HOME

TheInfoList




The Corn Laws were
tariff A tariff is a tax A tax is a compulsory financial charge or some other type of levy imposed on a taxpayer (an individual or legal entity In law Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated el ...
s and other
trade restriction A trade restriction is an artificial restriction on the trade Trade involves the transfer of goods from one person or entity to another, often in exchange for money. Economists refer to a system A system is a group of Interaction, int ...
s on imported food and
corn Maize ( ; ''Zea mays'' subsp. ''mays'', from es, maíz after tnq, mahiz), also known as corn (North American English, North American and Australian English), is a cereal grain first domesticated by indigenous peoples of the Americas, indige ...

corn
enforced in the
United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer to use Britain as shorth ...

United Kingdom
between 1815 and 1846. The word ''corn'' in
British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety that has undergone substantial codification of grammar and usage and is employed by a populatio ...
denotes all cereal grains, including
wheat Wheat is a grass widely cultivated for its seed, a cereal grain which is a worldwide staple food. The many species of wheat together make up the genus ''Triticum''; the most widely grown is common wheat Common wheat (''Triticum aestivum'' ...

wheat
,
oat The oat (''Avena sativa''), sometimes called the common oat, is a of grown for its seed, which is known by the same name (usually in the plural, unlike other cereals and ). While oats are suitable for human consumption as and , one of the m ...
s and
barley Barley (''Hordeum vulgare''), a member of the grass family Poaceae () or Gramineae () is a large and nearly ubiquitous family In human society, family (from la, familia) is a group of people related either by consanguinity (by recogn ...

barley
. They were designed to keep corn prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British
mercantilism Mercantilism is an economic policy The economic policy of governments covers the systems for setting levels of taxation, government budgets, the money supply and interest rates as well as the labour market, nationalization, national owner ...

mercantilism
. The Corn Laws blocked the import of cheap corn, initially by simply forbidding importation below a set price, and later by imposing steep import duties, making it too expensive to import it from abroad, even when food supplies were short. The Corn Laws enhanced the profits and political power associated with
land ownership In common law systems, land tenure is the legal regime in which land is owned by an individual, who is said to "hold" the land. It determines who can use land, for how long and under what conditions. Tenure may be based both on official laws and ...
. The laws raised
food prices Food prices refer to the average price level for food across countries, regions and on a global scale. Food prices have an impact on producers and consumers of food. Price levels depend on the Food industry, food production process, including f ...
and the costs of living for the British public, and hampered the growth of other British economic sectors, such as manufacturing, by reducing the disposable income of the British public. The laws became the focus of opposition from urban groups who had far less political power than rural areas. The first two years of the Great Famine in Ireland of 1845–1852 forced a resolution because of the urgent need for new food supplies. The Prime Minister,
Sir Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was a British Conservative Conservatism is an aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste (socio ...

Sir Robert Peel
, a
Conservative Conservatism is an aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste (sociology), taste, as well as the philosophy of art (its own area of philosophy that comes out of aest ...
, achieved repeal with the support of the Whigs in Parliament, overcoming the opposition of most of his own party. Economic historians see the repeal of the Corn Laws as a decisive shift toward
free trade Free trade is a trade policy A commercial policy (also referred to as a trade policy or international trade policy) is a government's policy governing international trade International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and service ...
in Britain. The repeal of the Corn Laws benefitted the bottom 90% of income earners in the United Kingdom economically, while causing income losses for the top 10% of income earners.


Origins

As a staple of life, as well as an important commodity of trade, corn and its traffic was long the subject of debate and of government regulation – the Tudors legislating against speculating in corn, and the Stuarts introducing import and export controls. Import had been regulated as early as 1670; and in 1689 traders were provided bounties for exporting
rye Rye (''Secale cereale'') is a grass Poaceae () or Gramineae () is a large and nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants known as grasses. It includes the cereal grasses, bamboo Bamboos are a diverse group of ev ...

rye
,
malt Malt is germinated cereal grain that has been dried in a process known as "malting Malting is a process of steeping Steeping is the soaking of an organic solid, such as leaves, in a liquid (usually water) to extract flavours or to soft ...
and
wheat Wheat is a grass widely cultivated for its seed, a cereal grain which is a worldwide staple food. The many species of wheat together make up the genus ''Triticum''; the most widely grown is common wheat Common wheat (''Triticum aestivum'' ...

wheat
(all classified as corn at the time, the same commodities being taxed when imported into England). In 1773, "An act to regulate the importation and exportation of corn" (13 Geo. III, c. 43) repealed Elizabethan controls on grain speculation; but also shut off exports and allowed imports when the price was above 48
shilling The shilling is a historical coin, and the name of a unit of modern currencies A currency, "in circulation", from la, currens, -entis, literally meaning "running" or "traversing" in the most specific sense is money Image:National-D ...
s per
quarter
quarter
(thus compromising to allow for interests of producers and consumers alike). The issue however remained one of public debate (by figures such as
Edmund Burke Edmund Burke (; 12 January NS.html"_;"title="New_Style.html"_;"title="/nowiki>New_Style">NS">New_Style.html"_;"title="/nowiki>New_Style">NS/nowiki>_1729_–_9_July_1797)_was_an_Anglo-Irish_Politician.html" "title="New_Style">NS.html" ;"title= ...
) into the 1790s; and amendments to the 1773 Act, favouring agricultural producers, were made in both 1791 and 1804. In 1813, a
House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house A lower house is one of two chambers Chambers may refer to: Places Canada: *Chambers Township, Ontario United States: *Chambers County, Alabama *Chambers, Arizona, an unincorporat ...
Committee recommended excluding foreign-grown corn until the price of domestically grown corn exceeded 80 shillings per quarter (8
bushel A bushel (abbreviation: bsh. or bu.) is an imperial Imperial is that which relates to an empire, emperor, or imperialism. Imperial or The Imperial may also refer to: Places United States * Imperial, California * Imperial, Missouri * Imperi ...
s), or the equivalent in 2004 prices of around £1,102 per
tonne The tonne ( or ; symbol: t) is a metric unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilogram The kilogram (also kilogramme) is the base unit of mass Mass is the physical quantity, quantity of ''matter'' in a physical body. It is also a meas ...
of wheat. The political economist
Thomas Malthus Thomas Robert Malthus (; 13/14 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) was an English cleric Clergy are formal leaders within established religion Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, be ...

Thomas Malthus
believed this to be a
fair price In accounting Accounting or Accountancy is the measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attributes of an object or event, which can be used to compar ...
, and that it would be dangerous for Britain to rely on imported corn because lower prices would reduce labourers'
wages A wage is the distribution from an employer Employment is the relationship between two party (law), parties, usually based on a employment contract, contract where work is paid for, where one party, which may be a corporation, for profi ...
, and manufacturers would lose out due to the decrease of purchasing power of landlords and farmers. With the advent of peace when the
Napoleonic Wars The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major World war, global conflicts pitting the First French Empire, French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon, Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of Coalition forces of the Napoleonic W ...
ended in 1815, corn prices decreased, and the
Tory A Tory () is a person who holds a political philosophy Political philosophy or political theory is the philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, existence, ...
government of
Lord Liverpool Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, (7 June 1770 – 4 December 1828) was a British Tory The Tories were a political faction Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in gro ...
passed the 1815 Corn Law (officially ''An Act to amend the Laws now in force for regulating the Importation of Corn'', or the Importation Act 1815, 55 Geo. III c. 26) to keep bread prices high. This resulted in serious rioting in London. In 1816, the Year Without a Summer (caused by the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia) caused famine by disastrously reducing crop yields. Reduced standard of living and food shortages due to poor harvests led to riots. But the ceiling price of 80 shillings a quarter for domestic grain was so high that, between 1815 and 1848, it was never reached.
David Ricardo David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823) was a British political economist, one of the most influential of the classical economists along with Thomas Malthus Thomas Robert Malthus (; 13/14 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) w ...

David Ricardo
, however, espoused
free trade Free trade is a trade policy A commercial policy (also referred to as a trade policy or international trade policy) is a government's policy governing international trade International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and service ...
so that Britain could use its capital and population to its
comparative advantage In an economic model In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics) ...

comparative advantage
.


Opposition

In 1820, the Merchants' Petition, written by
Thomas Tooke Thomas Tooke (; 28 February 177426 February 1858) was an English economist known for writing on money and economic statistics. After Tooke's death the Royal Statistical Society, Statistical Society endowed the Tooke Chair of economics at King's C ...

Thomas Tooke
, was presented to the House of Commons. The petition demanded free trade and an end to protective tariffs. The Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, who claimed to be in favour of free trade, blocked the petition. He argued, speciously, that complicated restrictions made it difficult to repeal protectionist laws. He added, though, that he believed Britain's economic dominance grew in spite of, not because of, the protectionist system. In 1821, the
President of the Board of Trade The president of the Board of Trade is head of the Board of Trade The Board of Trade is a British government body concerned with commerce and industry, currently within the Department for International Trade. Its full title is The Lords of the C ...
,
William Huskisson William Huskisson (11 March 177015 September 1830) was a British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** ...

William Huskisson
, composed a Commons Committee report which recommended a return to the "practically free" trade of the pre-1815 years. The Importation Act 1822 decreed that corn could be imported when the price of domestically harvested corn rose to 80/- (£4) per quarter but that the import of corn would again be prohibited when the price fell to 70/- per quarter. After this Act was passed, the corn price never rose to 80/- until 1828. In 1827, the landlords rejected Huskisson's proposals for a sliding scale, and during the next year Huskisson and the new
Prime Minister A prime minister or a premier is the head of the cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transpa ...
, the
Duke of Wellington Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852) was an Anglo-Irish people, Anglo-Irish soldier and Tories (British political party), Tory statesman who was one of the leading military and political fi ...

Duke of Wellington
, devised a new sliding scale for the Importation of Corn Act 1828 whereby, when domestic corn was 52/- ( £2/12/0) per quarter or less, the duty would be 34/8 (£1/14/8), and when the price increased to 73/- (£3/13/0), the duty decreased to one shilling. The
Whig Whig or Whigs may refer to: Parties and factions In the British Isles * A pejorative nickname for the Kirk Party The Kirk Party were a radical Presbyterian faction of the Scotland, Scottish Covenanters during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. ...
governments, in power for most of the years between 1830 and 1841, decided not to repeal the Corn Laws. However the Liberal Whig MP
Charles Pelham Villiers Charles Pelham Villiers (3 January 1802 – 16 January 1898) was a British lawyer and politician from the aristocratic Villiers family. He sat in the House of Commons The House of Commons is the name for the elected lower house of the bicamera ...
proposed motions for repeal in the House of Commons every year from 1837 to 1845. In 1842, the majority against repeal was 303; by 1845 this had fallen to 132. Although he had spoken against repeal until 1845,
Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was a British Conservative Party (UK), Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834–1835 and 1841–1846) simultaneously serving as Cha ...

Robert Peel
voted in favour in 1846. In 1853, when Villiers was made a
Privy Counsellor The Privy Council of the United Kingdom, officially Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council, or known simply as the Privy Council, is a formal body of advisers to the sovereign Sovereign is a title which can be applied to the highest le ...
, ''
The Times ''The Times'' is a British Newspaper#Daily, daily Newspaper#National, national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title ''The Daily Universal Register'', adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. ''The Times'' and its s ...
'' stated that "it was Mr Charles Villiers who practically originated the Free Trade movement." In 1838, Villiers spoke at a meeting of 5,000 "working-class men" in Manchester. In 1840, under Villiers' direction, the Committee on Import Duties published a
blue book A blue book or bluebook is an almanac An almanac (also spelled ''almanack'' and ''almanach'') is an annual publicationAnnual publications, more often simply called annuals, are periodical publications appearing regularly once per year."Annuals", ...

blue book
examining the effects of the Corn Laws. Tens of thousands of copies were printed in pamphlet form by the
Anti-Corn Law League The Anti-Corn Law League was a successful political movement in Great Britain aimed at the abolition of the unpopular Corn Laws, which protected landowners’ interests by levying taxes on imported wheat, thus raising the price of bread at a time wh ...
, founded in 1838. The report was quoted in the major newspapers, reprinted in America, and published in an abridged form by ''
The Spectator ''The Spectator'' is a weekly British magazine on politics, culture, and current affairs. It was first published in July 1828, making it the oldest weekly magazine in the world. It is owned by David and Frederick Barclay, Frederick Barclay, ...
''. In the 1841 election, Sir
Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was a British Conservative Party (UK), Conservative statesman who served twice as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1834–1835 and 1841–1846) simultaneously serving as Cha ...

Robert Peel
became Prime Minister and
Richard Cobden Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was an English Radicals (UK), Radical and Liberal Party (UK), Liberal politician, manufacturing, manufacturer, and a campaigner for free trade and peace. He was associated with the Anti-Corn Law League ...

Richard Cobden
, a major proponent of free trade, was elected for the first time. Peel had studied the works of
Adam Smith Adam Smith ( 1723 – 17 July 1790) was a Scottish economist, philosopher as well as a moral philosopher Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and ...

Adam Smith
,
David Hume David Hume (; born David Home; 7 May 1711 NS (26 April 1711 OS) – 25 August 1776) Cranston, Maurice, and Thomas Edmund Jessop. 2020 999999 or triple nine most often refers to: * 999 (emergency telephone number) 250px, A sign on a beach ...

David Hume
and
David Ricardo David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823) was a British political economist, one of the most influential of the classical economists along with Thomas Malthus Thomas Robert Malthus (; 13/14 February 1766 – 23 December 1834) w ...

David Ricardo
, and proclaimed in 1839: "I have read all that has been written by the gravest authorities on political economy on the subject of rent, wages, taxes, tithes." He voted against repeal each year from 1837 to 1845. In 1842, in response to the Blue book published by Villiers' 1840 Committee on Import Duties, Peel offered a concession by modifying the sliding scale. He reduced the maximum duty to 20/- if the price were to fall to 51/- or less. In 1842, Peel's fellow-Conservative Monckton Milnes said, at the time of this concession, that Villiers was "the solitary
Robinson Crusoe ''Robinson Crusoe'' () is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published on 25 April 1719. The first edition credited the work's protagonist Robinson Crusoe as its author, leading many readers to believe he was a real person and the book a Travel ...
sitting on the rock of Corn Law repeal". According to historian
Asa Briggs Asa Briggs, Baron Briggs (7 May 1921 – 15 March 2016) was an English historian. He was a leading specialist on the Victorian era In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the wikt:period, period of Queen Victoria's ...
, the Anti-Corn Law League was a large, nationwide middle-class moral crusade with a Utopian vision; its leading advocate
Richard Cobden Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was an English Radicals (UK), Radical and Liberal Party (UK), Liberal politician, manufacturing, manufacturer, and a campaigner for free trade and peace. He was associated with the Anti-Corn Law League ...

Richard Cobden
promised that repeal would settle four great problems simultaneously:
First, it would guarantee the prosperity of the manufacturer by affording him outlets for his products. Second, it would relieve the
Condition of England question The "Condition of England Question" was a phrase coined by Thomas Carlyle in 1839 to describe the conditions of the English working-class during the Industrial Revolution. The division of society and the poverty of the majority began to dominate ...
by cheapening the price of food and ensuring more regular employment. Third, it would make English agriculture more efficient by stimulating demand for its products in urban and industrial areas. Fourth, it would introduce through mutually advantageous international trade a new era of international fellowship and peace. The only barrier to these four beneficent solutions was the ignorant self-interest of the landlords, the "bread-taxing oligarchy, unprincipled, unfeeling, rapacious and plundering."
The landlords claimed that manufacturers like Cobden wanted cheap food so that they could reduce wages and thus maximise their profits, an opinion shared by socialist
Chartists Chartism was a working-class male suffrage movement for political reform in Britain that existed from 1838 to 1857. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement, with particular strongholds of support ...
.
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
said: "The campaign for the abolition of the Corn Laws had begun and the workers' help was needed. The advocates of repeal therefore promised, not only a Big Loaf (which was to be doubled in size) but also the passing of the Ten Hours Bill" (to reduce working hours). The Anti-Corn Law League was agitating peacefully for repeal. They funded writers like William Cooke Taylor to travel the manufacturing regions of northern England to research their cause.''The Gentleman's Magazine'', 1850, pp. 94–6. Taylor published a number of books as an Anti-Corn Law propagandist, most notably, ''The Natural History of Society'' (1841), ''Notes of a tour in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire'' (1842), and ''Factories and the Factory System'' (1844). Cobden and the rest of the Anti-Corn Law League believed that cheap food meant greater real wages and Cobden praised a speech by a working man who said:
When provisions are high, the people have so much to pay for them that they have little or nothing left to buy clothes with; and when they have little to buy clothes with, there are few clothes sold; and when there are few clothes sold, there are too many to sell, they are very cheap; and when they are very cheap, there cannot be much paid for making them: and that, consequently, the manufacturing working man's wages are reduced, the mills are shut up, business is ruined, and general distress is spread through the country. But when, as now, the working man has the said 25''s'' left in his pocket, he buys more clothing with it (ay, and other articles of comfort too), and that increases the demand for them, and the greater the demand ... makes them rise in price, and the rising price enables the working man to get higher wages and the masters better profits. This, therefore, is the way I prove that high provisions make lower wages, and cheap provisions make higher wages.
The magazine ''
The Economist ''The Economist'' is an international weekly newspaper A weekly newspaper is a general-news or current affairsCurrent affairs may refer to: Media * Current Affairs (magazine), ''Current Affairs'' (magazine), a bimonthly magazine of cult ...
'' was founded in September 1843 by politician
James WilsonJames Wilson may refer to: Politicians and government officials Canada *James Wilson (Upper Canada politician) (1770–1847), English-born farmer and political figure in Upper Canada *James Crocket Wilson (1841–1899), Canadian MP from Quebec ...
with help from the Anti-Corn Law League; his son-in-law
Walter Bagehot Walter Bagehot ( ; 3 February 1826 – 24 March 1877) was a British journalist, businessman, and essayist, who wrote extensively about government, economics, literature and race. He is known for co-founding the ''National Review ''Nati ...

Walter Bagehot
later became its editor.


Prelude to repeal

In February 1844, the
Duke of Richmond Duke of Richmond is a title in the Peerage of England The Peerage of England comprises all peerages created in the Kingdom of England before the Act of Union 1707, Act of Union in 1707. In that year, the Peerages of England and Peerage o ...
initiated the Central Agricultural Protection Society (CAPS, commonly known as the "Anti-League") to campaign in favour of the Corn Laws. In 1844, the agitation subsided as there were fruitful harvests. The situation changed in late 1845 with poor harvests and the Great Famine in Ireland; Britain experienced scarcity and Ireland starvation. Nevertheless, Ireland continued to export substantial quantities of food to Great Britain despite its domestic privations. The problem in Ireland was not lack of food, but the price of it, which was beyond the reach of the poor. Peel argued in
Cabinet Cabinet or The Cabinet may refer to: Furniture * Cabinetry, a box-shaped piece of furniture with doors and/or drawers * Display cabinet, a piece of furniture with one or more transparent glass sheets or transparent polycarbonate sheets * Filing ...
that tariffs on grain should be rescinded by
Order in Council An Order in Council is a type of legislation in many countries, especially the Commonwealth realm A Commonwealth realm is a sovereign state that has Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state. Each realm functions as an independent state, ...
until
Parliament In modern politics and history, a parliament is a legislative A legislature is an assembly Assembly may refer to: Organisations and meetings * Deliberative assembly A deliberative assembly is a gathering of members (of any kind of ...
assembled to repeal the Corn Laws. His colleagues resisted this. On 22 November 1845 the
Whig Whig or Whigs may refer to: Parties and factions In the British Isles * A pejorative nickname for the Kirk Party The Kirk Party were a radical Presbyterian faction of the Scotland, Scottish Covenanters during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. ...
Leader of the Opposition The leader of the opposition is a title traditionally held by the leader of the Opposition (parliamentary), largest party not in government in a parliamentary democracy. The leader of the opposition is seen as the alternative prime minister, premi ...
Lord John Russell John Russell, 1st Earl Russell, (18 August 1792 – 28 May 1878), known by his courtesy title Courtesy (from the word ''courteis'', from the 12th century) is gentle politeness and courtly manners. In the Middle Ages In the his ...

Lord John Russell
announced in an open letter to the electors in the
City of London The City of London is a city A city is a large .Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2nd edition. London: Routledge. It ...
his support for immediate Corn Law repeal and called upon the government to take urgent action to avert famine.Morley, p. 344. The appearance of Russell's letter spurred Peel and the free-traders in his cabinet to press ahead with repeal measures over the objections of their protectionist colleagues. On 4 December 1845, an announcement appeared in ''
The Times ''The Times'' is a British Newspaper#Daily, daily Newspaper#National, national newspaper based in London. It began in 1785 under the title ''The Daily Universal Register'', adopting its current name on 1 January 1788. ''The Times'' and its s ...
'' that the government had decided to recall Parliament in January 1846 to repeal the Corn Laws.
Lord Stanley
Lord Stanley
resigned from the Cabinet in protest. It quickly became clear to Peel that he would not be able to bring most of his own his party with him in support of repeal and so on 11 December he resigned as Prime Minister in frustration. The
Queen Queen may refer to: Monarchy * Queen regnant, a female monarch of a Kingdom ** List of queens regnant * Queen consort, the wife of a reigning king * Queen dowager, the widow of a king * Queen mother, a queen dowager who is the mother of a reigni ...

Queen
sent for Russell to form a government but, with the Whigs a minority in the Commons, he struggled to assemble the necessary support. Russell offered Cobden the post of
Vice-President of the Board of Trade The office of Deputy President of the Board of Trade, previously Vice-President of the Board of Trade, is a junior ministerial position in the government of the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, comm ...
but he refused, preferring to remain an advocate of free trade outside the government. On 21 December Russell informed the Queen that he was unable to accept office. Later that same day Peel agreed to carry on as Prime Minister but, with the majority of his own party opposing his proposals, he was now dependent on the backing of the Whigs to carry repeal. After Parliament was recalled the CAPS started a campaign of resistance. In the rural
counties A county is a geographical region of a country used for administrative or other purposes Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
the CAPS was practically supplanting the local Conservative associations and in many areas the independent free holding farmers were resisting the most fiercely.


Repeal

In 1845 and 1846, the first two years of Great Famine in Ireland, there was a disastrous fall in food supplies. Prime Minister Peel called for repeal despite the opposition of most of his Conservative Party. The Anti-Corn Law League played a minor role in the passage of legislation—it had paved the way through its agitation but was now on the sidelines. On 27 January 1846, Peel gave his government's plan. He said that the Corn Laws would be abolished on 1 February 1849 after three years of gradual reductions of the tariff, leaving only a 1 shilling duty per quarter.
Benjamin Disraeli Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, (21 December 1804 – 19 April 1881), was twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom The prime minister of the United Kingdom is the head of government The head of government ...
and
Lord George Bentinck Lord William George Frederick Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck (27 February 180221 September 1848), better known as Lord George Bentinck, was an English Conservative Party (UK), Conservative politician and racehorse owner, noted for his role (with Benja ...

Lord George Bentinck
emerged as the most forceful opponents of repeal in Parliamentary debates, arguing that repeal would weaken landowners socially and politically and therefore destroy the "territorial constitution" of Britain by empowering commercial interests. On the
third reading A reading of a Bill Bill(s) may refer to: Common meanings * Banknote A banknote (often known as a bill (in the US and Canada), paper money, or simply a note) is a type of negotiable instrument, negotiable promissory note, made by a bank or ...
of Peel's Bill of Repeal (Importation Act 1846) on 15 May,
Members of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the people who live in their constituency An electoral district, also known as an election district, legislative district, voting district, constituency, riding, ward, division, (election) ...
(MPs) voted 327 votes to 229 (a majority of 98) to repeal the Corn Laws. On 25 June the Duke of Wellington persuaded the
House of Lords The House of Lords, formally The Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the of the . Membership is by , or . Like the , it meets in the . ar ...

House of Lords
to pass it. On that same night Peel's
Irish Coercion Bill A Coercion Act was an Act of Parliament Acts of parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the Legislature, legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries, acts of pa ...
was defeated in the Commons by 292 to 219 by "a combination of Whigs, Radicals, and Tory protectionists." The latter defeat forced Peel to resign as Prime Minister. In his resignation speech he attributed the success of repeal to Cobden:
In reference to our proposing these measures, I have no wish to rob any person of the credit which is justly due to him for them. But I may say that neither the gentlemen sitting on the benches opposite, nor myself, nor the gentlemen sitting round me—I say that neither of us are the parties who are strictly entitled to the merit. There has been a combination of parties, and that combination of parties together with the influence of the Government, has led to the ultimate success of the measures. But, Sir, there is a name which ought to be associated with the success of these measures: it is not the name of the noble Lord, the member for London, neither is it my name. Sir, the name which ought to be, and which will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of a man who, acting, I believe, from pure and disinterested motives, has advocated their cause with untiring energy, and by appeals to reason, expressed by an eloquence, the more to be admired because it was unaffected and unadorned—the name which ought to be and will be associated with the success of these measures is the name of
Richard Cobden Richard Cobden (3 June 1804 – 2 April 1865) was an English Radicals (UK), Radical and Liberal Party (UK), Liberal politician, manufacturing, manufacturer, and a campaigner for free trade and peace. He was associated with the Anti-Corn Law League ...

Richard Cobden
. Without scruple, Sir, I attribute the success of these measures to him.
As a result, the Conservative Party divided and the Whigs formed a government with Russell as PM. Those Conservatives who were loyal to Peel were known as the
Peelite The Peelites were a breakaway dissident political faction of the British Conservative Party from 1846 to 1859. Initially led by Robert Peel Sir Robert Peel, 2nd Baronet, (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was twice Prime Minister of the Uni ...
s and included the
Earl of Aberdeen Earl () is a rank of the nobility in Britain. The title originates in the Old English word ''eorl'', meaning "a man of noble birth or rank". The word is cognate with the Scandinavia Scandinavia, Sami languages, Sami: ''Skadesi-suolu''/''S ...
and
William Ewart Gladstone William Ewart Gladstone (; 29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British statesman and Liberal Liberal or liberalism may refer to: Politics *a supporter of liberalism, a political and moral philosophy **Liberalism by country *an ...

William Ewart Gladstone
. In 1859, the Peelites merged with the Whigs and the Radicals to form the
Liberal Party The Liberal Party is any of many political parties A political party is an organization that coordinates candidates to compete in a particular country's elections. It is common for the members of a party to hold similar ideas about politics, ...
. Disraeli became overall Conservative leader in 1868, although, when Prime Minister, he did not attempt to reintroduce protectionism.


Motivations

Scholars have advanced several explanations to resolve the puzzle of why Peel made the seemingly irrational decision to sacrifice his government to repeal the Corn Laws, a policy which he had long opposed. Lusztig (1995) argues that his actions were sensible when considered in the context of his concern for preserving aristocratic government and a limited franchise in the face of threats from popular unrest. Peel was concerned primarily with preserving the institutions of government, and he considered reform as an occasional necessary evil to preclude the possibility of much more radical or tumultuous actions. He acted to check the expansion of democracy by ameliorating conditions which could provoke democratic agitation. He also took care to ensure that the concessions would represent no threat to the British constitution. According to
Dartmouth College Dartmouth College ( ) is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an absence of nearly t ...
economic historian Douglas Irwin, Peel was influenced by economic ideas in his shift from protectionism to free trade in agriculture: "Economic ideas, and not the pressure of interests, were central to Peel's conversion to favor repeal of the Corn Laws."


Effects of repeal

The price of wheat during the two decades after 1850 averaged 52 shillings a quarter.
Llewellyn WoodwardSir (Ernest) Llewellyn Woodward (1890–1971) was a British historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studies and writes ab ...
argued that the high duty of corn mattered little because when British agriculture suffered from bad harvests, this was also true for foreign harvests and so the price of imported corn without the duty would not have been lower. However, the threat to British agriculture came about twenty-five years after repeal due to the development of cheaper shipping (both sail and steam), faster and thus cheaper transport by rail and steamboat, and the modernisation of agricultural machinery. The
prairie Wheatfield intersection in the Southern Saskatchewan prairies, Canada. Prairies are ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interact ...
farms of North America were thus able to export vast quantities of cheap grain, as were peasant farms in the
Russian Empire The Russian Empire, . commonly referred to as Imperial Russia, was a historical empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, succeeding the Tsardom of Russia following the Treaty of Nystad that ended the Great Northern War. ...
with simpler methods but cheaper labour. Every wheat-growing country decided to increase tariffs in reaction to this, except Britain and
Belgium Belgium ( nl, België ; french: Belgique ; german: Belgien ), officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in Western Europe Western Europe is the western region of Europe. The region's countries and territories vary depending on cont ...

Belgium
. In 1877, the price of British-grown wheat averaged 56 shillings and 9 pence a quarter and for the rest of the nineteenth century it never reached within 10 shillings of that figure. In 1878 the price fell to 46 shillings and 5 pence. In 1886, the wheat price decreased to 31 shillings a quarter. By 1885, wheat-growing land declined by a million acres (4,000 km²) (28½%) and the barley area had dwindled greatly also. Britain's dependence on imported grain during the 1830s was 2%; during the 1860s it was 24%; during the 1880s it was 45%, (for wheat alone during the 1880s it was 65%.). The 1881
census A census is the procedure of systematically calculating, acquiring and recording information Information is processed, organised and structured data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In ...
showed a decline of 92,250 in agricultural labourers in the ten years since 1871, with an increase of 53,496 urban labourers. Many of these had previously been farm workers who migrated to the cities to find employment, despite agricultural labourers' wages being higher than those of Europe. Agriculture's contribution to the national income was about 17% in 1871; by 1911 it was less than 7%.
Robert EnsorSir Robert Charles Kirkwood Ensor (16 October 1877 – 4 December 1958) was a British writer, poet, journalist, liberal intellectual and historian. He is best known for ''England: 1870-1914'' (1936), a volume in the ''Oxford History of England The ...
wrote that these years witnessed the ruin of British agriculture, "which till then had almost as conspicuously led the world, nd whichwas thrown overboard in a storm like an unwanted cargo" due to "the sudden and overwhelming invasion...by American prairie-wheat in the late seventies." Previously, agriculture had employed more people in Britain than any other industry and until 1880 it "retained a kind of headship," with its technology far ahead of most European farming, its cattle breeds superior, its cropping the most scientific and its yields the highest, with high wages leading to higher standard of living for agricultural workers than in comparable European countries. However, after 1877 wages declined and "farmers themselves sank into ever increasing embarrassments; bankruptcies and auctions followed each other; the countryside lost its most respected figures," with those who tended the land with greatest pride and conscience suffering most as the only chance of survival came in lowering standards. "For twenty years," Ensor claimed, "the only chance for any young or enterprising person on the countryside was to get out of it." The decline of agriculture also led to a fall in rural rents, especially in areas with arable land. Consequently, landowners, who until 1880 had been the richest class in the nation, were dethroned from this position. After they lost their economic leadership, the loss of their political leadership followed. The Prime Minister at the time, Disraeli, had once been a staunch upholder of the Corn Laws and had predicted ruin for agriculture if they were repealed. However, unlike most other European governments, his government did not revive tariffs on imported cereals to save their farms and farmers. Despite calls from landowners to reintroduce the Corn Laws, Disraeli responded by saying that the issue was settled and that protection was impracticable. Ensor said that the difference between Britain and the Continent was due to the latter having conscription; rural men were thought to be the best suited as soldiers. But for Britain, with no conscript army, this did not apply. He also said that Britain staked its future on continuing to be "the workshop of the world," as the leading manufacturing nation. Robert Blake, Baron Blake, Robert Blake said that Disraeli was dissuaded from reviving protection due to the urban working class enjoying cheap imported food at a time of industrial depression and rising unemployment. Enfranchised by Disraeli in 1867, working men's votes were crucial in a general election and he did not want to antagonise them. Although proficient farmers on good lands did well, farmers with mediocre skills or marginal lands were at a disadvantage. Many moved to the cities, and unprecedented numbers emigrated. Many emigrants were small under-capitalised grain farmers who were squeezed out by low prices and inability to increase production or adapt to the more complex challenge of raising livestock. Similar patterns developed in Ireland, where cereal production was labour-intensive. The reduction of grain prices reduced the demand for agricultural labour in Ireland, and reduced the output of barley, oats, and wheat. These changes occurred at the same time that emigration was reducing the labour supply and increasing wage rates to levels too great for arable farmers to sustain. Britain's reliance on imported food led to the danger of it being starved into submission during wartime. In 1914 Britain was dependent on imports for four-fifths of her wheat and 40% of her meat. During the World War I, First World War, the Germans in their Atlantic U-boat campaign of World War I, U-boat campaign attempted to take advantage of this by sinking ships importing food into Britain, but they were eventually defeated. During the World War II, Second World War in the Battle of the Atlantic, Germany tried again to starve Britain into surrender, but again was unsuccessful.Barnett, pp. 575–576.


See also

* Canada Corn Act 1843


Notes


References


Further reading

* * Chaloner, W. H. "The Anti-Corn Law League," ''History Today'' (1968) 18#3 pp 196–204 * Clark, G. Kitson. "(1951) The Repeal of the Corn Laws and the Politics of the Forties." ''Economic History Review'' (1951) 4(1), pp. 1–13
in JSTOR
* Coleman, B. (1996) "1841–1846", in: Seldon, A. (ed.), ''How Tory Governments Fall. The Tory Party in Power since 1783'', London: Fontana, * . * Fairlie, S. “The Nineteenth-Century Corn Law Reconsidered.” ''Economic History Review'', vol. 18, no. 3, 1965, pp. 562–575
online
* Gash, Norman. (1972) ''Mr Secretary Peel: The Life of Sir Robert Peel to 1830'', pp. 562–615 * Halévy, Elie. ''Victorian years, 1841–1895'' (Vol. 4, ''A History of the English People'') (1961) pp 103–38 on repeal * Boyd Hilton, Hilton, Boyd (2008) ''A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People?: England 1783–1846'', New Oxford History of England, Oxford University Press, * Hirst, F. W. (1925) ''From Adam Smith to Philip Snowden. A history of free trade in Great Britain'', London: T. Fisher Unwin. * In Our Time podcast
IOT: The Corn Laws 24 October 13
* Lawson-Tancred, Mary. (1960) "The Anti-League and the Corn Law Crisis of 1846." ''Historical Journal'' 3#2 pp: 162–183
in JSTOR
* Morley, J. (1905) ''The Life of Richard Cobden'', 12th ed., London: T. Fisher Unwin, 985 p., republished by London: Routledge/Thoemmes (1995), * * Bernard Semmel, Semmel, B. (2004) ''The Rise of Free Trade Imperialism: classical political economy the empire of free trade and imperialism, 1750–1850'', Cambridge University Press, * * *


Primary and contemporary sources

* Bright, J. and Thorold Rogers, J.E. (eds.) [1870](1908) ''Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P.'', Vol. 1, London: T. Fisher Unwin, republished as Cobden, R. (1995), London: Routledge/Thoemmes, * * Taylor, W.C. (1841) ''Natural History of Society'', D. Appleton & Co., New York * Taylor, W.C. (1842) ''Notes of a tour in the manufacturing districts of Lancashire: in a series of letters'', London: Duncan & Malcolm. * Taylor, W.C. (1844) ''Factories and the Factory System'', Jeremiah How, London
The ''"Hungry Forties"'', an analysis of the Chrononym
*


External links



with primary sources
William Cobbett & The Corn Laws- UK Parliament- Living Heritage
{{Authority control United Kingdom Acts of Parliament 1815 United Kingdom Acts of Parliament 1846 19th century in the United Kingdom Acts of the Parliament of the United Kingdom Economic history of the United Kingdom Repealed United Kingdom Acts of Parliament History of agriculture in the United Kingdom Agriculture legislation in the United Kingdom Great Famine (Ireland) Protectionism 1815 in economics 1846 in economics