Repeal

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Repeal

If the farmers and landlords dreaded Repeal on account of the low prices which they thought would immediately follow, the industrialists and their workers hoped for it on exactly the same grounds. For eight years these two interests waged a battle royal in the country and in Parliament. In 1889 the Anti-Corn Law League was founded in Manchester, and its orators and pamphleteers, led by Cobden and Bright, poured out an incessant stream of propaganda against the "Bread Taxes ". Gradually anti-Corn Law feeling spread and intensified, particularly in the years 1842-8, which were years of bad trade and falling wages. But the struggle might have lasted for some time longer if it had not been for the wet summer of 1845 and the conscientiousness of the Tory Prime Minister Peel. The rain rotted the Irish potato crop, and a terrible famine resulted. Peel, who had been gradually converted to a belief in Free Trade, suspended the corn duties, and determined that they should not be re-imposed. He brought down his Government on the question, to the accompaniment of a flood of invective, from his party; but in 1846 he succeeded in forming a new Cabinet and the corn Laws were finally repealed.

Estimated Effect of the Corn Laws. Over most of this transition period the Corn Laws seem to have had a psycho-logical effect and very little else. Prices remained so high that the minimum duty was the only one charged, and several times (1795-6, 1800-1, 1808) the laws were suspended and an actual bounty paid on imports to meet a really menacing shortage at home. The English farmer imagined that without the Corn Laws he would be swamped by foreign wheat; but the European supplies were small, and the complications and dislocations in trade, caused by the sliding or rather jumping scales, might as well have been avoided in the first place. Regardless of all changes in the Corn Laws and of their final repeal, the price of corn climbed steadily from 1800 to 1860, fluctuating with good and bad harvests but always a little higher in each ten-yearly average. Later on, when transport had improved so much that wheat could be brought cheaply from America, the avalanche of low-priced corn became a reality; but by that time the choice had been made and there was no return to Protection


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The Corn Laws

Up to the years of the Industrial Revolution England, with her small population and her fertile lands, was on balance an exporter of corn, both wheat and oats. But as the population began to climb even the spread of the new methods of production failed to keep pace with the demand, and accordingly we find, in the 1760's, the first signs of the country's future dependence on foreign imports. Wheat began to trickle in from France, only a little at a time and only in certain years; the movement was small, but it was significant and surprising to observers. These imports had to surmount a tariff wall... see: The Corn Laws


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