Corn Laws, laws regulating the trade in corn or breadstufis. Such laws have existed in various forms, and still exist, in many countries; but the corn laws of England are most famous in our day, owing to the great agitation for their repeal, which was consummated Feb. 1, 1849. They were of ancient origin, and had in the times of Edward VI. and Elizabeth been designed to regulate the domestic trade as well as the foreign. In the reign of Edward VI. the "engrossing" of corn, or buying it in one market to sell in another, was made punishable by imprisonment and the pillory. By a statute of Elizabeth corn could be carried from one part of the kingdom to another by obtaining a license from the quarter sessions. In 1624 these laws regulating the internal trade were much modified; and in 1663 engrossing of corn was declared legal when the price did not reach 48s. per quarter. Although this last law worked well in many respects, the impolicy of such trade restrictions finally came to be acknowledged, and in 1773 the last remnant of these statutes was abolished.
Immediately after the Norman conquest the exportation was prohibited, and this principle was adhered to till 1436, when a law was enacted allowing it whenever the price of wheat should not exceed 6s. 8d. per quarter, and of barley 3s. 4d. In 1463 the importation was prohibited unless the domestic price should exceed the rates named in the law of 1436. In 1562 exportation was allowed when wheat was worth 10s. per quarter, and barley 6s. 8d. in 1571 it was enacted that wheat might be exported by paying a duty of 2s. per quarter, barley and other grain a duty of 1s. 4d., when the home price of wheat was below 20s. and barley below 12s. In 1660, on the accession of Charles II., along with heavy import duties, the export duty of wheat was fixed at 20s. per quarter, with proportionate rates on other grains. In 1663 for these duties an ad valorem duty of 9 per cent, was substituted; as the exportation price of wheat was fixed at 48s. the duty was thus made 5s. 4d. per quarter. In 1670 prohibitory duties were laid upon importation until the price should reach 53s. 4d., while exportation was allowed until the home price should reach that rate. "When above that" price and below ' 80s., importation was allowed with 8s. duty.
In 1689, for the promotion of agriculture, a bounty of 5s. per quarter was paid on wheat exported when the price did not exceed 48s., and of 2s. 6d. on barley or malt if the price did not exceed 24s.; and at the same time importation was prohibited. This system continued till 1773, when, prices having become very high, a law was enacted under the auspices of Edmund Burke, by which the introduction of foreign wheat was allowed, at a duty of 6d. per quarter, whenever the price reached 48s., while the export bounty and exportation itself were to cease whenever the price rose to or above 44s. As this law prevented prices from rising with the increased demand, and as there was a general wish to become independent of foreign supplies, a law was passed in 1791 by which an import duty of 6d. was to be levied when the price was 54s.; when it was under 54s. and above 50s., the duty was to be 2s. 6d.; and when it was under 50s., the duty was to be 24s. 3d. per quarter, or in fact prohibitory. In 1804 a duty of 24s. 3d. was levied when the home price was 63s. or less; when it was from 63s. to 60s., the duty was fixed at 2s. 6d.; and when it was 66s. or more, the duty was 6d. The official price was established by the average of 12 districts, into which the maritime counties of England had been divided; and in Scotland by the average of four maritime districts.
These averages were taken four times a year. In 1814 the export bounty was abolished, leaving exportation unrestricted; and in 1815 an act was procured by the agricultural interest, after a fierce opposition from the manufacturing and commercial classes, fixing 80s. as the limit at which there should be no duty on importation. In 1825 a minimum duty of 1s. was levied when the price should be above 85s., with a maximum duty of 17s. when the price was between 70s. and 80s. In that year the duty on wheat from the North American colonies was fixed for one year at 5s. without regard to the home price. In 1827 Mr. Canning attempted a reform of the corn tariff", and to give greater freedom to importation, but failed. In 1828 an act was passed fixing a minimum duty of 1s. when the price was 73s. or more, with a maximum duty of 23s. 8c?. when the price was 64s.; the prices to be ascertained from actual sales in the principal towns. In 1839 the anti-corn-law league was founded, and the agitation for the total repeal of the duties commenced.
In 1842 Sir Robert Peel's sliding scale was enacted, fixing a minimum duty of 1s. when the price was 73s. and over, and adding 1s. to the. duty with each decrease of 1s. in the price, until the maximum duty of 20s. was reached whenever the price fell below 51s. In 1843 the duty on wheat from Canada was fixed at 1s. Finally, in 1846, Sir Robert Peel's famous free-trade measure was passed, seriously reducing the corn duties at once, and fixing them, after Feb. 1, 1849, at the nominal rate of 1s. per quarter on wheat and other corn, and 4 1/2d. per cwt. on all kinds of flour and meal.