Cobbett: A Powerful Change

Andrew Hughes (2014)

William Cobbett was a farmer and journalist, who believed that political reform was the first step in ending the poverty of farm labourers. He was against the Corn Laws and turned from a a loyalist supporter of the  King and establishment to an outspoken radical campaigner and pamphleteer which led to the Reform Bill of 1832. Cobbett  wrote many polemics, on reform, agriculture, religion and money. He is best known for his Political Register and his Rural Rides. Cobbett attacked the ruling elite from different angles, not just by demanding political reform, but by questioning the rights of hereditary rule, the power given by land and the responsibilities, and he also questioned the benefits of pedigree and genealogy within a framework of moving social values and expectations.

William Cobbett was born on 9 March 1763 at Farnham in Surrey. He taught himself English grammar and laid the foundation of his future career as a journalist. Some argue that Cobbett was not really a radical but a deeply conservative, perhaps even reactionary. Indeed this is how one can describe is early years. This is clearly over analysing a simple change of mind and changing times. After his Damascas moment he was a radical through and through. New radical Cobbett challenged the idea of having political parties; he spoke out against the national debt, paper money and the factory system. Cobbett linked poverty to politics, a radically new evaluation at the time, stating, ‘I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach.’ Cobbett’s attack on what he called a foreign royal family on the British throne was another challenge to a regime that he despised.