The Letters of Richard Cobden Volume 4 1860-1865

Anthony Howe (Editor), Simon Morgan (Editor)

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The Letters of Richard Cobden (1804-1865) provides, in four printed volumes, the first critical edition of Cobden's letters, publishing the complete text in as near the original form as possible. The letters are accompanied by full scholarly apparatus, together with an introduction to each volume which re-assesses Cobden's importance in their light. Together, these volumes make available a unique source of the understanding of British liberalism in its European and international contexts, throwing new light on issues such as the repeal of the Corn Laws, British radical movements, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, Anglo-French relations, and the American Civil War.

The fourth and final volume, drawing on some forty-six archives worldwide, is dominated by Cobden's search for a permanent political legacy at home and abroad, following the severe check to his health in the autumn of 1859. In January 1860, he succeeded in negotiating the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty, a landmark in Anglo-French relations designed to bind the two nations closer together, and to provide the basis for a Europe united by free trade. Yet the Treaty's benefits were threatened by a continuing naval arms race between Britain and France, fuelled by what Cobden saw as self-interested scare mongering in his tract The Three Panics (1862). By 1862 an even bigger danger was the possibility that British industry's need for cotton might precipitate intervention in the American Civil War. Much of Cobden's correspondence now centred on the necessity of non-intervention and a campaign for the reform of international maritime law, while he played a major part in attempts to alleviate the effects of the 'Cotton Famine' in Lancashire. In addition to Anglo-American relations, Cobden, the 'International Man', continued to monitor the exercise of British power around the globe. He was convinced that the 'gunboat' diplomacy of his prime antagonist, Lord Palmerston, was ultimately harmful to Britain, whose welfare demanded limited military expenditure and the dismantling of the British 'colonial system'. Known for a long time as the 'prophet in the wilderness', in 1864 Cobden welcomed Palmerston's inability to intervene in the Schleswig-Holstein crisis as a key turning-point in Britain's foreign policy, which, together with the imminent end of the American Civil War, opened up the prospect of a new reform movement at home. Disappointed with the growing apathy of the entrepreneurs he had once mobilised in the Anti-Corn Law League, Cobden now promoted the enfranchisement of the working classes as necessary and desirable in order to achieve the reform of the aristocratic state for which he had campaigned since the 1830s.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages662
ISBN (Print)978-0-19-921198-2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2015

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