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Colonial Expansion in England

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After the loss of the American colonies in 1783 Britain began to look for new colonies in order to find cheap sources of raw materials. The 19th century brought about the greatest prosperity in Britain. Its sources lay in colonial expansion, industrialization, improved transport, and social reforms.
At the beginning of the century Britain was at war with Napoleonic France. In 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree forbidding any country under his control from trading with Britain. In the following year, the British issued Orders in Council, granting the right to seize neutral shipping bound for French controlled ports. This decision led to a war with the USA (1812-1814). In 1815, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) defeated Napoleon at Waterloo near Brussels, and after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Britain became the greatest and richest power in Europe. The British controlled world trade.
In the 19th century the population of Britain increased rapidly. By 1815 it had reached 13 million and London was one of the largest cities in Europe (1 million inhabitants). By 1850 half the population lived in towns and London had more than 2 million inhabitants. Between 1750 and 1850 the population of Britain increased threefold.
Victoria, daughter of the Duke of Kent, a younger son of King George III, succeeded her uncle, William IV, in 1837. Her reign lasted until her death in 1901, and it was marked by a steady growth of national wealth and expansion of the empire. Britain held the unchallenged position of world economic and political leadership. A popular saying of the time was that the sun never set on the British Empire, which was so vast.
In the 19th century the empire included India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, large parts of Africa, and many smaller territories. In the second half of the 19th century Britain was transformed from an agricultural to a modern industrial country. George Stephenson (1781-1848) invented the first locomotive which led to development of an efficient railway network enabling the quick transport of goods and passengers. Population shifted from the countryside to cities. In industry real wages doubled between 1860 and 1874.
In the 19th century Britain changed from being a net exporter of agricultural produce to being a net importer. Industrialization and urbanization continued at a great rate. However, the growth of towns was accompanied by the spread of epidemics. Cholera was one of the most frightening diseases of the 19th century. There were serious outbreaks in Britain in 1831-1832, 1838, 1848-1849 and 1854.
Industrial and urban centers grew in the Midlands and the North. Manufacturing wages were higher than in agriculture and many farm laborers migrated to towns. However, a lot of people lacked a steady income. The conditions of the poor were appalling. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act set up a new system of poor relief. Poor people had to enter workhouses if they wished to receive help. Life in the workhouse was made as harsh as possible to deter 'scroungers'.
In spite of the growing importance of the middle class, the British aristocracy and the landed elite dominated Parliament. The enactment of the so-called Corn Laws in 1815, which prohibited the import of cheap wheat from overseas, was an example of state protection of the landed interest.
The ideology that the state should not interfere in the affairs of society was called laissez-faire. As far as the Industrial Revolution was concerned, the state simply did not possess the means to direct the economy, and laissez-faire was the only viable policy. Economic development and the provision of an economic infrastructure were left entirely to the private sector. The state confined itself to the provision of national security and the maintenance of internal stability, largely through local justices in the early years of the century. The state first began to take responsibility for social welfare after the institutional reforms of the Whig administrations of the 1830s. Thereafter, state activity spread to include ever larger areas of life, though the British state was never as intrusive as its European counterparts.
The growing prosperity of England was due primarily to her thriving industry, commerce and foreign trade. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, said proudly: 'We are living at a period of most wonderful transition which tends rapidly to accomplish that great end to which all history points - the realization of the unity of mankind' Modesty prevented him from adding 'under the rule of Britain' but he certainly meant it! In the 1870s Britain produced one-half of the world's iron.
The Victorian Age was marked by a great sense of confidence stemming from the country's supreme position in world affairs. The English way of life was thus seen as superior to that of other races. Cecil Rhodes once wrote to a young friend: 'Remember that you were born an Englishman, and as such, you have already won first prize in the lottery of life'. This self-righteousness (despite Victorian hypocrisy), often quite sincere lay behind the paternalistic attitude adopted towards the peoples of the Empire. Carrying 'the white man's burden' was seen as a duty to bestow the benefits of English rule on 'uncivilized' nations. On the whole this confidence lasted right up until the devastation of the First World War.
The Victorians were much preoccupied by the issues of faith and doubt. By questioning the literal truth of the biblical account of Creation, Charles Darwin disturbed many believers. Science and Religion seemed to contradict each other.
In the period 1830-1850, which marked the second phase of the Industrial Revolution in England, there was a great deal of unrest among the working-classes. Its cause was mainly economic. Unemployment, long working hours and high prices were the most characteristic causes of popular discontent.
|Radically-minded members of the upper classes and working-class leaders urged reform which would improve the economic conditions of a wide section of the population. |
|In Parliament the aspirations of the working-classes received the support of a small party of Radicals who struggled for manhood suffrage, annual parliaments, and |
|adequate representation of the industrial areas. |
| |
|The Radical Reform Movement was also supported by newspapers such as the Manchester Register as well as by the Union Society, a local organization which promoted |
|self-education of the working-classes in order to prepare themselves for political leadership. Mass meetings and riots were organized as popular forms of protest. The |
|most persuasive popular orator of the post-Napoleonic period was Henry Hunt whose speech in Manchester on 16 August 1819 attracted about 80,000 people. In response, |
|the local yeomanry massacred the unarmed people. Over 400 were injured and eleven died. In consequence, restrictive laws were passed by Parliament and the radical |
|reform movement was suppressed for some time. The working-classes were denied the right to participate in political life. |
| |
|After the passing of the Factory Act of 1833, children under nine were forbidden to work in textile factories, and working hours for older children were limited to a |
|maximum of 48 a week for those under 13, and 69 for 'young persons' of 13 to 18 years old. This was the first instance of state intervention in the laissez-faire |
|economy. The Factory Act of 1844 reduced the work of children under 13 to 6.5 hours a day. Women's working hours were reduced to 12 a day. All dangerous machinery had |
|to be fenced. |

The Reform Act of 1832, which increased the franchise, did not satisfy the working-classes because it still excluded the vast majority of them from participation in both national and local government. It was beneficial to the middle-classes, i.e. factory owners. In order to qualify for voting a man needed to earn at least £150 a year. An ordinary worker earned under £50.
In 1836 William Lovett and others founded the Working Men's Association which drew up a Charter containing six political demands: • annual elections to Parliament; • manhood suffrage; • payment of members of Parliament; • secret ballots; • equal electoral districts; • abolition of the property qualification for membership of the House of Commons.
The Chartists appealed to workers to found their own organizations and to agitate for the Charter by presenting petitions to Parliament (1839, 1842, 1848).
However, by 1848 the Chartist movement had lost its momentum. Some leaders turned towards revolutionary socialism. They attempted to create a mass organization with a distinct working-class ideology. Others were attracted by the ideas of the Christian socialists led by Charles Kingsley and Frederick Maurice, or by the positivism propagated by a small group of intellectuals from London University. Although the Chartists did not achieve a direct political victory, they were successful in encouraging workers to organise themselves and to struggle for economic and political reforms. In 1867, a Conservative government gave voting rights to a large number of urban working men. From that time the working classes steadily advanced to politic power.
In 1844 twenty-eight Lancashire weavers each invested £1 in setting up a grocery store in Toad Lane, Rochdale. This was the beginning of the Cooperative Movement. Goods were sold at normal prices but profit (dividend) was shared among the customers in proportion to the amount of goods they had bought. Dividends could also be left in the business to accumulate. This encouraged members to build up savings.
Working-class activism in the 19th and the early 20th centuries was closely connected with the Trade Union movement, radicalism, and the lay activity of some churches. The London Trades Council established in 1860 soon became an important and influential body. In 1868 the Labour Representation League was formed. Its primary aim was to help elect working-men representatives to parliament. In 1871 a Trade Union Act was passed by Parliament giving the trade unions the status of legal social institutions. Although the number of labour representatives in Parliament grew steadily, they were still insignificant in a House which consisted of 600 members in 1906.
The political activism of the Labour militants in the years 1875-1914 was significantly inspired by socialist ideas. Karl Marx and other revolutionaries did not exert a direct influence on the Labour movement in Britain but their articles were translated into English and discussed. William Morris (1834-1896) promoted a non-revolutionary transformation to socialism. He gathered around himself a small group called the Hammersmith Socialist Society. Another organisation which was not inspired by Marx but had socialist aims and made a considerable agitation among the working-classes was the Fabian Society. One of its major achievements was the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission of 1905-1909. The Fabian Society was a political organisation founded in London in 1884 for the advancement of socialism by democratic means. Among its members were the writer George Bernard Shaw, the economists and historians Sidney and Beatrice Webb. All these organisations and movements contributed in different degrees to the formation of the Labour Party in 1900.…...

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