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International Trade and Political Institutions

Instituting Trade in the Long Nineteenth Century

Fiona McGillivay, Iain McLean, Robert Pahre and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey

International Trade and Political Institutions broadens the public choice theory of trade politics to allow for the study of ideas and institutions within a longer time horizon. The authors use theoretically rigorous historical analysis of international political economy and four important case studies to help untangle the role of ideology, institutions and interests. This illuminating book connects the fields of economics, political economy and history to shed new light on trade theory.
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Chapter 4: Irish Potatoes, Indian Corn and British Politics: Interests, Ideology, Heresthetic and the Repeal of the Corn Laws

Fiona McGillivay, Iain McLean, Robert Pahre and Cheryl Schonhardt-Bailey


Iain McLean [Sir Robert Peel] was prepared to argue that party ethics and constitutional government would best be served if public men did what they honestly thought right in the national interest . . . Few party politicians can work within such simple terms of reference. For them the approval of subsequent generations is an insubstantial reward; posterity has no votes at the ballot-box or in the lobbies. . . . [O]n the other hand . . . for a determined and self-willed man the appeal to posterity has one decided advantage; the verdict comes too late to affect his action (Gash, 1972: 541–2). The Repeal of the Corn Laws by the UK Parliament in 1846 remains one of the most fascinating events in the history of political economy. A parliament securely controlled by the party of agriculture, which was the main beneficiary of protection, abolished protection. A huge range of explanations has been proposed: Britain’s unilateral move to free trade is said to have signified the triumph of Manchester School Liberal thinking; marked the birth of its international economic hegemony; launched a new form of British imperialism; paved the way for the disintegration of the Conservative party for a generation; been the catalyst for class conflict between the rising industrial middle class and the politically dominant landed aristocracy; given testimony to the organization, political astuteness and tenacity of the pro-repeal lobby, the Anti-Corn Law League; been an inevitable result of changes in the financial system and industrial structure; and illustrated the dramatic...

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