1902 Encyclopedia > Corn Laws

Corn Laws

CORN LAWS. Legislation on corn was early applied both to the home and foreign trade in this essential pro-duce. Roads were so bad, and the chain of home trade so feeble, that there was often scarcity of grain in one part, and plenty in another part of the same kingdom. Export by sea or river to some foreign market was in many cases more easy than the carriage of corn from one market to another within the country. The frequency of local dearths, and the diversity and fluctuation of prices, were thus extreme. It was out of this general situation that the first corn laws-arose, and they appear to have been wholly directed towards lowering the price of corn. Exportation was prohibited, and home merchandize in grain was in no repute or tolera-tion. As long as the rent of land, including the extensive domains of the Crown, was paid in kind, the sovereign, the barons, and other landholders had little interest in the price of corn different from that of other classes of people, the only demand for corn being for consumption, and not for re-sale or export. But as rents of land came to be paid in money, the interest of the farmer to be distinguished by a remove from that of the landowner, the difference between town and country to be developed, and the business of society to be more complex, the ruling powers of the state were likely to be actuated by other views; and hence the force which corn legislation afterward assumed in favour of what was deemed the agricultural interest. But during four centuries after the Conquest the corn law of England simply was that export of corn was prohibited, save in years of extreme plenty under forms of state licence, and that producers carried their surplus grain into the nearest market town, and sold it there for what it would bring among those who wanted it to consume ; and the same rule prevailed in the principal countries of the Continent. This policy, though, as one may argue from its long continuance, probably not felt to be acutely oppressive, was of no avail in removing the evils against which it was directed. On the contrary it prolonged and aggravated them. The pro-hibition of export discouraged agricultural improvement, and in so much diminished the security and liberality even of domestic supply; while the intolerance of any home dealing or merchandize in corn prevented the growth of a commercial and financial interest strong enough to improve the means of transport by which the plenty of one part of the same country could have come to the aid of the scarcity in another.

Apart from this general feudal germ of legislation English on corn, the history of the British corn laws, as they have come down to recent times, may be said to have 1603. begun with the statute in the reign of Henry VI., 1436, by which exportation was permitted without state licence, when the price of wheat or other corn fell below certain prices. The reason given in the preamble of the statute was that the previous state of the law had compelled farmers to sell their corn at low prices, which was no doubt true, but which also showed the important turn of the tide that had then set in. M'Culloch, in his elaborate article in the Commercial Dictionary, to which reference may be made for the most authentic details on this subject, says that the fluctuation of the prices of corn in that age was so great, and beyond all present conception, that " it is not easy to determine whether the exportation price of 6s. 8d. for wheat" [12s. lOd. in present money per quarter] "was above or below the medium price." But while the medium price of the kingdom must be held to be unascertainable in a remote time, when the medium price in any principal market town of England did not agree with that of another for any year or series of years, one may readily perceive that the cultivators of the wheat lands in the south-eastern counties of England, for example, who could frequently have sold their produce in that age to Dutch merchants to better advantage than in their own market towns, or even in London, but were prohibited to export abroad, and yet had no means of distributing their supplies at home so as to realize the highest medium price in Ensland, must have felt aggrieved, and that their barons and knights of the shire would have a common interest in making a strong effort to rectify the injustice in Parliament. This object appears to have been in some measure accomplished by this statute, and twenty-seven years afterwards (1463) a decided step was taken towards securing to agriculturists a monopoly of the home market by a statute prohibitory of importation from abroad. Foreign import was to be permitted only at and above the point of prices where the export of domestic produce was prohibited. The landed interest had now adopted the idea of sustaining and equalizing the value of corn, and promoting their own industry and gains, which for four centuries, under various modifications of plan, and great changes of social and political condition, were to maintain a firm place in the legislation and policy of England. But there were many reasons why this idea, when carried into practice, should not have the results anticipated from it.

The import of grain from abroad, even in times of dearth and high prices at home, could not be considerable as long as the policy of neighbouring countries was to prohibit ex-port ; nor could the export of native corn, even with the Dutch and other European ports open to such supplies, be effective save in limited maritime districts, as long as the internal com trade was suppressed, not only by want of .Toads, but by legal interdict. The regulation of liberty of oexport and import by rates of price, moreover, had the same practical objection as the various sliding-scales, bounties, .and other legislative expedients down to 1846, viz., that they failed, probably more in that age than in later times, "to create a permanent market, and aimed only at a casual trade. When foreign supplies were needed, they were ooften not to be found; and when there was an excess of _corn in the country a profitable outlet was both difficult ^md uncertain. It would appear, indeed, that during the Wars of the Roses the statutes of Henry YL and Edward IV. had become obsolete; for a law regulating export prices in identical terms of the law of 1436 was re-enacted in the reign of Philip and Mary (1554). In the preceding reign of Edward VI., as well as in the succeeding long Teign of Elizabeth, there were unceasing complaints of the odecay of tillage, the dearth of corn, and the privations of the labouring classes ; and these complaints were met by the same kind of measures—by statutes encouraging tillage, forbidding the enlargement of farms, imposing severer re-strictions on storing and buying and selling of grain, and by renewed attempts to regulate export and import accord-ing to prices. In 1562 the price at which export might "take place was raised to 10s. per quarter for wheat, and 6s. "8d. for barley and malt. This only lasted a few years, and in 1570 the export of wheat and barley was permitted from particular districts on payment of a duty of Is. 8d. per quarter, although still liable to prohibition by the Govern-ment or local authority, while it was entirely prohibited under the old regulations from other districts. Only at the close of Elizabeth's reign (1603) did a spark of new light appear in a further statute, which removed the futile pro-visions in favour of tillage and against enlargement of pas-toral farms, and rested the whole policy for promoting an equable supply of corn, while encouraging agriculture, on an allowed export of wheat and other grain at a duty of 2s. and Is. 4d. when the price of wheat was not more than 20s., and of barley and malt 12s. per quarter. The import of corn appears to have been much lost sight of from the period of the statute of 1463. The internal state of England, as well as the policy of other countries of Europe, was unfavourable to any regular import of grain, though many iparts of the kingdom were often suffering from dearth of ocorn. It is obvious that this legislation, carried over more ithan a century and a half, failed of its purpose, and that it neither promoted agriculture, nor increased the supply of bread. So great a variance and conflict between the intention of statutes and the actual course of affairs might be deemed inexplicable, but for an explanation which a close economic study of the circumstances of the times affords.

Besides the general reasons of the failure already indicated, there were three special causes in active operation, which, though not seen at the period, have become distinct enough since. (1) A comparatively free export of wool had been permitted in England from time immemorial. It was subject neither to conditions of price nor to duties in the times under consideration, was easier of transport and much less liable to damage than corn, and, under the extending manufactures of France and the Low Countries, was sure of a foreign as well as a domestic market. Here was one description of rural produce on which there was the least embargo, and on which some reliance could be placed that it would in all circumstances bring a fair value ; while corn, the prime rural produce, was subject as a commodity of merchandize to every difficulty, internally and externally, which meddling legislation and popular prejudice could im-pose. The numerous statutes enjoining tillage and discouraging pastoral farms—or in other words requiring that agriculturists should turn from what was profitable to what was unprofitable—had consequently no substantial effect, save in the many individual instances in which the effect may have been injurious. (2) The value of the standard money of the kingdom had been undergoing great depreciation from two opposite quarters at once. The pound sterling of England was reduced in weight of pure metal from £1, 18s. 9d. in 1436, the date of the first of the corn statutes, to 4s. 7d. in 1551, as far as can be esti-mated in present money, and to £1, 0s. 6d. under the restoration of the coinage in the following year. At the same time the greater abundance of silver, which now began to be experienced in Europe from the discovery of the South American mines, was steadily reducing the in-trinsic value of the metal. Hence a general rise of prices remarked by Hume and other historians ; and hence also it followed that a price of corn fixed for export or im-port at one period became always at another period more or less restrictive of export than had been designed. (3) The wages of labour would have followed the advance in the prices of commodities had they been left free, but they were kept down by statute to the three or four pence per day at which they stood, when the pound sterling contained one-fourth more silver, and silver itself was much more valuable,—a refinement of cruelty, for which an excuse is hardly to be found in the prevailing ignorance of principles of political economy, great as that was. The feudal system was breaking up ; a wage-earning population was rapidly increasing both in the farms and in the towns ; but the spirit of feudalism re-mained, and the iron collar of serfdom was rivetted round the necks of the labourers by these statutes many genera-tions after they had become nominally freemen. The result was chronic privation and discontent among the common people, by which all the conditions of agriculture and trade in corn were further straitened and barbarized ; and an age, in some high respects among the most brilliant in the annals of England, was marked by an enormous increase of pauperism, and by tbe introduction of the mer-ciful but wasteful remedy of the Poor Laws.

The corn legislation of Elizabeth remained without change during the reign of James, the civil wars, and the Commonwealth. But on the restoration of Charles II. in 1660, the question was resumed, and an Act was passed of a more prohibitory character. Export and import of corn, while nominally permitted, were alike subjected to heavy duties—the need of the Exchequer being the paramount consideration, while the agriculturists were no doubt pleased with the complete command secured to them in the home market. This Act was followed by such high prices of corn, and so little advantage to the revenue, that Parlia-ment in 1663 reduced the duties on import to 9 per cent. ad valorem, while at the same time raising the price at which export ceased to 48s., and reducing the duty on export from 20s. to 5s. 4d. per quarter. In a few years this was found to be too much free-trade for the agricultural liking, and in 1670 prohibitory duties were re-imposed on import when the home price was under 53s. 4d., and a duty of 8s. between that price and 80s., with the usual make-weight in favour of home supply, that export should be prohibited when the price was 53s. 4d. and upwards. But complaints of the decline of agriculture continued to be as rife under this Act as under the others, till on the accession of William and Mary, the landed interest, taking advantage of the Revolution as they had taken advantage of the Restoration to promote their own interests, took the new and surprising step of enacting a bounty on the export of grain, which continued to infect the corn laws of the kingdom, varied, on one occasion at least, with the further complication of bounties on import, until a comparatively recent period. The duties on export being abolished, while the heavy duties on import were maintained, this is pro-bably the most one-sided form which the British corn laws ever assumed, but it was attended with none of the advan-tages anticipated. The prices of corn fell, instead of rising. There had occurred at the period of the Revolution a depreciation of the money of the realm, analogous in one respect to that which marked the first era of the com statutes (1436-1551), and forming one of the greatest difficulties which the Government of William had to encounter. The coin of the realm was greatly debased, and as rapidly as the mint sent out money of standard weight and purity, it was melted down, and disappeared from the circulation. The influx of silver from South America to Europe had spent its action on prices before the middle of the century; the precious metals had again hardened in value ; and for forty years before the Revolution the price of corn had been steadily falling in money price. The liberty of exporting wool had also now been cut down before the English manufactures were able to take up the home supply, and agriculturists were consequently forced to extend their tillage. When the current coin of the kingdom became wholly debased by clipping and other knaveries, there ensued both irregularity and inflation of nominal prices, and the producers and consumers of corn found themselves equally ill at ease. The farmers com-plained that the home-market for their produce was unremunerative and unsatisfactory; the masses of the people complained with no less reason that the money wages of labour could not purchase them the usual necessaries of life. Lord Macaulay, in his History of England, says of this period, with little exaggeration, that " the price of the necessaries of life, of shoes, of ale, of oatmeal, rose fast. The labourer found that the bit of metal which, when he received it, was called a shilling, would hardly, when he purchased a pot of beer or a loaf of rye bread, go as far as sixpence." The state of agriculture could not be pros-perous under these conditions. But when the Government of William surmounted this difficulty of the coinage, as they did surmount it, under the guidance of Sir Isaac Newton,, with remarkable statesmanship, it necessarily followed that prices, so far from rising, declined, because, as one reason, they were now denominated in a solid metallic value. The rise of prices of com attending the first years of the export bounty was consequently of very brief duration. The average price of wheat in the Winchester market, which in the ten years 1690-99 was £2, 10s., fell in the ten years 1716-25 to £1, 5s. 4d., and in the ten years 1746-55 to £61, Is. 2d. These figures are enough to dispel much illusion as to the effect of promoting particular branches of industry by legislative and fiscal protection. The system, of corn law established in the reign of William and Mary was probably the most perfect to be conceived for advancing; the agricultural interest of any country. Every stroke of the legislature seemed complete to this end. Yet it wholly failed of its purpose, because no industrial interest whatever can by any artificial means prosper, save in harmonious con-nection with the progress of other interests. If the price of wheat again rose in 1750-60 and 1760-70 to £1, 19s. 3d. and £2, ls. 3d., it was simply because many causes had meanwhile been at work, as invariably happens in such economic developments, the operation of which no-statutes could embrace, either to control or to prevent. Between the reign of William and Mary and that of George III., the question of bounty on export of grain had, in the general progress of the country, fallen into the background,, while that of the heavy embargoes on import had come to the-front. Therefore it is that Burke's Act of 1773, as a deli-berate attempt to bring the corn laws into some degree of rea-son and order, is worthy of special mention. This statute _ permitted the import of foreign wheat at a nominal duty of 6d. when the home price was 48s. per quarter, and it. stopped both the liberty to export and the bounty on export-together when the home price was 44s. per quarter. There was probably an error in stopping export and cutting off' bounty on export at the same point of price. But apart from this passing blemish, the statute of 1773 was worthy of the genius of Burke, and it would have been well for the-country to have imbibed more fully its spirit and principles.
Fewquestions have been more discussed or more differently interpreted than the elaborate system of corn laws dating from the reign of William and Mary. Even so careful an observer as Malthus was of opinion that the bounty oni export had enlarged the area of subsistence. But a bounty on export is obviously liable to the same objection as a. heavy duty on foreign import. It fails to create a natural, and therefore permanent, market for the favoured produce.. The foreigner is induced at the expense of the exporting, state to take the commodity at less cost than it can be pro-duced. A bounty on export consequently never adjusts-itself to the real conditions either at home or abroad. That the bounty on export of corn had large operation is sufficiently attested by the fact that, in the years from 1740 to 1751, bounties were paid out of the Exchequer to the amount of £1,515,000, and in 1749 alone they amounted to £324,000. But the trade thus forced was of no permanence, and the British exports of com, which reached a maximum of 1,667,778 quarters in 1749-50, had fallen to 600,000 quarters in 1760, and continued to decrease.

Burke's Act lasted long enough to introduce a regular import of foreign grain, varying with the abundance or scarcity of the home harvest, yet establishing in the end a systematic preponderance of imports over exports. The period, moreover, was marked by great agricultural improve-ments, by extensive reclamation of waste lands, and by an increased home produce of wheat, in the twenty years from 1773 to 1793, of nearly 2,000,000 quarters. Nor had the course of prices been unsatisfactory. The average price of British wheat in the twenty years was ¿62, 6s. 3d., and in only three years of the twenty was the price a fraction under £2. But the ideas in favour of greater freedom of trade, of which the Act of 1773 was an indication, and of which another memorable example was given in Pitt's Commercial Treaty with France, were overwhelmed in the extraordinary excitement caused by the French Revolution, and all the old corn law policy was destined to have a sudden revival. The landowners and farmers complained that an import of foreign grain at a nominal duty of 6d., when the price of wheat was only 48s., deprived them of the ascending scale of prices when it seemed due ; and on this instigation an Act was passed in 1791, whereby the price at which importation could proceed at the nominal duty of 6d. was raised to 54s., with a duty of 2s. 6d. from 54s. to 50s., and at 50s. and under 50s. a prohibitory duty of 24s. 3d. The bounty on export was maintained by this Act, but exportation was allowed without bounty till the price reached 46s. ; and the permission accorded by the statute of 1773 to import foreign corn at any price, to be re-exported duty free, was modified by a warehouse duty of 2s. 6d., in addition to the duties on import payable at the time of sale, when the corn, instead of being re-exported, happened to be sold for home consumption. The legislative vigilance in this statute to prevent foreign bread from reaching the home consumer is remarkable. There were deficient home harvests for some years after 1791, particularly in 1795 and 1797, and Parliament was forced to the new expedient of granting high bounties on importation. At this period the country was involved in a great war ; all the customary commercial relations were violently dis-turbed ; freight, insurance, and other charges on import and export were multiplied fivefold ; heavier and heavier taxes were imposed; and the capital resources of the king-dom were poured with a prodigality without precedent into the war channels. The consequence was that the price of corn, as of all other commodities, rose greatly ; and the Bank of England having stopped paying in specie in 1797, this raised nominal prices still more under the liberal use of bank paper in loans and discounts, and the difference that began to be established in the actual value of Bank of England notes and their legal par in bullion.

The average price of British wheat rose to £65, 19s. 6d. in 1801. So unusual a value must have led to a large extension of the area under wheat, and to much corn-growing on land that after great outlay was ill prepared for it. In the following years there were agricultural complaints ; and in 1804, though in 1803 the average price of wheat had been as high as £62, 18s. 10d., an Act was passed, so much more severe than any previous statute, that its object would appear to have been to keep the price of corn some-where approaching the high range of 1801. A prohibitory duty of 24s. 3d. was imposed on the import of foreign wheat when the home price was 63s. or less ; and the price at which the bounty was paid on export was lowered to 40s., while the price at which export might proceed without bounty was raised to 54s. Judging from the prices that ruled during the remaining period of the French wars, this statute would appear to have been effective for its end, though, under all the varied action of the times on a rise of prices, it would be difficult to assign its proper place in the general effect. The average price of wheat rose to £4, 9s. 9d. in 1805, and the bank paper price in 1812 was as high even as £66, 6s. 6d. The bullion prices from 1809 to 1813 ranged from 86s. 6d. to 100s. 3d. But it was foreseen that when the wars ended a serious re-action would ensue, and that the rents of land, and the general condition of agriculture, under the warlike, protective, and monetary stimulation they had received, would be imperilled. In the brief peace of 1814 the average bullion price cf British wheat fell to 55s.
8d, All the means of select committees of inquiry on agricultural distress, and new modifications of the corn laws, were again brought into requisition. The first idea broached in Parliament was to raise the duties on foreign im-ports, as well as the prices at which they were to be leviable, and to abolish the bounty on export, while permitting freedom of export whatever the home price might be. The latter part of the scheme was passed into law in the session of 1814 ; but the irritation of the manufacturing districts against the new scale of import duties was too great to be resisted. In the subsequent session an Act was passed, after much opposition, fixing 80s. (14s. more than during the wars) as the price at which import of wheat was to become free of duty.

This Act of 1815 was intended to keep the price of wheat in the British markets at about 80s. per quarter; but the era of war and great expenditure of money raised by public loans had ended, the ports of the Continent were again open to some measure of trade and to the equalizing effect of trade upon prices, the Bank of England and other banks of issue had to begin the uphill course of a resump-tion of specie payments, the nation had to begin to feel the whole naked weight of the war debt, and the idea of the protectors of a high price of corn was proved by the event to be an utter hallucination. The corn statutes of the next twenty years, though occupying an enormous amount of time and attention in the Houses of Parliament, may be briefly treated, for they are simply a record of the impotence of legislation to maintain the price of a commodity at a high point when all the natural economic causes in operation are opposed to it. In 1822 a statute was passed reducing the limit of prices at which importation could proceed to 70s. for wheat, 35s. for barley, 25s. for oats ; but behind this apparent relaxation was a new scale of import duties, by which foreign grain was subject to heavy three-month duties up to a price of 85s.,—17s. when wheat was 70s., 12s. when between 70s. and 80s., and 10s. when 85s., show-ing the grasping spirit of the would-be monopolizers of the home supply of corn, and their reluctance to believe in a lower range of value for corn as for all other com-modities. This Act never operated, for the reason that, with the exception in some few instances of barley, prices never were so high as its projectors had contemplated. The corn trade had passed rapidly beyond reach of the statutes by which it was to be so painfully controlled; and as there were occasional seasons of scarcity, particularly in oats, the king in council was authorized for several years to override the statutes, and do whatever the public interests might require.

In 1827 Canning introduced a new system of duties, under which there would have been a fixed duty of 1 s. per quarter when the price of wheat was at or above 70s., and an increased duty of 2s. for every shilling the price fell below 69s. ; but though Canning's resolutions were adopted by a large majority in the House of Commons, his death and the consequent change of ministers involved the failure of his scheme of corn duties. In the following year Mr Charles Grant introduced another scale of import duties on corn, by which the duty was to be 23s. when the price was 64s., 16s. 8d. when the price was 69s., and only Is. when the price was 73s. or above 73s. per quarter; and this became law the same year. This sliding scale was more objectionable, as a basis of foreign corn trade, than that of Canning, though not following so closely shilling by shilling the variation of prices, because of the abrupt leaps it made in the amount of duties leviable. For example, a merchant who ordered a shipment of foreign wheat when the home price was 70s. and rising to 73s., instead of having a duty of Is. to pay, should on a backward drop of the home price to 69s. have 16s. 8d. of duty to pay. The result was to introduce wide and incalculable elements of speculation into all transactions in foreign corn. The prices during most part of this period were under the range at which import was practically prohibited. The average price of British wheat was 96s. lid. in 1817, but from that point there was in succeeding years a rapid and progressive decline, varied only by the results of the domestic harvests, till in 1835 the average price of wheat was 39s. 4d., of barley 29s. lid., and oats 22s. The import of foreign grain in these years consisted principally of a speculative trade, under a privilege of warehousing accorded in the statute of 1773, and extended in subsequent Acts, by which the grain might be sold for home consumption on payment of the duties, or re-exported free, as suited the interest of the holders.

The Act of 1822 admitted com of the British possessions in North America under a favoured scale of duties, and in 1825 a temporary Act was passed, allowing the import of wheat from these provinces at a fixed duty of 5s. per quarter, irrespective of the home price, which, if maintained, would have given some stability to the trade with Canada. The idea of a fixed duty on all foreign grain, however, appears to have grown in favour from about this period. It was included in the programme of import duty reforms of the Whig Government in 1841, and fell with its propound ers in the general election of that year. Sir Robert Peel, on succeeding to office, and commencing his remarkable career as a free-trade statesman, introduced and carried in 1842 a new sliding scale of duties somewhat better adjusted to the current values. But public opinion by this time had penetrated the imprudence of the whole system; and the prime minister, convinced, as he confessed, by the arguments of Cobden and the Anti-Com Law League, and stimulated into action by the failure of the potato crop in Ireland, put an effectual end to the history of the corn laws by the famous Act 9 and 10 Vict. c. 22. It was provided under this measure that the maximum duty on foreign wheat was to be immediately reduced to 10s. per quarter when the price was under 48s., to 5s. on barley when the price was under 26s., and to 4s. on oats when the price was under 18s., with lower duties as prices rose above these figures; but the conclusive part of the enactment was that in three years—on 1st of February 1849—these duties were to cease, and all foreign corn to be admitted at a duty of Is. per quarter, and all foreign meal and flour at a duty of 4Jd. per cwt.—the same nominal imposts which were con-ceded to grain and flour of British possessions abroad from the date of the Act. Moreover, in 1860, even these nominal duties were abolished in a Customs Duties Act, and since xhat time corn and other provisions have been admitted into the United Kingdom free of all fiscal charge.

As has been remarked above more than once the distribution of corn supplies in the kingdom was much impeded by laws directed against all dealing in corn as an article of ordinary merchandize, apart from questions of foreign import or export. The theory was that when corn was plentiful in any district it should be consumed at what it would bring, without much respect to whether the next harvest might be equally abundant, or to what the immediate wants of an adjoining province of the same country might be. The first statute on the subject appears to have been passed in the reign of Edward VI., though the general policy had prevailed before that time both in popular prejudice and in the feudal custom; and by this statute any one who bought corn to sell it again was made liable to two months' imprisonment with forfeit of the corn. A second offence was punished by six months' imprison-ment and forfeit of double the value of the corn, and a third by the pillory, and utter ruin. Severe as this statute was, liberty was given by it to transport corn from one part of the country under licence to men of approved probity, which implied that there was to be some buying of corn to sell it again and elsewhere. Practically " engrossing " came to be considered buying wholesale to sell again wholesale. "Forestalling" was different, and the statutes were directed against a class of dealers who went forward and bought or contracted for corn and other provisions, and spread false rumours in derogation of the public and open markets appointed by law, to which our ancestors appear to have attached much importance, and probably in these times not without reason. The statute of Edward VI. was modified by many subsequent enact-ments, particularly by the statute of 1663, by which it was declared that there could be no " engrossing " of corn when the price did not exceed 48s. per quarter, and which Adam Smith recognized, though it adhered to the variable and unsatisfactory element of price, as having contributed more to the progress of agriculture than any previous law in the statute book. In 1773 these injurious statutes were abolished, but the penal character of " engrossing" and " forestalling" had a root in the common law of England, as well as in the popular prejudice, which kept the evil alive to a later period. As the public enlighten-ment increased the judges were at no loss to give interpreta-tions of the common law consistent with public policy. Subsequent to the Act of 1773, for example, one Waddington was convicted and punished for engrossing hops; but though this was deemed a sound and proper judgment at the time, yet it was soon afterwards overthrown in other cases, on the ground that buying wholesale to sell wholesale was not in " restraint of trade " as the former judges had assumed. Popular antipathy to corn-dealers and corn-dealing survived to still more recent times; but meal riots, and violent interference with the storing or move-ment of grain, may be said to have wholly disappeared from the United Kingdom since the repeal of the corn laws in 1846.

Freedom of export of corn from customs duties has become the general rule of nearly all foreign countries. The opening of so great a market as the United Kingdom for corn free of import duty, from every quarter alike, was calculated in itself to have considerable influence in dispel-ling the ancient prejudice against a free export of grain. It is somewhat curious to remark that Spain, which has not been forward in adopting modern ideas of trade, saw the advantage to her various splendid wheat-producmg provinces of freedom of export of wheat as early as 1820, and three years afterwards extended this freedom to all "fruits of the soil" in Spain, which has since remained the policy of the country. But heavy duties on the import of cereal produce continue to be levied there, and must fall with very different effects on various parts of a kingdom in which the physical difficulties of interior transport are so great, and so little has hitherto been done to overcome them. Rice imported into any part of Spain is subject to a duty of 75s. per ton, wheat to 25s., dry pulse to 25s., oats to 21s. 8d., and barley, rye, and maize to 18s. 9d. per ton. The cereal produce of Portugal is exported free of duty, but on the Portugal, import of wheat and flour by sea, there are duties at the rate of 6 rees per kilo on wheat and 8 rees on flour ; inland, or through " dry ports," the duty is 2 rees on wheat and 4. rees on flour. Export and import of grain in France were prohibited down to the period of the repeal of the British corn laws, save when prices were below certain limits in the one case and above certain other limits in the other. But export of grain and flour from France has for many years been free of duty. On the import of grain and flour, on the other hand, France not only levies duties, but makes a distinction between countries within and beyond Europe. The duty on grain imported into France from countries outside of Europe is 60 centimes, and on flour If. 20c, per 100 kilos, and from countries in Europe on grain 3f. 60c, and on flour 4f. 20c, per 100 kilos. These duties on import have accompanying drawbacks on export when the grain has been converted into flour, or the flour into
Belgium. biscuits In Belgium the export and import of grain are alike free of duty, and, as far as we have ascertained, this remark applies also to flour and other manufactures of grain. The policy of the Netherlands, which was formerly favourable to import and export of grain from

land*6*" tne advantages possessed by Rotterdam and Amsterdam as international entrepots, has undergone some change in recent times. For some years prior to 1845 there was a moderate sliding scale of import duties on grain in Holland, and this gave place, on the ravages of the potato disease which fell on many parts of that country with only less severity than in Ireland, to a low fixed duty which proved satisfactory in its operation. At the present time the import duties on grain, beans, pulse, <fcc, are 1'50 guilders (2s. 6d.) per hectolitre, or 2-8 Winchester bushels, and on bread, biscuit, flour, 40c. (8d.) per 100 lb ; these exhibit, more especially in the case of raw grain, a considerable increase on the duties which were deemed sufficient and expedient about the period of the repeal of the English corn

Italy. laws. In Italy there are no duties on the export of grain, which, though extremely irregular in one season as compared with another, shows a remarkable progressive increase within the last fifteen years. Flour does not figure largely in the list of Italian exports, and for this there may be some reason in the peculiar tax which the Italian Govern-ment levies on the milling of all grain, whether of domestic or foreign produce, and which can hardly be compensated even By drawbacks on export as long as the domestic industry of flour-making is cramped by a severe excise. This is the more worthy of being remarked, because the commerce of Italy includes a great portion of the very best qualities of wheat from the Black Sea ; and in her flour, and macaroni, and vermicelli preparations, so highly prized in her domestic consumption, she has a basis of what might become a considerable foreign trade. The duties on import of grain and flour in Italy are not high—75c. on wheat and other grain per 100 kilos, and l'25f. on flour and 75c. on bran for the same quantity. The franc and centime, being received in the Italian custom-houses in the paper-money of the country, is of lower value than the franc and centime in France, though of the same denomination in metallic

Austria. coinage. From Austria and Hungary the export of grain is also free of duty; and in the internal corn trade of the Austrian empire, important measures of improvement now pending are likely to be accomplished.

The great countries, famous for a production of raw materials much beyond their own means of consumption, are favourable, of course, to the utmost freedom of export. The empire of China itself was never unwilling to sell to foreigners tea, for which there was no domestic use. The United States promote transit and export of corn, internally
States. and externally, with all the intelligence and resources of a civilized people. If the shareholders in railways and canals and steam-boat lines in the United States were consulted, they would probably say that this policy of freedom of export had been promoted beyond due bounds of equity. But on the other hand, the protective and prohibitive tariff of the United States on necessary supplies to agriculturists must be held to be equivalent to an embargo on the export of American corn, as well as cotton, tobacco, and other raw products of the soil. The same remark

Russia. applies to Russia, which, while expediting her export of raw produce with help of borrowed capital, as much as possible, maintains a high tariff against foreign commodities, and lays the foundation even of her conquests in the interior of Asia, by decreeing that nothing shall be sold within her territories but what is of Russian manufacture or Russian merchandize.

The facility with which the soundest views of the The ease of efficacy of freedom of trade in corn, as a permanent policy, famme-may be called in question under circumstances of extremity, was shown in the course of the recent famine in Bengal. A cry arose in India for a prohibition of the export of rice, and was supported by some of the most enlightened organs of public opinion at home. The governor-general, Lord Northbrook, who had taken a different view of the situation, was subjected to severe rebuke ; but the more the reasons were examined the more clear it became that the wisdom was on his part and the imprudence on the other. Mau-ritius, for example, almost wholly tilled not only by subjects of Great Britain but by natives of India, would have been reduced by prohibition of export to almost as great starvation as the poor people in the districts where the harvest had failed. The rice of India, moreover, ex-ported to Europe, was of a quality seldom or never used by the common people of India, and its arrest could have been of the slightest possible utility in relieving the famished districts. Besides the whole internal trade and movement of rice in India had to be taken into considera-tion. There was extreme scarcity in several provinces of Bengal, but there was the usual abundance in many other parts of India. A decree prohibiting export would have-stopped the customary movement of rice in Hindustan,, diminished the supplies in all the central markets, and both aggravated the calamity and put difficulties in the way of its being overcome. The sound policy was to allow scope to all effective demand for rice in India according to the ordinary course of trade, and as there were some tens of thousands of people in a certain quarter of India who had no effective demand to offer, to bring the help of the Government to their relief. This was the policy pursued, and the result was that the famine in Bengal was relieved, as no famine in India had been before, with the least avoidable disturbance of the markets on which India is dependent for the sale of her surplus produce. (E. SO.)


Mr M'Culloch, to whose researches on this subject every subsequent writer must be much indebted, found from a comparison of the prices of corn and wages of labour in the reign of Henry VII. and the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, that in the former period a labourer could earn a quarter of wheat in 20, a quarter of rye in 12, and a quarter of barley in 9 days ; whereas, in the latter period, to earn a quarter of wheat required 48, a quarter of rye 32, and a quarter of barley 29 days' labour. See the article CORN LAWS in 8th edition of this work.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries