Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel

Sir Robert Peel,
page 6 of 7

scarcely listened to. The Hon. C. Pelham Villiers also, in 1838, moved for inquiry into the operations of the Corn Law — with a similar experience. This did not hinder him from renewing the contest on broader and bolder grounds. The people now began to move in the matter. A meeting of merchants and manufacturers was held in Manchester, in 1838, to consider how the repeal of the Corn Laws could be obtained. The public press too began to aid the cause. Mr. Archibald Prentice, the editor of the Manchester Times, and Mr. Weir of the Glasgow Argus specially distinguished themselves by writing in its favour. Ebenezer Elliot helped the cause in verse and was called the “Corn Law Rhymer.” Then there came to the front its two most distinguished advocates, Richard Cobden, a Manchester merchant, and John Bright, the Rochdale manufacturer. The agitation spread like fire. Bad times and the bitter cries of poverty made people of all ranks feel that something must be done. From being a small minority in Parliament the Anti-Corn Law advocates became a strong party. Their greatest triumph, however, was the conversion of Sir Robert Peel. In 1843, being Prime Minister, he had tried a modification of the sliding scale, but this had no good effect. Varied influences told upon him, and finally in 1846 he carried the measure which put an end to the Corn Laws in our country.

The results of the repeal are well known. Poor lands are as much cultivated as ever, and even more so. There has been no stoppage of imports by war or otherwise, nor is there likely to be. Manufacturers and shopkeepers have thriven better than previous to the repeal. Instead of falling, the rent of land of all kinds has risen, and tenants and proprietors are alike satisfied. The wealth of the country has increased enormously. The working-classes are better instead of being worse employed. In place of disorder there is general contentment. The liberation of the trade in corn has not, however, lowered the price of bread to the extent that some persons anticipated. There is an increased demand in consequence of the population increasing in numbers and improving in means. It is still contended by many that our own home-growers are placed at a great disadvantage in having to sell their grain in competition with the ever-increasing supplies poured in from other countries, most of which put a high tariff upon our goods. It has also been pointed out that our agriculturists have been under hard pressure during recent years, and that rents have been greatly reduced. There are some who advocate Fair Trade in place of Free Trade, and that we should put a protective tariff upon the grain and other goods of those countries which will not admit ours free, or at moderate rates. But most are disinclined to go back upon a measure that has promoted the comfort and welfare of the general population, and which has been followed by such a distinct advance in national prosperity. And we don’t know what the condition of Great Britain would hate been had her Corn Laws not been repealed. John Bright was in the habit of saying that but for the repeal of the Corn Laws there would have been revolution in the country before this.

Peel was blamed and forsaken by many of his followers, and praised by multitudes. Many said he subordinated conscience to the hope of retaining power, but most acknowledged that he had subordinated party feeling to conscientious conviction. There is no doubt it was ultimately the cause of his resignation, the year after, and retiral from active political life. But if he fell, it was to rise for ever in the estimation of a grateful nation that now sees and judges more accurately.


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