Outwardly Strong but in Reality Much Weaker

To other nations Britain appeared to be the only world super power after the Napoleonic Wars but in reality was the nation, and more specifically its people, suffering? Britain’s foreign policy was strong. It had a very strong navy and dealt with over sees matters with great power, but this strength seemed superficial to many Britons as a lot of the country were in a depression and many people were suffering greatly. Much of Britain’s strength revolved around the Industrial Revolution.

There cannot be a date set on the start or in fact the end of the Industrial Revolution but many people accept that its beginning was around 1750. The actual phrase Industrial Revolution is misleading as a revolution is an event that occurs quickly and brings around immediate change. The Industrial Revolution was a slow, gradual process. The Industrial Evolution would be a more apt name. The big expansion of Britain’s industry took place after 1815. Many of the great 17th Century inventions, such as Hargreaves’ spinning Jenny and Cartwright’s power loom were put into practice and used on a mass scale.

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Before 1815 the power loom had not caught on but by 1835 England had 85000 of them in use. Factories were needed to house all of these machines so they were built. Workers were needed to work in the factories so they were brought from the rural areas. The workers all lived in houses that were built around the factories. In 1750 80% of the population lived off the land. By 1900 80% of the population lived in cities. As more and more factories were built in the same areas cities were springing up around them. New cities were being formed around these factories.

Most of these cities were in the North West of England. This was because many of the factories worked on cotton imported from America and the West Indies to the port of Liverpool. The North West is ideally situated for work on cotton because cotton survives well in a wet, damp climate. The North West is also well placed for coal, which produces steam power and there are plenty of fast flowing streams to produce waterpower. Lancashire became the industrial nerve centre of Britain with cities such as Manchester, Bolton and Bury housing hundreds of factories.

Britain’s vast Empire was something all Britons were proud of. All around the world there were British colonies. These included India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most of the West Indies. In the Treaty of Vienna, of 1815, Britain also gained Trinidad and Tobago and Malta. To stop Napoleon blocking trade routes from India, Britain took Cape Colony from the Dutch settlers. The Empire allowed Britain trade all around the world. Britain used its colonies very badly. She bought from them for very low prices and sold to them at very high prices.

The colonies were also used to increase Britain’s wealth by making use of their raw materials, to enhance Britain’s prestige and international status at a time of challenge by overseas rivals, to bring Christianity to the ‘natives’ and to use them as a training ground for high-quality administrators, governors and officers in the armed forces. Britain’s navy was regarded as the best in the world, not only by the British but by other nations as well. The navy needed to be strong for two main reasons: Britain was an island, therefore, the only threat of invasion would come from the sea. This means that the navy had to be powerful to protect her from nations such as France and Spain. * The Empire. As stated above Britain had the largest empire in the world and this needed protection.

The Empire was spread all over the globe and to have the army there would stretch is vastly. The large navy could patrol the small islands and large nations of the Empire. In Britain’s numerous disputes over borders the navy and colonial forces did most of the fighting. Britain found itself at war on the continent of Europe only once between 1815 and 1914… In this period, Britain was involved in wars, border disputes and colonial conflicts in China (twice), Afghanistan, Persia and India, in addition to the famous conflict in Crimea” – Evans. With the massive increase in industry came many problems. The housing for the workers in the factories were thrown up by the factory bosses. They were disgraceful, two-up-two-down, back-to-back terraces. There were no gardens, no sewers and no running water. Cholera was a massive killer.

The dirty conditions in the cities meant that it was rife and thousands of people were killed each year. Not all factory owners treated their workers so badly though, Robert Owen who worked in Greenock built decent houses for his workers and treated them well. By 1835, 304 000 people were working in cotton factories. 28% of these were 18 years or younger and no fewer than 40% were adult females. These workers were terribly exploited. They had to work long hours in dangerous conditions. Industrial accidents became commonplace and social divisions between employers and employees became sharper.

In the 1960s, Edward Thompson and Harold Perkin were both clear in their conclusions that the first half of the nineteenth century saw the making of a British working class which defined itself in opposition to and antagonistic, employing industrial middle class’ – Evans. The war with Napoleon was now over but it had been very expensive for Britain. She was now 800 million pounds in debt and high interests had to be paid. Income tax was brought in as a temporary but as this was the fairest form of tax the rich landowners didn’t like it so it was quickly gotten rid of.

Many industries lost their stimulus because of the end of the government contracts for the war therefore many jobs were lost. The introduction of enclosures was seen as a bad thing. Although they helped modernise the farming techniques by enabling farmers to become more productive and put more land under cultivation many of the poorer farmers suffered, as they could not afford to buy enclosed land. Many people therefore became unemployed. Even the rich landowners went into debt, as they had to borrow money to bring more and more land under cultivation. As the population rose very steeply in Britain wages dropped in the countryside.

This was because the landowners of arable farms, where at different times of the year more people were needed to work, could exploit the large population and drop the wages to almost insignificant amounts. This added greatly to the extent of rural poverty. During the period of 1780 to 1815 many farmers had borrowed lots of money to keep agriculture in Britain expanding as she was at war with France so more and more food production was needed. But as the war ended the need for food dropped as more could be imported now from Europe and Britain’s colonies.

This meant that the farmers had to drop their prices and therefore profits plummeted and they went into debt. Britain’s political system was seen as the envy of all Liberal Europeans. This was basically because of limited monarchy, so we didn’t have a dictatorial leader like countries such as Russia and Austria where they had autocrats. Britain was seen as democratic but that was never a true description of Britain. After the wars only very rich men could vote for who they wanted to stand as MPs in the House of Commons. The modern industrial towns such as Manchester and Birmingham had no representation in parliament whatsoever.

This was because they were new towns and belonged to no constituencies. Constituencies were split into two categories: counties and boroughs. 80% were boroughs and 20% were counties. Boroughs were mainly urban areas where the right to vote varied greatly from borough to borough. In potwolloper boroughs anyone who owned a hearth big enough to fit a pan on could vote. In counties if you owned a piece of land worth 40 shillings a year you could vote. Rotten Boroughs were also a terrible problem in Britain. Places like Old Sarem and Dunwich contained no more than a dozen people each but they still had two MPs.

Pocket Boroughs were areas where a rich landowner bought the vote of the population so he could control the MP and therefore control whatever happened in that area. Because most of the big industrial towns did not belong to constituencies it meant that the very poor and not well off people had absolutely no representation in parliament and the government policy of laissez-faire meant that even if they did have representation nothing much would have been done about their problems anyway. No matter how much they were suffering they could do nothing about it because they had no one to fight the case in government.

Democracy didn’t affect the people. Many of the soldiers coming back from war also suffered unemployment because they didn’t have any more jobs as soldiers or naval men because it was peacetime. Britain took over Ireland to prevent a two front war against Napoleon. If he had of taken Ireland Britain would have had French forces to the south and the west. 90% of the Irish population were Catholic so they were only persuaded to agree to the abolition of their parliament in Dublin by the promise of full Catholic Emancipation.

However, the British government failed to keep it’s promise and emancipation was not allowed to the Irish Catholics had not representation in Westminster. Therefore, in conclusion Britain did appear to be a very powerful nation in complete control but if you look deeper into the nation the people were suffering. Rich landowners who controlled the government put on a great display for the world and Britain was in fact an incredibly strong country, but I agree with the statement as Britain had serious problems with its ‘working class’ people that needed to be sorted quickly.

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