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Anti-Corn Law agitation, Britain, 19th century

Paul A. Pickering


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Formed in 1839, the Anti-Corn Law League offered “free trade” as a panacea and presented itself as the vanguard of the emerging industrial middle class, whose interests lay in ending protection and opening new markets abroad. The immediate object of the League's campaign was the repeal of the Corn and Provision Laws. A tariff barrier that was introduced ostensibly to keep the price of grain crops high following the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, the Corn Laws buttressed the political and economic power of Britain's landowning aristocracy. The opponents of the Corn Laws sought to introduce the ideas of free trade and economic liberalism into the mainstream of political discourse in Britain. The Corn Laws, they believed, were a tax on food that created demand for higher wages paid for from their profits. More importantly, they were a trade barrier that provoked foreign governments into retaliatory measures against British manufactured goods, particularly textiles. The League was responsible for major innovations in the tactics and scale of pressure group politics in Britain. Initially, public lectures formed the core of the campaign as the League expanded the boundaries of politics by employing lecturers far more systematically and extensively than any previous public movement. During 1839 the Manchester Anti-Corn Law Association sent lecturers to 300 of the “principal ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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