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Peel, Ireland and the Corn laws

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1 Peel, Ireland and the Corn laws

2 Ireland and the Famine Standards of living in Ireland in the 19 th century were appalling No industry – everyone had to live off the land and since Cromwell the land was owned by English protestant aristocrats who charged high rents to Irish catholic peasants 5/6ths of Irish population lived in large families in single room mud huts and either rented land from the English to cultivate or, as was more often sub-letted land from Irish tenants Results – tiny strips of land to sustain large families. High rents meant ‘subsistence’ farming – nothing left to invest in better methods, and a total reliance on one crop – the potato

3 Why the Spud? An acre of potato farming could produce twice the calorific value than an acre of wheat The potato was the only crop that could sustain life By the 1840’s over half the Irish population lived off little else A disaster waiting to happen if the crop ever failed?

4 Famine The potato blight – a crop disease which turned potatoes into inedible putrid slime hit Ireland in autumn 1845 (harvest time) and quickly spread. Irish population was faced with famine and starvation unless the government acted quickly One year later Peel reformed the Corn Laws claiming he had done so to alleviated the famine in Ireland

5 Possible Causes of Repeal The work of the Anti Corn Law League Peel genuinely wanted to help the Irish Peel was a committed free trader who had been convinced by the ACLL and used the famine as an excuse to get repeal passed his divided party Repealing the CLs was part of Peel’s plan to rebrand the party from Tory to conservative Peel was old and wanted an excuse to retire

6 How Important was the Anti Corn Law League? Founded in 1839 by Richard Cobden – a Manchester trader and capitalist, and John Bright – a wealthy factory owner The ACLL was the first single user pressure group in the UK backed by some very wealthy supporters ACLL started a campaign of leafleting, posters, meetings arguing in favour of free trade and the greater prosperity it would bring to all ACLL made sure every voter in the country had a pack of information from the ACLL – result by 1842 both Cobden and Bright M.P’s presenting their arguments in Parliament

7 The Conversion of Peel Historians such as Denis Richards suggest that by 1845 Peel had become converted to the views of the ACLL and was just waiting for the next election to announce his conversion – he had been elected in 1841 committed to the protection of the Corn Laws Richards argues that the intervention of the Famine in 1845 was used by Peel to speed up his decision

8 Tory Split Whilst persuading his cabinet to repeal the CLs was difficult but not impossible – persuading his party was more of a problem! Around 200 of his MPs were Protectionists (led by Disraeli) and 100 ‘Peelites’. Almost all the members of the Lords were against repeal ‘are you to sit in cabinet and consider how much diarrhoea and bloody flux and dysentery a people can bear before you provide them with food’

9 Peel Resigns Being unable to carry his party Peel resigned and the Queen invited Lord John Russell (leader of the Whigs) to form a government. Unfortunately he was unable to get his party to agree and Peel returned as PM in Jan 1846 in an alliance of Peelites and Whigs with the single purpose of repealing the Corn Laws There followed a further 6 month battle between Peel and Disraeli over the CLs until in June 1846 the bill was finally forced through the Commons and Lords and the Corn Laws were gone Peel retired quickly after this

10 How Important was the Famine? To some Peel seemed to have a genuine concern for the people of Ireland (see speeches) For others he was just using the prospect of famine as a lever to get his free trade reforms through For some Peel had been convinced by Cobden and Bright and was planning to repeal the CLs anyway Most of the 1 million who died in Ireland did so in 1847 a year after the repeal of the CLs Very little actual aid got to Ireland – Corn Law repeal allowed for some cheap American maize to get to Ireland – almost inedible and usually used for cattle

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