Agricultural Returns and the Government during the Napoleonic Wars
Minchington, W. E.
Agricultural History Review, Volume 1 (1953)
In the course of the second half of the eighteenth century Great Britain virtually ceased to be self-sufficient in grain, and imports were required to supplement home production. The situation in agriculture became more acute in the last twelve years of the century and there was much discussion of the problem of food supplies. Already, with the rapid growth of population, the demands of the home market had become more pressing, and the stage was set for the Malthusian dragon to make his appearance. The scanty crop of 1789 and the poor harvest of 1790 evoked an outburst of pamphleteering and an agitation for greater protection for agriculture. Although these demands were opposed by the commercial and industrial centres, the agricultural interests had their way and a new corn law in 1791 increased the price at which the free import of grain was permitted. This was the immediate reaction to the problem. But the decade which followed was distinguished by an unusual number of bad harvests and it saw Great Britain involved in war. As a result, the clause which enabled the act of 1791 to be modified in case of need was employed every year from 1793 to 1801.