Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI
1816. THE DEBATES ON THE AGRICULTURAL DISTRESS

IT could scarcely have been expected that, in the very year after the agricultural interests had obtained what they had so passionately clamoured for, a new and extreme Corn Law, the chief object of parliamentary attention in the early part of the session would be the crisis in agriculture. But so it was.

The Regent's Speech, on the opening of Parliament on 1st February, somewhat disingenuously congratulated the House that the manufactures, commerce, and revenue of the United Kingdom were in a flourishing condition. The expression was at once strongly commented on. To speak of trade and revenue as flourishing, and to make no mention of the desperate condition of agriculture, was unpardonable; and Castlereagh's trust that the distress was but temporary and his reminder to the agricultural interest that, "if it had steadily prospered for the considerable number of years (as was well known it had), while other classes of the community suffered severely, it was not a matter of surprise that it should at length encounter misfortune," did not make matters better.1 It seemed as if prices would never cease to fall. They had been thought to be at their lowest in December when wheat was at 55/9; but, in January, the price was 52/6.

The great fall in grain prices.

Of the reality of the distress, there can be no doubt. "Our prosperity was gone . . . the situation at home was truly dreadful," said Lord John Russell, then making his first appearance in Parliament. "Grain was almost a drug in the market: not only was corn at the lowest price but no price could be obtained at all." "It was a well known fact that the lands of this country had been let on a calculation that a quarter of wheat would produce £5 -- the present price was 48/-. Landed

The reality of the distress.

____________________
1
Hansard, xxxii. 52.

-512-

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