The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 52
Fair Trade and Free Trade
Fair Trade and Free Trade.
A Dialogue between a Young Farmer and his Shepherd.F.
Joe, you and I will have to make up our minds how to vote at the Election; how do you intend to vote?S.
Well, master, I haven't thought much about it, but I suppose you would like me to vote the same as you do?F.
Well, yes, so I would, if I can persuade you to see things as I see them. I shall vote for Plow-right.S.
What! you vote for that free-trader! one of them as has ruined the country?F.
What makes you think the free-traders have ruined the country?S.
Well, when I was at Alkerton last fair-day, I went to the meeting, and I heerd the young squire, and Lord George, and Mr. Peabody from Glassford, and they showed it all as plain as could be; that it was along of the wheat that comes to Liverpool from America, and the ribbons from France, and things they calls girders from Beljum—or some such name—as ruined the farmers and the manufacturers; and Lord George, he says, that if we will send him to Parliament, he will make the 'mericans pay 5s. a quarter on wheat, and the French and the Beljums summat on the stuff as they sends over; and that 'll put an end to the distress, and set the farmer and the working man on their legs again.page 2 F.
Yes, so I saw in the Advertiser; and do you know what occurred to me? I thought it is not so long since Lord George and his friends were in the Government, and they neither put 5s. on wheat, nor anything on ribbons or girders.S.
Well, master, you know it is never too late to mend; and it do seem hard that the country is to be ruined because the foreigner, who they say pays no rates nor taxes, is allowed to take the bread from them as employs us, and so the working man has to starve.F.
We will talk another time about the foreigner paying no rates or taxes. I see the French farmers say theirs are more than twice as heavy as ours. But tell me, Joe, I think you lived on the farm in my father's time, before I was born?S.
Yes, and my father before me.F.
How old are you, Joe?S.
Fifty, come next Michaelmas.F.
Then you are too young to remember all about the Corn Laws; but I suppose you have heard your father speak of the time when he was a young man?S.
Well, master, yes, many a time, and my mother too.F.
Did you ever hear your father say what were his wages in those days?S.
I have heerd him say that your father was a kind master, but them was hard times for farming men. Shepherds, they got ten shillings, but his wages was only nine; and there was them as screwed their men, and I heerd tell that some in our village got no more than seven.F.
I think your father had a large family?S.
We was eight; and I've heerd my mother tell that if it hadn't been that some was took, and that Jenny and Tom, as was older nor me, went to work in the factories, there'd been nothing for us but the work'us. Bread was ninepence and more the quartern loaf many a time those days, so she said; and they never saw a bit of bacon from year end to year end.F.
At that time, you know, there was a duty on page 3 corn, and on ribbons, and on girders, and all the other goods that the foreigners sent over; so I suppose Jenny and Tom had plenty of work and good wages in the factory?S.
Well, master, times they had, and times they hadn't; but I've heerd my brother Tom tell of the hard times in 'Forty-two, when all the mills was shut in the North, and there was rioting, and people dropt wi' fever. I hope we shall never see such times as them in our lives.F.
Perhaps you don't know it, but in those days no live animals were allowed to come into the country, and American bacon and cheese were never seen in our shops. Still, butcher's meat and bacon and butter were much cheaper then than they are now.S.
Why, master, how could that be, when they was not so plentiful?F.
I will tell you. It was because the working people were so poor that they could not afford to buy them. But, Joe, suppose the four-pound loaf were a penny dearer than it is, do you think that would be a good thing for the farming man?S.
Well, that shows you are not a poor man, or you would not ax me such a silly question; as if times wasn't hard enough, that we are to pay sixpence a week more for the bread for our children!F.
And if your wife had to pay a penny a yard more for the stuff she buys in the town, would that help you?S.
You had better ax our Sally!F.
Then, perhaps, those who took the duties off all these things were not such enemies to the poor man, whether he be a farm-labourer or a mechanic, after all?S.
Well, master, I declare I never saw it in that light before!F.
Then I should not be surprised if you thought twice before you made up your mind to vote for those fair-trading gentlemen?S.
I don't know what I may do; but what I can't understand is how you as gets your living by the land can vote for a free-trader.page 4 F.
Joe, do you think it would do me any more good than you if I had to pay more money for everything I have to buy?S.
Certainly not; but then, if we had fair trade, you would get more for all you have to sell.F.
I am afraid I should not get more for all I have to sell. I get more for my cattle, and for my butter and cheese, than my father did in the old fair-trade times, when the working man could not afford to buy them.S.
Yes, but look at the price of wheat!F.
Well, I must try to grow less wheat, and make more beef and mutton, and butter and cheese, and pork, and things that spoil if they are brought from a distance; and my landlord will have to let me have my land on such terms that I can compete with the foreigner. He must not compel me to make dung of my straw if I can sell it for fifty shillings a ton, nor to consume my clover if I can get four or five pounds a ton in the market for my hay, and can buy Indian corn from America, worth twice as much for my cattle, with the same money, or thereabouts. No, Joe; don't let us be humbugged by the fair-traders. It is not fair trade, but fair rents and Fair Play that the farmer wants. Other countries that have fair trade are worse off than we are. There is no market for the farmer like old England with free trade. Only let the farmer and the labourer stand shoulder to shoulder, give us sunshine and fair play, and we will hold our own against the world.
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