Mixed Motives

People are complicated and I sometimes find people doing good for what seem like dubious reasons, as I recently stumbled upon an article in a newspaper describing a meeting of prominent campaigners soon after the slave trade was abolished. They were all businessmen who proposed ‘compensating’ African countries for having been preyed upon by slavery, by helping them to become involved in international trade. Sort of like a mad dog teaching its victims to bite. Hmmm.

So, one of the big battles in 18th and 19th century England was against the Corn Laws, which ensured high prices for farmers at the expense of the poor. Merchants who campaigned against the protectionism and for free trade, were often associated with patriotism and more wide reaching aspects of reform. Strangely, the Methodists, who did much to help the poor, were not involved in this, nor had they been prominent in the battle against slavery.

This is from Asa Briggs’ Victorian Cities:

“In the widened campaign, both a distinctive sense of history and a dislike of he Church of England and of the Establishment …played their part. Anglican parsons could be accused of having their own sectional commitment to protect. In 1842 Cobden suggested to Knight that he should include this point in an article on distress. ‘The church clergy are almost to a man guilty of causing the great distress by upholding the Corn Law – they having themselves an interest through tithes in the high price of bread.’

But perhaps the manufacturers were even worse:

“One of the leading Manchester radicals, Archibald Prentice, who later wrote a history of the Corn League, stated flatly that the Manufacturers of Manchester, when they first opposed the corn law of 1815, ‘took the untenable and unpopular ground that it was necessary to have cheap bread in order to reduce the English rate of wages to the Continental level; and so long as they persisted in this blunder the cause of free trade made but little progress.”


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