- Anti-Corn Law League
- A pressure group that agitated for the repeal of the tariffs protecting expensive British-grown grain from foreign competition. The growing popularity of laissezfaire economic principles opposed to government intervention in the marketplace, undermined the policy of protecting the higher price of domestically grown grain against cheaper imported grain.In 1838, Richard Cobden helped organize the Anti-Corn Law League as a local Manchester society and, in 1839, as a national society. It had only one formal demand - the repeal of the Corn Laws - but in practice challenged the political position of the landlord elite that collected rents from wheat farmers. In addition, some league supporters believed that free trade would enhance the prospects for peace among the European powers, and others expected that it would enable manufacturers to pay their workers lower wages because repealing tariffs would lower the cost of living. At the time, bread was a major part of a working-class diet and not simply a symbol of food in general. With the help of John Bright’s oratory, the league conducted a propaganda campaign against the “bread tax.” A small loaf of bread - all that workers could afford under a system of tariffs - was contrasted with the big loaf that would feed workers and their families under a system of free trade. The League regarded the Conservative Party, dominated by landlords, as its enemy. Beginning in 1841, it intervened in constituency elections to fight protectionist candidates. Ironically, it was the Conservative prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, who was responsible for the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The immediate cause was the emergency created by the potato famine in Ireland. Repeal symbolized the triumph of free trade principles, the recognition that Britain could not feed itself, and the shrinking role of agriculture in a predominantly manufacturing economy. It was not until 1903 that a major politician, Joseph Chamberlain, dared propose new food taxes. Repeal disrupted the British party system. Peel split his largely agricultural party by repealing the Corn Laws. Some of his Peelite followers, notably William Gladstone, eventually joined the rival Liberal Party. Although the repeal of the Corn Laws owed more to Peel than to the Anti-Corn Law League, later pressure groups often modeled themselves on the league, its organizational structure and strategies.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:McCord, Norman. The Anti-Corn Law League: 1838-1846 . London: George Allen and Unwin, 1958.DAVID M. FAHEY
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.