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features. From noble dukes down to the humblest of their tenantry, we are accustomed to hear the present system eulogized as the perfection of wisdom—that, without which agriculture could not exist in our country, nor England continue for six months longer to retain her position as a first rate power in Europe. Such statements, oracularly delivered, are supposed by our agriculturists, to settle the merits of this great question, and much wonder is expressed at the infatuation of a government, which could venture to propose such a modification of the landlord's system as that involved in a fixed duty of 8s. A little attention, however, to the history of our corn laws will suffice to disclose the folly and ignorance which are couched under such representations, and we deem it our duty as public journalists to put our readers into possession of the real facts of the case.
With this view we propose in the present paper to supply them with a succinct history of the system : and we shall be greatly surprised if the narrative does not dissipate whatever difficulties and mystification an interested sophistry has thrown around it. In doing this we shall freely avail ourselves of the information which Mr. Platt has furnished in the valuable tractate before us, which we cannot too strongly recommend to our readers.
In the earlier period of our history, England was an exporting corn country. The quantity produced exceeding the demands of the home market, the landlords, who constituted then, as they have done ever since, the main strength of our legislature, sought for themselves a market on the continent. In 1393, corn might be exported by the king's subjects' to what parts
that pleased them,' except to the king's enemies, and this act was confirmed in 1425. Eleven years after this latter date, the exportation of wheat was allowed without license when its price at the place of shipment was 6s. 8d. per quarter. In the preamble of this statute, 15 Henry VI., loud complaints are made of restrictions on importation ; for cause whereof, far
mers and other men, which use manurement of their land, may ‘not sell their corn but of a bare price, to the great damage of
all the realm ;' and the remedy provided is a freer permission to export the surplus—a regulation which is intended for the profit of the whole realm 'but, especially for the counties
adjoining to the sea.' Shortly after this period an important change appears to have taken place in the relative position of the corn grower of England and of the continent. Instead of the former exporting to the latter, the produce of the continent was brought into the English market, and the selfishness of class interests immediately demanded protection for the home grower. In 1463 was passed the first corn law designed to protect the English farmer from a depreciation of prices conse
quent on a supply of foreign grain. In the preamble of that act it is remarked, that "Whereas the laborers and occupiers of husbandry within this realm be daily grievously endamaged ' by bringing of corn out of other lands and parts into this * realm when corn of the growing of this realm is at a low * price;' and it is enacted in remedy of this evil that no wheat should be imported unless its price at the place of import exceeded 6s. 8d. per quarter. “So long as the price of wheat ' was below 6s. 8d. per quarter, exportation was free, and im* portation was prohibited. The price, therefore, was intended to be sustained at that height, so far as it was possible so to sustain it by legislative contrivance, and the benefit of the corn-grower was the sole object of the statute.' The same object continued to regulate the proceedings of the legislature in the several minor alterations which were adopted from time to time. The importation of corn was during this period practically free, as the price of grain did not fall below the standard of the law as fixed in 1463.
* In 1592.3 the price at which exportation was permitted was raised to 20s. per quarter, and the customs duty was fixed at 2s. In 1603-4 the importation price was raised to 26s. 8d. per quarter ; and, in 1623. to 32s.—having risen, in the course of sixty-five years, from 6s. 8d. By the 21 Jac. I. c. 28, unless wheat was under 32s. per quarter, and other grain in proportion, buying corn and selling it again was not permitted. The king could restrain the liberty of exportation by proclamation. In 1627-8 another statute relative to the corn-trade was passed, which, however, made no alteration in the previous statute of James I. In 1660 a new scale of duties was introduced. When the price of wheat per quarter was under 44s. the export duty was 5s, 6d. ; and when the price was above 44s. the duty rose to 6s, 8d. Exportation was permitted free whenever the price of wheat did not exceed 40s. per quarter.
• In 1663 the corn-trade again became the subject of legislation, and an act was passed which favored the corn grower, or at any rate that portion of the community connected with and dependent upon agriculture, to a greater extent than any previous statute. amble of this act commenced by asserting that 'the surest and effectualest means of promoting and advancing any trade, occupation, or mystery, being by rendering it profitable to the users thereof,' and that large quantities of land being waste, which might be profitably cultivated if sufficient encouragement were given for the cost and labor on the same, it should be enacted, with a view of encouraging the application of capital and labor to waste lands, that, after September, 1663, when wheat did not exceed 48s. per quarter at the places and havens of shipment, the export duty should be only 5s. 4d. per quarter. The demand of the home market was not sufficient to take off the surplus produce of the corn-growers, and the reduction of the duty was intended to encourage exportation. By the same act
when wheat did not exceed 48s. per quarter, then it shall be lawful for all and every person (not forestalling nor selling the same in the open market within three months after the buying thereof) to buy in open market, and to keep in his or their granaries or houses, and to sell again, such corn and grain,' any statute to the contrary notwithstanding. The latter part of this statute may be regarded as indicating a juster view than others passed since the 5 and 6 Edw. VI. c. 14.
In 1670 a further important change was made in the same direction, exportation being permitted as long as wheat should be under 53. 4d. the quarter, the customs duty being only Is. per quarter. Corn im. ported from foreign countries was at the same time loaded with duties so heavy as effectually to exclude it, being 16s. when the price in this country was at or under 53s. 4d. per quarter, and 8s. when above that price and under 80s., at which latter price importation became free. The object of this act was to relieve the agricultural interests from the depression under which they were laboring from the low prices of produce which had existed for twenty years, more particularly from 1646 to 1665, and also more or less during the greater part of the century.
An important measure was carried by the landowners immediately after the revolution of 1688. The high price of wheat a few years prior to that event, had naturally led to a vast extension of tillage, which, in combination with a series of favorable seasons, had greatly depreciated the value of agricultural produce, and thus suggested to the landed interest their obtaining from the legislature, in the shape of bounty, what they could not secure in their legitimate character as traders. In 1689 a statute was passed entitled An Act for Encouraging the Exportation of Corn, the preamble of which states that it had been 'found by experience that the exportation of corn and
grain into foreign countries, when the price thereof is at a low rate in this kingdom, hath been a great advantage, not only * to the owners of land, but to the traders of this kingdom in 'general. A bounty of 5s. a quarter was to be granted on the exportation of wheat so long as the price in the English market did not exceed 48s. Unfavorable seasons soon followed, so as to reduce the quantity, and to increase the price of wheat to 56s. 6d. per quarter. During this period the act of 1689 was of course inoperative, and the bounty was suspended by parliament, from the 9th of February, 1699, to the 29th of September, 1700. In this latter year the encouragement of the home grower was carried still further by the abolition of all duties on the export of corn. We are told in a parliamentary report of 1821, on agricultural distress, that from 1697 to 1773, the total excess of exports was 30,968,366 quarters, upon which export bounties, amounting to £6,237,176, were paid out of the · public revenue.' The national resources were thus largely employed to enable the English agriculturist to compete with
the foreign corn-grower in the markets of the continent. It might have been presumed from the theories which are current amongst our agriculturists, that the abundant crops and low prices which marked this period, must have been attended by a reduction of wages and a general deterioration in the condition of the laborer. The very reverse, however, was the case, as will appear from the following statement of our author.
• In 1750 the sum of £324,176 was paid in bounties on corn. The exports of 1748-9-50 (during which, moreover, the price of wheat fell from 32s. 101d, to 28s. 10 d. the quarter) amounted to 2,120,000 quarters of wheat, and of all kinds of corn and grain to 3,825,000 quarters. This was the result of a cycle of abundant years. In the twenty-three years from 1692 to 1715, says Mr. Tooke, in his elaborate · History of Prices,' there were eleven bad seasons, during which the average price of wheat was 45s. 8d. the quarter; in the fifty years ending 1765 there were only five deficient harvests, and the average price for the whole half century ranged at 34s. 11d. ; or, taking the ten years ending 1751, during which the crops were above an average, the price of wheat was only 29s. 2 d. the quarter.
l'hese years of plenty seem to have been a very happy period to the bulk of the population. Adam Smith refers to the peculiarly happy circumstances of the country during these times of plenty; and Mr. Hallam describes the reign of George II. as 'the most prosperous period that England had ever experienced.' The effect was similar to that which took place during the plentiful seasons of the preceding century, and the improved condition of the people was marked by the enjoyment of greater comforts, and the resort to a superior diet, which their command over the necessaries of life enabled them to obtain. * Bread made of wheat is become more generally the food of the labor. ing people,' observes the author of the Corn Tracts,' writing in 1765. Referring to the same period, Mr. Malthus remarks :- It is well known that during this period the price of corn fell considerably, while the wages of labor are stated to have risen. During the last forty years of the seventeenth century, and the first twenty of the eighteenth, the average price of corn was such as, compared with the wages of labor, would enable the laborer to purchase with a day's earnings twothirds of a peck of wheat. From 1720 to 1750 the price of wheat Lad so fallen, while wages had risen, that, instead of two-thirds, the Jaborer could purchase the whole of a peck of wheat with a day's labor.' Mr. Malthus adds that the result of this increased command over the necessaries of life was not attended with an increase of popo. lation exclusively,-'a considerable portion of their increased net wages was expended in a marked improvement of the quality of the food consumed, and a decided elevation in the standard of their comforts and conveniences.' Trade was flourishing, and the exports and imports progressively increasing during this period of abundance.'
This plenty was followed by a succession of bad seasons, which increased the price of corn, and caused great dissatis
faction throughout the country. In 1766 the price of the quartern loaf in London was Is. 6d., and exportation was in consequence suspended ; and in the latter part of 1773 the city of London offered a bounty of 4s. the quarter for 20,000 quarters of wheat, to be imported between March and June. The Corn Act of 1773 was designed to prevent the fluctuations of price consequent on previous statutes. A permanent law, it was alleged, "would afford encouragement to the grower, be the means of increasing the growth of that necessary commodity, and of affording a cheaper and more constant supply to " the poor. The following is Mr. Platt's account of the provisions of this law, and of the effect which they had on the supply of the English market. The act was to come into operation on the 1st of January, 1774.
Whenever the price of middling British wheat, at ports of importation, was at or above 48s. per quarter, a duty of only 6d. per quarter was to be taken on all foreign wheat imported during the continuance of that price. When the price was at or above 44s., exportation and the bounty together were to cease ; and the carrying of British grain coastwise ceased also. Under this act, corn and grain might be shipped to Ireland when exportation was prohibited from that country. Foreign corn warehoused under bond in twenty-five ports of Great Britain mentioned in the act might be re-exported duty free. Adam Smith's opinion of this act was, that, “though not the best in itself, it is the best which the interests, prejudices, and temper of the times would admit of: it may perhaps,' he adds, ' in due time prepare the way for a better. This expectation has not as yet been fulfilled.
“The home market was now opened to foreign supplies of corn under much more advantageous terms than before. Importation was constant and considerable, and prices were steadier on the whole, during the eighteen years from 1775 to 1792—notwithstanding the occurrence of five seasons in which the harvests were more or less deficient—than they had been in ten years preceding 1773. The balance of imports of wheat was now decidedly against this country. In the ten years ending 1769 the excess of exports had amounted to 1,384,561 quarters; but in the next ten years, ending 1779, the ex. cess was on the side of the imports to the extent of 431,566 quarters ; and in the ten years ending 1789 there was an excess on the same side amounting to 233,502 quarters. The extension of tillage which took place was certainly more likely to be permanent than when it had been caused by the artificial stimulus that had previously been maintained. From 1760 to 1780 the number of acres enclosed under local acts was 1,912,350; in the ten years ending 1789 the proportion had fallen off, the number of acres enclosed being 450,180. The average price of wheat was 45s. the quarter in the ten years ending 1779, and 45s. 9d. in the ten years ending 1789. The extension of cultivation in the twenty years from 1760 to 1780, together with the improve