The Corn Laws: Definition & Repeal

Instructor: Brianna Whiting

Brianna has a masters of education in educational leadership, a DBA business management, and a BS in animal science.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the Corn Laws, including what they entailed and whom they benefited. We'll also discuss those who were negatively impacted by these laws and how the laws were eventually repealed. The lesson concludes with a summary and quiz.

A Brief History

During the early 1800s, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, there was a shortage of corn in Great Britain due to several factors, including a naval blockade, a series of bad harvests and a growing population. To protect the country's agricultural interests, in 1815, the British Parliament enacted the Corn Laws, which prevented the import of foreign corn until the price of domestic corn reached a specific price.

Benefits and Downfalls

Keeping prices for corn high ensured a nice income for landlords, who also happened to be a commanding force in Parliament. But less financially fortunate individuals were impacted in a negative way. Because the price of corn was so high, those in the working class had to spend more of their already limited income on this staple, which left them little to spend on other items, including manufactured goods. This left the manufacturing industry in dire financial straits and ultimately led to the layoff of various employees.

The Repeal

The repeal of the Corn Laws was a gradual process. Parliament first tried making a series of reforms in an effort to benefit more than just a select group of wealthy land owners. For example, in 1828, Parliament adopted a sliding scale that allowed for duty-free import of corn when domestic prices reached 73 shillings or above. But when prices dropped below 73 shillings, tariffs increased in concert with falling prices. Ultimately, this reform didn't make much of a difference.

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