THE "famous victory" of 1846, when the Corn Laws were swept away by Sir Robert Peel, is well known. Not so their first imposition in 1815, when "young Mr. Peel" gave his vote for them. It has often been assumed that the coming of these laws was due to the apprehension of the landed classes that the end of the war was in sight, and that, with peace, would come large importations from abroad and a heavy fall in prices and rents at home -- that, in fact, as was freely said at the time, the Corn Law was carried by a combination of the landed interests against the rest of the community. An examination of the parliamentary history of 1813-1815 will show that the explanation is by no means so simple.
The usual assumption.
The Corn Law in force in 1813 was that passed in 1804. In view of the later developments, it is well to recollect that the change made in 1804, in the direction of protection, was carried on account of the panic caused by the unparalleled fall in the price of wheat, from 155/- in 1801 to under 50/- in 1804. After 1804, the "high duty" of 24/3 was payable on imports so long as the home price was under 63/-, falling to 2/6 between 63/- and 65/-, and to 6d. at and above 66/-. The old bounty of 5/- per quarter was given on exportation when the home price was at or under 48/-, and export was prohibited when at or above 54/-. As the home price ever since had been much above these figures, the import duty and the export bounty were both entirely inoperative: corn came in free, and there was no export. In 1808, as we saw, the average price of the year was 81/4; in 1809, it was 97/4; in 1810, 106/5; in 1811, 95/3; in 1812, 126/6; till August of 1813, it did not fall below 116/-. "From Michaelmas, 1808, to Michaelmas, 1813, neither the Michaelmas nor the
The Corn Law of 1804.