Radicalism and the loss of the American colonies
In 1764 there was a serious quarrel over taxation between the British government and its colonies in America. In 1700 there had been only 200,000 colonists, but by 1770 there were 2.5 million. Such large numbers needed to be dealt with carefully.
Some American colonists decided that it was not lawful for the British to tax them without their agreement. Political opinion in Britain was divided. Some felt that the tax was fair because the money would be used to pay for the defence of the American colonies against French attack.
In 1773 a group of colonists at the port of Boston threw a shipload of tea into the sea rather than pay tax on it. The event became known as "the Boston Teaparty". The British government answered by closing the port. But the colonists then decided to prevent British goods from entering America until the port was opened again. This was rebellion, and the government decided to defeat it by force. The American War of Independence had begun.
The war in America lasted from 1775 until 1783. The government had no respect for the politics of the colonists, and the British army had no respect for their fighting ability. The result was a disastrous defeat for the British government. It lost everything except for Canada.
Many British politicians openly supported the colonists. They were called "radicals". For the first time British politicians supported the rights of the king's subjects abroad to govern themselves and to fight for their rights against the king. The war in America gave strength to the new ideas of democracy and of independence.
The Boston Teaparty, 1773, was one of the famous events leading to open rebellion by the American colonists. It was a protest against British taxation and British monopolies on imports. American colonists, dressed as native Americans, threw a shipload of tea into the harbour rather than pay tax on it.
James II's defeat by William of Orange in 1690 had severe and long-term effects on the Irish people. Over the next half century the Protestant parliament in Dublin passed laws to prevent the Catholics from taking any part in national life. Catholics could not become members of the Dublin parliament, and could not vote in parliamentary elections. No Catholic could become a lawyer, go to university, join the navy or accept any public post. Catholics were not even allowed to own a horse worth more than £5. It was impossible for Catholics to have their children educated according to their religion, because Catholic schools were forbidden. Although there were still far more Catholics than Protestants, they had now become second-class citizens in their own land.
By the 1770s, however, life had become easier and some of the worst laws against Catholics were removed. But not everyone wanted to give the Catholics more freedom. In Ulster, the northern part of Ireland, Protestants formed the first "Orange Lodges", societies which were against any freedom for the Catholics.
In order to increase British control Ireland was united with Britain in 1801, and the Dublin parliament closed. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland lasted for 120 years. Politicians had promised Irish leaders that when Ireland became part of Britain the Catholics would get equal voting opportunities. But George III, supported by most Tories and by many Protestant Irish landlords, refused to let this happen.
Scotland also suffered from the efforts of the Stuarts to win back the throne. The first "Jacobite" revolt to win the crown for James II's son, in 1715, had been unsuccessful. The Stuarts tried again in 1745, when James II’s grandson Prime Charles
Edward Stuart better known as “Bonny Prince Charlie” landed on the west coast of Scotland.
Bonny Prince Charlie was more successful at first than anyone could have imagined. His army of Highlanders entered Edinburgh and defeated an English army in a surprise attack. Then he marched south. Panic spread through England, because much of the British army was in Europe fighting the French. But success for Bonny Prince Charlie depended on Englishmen also joining his army. When the Highland army was over halfway to London, however, it was clear that few of the English would join him, and the Highlanders themselves were unhappy at being so far from home. The rebels moved back to Scotland. Early in 1746 they were defeated by the British army.
The English army behaved with cruelty. Many Highlanders were killed, even those who had not joined the rebellion. Others were sent to work in America. Their homes were destroyed, and their farm animals killed. The fear of the Highland danger was so great that a law was passed forbidding Highlanders to wear their traditional skirt, the kilt. The old patterns of the kilt, called tartans, and the Scottish musical instrument, the bagpipe, were also forbidden. Some did not obey this law, and were shot.
Life in town and country
In 1700 England and Wales had a population of about 5.5 million. This had increased very little by 1750, but then grew quickly to about 8.8 million by the end of the century. Including Ireland and Scotland, the total population was about 13 million.
By the middle of the century Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds were already large. But such new towns were still treated as villages and so had no representation in Parliament.
All the towns smelled bad. There were no drains. In fact people added to it, leaving in the streets the rubbish from the marketplace and from houses. The streets were muddy and narrow, some only two metres wide.
The towns were centres of disease. As a result only one child in four in London lived to become an adult. It was the poor who died youngest. They were buried together in large holes dug in the ground. These were not covered with earth until they were full. It was hardly surprising that poor people found comfort in drinking alcohol and in trying to win money from card games. Poor people found comfort in drinking alcohol and in trying to win money from card games. Quakers, shocked by the terrible effects of gin drinking, developed the beer industry in order to replace gin with a less damaging drink.
During the eighteenth century, efforts were made to make towns healthier. Streets were built wider, so that carriages drawn by horses could pass each other. From 1734, London had a street lighting system. After 1760 many towns asked Parliament to allow them to tax their citizens in order to provide social services, such as street cleaning and lighting. Each house owner had to pay a local tax, the amount or "rate" of
which was decided by the local council or corporation.
Soon London and the other towns were so clean and tidy that they became the wonder of Europe. Indeed London had so much to offer that the great literary figure of the day, Samuel Johnson, made the now famous remark, "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. For there is in London all that life can afford."
There were four main classes of people in eighteenth-century towns: the wealthy merchants; the ordinary merchants and traders; the skilled craftsmen; and the large number of workers who had no skill and who could not be sure of finding work from one day to another.
Social conditions were probably better than in any other country in Europe. British aristocrats had less power over the poor than European aristocrats had. It was difficult to see a clear difference between the aristocracy, the gentry and the middle class of merchants. Most classes mixed freely together.
Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps England's finest portrait painter, painted for the rich and famous. "The Morning Walk" has a clam domesticity about it. At the other end of the social scale, Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps England's finest portrait painter, painted for the rich and famous. "The Morning Walk" .
Foreigners noticed how easy it was for the British to move up and down the social "ladder". In London a man who dressed as a gentleman would be treated as one. The comfortable life of the gentry must have been dull most of the time. The men went hunting and riding, and carried out "improvements" to their estates. During the eighteenth century these improvements included rebuilding many great houses in the classical style. It was also fashionable to arrange natural-looking gardens and parks to create a carefully made "view of nature" from the windows of the house. Some of the gentry became interested in collecting trees or plants from abroad.
Women's lives were more boring. But even the richest women's lives were limited by the idea that they could not take a share in more serious matters.
During the eighteenth century, people believed that the natural spring waters in "spa" towns such as Bath were good for their health. These towns became fashionable places where most people went to meet other members of high society.
Somersetshire Buildings in Mlson Street, Bath, 1788, were among the finest town houses built ii "Georgian" period. Both has survived as England's best preserved Georgian city because was very fashionable during the eighteenth century, but suddenly ceased to be so at the beginning of the nineteenth century. As a result the economy of Bath, based upon tourism, collapsed and the splendid Georgian buildings were replaced during the nineteenth, or twentieth centuries.
The cultural life of Edinburgh was in total contrast with life in the Scottish Highlands. Because the kilt and tartan were forbidden, everyone born since 1746 had grown up wearing Lowland (English) clothes. The old way of colouring and making tartan patterns from local plants had long been forgotten. By the time the law forbidding the kilt and tartan was abolished in 1782, it was too late.
Highland dress and tartans became fancy dress, to be worn by Scottish soldiers and by lovers of the past, but not by the real Highlanders.
The real disaster in the Highlands, however, was economic. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the clan chiefs began to realise that money could be made from sheep for the wool trade. They began to push the people off the clan lands, and replace them with sheep, a process known as the clearances. Many Highlanders, men, women and children, lived poor on the streets of Glasgow. Others went to begin a new life, mainly in Canada where many settled with other members of their clan. A smaller number went to Australia in the nineteenth century. Clan society in the Highlands had gone forever.
In England the countryside changed even more than the towns in the eighteenth century. Most farming at the beginning of the century was still done as it had been for centuries. Each village stood in the middle of three or four large fields, and the villagers together decided what to grow, although individuals continued to work on their own small strips of land.
During the eighteenth century most of this land was enclosed. The enclosed land was not used for sheep farming, as it had been in Tudor times, but for mixed animal and cereal farms. People with money and influence, such as the village squire, persuaded their MP to pass a law through Parliament allowing them to take over common land and to enclose it. The MP was willing to do this because the landowner was often able to help him at the next election with the votes of those who worked for him.
One main cause of these enclosures was that a number of the greater landlords, including the aristocracy, had a great deal of money to invest.
Most of them wanted to invest their money on the land, and having improved their own land, and built fine country houses, they looked to other land. Their reason was that farming had become much more profitable.
Traditionally the land had been allowed to rest every three years. But by growing root crops one year, animal food the next, and wheat the third, farmers could now produce more. Growing animal food also made it possible to keep animals through the winter. This was an important new development. Before the mid-eighteenth century most animals were killed before winter because there was never enough food to keep them until the following spring. For the first time people could now eat fresh meat all the year round.
Richer farmers wanted to change the system of farming, including the system of landholding. With one large area for each farm the new machinery and methods would work very well. They had the money to do this, and could expect the help of the village squire and their MP, who were also rich farmers with the same interests. They
had a strong economic argument for introducing change because it was clear that the new methods would produce more food for each acre of land than the traditional methods. There was also another strong reason, though at the time people may not have realised it. The population had started to grow at a greatly increased rate.
Improved use of land made it possible to grow wheat almost everywhere. For the first time everyone, including the poor, could eat white wheat bread. White bread was less healthy than brown, but the poor enjoyed the idea that they could afford the same bread as the rich. In spite of the greatly increased production of food, however, Britain could no longer feed itself by the end of the century. Imported food from abroad became necessary to feed the rapidly growing population.
But in social terms the enclosures were damaging. Villagers sometimes knew nothing about an enclosure until they were sent off the land. Some had built their homes on common land and these were destroyed.
The enclosures changed the look of much of the countryside. Instead of a few large fields there were now many smaller fields, each encircled with a hedge, many with trees growing in them.
The problem of the growing landless class was made very much worse by the rapid increase in population in the second half of the century.
Help was given to a family according to the number of children. Before the enclosures farmers had smaller families because the land had to be divided among the children, and because young men would not marry until they had a farm of their own. The enclosures removed the need for these limits, and the encouraged larger families since this meant an increase in financial help.
In the eighteenth century families began to express affection more openly than before. One popular eighteenth-century handbook on the upbringing of children, itself a significant development, warned: "Severe and frequent whipping is, I think, a very bad practice. The most likely thing to expand a youthful mind is …praise”.
Girls, however, continued to be victims of the parents' desire to make them match the popular idea of feminine beauty of slim bodies, tight waists and a pale appearance. To achieve this aim, and so improve the chances of a good marriage, parents forced their daughters into tightly waisted clothes, and gave them only little food to avoid an unfashionably healthy appearance.
Parents still often decided on a suitable marriage for their children. However, sons and daughters often had to marry against their wishes.
The increase in affection was partly because people could now expect a reasonably long life. This resulted mainly from improved diet and the greater cleanliness of cotton rather than woollen underclothing. However, it was also the result of a growing idea of kindness. Perhaps the first time people started to believe that cruelty either to humans or animals was wrong. It did not prevent bad factory conditions, but it did help those trying to end slavery. At the root of this dislike of cruelty was the idea that every human was an individual.
Hogarth is best known for his realistic pictures of society's its, but to make money he also painted wealthy people. "The Graham Children' ' gives a delightful view of a warm relaxed and jolly atmosphere. Play began to be recognised as good for children, but only for young one it was feared that if older children played they would become lay adults. One lord wrote to his son on his ninth birthday, "Childish toys and playthings must be thrown aside, and your mind directed to serious objects."
This growing individualism showed itself in a desire for privacy. In the seventeenth century middle-class and wealthier families were served by servants, who listened to their conversation as they ate. They lived in rooms that led one to another, usually through wide double doors. Not even the bedrooms were private. But in the eighteenth century families began to eat alone, preferring to serve themselves than to have servants listening to everything they had to say. They also rebuilt the insides of their homes, putting in corridors, so that every person in the family had their own private bedroom.
Individualism was important to trade and industrial success. Such individualism could not exist for the poorer classes.
The use of child labour in the workhouse and in the new factories increased towards the end of the century. This was hardly surprising. A rapidly growing population made a world of children. Children of the poor had always worked as soon as they could walk. Workhouse children were expected to learn a simple task from the age of three, and almost all would be working by the age of six or seven. They were particularly useful to factory owners because they were easy to discipline, unlike adults, and they were cheap.
Then, quite suddenly at the end of the century, child labour began to be seen as shameful. Horrified by the suffering of children forced to sweep chimneys, two men campaigned for almost thirty years to persuade Parliament to pass a Regulating Act in 1788 to reduce the cruelty involved. In the nineteenth century the condition of poor children was to become a main area of social reform. This was a response not only to the fact that children were suffering more, but also that their sufferings were more public.
The years of revolution
Several influences came together at the same time to revolutionise Britain's industry: money, labour, a greater demand for goods, new power, and better transport. By the end of the eighteenth century, some families had made huge private fortunes. Growing merchant banks helped put this money to use.
By the early eighteenth century simple machines had already been invented for basic jobs. They could make large quantities of simple goods quickly and cheaply so that "mass production" became possible for the first time. Each machine carried out one simple process, which introduced the idea of "division of labour" among workers. This was to become an important part of the industrial revolution.
Increased iron production made it possible to manufacture new machinery for other industries. No one saw this more clearly than John Wilkinson, a man with a total belief in iron. He built the largest ironworks in the country. He built the world's first iron bridge, over the River Severn, in 1779. He saw the first iron boats made. He built an iron chapel for the new Methodist religious sect, and was himself buried in an iron coffin. Wilkinson was also quick to see the value of new inventions. When James Watt made a greatly improved steam engine in 1769, Wilkinson improved it further by making parts of the engine more accurately with his special skills in ironworking. But in 1781 Watt produced an engine with a turning motion, made of iron and steel. It was a vital development because people were now no longer dependent on natural power.
One invention led to another, and increased production in one area led to increased production in others. Other basic materials of the industrial revolution were cotton and woollen cloth, which were popular abroad. In the middle of the century other countries were buying British uniforms, equipment and weapons for their armies. To meet this increased demand, better methods of production had to be found, and new machinery was invented which replaced handwork.
Soon Britain was not only exporting cloth to Europe. It was also importing raw cotton from its colonies and exporting finished cotton cloth to sell to those same colonies,
The social effects of the industrial revolution were enormous. Workers tried to join together to protect themselves against powerful employers. They wanted fair wages and reasonable conditions in which to work. But the government quickly banned these "combinations", as the workers' societies were known. Riots occurred, led by the unemployed who had been replaced in factories by machines. In 1799 some of these rioters, known as Luddites, started to break up the machinery which had put them out of work. The government supported the factory owners, and made the breaking of machinery punishable by death. The government was afraid of a revolution like the one in France.
Society and religion
Britain avoided revolution partly because of a new religious movement. The new movement which met the needs of the growing industrial working class was led by a remarkable man called John Wesley. He was an Anglican priest who travelled around the country preaching and teaching.
For fifty-three years John Wesley travelled 224,000 miles on horseback, preaching at every village he came to. Sometimes he preached in three different villages in one day. Very soon others joined in his work. John Wesley visited the new villages and industrial towns which had no parish church.
John Wesley's "Methodism" was above all a personal and emotional form of religion. It was organised in small groups, or "chapels", all over the country. At a time when the Church of England itself showed little interest in the social and spiritual needs of the growing population, Methodism was able to give ordinary people a sense of purpose and dignity. The Church was nervous of this powerful new movement which it could not control, and in the end Wesley was forced to leave the Church of England and start a new Methodist Church.
He carefully avoided politics, and taught people to be hardworking and honest. As a result of his teaching, people accepted many of the injustices of the times without complaint. Some became wealthy through working hard and saving their money. As an old man, Wesley sadly noted how hard work led to wealth, and wealth to pride and that this threatened to destroy his work. "Although the form of religion remains," he wrote, "the spirit is swiftly vanishing away." However, Wesley probably saved Britain from revolution. He certainly brought many people back to Christianity.
The Methodists were not alone. Other Christians also joined what became known as "the evangelical revival", which was a return to a simple faith based on the Bible. Some, especially the Quakers, became well known for social concern. One of the best known was Elizabeth Fry, who made public the terrible conditions in the prisons, and starred to work for reform.
It was also a small group of Christians who were the first to act against the evils of the slave trade, from which Britain was making huge sums of money. Slaves did not expect to live long. Almost 20 per cent died on the voyage. Most of the others died young from cruel treatment in the West Indies.
The first success against slavery came when a judge ruled that "no man could be a slave in Britain", and freed a slave who had landed in Bristol. This victory gave a new and unexpected meaning to the words of the national song, "Britons never shall be slaves." In fact, just as Britain had taken a lead in slavery and the slave trade, it also took the lead internationally in ending them. The slave trade was abolished by law in 1807. But it took until 1833 for slavery itself to be abolished in all British colonies.
Others, also mainly Christians, tried to limit the cruelty of employers who forced children to work long hours. In 1802, as a result of their efforts, Parliament passed the first Factory Act, limiting child labour to twelve hours each day. In 1819 a new law forbade the employment of children under the age of nine. Neither of these two Acts were obeyed everywhere, but they were the early examples of government action to protect the weak against the powerful.