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Goulburn's letter to Peel on the proposal to suspend the Corn Laws

30 November 1845

Henry Goulburn was Peel's Chancellor of the Exchequer and had supported Peel throughout the 1841-6 ministry. However, Goulburn was reluctant to give his support to Peel over the proposal to suspend the Corn Laws. The following is Goulburn's letter expressing his concerns to Peel.

I have such an habitual deference to the superiority of your judgement and such an entire confidence in the purity of your motives, that I always feel great doubt as to my being right when I differ from you in opinion. But the more I reflect upon the observations which you made to me a few days since as to your difficulty in again defending a Corn Law in Parliament, the more do I feel alarmed at the consequences of your taking a different course from that which you have previously adopted. An abandonment of your former opinions now would, I think, prejudice your and our characters as public men, and would be fraught with fatal results to the country's best interests; and as I probably hear many opinions on a subject of this kind which do not reach you, the view which I take of probable consequences may not be undeserving of consideration - at least you will not misinterpret my motives in stating it.

I fairly own that I do not see how the repeal of the Corn Law is to afford relief to the distress with which we are threatened. I quite understand that if we had never had a Corn Law, it might be argued that we should now have had a larger supply in our warehouses, or that from the encouragement given by a free trade in corn to the growth of it in foreign countries, we should have had a larger fund on which to draw for a supply. But I think it next to impossible to show that the abandonment of the law now could materially affect this year's supply, or give us any corn which will not equally reach us under the law as it

Under these circumstances it appears to me that the abandonment of the Corn Law would be taken by the public generally as decisive evidence that we never intended to maintain it further than as an instrument by which to vex and defeat our enemies. The very caution with which we have spoken on the subject of corn will confirm this impression. Had we always announced a firm determination under all circumstances to uphold the Corn Law, it would have been more readily believed that in abandoning it now we were yielding to the pressure of an overwhelming necessity which we did not before anticipate. But when the public feel, as I believe they do, great doubts as to the existence of an adequate necessity - when greater doubts still are entertained as to the applicability of the abandonment of the Corn Law as a remedy to the present distress - they will, I fear, with few dissentient voices, tax us with treachery and deception, and charge us, from our former language, with having always had it in contemplation.

So much as to the effect on our character as public men. But I view with greater alarm its effects on public interests. In my opinion the party of which you are the head is the only barrier which remains against the revolutionary effects of the Reform Bill. So long as that party remains unbroken, whether in or out of power, it has the means of doing much good, or at least of preventing much evil. But if it be broken in pieces by a destruction of confidence in its leaders (and I cannot but think that an abandonment of the Corn Law would produce that result), I see nothing before us but the exasperation of class animosities, a struggle for pre-eminence, and the ultimate triumph of unrestrained democracy.

Believe me, &c.,


Peel Memoirs, ii. 201-4

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