While such was the feeble policy of the leader of that Whig party which had set up a claim to a sort of monopoly of free trade principles, it was no wonder that the country began to look for relief to the Minister who had introduced the tariff of 1842; but Sir Robert Peel as yet moved too slowly to rouse the enthusiasm in his favour of the Anti-Corn-Law League. He began his remarks with a paltry joke upon the recent scene of those great meetings of which his followers in their hearts well knew the importance. They had, he said, been that evening "engaged for the benefit of the company which usually performed at Covent Garden Theatre." During the greater part of the performance (he added) the front rank of the Opposition benches had been deserted, their usual occupants absent, perhaps from a lively recollection of the assistance given by the members of the Anti- Corn-Law League the other night at "my benefit." He then went on with the old vague allusions to the peculiar special burdens on agriculture which he had so often refused to define, and declared again that the agriculture of the country was entitled to protection from reasons both of justice and policy. "There were not (he continued) ten reflecting men out of the Anti-Corn-Law League, who did not believe that a sudden withdrawal of protection, whether it were given to domestic or colonial produce, would cause great confusion and embarrassment. In the artificial state of society in which we lived, we could not act on mere abstract philosophical maxims, which, isolated, he could not contest; they must look to the circumstances under which we have grown up, and the interests involved. Ireland, dependent on England for a market for her agricultural produce, was a case in point. He was not prepared to alter the Corn Law of 1842, and did not contemplate it. Seeing that Lord John Russell had avowed himself a consistent friend to protection, and was opposed to total repeal, he thought he was somewhat squeamish in flying from his difficulty, and declining to vote against the motion. As to the Corn Law, the Government did not intend to alter it, or diminish the amount of protection afforded to agriculture."
On the division the numbers for the motion were 124, and against it, 330. On the whole, the cause of free trade made but small progress in Parliament in this year, though out of doors the agitation was carried on with ever-increasing vigour. As regards Mr. Villiers' motion, the progress made was shown principally in the decrease of the majority against it. In 1842, when he first put the question of total repeal on issue before the House, he had 92 votes, and 395 against him; in 1843, ho had 125 votes, and 381 against him; in 1844, 124 votes, and 330 against him. He was out-voted in 1842 by 303; in 1843, by 256; and in 1844, by 206. "A reduction of that numerical strength," says a contemporary writer, "from 395 to 330, and the increase of the opponent force from 92 to 124, was something hopeful in a Peel parliament, strongly pledged, and elected on that pledge, to support the corn laws without mitigation. Fifty votes from the protectionist side, and fifty added to the side of free traders, would not, in another session, give a numerical majority, but would indicate such certainty of the triumph of free trade principles, as would induce the majority to yield before it became a minority. How was that change to be effected, and when? A leaf must be taken from the enemy's book. The battle, as Sir Robert Peel had said when the Tories recovered from the panic into which they were thrown by the Reform Bill - 'the battle must be fought in the registration courts,' and the League directed its energies in that course, confident that, if it were not possible to obtain repeal under a Peel parliament, the triumph would come at the next general election, come when that might."