Political, Social, and Economic Reforms in Great Term Paper

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Political, Social, & Economic Reforms in Great Britain Through 1850

Between 1831 and 1850, Great Britain experienced numerous economical, political and social problems that threatened to literally tear the country apart. For many of those associated with the English government, especially the men that sat in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, it was clear that after the disastrous war with the American Colonies that England must somehow reform its laws and statutes that mostly affected the middle and lower classes. Thus, many new bills and acts were passed that in essence served as the dynamic process for change in Great Britain. The Industrial Revolution, which had vastly altered the social and economic face of England between 1750 and 1850, brought about the need for change, for it "posed a set of technical administrative problems which no... party, Whig or Tory, was capable of handling" and forced the British government to seek out "a fresh interpretation of the duties of government" (Churchill 23-24).

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In 1831, the Cabinet, a group of ministers "dependent on the favor of the House of Commons who must agree on a common policy and who are responsible for the actions of another and for the government as a whole" (Stephen 145), took under consideration the Great Reform Bill which was in part framed by Lord Durham and Lord John Russell and was pushed through the House of Commons by Lord Althorp. This important piece of legislation was highly criticized and in its day astounded supporters and dissenters, due to its far-reaching consequences. It was, as some of Tories exclaimed, "a new constitution, in the sense that it extended political power to the new social classes and to new districts within Great Britain"

Stephen 146). In essence, the Great Reform Bill "abolished all the rotten boroughs at a stroke which had not been expected, and its announcement created a shout of surprise and enthusiasm while throwing the Tories into angry opposition" (Harrison 167). The most influential working-class leaders and organizers vociferously supported the bill, due to realizing that any working-class enfranchisement would not be possible in the existing House.

Term Paper on Political, Social, & Economic Reforms in Great Assignment

Some fifteen months after the Great Reform Bill was introduced, several major crisis arose. First, a general election produced a large majority for its passage which resulted in much friction in the House of Commons; second, the bill was thrown out in the House of Lords which threatened to create chaos and rioting in the general population, and third, Lord Grey, who had formed the initial Cabinet, resigned which in effect secured the actual passage of the Reform Act and created "a new constitution, comparable to a modern Magna Carta, which the people as a whole had wrenched from the governing class" (Harrison 178). As Lawrence James points out, the Great Reform Bill which reflected the thoughts and feelings of the people as England moved closer to democracy, "created a middle-class electorate by extending the vote to most urban and rural working men" (184).

One of the great turning points in the history of Great Britain, if not the entire world, was when William Wilberforce and his Anti-Slave Trade Crusade succeeded in convincing the British people to stop the slave trade and to completely abolish it in the Empire in 1833, just prior to the development of Africa by the Europeans. As Charles P. Hill maintains, if slavery had been allowed to continue through the 19th century while supported by the advances of the Industrial Revolution, "the tropics would have become a vast slave farm for white exploitation and English homes would have continued to utilize slaves for their own profit and gain" (178).

When Wilberforce attacked the slave trade, it was mostly confined to the traffic carried on by British ships and their commanders along the West African coast. Thus, Wilberforce knew that England's maritime predominance would convince all other nations involved in the slave trade to cease and desist, and if he could convert England, the rest of the world would follow suit.

The method by which the slave trade and slavery in England was accomplished was in itself a new period in British public life. The anti-slave trade movement was the first successful entity to utilize propaganda which was then imitated by other groups, such as those linked to politics, religion and English culture, a trait that fully symbolized 19th century England. One such group was the Society of Friends that convinced prominent philanthropists to take up the question of slavery. And through the religious zeal of the Protestants, the slavery issue was forced upon the hearts and minds of their countrymen who were then committed on the grounds of humanity to abolish slavery for the good of the British Empire. Thus, although slavery was vital to England's economy, "sentiment (argued) that the misery it inflicted alone justified its abolition" (James 185).

Of course, in 1833, as a result of the Great Reform Bill, slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Although Wilberforce died the same year, his earlier work to rid Britain of the scourge of slavery paid off handsomely. With the assistance of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, the anti-slavery crusade was continued, but the defenders of the slave trade insisted that it was pivotal to the British shipping interests, yet after the slave trade had been stopped, these defenders practically disappeared. But as compensation for the losses incurred, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 "gave the slave owners twenty million pounds for their slaves which was willingly paid by their mother country" (Birnie 234).

In regard to factories in Great Britain, the Industrial Revolution created a long and prosperous process that was a mixture of the old ways of life held over from the Medieval Period and the new which created the characteristics most associated with 19th century England. As the new century progressed, a huge number of people became linked to machinery and big business, while the factories themselves grew in proportion to the expenses in both domestic and foreign markets. Fortunately, when factories became the typical location for work by the masses, its worst abuses were gradually eliminated, and from 1833 onward, the factories became increasingly subjected to State inspection and regulation.

In 1833, Lord Althorp, the same man who had pushed the Great Reform Bill through the House of Commons, passed the first effective Factory Act which fixed legal limits for the working hours of children and young workers. One of the most important aspects of the Factory Act was that government inspectors as an institution could now enforce the new laws which in essence marked the beginning of an entirely new development in social welfare. As Winston Churchill relates, the Factory Act, although a very good thing at the time, "the long hours of work it permitted would horrify the 20th century and did not satisfy the humanitarians of the time"; thus, "the whole system of local government was reconstructed and the old oligarchies abolished" (53).

Before the Whigs finally handed over the government as a result of the General Election of 1841, they had initiated a very important step in English social reorganization by passing the New Poor Law, an extension of policies adopted in 1795 that taxed the rate payers instead of forcing farmers and employers of labor to shoulder most of the burden. On the advice of some of the commissioners, this old system was done away with which in effect was an attempt to raise the standards of living for millions of laborers and restore their self-respect and self-dependence. Unfortunately, this policy did not enforce a living wage nor did it supply shelter for the unemployed and their dependents except in the workhouses, places filled with poverty and filth. Even those that were elderly and sick, for whom in those days there were no pensions or insurance, could not afford to live at home and received even worse treatment in the workhouses. These circumstances inspired Charles Dickens to write Oliver Twist in 1838 by "describing what workhouses meant for those who lived in them while relating to the reader the true realities which in turn interested the sensitive, rising generation of the new Victorian era" (Brown 187).

For the industrialists that had become wealthy as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the Poor Amendments of 1834 worked in their favor, for as Lawrence James tells us, these laws were "deliberately contrived to make conditions for the unemployed so unbearable that they were driven to seek work or emigrate" to another country (170). Thus, recessions occurred up until the mid-1840's which witnessed huge lay-offs and violent demonstrations.

And due to the immense increase in the population of England in 1840, "Britain could no longer produce enough food to sustain its population" (James 171).

In 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act was passed which initiated the fall of the so-called Parliamentary rotten boroughs and its municipal counterparts in the area of local government. This act was far more democratic than the Reform Bill, due to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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