Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946

Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946

Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946

Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946

Synopsis

Free trade was one of the most distinctive features of the British state--and of British economic, social, and political life--in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is the first book to explain why free trade was so important, and to examine the reasons for its longevity. Howe covers a crucial century in free trade history, from the Repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, through the turbulent years of the Tariff Reform debate, to the end of the Second World War.

Excerpt

One hundred and fifty years after the repeal of the Corn Laws, a new study of free trade in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain seems overdue. For, while there have been frequent studies of the rise of free trade and of Repeal itself, free trade after 1846 has been neglected in favour of studies of its opponents, especially of Joseph Chamberlain and the tariff reformers. As a result, there has been no attempt to write a political history of free trade since F. W. Hirst From Adam Smith to Philip Snowden: A History of Free Trade in Great Britain (1925), a work necessarily marked by its author's strong polemical engagement with its subject. This historical reticence has several roots, among them the unfashionability of free trade in an era of managed economies, the difficulty of studying what has been seen as an 'unspoken assumption' of the Victorians, but, above all perhaps, the daunting complexity of the task, given the potential ubiquity of the ideas and practices of free trade in the nation's economic, religious, cultural, diplomatic, political, and intellectual life. An histoire totale of free trade is probably beyond the scope of a single scholar, and the aims of this book are necessarily more modest. It explores for the most part two interrelated themes: the implications of the repeal of the Corn Laws for British politics, especially for the history of the Liberal Party from Gladstone to Asquith, and the vital ramifications that adherence to free trade held for Britain's position within the liberal international order. Other important facets of free trade are at best indirectly addressed, for example, the fiscal system under free trade, the relationship between free trade and economic growth, and the intellectual history of laissez-faire.

The study of free trade also necessarily encounters semantic problems. These, I hope, I have treated in a common-sense rather than dogmatic` fashion. The term 'free trade' is used to indicate trade between nations 'free' from all but revenue tariffs. Free trade in this sense was a policy supported by Whigs, Radicals, Liberals, and many Conservatives, but dissented from by protectionists, fair traders, and tariff reformers. Yet, politically, free trade became intertwined with a second-term 'Cobdenism', for it was Cobden, the hero of the Anti-Corn Law League, rather than Peel, the executive author of Repeal, whose name became synonymous with Britain's attachment to free trade. 'Cobdenism', however, was often a term used far more by its enemies than by its friends, and it is employed here sparingly to indicate those attached closely to Cobden's leading precepts, put simply in the motto of the Cobden Club: 'free trade, peace, and goodwill.'

In undertaking this study I have benefited not only from the published works of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.