Corn Laws

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The Corn Laws were import tariffs designed to protect corn prices in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland against competition from less expensive foreign imports between 1815 and 1846.[1] The tariffs were introduced by the Importation Act 1815 (55 Geo. 3 c. 26) and repealed by the Importation Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict. c. 22). These laws are often viewed as examples of British mercantilism,[2] and their abolition marked a significant step towards free trade. The Corn Laws enhanced the profits and political power associated with land ownership.

In England, the term corn means "wheat" and in Scotland "corn" means "oats."

Contents

Origins

In 1813, a House of Commons Committee recommended excluding foreign-grown corn until domestically grown corn reached £4 (2010: £202.25) per quarter (1 quarter = 28 lb / 12.7 kg). The political economist Thomas Malthus believed this to be a fair price, and that it would be dangerous for Britain to rely on imported corn as lower prices would reduce labourers' wages, and manufacturers would lose out due to the fall in purchasing power of landlords and farmers.[3] However David Ricardo believed in free trade so Britain could use its capital and population to her comparative advantage.[3] With the advent of peace in 1814, corn prices dropped, and the Tory government of Lord Liverpool passed the 1815 Corn Law. This led to serious rioting in London[4] and - alongside the issue of suffrage - the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester.[citation needed]

This foreshadowed a growing tide of radicalism which was repressed by such measures as the Six Acts.[citation needed]

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