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An attack on the Anti-Corn-Law League by the Conservatives, December 1842

In 1842 the Plug Plots broke out in the north of England and there was some suspicion that the Anti-Corn-Law League had been responsible for causing distress among the working population to further the League's own ends. Although the government realised that there was no evidence to substantiate these suspicions, Peel asked the Home Office to collect information on the activities of the League. Eventually the information was passed on to JW Croker who produced it as an article in the Conservative periodical, the Quarterly Review.

We now proceed to Mr Cobden's appearance in the Conference of the 11th of February, 1842. Mr Cobden on that occasion said - 'That three weeks would try the mettle of his countrymen (hear, hear). Why, would they submit to be starved, and put upon short allowance, by thirty or forty thousand men? (Loud cries of No, no.) He was sure that if they knew how insignificant, both morally and physically, those thirty thousand or forty thousand aristocrats and squires were, they would not fear them (Hear, hear). But though really insignificant, they were not conscious of any weakness; they were as confident in their strength as they had been five years since; they would not shrink one atom; and until these men were frightened the people would never obtain justice....

'Were they prepared to make sacrifices, and to undergo sufferings to carry this question? (Cheers, and loud cries of Yes, yes.) The time was not far off when they might be called upon to make sacrifices, and to undergo sufferings. The time might soon come when they might be called upon to inquire, as Christian men, whether an oligarchy which has usurped the government (Cheers), placed its foot on the Crown (Immense cheering, which continued some minutes), and trampled down the people (Continued cheering). - how far such an oligarchical usurpation was deserving of their moral and religious support (Immense cheering).... As soon as the bill should become the law of the land, by the physical force of a brute majority against reason, then would the time come when he should feel it his duty to secede, as far as he could do morally, from giving all voluntary support, whether pecuniary or morally, to such a government (Here the whole meeting rose, waving their hats, and cheering for several minutes). The administrators of the law might enforce the law - he would not resist the law - but there must be somebody to administer the law, and somebody to enforce the law; and he thought that three weeks hence the whole people would so thoroughly understand the real bearings of this bread-tax question, that they would not want physical force while they were unanimous (Loud cheers)'.

Meanwhile, the Conference continued its daily exercise of agitation; and on the 12th July Mr Cobden appeared there in person, and made a speech - which, coming from a man in his station, and conveyed, with the applauses of a hired press, to an excited populace, was well calculated to produce awful mischief, though in other circumstances, its intrinsic nonsense would have only excited contempt.

He said, amongst a variety of similar ebullitions, - 'Whatever they could do to embarrass the Government they were bound to do. They owed them no respect: they were entitled to none. They owed them no service which they could possibly avoid. The Government was based upon corruption, and the offspring of VICE, CORRUPTION, VIOLENCE, INTIMIDATION, and BRIBERY. The majority of the House of Commons was supported by the violation of morality and religion. He said for such a Government they should entertain no respect whatever. He would assist the Anti-Corn-Law League all in his power to embarrass the Government.'...

We are satisfied that we have made out such a case against the Anti-Corn-Law Association and League, as no rational man in the country... can resist.

We have shown that these societies set out with a public and fundamental engagement to act by 'legal and constitutional means'; but that, on the contrary, all their proceedings have been in the highest degree unconstitutional, and, to the common sense of mankind, illegal.

We have shown that their second fundamental engagement, that no party political discussion should be allowed at any of their meetings', has been scandalously violated; and that the language of their speeches and their press has been not merely violent and indecent - but incendiary and seditious.

We have shown that, even from the outset, they endeavoured to menace the government and the legislature with the pressure of physical force, and that these threats continued with increasing violence, till lost at length in the tumult of the actual outbreak which they had provoked.

We have shown that the Magistrates who belonged to these societies, instead of maintaining the peace and tranquillity of their respective jurisdictions, were amongst the most prominent and violent promoters of every species of agitation; and that, while all of them talked language and promulgated doctrines that endangered the public peace, some, the highest in authority, volunteered declarations which those inclined to disturb the public peace might reasonably consider as promises of, at least, impunity.

We have shown that the League have spent, according to their own statement, £90,000 in the last year, we know not exactly how, but clearly in furtherance of the unconstitutional, illegal, and dangerous practices which we have detailed.

We have shown, we think, abundant reason to conclude that the £50,000 which they are now endeavouring to raise is probably destined to the same, or perhaps still more illegal, unconstitutional, and dangerous practices.

We have shown that - from first to last - their system has been one of falsehood and deception - from their original fundamental imposture of being the advocates of the poor - down to the meaner shifts of calling brutal violence freedom of discussion, and a subscription for feeding sedition and riot a fund for education or charity.

And, finally, we hope we have shown that no man of common sense of any party - if he only adheres to the general principles of the British Constitution - can hesitate to pronounce the existence of such associations - raising money - exciting mobs - organised - and - to use a term of the same Jacobin origin as their own, a hated - for the avowed purpose of coercing the government and the legislature - can hesitate, we say, to pronounce the existence of such associations disgraceful to our national character, and wholly incompatible either with the internal peace and commercial prosperity of the country - or, in the highest meaning of the words - the SAFETY OF THE STATE.

Quarterly Review, LXXI, Anti-Corn Law Agitation

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