I remember watching Winston Churchill’s funeral on television. It happened 50 years ago this month—he died on January 24, 1965—and I was a boy of 12.
I have a vivid memory of his funeral casket, draped in the Union Jack, as it proceeded through London. I knew only a little about Churchill at the time, but I could tell from the pomp and circumstance that he was a great man.
Since then, I’ve become a student of Churchill. I’ve learned that Churchill was a brilliant statesman, a remarkable wordsmith, and a hero of freedom. I’ve read books by him (the four-volume “History of the English-Speaking Peoples,” for instance) as well as books about him (my favorite is “The Last Lion,” a three-volume biography by William Manchester and Paul Reid).
The 50th anniversary of his death is now serving as the occasion for countless commemorations, from museum exhibitions to academic conferences.
In my opinion, the best thing we can do to honor his memory, however, is to finish the ongoing trade talks between the United States and the European Union and approve a robust free-trade agreement that links our North Atlantic economies.
That’s because Churchill was a champion of free trade. We don’t always think of him this way. When we consider Churchill, our minds turn to the Second World War, the great speeches, and the stub of a cigar projecting from a cherubic face.
Yet as Boris Johnson reminds us in “The Churchill Factor,” a new biography, Churchill “was a free trader more or less without deviation.”
As a young parliamentarian, the future prime minister cared about free trade so much that he even switched political parties, quitting the Tories to become a Liberal. He “crossed the floor,” as they call it in Great Britain.
This was in 1904, long before Churchill became a household name. The Tories had abandoned their traditional support for free trade and embraced protectionism. Eventually, Churchill crossed back, rejoining to the Tories in 1924—but only after his former colleagues decided to favor free trade once more.
As a politician, Churchill knew how to compromise, but he was also a man of principle, especially on the issue of free trade. He didn’t leave his political parties as much as his political parties left him.
In a 1905 essay, “Why I am a Free Trader,” Churchill explained his views.
Free trade, he said, improves economic prosperity and abundant food: “We say that every Englishman shall have the right to buy whatever he wants, wherever he chooses, at his own good pleasure, without restriction or discouragement from the State,” he wrote. “The harvests of the world are at our disposal, and by the system which averages climactic risks we secure not merely a low, but a fairly stable price.”
Free trade also encourages peace: “The dangers which threaten the tranquility of the modern world come not from those Powers that become interdependent upon others; they come from those Powers which are more or less detached, which stand more or less aloof from the general intercourse of mankind.”
Finally, free trade guards against political corruption. Under protectionism, Churchill warned, “Every dirty little monopolist in the island will have his own ‘society’ to push his special trade; and for each and all the watchword will be, ‘Scratch my back,’ and the countersign, ‘I’ll scratch yours.’”
“To say that Protection means greater development of wealth is unspeakable humbug,” he added.
As the trade diplomats of the United States and Europe work toward a big trade pact called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), they should recall what Churchill said, over and over again: Trade agreements promote prosperity, peace, and clean politics.
Trade talks can be tough, dragging on for years, seemingly without end, especially as they take up hard subjects, such as agriculture.
Yet Churchill taught us how to confront difficult challenges: Never surrender.
Perhaps the most fitting way to exalt Churchill half a century since his passing is not just to approve TTIP, but to change its name from an alphabet-soup title that only a bureaucrat could love into something more inspirational.
Let’s call it the “Churchill Accords,” and let’s get it done this year.
Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed. Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).