The first note of approaching storm was sounded on the eve of the meeting of Parliament in February, 1842. The Duke of Buckingham, Lord Privy Seal, resigned his office and seat in the Cabinet on January 31. The reason for this, as the Duke afterwards announced in Parliament, lay in the following expression in the Queen's Speech :—"I recommend to your consideration the state of the laws which affect the importation of corn, and of other articles, the produce of foreign countries." This little sentence, wedged in among the usual ceremonial or occasional paragraphs, contained the kernel of the Ministerial programme, and at once excited extraordinary interest in the country. On February 9, when Peel was to propound his scheme, the delegates of the Anti-Corn Law League marched down in procession to Westminster, and it required all the force of the police on duty to keep them from taking possession of the lobby of the House of Commons.

This League was a remarkable organisation under a no less remarkable leader. Richard Cobden, the son of a yeoman farmer, was employed in his youth in a London warehouse, and then became partner in a Manchester cotton factory. He first attracted notice as a pamphleteer, attacking some of the most cherished traditions of British statesmanship. He travelled far and wide on the business of his firm, and in every country he visited his thoughtful mind gathered material for the doctrines inseparably associated with his name. He first entered Parliament in 1841, being recognised at that time as the leader of the movement in the country against the corn duties. Mr. Charles Villiers had won for himself the position of parliamentary head of the Free Trade party ; to him Cobden came not as a rival but as a wise, resourceful ally. A third figure was soon to be added to this famous group in the person of John Bright, a Quaker manufacturer in Rochdale. A notable trio, each supplying the complement of the other's qualities ; Villiers, of aristocratic birth and connections, well acquainted with the rules and peculiar temperament of the House of Commons, ardent, industrious, and well informed ; Cobden, a man of the people, temperate,  just; " the apostle of common-sense," and singularly persuasive ; Bright, intensely—sternly in earnest, possessing gifts of oratory denied to his colleagues, but exercising them with a discretion rare among fluent speakers. Lastly, one attribute shared equally by each of the three men—absolute integrity and complete disinterestedness. They were Radicals, but they dissociated themselves from all ties of political party, looking for no reward from either side, but ready to support any Minister who would carry out their views.

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