From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

Richard Cobden, M.P. - 16th January 1843.

 

RICHARD COBDEN, M.P., WAS ADMITTED BURGESS OF DUNDEE AS A TESTIMONY OF THE RESPECT OF THE MAGISTRATES AND COUNCIL FOR HIM AS A SINCERE AND ZEALOUS ADVOCATE OF THE PRINCIPLES OF FREE TRADE, AND FOR HIS UNWEARIED EXERTIONS, BOTH IN AND OUT OF PARLIAMENT, TO DO AWAY THE RESTRICTIONS WHICH AT PRESENT AFFECT THE COMMERCE OF THESE KINGDOMS.

RICHARD COBDEN, whose name will ever be associated with the establishment of Free Trade principles in this kingdom, was born at Dunford, Midhurst, Sussex, on 3rd June, 1804. His ancestors had lived in that locality for many generations, one of them, ADAM DE COPPEDONE, having been returned as member of Parliament for Chichester in 1313. Before his birth, however, the family had fallen into poor circumstances, and on the death of his grandfather in 1809, the estate of Dunford was sold, and his father removed to a small farm in the neighbourhood. Here the father struggled for some time to support his large family, but at length was ruined by the stagnation that ensued after the cessation of the war; and the children were cast upon the care of their relations. RICHARD COBDEN was sent to a Yorkshire school, where he was educated at the expense of an uncle, and when fifteen years of age he was taken into the London warehouse of that relative, where he was employed first as a clerk and afterwards as a traveller.

The firm in which he was engaged succumbed during the commercial crisis of 1825 26, and young COBDEN was thrown out of employment. In 1828 he began selling goods on commission, and was soon in a prosperous condition. The repeal of the excise duty on printed calicoes in 1831 induced him to enter into business as a calico printer, and, in company with several partners, he established a factory at Sabden, in Lancashire, and thus laid the foundation of a prosperous concern. The extension of his business caused him to travel frequently on the Continent, and he learned from actual contact with the world that knowledge of affairs which others obtain imperfectly from literature. His first important pamphlet appeared in 1835, and was entitled "England, Ireland, and America." In this work he openly advocated the repeal of the Corn Laws as the first necessity for the welfare of the nation; and from this time forward he spared no effort to bring about that result.

In 1836 an Anti Corn Law League was formed in London, and two years afterwards a similar institution was founded in Manchester, and of the latter Mr COBDEN became the moving spirit. Of the dauntless struggles of these agitators, with RICHARD COBDEN and JOHN BRIGHT at their head, it is unnecessary to speak in detail. It is sufficient to state that SIR ROBERT PEEL, who had been the most determined opponent of their theories, at last frankly announced his conversion, and in 1846 granted that free trade in corn which he had formerly characterized as a fanatical delusion. It is worthy of notice that the Town Council of Dundee had recognized and officially acknowledged the value of Mr COBDEN'S services three years before this time.

Mr COBDEN entered Parliament as member for Stockport in 1841, and in 1847 he was simultaneously elected by that constituency and by the much more important one of the West Riding of Yorkshire, which latter he chose to represent. Throughout his public career he had advocated non intervention in foreign politics, and he made a bold but unpopular stand against the Crimean War. His attitude on this question, and on the similar one relating to the Chinese imbroglio of 1857, had altered the feelings of his constituents towards him, and he not only lost his seat, but was unsuccessful in two subsequent attempts to obtain the suffrages of the electors in smaller constituencies. It was not until 1859 that he again found a seat in the House of Commons as member for Rochdale, which position he held until his death. His principal work in this last Parliament in which he sat was the completion of a Commercial Treaty with France, and the abolition of the Passport System which prevented free intercourse betwixt France and this nation. On 2nd April, 1865, he expired in his house at London, having reached his sixty first year.