The story

Anti-Corn Law League

A Corn Law was first introduced in Britain in 1804, when the landowners, who dominated Parliament, sought to protect their profits by imposing a duty on imported corn. This led to an expansion of British wheat farming and to high bread prices.

Farmers feared that when the war came to an end in 1815, the importation of foreign corn would lower prices. This fear was justified and the price of corn reached fell from 126. 6d. a quarter in 1812 to 65s. 7d. three years later. British landowners applied pressure on members of the House of Commons to take action to protect the profits of the farmers. Parliament responded by passing a law permitting the import of foreign wheat free of duty only when the domestic price reached 80 shillings per quarter (8 bushels). During the passing of this legislation, Parliament had to be defended by armed troops against a large angry crowd.

This legislation was hated by the people living in Britain's fast-growing towns who had to pay these higher bread prices. The industrial classes saw the Corn Laws as an example of how Parliament passed legislation that favoured large landowners. The manufacturers in particular was concerned that the Corn Laws would result in a demand for higher wages.

In 1828 William Huskisson sought to relieve the distress caused by the high price of bread by introducing a sliding scale of duties according to price. A trade depression in 1839 and a series of bad harvests created a great deal of anger towards the Corn Laws.

In October 1837, Joseph Hume, Francis Place and John Roebuck formed the Anti-Corn Law Association in London. The following year Richard Cobden joined with Archibald Prentice to establish a branch of this organisation in Manchester. In March 1839 Cobden was instrumental in establishing a new centralized Anti-Corn Law League. Cobden was now able to organize a national campaign in favour of reform.

Cobden was a friend of John Bright and suggested he should join the League. Bright agreed and over the next few years he toured the country giving speeches on the need to reform the Corn Laws. Bright was an outstanding orator and he drew large crowds wherever he appeared. In his speeches Bright attacked the privileged position of the landed aristocracy and argued that their selfishness was causing the working class a great deal of suffering. Bright appealed to the working and middle classes to join together in the fight for free trade and cheaper food.

In 1841 General Election the leader of the Anti-Corn Law League, Richard Cobden became the MP for Stockport. Although Cobden continued to tour the country making speeches against the Corn Laws, he was now in a position to constantly remind the British government that reform was needed.

The economic depression of 1840-1842 increased membership of the Anti-Corn Law League and Richard Cobden and John Bright spoke to very large audiences all over the country. By 1845 the League, with support from wealthy industrialists such as Peter Taylor and Samuel Courtauld, was the wealthiest and best organised political group in Britain.

The failure of the Irish potato crop in 1845 and the mass starvation that followed, forced Sir Robert Peel and his Conservative government to reconsider the wisdom of the Corn Laws. Irish nationalists such as Daniel O'Connell also became involved in the campaign. Peel was gradual won over and in January 1846 a new Corn Law was passed that reduced the duty on oats, barley and wheat to the insignificant sum of one shilling per quarter became law.

The Chairman, the same as at the former London conference, Mr. Peter Taylor, said "The cry of suffering and distress would make itself heard, and if that distress were not speedily relieved, he believed this distress would make itself heard in a voice of thunder which woulf frighten the government and the legislature from its propriety.

During the period I spent in Birmingham, John Bright was one of the three Members of Parliament for the borough. I frequently heard him in the Birmingham Town Hall. I have heard many prominent speakers in the hall, and in many other places, but never one comparable to John Bright. The plainness of his language, the unaffected simplicity of his illustrations, his power to drive home the points of his speech, in conjunction with the mellifluous vocalization of which he was master, made one feel that it was a great privilege to listen to such oratory, and to observe the orator.

Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League

These illustrations about Richard Cobden and the Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL) (1838-1846) accompany the Liberty Matters online discussion "Richard Cobden: Ideas and Strategies in Organizing the Free-Trade Movement in Britain" which was held in January 2015.

Table of Illustrations


The Corn Laws ("corn" is British English for grain) were introduced in 1815 to protect British farmers from competition from cheaper imported grain [Importation Act 1815 (55 Geo. 3 c. 26)]. Before imports would be permitted the price of British grain would have to exceed 80 shillings a quarter (480 pounds). Liberal political economists objected to the laws on the grounds that they itnerfered with the freedom to trade, forced ordinary consumers to pay higher prices than they would otherwise pay, and benefited the landowning class (in many cases aristocratic). A group of northern manufacturers and businessmen formed a lobby group, the Anti-Corn Law League, in 1838 to agitate for the repeal of the corn laws, which they succeeded in doing in June 26, 1846.

The Anti-Corn Law League (ACLL) was unusual in that for the first time modern techniques were used to attracted supporters in large numbers in order to put pressure on politicians to abolish a piece of legislation. These techniques ranged from membership drives, fund-raising activities, the collection of signatures, public meetings addressed by a body of paid professional speakers, merchandizing, as well as more traditional techniques of mass-produced cheap literature such as pamphlets. This collection of images shows how the ACLL went about its business, with a special focus on the visual dimension of their activities.

Illustration 1: Poster celebrating the Repeal in June 1846↩

Key People

Illustration 2: Portrait of Richard Cobden↩

Illustration 3: Richard Cobden (1804-1865)↩

Illustration 4: John Bright (1811-1889)↩

Cobden was a member of the British Parliament and an advocate of free trade, a non-interventionist foreign policy, peace, and parliamentary reform. He is best remembered for his activity on behalf of the Anti-Corn Law League which helped reduce British tariffs in 1846 and for negotiating the Anglo-French trade agreement of 1860.

Bright was a Quaker and a Member of Parliament who was active with Richard Cobden in opposing the Corn Laws and the war against Russia in the Crimea.

Illustration 5: Busts of Bright and Cobden↩

Illustration 6: Ebenezer Elliott (1781–1849), the "Corn Law rhymer"↩

Illustration 7: George Wilson (1808–1870)↩

Illustration 8: Thomas Perronet Thompson (1783-1869)↩

Illustration 9: Charles Pelham Villiers (1802–1898)↩

An ACLL Council Meeting

Illustration 10: A Meeting of the ACLL Council (with key)↩

Means of Propaganda

Illustration 11: Membership Cards for the National ACLL↩

Two examples of Membership Cards for the National Anti-Corn Law League:
Above: a membership card for "John Lomas", no. 1,362, which shows a poor family eating dear bread (protection) and a prosperous family eating cheap bread (free trade). They are separated by the ACLL symbol of a sheaf of wheat, beneath a banner which says "He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him."
Below: a card for "John Bailey" card holder no. 7846, which shows a starving family huddled beneath a quote from the Lord's Prayer

Illustration 12: ACLL Badge or Button↩

Illustration 13: ACLL Medallion↩

Key Texts

Illustration 14: TP of Elliott, the "Corn-Law Rhymer"↩

Illustration 15: TP of Perronet Thompson's Corn-Law Fallacies

Illustration 16: A mass produced copy of one of Cobden's Speeches in the House↩

Illustration 17: TP of a presentation copy of key ACLL literature↩

Illustration 18: First page of Peronnet Thompson's Catechism↩

Illustration 19: First page of a dialogue between a Gentleman and a Farmer↩

Illustration 20: Some of Elliott's "Corn-Law Hymns"↩

Illustration 21: Embossed cover of the ACLL Presentation copy of key literature↩

Illustration 22: Page where the recipient's name can be written↩

Illustration 23: More detailed image of embossed cover↩

Illustration 24: Illustrated ACLL envelope with accompanying poem by Horatio Smith↩

Envelopes for letters with ACLL designs on them seemed to have been very popular given the number of different kinds which exist. Cobden and other liberals had also campaigned for a cheaper and more efficient postal system in the late 1830s with the aim that the lower cost of communication would considerably assist business activity. A "Uniform Penny Post" was introduced in January 1840 which the ACLL immediately used to circulate their free trade literature. This dramatic drop in the cost of sending letters anywhere within the UK may explain why these ACLL designed envelopes were so popular. [See below for more examples.]

Horace (Horatio) Smith (1779-1849) was a poet, novelist, and successful stockbroker who became famous for his parodies of other English poets. The poem goes as follows:

Their weapons Faith, and Charity, and Hope,
Justice and Truth the champions of their cause
Firmly but peacefully they seek to cope
With erring interests and mistaken laws.

Ye who love man's advancement - peace - free trade
Ye who would blessings win from every land,
Oh! give the liberating League your aid,
And speed its course with zealous heart and hand.

Horatio Smith
June 1844.

Illustration 25: A Song calling for the "Abolition of the Corn Laws"↩

Unknown author unknown tune, dated by library 1845. First verse and chorus:

Attend a while and you shall hear,
The glorious day is drawing near,
When you may banish grief and care.
They must abolish the Corn laws
The evil we have encountered long,
Petitions to the throne does throng
The nation is excited strong.
And every class is now among,
The men of note the people's friends,
Who vowed they'd struggle until when
Monopoly was at an end,
And they's abolish the Corn Laws.

Huzza! huzza! the time is come,
Open the ports it must be done,
The landlords fine career is run,
They must abolish the Corn Laws.

Illustration 26: A large public meeting of the ACLL held at Exeter Hall, London (1846)↩

Illustration 27: A Poster urging People to "Register" their Names on a Petition to Parliament↩

Fundraising with Bazaars and Tea Parties

Illustration 28: Advertisement for an ACLL fundraising Bazaar in Manchester↩

Illustration 29: A china figurine of Cobden↩

Illustration 30: Illustration of an ACLL Bazaar (with a cartoon from Punch)↩

Illustration 31: An Invitation to an ACLL "Tea Party"↩

ACLL Merchandizing: Envelopes, Figurines

Illustration 32: Illustrated envelopes with ACLL imagery↩

Political Success: Repeal in 1846, Free Trade Treaty in 1860

Illustration 33: PM Sir Robert Peel↩

Illustration 34: Cartoon of Peel "confessing his sins" to Cobden↩

John Doyle ("H.B."), "The Confessional" (c. 1846)
[Robert Peel (left) confessing his protectioist sins to Richard Cobden (centre), figure at right unknown.]

The Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel introduced for a third and final reading before the House of Commons the Bill of Repeal (Importation Act 1846) on 15 May 1846 which was passed by 327 votes to 229 (a majority of 98). [Importation Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict. c. 22)]. It became law when the House of Lords voted for it on 25 June. The following are extracts from Peel's speeches and Mr. Villiers' closing remarks before the vote was taken:

Extracts from Peel's speeches:

Sir, I believe it is now nearly three months since I first proposed, as the organ of Her Majesty's Government, the measure which, I trust, is about to receive to-night the sanction of the House of Commons and, considering the lapse of time—considering the frequent discussions—considering the anxiety of the people of this country that these debates should be brought to a close .

Sir, I have explained more than once what were the circumstances under which I felt it my duty to take this course. I did feel in November last that there was just cause for apprehension of scarcity and famine in Ireland. I am stating what were the apprehensions I felt at that time, what were the motives from which I acted and those apprehensions, though they may be denied now, were at least shared then by those hon. Gentlemen who sit below the gangway (the protectionists). The hon. Member for Somersetshire expressly declared that at the period to which I referred he was prepared to acquiesce in the suspension of the Corn Laws. An hon. Member also, a recent addition to this House, who spoke with great ability the other night, the hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Seymer) distinctly declared that he thought I should have abandoned my duty if I had not advised that, considering the circumstances of Ireland, the restrictions on the importation of foreign corn should be temporarily removed. I may have been wrong, but my impression was, first, that my duty towards a country threatened with famine required that that which had been the ordinary remedy under all similar circumstances should be resorted to—namely, that there should be free access to the food of man from whatever quarter it might come. .

Sir, I do not rest my support of this Bill merely upon the temporary ground of scarcity in Ireland. I do not rest my support of the Bill upon that temporary scarcity but I believe that scarcity left no alternative to us but to undertake the consideration of this question and that consideration being necessary, I think that a permanent adjustment of the question is not only imperative, but the best policy for all concerned. And I repeat now that I have a firm belief that it is for the general benefit of all—for the best interests of the country, independent of the obligation imposed on us by temporary scarcity, it is for the general interests of the great body of the people that an arrangement should be made for a permanent removal of the restrictions upon the introduction of food.

A passage from the concluding speech by Mr. Villiers before the vote was taken:

. now he asked those hon. Gentlemen opposite to pause before they proclaimed themselves to the country, and transmitted their names to posterity, as having to the last endeavoured to withhold from the people the unquestionable right, the undoubted privilege and great advantage, of carrying the fruits of their industry to the highest market, and of allowing them the freest access to the bounties which Providence, through the industry of other nations, had provided for them. Let them reflect before they vote, that the law of which they are so tenacious has been discredited by all experience, denounced by every intelligent authority, and has, upon facts undisputed, because they are indisputable, been shown to have brought upon the poorest of our fellow creatures as much misery, affliction, destitution, and crime as was ever produced by any pestilence or calamity with which the country was visited. Let them pause then, he said, before they offer to the country and posterity no other or better testimony of their efforts in public life than that of endeavouring to withhold from them a great advantage, and to perpetuate on the poor an enormous wrong.

The Cobden-Chevalier Trade Treaty of 1860

Illustration 35: Bright, Cobden, Chevalier in 1860 for the signing of the Anglo-French Trade Treaty↩

Illustration 36: Page 1 of the Treaty↩

Illustration 37: Page 2 of the Treaty↩

38. Satirizing Cobden and Bright: Daumier

The Treaty of Paris of 1856 concluded the Crimean War (1854-56) between Russia and an alliance of the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, Second French Empire, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. The treaty was signed on 30 March 1856 at the Congress of Paris. While the Congress was in progress the French satirist Honoré Daumier made fun of Richard Cobden and John Bright who were the leading advocates for peace and free trade in England. Cobden lost his seat in Parliament in 1857 because of his opposition to the War Bright held his seat but was one of the very few peace MPs in the chamber. Daumier depicted Cobden as tall and lanky and had him wear load checked or tartan trousers and a hat. Bright was short and dumpy and often wore the black broad-brimmed hat of the Quakers (Bright was Quaker).

Daumier 1: Song of Jubilation (11 Feb. 1856)↩

Daumier 2: The Return of the Golden Age (12 Feb. 1856)↩

Daumier 3: Triumphal March (25 Feb. 1856)↩

Daumier 4: Cobden's Anger (9 April, 1856)↩

Daumier 5: Cobden, Bright and Gladstone only moderately happy (14 Apr. 1856)↩

Daumier 6: Cobden, Bright, and Sturges have too much leisure (18 Apr. 1856)↩

Daumier 7: Cobden, Bright, and Sturges no longer having anything to do in Europe (19 Apr. 1856)↩

Daumier 8: Cobden finding things to do in Peace time (23 Apr. 1856)↩

Daumier 9: The Three Friends of Peace wage War (28 Apr. 1856)↩

Continuing the Struggle: The Cobden Club, Jane Cobden

Cobden died in 1865. His friend Thomas Bayley Potter founded The Cobden Club in his honour in 1866 in order to continue to promote the ideals of "Peace, Free Trade and Goodwill Among Nations". The first meeting of the club was held at the Reform Club in London on 15 May 1866 and the first club dinner meeting was held on 21 July 1866 at the Star and Garter Hotel in Richmond which was presided over by William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) who would serve as Prime Minister in 1868–74. During the late 19th cenury and early 20th century the Cobden Club published a series of books and pamphlets defending the principles of free trade as the tide was turning against it throuhgout Europe.

Cobden's daughter Jane (1851-1947) (later Unwin when she married the liberal publisher Thomas Fisher Unwin (1848 - 1935) became active in liberal politics in her own right with activity promoting women's suffrage, land reform ("free trade in land"), Irish independence, opposition to the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902).

Illustration 39: The Second Series of Cobden Club Essays (1871-72)↩

Illustration 40: Cobden Club edition of Bastiat's Economic Sophisms (1909)↩

Illustration 41: Jane Cobden (1851-1947)↩

Illustration 42: Campaign Poster for the London County Council Election 1889↩

Illustration 43: TP of "Land Hunger" (1913)↩

Illustration 44: TP of "The Hungry Forties" (1904)↩

Illustration 45: Page 1 from a Letter from Cobden republished in Jane's The Hungry Forties (1904) showing him working on ACLL designs for anti-protectionist imagery↩

Illustration 46: Page 2 from a Letter from Cobden republished in Jane's The Hungry Forties (1904) showing him working on ACLL designs for anti-protectionist imagery↩

Illustration 47: Frontispiece showing the "Fairy Wheatsheaf"↩

Illustration 48: TP of a book celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Repeal (Aug. 1896)↩

Illustration 49: A Jubilee Pie Plate↩

Illustration 50: Thackeray, Illustrations Of The Rent Laws I, "Poles offering Corn" (1839)↩

Source: Stray Papers by William Makepeace Thackeray. Being Stories, Reviews, Verses, and Sketches (1821-1847). Edited, with an Introduction and Notes. By Lewis Saul Benjamin. With Illustrations. (London: Hutchinson and co., 1901). Frontispiece, pp. 167-68, p. 416.

Frontispiece: "Poles offering Corn" (Anti-Corn Law Circular, Tuesday, July 23, 1839). [CORN LAWS! By order of the LANDLORD no Bread is to be landed on this Ground.]

Illustration 51: Thackeray, Illustrations Of The Rent Laws II, "The Choice of a Loaf" (1839)↩

Source: Stray Papers by William Makepeace Thackeray. Being Stories, Reviews, Verses, and Sketches (1821-1847). Edited, with an Introduction and Notes. By Lewis Saul Benjamin. With Illustrations. (London: Hutchinson and co., 1901). Frontispiece, pp. 167-68, p. 416.

p. 416: "The Choice of a Loaf" (Anti-Corn Law Circular, Tuesday, December 10, 1839). [Left: Chandos & Co. By their Own Letters Patent Purveyors to the People. Bread 1 s. a Loaf] [Right: Polish Bread Mart. Bread 4 d. a Loaf. N.B. Goods taken in Exchange.]

The illustration accompanied the following text:

Pole. Buy my big loaf. I'll sell as cheap as I can.

Little Boy. Mammy, I'm hungry. Chandos starves us with a small loaf, and it is so musty, it gives me the belly-ache.

Pole. I'll give you this big loaf for a small piece of calico.

Woman. My dear boy, that good-natured foreigner—

Soldier. Hullo! you she-devil there, none of your smuggling. What's to do, now, you Polish ragamuffin? Would you give a bold Briton a two-shilling loaf for fourpence, and make him as miserable as yourself?

Little Girl. Oh, dadda! come away to that nice man with the big loaf. This ugly soldier will shoot us.

Soldier. Hullo, missus! d'ye hear? I'll teach ye to deal with foreign serfs by putting a bullet through your head. Come here, you fellow. A bold English peasant mustn't buy from Poles, else I'll show daylight through him.

Little Girl. Oh, dadda, run, run!

Man. Why, Mary, I must give a shilling for this small bit of bread, like a true, free-born Englishman, else I'll be shot through the head.

Woman. I have a piece of calico that took me a week to weave: what will you give me for it?

Pole. A quarter of prime wheat.

Man. And here must I work four weeks for Chandos before I can get the same quantity. Were it not for the pistol, I'd -, but no, I'm one of "the bold peasantry, the country's pride," and must pay four hundred per cent, for liberty.

Illustration 52: Liberal Party poster: "Free Trade Shop vs. Protection Shop" (c. 1905-10)↩

Left: The Free Trade shop is full of goods(note the size of the 4 d. loaf of bread) and customers are lined up to buy things.
Right: The Protection shop is shabby, with few goods in the window (note the small size of the 4 d. loaf of bread) which are more expensive a government official with a large "Rates" book under his arm is lecturing the shopkeeper.

Illustration 53: Liberal Party poster: "An Eye Opener" (c. 1905-10)↩

German Tariffs: This poster contrasts the high prices in Germany (which had high tariffs) with what the British housewife is used to in low tariff England.

Illustration 54: Liberal Party poster: "How the Tories Have Increased the Cost of Living" (c. 1905-10)↩

Before and After: The Liberal Party lost power in the election of 1895 to the Conservative Party (the "Tories") but returned to power in a landslide victory in the 1906 election.

Illustration 55: Tariff Reform League poster: "Vote for Tariff Reform" (c. 1905-10)↩

The Election of 1910: In 1910 the Liberal Party lost most of its majority and had to rule in a coalition with other parties. In this protectionist poster the Free Traders are considered to be still in the horse and buggy age (1846) while the Protectionists (the US and the other major European powers) are shown to be more up to date and modern, driving an automobile.

Illustration 56: Imperial Tariff Committee poster: "A Free Trade Forecast" (c. 1905-10)↩

Protectionist Counter-attack: In this poster the protectionists seem to have conceded to the free traders that a "Free Trade shop" would have more goods in the windows, but the argument has shifted to the idea that the foreign goods have been supplied at the expence of British industry and that British workers and housewives can't afford the cheaper prices becuase they are unemployed and have no money. There is considerable anti-foreigner, anti-German and even anti-semitic sentiment expressed here. Note the well dressed man standing under the entrace to the Cobden Club, who is talking to a possibly Jewish money lender, the dachshund standing on the pavement, and the names of the speakers of the "Free Imports Meeting" organised by the Cobden Club ( Mr. Schmidt, Schwetter ("sweater"), Blowoffski, and Dumpiani (dumping)). In the background unemployed workers are marching on London in protest.

Illustration 57: Richard Cobden Obelisk (Map), Cocking Causeway (1868)↩

Illustration 58: Richard Cobden Obelisk 1, Cocking Causeway (1868)↩

Cobden lived at Dunford House a mile from where this obelisk was erected in 1868 in his honor (he died in 1865). It was commissioned by H.Y. Court (1868), and the stonemason was J.S. Grist.

Source: The Geograph Britain and Ireland project <>. Cobden's Obelisk, Cocking Causeway, near West Lavington, West Sussex, Great Britain. <>.

Illustration 59: Richard Cobden Obelisk 2, Cocking Causeway (1868)↩

A more detailed view of Cobden's Obelisk. Inscriptions: Richard Cobden (1804-1865) Free Trade, Peace, Goodwill among Nations.

Illustration 60: Richard Cobden Obelisk (inscription), Cocking Causeway (1868)↩

Illustration 61: The American Free Trade League: The Free-Trader (1870-71)↩

The American Free Trade League was founded in 1864 by the lawyer Simon Sterne (1839-1901) and the economist and statistician Alexander del Mar (1836–1926) and included among its membership the economist Arthur Latham Perry (1830-1905), the New York politician Horace White (1865-1943), the engineer and economist David Ames Wells (1828-1898), and the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).

Here we have the title page of their journal The Free-Trader (1870) and an advertisement for a popular newspaper with cartoons and other images. Note the large number of classified ads on the front page and the motto of the journal "Freedom of Trade is Freedom of Industry".

Illustration 62: The American Free Trade League: The People's Pictorial Tax-Payer (1870)↩

Here is an advertisement for a 4 page "illustrated Free Trade newspaper" which contains the following: "Upon the inside pages is a Cartoon representing Greeley nursing our infant manufactures also a series of wood-cuts, showing how farmers and laboring men and consumers are taxed on every article they use for the benefit of monopolists. The wood-cuts are pictures of articles in general use, and upon each picture rtes of taxation are printed. Upon the last page is another picture, headed "Rich richer, the poor poorer." The reading matter refers to the enormities of our present tariff, and teaches Free-Trade principles."

Illustration 63: The New York Free-Trade Club: Statement of Principles (1883)↩

Here we have a list of the new officers for 1883 and a statement of principles, and an advertisement for their "Cheap Literature". According to Article III, their Platform the NYFTC holds:

First: That the only commercial policy which is in its nature permanent and unchangeable, and which, therefore, assures stability in all kinds of business, is free trade between nations as between States of the Union.

Second: That the only tax on imports which should ever be tolerated by a free people is a tariff of revenue only.

Third: That the greatest burden now borne by the American people is the unjust and unequal system of taxation called a protective tariff.

The Club invites the membership and cooperation of all advocates of revenue reform to the following immediate purposes: I. To secure legislation which shall place upon the free list the raw materials required for American manufactures. II. To effect the gradual reduction of duties upon manufactured articles until every exactment is repealed which gives a bounty to the manufacturer at the expense of the consumer. It expects by this means to secure the abolition of all taxes which are levied upon the whole people to swell the profits or make good the losses of a comparatively small portion of the people. It believes further, that through the reduction of the cost of raw materials and the removal of the present artificial restrictions upon foreign trade, American manufacturers will be placed in a position to compete for the markets of the world.

Illustration 64: The New York Free-Trade Club: "Cheap Free-Trade Literature" (1883)↩

Here we have a list of the Club's "Cheap Free-Trade Literature" which ranges in price from 10 cents to 40 cents. It further states that "The above a great variety of minor leaflets can be had a low prices by the hundred, on application to the Secretary of the N.Y. Free-Trade Club. Readers desiring to go further in economic and political literature are referred to the classified descriptive list of books on "Political Economy and Political Science," published in a 25-cent pamphlet by the Society for Political Education . The American Free-Trader is published mid-monthly, at 50 cents a year.

Illustration 65: The New York Free-Trade Club: Dinner Menu at Delmonico's (1885)↩

Illustration 66: The New York Free-Trade Club: Dinner Toasts at Delmonico's (1885)↩

History of the Anti-Corn-Law League Volume 2

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History of the Anti-corn Law League

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Primary Sources

Kadish, Alon, ed. The Corn Laws. The Formation of Popular Economics in Britain. 6 vols. London, 1996. A documentary collection of reprints.

Schonhardt-Bailey, Cheryl, ed. The Rise of Free Trade. 4 vols. London, 1997. The first two volumes are the most relevant.

Secondary Sources

McCord, Norman. The Anti–Corn Law League, 1838–1846. 2nd ed. London, 1968. Still the best narrative account of the League's institutional history.

Pickering Paul A., and Alex Tyrrell. The People's Bread: A History of the Anti–Corn Law League. London and New York, 2000. A social and cultural history of the League.

Prest, John. "A Large Amount or a Small? Revenue and the Nineteenth-Century Corn Laws." The Historical Journal 39 (1996): 467–478. A detailed account of how the Corn Laws operated.

History of the Anti-corn Law League

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The Times, has a go at Sir Joshua Walmsley in 1839

It’s great to see that the press hasn’t changed much in 175 years. This is a report from The Times in 1839, having a go at Sir Josh.

Sneaking Visit Of The Sneaking President Of The Board Of Trade To The Sneaking Mayor Of Liverpool

The Right Hon. Henry Labouchere, the President of the Board of Trade, was entertained at the Town-hall, Liverpool by the Whig Mayor, on Friday last. He arrived from Manchester, where it is said he has been sounding the leading Whigs as to his chances of being returned for that borough in the ever of the anticipated retirement of Mr. Greg. The hon. gentleman was sojourning in Manchester with Mr. Mark Philips M.P., Mr. Greg’s brother-in-law. Your reporter having been given to understand that Mr..Labouchere’s visit to Liverpool was of a public nature, made application to the mayor for admission to report the proceedings, the answer to which was, ” That the mayor had. not yet determined on the course to be pursued with respect to reporters at the dinner.”

No further notice having been taken of the application up to the day of the ” banquet” the reporter to “ The Times ” again wrote to his worship for a decided answer, stating that he did not presume to dictate what course the Mayor ought to pursue, but reminding him that the last time when the Mayor of Liverpool entertained a public character (Lord J. Russell) his Lordship was misreported by an amateur reporter. To this application the Mayor returned the following answer-:

“ The Mayor has now given the fullest consideration to the application of the reporter of The Times, and, with every disposition at all times to accede to any request from. the press, so far as may be properly within his power, he is obliged to decline the present application on the ground that the dinner to which Mr. Labouchere is invited is not public, but private.

It was subsequently ascertained, that the liberal Mayor “with every disposition to accommodate the press,” admitted some of his own creatures, who of course would report nothing more than was suited to his worship’s views.

The following brief account of the proceedings is from one of them, published in a Liverpool paper of Saturday :-

“Visit To Liverpool Of The President Of The Board Of Trade.

“Yesterday, Mr. Labouchere, the President of the Board of Trade paid a visit to Liverpool, as the invited guest of our worthy chief magistrate. The right hon. gentleman received during tho day, a number of deputations from the several commercial associations of the town, at the Town -hall, at intervals (on each introduction) of half an hour.

He was waited upon on the part of the following bodies successively,

The American Chamber of Commerce.

Deputations from the Associated Bodies, Mr. W. M. Duncan, secretary.

The Anti-Corn-law Association, Mr. H.T. Atkinson, Honorary Secretary.

Duty on Slave-grown Sugar Association, represented by, Messrs, Sandbach and Tinne.

These occupied the attention of the right hon. gentleman from half-past 1 to half-past 3 o’clock.

At the latter hour Mr. Labouchere, accompanied by the Mayor, appeared on ‘Change, where he was warmly received. He then visited the News-room, where, as well as on ‘Change, the concourse of merchants and others was unusually dense. On his entering the News-room, the rush at the door was more than inconvenient to those who fell within its vortex.

The right hon. gentleman, on reaching the centre of the room, was received with loud and repeated cheers. Before these had subsided, a few foolish and fashionably-dressed young men, near the door, set up a sort of ass, demonstrative at once of their want of courtesy to a stranger and a highly- respectable and able gentleman, and of their own close affinity to the animal whose cry they imitated. These very partial and contemptible tokens of disapprobation were speedily drowned amidst renewed cheers, clapping of hands, and other demonstrations of welcome to the distinguished visitor. Three cheers were then proposed for the mayor, and the call was heartily responded to. Three cheers were next proposed for ” Sir Robert, “ and the response was most vehement and enthusiastic. Some one rather faintly, and not generally heard in the room, then proposed ” three cheers for the Queen “ but the respectable parties present, considering the place and the occasion altogether unsuitable for a demonstration of political feeling (which it was sought to exhibit in a sort of ‘pothouse’ sort of fashion, that might not have concluded till midnight.) very properly refrained from a response. Mr. Labouchere met with the kindest reception from numbers of our most respectable citizens and, when he left the room, many of them accompanied him back to the town-hall.

At 4 o’clock he there met a deputation on the trade with the Royal and Brazilian Association, headed by Mr. Alderman Moon.

At 5 o’clock he met a deputation of the Hayti [sic, Haiti] trade, consisting of Mr. Alderman Sheil, Mr. Killock, Mr. Greenshiel, Mr. Maunder, and Mr. Mocatta, who, we learn, represented to the right hon. gentleman the impolicy of forcing coffee produced in foreign colonies to be sent to the Cape of Good Hope and brought back, in order that it might be introduced into this country at the lower duty of 9d. per pound.

We are unable to give the replies of Mr. Labouchere to the several deputations, but are informed that he did not enter into lengthened arguments on each particular topic, but stated that he felt assured the important representations made, when laid before Government, would receive the most anxious and careful consideration, with a view to meet the wishes of the parties, and thereby promote tho commercial welfare of the community.

Dining Room, Liverpool Town Hall

At 6 o’clock, the right hon. gentleman and the other guests of the Mayor, to the number of 80, principally merchants, sat down to a most splendid dinner in the banquet- room of the Town-hall. After the toasts of ‘ the Queen’ and ‘the Queen Dowager,’ the Mayor gave the health of their distinguished visiter, Mr. Labouchere, and the other members of Her Majesty’s Ministry.

Mr. Labouchere in a feeling reply, said that he was proud to address so large an assemblage of commercial gentlemen, who, though necessarily entertaining different shades of political opinion, were all united in the great common object, the happiness and prosperity of their native country. He was aware that in the office which he had the honour to fill he had succeeded a gentleman of great ability and practical knowledge, and that he must necessarily appear to disadvantage but he hoped, by imitating the example of his predecessor, and availing himself of tho suggestions of such able individuals as he had that day met, to conduce to the commercial advancement of this great empire. From an early period in life his interests and his hopes had been bound up with its trading prosperity and welfare. He had visited several of the manufacturing towns, and regretted that he could but stay one day longer in this second city of the kingdom. He had that day received a number of deputations, and during the remainder of his stay he should be glad to communicate with others, and to avail himself of any information from them or from individuals in any way connected with the objects and duties of his office. He concluded by proposing ‘ Prosperity to the town and commerce of Liverpool,’ and sat down amidst much cheering.

Sir J. Tobin acknowledged the toast in a very feeling and appropriate manner.

The health of the Mayor was afterwards drunk, to which he made a suitable and eloquent response.

Several other appropriate toasts were given,and replied to. Not the slightest feeling of political dissension was manifested, and the meeting separated highly gratified by the splendid hospitality of the evening, and the sentiments of universal good-will so eloquently expressed.”

It will be seen, from the above account, that at ” the private” visit of the President of the Board of Trade to the Mayor of Liverpool, public business was transacted with deputations from no less than six associated public bodies representing the interests of an immense number of the mercantile community. Such is the anxiety evinced by the Whigs to afford facilities to the press in their arduous duties of furnishing information to the public.

The following is another account of Mr. Labouchere’s visit published in a Liverpool paper to-day:-

“This gentleman, who has lately been at Manchester, it is supposed on an electioneering expedition, and whose intention to visit Liverpool had been rather pompously notified in the Radical prints, received some addresses and deputations yesterday morning at the Town-hall.

Precisely at half-past 3 o’clock,according to an announcement which had been pretty extensively circulated – (not publicly, of course), the right hon. gentleman, accompanied by, or rather walking side by side with, his worship, the Mayor of Liverpool, Mr. Joshua Walmsley, and followed by a rush of gentlemen, most of them excited by curiosity, entered the Exchange news-room, which, as is usual at that hour, was already pretty well thronged. The right hon.- gentleman and his worship (the latter of whom, by the by, looked magnificently humble, or humbly magnificent-which you like) having entered at the centre door, walked up the room for a few yards amidst complete silence.

Then the presence of the distinguished guest or visitant having become known, there was – what do you think ? Oh, such a feeble war ! – nine persons and a half squeaking out, as if they were ashamed of themselves, ‘ Hurrah !’ whilst a strong bass of hisses accompanied the treble of applause. ( You had better not say, however, a ‘bass of hisses,’ or Parson Aspinall may perhaps pun upon it on Monday, and say it was very base.) Well, that ‘ hurrah,’ like a still-born child, or a bubble, or a tobacco-puff, or some other thing equally evanescent, having passed away, and without the slightest attempt at repetition, there was about three seconds of dead silence, during which, as I suppose, the ‘ worthy gentlemen’ were still progressing upwards-not towards heaven, I don’t mean, but towards the top of the room. I followed, as fast as I could push myself through the crowd, but at last got to a standstill, and then the three seconds of dead silence having expired – that is gone dead – there arose a shout from some person whom I could not see- (I don’t -say it was from Charles Jackall Atkinson or whatever that renowned would-be town-councillor calls himself – he has so many names, I quite forget his present one-but I do know that the jackall was loitering about the room to wait upon the ‘lion,’ or ‘ lions’) – well, there was a shout, from some one, of. ‘ Three cheers for the Mayor‘ and the order was obeyed to the very letter. There were three cheers – that is, three persons (calculating nine tailors-to make a man) shouted out ‘hurrah,’ and, as before, the hisses – though hisses are not such telling things as shouts – preponderated.

In plain words, and with very tittle exaggeration -I own to a very little – 27 persons responded to the shout of ‘ Three cheers for the Mayor !’ 27 persons, out of a body of gentlemen amounting probably to – how many do you think the room would hold – say 700, and that’s a low estimate, I think – cheered the Mayor of Liverpool ! I was going to say it was a radical shame, and isn’t it ?

Well, I -can’t help it it was not my province to shout, or ,I would have shouted for I felt humiliated, somehow, at the fact of there being a mayor of Liverpool who had descended to such a level that, after it had been bruited abroad that he was about to visit the Exchange news-room with a ‘ lion’ of such dimensions as Labouchere, he could raise only 27 persons to shout for him., Why, a common ass – a very common, twopence a-mile wench-carrying ass, such as you see over at Cheshire on holydays – it went out in company with such a noble creature as a lion – could raise 35 tailors to applaud, and 35, multiplied by 9 would make 315.

Well, the “ immense applause ‘ having subsided, a gentleman called out ironically or sarcastically ‘Three cheers for the French Navy !’. which excited some laughter amongst those who were up to snuff, but many seemed to think it mal apropos and accordingly, another gentleman followed it up by a much better aimed shot. He called out ‘Three cheers for Sir Robert Peel’ , and the applause which followed was most hearty, enthusiastic, and general. I heard a Radical afterwards characterize it as tremendous, but a reporter would hardly go as far as that.

I then looked for the Right Hon. Mr. Labouchere and his satellite, but I could nowhere behold them I suppose they must have slunk out of the room at an upper door for in an instant the crowd began to slacken, and laughing groups were seen in every direction, some of whom I heard make use of such expressions as, ‘Well, I think they have got enough of it’ and “They didn’t seem to like it’.

It was very funny altogether, – very funny – I wish you had been there. And what is perhaps as funny as all, the whole scene did not occupy above a minute or two it was over in less than no time the infusion of Conservatism in the dose seemed to be too strong for the stomach of the lions, and they went away. There is one consolation, however, if the Ministerial visitor was deprived of his expected portion of applause and adulation, and congratulation, and he would in the evening, have a dinner, which would satisfy his physical appetite, if appetite he had any, after what had occurred. The Town-hall was, at all events, lighted up.

“ This is all I know. I intended to have told you the whole in one slip and a quarter, but I have made a slip in my calculation – a good many slips, I think.”

The 1815–46 Corn Laws: your guide to the crisis and why they were repealed

The most infamous Corn Laws were the protectionist measures brought in by the British government in 1815, which restricted the amount of foreign grain that could be imported into the country.

Duty-free grain from overseas was only permitted if the price at home had reached 80 shillings per quarter for wheat (a quarter being roughly one-fifth of a tonne) – a price that was never achieved in the 30 years that the laws applied – 50 shillings for rye and 40 shillings for barley. Later, harsh import duties were also implemented that made buying from abroad unaffordable.

Why were they implemented?

In 1815, with the Napoleonic Wars coming to an end, food prices were expected to fall as trade with Europe started up again and corn could be imported once more. However, importing grain from abroad was not in the interests of British landowners – which included many members of parliament – so the Tory government passed the Corn Laws.

Economists at the time believed that relying on cheaper foreign corn would lower labourers’ wages. Some also argued that introducing such measures put Britain closer to being self-sufficient, but the financial interests of British landowners was the main motivating factor in the decision.

Had there been any Corn Laws before?

There had been previous Corn Laws in the 17th century, which had ensured a steady supply of grain while keeping prices at a reasonable level for both the farmers and consumers. When the prices rose, imports were encouraged by reducing duty, and when it fell a higher duty was imposed to keep domestic prices steady. However, in 1815, the taxes imposed seemed to aid only a minority of people and were intended to keep price artificially high, as they had been during the Napoleonic Wars.

Listen: Author and journalist Stephen Bates describes the battle over bread prices that divided parliament in mid-19th-century Britain, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast:

What impact did the Corn Laws have?

The laws were seen as benefiting the landowners and farmers while keeping prices high for everyone else. The lower classes saw living expenses increase and had far less disposable income. In the years that followed the Napoleonic Wars, Britain suffered a number of poor harvests and the price of bread rose considerably. Many labourers had also seen their wages cut, making life for the working classes in Britain very difficult.

What was the reaction to the laws in Britain?

The general public were outraged, and riots broke out – most notably in 1816, when failing harvests saw prices soar even higher. Known as The Year Without a Summer, 1816 was badly affected by a volcanic eruption the previous year, in modern-day Indonesia, which caused disruption to the world’s weather system. The resulting cold weather caused crops to fail, which in turn caused famines across the world.

Armed guards were tasked with defending MPs when the Corn Laws bill was passed, as public opinion was low and tensions high. The working classes saw the act as a prime example of politicians showing little thought for them, though some farmers welcomed the laws as they protected them and their families from potential destitution caused by competition from abroad.

Did anyone else oppose the Corn Laws?

During the Industrial Revolution, Britain’s economy had become one of the most dynamic in the world, and there had been several calls to remove tariffs. Proponents of free trade believed this would increase employment, help international relations and boost Britain’s economy.

Factory owners and employers were concerned, too – they feared that they would need to raise workers’ wages, as people were having to spend more on basic necessities such as bread. And, with a large proportion of the country still without the vote, repealing the Corn Laws became popular among groups seeking wider enfranchisement, such as the Chartists. Many members of the Whig party also opposed the Corn Laws, but they were not repealed even after the Whigs came to power in the 1830s.

In 1838, the Anti-Corn Law League was established in Manchester by manufacturer Richard Cobden and orator John Bright. Cobden worked hard to influence Conservative Prime Minister Robert Peel that the Corn Laws should be repealed and became an MP himself in 1841.

The League was one of the largest movements at the time and benefited from a lot of funding and well thought out campaigning. The Economist was founded in 1843 with the purpose of promoting and gathering support for the repeal of the Corn Laws. Such sophisticated attempts were difficult for the government to ignore for too long.

What did Robert Peel think of the Corn Laws?

Robert Peel, a Tory, had previously been Prime Minister between 1834-35 and was re-elected in 1841. He had made an enemy of traditionalists within the party when he reversed his stance and supported Catholic emancipation.

Peel wanted to abolish the Corn Laws as part of a wider reform of trade in Britain. He began reducing import duties on a host of items including cotton and sugar – soon only corn remained.

How was the Irish famine connected to the laws’ repeal?

Between 1845 and 1849, Ireland suffered from a devastating famine, caused by the failure of its potato crops. Ireland lost an eighth of its population (more than one million people died) and Scotland also suffered badly.

Potatoes were a staple food in Ireland, especially for the poor in rural areas. A lot of other produce in Ireland was priced too high for the majority of the population, forcing them to rely on the potato – which was now in short supply, too. The fact that many larger farms exported grain and other high quality foods to Britain strained relations between the Irish people and the British government.

The British government’s response to the famine was woefully inadequate. Initially, the burden of helping Irish farmers – who relied on the potato for both food and income – was placed on landlords but, often unable to financially support their struggling tenants, many landlords evicted them instead. British assistance mainly took the form of loans, the funding of soup kitchens, and the provision of employment on road building and other public works. Over the course of the famine, millions of Irish emigrated to other parts of Britain, the US and Canada. In the seven years between 1844 and 1851, Ireland’s population dropped from nearly 8.4m to 6.6m.

How were the Corn Laws repealed?

The Irish famine presented Peel with a situation that his government could not ignore forever. In December 1845, the leader of the opposition, Lord John Russell, announced that he agreed with a repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel resigned his position due to the division in his cabinet, but as Russell was unable to form a government of his own, Peel returned with the backing of Queen Victoria.

Peel attempted to demonstrate the economic benefits of repealing the Corn Laws to MPs – while battling against an opponent within his own party, Benjamin Disraeli. Attacks against Peel within parliament at times became personal. At one point, Lord George Bentinck accused Peel of being the cause of death of his relative, former Prime Minister George Canning, many years previously by refusing to serve on his cabinet. Peel had to be calmed down and nearly challenged Bentinck to a duel.

Many Conservatives saw the famine in Ireland as a poor excuse for repeal, with a passionate and angry Peel exclaiming: “Are you to hesitate in averting famine because it possibly may not come? Good God … how much diarrhoea and bloody flux and dysentery [must] a people bear before it becomes necessary for you to provide them with food?”

Two-thirds of Tories opposed the repeal – though it was eventually passed, thanks to Whig support.

What happened to Robert Peel?

A few hours after the repeal was agreed by the House of Lords, the Whigs and Tory rebels voted down the Irish Coercion Bill, which would have granted new powers to strengthen security in Ireland. It was a bill MPs were all expected to support, but many did not, with the intention of bringing down Peel who was forced to resign. He died four years later.

What were the legacies of the Corn Laws?

The chaos caused in parliament over the Corn Laws split the Conservative party and kept them out of power for much of the next 30 years. Many of those Tories who had supported Peel joined an independent bloc, and many of these would later join what became the Liberal Party.

Rebellions broke out in Ireland due to the British government’s inadequate response to the famine and these would influence the later nationalist movements that created the Irish Republican Brotherhood, pivotal to the 1916 Easter Rising.

More broadly, the repeal of the Corn Laws is seen by some historians and economists as a move towards free trade in Britain – removing restrictions from import and exports.

Anti-Corn Law League established - On this day in history

The Anti-Corn Law League was established on 18 September 1838

On this day in history, 1838: the Anti-Corn Law League is established by Richard Cobden and John Bright.

The Anti-Corn Law League was a successful political movement in Great Britain aimed at abolishing the unpopular Corn Laws, which protected landowners&rsquo interests by levying taxes on imported wheat, thus raising the price of bread.

Richard Cobden was the League&rsquos chief strategist, while John Bright was its great orator.

According to The Making of Modern England 1783-1867 by Asa Briggs, the League marked the emergence of the first powerful national lobbying group into politics, one with a centralised office, consistency of purpose, rich funding, very strong local and national organisation, and single-minded dedicated leaders. It elected men to Parliament. Many of its procedures were innovative, while others were borrowed from the anti-slavery movement. It became the model for later reform movements.

Anti-Corn Law League - History

The Corn Laws which the farming industry imposed on the country in 1815 were not designed to save a tottering sector of the economy, but rather to preserve the abnormally high profits of the Napoleonic war-years, and to safeguard farmers from the consequences of their wartime euphoria, when farms had changed hands at the fanciest prices, loans and mortgages had been accepted on impossible terms. [Eric Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: The Birth of the Industrial Revolution (1999), p. 175.]

lthough England regulated prices of corn since the seventeenth century, the Corn Laws to which people in the nineteenth century refer originated in 1815. At the end of the French Wars that year Parliament passed legislation that stated that no foreign corn could be imported into Britain until domestic corn cost 80/- per quarter. The high price caused the cost of food to increase and consequently depressed the domestic market for manufactured goods because people spent the bulk of their earnings on food rather than commodities. The Corn Laws also caused great distress among the working classes in the towns. These people were unable to grow their own food and had to pay the high prices in order to stay alive. Since the vast majority of voters and Members of Parliament were landowners, the government was unwilling to reconsider the new legislation in order to help the economy, the poor or the manufacturers who laid off workers in times of restricted trade.

In 1828 the Corn Laws were revised by the Duke of Wellington's government. A sliding scale was introduced which allowed foreign corn to be imported duty-free when the domestic price rose to 73/- per quarter. The more the price of domestic grain fell below that figure, the higher the duty became. The sliding scale still did not really help the poor or the manufacturers.

In 1832 Reform Act gave the vote to a sizeable proportion of the industrial middle classes. This piece of legislation meant that the manufacturers now had more importance in the governance of Britain and some notice had to be taken of their opinions. The Whig government seemed to have little idea about economics although in 1840 it set up a Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate the actions of import duties. Robert Peel asked on 18 May 1841:

Can there be a more lamentable picture than that of a Chancellor of the Exchequer seated on an empty chest, by the pool of bottomless deficiency, fishing for a budget?

The Whig governments of 1830-4 and 1835-41 were challenged by many different groups of agitators including the Chartists, the Anti-Poor Law movement, the Ten Hour Movement, and the Anti-Corn-Law League.

The Anti-Corn Law Association was set up in London in 1836 but had little success there it was re-formed in 1838 in Manchester and in 1839 was re-named the Anti-Corn-Law League (ACLL). The members of this movement were mainly middle-class manufacturers, merchants, bankers and traders. They wanted the Corn Laws to be repealed so that they could sell more goods both in Britain and overseas. The keystone of the protectionist system was thought to be the Corn Laws: once they were repealed, the ACLL thought that free trade would follow. The ACLL headed a nation-wide campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws which ended in success in 1846 when the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel repealed the legislation.

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