Richard Cobden (kŏb´dən), 1804–65, British politician, a leading spokesman for the Manchester school. He made a fortune as a calico printer in Manchester. A firm believer in free trade, after 1838 he devoted himself to the formation and work of the Anti-Corn-Law League. Campaigning both inside and outside Parliament (to which he was elected in 1841), he finally won over Sir Robert Peel, and the corn laws were repealed in 1846. After 1849, Cobden concerned himself chiefly with foreign policy, advocating nonintervention in Europe and an end to imperial expansion. He became unpopular for his opposition to the Crimean War (1854–56) and lost his parliamentary seat in 1857. Reelected in 1859, he negotiated (1859–60) the
for reciprocal tariffs with France. Like his close associate John Bright, he favored the North in the Civil War in the United States (which he had twice visited). His many speeches, letters, and pamphlets have been published.
See biography by W. Hinde (1987); study by D. Read (1967).