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The Unselfishess of Free Trade Victorian MP Richard Cobden pleaded for Britain to set the world an example as a nation open for business.
Music: John Playford (ed.)

© Bahnfrend, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC-BY-SA 4.0. Source

About this picture …

Container ship ANL Warringa outside Fremantle Harbour, Western Australia, on its way to Melbourne, Victoria. Australia is one of those civilised nations Cobden spoke of, which have adopted Britain’s representative government. Indeed, at the time of writing, Australia has a more open policy on trade than the mother country does, hobbled as Britain is by ties to protectionist Europe.

The Unselfishess of Free Trade
Richard Cobden MP urged Queen Victoria’s Parliament to embrace a policy of global free trade, instead of the over-regulated, over-taxed trade deals brokered by politicians and their friends behind closed doors. It was, he said, nothing less than the next step in Britain’s destiny, and her Christian duty.

WE have set an example to the world in all ages; we have given them the representative system. The very rules and regulations of this House have been taken as the model for every representative assembly throughout the whole civilised world; and having besides given them the example of a free press and civil and religious freedom, and every institution that belongs to freedom and civilisation, we are now about giving a still greater example; we are going to set the example of making industry free.

Don’t think there is anything selfish in this, or anything at all discordant with Christian principles. To buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest. What is the meaning of the maxim? It means that you take the article which you have in the greatest abundance, and with it obtain from others that of which they have the most to spare; so giving to mankind the means of enjoying the fullest abundance of earth’s goods, carrying out to the fullest extent the Christian doctrine of ‘Doing to all men as ye would they should do unto you’.*

See Matthew 7:12, known as ‘the Golden Rule’.


In 1846, Richard Cobden asked the House of Commons to embrace free trade, as the next of those civilised liberties in which Britain had already led the way. He added that contrary to the fears of some Christians, free trade did not exploit the poor, but brought together those with something to exchange, and appealed to the Golden Rule itself. (59 / 60 words)


Abridged from a Speech in the House of Commons on the 27th February, 1846.

Suggested Music

Bloomsbury Market

John Playford (ed.) (1623-1686)

Performed by The Broadside Band.

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