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Ebenezer Elliot (1781-1849) was an iron worker and poet, known as the 'Corn Law Rhymer'.


"...Ebenezer Elliot (1781-1849) [was] a master-founder of Sheffield, England, who became famous in his day as the Corn-Law Rhymer. At the time 'corn' meant wheat, and the corn laws imposed high duties on wheat imported into Britain, with the result that bread became very dear. In 1827, Elliot published a book called Corn-Law Rhymes in which he described the hardships imposed on the poor by the 'bread tax'. A typical verse ran: 'I bought his coffin with my bed, / My gown bought earth and prayer; / I pawn'd my mother's ring for bread, / I pawn'd my father's chair.' The long struggle against the prohibitive duties was led by the Anti-Corn Law League, headed by Richard Cobden and John Bright, and Sir Robert Peel finally abolished them in 1849, marking the beginning of England's free-trade policy. 'When Wilt Thou Save the People?' (which appeared in Corn-Law Rhymes) became the anthem of the Chartists, a reform movement active in Britain between 1838 and 1848. It was formed when some radical members of Parliament met with representatives of the Working-Men's Association and drew up a 'People's Charter' demanding six reforms: universal suffrage, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, payment of members of Parliament, abolition of the property qualification for members, and annual elections. The Chartist Movement became quite powerful: monster meetings were held, several newspapers started, and gigantic petitions presented to Parliament. In 1848, the year of widespread revolution in Europe, the military, led by the Duke of Wellington, was called out to suppress Chartist demonstrations, and thereafter the movement died out. Although considered very radical in their day, all of the Chartists' demands except annual elections have since been achieved. The song ['When Wilt Thou Save the People?'] is now considered so respectable that it has found a place in the hymnals of several nations. Different tunes have been used for Elliot's words: one by Arthur Somervell is favored in England; the one..., which is better known in the United States, is by Josiah Booth."

—Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Freedom


When Wilt Thou Save the People?


 

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