Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXII
1814. THE BATTLE OF THE CORN LAWS

IN May, the debates on the proposed alteration of the Corn Laws were resumed, but in curiously altered circumstances. During the discussion of 1813, the price of wheat was 117/10 and the quartern loaf 1/6½. But, scarcely had Parliament risen, when the harvest prospects began to tell on prices, and by December, thanks to "an unusually and universally productive harvest," the price of wheat was 73/6 and the quartern loaf 11¼d. Peace had come, and the war restraints had lapsed. But, though the importation of wheat was considerable it was not excessive, and it must have become apparent to everybody that the bounty of God was likely to do more harm to the landed classes than foreign corn could do.

Resumption of debates

. To the impartial observer, it may well have appeared impossible to revive the proposals of the last year, or to defend them, when the price was 73/-, by arguments used when the price was 125/-. During the continuance of a war, when people had long known nothing else than high prices, it might have been possible to persuade an unwilling country to put up with such prices for some time longer, if the public benefit was to be great, and an ultimate fall assured. It was a very different thing to persuade men, now rejoicing in the peace and low prices, to stop the importation of foreign corn, and, when future harvests should be only average ones, to go back to the dear loaf from which they had just escaped. The argument for "independence of the foreigner," too, seemed to lose its force when three of the great powers of Europe were our close allies, and when our great enemy had, with some appearance of relief, got rid of the chief troubler of the peace, and accepted a new king who had long enjoyed our hospitality.

-- in very different circumstances

-407-

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