Next time you sign a petition on Change.org, reflect on the history of petitioning, which was a popular means of campaigning in Victorian England.

The Victorian Commons

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…

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