, I think--the Government brought in a
Bill to abolish that Company, and to establish a new form of government
for India. That was exactly what we asked them to do in 1853; but, as in
everything else, nothing is done until there comes an overwhelming
calamity, when the most obtuse and perverse is driven from his position.
In 1858 that Bill passed, under the auspices of Lord Stanley. It was not
a Bill such as I think Lord Stanley approved when he was not a Minister;
it was not a Bill such as I believe he would have brought in if he had
been permitted by the House and the Cabinet to have brought in a better
Bill. It abolished the East India Company, established a new Council,
and left things to a great extent much in the same state as they were.

During the discussion of that Bill, I made a speech on Indian affairs,
which I believe goes to the root of the matter. I protested then as now
against the notion of governing one hundred and fifty millions of
people--twenty different nations, with twenty different languages--from
a little coterie of rulers in the city of Calcutta. I proposed that the
country should be divided into five or six separate, and, as regards
each other, independent Presidencies of equal rank, with a governor and
council in each, and each government corresponding with, and dependent
upon, and responsible to, a Secretary of State in this country. I am of
opinion that if such a Government were established, one in each
Presidency, and if there was a first-class engineer, with an efficient
staff, whose business should be to determine what public works should be
carried on, some by the Government and some by private companies--I
believe that ten years of such judicious labours would work an entire
revolution in the condition of India; and if it had been done when I
first began to move in this question, I have not the smallest doubt we
might have had at this moment any quantity of cotton whatever that the
mills of Lancashire require.

Well, after this, I am afraid some of my friends may feel, and my
opponents will say, that it is very egotistical in me to have entered
into these details. But I think, after this recapitulation, I am at
liberty to say I am guiltless of that calamity which has fallen upon us.
And I may mention that some friends of mine--Mr. John Dickinson, now
Chairman of the Indian Reform Association, Mr. Bazley, one of the
members for Manchester, Mr. Ashworth, the President of the Chamber of
Commerce of Manchester, and Mr. John Benjamin Smith, the Member for
Stockport--present themselves at this moment to my eyes as those who
have been largely instrumental in calling the attention of Parliament
and of the country to this great question of the reform of our
Government in India.

But I have been asked twenty, fifty times during the last twelve months,
'Why do you not come out and say something? Why can you not tell us
something in this time of our great need?' Well, I reply, 'I told you
something when speaking was of use; all I can say now is this, or nearly
all, that a hundred years of crime against the negro in America, and a
hundred years of crime against the docile natives of our Indian empire,
are not to be washed away by the penitence and the suffering of an

But what is our position? for you who are subscribing your money here
have a right to know. I believe the quantity of cotton in the United
States is at this moment much less than many people here believe, and
that it is in no condition to be forwarded and exported. And I suspect
that it is far more probable than otherwise, notwithstanding some of the
strange theories of my honourable Colleague, that there never will again
be in America a crop of cotton grown by slave labour. You will
understand--I hope so, at least--that I am not undertaking the office of
prophet, I am not predicting; I know that everything which is not
absolutely impossible may happen, and therefore things may happen wholly
different to the course which appears to me to be likely. But I say,
taking the facts as they are before us--with that most limited vision
which is given to mortals--the high probability is that there will never
be another considerable crop, or one available for our manufactories,
from slave labour in the United States.

We read the American papers, or the quotations from them in our own
papers, but I believe we can form no adequate conception of the
disorganization and chaos that now prevail throughout a great portion of
the Southern States. It is natural to a state of war under the
circumstances of society in that region. But then we may be asked, What
are our sources of supply, putting aside India? There is the colony of
Queensland, where enthusiastic persons tell you cotton can be grown
worth 3_s_. a pound. True enough; but when labour is probably worth
10_s_. a-day, I am not sure you are likely to get any large supply
of that material we so much want, at a rate so cheap that we shall be
likely to use it. Africa is pointed to by a very zealous friend of mine;
but Africa is a land of savages, and with its climate so much against
European constitutions, I should not entertain the hope that any great
relief at any early period can be had from that continent. Egypt will
send us 30,000 or 40,000 bales more than last year; in all probability
Syria and Brazil, with these high prices, will increase their production
to some considerable extent; but I believe there is no country at
present from which you can derive any very large supply, except you can
get it from your own dependencies in India. Now if there be no more
cotton to be grown for two, or three, or four years in America, for our
supply, we shall require, considering the smallness of the bales and the
loss in working up the cotton--we shall require nearly 6,000,000 of
additional bales to be supplied from some source.

I want to put to you one question. It has taken the United States twenty
years, from 1840 up to 1860, to increase their growth of cotton from
2,000,000 bales to 4,000,000. How long will it take any other country,
with comparatively little capital, with a thousand disadvantages which
America did not suffer from--how long will it take any other country, or
all other countries, to give us 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 additional bales
of cotton? There is one stimulus--the only one that I know of; and
although I have not recommended it to the Government, and I know not
precisely what sacrifice it would entail, yet I shall mention it, and I
do it on the authority of a gentleman to whom I have before referred,
who is thoroughly acquainted with Indian agriculture, and whose family
have been landowners and cultivators in India for sixty years. He says
there is only one mode by which you can rapidly stimulate the growth of
cotton in India, except that stimulus coming from the high prices for
the time being,--he says that, if the Government would make a public
declaration that for five years they would exempt from land-tax all land
which during that time shall grow cotton, there would be the most
extraordinary increase in the growth of that article which has ever been
seen in regard to any branch of agriculture in the world.

I do not know how far that would act, but I believe the stimulus would
be enormous,--the loss to the Government in revenue would be something,
but the deliverance to the industry of Lancashire, if it succeeded, as
my friend thinks, would of course be speedy, and perhaps complete. Short
of this, I look upon the restoration of the prosperity of Lancashire as
distant. I believe this misfortune may entail ruin upon the whole
working population, and that it may gradually engulf the smaller traders
and those possessing the least capital. I do not say it will, because,
as I have said, what is not impossible may happen,--but it may for years
make the whole factory property of Lancashire almost entirely worthless.
Well, this is a very dismal look-out for a great many persons in this
country; but it comes, as I have said,--it comes from that utter neglect
of their opportunities and their duties which has distinguished the
Government of India.

Now, Sir, before I sit down I shall ask you to listen to me for a few
moments on the other branch of this great question, which refers to that
sad tragedy which is passing before our eyes in the United States of
America. I shall not, in consequence of anything you have heard from my
hon. Friend, conceal from you any of the opinions which I hold, and
which I proposed to lay before you if he had not spoken. Having given to
him, notwithstanding some diversity of opinion, a fair and candid
hearing, I presume that I shall receive the same favour from those who
may differ from me. If I had known that my hon. Friend was going to make
an elaborate speech on this occasion, one of two things I should have
done: I should either have prepared myself entirely to answer him, or I
should have decided not to attend a meeting where there could by any
possibility of chance have been anything like discord between so many--
his friends and my friends--in this room.

Since I have been Member for Birmingham, Mr. Scholefield has treated me
with the kindness of a brother. Nothing could possibly be more generous
and more disinterested in every way than his conduct towards me during
these several years, and therefore I would much rather--far rather--that
I lost any opportunity like this of speaking on this question, than I
would have come here and appeared to be at variance with him. But I am
happy to say that this great question does not depend upon the opinion
of any man in Birmingham, or in England, or anywhere else. And therefore
I could--anxious always, unless imperative duty requires, to avoid even
a semblance of difference--I could with a clear conscience have
abstained from coming to and speaking at this meeting.

But I observe that my hon. Friend endeavoured to avoid committing
himself to what is called sympathy with the South. He takes a political
view of this great question,--is disposed to deal with the matter as he
would have dealt with the case of a colony of Spain or Portugal
revolting in South America, or of Greece revolting from Turkey. I should
like to state here what I once said to an eminent American. He asked me
if I could give him an idea of the course of public opinion in this
country from the moment we heard of the secession of the Cotton States;
and I endeavoured to trace it in this way,--and I ask you to say whether
it is a fair and full description.

I said--and my hon. Friend has admitted this--that when the revolt or
secession was first announced, people here were generally against the
South. Nobody thought then that the South had any cause for breaking up
the integrity of that great nation. Their opinion was, and what people
said, according to their different politics in this country was, 'They
have a Government which is mild, and not in any degree oppressive; they
have not what some people love very much, and what some people dislike,--
they have not a costly monarchy, and an aristocracy, creating and
living on patronage. They have not an expensive foreign policy; a great
army; a great navy; and they have no suffering millions discontented and
endeavouring to overthrow their Government;--all which things have been
said against Governments in this country and in Europe a hundred times
within our own hearing,'--and therefore, they said, 'Why should these
men revolt?'

But for a moment the Washington Government appeared paralyzed. It had no
army and no navy; everybody was traitor to it. It was paralyzed and
apparently helpless; and in the hour when the government was transferred
from President Buchanan to President Lincoln, many people--such was the
unprepared state of the North, such was the apparent paralysis of
everything there--thought there would be no war; and men shook hands
with each other pleasantly, and congratulated themselves that the
disaster of a great strife, and the mischief to our own trade, might be
avoided. That was the opinion at that moment, so far as I can recollect,
and could gather at the time, with my opportunities of gathering such
opinion. They thought the North would acquiesce in the rending of the
Republic, and that there would be no war.

Well, but there was another reason. They were told by certain public
writers in this country that the contest was entirely hopeless, as they
have been told lately by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am very
happy that, though the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to decide to
a penny what shall be the amount of taxes to meet public expenditure in
England, he cannot decide what shall be the fate of a whole continent.
It was said that the contest was hopeless, and why should the North
continue a contest at so much loss of blood and treasure, and at so
great a loss to the commerce of the whole world? If a man thought--if a
man believed in his heart that the contest was absolutely hopeless--no
man in this country had probably any right to form a positive opinion
one way or the other--but if he had formed that opinion, he might think,
'Well, the North can never be successful; it would be much better that
they should not carry on the war at all; and therefore I am rather glad
that the South should have success, for by that the war will be the
sooner put an end to.' I think this was a feeling that was abroad.

Now I am of opinion that, if we judge a foreign nation in the
circumstances in which we find America, we ought to apply to it our own
principles. My hon. Friend has referred to the question of the Trent. I
was not here last year, but I heard of a meeting--I read in the papers
of a meeting held in reference to that affair in this very hall, and
that there was a great diversity of opinion. But the majority were
supposed to indorse the policy of the Government in making a great
demonstration of force. And I think I read that at least one minister of
religion took that view from this platform. I am not complaining of it.
But I say that if you thought when the American captain, even if he had
acted under the commands of his Government, which he had not, had taken
two men most injurious and hostile to his country from the deck of an
English ship--if you thought that on that ground you were justified in
going to war with the Republic of North America, then I say you ought
not to be very nice in judging what America should do in circumstances
much more onerous than those in which you were placed.

Now, take as an illustration the Rock of Gibraltar. Many of you have
been there, I dare say. I have; and among the things that interested me
were the monkeys on the top of it, and a good many people at the bottom,
who were living on English taxes. Well, the Rock of Gibraltar was taken
and retained by this country when we were not at war with Spain, and it
was retained contrary to every law of morality and honour. [A Voice:
'No! No!'] No doubt the Gentleman below is much better acquainted with
the history of it than I am, but I may suggest to him that very likely
we have read two different histories. But I will let this pass, and I
will assume that it came into the possession of England in the most
honourable way, which is, I suppose, by regular and acknowledged
national warfare.

Suppose, at this moment, you heard, or the English Government heard,
that Spain was equipping expeditions, by land and sea, for the purpose
of retaking that fortress and rock. Now, although it is not of the
slightest advantage to any Englishman living, excepting to those who
have pensions and occupations upon it; although every Government knows
it, and although more than one Government has been anxious to give it
up, and I hope this Government will send my friend, Mr. Cobden, to
Madrid, with an offer that Gibraltar shall be ceded to Spain, as being
of no use to this country, and only embittering, as statesmen have
admitted, the relations between Spain and England,--and if he were to go
to Madrid with an offer of the Rock of Gibraltar, I believe he might
obtain a commercial treaty with Spain, that would admit every English
manufacture and every article of English produce into that country at a
duty of not more than ten per cent.;--I say, do you not think that, if
you heard that Spain was about to retake that useless rock, mustering
her legions and her fleets, the English Government would combine all the
power of this country to resist it?

If that be so, then I think--seeing that there was a fair election two
years ago, and that President Lincoln was fairly and honestly elected--
that when the Southern leaders met at Montgomery in Alabama, on the 6th
of March, and authorized the raising of a hundred thousand men, and
when, on the 15th of April, they attacked Fort Sumter--not a fort of
South Carolina, but a fort of the Union--then, upon all the principles
that Englishmen and English Governments have ever acted upon, President
Lincoln was justified in calling out seventy-five thousand men--which
was his first call--for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of that
nation, which was the main purpose of the oath which he had taken at his

Now I shall not go into a long argument upon this question, for the
reason that a year ago I said what I thought it necessary to say upon
it, and because I believe the question is in the hand, not of my hon.
Friend, nor in that of Lord Palmerston, nor in that even of President
Lincoln, but it is in the hand of the Supreme Ruler, who is bringing
about one of those great transactions in history which men often will
not regard when they are passing before them, but which they look back
upon with awe and astonishment some years after they are past. So I
shall content myself with asking one or two questions. I shall not
discuss the question whether the North is making war for the
Constitution, or making war for the abolition of slavery.

If you come to a matter of sympathy with the South, or recognition of
the South, or mediation or intervention for the benefit of the South,
you should consider what are the ends of the South. Surely the United
States Government is a Government at amity with this country. Its
Minister is in London--a man honourable by family, as you know, in
America, his father and his grandfather having held the office of
President of the Republic. You have your own Minister just returned to
Washington. Is this hypocrisy? Are you, because you can cavil at certain
things which the North, the United States Government, has done or has
not done, are you eagerly to throw the influence of your opinion into a
movement which is to dismember the great Republic?

Is there a man here that doubts for a moment that the object of the war
on the part of the South--they began the war--that the object of the war
on the part of the South is to maintain in bondage four millions of
human beings? That is only a small part of it. The further object is to
perpetuate for ever the bondage of all the posterity of those four
millions of slaves. [A few cries of 'No! No!'] You will hear that I am
not in a condition to contest vigorously anything that may be opposed,
for I am suffering, as nearly everybody is, from the state of the
weather, and a hoarseness that almost hinders me from speaking. I could
quote their own documents till midnight in proof of what I say; and if I
found a man who denied it, upon the evidence that had been offered, I
would not offend him, or trouble myself by trying further to convince

The object is, that a handful of white men on that continent shall lord
it over many millions of blacks, made black by the very Hand that made
us white. The object is, that they should have the power to breed
negroes, to work negroes, to lash negroes, to chain negroes, to buy and
sell negroes, to deny them the commonest ties of family, or to break
their hearts by rending them at their pleasure, to close their mental
eye to but a glimpse even of that knowledge which separates us from the
brute--for in their laws it is criminal and penal to teach the negro to
read--to seal from their hearts the Book of our religion, and to make
chattels and things of men and women and children.

Now I want to ask whether this is to be the foundation, as it is
proposed, of a new slave empire, and whether it is intended that on this
audacious and infernal basis England's new ally is to be built up. It
has been said that Greece was recognized, and that other countries had
been recognized. But Greece was not recognized till after she had fought
Turkey for six years, and the Republics of South America, some of them,
not till they had fought the mother country for a score of years. France
did not recognize the United States of America till some, I think, six
years, five certainly, after the beginning of the War of Independence,
and even then it was received as a declaration of war by the English
Government. I want to know who they are who speak eagerly in favour of
England becoming the ally and friend of this great conspiracy against
human nature.

Now I should have no kind of objection to recognize a country because it
was a country that held slaves--to recognize the United States, or to be
in amity with it. The question of slavery there, and in Cuba and in
Brazil, is, as far as respects the present generation, an accident, and
it would be unreasonable that we should object to trade with and have
political relations with a country, merely because it happened to have
within its borders the institution of slavery, hateful as that
institution is. But in this case it is a new State intending to set
itself up on the sole basis of slavery. Slavery is blasphemously
declared to be its chief corner-stone.

I have heard that there are, in this country, ministers of state who are
in favour of the South; that there are members of the aristocracy who
are terrified at the shadow of the Great Republic; that there are rich
men on our commercial exchanges, depraved, it may be, by their riches,
and thriving unwholesomely within the atmosphere of a privileged class;
that there are conductors of the public press who would barter the
rights of millions of their fellow-creatures that they might bask in the
smiles of the great.

But I know that there are ministers of state who do not wish that this
insurrection should break up the American nation; that there are members
of our aristocracy who are not afraid of the shadow of the Republic;
that there are rich men, many, who are not depraved by their riches; and
that there are public writers of eminence and honour who will not barter
human rights for the patronage of the great. But most of all, and before
all, I believe,--I am sure it is true in Lancashire, where the working
men have seen themselves coming down from prosperity to ruin, from
independence to a subsistence on charity,--I say that I believe that the
unenfranchised but not hopeless millions of this country will never
sympathize with a revolt which is intended to destroy the liberty of a
continent, and to build on its ruins a mighty fabric of human bondage.

When I speak to gentlemen in private upon this matter, and hear their
own candid opinion,--I mean those who differ from me on this question,--
they generally end by saying that the Republic is too great and too
powerful, and that it is better for us--not by 'us' meaning you, but the
governing classes and the governing policy of England--that it should be
broken up. But we will suppose that we are in New York or in Boston,
discussing the policy and power of England. If any one there were to
point to England,--not to the thirty-one millions of population in these
islands, but to her one hundred and fifty millions in India, and nobody
knows how many millions more in every other part of the globe,--might he
not, whilst boasting that America has not covered the ocean with fleets
of force, or left the bones of her citizens to blanch on a hundred
European battle-fields,--might he not fairly say, that England is great
and powerful, and that it is perilous for the world that she is so

But bear in mind that every declaration of this kind, whether from an
Englishman who professes to be strictly English, or from an American
strictly American, or from a Frenchman strictly French,--whether it
asserts in arrogant strains that Britannia rules the waves, or speaks of
'manifest destiny' and the supremacy of the 'Stars and Stripes' or
boasts that the Eagles of one nation, having once overrun Europe, may
possibly repeat the experiment,--I say all this is to be condemned. It
is not truly patriotic; it is not rational; it is not moral. Then, I
say, if any man wishes the Great Republic to be severed on that ground:
in my opinion, he is doing that which tends to keep alive jealousies
which, as far as he can prevent it, will never die; though if they do
not die, wars must be eternal.

But then I shall be told that the people of the North do not like us at
all. In fact, we have heard it to-night. It is not reasonable that they
should like us. If an American be in this room to-night, will he feel
that he likes my honourable Friend? But if the North does not like
England, does anybody believe the South does? It does not appear to me
to be a question of liking or disliking. Everybody knows that when the
South was in power,--and it has been in power for the last fifty years,--
everybody knows that hostility to this country, wherever it existed in
America, was cherished and stimulated to the utmost degree by some of
those very men who are now leaders of this very insurrection.

My hon. Friend read a passage about the _Alabama_. I undertake to
say that he is not acquainted with the facts about the _Alabama_,
That he will acknowledge, I think. The Government of this country have
admitted that the building of the _Alabama_, and her sailing from
the Mersey, was a violation of international law. In America they say,
and they say here, that the _Alabama_ is a ship of war; that she
was built in the Mersey; that she was built, and I have reason to
believe it, by a member of the British Parliament; that she is furnished
with guns of English manufacture; that she is manned almost entirely by
Englishmen; and that these facts were represented, as I know they were
represented, to the collector of customs in Liverpool, who pooh-poohed
them, and said there was nothing in them. He was requested to send the
facts up to London to the Customs' authorities, and their solicitor, not
a very wise man, but probably in favour of breaking up the Republic, did
not think them of much consequence; but afterwards the opinion of an
eminent counsel, Mr. Collier, the Member for Plymouth, was taken, and he
stated distinctly that what was being done in Liverpool was a direct
infringement of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and that the Customs'
authorities of Liverpool would be responsible for anything that happened
in consequence.

When this opinion was taken to the Foreign Office the Foreign Office was
a little astonished and a little troubled; and after they had consulted
their own law officers, whose opinions agreed with that of Mr. Collier,
they did what Government officers generally do, and as promptly,--a
telegraphic message went down to Liverpool to order that this vessel
should be seized, and she happened to sail an hour or two before the
message arrived. She has never been into a Confederate port--they have
not got any ports; she hoists the English flag when she wants to come
alongside a ship; she sets a ship on fire in the night, and when, seeing
fire, another ship bears down to lend help, she seizes it, and pillages
and burns it. I think that, if we were citizens of New York, it would
require a little more calmness than is shown in this country to look at
all this as if it was a matter with which we had no concern. And
therefore I do not so much blame the language that has been used in
America in reference to the question of the _Alabama_.

But they do not know in America so much as we know--the whole truth
about public opinion here. There are ministers in our Cabinet as
resolved to be no traitors to freedom, on this question, as I am; and
there are members of the English aristocracy, and in the very highest
rank, as I know for a certainty, who hold the same opinion. They do not
know in America--at least, there has been no indication of it until the
advices that have come to hand within the last two days--what is the
opinion of the great body of the working classes in England. There has
been every effort that money and malice could make to stimulate in
Lancashire, amongst the suffering population, an expression of opinion
in favour of the Slave States. They have not been able to get it. And I
honour that population for their fidelity to principles and to freedom,
and I say that the course they have taken ought to atone in the minds of
the people of the United States for miles of leading articles, written
by the London press,--by men who would barter every human right,--that
they might serve the party with which they are associated.

But now I shall ask you one other question before I sit down,--How comes
it that on the Continent there is not a liberal newspaper, nor a liberal
politician, that has said, or has thought of saying, a word in favour of
this portentous and monstrous shape which now asks to be received into
the family of nations? Take the great Italian Minister, Count Cavour.
You read some time ago in the papers part of a despatch which he wrote
on the question of America--he had no difficulty in deciding. Ask
Garibaldi. Is there in Europe a more disinterested and generous friend
of freedom than Garibaldi? Ask that illustrious Hungarian, to whose
marvellous eloquence you once listened in this hall. Will he tell you
that slavery has nothing to do with it, and that the slaveholders of the
South will liberate the negroes sooner than the North through the
instrumentality of the war? Ask Victor Hugo, the poet of freedom,--the
exponent, may I not call him, of the yearnings of all mankind for a
better time? Ask any man in Europe who opens his lips for freedom,--who
dips his pen in ink that he may indite a sentence for freedom,--whoever
has a sympathy for freedom warm in his own heart,--ask him,--he will
have no difficulty in telling you on which side your sympathies should

Only a few days ago a German merchant in Manchester was speaking to a
friend of mine, and said he had recently travelled all through Germany.
He said, 'I am so surprised,--I don't find one man in favour of the
South' That is not true of Germany only, it is true of all the world
except this island, famed for freedom, in which we dwell. I will tell
you what is the reason. Our London press is mainly in the hands of
certain ruling West End classes; it acts and writes in favour of those
classes. I will tell you what they mean. One of the most eminent
statesmen in this country,--one who has rendered the greatest services
to the country, though, I must say, not in an official capacity, in
which men very seldom confer such great advantages upon the country,--he
told me twice, at an interval of several months, 'I had no idea how much
influence the example of that Republic was having upon opinion here,
until I discovered the universal congratulation that the Republic was
likely to be broken up.'

But, Sir, the Free States are the home of the working man. Now, I speak
to working men particularly at this moment. Do you know that in fifteen
years two million five hundred thousand persons, men, women, and
children, have left the United Kingdom to find a home in the Free States
of America? That is a population equal to eight great cities of the size
of Birmingham. What would you think of eight Birminghams being
transplanted from this country and set down in the United States?
Speaking generally, every man of these two and a half millions is in a
position of much higher comfort and prosperity than he would have been
if he had remained in this country. I say it is the home of the working
man; as one of her poets has recently said,--

'For her free latch-string never was drawn in
Against the poorest child of Adam's kin.'

And in that land there are no six millions of grown men--I speak of the
Free States--excluded from the constitution of their country and its
electoral franchise; there, you will find a free Church, a free school,
free land, a free vote, and a free career for the child of the humblest
born in the land. My countrymen who work for your living, remember this:
there will be one wild shriek of freedom to startle all mankind if that
American Republic should be overthrown.

Now for one moment let us lift ourselves, if we can, above the narrow
circle in which we are all too apt to live and think; let us put
ourselves on an historical eminence, and judge this matter fairly.
Slavery has been, as we all know, the huge, foul blot upon the fame of
the American Republic; it is a hideous outrage against human right and
against Divine law; but the pride, the passion of man, will not permit
its peaceable extinction. The slave-owners of our colonies, if they had
been strong enough, would have revolted too. I believe there was no mode
short of a miracle more stupendous than any recorded in Holy Writ that
could in our time, or in a century, or in any time, have brought about
the abolition of slavery in America, but the suicide which the South has
committed and the war which it has begun.

Sir, it is a measureless calamity,--this war. I said the Russian war was
a measureless calamity, and yet many of your leaders and friends told
you that it was a just war to maintain the integrity of Turkey, some
thousands of miles off. Surely the integrity of your own country at your
own doors must be worth as much as the integrity of Turkey. Is not this
war the penalty which inexorable justice exacts from America, North and
South, for the enormous guilt of cherishing that frightful iniquity of
slavery for the last eighty years? I do not blame any man here who
thinks the cause of the North hopeless and the restoration of the Union
impossible. It may be hopeless; the restoration may be impossible. You
have the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that point. The
Chancellor of the Exchequer, as a speaker, is not surpassed by any man
in England, and he is a great statesman; he believes the cause of the
North to be hopeless; that their enterprise cannot succeed.

Well, he is quite welcome to that opinion, and so is anybody else. I do
not hold the opinion; but the facts are before us all, and, as far as we
can discard passion and sympathy, we are all equally at liberty to form
our own opinion. But what I do blame is this. I blame men who are eager
to admit into the family of nations a State which offers itself to us,
based upon a principle, I will undertake to say, more odious and more
blasphemous than was ever heretofore dreamed of in Christian or Pagan,
in civilized or in savage times. The leaders of this revolt propose this
monstrous thing--that over a territory forty times as large as England,
the blight and curse of slavery shall be for ever perpetuated.

I cannot believe, for my part, that such a fate will befall that fair
land, stricken though it now is with the ravages of war. I cannot
believe that civilization, in its journey with the sun, will sink into
endless night in order to gratify the ambition of the leaders of this
revolt, who seek to

'Wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.'

I have another and a far brighter vision before my gaze. It may be but a
vision, but I will cherish it. I see one vast confederation stretching
from the frozen North in unbroken line to the glowing South, and from
the wild billows of the Atlantic westward to the calmer waters of the
Pacific main,--and I see one people, and one language, and one law, and
one faith, and, over all that wide continent, the home of freedom, and a
refuge for the oppressed of every race and of every clime.

* * * * *




[This speech was delivered at a public meeting held in the Public Hall,
Rochdale, for the purpose of passing a resolution of thanks to the
merchants of New York, for their generous contributions to the relief of
the suffering population of the cotton districts.]

I feel as if we were in our places to-night, for we are met for the
purpose of considering, and, I doubt not, of agreeing to a resolution
expressive of our sense of the generosity of the merchants of New York,
and other citizens of the United States, who have, in the midst of so
many troubles and such great sacrifices, contributed to the relief of
that appalling distress which has prevailed, and does still prevail, in
this county.

I regard this transmission of assistance from the United States as a
proof that the world moves onward in the direction of a better time. It
is an evidence that, whatever may be the faults of ambitious men, and
sometimes, may I not say, the crimes of Governments, the peoples are
drawing together, and beginning to learn that it never was intended that
they should be hostile to each other, but that every nation should take
a brotherly interest in every other nation in the world. There has been,
as we all know, not a little jealousy between some portions of the
people of this country and some portions of the people of the United
States. Perhaps the jealousy has existed more on this side. I think it
has found more expression here, probably through the means of the public
press, than has been the case with them. I am not alluding now to the
last two years, but as long as most of us have been readers of
newspapers and observers of what has passed around us.

The establishment of independence, eighty years ago; the war of 1812; it
may be, occasionally, the presumptuousness and the arrogance of a
growing and prosperous nation on the other side of the Atlantic--these
things have stimulated ill feeling and jealousy here, which have often
found expression in language which has not been of the very kindest
character. But why should there be this jealousy between these two
nations? Mr. Ashworth has said, and said very truly, 'Are they not our
own people?' I should think, as an Englishman, that to see that people
so numerous, so powerful, so great in so many ways, should be to us a
cause, not of envy or of fear, but rather of glory and rejoicing.

I have never visited the United States, but I can understand the
pleasure with which an Englishman lands in a country three thousand
miles off, and finds that every man he meets speaks his own language. I
recollect some years ago reading a most amusing speech delivered by a
Suffolk country gentleman, at a Suffolk agricultural dinner, I think it
was, though I do not believe the speeches of Suffolk country gentlemen
at Suffolk agricultural meetings are generally very amusing. But this
was a very amusing speech. This gentleman had travelled; he had been in
the United States, and being intelligent enough to admire much that he
saw there, he gave to his audience a description of some things that he
had seen; but that which seemed to delight him most was this, that when
he stepped from the steamer on to the quay at New York, he found that
'everybody spoke Suffolk.' Now, if anybody from this neighbourhood
should visit New York, I am afraid that he will not find everybody
speaking Lancashire. Our dialect, as you know, is vanishing into the
past. It will be preserved to future times, partly in the works of Tim
Bobbin, but in a very much better and more instructive form in the
admirable writings of one of my oldest and most valued friends, who is
now upon this platform. But if we should not find the people of New York
speaking Lancashire, we should find them speaking English. And if we
followed a little further, and asked them what they read, we should find
that they read all the books that we read that are worth reading, and a
good many of their own, some of which have not yet reached us; that
there are probably more readers in the United States of Milton, and
Shakespeare, and Dryden, and Pope, and Byron, and Wordsworth, and
Tennyson, than are to be found in this country; because, I think, it
will probably be admitted by everybody who understands the facts of both
countries, that out of the twenty millions of population in the Free
States of America, there are more persons who can read well than there
are in the thirty millions of population of Great Britain and Ireland.

And if we leave their literature and turn to their laws, we shall find
that their laws have the same basis as ours, and that many of the great
and memorable judgments of our greatest judges and lawyers are of high
authority with them. If we come to that priceless possession which we
have perhaps more clearly established than any other people in Europe,
that of personal freedom, we shall find that in the Free States of
America personal freedom is as much known, as well established, as fully
appreciated, and as completely enjoyed as it is now in this country. And
if we come to the form of their government, we shall find that it is in
its principle, in its essence, not very dissimilar from that which our
Constitution professes in this kingdom. The difference is this, that our
Constitution has never yet been fully enjoyed by the people; the House
in which forty-eight hours hence I may be sitting, is not as full and
fair and free a representation of the people as is the House of
Representatives that assembles at Washington. But, if there be
differences, are there not great points of agreement, and are there any
of these differences that justify us or them in regarding either nation
as foreign or hostile?

Now, the people of Europe owe much more than they are often aware of to
the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the existence
of that great Republic. The United States have been in point of fact an
ark of refuge to the people of Europe, when fleeing from the storms and
the revolutions of the old continent. They have been, as far as the
artisans and labouring population of this country are concerned, a life-
boat to them; and they have saved hundreds of thousands of men and of
families from disastrous shipwreck. The existence of that free country
and that free government has had a prodigious influence upon freedom in
Europe and in England. If you could have before you a chart of the
condition of Europe when the United States became a nation, and another
chart of the condition of Europe now, you would see the difference, the
enormous stride which has been made in Europe; and you may rely upon it
that not a little of it has been occasioned by the influence of the
great example of that country, free in its political institutions beyond
all other countries, and yet maintaining its course in peace, preserving
order, and conferring upon all its people a degree of prosperity which
in these old countries is as yet unknown.

I should like now to speak specially to the working men who are here,
who have no capital but their skill and their industry and their bodily
strength. In fifteen years from 1845 to 1860--and this is a fact which I
stated in this room more than a year ago, when speaking on the question
of America, but it is a fact which every working man ought to have in
his mind always when he is considering what America is--in fifteen years
there have emigrated to the United States from Great Britain and Ireland
not less than two million four hundred thousand persons. Millions are
easily spoken, not easily counted, with great difficulty comprehended;
but the twenty-four hundred thousand persons that I have described means
a population equal to not less than sixty towns, every one of them of
the size and population of Rochdale. And every one of these men who have
emigrated, as he crossed the Atlantic--if he went by steam, in a
fortnight, and if he went by sails, in a month or five weeks--found
himself in a country where to his senses a vast revolution had taken
place, comprehending all that men anticipate from any kind of revolution
that shall advance political and social equality in their own land--a
revolution which commenced in the War of Independence, which has been
going on, and which has been confirmed by all that has transpired in
subsequent years.

He does not find that he belongs to what are called the 'lower classes;'
he is not shut out from any of the rights of citizenship; he is admitted
to the full enjoyment of all political privileges, as far as they are
extended to any portion of the population; and he has there advantages
which the people of this country have not yet gained, because we are but
gradually making our way out of the darkness and the errors and the
tyrannies of past ages. But in America he finds the land not cursed with
feudalism; it is free to every man to buy and sell, and possess and
transmit. He finds in the town in which he lives that the noblest
buildings are the school-houses to which his children are freely
admitted. And among those twenty millions--for I am now confining my
observations to the Free States--the son of every man has easy admission
to school, has fair opportunity for improvement; and, if God has gifted
him with power of head and of heart; there is nothing of usefulness,
nothing of greatness, nothing of success in that country to which he may
not fairly aspire.

And, Sir, this makes a difference between that country and this, on
which I must say another word. One of the most painful things to my mind
to be seen in England is this, that amongst the great body of those
classes which earn their living by their daily labour--it is
particularly observable in the agricultural districts, and it is too
much to be observed even in our own districts--there is an absence of
that hope which every man ought to have in his soul that there is for
him, if he be industrious and frugal, a comfortable independence as he
advances in life. In the United States that hope prevails everywhere,
because everywhere there is an open career; there is no privileged
class; there is complete education extended to all, and every man feels
that he was not born to be in penury and in suffering, but that there is
no point in the social ladder to which he may not fairly hope to raise
himself by his honest efforts.

Well, looking at all this--and I have but touched on some very prominent
facts--I should say that it offers to us every motive, not for fear, not
for jealousy, not for hatred, but rather for admiration, gratitude, and
friendship. I am persuaded of this as much as I am of anything that I
know or believe, that the more perfect the friendship that is
established between the people of England and the free people of
America, the more you will find your path of progress here made easy for
you, and the more will social and political liberty advance amongst us.

But this country which I have been in part describing is now the scene
of one of the greatest calamities that can afflict mankind. After
seventy years of almost uninterrupted peace, it has become the scene of
a civil war, more gigantic, perhaps, than any that we have any record of
with regard to any other nation or any other people; for the scene of
this warfare is so extended as to embrace a region almost equal in size
to the whole of Europe. At this very moment military operations are
being undertaken at points as distant from each other as Madrid is
distant from Moscow. But this great strife cannot have arisen amongst an
educated and intelligent people without some great and overruling cause.
Let us for a moment examine that cause, and let us ask ourselves whether
it is possible at such a time to stand neutral in regard to the
contending parties, and to refuse our sympathy to one or the other of
them. I find men sometimes who profess a strict neutrality; they wish
neither the one thing nor the other. This arises either from the fact
that they are profoundly ignorant with regard to this matter, or else
that they sympathise with the South, but are rather ashamed to admit it.

There are two questions concerned in this struggle. Hitherto, generally,
one only has been discussed. There is the question whether negro slavery
shall continue to be upheld amongst Christian nations, or whether it
shall be entirely abolished. Because, bear in mind that if the result of
the struggle that is now proceeding in America should abolish slavery
within the territories of the United States, then soon after slavery in
Brazil, and slavery in Cuba, will also fall. I was speaking the other
day to a gentleman well acquainted with Cuban affairs; he is often in
the habit of seeing persons who come from Cuba to this country on
business; and I asked him what his Cuban friends said of what was going
on in America. He said, 'They speak of it with the greatest
apprehension; all the property of Cuba,' he said, 'is based on slavery;
and they say that if slavery comes to an end in America, as they believe
it will, through this war, slavery will have a very short life in Cuba.'
Therefore, the question which is being now tried is, not merely whether
four millions of slaves in America shall be free, but whether the vast
number of slaves (I know not the number) in Cuba and Brazil shall also
be liberated.

But there is another question besides that of the negro, and which to
you whom I am now addressing is scarcely less important. I say that the
question of freedom to men of all races is deeply involved in this great
strife in the United States. I said I wanted the working men of this
audience to listen to my statement, because it is to them that I
particularly wish to address myself. I say, that not only is the
question of negro slavery concerned in this struggle, but, if we are to
take the opinion of leading writers and men in the Southern States of
America, the freedom of white men is not safe in their hands. Now, I
will not trouble you with pages of extracts which would confirm all that
I am about to say, but I shall read you two or three short ones which
will explain exactly what I mean.

The city of Richmond, as you know, is the capital of what is called the
Southern Confederacy. In that city a newspaper is published, called the
_Richmond Examiner_, which is one of the most able, and perhaps
about the most influential, paper published in the Slave States. Listen
to what the _Richmond Examiner_ says:--

The experiment of universal liberty has failed. The evils of free
society are insufferable. Free society in the long run is
impracticable; it is everywhere starving, demoralizing, and
insurrectionary. Policy and humanity alike forbid the extension
of its evils to new peoples and to coming generations; and
therefore free society must fall and give way to a slave society--
a social system old as the world, universal as man.'

Well, on another occasion, the same paper treats the subject in this
way. The writer says:--

'Hitherto the defence of slavery has encountered great
difficulties, because its apologists stopped half way. They
confined the defence of slavery to negro slavery alone,
abandoning the principle of slavery, and admitting that every
other form of slavery was wrong. Now the line of defence is
changed. The South maintains that slavery is just, natural, and
necessary, and that it does not depend on the difference of

But following up this is an extract from a speech by a Mr. Cobb, who is
an eminent man in Southern politics and in Southern opinion. He says:--

'There is, perhaps, no solution of the great problem of
reconciling the interests of labour and capital, so as to protect
each from the encroachments and oppressions of the other, so
simple and effective as negro slavery. By making the labourer
himself capital, the conflict ceases, and the interests become

Now, I do not know whether there is any working man here who does not
fully or partly realize the meaning of those extracts. They mean this,
that if a man in this neighbourhood (for they pity us very much in our
benighted condition as regards capital and labour, and they have an
admirable way, from their view, of putting an end to strikes)--they say
that, if a man in this neighbourhood had ten thousand pounds sterling in
a cotton or woollen factory, and he employed a hundred men, women, and
children, that instead of paying them whatever wages had been agreed
upon, allowing them to go to the other side of the town, and work where
they liked, or to move to another county, or to emigrate to America, or
to have any kind of will or wish whatever with regard to their own
disposal, that they should be to him capital, just the same as the
horses are in his stable; that he should sell the husband South,--
'South' in America means something very dreadful to the negro,--that
they should sell the wife if they liked, that they should sell the
children, that, in point of fact, they should do whatsoever they liked
with them, and that, if any one of them resisted any punishment which
the master chose to inflict, the master should be held justified if he
beat his slave to death; and that not one of those men should have the
power to give evidence in any court of justice, in any case, against a
white man, however much he might have suffered from that white man.

You will observe that this most important paper in the South writes for
that principle, and this eminent Southern politician indorses it, and
thinks it a cure for all the evils which exist in the Old World and in
the Northern and Free States; and there is not a paper in the South, nor
is there a man as eminent or more eminent than Mr. Cobb, who has dared
to write or speak in condemnation of the atrocity of that language. I
believe this great strife to have had its origin in an infamous
conspiracy against the rights of human nature. Those principles, which
they distinctly avow and proclaim, are not to be found, as far as I
know, in the pages of any heathen writer of old times, nor are they to
be discovered in the teachings or the practice of savage nations in our
times. It is the doctrine of devils, and not of men; and all mankind
should shudder at the enormity of the guilt which the leaders of this
conspiracy have brought upon that country.

Now, let us look at two or three facts, which seem to me very
remarkable, on the surface of the case, but which there are men in this
country, and I am told they may be found even in this town, who
altogether ignore and deny. The war was not commenced by those to whom
your resolution refers; it was commenced by the South; they rebelled
against the majority. It was not a rebellion against a monarchy, or an
aristocracy, or some other form of government which has its hold upon
people, sometimes by services, but often from tradition; but it was
against a Government of their own, and a compact of their own, that they
violently rebelled, and for the expressed and avowed purpose of
maintaining the institution of slavery, and for the purpose, not
disavowed, of re-opening the slave trade, and, as these extracts show,
if their principles should be fully carried out, of making bondage
universal among all classes of labourers and artisans. When I say that
their object was to re-open the slave trade, do not for a moment imagine
that I am overstating the case against them. They argue, with a perfect
logic, that, if slavery was right, the slave trade could not be wrong;
if the slave trade be wrong, slavery cannot be right; and that if it be
lawful and moral to go to the State of Virginia and buy a slave for two
thousand dollars, and take him to Louisiana, it cannot be wrong to go to
Africa, and buy a slave for fifty dollars, and take him to Louisiana.
That was their argument; it is an argument to this day, and is an
argument that in my opinion no man can controvert; and the lawful
existence of slavery is as a matter of course to be followed, and would
be followed, wherever there was the power, by the re-opening of the
traffic in negroes from Africa.

That is not all these people have done. Reference has been made, in the
resolution and in the speeches, to the distress which prevails in this
district, and you are told, and have been told over and over again, that
all this distress has arisen from the blockade of the ports of the
Southern States. There is at least one great port from which in past
times two millions of bales of cotton a-year have found their way to
Europe--the port of New Orleans--which is blockaded; and the United
States Government has proclaimed that any cotton that is sent from the
interior to New Orleans for shipment, although it belongs to persons in
arms against the Government, shall yet be permitted to go to Europe, and
they shall receive unmolested the proceeds of the sale of that cotton.
But still the cotton does not come. The reason why it does not come is,
not because it would do harm to the United States Government for it to
come, or that it would in any way assist the United States Government in
carrying on the war. The reason that it does not come is, because its
being kept back is supposed to be a way of influencing public opinion in
England and the course of the English Government in reference to the
American war. They burn the cotton that they may injure us, and they
injure us because they think that we cannot live even for a year without
their cotton; and that to get it we should send ships of war, break the
blockade, make war upon the North, and assist the slave-owners to
maintain, or to obtain, their independence.

Now, with regard to the question of American cotton, one or two extracts
will be sufficient; but I could give you a whole pamphlet of them, if it
were necessary. Mr. Mann, an eminent person in the State of Georgia,

'With the failure of the cotton, England fails. Stop her supply
of Southern slave-grown cotton, and her factories stop, her
commerce stops, the healthful normal circulation of her life-
blood stops.'

Again he says:--

'In one year from the stoppage of England's supply of Southern
slave-grown cotton, the Chartists would be in all her streets and
fields, revolution would be rampant throughout the island, and
nothing that is would exist.'

He also says, addressing an audience:--

'Why, Sirs, British lords hold their lands, British bishops hold
their revenues, Victoria holds her sceptre, by the grace of
cotton, as surely as by the grace of God.'

Senator Wigfall says:--

'If we stop the supply of cotton for one week, England would be
starving. Queen Victoria's crown would not stand on her head one
week, if the supply of cotton was stopped; nor would her head
stand on her shoulders.'

Mr. Stephens, who is the Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy,

'There will be revolution in Europe, there will be starvation
there; our cotton is the element that will do it.'

Now, I am not stating the mere result of any discovery of my own, but it
would be impossible to read the papers of the South, or the speeches
made in the South, before, and at the time of, and after the secession,
without seeing that the universal opinion there was, that the stoppage
of the supply of cotton would be our instantaneous ruin, and that if
they could only lay hold of it, keep it back in the country, or burn it,
so that it never could be used, that then the people of Lancashire,
merchants, manufacturers, and operatives in mills--everybody dependent
upon this vast industry--would immediately arise and protest against the
English Government abstaining for one moment from the recognition of the
South, from war with the North, and from a resolution to do the utmost
that we could to create a slave-holding independent republic in the

And these very men who have been wishing to drag us into a war that
would have covered us with everlasting infamy, have sent their envoys to
this country, Mr. Yancey, Mr. Mann (I do not know whether or not the
same Mr. Mann to whom I have been referring), and Mr. Mason, the author
of the Fugitive Slave Law. These men have been in this country,--one of
them I believe is here now,--envoys sent to offer friendship to the
Queen of England, to be received at her Court, and to make friends with
the great men in London. They come,--I have seen them under the gallery
of the House of Commons; I have seen Members of the House shaking hands
with them and congratulating them, if there has been some military
success on their side, and receiving them as if they were here from the
most honourable Government, and with the most honourable mission. Why,
the thing which they have broken off from the United States to maintain,
is felony by your law. They are not only slave owners, slave buyers and
sellers, but that which out of Pandemonium itself was never before
conceived,--they are slave breeders for the slave market; and these men
have come to your country, and are to be met with at elegant tables in
London, and are in fast friendship with some of your public men, and are
constantly found in some of your newspaper offices; and they are here to
ask Englishmen--Englishmen with a history of freedom--to join hands with
their atrocious conspiracy.

I regret more than I have words to express this painful fact, that of
all the countries in Europe this country is the only one which has men
in it who are willing to take active steps in favour of this intended
slave government. We supply the ships; we supply the arms, the munitions
of war; we give aid and comfort to this foulest of all crimes.
Englishmen only do it. I believe you have not seen a single statement in
the newspapers that any French, or Belgian, or Dutch, or Russian ship
has been engaged in, or seized whilst attempting to violate the blockade
and to carry arms to the South. They are English Liberal newspapers only
which support this stupendous iniquity. They are English statesmen only,
who profess to be liberal, who have said a word to favour the authors of
this now--enacting revolution in America.

The other day, not a week since, a member of the present Government,--he
is not a statesman--he is the son of a great statesman, and occupies the
position of Secretary for Ireland,--he dared to say to an English
audience that he wished the Republic to be divided, and that the South
should become an independent State. If that island which--I suppose in
punishment for some of its offences--has been committed to his care,--if
that island were to attempt to secede, not to set up a slave kingdom,
but a kingdom more free than it has ever yet been, the Government of
which he is a member would sack its cities and drench its soil with
blood before they would allow such a kingdom to be established.

But the working men of England, and I will say it too for the great body
of the middle classes of England, have not been wrong upon this great
question. As for you,--men labouring from morn till night that you may
honourably and honestly maintain your families, and the independence of
your households,--you are too slowly emerging from a condition of things
far from independent--far from free--for you to have sympathy with this
fearful crime which I have been describing. You come, as it were, from
bonds yourselves, and you can sympathize with them who are still in

See that meeting that was held in Manchester a month ago, in the Free
Trade Hall, of five or six thousand men. See the address which they
there carried unanimously to the President of the United States. See
that meeting held the other night in Exeter Hall, in London; that vast
room, the greatest room, I suppose, in the Metropolis, filled so much
that its overflowings filled another large room in the same building,
and when that was full, the further overflowings filled the street; and
in both rooms, and in the street, speeches were made on this great
question. But what is said by the writers in this infamous Southern
press in this country with regard to that meeting? Who was there? 'A
gentleman who had written a novel, and two or three Dissenting
ministers,' I shall not attempt any defence of those gentlemen. What
they do, they do openly, in the face of day; and if they utter
sentiments on this question, it is from a public platform, with
thousands of their countrymen gazing into their faces. These men who
slander them write behind a mask,--and, what is more, they dare not tell
in the open day that which they write in the columns of their journal.
But if it be true that there is nothing in the writer of a successful
novel, or in two or three pious and noble-minded Dissenting ministers,
to collect a great audience, what does it prove if there was a great
audience? It only proves that they were not collected by the reputation
of any orator who was expected to address them, but by their cordial and
ardent sympathy for the great cause which was pleaded before them.

Everybody now that I meet says to me, 'Public opinion seems to have
undergone a considerable change.' The fact is, people do not know very
much about America. They are learning more every day. They have been
greatly misled by what are called 'the best public instructors.'
Jefferson, who was one of the greatest men that the United States have
produced, said that newspapers should be divided into four compartments:
in one of them they should print the true; in the next, the probable; in
the third, the possible; and in the fourth, the lies. With regard to
some of these newspapers, I incline to think, as far as their leading
columns go, that an equal division of space would be found very
inconvenient, and that the last-named compartment, when dealing with
American questions, would have to be at least four times as large as the

Coming back to the question of this war; I admit, of course--everybody
must admit--that we are not responsible for it, for its commencement, or
for the manner in which it is conducted; nor can we be responsible for
its result. But there is one thing which we are responsible for, and
that is for our sympathies, for the manner in which we regard it, and
for the tone in which we discuss it. What shall we say, then, with
regard to it? On which side shall we stand? I do not believe it is
possible to be strictly, coldly neutral. The question at issue is too
great, the contest is too grand in the eye of the world. It is
impossible for any man, who can have an opinion worth anything on any
question, not to have some kind of an opinion on the question of this
war. I am not ashamed of my opinion, or of the sympathy which I feel,
and have over and over again expressed, on the side of the free North. I
cannot understand how any man witnessing what is enacting on the
American continent can indulge in small cavils against the free people
of the North, and close his eye entirely to the enormity of the purposes
of the South. I cannot understand how any Englishman, who in past years
has been accustomed to say that 'there was one foul blot upon the fair
fame of the American Republic,' can now express any sympathy for those
who would perpetuate and extend that blot. And, more, if we profess to
be, though it be with imperfect and faltering steps, the followers of
Him who declared it to be His Divine mission 'to heal the broken-
hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovering of sight
to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,' must we not
reject with indignation and scorn the proffered alliance and friendship
with a power based on human bondage, and which contemplates the
overthrow and the extinction of the dearest rights of the most helpless
of mankind?

If we are the friends of freedom, personal and political,--and we all
profess to be so, and most of us, more or less, are striving after it
more completely for our own country,--how can we withhold our sympathy
from a Government and a people amongst whom white men have always been
free, and who are now offering an equal freedom to the black? I advise
you not to believe in the 'destruction' of the American nation. If facts
should happen by any chance to force you to believe it, do not commit
the crime of wishing it. I do not blame men who draw different
conclusions from mine from the facts, and who believe that the
restoration of the Union is impossible. As the facts lie before our
senses, so must we form a judgment on them. But I blame those men that
wish for such a catastrophe. For myself, I have never despaired, and I
will not despair. In the language of one of our old poets, who wrote, I
think, more than three hundred years ago, I will not despair,--

'For I have seen a ship in haven fall,
After the storm had broke both mast and shroud.'

From the very outburst of this great convulsion, I have had but one hope
and one faith, and it is this--that the result of this stupendous strife
may be to make freedom the heritage for ever of a whole continent, and
that the grandeur and the prosperity of the American Union may never be

* * * * *




[The meeting at which this speech was delivered was convened by the
Trades' Unions of London to enable the working men to express their
sentiments on the war in the United States. Mr. Bright was Chairman of
the meeting.]

When the Committee did me the honour to ask me to attend this meeting
to-night and to take the Chair, I felt that I was not at liberty to
refuse, for I considered that there was something remarkable in the
character of this meeting; and I need not tell you that the cause which
we are assembled to discuss is one which excites my warmest sympathies.
This meeting is remarkable, inasmuch as it is not what is commonly
called a public meeting, but it is a meeting, as you have seen from the
announcements and advertisements by which it has been called--it is a
meeting of members of Trades' Unions and Trades' Societies in London.
The members of these Societies have not usually stepped out from their
ordinary business to take part in meetings of this kind on public

The subject which we have met to discuss is one of surpassing interest--
which excites at this moment, and has excited for two years past, the
attention and the astonishment of the civilized world. We see a country
which for many years--during the lifetime of the oldest amongst us--has
been the most peaceful, and prosperous, and the most free amongst the
great nations of the earth--we see it plunged at once into the midst of
a sanguinary revolution, whose proportions are so gigantic as to dwarf
all other revolutionary records and events of which we have any
knowledge. But I do not wonder at this revolution. No man can read the
history of the United States from the time when they ceased to be
dependent colonies of England, without discovering that at the birth of
that great Republic there was sown the seed, if not of its dissolution,
at least of its extreme peril; and the infant giant in its cradle may be
said to have been rocked under the shadow of the cypress, which is the
symbol of mortality and of the tomb.

Colonial weakness, when face to face with British strength, made it
impossible to put an end to slavery, or to establish a republic free
from slavery. To meet England, it was necessary to be united, and to be
united it was necessary to tolerate slavery; and from that hour to this--
at least, to a period within the last two or three years--the love of
the Union and the patriotism of the American people have induced them
constantly to make concessions to slavery, because they knew that when
they ceased to make concessions they ran the peril of that disruption
which has now arrived; and they dreaded the destruction of their country
even more than they hated the evil of slavery. But these concessions
failed, as I believe concessions to evil always do fail. These
concessions failed to secure safety in that Union. There were principles
at war which were wholly irreconcilable. The South, as you know, has
been engaged for fifty years in building fresh ramparts by which it may
defend its institutions. The North has been growing yearly greater in
freedom; and though the conflict might be postponed, it was obviously

In our day, then, that which the statesmen of America have hoped
permanently to postpone has arrived. The great trial is now going on in
the sight of the world, and the verdict upon this great question must at
last be rendered. But how much is at stake? Some men of this country,
some writers, treat it as if, after all, it was no great matter that had
caused this contest in the United States. I say that a whole continent
is at stake. It is not a question of boundary; it is not a question of
tariff; it is not a question of supremacy of party, or even of the
condition of four millions of negroes. It is more than that. It is a
question of a whole continent, with its teeming millions, and what shall
be their present and their future fate. It is for these millions freedom
or slavery, education or ignorance, light or darkness, Christian
morality ever widening and all-blessing in its influence, or an
overshadowing and all-blasting guilt.

There are men, good men, who say that we in England, who are opposed to
war, should take no public part in this great question. Only yesterday I
received from a friend of mine, whose fidelity I honour, a letter, in
which he asked me whether I thought, with the views which he supposed I
entertain on the question of war, it was fitting that I should appear at
such a meeting as this. It is not our war; we did not make it. We deeply
lament it. It is not in our power to bring it to a close; but I know not
that we are called upon to shut our eyes and to close our hearts to the
great issues which are depending upon it. Now we are met here, let us
ask each other some questions. Has England any opinion with regard to
this American question? Has England any sympathy, on one side or the
other, with either party in this great struggle? But, to come nearer, I
would ask whether this meeting has any opinion upon it, and whether our
sympathies have been stirred in relation to it? It is true, to this
meeting not many rich, not many noble, have been called. It is a meeting
composed of artisans and working men of the city of London,--men whose
labour, in combination with capital and directing skill, has built this
great city, and has made England great. I address myself to these men. I
ask them--I ask you--have you any special interest in this contest?

Privilege thinks it has a great interest in it, and every morning, with
blatant voice, it comes into your streets and curses the American
Republic. Privilege has beheld an afflicting spectacle for many years
past. It has beheld thirty millions of men, happy and prosperous,
without emperor, without king, without the surroundings of a court,
without nobles, except such as are made by eminence in intellect and
virtue, without State bishops and State priests,--

'Sole venders of the lore which works salvation,'--

without great armies and great navies, without great debt and without
great taxes. Privilege has shuddered at what might happen to old Europe
if this grand experiment should succeed. But you, the workers,--you,
striving after a better time,--you, struggling upwards towards the
light, with slow and painful steps,--you have no cause to look with
jealousy upon a country which, amongst all the great nations of the
globe, is that one where labour has met with the highest honour, and
where it has reaped its greatest reward. Are you aware of the fact, that
in fifteen years, which is but as yesterday when it is past, two and a
half millions of your countrymen have found a home in the United
States,--that a population equal nearly, if not quite, to the population
of this great city--itself equal to no mean kingdom--has emigrated from
these shores? In the United States there has been, as you know, an open
door for every man,--and millions have entered into it, and have found

Now, take the two sections of the country which are engaged in this
fearful struggle. In the one, labour is honoured more than elsewhere in
the world; there, more than in any other country, men rise to competence
and independence; a career is open; the pursuit of happiness is not
hopelessly thwarted by the law. In the other section of that country,
labour is not only not honoured, but it is degraded. The labourer is
made a chattel. He is no more his own than the horse that drags a
carriage through the next street; nor is his wife, nor is his child, nor
is anything that is his, his own. And if you have not heard the
astounding statement, it may be as well for a moment to refer to it,--
that it is not black men only who should be slaves. Only to-day I read
from one of the Southern papers a statement that--

'Slavery in the Jewish times was not the slavery of negroes; and
therefore, if you confine slavery to negroes, you lose your sheet
anchor, which is the Bible-argument in favour of slavery.'

I think nothing can be more fitting for the discussion of the members of
the Trade Societies of London. You in your Trade Societies help each
other when you are sick, or if you meet with accidents. You do many kind
acts amongst each other. You have other business also; you have to
maintain what you believe to be the just rights of industry and of your
separate trades; and sometimes, as you know, you do things which many
people do not approve, and which, probably, when you come to think more
coolly of them, you may even doubt the wisdom of yourselves. That is
only saying that you are not immaculate, and that your wisdom, like the
wisdom of other classes, is not absolutely perfect. But they have in the
Southern States a specific for all the differences between capital and
labour. They say,--

'Make the labourer capital; the free system in Europe is a rotten
system; let us get rid of that, and make all the labourers as
much capital and as much the property of the capitalist and
employer as the capitalist's cattle and horses are property, and
then the whole system will move with that perfect ease and
harmony which the world admires so much in the Southern States of

I believe there never was a question submitted to the public opinion of
the world which it was more becoming the working men and members of
Trades' Unions and Trade Societies of every kind in this country fully
to consider, than this great question.

But there may be some in this room, and there are some who say to me,
'But what is to become of our trade, what is to become of the capitalist
and the labourer of Lancashire?' I am not sure that much of the capital
of Lancashire will not be ruined. I am not sure that very large numbers
of its population will not have to remove to seek other employment,
either in this or some other country. I am not one of those who
underrate this great calamity. On the contrary, I have scarcely met with
any man,--not more than half a dozen,--since this distress in our county
began, who has been willing to measure the magnitude of this calamity
according to the scale with which I have viewed it.

But let us examine this question. The distress of Lancashire comes from
a failure of the supply of cotton. The failure of the supply of cotton
comes from the war in the United States. The war in the United States
has originated in the effort of the slaveholders of that country to
break up what they themselves admit to be the freest and best government
that ever existed, for the sole purpose of making perpetual the
institution of slavery. But if the South began the war, and created all
the mischief, does it look reasonable that we should pat them on the
back, and be their friends? If they have destroyed cotton, or withheld
it, shall we therefore take them to our bosoms?

I have a letter written by an agent in the city of Nashville, who had
been accustomed to buy cotton there before the war, and who returned
there immediately after that city came into the possession of the
Northern forces. He began his trade, and cotton came in. Not Union
planters only, but Secession planters, began to bring in the produce of
their plantations, and he had a fair chance of re-establishing his
business; but the moment this was discovered by the commanders of the
Southern forces at some distance from the city, they issued the most
peremptory orders that every boat-load of cotton on the rivers, every
waggon-load upon the roads, and every car-load upon the railroads, that
was leaving any plantations for the purposes of sale, should be
immediately destroyed. The result was, that the cotton trade was at once
again put an end to, and I believe only to a very small extent has it
been reopened, even to this hour.

Then take the State of New Orleans, which, as you know, has been now for
many months in the possession of the Northern forces. The Northern
commanders there had issued announcements that any cotton sent down to
New Orleans for exportation, even though it came from the most resolved
friends of secession in the district, should still be safe. It might be
purchased to ship to Europe, and the proceeds of that cotton might be
returned, and the trade be re-opened. But you have not found cotton come
down to New Orleans, although its coming there under those terms would
be of no particular advantage to the North. It has been withheld with
this single object, to create in the manufacturing districts of France
and England a state of suffering that might at last become unbearable,
and thus might compel the Governments of those countries, in spite of
all that international law may teach, in spite of all that morality may
enjoin upon them, to take sides with the South, and go to war with the
North for the sake of liberating whatever cotton there is now in the
plantations of the Secession States.

At this moment, such of you as read the City articles of the daily
papers will see that a loan has been contracted for in the City, to the
amount of three millions sterling, on behalf of the Southern
Confederacy. It is not brought into the market by any firm with an
English name; but I am sorry to be obliged to believe that many
Englishmen have taken portions of that loan. Now the one great object of
that loan is this, to pay in this country for vessels which are being
built--_Alabamas_--from which it is hoped that so much irritation
will arise in the minds of the people of the Northern States, that
England may be dragged into war to take sides with the South and with
slavery. The South was naturally hostile to England, because England was
hostile to slavery. Now the great hope of the insurrection has been from
the beginning, that Englishmen would not have fortitude to bear the
calamities which it has brought upon us; but by some trick or by some
accident we might be brought into a war with the North, and thereby give
strength to the South.

I should hope that this question is now so plain that most Englishmen
must understand it; and least of all do I expect that the six millions
of men in the United Kingdom who are not enfranchised can have any doubt
upon it. Their instincts are always right in the main, and if they get
the facts and information, I can rely on their influence being thrown
into the right scale. I wish I could state what would be as satisfactory
to myself with regard to some others. There may be men outside, there
are men sitting amongst your legislators, who will build and equip
corsair ships to prey upon the commerce of a friendly power,--who will
disregard the laws and the honour of their country,--who will trample on
the Proclamation of their sovereign,--and who, for the sake of the
glittering profit which sometimes waits on crime, are content to cover
themselves with everlasting infamy. There may be men, too--rich men--in
this city of London, who will buy in the slaveowners' loan, and who, for
the chance of more gain than honest dealing will afford them, will help
a conspiracy whose fundamental institution, whose corner-stone, is
declared to be felony, and infamous by the statutes of their country.

I speak not to these men--I leave them to their conscience in that hour
which comes to all of us, when conscience speaks and the soul is no
longer deaf to her voice. I speak rather to you, the working men of
London, the representatives, as you are here to-night, of the feelings
and the interests of the millions who cannot hear my voice. I wish you
to be true to yourselves. Dynasties may fall, aristocracies may perish,
privilege will vanish into the dim past; but you, your children, and
your children's children, will remain, and from you the English people
will be continued to succeeding generations.

You wish the freedom of your country. You wish it for yourselves. You
strive for it in many ways. Do not then give the hand of fellowship to
the worst foes of freedom that the world has ever seen, and do not, I
beseech you, bring down a curse upon your cause which no after-penitence
can ever lift from it. You will not do this. I have faith in you.
Impartial history will tell that, when your statesmen were hostile or
coldly neutral, when many of your rich men were corrupt, when your
press--which ought to have instructed and defended--was mainly written
to betray, the fate of a continent and of its vast population being in
peril, you clung to freedom with an unfaltering trust that God in His
infinite mercy will yet make it the heritage of all His children.

* * * * *



LONDON, JUNE 16, 1863.
[On June 16, 1863, a public meeting was held at the London Tavern, at
the instance of the Union and Emancipation Society, in order to hear an
address from Mr. M. D. Conway, of Eastern Virginia. Mr. Bright was in
the Chair.]

If we look back a little over two years--two years and a half--when the
question of secession was first raised in a practical shape, I think we
shall be able to remember that, when the news first arrived in England,
there was but one opinion with regard to it--that every man condemned
the folly and the wickedness of the South, and protested against their
plea that they had any grievance which justified them in revolt--and
every man hoped that some mode might be discovered by which the terrible
calamity of war might be avoided.

For a time, many thought that there would be no war. Whilst the reins
were slipping from the hands--the too feeble hands--of Mr. Buchanan into
the grasp of President Lincoln, there was a moment when men thought that
we were about to see the wonderful example of a great question, which in
all other countries would have involved a war, settled perhaps by
moderation--some moderation on one side, and some concession on the
other; and so long as men believed that there would be no war, so long
everybody condemned the South. We were afraid of a war in America,
because we knew that one of the great industries of our country depended
upon the continuous reception of its raw material from the Southern
States. But it was a folly--it was a gross absurdity--for any man to
believe, with the history of the world before him, that the people, of
the Northern States, twenty millions, with their free Government, would
for one moment sit down satisfied with the dismemberment of their
country, and make no answer to the war which had been commenced by the

I speak not in justification of war. I am only treating this question
upon principles which are almost universally acknowledged throughout the
world, and by an overwhelming majority even of those men who accept the
Christian religion; and it is only upon those principles, so almost
universally acknowledged, and acknowledged as much in this country as
anywhere else--it is only just that we should judge the United States
upon those principles upon which we in this country would be likely to

But the North did not yield to the dismemberment of their country, and
they did not allow a conspiracy of Southern politicians and slaveholders
to seize their forts and arsenals without preparing for resistance.
Then, when the people of England found that the North were about to
resist, and that war was inevitable, they turned their eyes from the
South, which was the beginner of the war, and looked to the North,
saying that, if the North would not resist, there could be no war, and
that we should get our cotton, and trade would go on as before; and
therefore, from that hour to this, not a few persons in this country,
who at first condemned the South, have been incessant in their
condemnation of the North.

Now, I believe this is a fair statement of the feeling which prevailed
when the first news of secession arrived, and of the change of opinion
which took place in a few weeks, when it was found that, by the
resolution of the North to maintain the integrity of their country, war,
and civil war, was unavoidable. The trade interests of the country
affected our opinion; and I fear did then prevent, and have since
prevented, our doing justice to the people of the North.

Now I am going to transport you, in mind, to Lancashire, and the
interests of Lancashire, which, after all, are the interests of the
whole United Kingdom, and clearly of not a few in this metropolis. What
was the condition of our greatest manufacturing industry before the war,
and before secession had been practically attempted? It was this: that
almost ninety per cent. of all our cotton came from the Southern States
of the American Union, and was, at least nine-tenths of it, the produce
of the uncompensated labour of the negro.

Everybody knew that we were carrying on a prodigious industry upon a
most insecure foundation; and it was the commonest thing in the world
for men who were discussing the present and the future of the cotton
trade, whether in Parliament or out of it, to point to the existence of
slavery in the United States of America as the one dangerous thing in
connection with that great trade; and it was one of the reasons which
stimulated me on several occasions to urge upon the Government of this
country to improve the Government of India, and to give us a chance of
receiving a considerable portion of our supply from India, so that we
might not be left in absolute want when the calamity occurred, which all
thoughtful men knew must some day come, in the United States.

Now, I maintain that with a supply of cotton mainly derived from the
Southern States, and raised by slave labour, two things are
indisputable: first, that the supply must always be insufficient; and
second, that it must always be insecure. Perhaps many of you are not
aware that in the United States--I am speaking of the Slave States, and
the cotton-growing States--the quantity of land which is cultivated for
cotton is a mere garden, a mere plot, in comparison with the whole of
the cotton region. I speak from the authority of a report lately
presented to the Boston Chamber of Commerce, containing much important
information on this question; and I believe that the whole acreage, or
the whole breadth of the land on which cotton is grown in America, does
not exceed ten thousand square miles--that is, a space one hundred miles
long and one hundred miles broad, or the size of two of our largest
counties in England; but the land of the ten chief cotton-producing
States is sixty times as much as that, being, I believe, about twelve
times the size of England and Wales.

It cannot be, therefore, because there has not been land enough that we
have not in former years had cotton enough; it cannot be that there has
not been a demand for the produce of the land, for the demand has
constantly outstripped the supply; it has not been because the price has
not been sufficient, for, as is well known, the price has been much
higher of late years, and the profit to the planter much greater; and
yet, notwithstanding the land and the demand, and the price and the
profit, the supply of cotton has not been sufficient for the wants of
the spinners and the manufacturers of the world, and for the wants of

The particular facts with regard to this I need not, perhaps, enter
into; but I find, if I compare the prices of cotton in Liverpool from
1856 to 1860 with the prices from 1841 to 1845, that every pound of
cotton brought from America and sold in Liverpool fetched in the last
five years more than twenty per cent in excess of what it did in the
former five years, notwithstanding that we were every year in greater
difficulties through finding our supply of cotton insufficient.

But what was the reason that we did not get enough? It was because there
was not labour enough in the Southern States. You see every day in the
newspapers that there are four millions of slaves, but of those four
millions of slaves some are growing tobacco, some rice, and some sugar;
a very large number are employed in domestic servitude, and a large
number in factories, mechanical operations, and business in towns; and
there remain only about one million negroes, or only one-quarter of the
whole number, who are regularly engaged in the cultivation of cotton.

Now, you will see that the production of cotton and its continued
increase must depend upon the constantly increasing productiveness of
the labour of those one million negroes, and on the natural increase of
population from them. Well, the increase of the population of the slaves
in the United States is rather less than two and a-half per cent, per
annum, and the increase on the million will be about twenty-five
thousand a-year; and the increased production of cotton from that
increased amount of labour consisting of twenty-five thousand more
negroes every year will probably never exceed--I believe it has not
reached--one hundred and fifty thousand bales per annum. The exact facts
with regard to this are these: that in the ten years from 1841 to 1850
the average crop was 2,173,000 bales, and in the ten years from 1851 to
1860 it was 3,252,000, being an increase of 1,079,000 bales in the ten
years, or only about 100,000 bales of increase per annum.

I have shown that the increase of production must depend upon the
increase of labour, because every other element is in abundance--soil,
climate, and so forth. (A Voice: 'How about sugar?') A Gentleman asks
about sugar. If in any particular year there was an extravagant profit
upon cotton, there might be, and there probably would be, some
abstraction of labour from the cultivation of tobacco, and rice, and
sugar, in order to apply it to cotton, and a larger temporary increase,
of growth might take place; but I have given you the facts with regard
to the last twenty years, and I think you will see that my statement is
correct. Now, can this be remedied under slavery? I will show you how it
cannot. And first of all, everybody who is acquainted with American
affairs knows that there is not very much migration of the population of
the Northern States into the Southern States to engage in the ordinary
occupations of agricultural labour. Labour is not honourable and is not
honoured in the South; and therefore free labourers from the North are
not likely to go South. Again, of all the emigration from this country--
amounting as it did, in the fifteen years from 1846 to 1860, to two
millions five hundred thousand persons, being equal to the whole of the
population of this great city--a mere trifle went South and settled
there to pursue the occupation of agriculture; they remained in the
North, where labour is honourable and honoured.

Whence, then, could the planters of the South receive their increasing
labour? Only from the slave-ship and the coast of Africa. But,
fortunately for the world, the United States Government has never yet
become so prostrate under the heel of the slave-owner as to consent to
the reopening of the slave-trade. Therefore the Southern planter was in
this unfortunate position: he could not tempt, perhaps he did not want,
free labourers from the North; he could not tempt, perhaps he did not
want, free labourers from Europe; and if he did want, he was not
permitted to fetch slave labour from Africa. Well, that being so, we
arrive at this conclusion--that whilst the cultivation of cotton was
performed by slave labour, you were shut up for your hope of increased
growth to the small increase that was possible with the increase of two
and a half per cent per annum in the population of the slaves, about one
million in number, that have been regularly employed in the cultivation
of cotton.

Then, if the growth was thus insufficient--and I as one connected with
the trade can speak very clearly upon that point--I ask you whether the
production and the supply were not necessarily insecure by reason of the
institution of slavery? It was perilous within the Union. In this
country we made one mistake in our forecast of this question: we did not
believe that the South would commit suicide; we thought it possible that
the slaves might revolt. They might revolt, but their subjugation was
inevitable, because the whole power of the Union was pledged to the
maintenance of order in every part of its dominions.

But if there be men who think that the cotton trade would be safer if
the South were an independent State, with slavery established there in
permanence, they greatly mistake; because, whatever was the danger of
revolt in the Southern States whilst the Union was complete, the
possibility of revolt and the possibility of success would surely be
greatly increased if the North were separate from the South, and the
negro had only his Southern master, and not the Northern power, to
contend against.

But I believe there is little danger of revolt, and no possibility of
success. When the revolt took place in the island of St. Domingo, the
blacks were far superior in numbers to the whites. In the Southern
States it is not so. Ignorant, degraded, without organization, without
arms, and scarcely with any faint hope of freedom for ever, except the
enthusiastic hope which they have when they believe that God will some
day stretch out His arm for their deliverance--I say that under these
circumstances, to my mind, there was no reasonable expectation of
revolt, and that they had no expectation whatever of success in any
attempt to gain their liberty by force of arms.

But now we are in a different position. Slavery itself has chosen its
own issue, and has chosen its own field. Slavery--and when I say
slavery, I mean the slave power--has not trusted to the future; but it
has rushed into the battle-field to settle this great question; and
having chosen war, it is from day to day sinking to inevitable ruin


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