An address to the middle and working classes engaged in trade and manufactures throughout the empire on the necessity of union at the present crisis
MIDDLE AND WORKING CLASSES
TRADE AND MANUFACTURES,
THROUGHOUT THE EMPIRE,
NECESSITY OF UNION AT THE PRESENT CRISIS.
BY RICHARD GARDNER, ESQ. B.A.
PRINTED BY A. HEYWOOD, 58 AND 60, OLDHAM-STREET.
MIDDLE AND WORKING CLASSES.
Friends and Fellow Citizens,
Nothing but a deep conviction of the importance of the present crisis, should induce me, uninfluential and unknown as I am, to offer my opinion in this public and formal manner; but at present, it appears to me, the duty of every good citizen, to speak out, according to the light which God has given him. If I speak aright, act up to my advice; if I am wrong, apply the test of reason to my errors; in any case, accord me a patient hearing.
The discord, at present existing betwixt the middle and lower classes, particularly those portions of them engaged in trade and manufactures, is at once more injurious to their common country, than any set of bad laws whatever, and the best guarantee for the continuance of such laws. I believe that a favourable moment has arrived for putting an end to this deplorable state of things.
Both classes have a common enemy in the small feudal, or aristocratical class, which owns the soil, and monopolises the government of these islands; but they do not both regard it in the same light. The middle classes, hitherto, at least, have desired to be on good terms with the privileged order, provided the honour could be procured on moderate terms. They have been ambitious of the favour of rank, because they have hoped, some day or other, by complaisance and perseverance, to attain it for themselves. Only, when their "noble" friends proceed to make too rude an attack upon their pockets, do they forget their good manners, and set up a howl of rebellion.
In short, the middle classes have not so much desired to attack the principle of Class Legislation, as to prevent its development in a manner injurious to themselves. Hence, they have vehemently sought the Repeal of the Corn-laws, because they have felt those laws to interfere with their trade, while they have been content to leave the power of robbing the people in the hands of a privileged class, only bargaining that it be not effected in this particular fashion.
The lower classes, on the other hand, regard the feudal aristocracy as their natural and hereditary enemies, in a political point of view; though personally, I suspect, they like the middle class still less, regarding them as renegades from the common cause of both; and naturally expecting some sympathy from them, are proportionably disgusted at their defection. The political emancipation of the middle class was mainly achieved by means of the co-operation of the "masses," who find after all, that they have only increased the power and the number of their masters. The latter may be weak and ignorant, but they have the quick instinct common to weak and unprotected creatures, and have learnt truth in the school of experience. They have long pointed an unequivocal finger in the right direction for relief, and are determined to keep it stationary there. They have discovered, that when all are represented up to a certain point, the class excluded must of necessity, be a miserable and degraded one; and they can further urge, that in this country, that class is a numerous as well as a miserable one. Since the Reform Bill, therefore, the lower classes have withdrawn in disgust from all piecemeal and partial agitations. They profess themselves dissatisfied with the whole system of government, as at present conducted. They say, that while the power of legislation remains in the hands of the "few," the "many," will, under some pretence or other, be defrauded of their just share of the national wealth. They, therefore, demand an extension of Political Rights to every citizen, or, in other words, complete Suffrage, with the Protection of the Ballot.
And, I appeal to the candour of every honest man, who is acquainted with their history and their distress, whether they are not justified in demanding this Radical Reformation. To say nothing of the indifference displayed as to their moral and intellectual advancement, observe the pains which seem to be taken to render their physical condition as deplorable as possible. On the one hand, there is a Corn-law to enhance the price of their food, and diminish the demand for their labour; on the other, a stringent New Poor-law to punish their involuntary poverty, and lacerate the wounds inflicted by selfish legislation. Surely, this is to emulate the tyranny of the Egyptian taskmasters.
But further, I maintain, it is the interest, as well as the duty, of the middle or trading class, to take up this principle of "Equal Rights," with a view to the attainment of their favourite object, the Repeal of the Corn-laws. In the face of a compact feudal oligarchy, based upon recollections altogether foreign to the genius of this age and the circumstances of this country, the working classes, from whom the middle classes spring, are the natural allies of the latter. Trade and Democracy, are harmonious; Trade and Feudalism, discordant facts. The ancient antipathy of the lords of the soil to the inhabitants of the towns, appears to be revived in this age, with greater vigour than ever. In their madness, our rulers seem bent upon killing the goose which lays the golden eggs; and they will succeed in their design, if through any unhappy jealousy, or misunderstanding, manufacturing Capital and manufacturing Labour, fail to unite for common defence.
Now we come to the stumbling-block over which, as it appears to me, the friends of Free Trade have fallen. They have been at great pains to assure the public and one another, that the question of the Corn-Laws, &c., is not a political question. Certainly the question, Whether the Corn Laws should be repealed, is one of commerce, or rather of political economy. But when you further ask, How they are to be repealed, reference must be had to a political principle, because it is upon a political principle that they are maintained, if Sir R. Peel is to be believed. In 1828, in reply to a proposition of a fixed duty made by Mr. Hume, the Right Honourable Baronet observed, that there was another consideration besides the simple one of price, viz. that it was part of the constitutional policy of the country to maintain its aristocracy and magistracy. I quote from memory, but his words were to this effect. When they were spoken, the "League" had not yet thundered at the gates of Monopoly, but the Repealers may rest assured that their demands will continue to be refused on Political, and not Commercial considerations, though the motive will not again be openly avowed.
Did, I ask, the proposition made last Wednesday by this unworthy minister, disappoint any reasonable man? Had we any right to expect even this trivial concession from the organs of constituencies exposed on every side to Aristocratical influence, formed for the express purpose of supporting Aristocratical aggression, under the veil of popular representation? Can we expect that the landlords whom we have debauched with power, will yield to our prayers the Arch Monopoly, with which, all others will fall, and so dry up the golden stream from which they derive their fatal influence? And is there any means of diminishing the power of Aristocracy, except by throwing weight into the scale of Democracy? And the necessity of this, being now obvious, is there any other means of effecting it, except by a firm alliance betwixt the middle and working classes to that end?
When the friends of Free Trade have come to a right conclusion upon these points, we may augur better for the success of their noble cause, as well as for the permanent amelioration of the condition of the labouring classes, who at present stand aloof from this agitation, not because they are enamoured of a food-tax, but because they are indisposed to engage in any political struggle, which does not recognize as a primary fact, the claim of themselves and their children to the rights of citizenship. To imagine that the "many" can have an interest in a monopoly which enhances the price of the necessaries of life, for the benefit of the "few," is absurd. They opposed it manfully in its origin, and their present comparative apathy on the subject, springs from motives which we can understand, if we cannot applaud. As to the obstructions which have been occasionally offered by a portion of them to the discussion of this question, they must, I think, be loudly deprecated by every impartial man. At the same time, we may remind those who are inclined to lay too much stress upon this fact, that if a class of men are kept in the condition of serfs, we have no right to expect that they will display the dignity and discretion of citizens.
What, therefore, I now propose, is, that the middle class of Manchester, particularly that portion of them which takes an interest in the struggle for Free Trade, should set an example to the rest of the country, of associating with their operatives to attack Monopoly in its fortress of Legislation. The Complete Suffrage and Vote by Ballot must form the basis of such an agitation, if it is to be either honest or efficient. And the question must be argued on the broad ground of principle, and not of expediency, as a right long in abeyence, and now firmly insisted upon. And if a twentieth part of the labour which has been expended upon the subject of the Corn-Laws, were bestowed upon the enlightenment of the public mind on this subject, I am convinced that the prejudices with which our education and habits have invested it would speedily vanish; and it would appear, that in an age in which the tendency to universality is so apparent, and the means of information so procurable by all, the democratical principle was at once the most rational and the most safe. This at least is certain, that with reference to the great object of all government, viz: the greatest good of the greatest number, our present Constitution, venerable though it be, is a lamentable failure. There is at least a prima facie case made out for a change, and it is worse than foolish to close our eyes to the fact.
While then, on the one hand I do not expect, as I have already hinted, that the agitation in favour of free trade will be successful, until its advocates take up broader grounds; still, the lower classes ought not to forget that these discussions have done more to further their peculiar views, than any other circumstance whatever. If Complete Suffrage is ever to be obtained by peaceful means, it must be through the co-operation of the middle classes; and the light which has been thrown upon the practical bad working of Class Legislation is fast opening the eyes of the latter to the conviction of the radical defects in our present system of representation. Let, then, the working classes be prepared to receive, with cordiality, any overtures which may be made to them by their employers on this point, without recrimination as to the past, without even too nicely scrutinizing the motives which may have brought about this change of tactics. We must take men as we find them; and it is too much to expect that any class of men, as a class, will put themselves out of the way to confer political power on those beneath them, unless it is plainly their interest so to do—and that this is the interest of the middle classes at the present time, they are, I think, beginning to feel. But on no account must the paramount necessity of organic change be lost sight of; for, though I yield to no man in a conviction of the stupendous mischiefs which the Corn-Laws, &c., inflict upon us all, yet if those laws were repealed to-morrow, I should still maintain that an extension of political rights to all, is the only abiding security for Labour against the aggressions of Wealth and Privilege, in some form or other.
When I review these hasty remarks, put together on the spur of the moment, I feel still more acutely than when I commenced them, that I expose myself, by their publication, to the charge of presumption and conceit. Still, I feel convinced that they contain the germs of important truths, which I hope to see more fully developed by men of greater ability and experience than myself. And so I commit them to the dispassionate judgment of every man who is willing, at the risk of misrepresentation and ridicule, to serve his country in this, its great emergency; feeling assured, at least, that they will receive no fictitious value from the name of,
Friends and Fellow Citizens,
Your Faithful Servant,