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ment of agriculture, sufficed for the increased demands of the country, without breaking up so much fresh land.'
The landed interest was not long satisfied with this law. By keeping down the price of corn it prevented their obtaining the bounty on which they had calculated, and their complaints were consequently loud and reiterated. Like every other selfish faction, they affected a regard for the public interests, and were unhappily too successful with the legislature. The act of 1773, it was alleged, rendered us dependent on a foreign supply, and thus jeopardied the means of subsistence to our people. The hollowness of the pretext is now sufficiently obvious, but it had force in the apprehensions of our fathers, or rather the influence of the landowners was so predominant in the two houses, as to secure the alteration which they desired. This occurred in 1791, when an act was passed founded upon stricter principles than the law of 1773. It enacted that after Nov. 15th, a bounty of 5s. per quarter should be paid when wheat was under 44s., and that when wheat was at or above 46s. exportation should cease. • The new scale of import duties was as follows :-For wheat under 50s. per quarter, the high
'duty' of 24s. 3d. was payable; at 50s., but under 54s., the "first low duty' of 2s. 6d. ; at or above 54s., the second low
duty' of 6d. was payable. The protecting price was thus raised from 48s. to 54s. the quarter; and this main feature of the act was intended to shut out supplies from abroad, and of course to raise prices at home. The duty of 24s. 3d., so long
as the price of wheat was under 50s. the quarter, was equiva“ lent to a prohibition. This was emphatically a landlord's law, and its effects were just such as might be anticipated from such selfish legislation.
• The thirteen years,' remarks Mr. Platt, 'from 1791 to 1804 form a very eventful period in the history of the corn laws. Under the comparatively free system established by the corn act of 1773, the excess of imports had been comparatively trifling ; but under an act expressly constructed to prevent importation as far as possible, the excess of imports in the thirteen years from 1791 to 1803 amounted to 6,458,901 quarters of wheat and wheat-flour, and enormous sacrifices were made to obtain this quantity. The seasons in their courses fought against the enactments of the legislature ; and the dependence on foreign supplies was never so complete as at the very period when hopes had been entertained that the produce of the home grower would prove sufficiently ample for the wants of the country.'
The greatest distress prevailed throughout the country under the operation of this law. In 1795 the average price of wheat rose from 55s. 7d. to 108s. 4d., and large bounties were in consequence offered by parliament on the importation of wheat.
Neutral vessels laden with grain were forcibly seized on the
high seas, and the masters compelled to sell their cargoes to • the government agents. The members of both houses of par
liament bound themselves by a written pledge to observe the utmost frugality in the use of bread in their respective house
holds; and engaged to reduce the consumption of wheat by at least one-third of the usual quantity consumed in ordinary . times, unless the average price of wheat should be reduced to
8s. the bushel. The hair-powder tax was imposed at this period, as a means of diminishing the consumption of wheat.' The agricultural districts were extensively disturbed by riots, and that most fatal of all measures for the independence and moral welfare of the laboring population—the allowance system - was introduced. The attention of parliament was directed in 1800 to the fearful scarcity which existed, and various expedients were adopted in order to preserve the people from starvation. Serious apprehensions of such a calamity were entertained, which were only partially allayed by the miserable, because limited and selfish remedies, which were proposed. The condition of the poorer classes was pitiable in the extreme, and strikingly exposed the fallacy of the theory so prevalent among our agriculturists, of dear food being balanced by high wages. The absurdity of this theory is now generally admitted by all who have not a pecuniary interest in its maintenance, and should any of our readers continue to give it credit, we recommend their careful perusal of the following extract.
• The money wages of the agricultural laborer, in order to have been equal to those which he received in the reign of George II., should have risen to about 30s. per week. Arthur Young gives a list of articles which, when the laborer was paid 5s. per week, he could have purchased with that 5s., namely, a bushel of malt, a bushel of wheat, a pound of butter, a pound of cheese, and a pennyworth of tobacco; and he states that in 1801 these articles would have cost him 26s. 5d.; while wages having risen only to 9s., and the allowance from the parish being estimated at 6s., his real wages were still ls. 5d. less than under the former period. Thus even the parish allowance, which equalled two-thirds of his wages, left him in a state of distress. There is a table in the Appendix to one of the Parliamentary Reports on the subject of the high price of provisions, which shows that the most indispensable necessaries of life had risen 200 per cent. in 1800 as compared with 1773. Both in 1795 and 1800 Mr. Whitbread had proposed a bill for regulating the wages of labor by the price of provisions, and fixing a minimum of wages, but such an expedient was wisely rejected. The rise of wages, without which actual starvation would have ensued, inadequate as it proved, was better than such a plan. Several trades succeeded in obtaining an advance; and from the statements of the tailors and printers of London, in support of their claims, we take the following particulars :—The wages of the former
class of workmen, from 1777 to 1795, had averaged 21s. 9d. per week, and the price of the quartern loaf being 7 d., they could purchase thirty-six loaves with a week's wages. During the scarcity of 1795 their wages had been advanced to 25s., and in 1801 to 27s., in which latter year a week's wages would purchase only 184 quartern loaves. The wages of compositors had been advanced from 24s. to 27s. in 1795, and to 30s. in 1801. The advance in the wages of carpenters, bricklayers, masons, and artizans of a similar stamp was inconsiderable. The salaries of persons holding official situations under the govern. ment were also increased. The misery of the bulk of the people during the years of scarcity is shown by the diminished number of marriages, which, from 79,477 in 1798, were reduced to 67,288 in 1801.
The fallacy that wages advance with the price of food was never more glaringly displayed than at this period ; and it is still a prevalent notion that there is a connexion between high prices of provisions and high wages, though seventy years ago, Adam Smith had shown (and his doctrine on this subject has never been controverted)-). That the real wages of labor rise in a year of plenty and diminish in a season of scarcity. In the former, the funds in the hands of the employers of industry are sufficient to maintain a greater number of industrious people, and, as masters wanting workn.en bid against each other, money wages may also rise. 2. That a year of scarcity and high prices diminishes the funds for the employment of labor; persons are thrown out of employment who bid against one another in order to get it; and wages fall. 3. That in the ordinary variations of the price of provisions these two opposite causes are counterbalanced, which is one reason why the wages of labor are more steady and permanent than the price of provisions. In the evidence before the Lords' Committee on the Corn Laws in 1814 there is a remarkable illustration of the effect of the scarcity of 1812 on wages. Mr. Milne, a landowner, stated that a certain description of farm-labor which twenty-five years before had cost him 3s., and which a neighbor of his had paid 5s. for two or three years before, was executed during a period of scarcity and high prices for 2s. 6d., the cause of this difference being, as he alleged, 'that a great many laborers were idle from having little work, in consequence of those employed doing double work.”'
This season of general scarcity and distress proved, however, a golden harvest to the landed interest,-the farmers realizing enormous profits, and the landlords either raising their rents or preparing to do so. They, therefore, cheerfully acquiesced in the continuance of the existing system, and endeavored by various futile expedients to divert public attention from its enormous evils. More abundant harvests, however, speedily followed, which greatly reduced the price of corn; and loud complaints were instantly made throughout the agricultural districts. The law which they had formerly magnified as the perfection of wisdom, was now repudiated as inadequate to their protection. Meetings were held in various parts of the country,
for the purpose of petitioning parliament for additional protection to agriculture, and another abortive effort was consequently made to give a permanent stimulus to its prosperity. The selfishness of class legislation was never more strikingly evidenced than in this case. The welfare of the country was set at nought, and the very subsistence of its population endangered, in order to enhance the pecuniary benefit of the few. Thus it has ever been when the interests of a privileged class have been deemed more important than the social comfort and moral welfare of the people at large. But the landlords succeeded in their object, so far at least as legislative enactments were concerned.
In the spring of 1804 a select committee of the lower house was appointed, to inquire into the principle and operation of the corn law of 1791. In their second report, presented June 14th, the committee thus state their conviction of the necessity of some new measure. 'It appears to your committee that the price of corn from 1791 to the harvest of 1803 has been very irregular; but, upon an average, increased in a great degree by the years of scarcity, has in general yielded a fair profit to 'the grower. The casual high prices, however, have had the
effect of stimulating industry, and bringing into culture large 'tracts of waste land, which, combined with the two last productive seasons, has occasioned such a depression in the value of grain as it is feared will greatly tend to the discouragement of agriculture, unless maintained by the support of parliament. The scale established by the act of 1804 for the admission of foreign corn was as follows: "Wheat under 63s. per quarter, 'the high duty' of 24s. 3d. payable; at 63s. and under 66s., 'the 'first low duty ;' and at or above 66s., the second low
duty,' which amounted only to 6d. The free import or ' nominal duty price was thus raised from 54s., at which it 'stood in the act of 1790-1, to 66s.—an increase of 12s. The 'bounty of 5s. on exportation was to be paid when the average ‘price of wheat was at or under 48s.; and when the average rose to 54s. exportation to be prohibited. The two latter enactments proved totally inoperative.'
A succession of unfavorable seasons, in combination with the European war, in which we were then engaged, tended greatly to raise the price of corn, which attained such an enormous height as to produce the most serious embarrassment throughout the country. Such prices naturally stimulated cultivation to the utmost possible extent, and consequently the number of enclosure bills which received the royal assent from 1804 to 1814 inclusive, was 1084.
The following is Mr. Tooke's account, as given by our author, of the state of the agricultural interest at this period. "A great 'amount of gain had been distributed among the agricultural
classes; and as the range of high prices (with an interval of depression between the harvests of 1810 and 1811, so short as ‘not to have been felt at all by the landlord, and very little by
the farmer) had been of an unusually long continuance, it was • concluded that the causes of that high range were permanent.
From 1809 to 1813 was accordingly the period in which rents experienced their greatest rise,—that is, upon the expiration of leases, they were advanced in full proportion to the high range of the prices of produce; and in several instances they were raised threefold or upwards of what they had been in 1792.' Such prosperity, as it grew out of temporary causes, was of course short-lived. A reaction took place at the close of the war, which precipitated prices below their natural level, and gave rise to extensive and loud complaints. The laboring classes, however, were far from being benetited by the high prices of the war, but on the contrary suffered deep injury and wrong. The trilling advance made in their wages bore no fair proportion to the increased cost of food, and they were consequently great losers by the system which poured wealth into the pockets of the landlords.
* In 1812 and 1813 the poor-rates amounted to about £3,300,000 more than they had been in 1803, a year of low prices and agricultural distress. Still further attempts had been made to adjust wages to the high price of provisions, and the demand of men for the navy and army offered a resource which frequently rendered the strikes of workmen for advanced wages successful. The wages of artizans and laborers were nearly doubled, that is, the money value of their wages ; but their real value—the command of a week's earnings over the necessaries of life—was diminished. The rise of money wages had reached its maximum in 1812. The workmen employed in manfactures experienced severe distress during this period; the advance of wages was less in their case than that of any other class ; in some branches of manufacture there had been no change ; in others it was accompanied by longer hours of work; and the stagnation of the export-trade occasioned nearly a total cessation of employment in several branches of manufacturing industry. Many parts of the country were disturbed by riots in consequence of the inability of the poorer classes to purchase an adequate share of food during these seasons of agricultural prosperity and high prices arising from defective harvests and the other causes to which allusion has been made.'
The return of peace in 1814 brought with it a general reduction of prices, of which agricultural produce of course partook. This led to loud and general complaints amongst the farmers, who justly alleged their inability to pay the rents which had grown out of the high war prices. Another effort was consequently made by the landlords to obtain from the legislature the artificial stimulus, which was needful to maintain their