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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From the Speech on the Corn Laws (1843)
By John Bright (1811–1889)
 
IT must not be supposed, because I wish to represent the interest of the many, that I am hostile to the interest of the few. But is it not perfectly certain that if the foundation of the most magnificent building be destroyed and undermined, the whole fabric itself is in danger? Is it not certain, also, that the vast body of the people who form the foundation of the social fabric, if they are suffering, if they are trampled upon, if they are degraded, if they are discontented, if “their hands are against every man, and every man’s hands are against them,” if they do not flourish as well, reasonably speaking, as the classes who are above them because they are richer and more powerful,—then are those classes as much in danger as the working classes themselves?  1
  There never was a revolution in any country which destroyed the great body of the people. There have been convulsions of a most dire character which have overturned old-established monarchies and have hurled thrones and sceptres to the dust. There have been revolutions which have brought down most powerful aristocracies, and swept them from the face of the earth forever, but never was there a revolution yet which destroyed the people. And whatever may come as a consequence of the state of things in this country, of this we may rest assured: that the common people, that the great bulk of our countrymen will remain and survive the shock, though it may be that the Crown and the aristocracy and the Church may be leveled with the dust, and rise no more. In seeking to represent the working classes, and in standing up for their rights and liberties, I hold that I am also defending the rights and liberties of the middle and richer classes of society. Doing justice to one class cannot inflict injustice on any other class, and “justice and impartiality to all” is what we all have a right to from government. And we have a right to clamor; and so long as I have breath, so long will I clamor against the oppression which I see to exist, and in favor of the rights of the great body of the people….  2
  What is the condition in which we are? I have already spoken of Ireland. You know that hundreds of thousands meet there, week after week, in various parts of the country, to proclaim to all the world the tyranny under which they suffer. You know that in South Wales, at this moment, there is an insurrection of the most extraordinary character going on, and that the Government is sending, day after day, soldiers and artillery amongst the innocent inhabitants of that mountainous country for the purpose of putting down the insurrection thereby raised and carried on. You know that in the Staffordshire iron-works almost all the workmen are now out and in want of wages, from want of employment and from attempting to resist the inevitable reduction of wages which must follow restriction upon trade. You know that in August last, Lancashire and Yorkshire rose in peaceful insurrection to proclaim to the world, and in face of Heaven, the wrongs of an insulted and oppressed people. I know that my own neighborhood is unsettled and uncomfortable. I know that in your own city your families are suffering. Yes, I have been to your cottages and seen their condition. Thanks to my canvass of Durham, I have been able to see the condition of many honest and independent—or ought-to-be-independent—and industrious artisans. I have seen even freemen of your city sitting, looking disconsolate and sad. Their hands were ready to labor; their skill was ready to produce all that their trade demanded. They were as honest and industrious as any man in this assembly, but no man hired them. They were in a state of involuntary idleness, and were driving fast to the point of pauperism. I have seen their wives, too, with three or four children about them—one in the cradle, one at the breast. I have seen their countenances, and I have seen the signs of their sufferings. I have seen the emblems and symbols of affliction such as I did not expect to see in this city. Ay! and I have seen those little children who at not a distant day will be the men and women of this city of Durham; I have seen their poor little wan faces and anxious looks, as if the furrows of old age were coming upon them before they had escaped from the age of childhood. I have seen all this in this city, and I have seen far more in the neighborhood from which I have come. You have seen, in all probability, people from my neighborhood walking your streets and begging for that bread which the Corn Laws would not allow them to earn.
  “Bread-taxed weaver, all can see
What the tax hath done for thee,
And thy children, vilely led,
Singing hymns for shameful bread,
Till the stones of every street
Know their little naked feet.”
  3
  This is what the Corn Law does for the weavers of my neighborhood, and for the weavers and artisans of yours….  4
 
 
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