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Britain after the Napoleonic Wars

The time after the Napoleonic Wars was marked by a severe economic crisis in Britain. Industry had to change from a war time to a peace time basis. European countries did not need as many British goods as before, because the domestic industries of different nations revived. All this increased mass unemployment which coupled with unusually bad harvest of 1816 and the general growth of the population. Workers in many towns showed general discontent in the Luddite movement and marches calling for "bread or blood".

Neither the Crown nor the Tories could prevent severe economic crisis coupled with the movement of radicalism in England. Radical clubs were appearing everywhere. Radicals called for political action, parliamentary reform and extension of the franchise.

The whole regime was becoming more and more unpopular. King George III was insane for 10 years, so he died in 1820 detested and despised by his people. George IV was crowned the same year. He was extravagant, selfish and completely unfit to reign. Very soon he appeared in a weak position in relations to his Cabinet of ministers.

The most important event of his reign was the Irish struggle for independence — the Catholics in Ireland insisted on emancipation. In 1823, Catholic association of Ireland headed for struggle, civil war seemed inevitable. The situation was decided only in 1829, when George IV was forced by his ministers, much against his will, to agree to Catholic Emancipation, Catholics were given election right. This reduced religious discrimination and enabled the monarchy to play a more national role.

In 1825—1827, the crisis affected all branches of economy, especially the textile industry. Thousands of workers in the towns and peasants in the country became unemployed.

By 1830, the economic crisis reached its height — the level of unemployment increased — the wages of workers went down. The wave of strikes in towns and riots in the countryside flowed over Britain. The country was as close to revolution as it had never been before.

The same year George IV died and William IV was crowned as King. This situation was used by the supporters of the Parliamentary reform — they provided the Reform Bill, which became law in 1832. This document was one of the most important events in British history — it gave the right to vote for much bigger number of people (only in Scotland the number of voters increased from 5,000 to 65,000). Forty-one English towns were represented in Parliament for the very first time.

This Reform Bill saved the country from the revolution — now the order was not imposed on people by the Crown or nobility, but created by the middle class.

In the reformed Parliament, the Whigs, who formed the government, allied with newly elected Commons to turn into a democratic Liberal party in 1833. A series of revolutionary measures was passed — the age of employment was limited to 9, the children working hours diminished and inspectors were to be appointed to see that the provisions were enforced.

Fighting for Workers' Rights. Chartism

Beginning from the 1820s English workers joined together in unions to struggle for their rights and better wages, The first workers' unions appeared. The cheap postage system, when a letter could be sent for one penny to any part of Britain, helped much to organise workers' unions all over the country. In 1834, the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union was formed to unite different trade unions in the country. It organised petitions and mass demonstrations of workers. So, step by step English workers were learning how to defend their economic and social rights.

In 1838, the workers' unions worked out a document called a People's Charter. It was produced to formulate the rights that are now accepted by everyone: the vote for adults, the right for a man without property to become an MP, secret voting, payment for MPs, general parliamentary election every year and equal electoral districts.

Chartism as a movement was not unanimous — there were revolutionists who called for physical violence, other people were for agrarian reform or the control of industry. Chartism spread like fire, bringing strikers and riots in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands. Many trade unions, joined the national Chartist Association, there were more than 50,000 people in it. The movement became more and more radical.

By the middle of the century Chartism was defeated. It failed because of the weakness of its leadership and immaturity of the working class.

The failure of Chartism is associated with Robert Peel, the Prime Minister of the time. In 1846, he abolished the unpopular Corn Laws of 1815 which had kept the price of corn higher than necessary. These laws were based on the Protection system when the goods from other countries were heavily taxed. The repeal of Corn Laws marked the conversion of England to Free Trade.

When Peel put an end to the common evil of English politics — Protection — thus he split his own party. The Tories divided into two sections — the Protectionists and the so-called Peelites. It was the beginning of the change by which the Tories became Conservatives; very soon two parties were called Conservatives and Liberals.

The Victorian Age

In 1837, King William IV was succeeded by his 18-year-old niece Victoria, who reigned for the longest period in English history — from 1837 to 1901. Her reigned coincided with great changes in the lives of the British — Britain developed the biggest empire the world had ever seen, social and economic conditions in the country changed, the power of monarchy declined. At the same time Victoria symbolised British success in the world and embodied all popular morals of the time — she was religious, hardworking, a devoted wife of Prince Albert and caring mother of nine children. Victoria became an example to her people in different matters and the period of her reign — "the Victorian Age" still remains an example of success and stability.


Government. During Victoria's reign the government became more independent — Prime Ministers were chosen without Queen's approval and royal influence on government matters lessened. The development of two-party system led to the new method of forming the government — now it was formed by the party, who won the elections. The limitation of royal power at home directed Queen's influence more to foreign affairs, where she often mediated political crises. In Dominions, where self-government was established, she remained the Head of the State.

Social Life. The Victorian Age changed life conditions of British people — partially because of increasing wealth in the country, partially due to provided reforms. The increasing wealth let apply science to practical uses — trains and electric telegraphs changed the speed of communication. The number of people belonging to the middle class greatly increased. They constituted a bulk of the British society and included people working in the Church, the law, medicine, the civil service, banks, army and navy. These self-made men believed in hard work and regular style of life — everything which was embodied in Queen Victoria!

The reforms of the period provided new changes in the town life. In 1829, a regular police force was established in London and during the next thirty years it spread all over the country, making life safer. In dirty towns specially appointed health-officers kept an eye on sewerage and clean water. These measures helped to reduce the level of disease.

Parliamentary reforms also increased the number of voters from 20 % to 70 % including the representatives of the working class. This fact and the growth of newspaper publishing strengthened the importance of public opinion and led to the growth of democracy.

The time in general was very remarkable because of the change in thinking — more and more attention was given to the well-being of the community and ordinary people.

Science and Arts in the VictorianAge. This second part of the 19th century was a period of scientific discoveries and inventions, which changed lives of people:

—Joseph Lister developed antiseptic surgery;

—J.J. Thompson probed the structure of the atom;

—Charles Darwin developed a theory of evolution;

—Organic Chemistry was transformed into biochemistry.

Changes in science and society structure affected the way of thinking — in literature new names as Bernard Shaw, Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy appeared. They depicted strengths and weaknesses of the period.


Britain – "the Workshop of the World"

By the 1850s, Britain established a dominant position in the world trade and industry. British industry produced iron, coal, textiles, iron goods and many other items that couldn't be rivaled by other developed nations as Prussia, France and the USA. By 1850, Britain's volume of external trade was greater than that of Germany, France and Italy put together and three times greater than that of the USA. The policy of free trade provided by the British government made British imports of raw materials cheap and her manufactured exports were carried to the farthest corners of the world. London became the world's financial centre. By 1870, England became an urban country — the population of cities and towns reached 66 % of the total population of the country.

The pride of Britain and example of her economic growth was the system of railways which had no analogues in the world at that time. The achievements of the Industrial Revolution allowed creating first good trains which immediately became very popular. These trains made transportation of goods quicker and cheaper, so the system of railways also grew immensely. By 1840, the railways connected all parts of Great Britain — they reached not only important industrial centres, but also economically unimportant towns.

In 1851, the first passenger train was provided by the railway companies. It stopped at all stations, giving a possibility to people to move, quickly and lazily from one place to another. The introduction of passenger trains changed patterns of living in Britain — now many people moved to suburbs and travelled to the city every day by train. Thus they could have country dwelling and also enjoy all advantages of the city. By the beginning of the 20* century a great number of commuters travelled every day from then-houses in the suburbs to their jobs in the city every day.

In 1851, the British government organised the first world exhibition called the Great Exhibition. It included show-pieces of industrial progress from many nations, but chief among them were things made in Britain — "the workshop of the world". This exhibition displayed British supremacy and manufacturing achievements from all over the world.

Till the 1890s, Britain remained the most developed industrial country in the world until she lost this supremacy — first to the United State and then to Germany. Free trade policy of laisser-fair made British goods really cheap, so they spread all over the world.

At the end of the 19th century, you could find British nails in any household of more or less developed country — so widespread were British exports.

British Foreign Policy at the Second Half of the 19th Century

The main principles of British foreign policy of the period were closely connected with free trade and colonial expansion. Britain remained in "splendid isolation" from other countries, making alliances and supporting only those states, which could bring advantages and victories. For this policy Britain got the name "treacherous Albion", as very often British rivals were made to fight against one another.

As the result of the Opium Wars (1839—1842, 1856—1858 and 1860) fought in alliance with France, Britain broke down the barriers that prevented the free export of British goods to China. Hong Kong became an important strategic base.

In 1853—1856, in the Crimean War Britain, in alliance with other European countries headed by France and Austria, gained victory over Russia. This victory allowed Britain and France to get access to the Turkish market, Russia was forbidden to fortify any harbours on the Black Sea or to keep any warships there.

In the second half of the 19th century, Britain continued to extend her colonial empire. The dominions like Canada and Australia got a right to form self-government, by the end of the century they developed then-own economies.

The period of the 1850s and 1860s was very tense in relations with Ireland. In 1845, 1846 and 1847, potato crop failed in Ireland, which caused a severe famine in this country. At the same time Ireland had enough wheat to feed the entire population, but it was grown by the Protestant landowners for export to England, so the Irish population did not get it. "The Great Famine" took the lives of half million of Irishmen and increased immigration to America. By 1848, the population of Ireland fell from over 8 to 6,5 million.

The country did not recover from this stroke till the end of the century — immigration to North America continued, between 1841 and 1920 almost five million Irish settled there. Irish Diaspora supported liberation movements in their native country aimed to make Ireland independent.

The serious conflict to end Victoria's reign was the Boer Wars against the descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa. The two wars (1899—1902) began after the discovery of gold in Transvaal and anti-British policy of these colonies. The British got a victory over the Boers; in May 1902 the Boer republics were absorbed into the British Empire. These wars were the last during Queen Victoria's reign; they finally led to Army reforms in Britain.

British Empire

The second half of the 19th century saw the immense growth and rise of the British Empire, which continued to the middle of the 20th century. The Empire began its development from the Tudor times, when the great Queen Elizabeth I supported merchant adventurers and new colonists, who settled overseas territories by migration.

The new colonies across the Atlantic Ocean became a source of real profit for England — they supplied raw materials necessary for developing industry and got British goods in exchange. The Tudor and Stuart monarchies kept a tight hold on the colonies, regarding them as a direct source of wealth for the home country. Precious metals and colonial products were imported to Britain, when the minimum of goods was sent in exchange.

The Industrial Revolution changed the productivity of British factories. Now Britain produced a great number of goods, which were sold at a high price. This price was higher than money paid for raw materials brought to Britain from numerous colonies all over the world. British machine industry products dominated the markets of every country. This rapid development of British economy made her a leader of the world trade.

While the old colonies like Canada and Australia were starting to develop their own economies to become the virtually independent Dominions, the new countries were conquered and enslaved. India, the West Indies and the African colonies became subordinate to Britain; they served as a source of cheap raw materials and as markets for British goods. These goods ruined the native handicraft industries.

Britain became a supreme economic power due to the doctrines of laisser-faire (minimum interference by government in economic and political affair) and free trade (government does not discriminate against imports in favour of national products or interfere with exports).

Colonial aggression changed the attitude of the British towards the empire builders. If before colonies were regarded as places for settlement, beginning from the middle of the 19th century, they became a matter of destiny. The British now governed the bigger part of the world, their culture and civilisation became a model.

Between 1884 and 1900 Britain acquired 3,700,000 square miles of new colonial territories. By 1914, the British Empire covered 12,7 million square miles of which the United Kingdom represented 121,000 or less than one — hundredth part, the self-governing Dominions 7 million, and the colonial or dependent empire 5,6 million or forty-six times the area of the United Kingdom. The population totaled 431 million of which only one-seventh lived in Britain or Dominions. By the eve of World War II protectorates and dependencies of the British Empire covered one-quarter of the earth surface and population.

British capital was transferred to the colonies — the most profitable field of investment. Britain itself was converting into a parasitic state, which lived on income from foreign investments. By the eve of World War I, one-fifth of British goods were no longer paid by export of goods. By the eve of World War II, two-fifth of British imports were no longer paid by export of goods. This meant that the previous accumulation of overseas capital was replaced by the process of disaccumulation. World War II greatly accelerated this process.

Task 2. Speak about the development of British Empire using the scheme of the capitalist and colonial system development.


Capitalist Development Colonial System Development
Merchant Capital (the 1600s—1750s) "The Old Colonial System"
The period of the "Merchant ad- The period of the conquest of
venturers", slaver trade, privileged newly discovered overseas territo-
monopoly trading companies. ries, extermination of the original
This system provided the accumu- inhabitants, and establishment of
lation of capital necessary for the colonial settlements by migration.
Industrial Revolution The colonies were regarded a di-
  rect source of wealth for the home
  country, while few goods were sent
  to the colonies in exchange
Industrial Capital (the 1750s—1880s) World Industrial Monopoly
British industries developed rap- Britain became "the workshop of
idly, British goods dominated the the world". Raw materials were
markets of many countries of the drawn from British colonies situat-
world ed in all parts of the world. British
  machine industry gave goods in ex-
  change for raw materials from the
  colonies, which were much behind
  in their economic development
Finance Capital (the 1880s—1940s) New Colonial System
Britain lost industrial supremacy The greater part of the British
first to the USA, then to Germa- Empire was acquired after 1884.
ny. Instead of goods Britain began These were dependent colonies
to export capital and continued to that paid tribute to the mother
expand colonies country. They were ruled by Brit-
  ish officials. The other part of
  Empire was Dominions — totally
  serf-governing states that accepted
  Britain's monarch as their head of
  state and followed Britain's course
  in foreign affairs

Task 3. Try to explain. During the first periods of the Colonial system development England was referred to by colonists as "home country ". During the last stage of British colonial development it was called "mother country". Why?

Task 4.Finish the sentences.

1.Napoleon made an astonishing career as he ...

2.Napoleon's army was defeated ...

3.After the Napoleonic wars Britain ...

4.The 1820s were marked by ...

5.The Reform Bill was one of the most important events in British history because ...

6.The People's Charter called for such rights as ...

7.Chartism was defeated because ...

8.The Victorian Age was marked by ...

9.The reforms, which changed the life of people during the Victorian Age were ...

10. British industrial might in the second hah0 of the 19th century was displayed at...

Task 5.Vocabulary development. State the meaning of the derivatives and complete the sentences.

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