THE HISTORY OF FREE-TRADE.
[TO THE EDITOR OT THE "SPECTATOR."] Sru,—Unless my observation is at fault, a considerable number of Free-trade candidates are at the present moment taking their history of the Free-trade movement from Mr. Chamber- lain, and are discussing that gentleman's fantastical proposals as if something like what he proposes now—but in the opposite direction—had been accomplished by Richard Cobden and the Free-traders sixty years ago. May I invoke your assistance to point out to them that all this is pure myth P The Free-trade reform was not accomplished at a coup, but occupied twenty years in arriving at completion. It was thought out soberly, and carried by judiciously moderated stages so as not to cause any violent disturbance of the course of trade. And so it was carried through without mishap, and at every stage with a careful review of the results produced by the partial measures already in effect, and a cautious consideration of the ability of the country at large, and of the interests most nearly concerned, to bear the responsibilities entailed by the next contemplated step. In no respect do Mr. Chamberlain's crude proposals appear in more striking contrast with the statesman- like work of Peel, Cobden, and Gladstone than in respect of the wild proposal' to impose a sudden tax on perhaps a thousand articles, all at one moment, and thus disorganise the afire trade of the country in all its branches by one fell blow.
As bringing out the significance of this point, the following synopsis of the history of the Free-trade reform will be of interests
1842. First Instalment.—Peel inaugurates the Free-trade movement by the following measures :-
(1) Export-duties abolished. (2) Prohibitions upon imports removed. (3) Prohibitive Customs reduced to "fair competitive" rates. (4) Fully manufactured goods admitted at fair competitive rates.
(5) Half-manufactured goods admitted at moderate rates. (6) Raw materials admitted at a nominal duty. For a full exposition of Sir Robert Peel's scheme see "Hansard," Vol. L%IIL, p. 351.
1845. Second Instalment. —The first measure had found a tariff extending to 1,052 different articles, and had left it with 813, including the raw materials upon which the so-called "nominal duties" were levied. Sir Robert Peel's second instalment of Free-trade reform removed 430 of these articles—most of them raw materials—from the list, setting our imports to that extent wholly free. The most important of these omissions was that which put " cottonwool" on a level with home-grown sheep's wool, and so laid the foundation of our modern cotton industry. As a complement to this scheme for liberating foreign trade certain Excise-duties, and notably the Auction and Glass Duties, were abolished, thus greatly freeing the home trade as well. See "Hansard," Vol. LXXVII., p. 479.
1846. The Third Instalment.—This was the celebrated Repeal of the Corn-laws, which, passed in this year, is always' dated of this year, although it should rather be dated 1849, when the Repealing Act went into force.
1853. Fourth Instalment.—Eight years' experience having now been had of the partial reforms above enumerated, the Govern- ment of the day felt justified in taking another cautious step, and this time they remitted Custom-duties on 123 articles altogether, and reduced them on 148 more. Equal reform was effected in the home trade by the remission of the Excise-duties on soap, news- paper advertisements, hackney carriages, post-horses, and some other smaller items. The principle of this reform was
(1) To abolish unproductive taxes and taxes on partly manu- factured articles.
(2) To reduce to about 10 per cent. the taxation on fully manufactured articles and articles of food.
(3) To substitute rated duties for duties ad valorem. For a full exposition of this scheme see Mr. Gladstone's speech, " Hansard," Vol. CXXV., p. 1,404.
1860. Fifth Instalment.—This, which may be said to have crowned the Free-trade edifice, struck 371 items off the tariff, and left us with only two Protective duties—those on timber and corn—which disappeared in their turn. All who desire to under- stand the extreme circumspection and care used by the Free-trade reformers not to injure the country's trade by precipitate or sudden change should read Mr. Gladstone's speech on this occasion in "Hansard," Vol. CLVI., p. 823. They will then be able to judge of Mr. Chamberlain's madness.
Cocoa Tree, St. James's Street, S.W.