The American Reaction to Richard Cobden: An Economy of Fear Essay

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Though Anglo-American relations are not currently hostile, they were not always this way. This paper will explore the free trade beliefs of Richard Cobden, and show that Americans who rejected his ideas did so out of ignorance and fear. The paper will begin with a description of Cobden’s context and beliefs and then move to an analysis of American Anglophobia and Anglomania and governmental responses to Cobden.
Trade liberalization in Great Britain signaled an era of intense change in the European economy. The document that triggered this change was the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860. Anglo-French trade antagonisms had reached an agonizing level for the two countries, beginning with the Congress of Vienna and climaxing with the introduction and eventual repeal of the Corn Laws. For more than 30 years, Great Britain engaged France in tariff wars that only served to limit both countries’ trade potential. Accominotti and Flandreau (2008) describe this as a “period of generalized protectionism” (p. 152).
The economic concept of protectionism dates back to Adam Smith’s idea of comparative and absolute advantage. The country with the ability to produce the same amount of a good or service with fewer resources than another country has the absolute advantage. However, if the other country has a lower opportunity cost of producing that same good or service, they have the comparative advantage. Smith argued that “If a foreign country can supply us with a…