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Petitions to Parliament in 1841, concerning the Corn Laws

During the general election of 1841, the Corn Laws became a focus of attention; the Anti-Corn-Law League increased its activities. After the victory of Sir Robert Peel and the Conservative Party, a series of petitions both for and against the maintenance of the Corn Laws were presented to parliament. The following are examples of two such petitions

The humble Petition of the undersigned, the Inhabitants of North and South Cadbury, in the county of Somerset,


That we your Petitioners approach your honourable House under the most serious apprehension that the proposed alteration of the present Corn Law will be, if carried into effect, attended with dangerous consequences to the Nation, deluding the people with the expectation that cheap bread could be obtained without a corresponding lowering of wages, thereby raising hopes without the possibility of their being realised; that we consider that it is the first duty of the Legislature to ensure, as far as can be effected by human legislation, a certain, regular and sufficient supply of wheat for the consumption of the people, and that the present Corn Law effects that object as near as may be; in order that the supply of wheat may continue to be commensurate with the utmost wants of the people, every security and encouragement must be afforded to home cultivation; that as experience has shown the uncertainty of commercial intercourse, it will be most ruinous to all ranks of society to place dependence upon foreign countries for the supply of wheat, instead of mainly relying on our native resources, thereby throwing our own labourers out of work, and risking the chance at a future day of famine in our now plenteous land.

That we further consider that uncertainty and vacillation in the Corn Laws are ruinous to the enterprize, skill, and outlay of the farmer, useless to the manufacturing classes, whose main stay is the home market; and that it is the greatest injustice to place the British agriculturist and those connected with the land, who are the great consumers of manufactured goods, on a par with the cultivators of foreign soils, who are comparatively unburthened with taxation and unacquainted with English comforts.

That it appears to your Petitioners fearful to contemplate the total disorganization of engagements, such as mortgages, settlement, annuitants, interests, or national securities, which must follow the depreciated value of our soil, at present bearing the principal weight of Parliament and local taxation.

That your petitioners humbly trust the funds of our charitable institutions may not be impaired, nor our moral or political importance as a nation be lessened; and that the agricultural interests of Britain may not be sacrificed or made secondary to any other interest whatever.

We your Petitioners humbly but strongly pray, that the existing Corn Laws may remain unaltered.

James Bennett
S. Blackall
John Gifford
&c. &c. &c.

The humble Petition of the undersigned Members and Friends of the Congregation of Protestant Dissenters, assembling for divine worship in the Old Gravel Pit Meeting House at Hackney,


That your Petitioners contemplate with pain and distressing apprehension the continuance of certain Laws of Her Majesty's realm, the design and effect of which are to restrict the supply of the necessaries of human life, and greatly to increase their cost.

That the results of those unhappy Laws are now made manifest in the extreme sufferings of those classes of our fellow subjects which constitute the basis of our national strength, in the depression of manufactures, and their exportation to rival countries, in the miserabel [sic] inadequate wages of both agricultural and manufacturing industry, in the entire want of work to an alarming extent, in the hazardous and pernicious direction given to mercantile pursuits, and in a fearful tendency to the impoverishing and ruin of the nation.

That your Petitioners arc especially affected by a rational and Christian conviction of the impiety involved in those Laws, as being in their nature a crime against God, and as in their practical operation productive of discontent, disloyalty, infidelity, profligacy of conduct, a rejection of the authority of religion, and by necessary consequence the most appalling dangers to the peace and security of all classes as to both property and person.

That therefore your Petitioners humbly and earnestly implore your honourable House to take these awful facts into your consideration, and to adopt prompt and effectual measures to stop the progress of national misery, and to prevent our common and irreparable ruin.

And your Petitioners shall ever pray.
John Pye Smith, D.D. F.R.S. Minister
John Jones
Stephen Olding &c. &c. &c.

Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons (1841) (Appendix to Reports of the Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1841 session 2, nos 499, 568).

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