Edward Stillingfleet Cayley (1802–1862)

  • J. E. King


Free trade was probably the least contentious of all the major theoretical issues of economic policy in early nineteenth-century Britain. Of reputable economists only Malthus defended the Corn Laws, and with scant success. The virtual unanimity of the classical economists on this question has led historians almost to ignore the theoretical (as opposed to the political) case for protection.1 One undeserved victim of this neglect has been E. S. Cayley, one of the most distinguished of that small minority who used serious economic arguments to defend import controls, not merely in the interests of the landed classes but also because of their contribution to the general welfare. Cayley was the author of one full-sized book, On Commercial Economy (1830), and of several pamphlets. He sat in Parliament for thirty years, frequently contributing to debates on economic and financial matters. His case for protection combined an analysis of capital accumulation and the impact of machinery with unorthodox monetary views and a thoroughgoing opposition to Say’s Law.2


Political Economy Free Trade Aggregate Demand National Debt Monetary Reform 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    See, for example, the extremely cursory discussion in D. P. O’Brien, The Classical Economists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 276.Google Scholar
  2. See also F. W. Fetter, The Economist in Parliament: 1780–1868 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1980), pp. 34–44, andGoogle Scholar
  3. W. D. Grampp, The Manchester School of Economics (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1960), especially pp. 16–38.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Cayley’s arguments are briefly and sympathetically summarised in B. J. Gordon, Non-Ricardian Political Economy: Five Neglected Contributions (Boston, Mass.: Baker Library, 1967), pp. 13–19, which remains the only substantial appraisal of his work.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    ‘Memoirs of Edward Stillingfleet Cayley, Esq’, The Farmer’s Magazine, second ser., vol. X, no. 2, August 1844, pp. 81–4 (which includes a portrait); obituary in ibid., vol. XXI, 1862, pp. 354–6; Boase, Modern English Biography, vol. I, p. 577; Mrs. Chomley, Yorkshire Heritage (Malton: The Author, 1981), pp. 35–7;Google Scholar
  6. J. Lawrence Pritchard, Sir George Cayley: the Inventor of the Aeroplane (London: Max Parrish, 1961).Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    E. Halevy, A History of the English People in 1815 (3) (London: Penguin, 1938), p. 212.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    P. Richards, ‘The State and Early Industrial Capitalism: the Case of the Handloom Weavers’, Past and Present 83, 1979, pp. 101–25;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. F. W. Fetter, The Development of British Monetary Orthodoxy 1797–1875 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965), pp. 164, 214, 228; Times, 27 February 1862 (obituary).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Here Cayley is rendering precise a concept attacked in Parliament by Ricardo as impossibly vague: W. Smart, Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century1801–1820 (London: Macmillan, 1910, p. 733).Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    On Ricardo, see L. L. Pasinetti, Lectures on the Theory of Production (London: Macmillan, 1977); on Malthus,Google Scholar
  12. W. A. Eltis, ‘Malthus’s Theory of Effective Demand and Growth’, Oxford Economic Papers, vol. 32, 1980, pp. 19–56. In On Commercial Economy Cayley endorses ‘strict attention to the administration of the poor laws, (thus, by a gradual prevention of support to able bodied labourers, curtailing the growth of population)’ (p. 162). This brief reference is incidental to the main thrust of his argument. See also ibid., p. 259.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    ‘Foreign trade and exchanges are the mere creatures of the national convenience’: Thomas Attwood, A Letter to the Earl of Liverpool … (1819), p. 28, reprinted in F. W. Fetter (ed.), Selected Economic Writings of Thomas Attwood (London: L. S. E. Reprints of Scarce Works on Political Economy, 1964).Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Gordon (op. cit., p. 19) speculates that this was due to Cayley’s frustration at his inability to influence economic policy. I suspect that his chronic illness after 1840 was equally important, along (perhaps) with a recognition that in analytical terms he had little more to say.Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    E. S. Cayley, Reasons for the Formation of the Agricultural Protection Society, Addressed to the Industrious Classes of the United Kingdom (London: John Ollivier, 1844), p. 14.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    E. S. Cayley, Letters to the Right Honourable Lord John Russell, M.P., on the Corn Laws (London: John Ollivier, 1846), p. 18; cf.Google Scholar
  17. ibid., pp. 8, 19, 29.Google Scholar
  18. 26.
    Ibid., pp. 22–4, 26–8.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Hansard, vol. 116, 8 May 1851, col. 682; cf. ibid., vol. 123, 25 November. Cayley was not well supported, as is suggested by Lord Stanley’s diary entry for 8 May 1851: ‘Cayley raised his annual debate on the malt tax. My Father [Derby], in a printed letter, had declined to strike five millions off the revenue without equivalent. Disraeli voted for the motion, guarding himself in an ingenious harangue. I stayed away purposely, as did many of the country gentlemen’ (J. R. Vincent (ed.), Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party: Memoirs of Edward Henry, Lord Stanley, 1848–1869, Brighton: Harvester, 1978, pp. 64–5). A year later Cayley endorsed John Stuart Mill’s proposal for a general 10 per cent sales tax as the fairest source of government revenue (Cayley to Disraeli, 16 August 1852: B/XXI/C113).Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    M. Bleaney, Underconsumption Theories: A History and Critical Analysis (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976);Google Scholar
  21. B. Gordon, Economic Doctrines and Tory Liberalism 1824–1830 (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 159;Google Scholar
  22. S. Rashid, ‘David Robinson and the Tory Macroeconomics of “Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine”’, History of Political Economy 10, 1978, pp. 258–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 36.
    J. E. King, ‘“Perish Commerce!” Free Trade and Underconsumption in Early British Radical Economics’, Australian Economic Papers 20, 1981, pp. 235–57;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. M. Berg, The Machinery Question and the Making of Political Economy, 1815–1848 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), ch. 12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 37.
    P. James, Population Malthus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979), pp. 261–3.Google Scholar
  26. 38.
    L. Robbins, The Theory of Economic Policy in English Classical Political Economy (London: Macmillan, 1952), p. 32.Google Scholar
  27. 40.
    B. A. Corry, Money, Saving and Investment in English Economics1800–1850 (London: Macmillan, 1962), pp. 63–7.Google Scholar
  28. 41.
    Fetter, British Monetary Orthodoxy, p. 142. Cayley’s 1835 description of open-market operations is cited by Jacob Viner, Studies in the Theory of International Trade (New York: Harper, 1937), p. 259, n. 17. His perceptive interrogation in 1848 of the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England showed ‘a concern about the level of employment and the relation to it of the rate of interest [which] had quite a modern ring’:Google Scholar
  29. B. Thomas, Migration and Economic Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 181–2.Google Scholar
  30. 42.
    On Commercial Economy, pp. 182–4, 190–9; cf. ibid., p. 181: ‘So long as the market can be considered unlimited, it matters little how trade is arranged.’Google Scholar
  31. 45.
    York Courant, 15 July 1841. Marx does mention Cayley while citing his interrogation of Overstone at the 1857 Select Committee, but appears to have been unaware of his writings: K. Marx, Capital, vol. III (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), p. 417. Cayley’s name is omitted from the index of this edition.Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    L. Robbins, Robert Torrens and the Evolution of Classical Economics (London: Macmillan, 1958), p. 253, cited Fetter, British Monetary Orthodoxy, p. 237.Google Scholar
  33. 49.
    Although he was in the majority on the 1834–5 Select Committee in recommending minimum wage protection for the handloom weavers, Cayley seems to have done nothing more about it. He supported the Ten Hours Bill of 1847, but was more reluctant to endorse restrictions on working hours in the mines (York Courant, 12 August 1847; Hansard, vol. 159, 13 and 22 June 1860, cols 410, 849). On the other hand, he was a consistent supporter of the New Poor Law of 1834 (On Commercial Economy, pp. 259–60; York Herald, 17 January 1835; Yorkshire Gazette, 12 August 1837). David Roberts, Paternalism in Early Victorian England (London: Croom Helm, 1979), p. 228, is quite wrong on this point, and on balance his description of Cayley as a patenalist may be doubted. See, however, a quite uncharacteristic denunciation of ‘the physical check of Malthus, which left redundant human beings to starve down to the fit and proper number’ (Hansard, vol. 86, 11 May 1846, col. 411). Significantly, this was in the crucial debate on the repeal of the Corn Laws.Google Scholar
  34. 50.
    J. Viner, Studies in the Theory of International Trade (New York: Harper, 1937), p. 118,Google Scholar
  35. cited S. R. Sen, The Economics of Sir James Steuart (London: London School of Economics/Bell, 1957), p. 78.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. E. King 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. E. King
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LancasterUK

Personalised recommendations