Sir Robert Peel's speech on the Repeal of the Corn Laws, 1846

Despite much opposition from his own political party, Peel was able, through his speeces, to influence arguments calling for the Corn Laws to be repealed.


Copyright National Library of Scotland

Transcription Minor corrections


Page 1


Sir R. PEEL : This is being the fourth night of the discussion
upon the corn-laws; and as I do intending not mean to avail myself of
the those daily discussions upon collateral topics, with which we
have been threatened by the honourable gentleman [laughter],
and the very menace of which discussions is infinitely more
formidable to me than the whole of that of the the physical force to with which
which he has alluded [cheers and laughter]; I therefore
desire to take advantage of this opportunity to express my
opinions upon this subject [hear, hear!]. The honourable
gentleman, in the conclusion of his observations,
deprecated unanimity upon this side of the house.
He said to us that “You ought not to ex-
hibit to an admiring country so extraordinary a
contrast with us, on this side of the house, and especially with her
Majesty's government” [cheers and laughter]. Now if the
honourable gentleman had said that he deprecated unanimity
amongst the agricultural classes, because from that he circumstance it might be inferred,
that they were influenced by motives of
self-interest — I could understand
his exhortation to disunion — but that
which he deprecates and fears, is
not Harmony among one the harmonious action of a single and exclusive class,
swayed by the same fears
and motives. He evidently anticipates from
the progress of this discussion & from the
preponderance of the argument against him that the
Representatives of the agricultural
the Commercial and the manufacturing
interests, on this side of the house at least,
with a deference to the opinions and
feelings of their respective Constituents
unite in resistance to the motion repeal of the Corn Laws, not
in order to protect the special interests of
one class of the Community but the general
interests of the whole.

There are two modes of arguing
a Question of this kind — The
first, and that which is infinitely the most convenient to the Speaker, and the most
palatable to a popular assembly, is to avoid the any reference to dry details and close
reasoning, to seize on some weak point in the Speech of an incautious adversary, or to make
an appeal to on some party ground, to the excited feelings & passions of your audience. The
second other is calmly to review the main positions arguments of your opponents which have been chiefly relied
upon in debate, to assign to such as cannot be satisfactorily answered their proper weight —
and the to to attempt to refute or to attempt those which may admit of refutation — This latter is the course
I mean to pursue, from deep conviction of the magnitude of the Question and respect for the interests
involved in it — but in order to pursue it satisfactorily, I must claim that patience
and attention, which I incur the risk of forfeiting by preferring arguments to and details
dull & uninviting in themselves, to more popular and exciting appeals.

I wish to review generally the Reasons that have been alledged for a repeal or material
alteration of the Corn Laws — not those only — that have been relied on in the present
discussion, but those also, which though apparently forgotten in this particular

ferred, when all the agricultural classes were protected, that
they were influenced by personal motives, I could under-

stand him; but I cannot do so when the honourable gentle-
man anticipates not an unanimity amongst the agricultural
classes merely; and when he dreads so much a discussion,
the tendency of which is to show that the interests of all
classes of the community are combined with the agricul-
turists [hear, hear, hear!]. When his chief fear is, not
that there may prevail unanimity amongst the agricul-
tural classes; but when he fears that the representa-
tives of the agricultural, the representatives of the com-
mercial, and the representatives of the manufacturing
interests are ready to defer to the wishes and to consult the
interests of their constituents, and that they shall unite to
repel the motion which has been made [loud cheers]; there
are, sir, two ways of discussing a question of this kind — the
one is to refer to topics connected with party excitement,
and to avail yourself of them for the purpose of applying to
the passions and the feelings of those connected with
you. That would be the most convenient course
for the speaker, and the most palatable in a po-
pular assembly to those who listened to him. An-
other mode of discussion is fairly stating the arguments
upon the one side and upon the other, and taking up the
position which you mean to advocate, fairly supporting the
arguments of your opponents where you can support them,
and, where you are obliged to differ from them, plainly and
distinctly assigning the causes for your difference. It is in-
finitely more convenient for the speaker, in a popular
assembly, to withdraw attention from the real object of de-
bate, and to try it by reference to party feelings. This is
not a course which I mean to pursue upon a matter of such
deep importance as this, and if I shall receive the patient
and attentive consideration of the house I shall certainly
forego any advantage which I might derive from appealing
to the passions and the feelings of those who hear me, and I
shall review the arguments which have been used upon this
and the other side, and doing this I mean to enter into the