Profit-sharing and Land Reform in the Nineteenth Century
In the early nineteenth century the favourable conditions for landowners and tenants which had existed since the 1760s ceased with the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the resumption of cheap imports of corn from abroad. With falling prices, English landowners used their political power to secure protection through the Corn Laws legislation designed to keep prices artificially high. The debate over its imposition generated deep divisions within English society. For the radical press it was proof of the inequities and inefficiencies of the English landlordtenant system; it was claimed to be an institution formed not so much to increase yields, but to reduce costs and make profits for the producers at the expense of labour.1 The newly enclosed farms were not more productive per acre, but required fewer buildings, made optimum use of equipment and labour, and saved landowners the trouble of dealing with small under-capitalized tenants. From a landowner’s point of view, this form of capitalist agriculture, so efficient in the use of capital and labour, made sense, but the cost to labour in terms of welfare could be severe.2 Unlike the much derided peasant farms of France, the improved farms of England were unable to absorb the surplus rural population. When prices fell and English farmers cut their costs, landless labourers bore the brunt.
KeywordsNineteenth Century Large Farm Land Reform Royal Commission Tenant System
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