The role of free trade treaties in British foreign policy, 1859-1871.
British free traders of the mid-nineteenth
century brought the merchant's ledger to the aid of
diplomacy when they claimed that the promotion of unrestricted
oonnerc1al intercourse between nations was
inseparable from that of universal peace. The application
of this assumption in the conduct of British
foreign policy between 1859 and. 1871 forms the subject
of this study.
It is based upon five commercial treaties which
Britain concluded with various European countries and of
which the well-known Cobclen treaty was the first. Although
these brought about a state of virtual free trade
among the leading trading countries of western Europe,
they were, strictly speaking, contrary to Britain's
policy of free trade adopted in 1846. Therefore,
after a brief account of the free trade movement and
of the free traders' blueprint for foreign policy, the
circumstances which led. Britain to modify her post-1846
policy and. conclude the Cobden treaty are discussed in
the early part of the study.
With the conclusion of that treaty, the foreign Office and the Board of Trade entered a period of
intense commercial activity during which they signed
four more treaties. Their efforts were not entirely
successful and the feeling that they were ill-equipped.
for their commercial functions led to a parliamentary
inquiry and the subsequent establishment of a commercial].
division within the Foreign Office in 1865.
The era of free trade occasioned by the treaties
was short-lived; by the 1870a most European countries
had reverted to protectionism and the circumstances of
this reaction axe considered in the seventh chapter.
The idealism enshrined by the treaties stands
in sharp contrast to the Bonapartist and. Bismarokian
realism of the same decade; the grounds of this contrast
and. the influence of the treaties on British
foreign policy are discussed in the conclusion.