Anti-Corn Law League

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corn Laws

Richard Cobden (1804—1865) manufacturer and politician

John Bright (1811—1889) politician

Robert Peel (1788—1850) prime minister

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Agitation against the Corn Laws, which imposed duties on imported foodstuffs to protect British producers, increased after the Corn Law of 1815, and peaked in 1838–46. The creation of a Manchester Anti‐Corn Law Association in 1838 led in 1839 to the establishment of a national league. Its leader, Richard Cobden, advocated direct political involvement, and the league contested a by‐election at Walsall early in 1841. Its candidate was beaten, but his intervention showed that the league had some muscle. In the general election of 1841, a few free traders were returned. The league's organization, increasingly sophisticated, became a model for later political agitations. It fought elections, and sought to multiply supporters on the electoral registers and expel opponents. Considerable sums of money were raised, much of it from industrial interests who resented the dominance of the landed aristocracy. In 1843 Cobden was joined in Parliament by John Bright, and their rhetorical partnership proved effective in and out of Parliament. In 1845 and again in 1846, the potato crop, on which many Irish had become dependent, suffered a catastrophic failure, threatening widespread starvation. Peel decided that all obstructions to the import of food must go, including the Corn Laws. This split the governing Conservative Party, but with the aid of opposition forces, including Whigs and the league, Peel was able to repeal the Corn Laws in 1846.

Subjects: British History.

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