Instituting Trade in the Long Nineteenth Century
Chapter 4: Irish Potatoes, Indian Corn and British Politics: Interests, Ideology, Heresthetic and the Repeal of the Corn Laws
4. Irish potatoes, Indian corn and British politics: interests, ideology, heresthetic and the Repeal of the Corn Laws 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...
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