The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 56
Taxing Foreign Wheat. — Facts for Labourers. — Leaflet No. XIV
Taxing Foreign Wheat.
Facts for Labourers.
Leaflet No. XIV.
Protectionists and Fair Traders want to impose a tax on the importation of wheat.
They pretend that this would be for the interests of Agriculture, while the rest of the Community would not be injured.
There is only one class which would be benefited, and that is the Landlords, who would be able to exact higher rents.
Every other class would be robbed.
Farmers would not gain; their rents would be raised.
Labourers would not gain; they would have to pay more for their loaf and for everything else they use, and their wages would be lowered.
Trade would languish and the whole Community would suffer.
The nation has had a bitter experience of all this.
In 1815, in order to keep up war prices, and so keep up rents for the Landlords, a Corn Law was enacted.
Foreign wheat was not to be imported free until the price was 80s. a quarter, which meant is. for the four-pound loaf.page 2
This and other laws were enacted by force, and were afterwards maintained by force.
They lasted till 1846, when famine came on the scene, and they were repealed.
For thirty years, therefore, the nation groaned under the infamous system.
During these thirty years the Landlords thrived. They took sixpence out of every shilling the workman earned.
Town and country labourers earning five to seven shillings a week had to pay from tenpence to eighteenpence for a four-pound loaf.
The people starved; they went mad with misery.
There were riots and rick burnings.
Some rioters in the Eastern Counties went about with a flag with the words "Bread or Blood" upon it. Eight of them were hanged, and nineteen sentenced to transportation or long terms of imprisonment.
During these thirty years the state of the country was simply awful.
At one time, one out of every eleven of the population was a pauper.
Some idea of the state of things may be gained from the few Facts which follow:—
In 1816, at Hinckley, Leicestershire, the poor-rate was 52s. in the pound.
In 1817, at Langdon, Dorsetshire, 409 out of 575 inhabitants v.-ere receiving relief; while in Ely three-fourths of the population were in the same plight.
In 1819, 1820, and 1822, Agriculture was in a state of universal distress, and petitions for relief were presented to Parliament.
During the time these laws were in force there were no fewer than five Parliamentary Committees to inquire into the cause of the distress.
Farmers were ruined by thousands.?page 3
One newspaper in Norwich advertised 120 sales of stock in one day.
In 1829 the workhouses in some parts of the country were so crowded that, at times, four, five, or six people had to sleep in one bed,
Sheffield had 20,000, and Leeds had 30,000 people dependent on the rates.
Whole families were reduced to live on bran.
In Huddersfield 13,000 people were reduced to semi-starvation.
In 1839—42, in Stockport, one-half the factories were closed; 3,000 dwellings unoccupied; artizans were breaking stones on the road; the poor-rate was ten shillings in the pound; and outside scraps of bacon were bought in pennyworths by respectable people to moisten their potatoes.
At Leeds the pauper stone heap amounted to 150,000 tons.
In Dorsetshire a man and his wife had for wages 2s. 6d. a week and their house; and the ablest labourers had but 6s. or 7s.
In 1839, in Devonshire, the whole of a poor man's wages would scarcely produce dry bread for a family of four or five children.
As to meat in those times, it was scarcely ever touched.
In 1840 Lord John Russell told the House of Commons that the people were in a worse condition than the negroes in the West Indies.
In 1842, in Bolton, there were 6,995 applicants for relief to the Poor Protection Society, whose weekly earnings averaged only 13d. per head; 5,305 persons were visited, and they had only 466 blankets amongst them, or about one blanket to every eleven persons.
In one district in Manchester there were 2,000 families without a bed.
In Glasgow 12,000 people were on the relief funds.page 4
In Accrington, out of a population of 9,000, only 100 were fully employed.
The reports of the factory inspectors showed that 10 per cent, of the cotton mills, and 12 per cent, of the woollen mills of Lancashire and Yorkshire, were standing idle; and that of the rest only one-fourth were working full time. As Cobden showed, in answer to Sir Robert Peel, the stocking frames of Nottingham were as idle as the looms of Stockport; the glass-cutters of Stourbridge, and the glovers of Yeovil, were undergoing the same privations as the potters of Stoke and the miners of Staffordshire, where 25,000 men were destitute of employment. He knew of a place where one hundred wedding-rings were pawned in a single week to provide bread, and of another place where men and women subsisted on boiled nettles, and dug up the decayed carcass of a [unclear: co] rather than perish of hunger.
Such was the state of things which existed under a system which was called Protection.
In those days the population of Great Britain was about 15 millions; it is now over 30 millions.
In 1884, under Free Trade, there is not a man woman, or child, who is not better off than he or she would have been under the old starvation laws.
Labourers get higher wages than they did under these laws, and with the same money they command more of the necessaries and conveniences of life than they could then.
With these Facts before them they will not listen to those who, under pretence of protecting their interests, would induce them to vote for putting a duty on foreign wheat, that is, levying a Bread Tax.
George W. Medley,
Messrs. Cossell & Company, Limited, La Belle Sauvage Yard, London, E.C., supply this Cobden Club Leaflet in packets of 100, price 2s.