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The finances of the Anti-Corn-Law League

Following the passing of the 1832 Reform Act, the Whig government had tried to appease the middle class by passing various laws, for example, the Poor Law Amendment Act. Economic reform needed more pressure because free trade was being demanded by a new class representing a new way of life in new industrial areas and was opposed by the establishment. Emotions were involved because it was 'old England' being challenged by the 'new England'.

To start with, the League was short of funds because of the economic depression and because the promised subscriptions did not arrive. Gradually the leaders built up support and the Anti-Corn-Law League's finances were efficiently organised and brilliantly led as a campaign, dominated by the middle class. As a result, the League could draw on great funds - £50,000 campaigns were launched with great success. Property was still the basis of the franchise and for candidature in Parliamentary elections. The Anti-Corn-Law League intended to 'work the system' from the inside. Subscriptions were fixed at 5/- each and it cost £50 for one vote in the affairs of the Manchester Committee. These amounts were about the equivalent of a year's wages for the average working man who therefore was excluded from the League: the Anti-Corn-Law League was not democratic. Regular, typically middle class, fund-raising events were held: concerts, bazaars, banquets and so on. The funds of the Anti-Corn-Law League amounted to tens of thousands of pounds annually but the League got its idea for this sort of organisation from O'Connell's Catholic Association. No earlier pressure group had seen such organisation and expenditure. For example, in 1843, the Anti-Corn-Law League had the Manchester Free Trade Hall built in six weeks (on the site of the Peterloo Massacre).

The League's activity was continuous: they employed regional agents, had an efficient propaganda machine, used the penny post to collect funds and distribute their information. Their first newspaper, The Anti-Bread Tax Circular first appeared in 1841; The League was established in 1843 and gave publicity to their meetings among other things. Their MPs were paid by the League. This enabled parliament to be lobbied. The League also persuaded wealthy men to buy land in order to qualify for the franchise themselves and to give land to their sons as 21st birthday presents. All this created great public interest.

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Last modified 4 March, 2016

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