Cobden's Speech

Mr . Cobden M.P. speaks to a meeting of the
National Freehold Land Society which sold
the freehold building plots on which the
Poets Roads were built in Stoke Newington.



Last night a meeting was held at the London Tavern, in furtherance of the objects of the National (late Metropolitan and Home Counties) Freehold Land Society. The members present completely filled the large room of the tavern, and among the company on the platform were Mr. Cobden, M.P.,, Mr. J. Hall, Mr. C. Giilpin, Mr. S. Money, Mr. J. Morland, Mr. A. Wilkinson, &c.

Mr. COBDEN then presented himself to the meeting for the purpose of moving the first resolution, and was greeted with general cheers. He said that, if he understood the nature of that meeting, it was one for business purposes. (Hear, hear.) They were the members and friends of the Metropolitan and National Freehold Land Society, and they met there to promote the objects of that society. It was an association formed to enable individuals, by means of small monthly subscriptions, to accumulate a fund by which they should be enabled, in the best and cheapest way, to possess themselves of the county franchise. (Applause.) They would, therefore, see that that society had a double object; it was a deposit for savings in itself as the means to obtain the end. (Hear, hear.) They did not meet to-day as a part of the Birmingham society, which was formed and which was called the Birmingham Freeholders' Union. That was a society composed of gentlemen from all parts of the country who choose to subscribe, to enable a committee permanently appointed in Birmingham, to stimulate throughout the country, by addresses, the publication of a paper to be called the Freeholder, which would appear next month, and by every other means, the formation of the Freehold Land Society. The present meeting was not convened as part of an agitation like that, but to promote the objects of the National Freehold Land Society. The object of the society was to purchase large estates, comparatively speaking, and to divide them among the members of the association at cost price. (Cheers.) In that expression consiated the main force and main value of the association, and offered very great advantages to those who joined an association like the present. (Hear, hear.) He knew some gentlemen who had given their attention to the subject of building societies, and who said, " This is not a building society." Why, the building societies, as they were , were none of them, strictly speaking, building societies. They might properly be called, " Mutual Benefit Security Societies." But this Freehod Land Company was enrolled under the Building Societies Act, that is, it was founded upon the Building Society Act, and certified by Mr. Tidd Pratt, the revising barrister; and the object was that the members of the association should have all the benefit which the act of Parliament could give them, and all the security which it conferred; and it was proposed to give them some other advantages as well. (Hear, hear.) It had been said by those who looked closely into the rules of this association, " You have no power under the Building Act to buy estates and to divide them." That was perfectly true, there was no provision made by the Building Societies Act for any such promise. But it was proposed to effect the object through the directors, who would undertake to purchase freehold land, and to give the members of the association the refusal of that land. So the object was to give the members all the benefit of the Building Societies Act and give them the refusals in addition of those estates which might be bought at the risk of others--a refusal at the cost price, retailing the estates to the members of the association at the wholesale price. (Hear, hear.) He did not need to tell the meeting that a great deal of a success of all associations of this kind depended, first, on correct calculations made on forming the society; and, next, and perhaps greatest of all, depended on the character and stability of those who wore responsible for the management of the society.Thus they were standing in the ancient ways of the constitution, and no one could call them Red Republicans or Revolutionists. (Cheers' and laughter.) They were trying to bring back to the people some of their ancient rights and privileges. They were digging into four centuries at least to find the origin of this freehold franchise. (Applause.) There could therefore be no possible objection to the plan, and is was a practical mode of effecting a great change in the depository of political power in this country; for he avowed that he wanted, by legal and legitimate means, to place as much political power as he could in the hands of the middle and industrious classes. (Applause.) When he spoke of the middle and industrious, he spoke of them (as he ever did) as inseparable bodies. It was imposible to separate them, or to draw the line, where one began and the other ended. (Hear, hear.) But in this country the people were governed in tranquil and ordinary times, not by the will of the middle and industrious classes, but by classes insignificant in number and importance in comparison with the great mass of the people. (Applause.) Every session of Parliament - every six months that he spent in the House of Commons, more and more convinced him that he and the 70 or 80 members that were accustomed to go with him wasted their time, if they did not in the recess go to the people and tell them candidly and strongly that on them alone it depended whether any essential alteration should take place. (Hear, hear.) He said that in ordinary times they were governed by classes and interests insignificant and unimportant to the real welfare of this country; and they were classes and interests which, if they were not now and then checked by the upheaving of the mass of the people, which turned them from their folly and self selfishnesss, would long ago have created in this country as great a state of confusion as any which had existed on the continent. (Cheers.) Take the case of men ordinarily returned for the agricultural counties, end he referred to that class as one of those petty interests in comparison with the mighty interests of this country. What would they do if they had their own way ? What were they trying to do at the present moment? Why, at the present moment, when even the Austrian Government was proposing to abandon the principle of a high restrictive tariff, - when Russia, from all he learned, had got its tariff in hand with a view to reduce the duties,- wben America responded to us, and when even Spain, which some wicked wag had called the beginning of Africa (laughter), was about to imitate the example which Sir R. Peel set some years ago, these agricultural members were thinking how they could restore protection. (Cheers and laughter.) Why, these men must be the disciples of the inquisitors of old, who put Galileo in prison, because he said that the world turned on its axis; and in like manner these, their modern disciples, insisted that the moral world should not roll on. (Cheers and laughter.) If they had their will they would reduce England to the condition in which Austria now was. (Here, here) Was it a wholesome state of things, that nothing could be done for the country except through great congregations of people forcing the members of Parliament to something like common sense? Nothing of importance was done or carried in this country until after a seven years' stand-up fight between the people on one side, and the members who called themselves their representatives on the other. (Cheers.)


British Land was founded 150 years ago, in 1856. Its immediate forerunner was The National Freehold Land Society, set up in 1849 with the aim (as this article from the following day's Times records) of extending the franchise through property ownership.


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