My article, ‘Popular petitioning and the corn laws, 1833-46’ has just been published in the August issue of English Historical Review, vol. 127 (2012), pp. 882-919. The article sheds new light on one of the most important political campaigns of 19th century Britain, on the development of free trade and the culture of petitioning. The research reflects my interest in popular economic debates in this period and I will shortly be writing a blog on the 19th century roots of quantitative easing.
Article summary. Historians have increasingly emphasised the intellectual influence of Richard Cobden, the leader of the Anti-Corn Law League. But it remains a commonplace that the League was essentially an agitation of textile manufacturers and lacked popular support from the working-classes, who preferred to campaign for Chartism and radical political reform.
Popular apathy or indifference towards the League, however, should not be mistaken for support for the corn laws. A quantitative and qualitative analysis of public petitions, sources which have been largely neglected by historians of nineteenth century politics, provides a new way of studying and mapping popular attitudes on free trade and protection in the early nineteenth century.
The article shows that anti-corn law petitions and signatures were not simply manufactured by the League, but reflected a vibrant and highly diverse culture of popular petitioning. Despite the recent emphasis on the universalism of Cobden’s ideas, petitions against the corn laws often reflected distinctive local political traditions and economic interests, even while emphasising common themes.
The article is available from the EHR webpage http://ehr.oxfordjournals.org/content/current
If any one wants a free electronic copy of the published article please get in touch.