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Should the question of agricultural protection be re-opened by the "farmers' friends" in the coming session of parliament, they will not only have no aid from SIR ROBERT PEEL, but his decided opposition, founded on the conviction of the impossibility of a re-imposition of protective duties. The right honourable gentleman, in the form of a letter to his tenantry, has issued a manifesto of his opinions and intentions on the corn law question. To the disgust of the agriculturalists, the "Arch traitor" will be true to his "treachery", and will not betray those free trade principles of which he has been one of the most useful friends and protectors.
The letter of the ex-Premier, though addressed to the "agricultural mind" of his own estates, is in reality meant for the consideration of the reflecting of every class. If ever there was any intention on the part of the chiefs of the administration to return to protection - a rumour which disproved itself by the suspicious channels whence it emanated - the timeous appearance of this document will defeat the treason, and the discontented will hesitate to disturb the decree of the nation. The repetition of the absurdity almost merits an apology, as they must be simple indeed who can believe that Lord John Russell is of the character to retrograde on an senseless demand to increase taxation for the benefit of a class, and at a risk which his Lordship is too wise a statesman to incur.
Sir Robert informs his tenants, and through them all who have the wisdom to profit by wholesome, albeit unwelcome advice, that the effects of the late changes of the corn laws will be to ensure cheapness and abundance of food, and prevent, as far as human means can accomplish, the possibility of a recurrence of famine. He advises them to dismiss altogether from their minds the hopes of renewed protection, as no parliament, he firmly believes, will consent to re-impose duties on the main articles of food. He is persuaded that temporary causes, besides the deprivation of protection, have materially influenced the depreciation of agricultural produce, and forebears for a time to review their relations of landlord and tenant; but in the meantime makes certain proposals which prove that his farmers have found in Sir Robert a liberal, though prudent though discriminating landlord, ungrieved by mortgages, and who has little requirement to rank his private burdens with the public, and have them conveniently paid from one and the same source.
While he will not make an indiscriminating reduction in rent, he is prepared to consider the specialties of each farmer, and co-operate with all in preparations for meeting foreign competition, and that competition which he is persuaded is more formidable still, domestic capital, enterprise, and skill, which must submerge those who trust to the State for support instead of relying on their own exertions. The proposed arrangements may not be interesting to the public generally; but to the agricultural body they are of great moment, involving example, instruction, and warning to the landlord and farming classes. Those of his farmers who want long leases shall have them; others, if inclined, will be released from their engagements.
And what will be a source of profit both to tenant and landlord, Sir Robert will devote twenty percent of last half year's rent to the improvement of the farms of those tenants who have paid up, and will apply the same amount of next half year's rent to the like purpose. On this expenditure the tenant is required to make no return in rent or interest.
The chief value of this document is its declaration against protection. Its publication will inspire the country with confidence in the stability of a law which has occasioned the consumption of bread to an extent which shows that under protection a large proportion of the people must seldom have enjoyed the pleasure of a full meal; it will prove to the protectionist leaders that no only the working-classes, but the most influential politicians, are hostile to their selfish aims; and it will supply a timely hint to the farmer to look for relief from some other source than toiling industry, which finds its own burdens heavy enough without being obliged to support those who ought to be quite able to provide for themselves.
SIR R PEEL AND HIS FARMERS
The following letter has been addressed by Sir R. Peel to the tenant farmers on his estate:
"I wish to communicate with you on the present state and the prospects of agriculture, so far as they concern our relation of landlord and tenant; and I know not that I could select any better mode of communication than this which I have adopted.
"There can, I think, be no question that the effect of the recent changes in the law, in respect to the free import of the main articles of subsistence, will be to maintain a range of low prices in average seasons, and to prevent very high prices in seasons of dearth. In other words, their effect will be to ensure, as far as legislation can ensure it, cheapness and abundance of food as the ordinary rule, to diminish the risk of scarcity and to mitigate the suffering from it should it unfortunately occur.
"It is because I believe that this will be the effect of the changes to which I have referred that I look upon them as irrevocable, and I advise you to dismiss altogether from your calculations the prospect of renewed protection.
" It is my firm persuasion that neither the present nor any future parliament will consent to reimpose duties upon the main articles of human food, either for the purpose of protection or revenue.
"I would at once act upon that persuasion, and proceed to consider in what degree the free import of provisions affect the relation in which we stand to each other, if I did not believe that other causes, less permanent in their operation, have had a material influence upon the present value of agricultural produce. I allude in particular to the general scarcity and high prices which recently prevailed for two or three successive years, not merely in this country, but throughout great part of Europe; to the extraordinary stimulus thus given to production, and the natural consequence of that stimulus - a temporary and undue depression of price.
"I propose, therefore, to defer for a time that general review of the relation in which we stand to each other, which, but for the circumstances to which I have referred, I would at once have undertaken.
"When undertaken, it will be upon principles which I think you will admit to be just. I shall not refer merely to the diminished price of one article or another, but I shall take into the account all the considerations which fairly enter into the question - shall try to estimate the effect of recent legislation and of improved means of conveyance in reducing not only the price of produce, but the cost of production also - and shall compare the disadvantage to which the tenant farmer may be exposed from competition with producers in other countries, with the benefit which he may derive, if he has ordinary skill and capital from the abolition of duties on many articles which are, or maybe profitably consumed upon a farm.
"I do not undertake to make a general and indiscriminate of abatement of rent, but, aided by good advice, I shall consider the special case of each farm, and the circumstances under which it was entered upon; and in the instances in which I am satisfied that there is a claim for an abatement of rent, I will make it, and make it with much greater pleasure in favour of an old and improving tenant than in favour of a stranger.
"Although, as I have before observed, I do not consider the present the suitable period for this general review of our position, yet I am prepared without delay to co-operate with in preparing to meet, not foreign competition only, but that competition with domestic skill and capital which will be at least as formidable to those farmers who are insensible to the rapid progress of agricultural improvement and neglect to keep pace with it.
"I have not the presumption to offer you advice as to the practical management
of your farms; but I may try to impress upon you this truth, that if there be
any of you who produce, on the average, not more than eighteen or twenty bushels
of wheat per acre, and if there be other farmers who, in not more favoured positions,
and on land of equal quality, produce forty - and if they produced it, not by
expensive farming, but by wise economy, by the command of adequate capital,
by the application of scientific skill, by the liberal employment of labour,
by the saving of every particle of manure, and the restoration to the earth
of those elements of fertility which are withdrawn with every crop - I may,
I say, without presumption, try to impress upon you this truth, that there is
amount of protection from foreign produce, no abatement of rent, which would enable you to meet the competition of your own countrymen.
"To aid the exertions which are required to encounter successfully that competition, I make to you the following proposals.
"The rent due at Michaelmas last, will be payable, according to custom, in the course of a few days. In the case of all those tenants occupying more than 10 acres of land, who shall pay the Michaelmas rent, and discharge any former arrears that may be due, I will set apart 20 per cent of the last half-year's rent, and will forthwith apply the amount under the general direction of my agent, but in concert with the tenant, in such improvements as may be most beneficial to the farm. I shall give the preference to drainage, to the removal of unnecessary fences, and to the means of preventing the waste of manure. On this expenditure no return will be required from the tenant.
"The same course shall be taken with regard to the half-year's rent which will be due at Lady Day next.
"If upon any of your farms additional draining should be still requisite, I will execute the work upon the same terms as heretofore the tenant drawing the materials and paying 4 percent. upon the outlay. As to other permanent improvements requiring expenditure which the tenant cannot conveniently meet, but on which he may be willing to pay a reasonable rate of interest (such for instance, as additional shedding for the feeding of cattle), I will consider favourably any proposals that may be made to me on that head.
"It is hardly necessary to refer to leases of longer than one year, as they are so few in number. In the cases, however, in which they do not exist, I will consent to release the tenant from his engagement, on his giving, at the proper period of the present year, the same notice that would be required in the case of yearly tenancies.
"Such tenancies are, as you are well aware, the almost invariable rule in this immediate neighbourhood; but if any of you are desirous of expending money on the improvement of your farms, and wish for the additional security of a lease for years, I have no disinclination to grant it, being satisfied as to the skill and capital of the tenant requiring it.
"If you prefer to a lease, a written agreement, stipulating for re-imbursement on account of unexhausted improvements on the principle long acted upon in certain districts, I am willing to enter into such an agreement.
"It does not occur to me that there are any other points to which it is necessary for me, for the present at least, to refer. I have thought it would be for your advantage that I should fully explain to you my views and intentions with regard to matters so deeply concerning your interests, and I hope I have done so in a spirit becoming the long connexion that has subsisted between us, and the friendly intercourse we have always maintained.
"Believe me, with every good wish for your welfare, sincerely yours 'Robert Peel "Drayton Manor Dec. 24"
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