…is found in a letter from Frederic Bastiat to Richard Cobden (leader of the Anti-Corn Law League) dated 8 April 1845. The letter can be found on page 58 of the Liberty Fund’s collection of Bastiat’s correspondence, The Man and the Statesman (emphasis added):
Since you have permitted me to write to you, I will reply to your kind letter dates 12th December last. I have been discussing the printing of the translation [of Cobden’s speeches and pamphlets] I told you about with M. Guillaumin, a bookseller in Paris.
The book is entitled “Cobden and the League, or the Campiagn in England in Favor of Free Trade.” I have taken the liberty of using your name for the following reasons: I could not entitle this work “The Anti-Corn Law League.” Apart from the fact that this would have a barborous sound for French ears, it would have brought to mind a limited conception of the project. It would have presented the question as purely English, whereas it is a humanitarian one, the most notably so of all those which have brought campaigning to our century.
By presenting the issue of free trade as a humanitarian issue rather than a sectarian or nationalist issue, he demonstrates the universality of the principles of free trade. Many opponents of free trade like to argue that free trade is conditional. They may argue that free trade requires “transnational rule-making institutions.” Or that trade only is good if one nation (ie the nation of the speaker) benefits. Or that free trade needs to be “fair” (whatever that means). But Bastiat makes no such prerequisites. Bastiat and Cobden both argue that free trade is not an English concern, not a French concern, not an American concern, but a human concern.
The Anti-Corn Law League that Cobden was part of was founded in opposition to the Corn Laws, a series of mercantilist legislation that raised the price of food within Great Britain by restricting imports. Given this legislation occurred at the same time as the Irish Potato Famine, the Corn Law, by artificially increasing scarcity of food, likely caused many deaths in Ireland from the famine. The Corn Laws contributed to a humanitarian crisis. We are seeing similar situations going on in Puerto Rico, where scarcity is increased because of the Jones Act, and Houston and Florida where scarcity is increased because of anti-price-gouging legislation. Free trade is a humanitarian concern, not a sectarian concern.