Cobbett's America.

By William Corbett

Printed: 1985

Publisher: Folio Society. London

Edition: first edition

Dimensions 18 × 24 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 18 x 24 x 3

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in a fitted box. Navy cloth spine with gilt decoration and title. Beige boards with blue book information on both boards.

It is the intent of F.B.A. to provide an in-depth photographic presentation of this book offered so to almost stimulate your feel and touch on the book. If requested, more traditional book descriptions are immediately available.

William Cobbett (9 March 1763 – 18 June 1835) was an English pamphleteer, journalist, Member of Parliament and farmer born in Farnham, Surrey, one of a popular agrarian faction seeking to reform Parliament, abolish “rotten boroughs”, restrain foreign activity and raise wages, to bring peace and ease poverty among farm labourers and smallholders. He backed lower taxes, saving, reversing commons enclosures and resisting the 1821 gold standard. He sought an end to borough-mongers, sinecurists and bureaucratic “tax-eaters” and stockbrokers, and to Jews in Britain, whom he typecast in a similar way. Early in life he was a soldier and devotee of king and country, but his later radicalism furthered the Reform Act 1832 and gain him one of two seats in Parliament for a new borough of Oldham. He urged Catholic emancipation. He saw British agriculture and other economic output geographically. His polemics range from political reform to religion. His best known book is Rural Rides (1830, in print). He argued against Malthusianism, saying economic betterment could support global population growth.

Cobbett had developed an animosity towards some corrupt officers and gathered evidence on the matter while in New Brunswick, but his charges against them were ignored. He wrote The Soldier’s Friend (1792), protesting against the low pay and harsh treatment of enlisted men in the British army.  Sensing that he was about to be indicted in retribution, he fled to France in March 1792 to avoid imprisonment. Cobbett had intended to stay a year to learn the French language, but he found the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars in progress, and so he sailed for the United States in September 1792.

In 1795 Cobbett wrote A Bone to Gnaw for the Democrats, which attacked the pro-French Democratic Party. He replied to his critics with A Kick for a Bite, which was his first work to be published under the pseudonym “Peter Porcupine” (a reviewer had compared him to a porcupine, which pleased him). He took the side of the Federalists, who were led by Alexander Hamilton, because they were more friendly to Britain than the pro-French Democrats led by Thomas Jefferson.

In January 1796 he began a monthly tract, The Censor. This was discontinued after eight numbers and replaced by Porcupine’s Gazette, a daily newspaper which ran from March 1797 until the end of 1799. Talleyrand, at the time a French spy in America, failed to bribe Cobbett to join the French cause.

Cobbett opened a bookstore in Philadelphia in July 1796. He adorned its shop-window with a large portrait of George III and its interior with a huge painting of “Lord Howe’s Decisive Victory over the French”. This provocative display attracted considerable publicity and made him famous in America. He reprinted and published much of the violent loyalist literature then current, including George Chalmers’s hostile biography of Thomas Paine.

After Spain entered into an alliance with France against Britain, Cobbett attacked the Spanish King in Porcupine’s Gazette. The Spanish Minister in Philadelphia asked the United States government to prosecute Cobbett for libel on the Spanish King and he was arrested on 18 November 1797. He was tried in the State Court of Pennsylvania by Chief Justice Thomas McKean (who was also the Spanish Minister’s father-in-law). Despite McKean’s criticism of Cobbett in his summing up, the grand jury threw out the bill against him by a one-vote majority.

Cobbett also campaigned against the physician and abolitionist Benjamin Rush, whose advocacy of bleeding during the yellow fever epidemic may have caused many deaths. Rush won a libel suit against Cobbett, who never fully paid the $8,000 judgement, but instead fled to New York and during 1800 via Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Falmouth, Cornwall.

The British government was grateful to Cobbett for supporting Britain’s interests in America: the Duke of Kent hailed him as “this great British patriot”; the British representative in America, Robert Liston, offered him a “great pecuniary reward” (which he turned down), and the Secretary at War, William Windham, said that Cobbett deserved a statue of gold for the services he had rendered to Britain in America.

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