Peel, Sir Robert 1788–1850

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Sir Robert Peel

Robert Peel was the leading British statesman during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and prime minister in 1834 to 1835 and 1841 to 1836. In the history of world trade he stands out as the statesman who in 1846 repealed the Corn Laws—duties on imports of food grains—and so launched a series of parliamentary reforms inaugurating free trade in what was then the world's leading commercial power. The Navigation Laws were abolished in 1849, and imperial preferential duties soon disappeared. Peel's views were those of a hardworking statesman intent on solving practical problems in the public interest, and not much affected by economic theories or party interests. As the son of a successful Lancashire cotton manufacturer, but educated in classics and mathematics at Harrow and Oxford University, Peel proved able to maneuver between the great landowners, who were concerned for rural prosperity, and the rising industrialists of the north and midlands, who were anxious to export freely abroad and to feed the masses of urban factory workers. When his famous act of 1846 came into effect in 1848, it helped to keep out of Britain the revolution that was sweeping through most European countries that year, partly a result of famine. Peel transformed English party politics, and by his farsighted sense of public duty attracted capable "Peelites" who carried on after his political defeat in 1846 and his fatal tumble from his horse on Parliament Hill: W. E. Gladstone (1809–1898), Edward Cardwell, four future governors-general of India, and others.

SEE ALSO Canada; Cargoes, Freight; Corn Laws; Free Trade, Theory and Practice; Huskisson, William;Navigation Acts;United Kingdom.


Brown, Lucy. The Board of Trade and the Free-Trade Movement 1830–42. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1958.

Gash, Norman. The Age of Peel. London: Edward Arnold, 1968.

Gash, Norman. The Life of Sir Robert Peel After 1830. London: Longman, 1972.

Ramsay, A. A. W. Sir Robert Peel. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971.

J. F. Bosher