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Cobden, Richard

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Summary Article: Cobden, Richard (1804 - 1865) from The Companion to British History, Routledge

Cobden, enterprising son of a poor farmer, set up with friends in calico printing near Clitheroe (Lancs) in 1831 and made money. He lived at Manchester and became one of its first aldermen and also wrote reformist pamphlets. In 1838 he, with other Manchester merchants, formed the Anti-Corn Law League; this was also the effective origin of the Manchester School of economists. In 1841 he became M.P. for Stockport. He and Bright now organised a powerful movement in and out of Parliament against the Corn Duties, whose repeal they secured in June 1846, but his labours distracted him from his business which was ruined and rescued only by a public subscription. His outlook on world trade made him critical of the currently fashionable aggressive policies and he attacked the govt. over the Crimean War, the Arrow affair at Canton and the Indian mutiny. This went against popular feeling and in the general election of 1857 he lost his seat. He went abroad, but in 1859 was offered and refused the Presidency of the Board of Trade by Palmerston. He returned to parliament. In 1860, as a private citizen, he began to negotiate a celebrated commercial treaty with France, on the basis of mutual tariff reductions. This strikingly improved Anglo-French relations and the international terms of trade. Thereafter he strongly opposed interventionist foreign policies, particularly in the American Civil War and the Danish-German war of 1864.

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