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How Britain Could Escape the Revolutions of 1848/1849

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Yi, Sumin
Term Paper, AP European History Class, July 2009

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Socioeconomic Problems of 19th century Europe
II.1 Environmental Circumstances
II.2 Poverty
II.2.1 Unemployment
II.2.2 Diseases
II.3 Food Shortage
II.3.1 Irish famine
II.4 Uprising Ideology: Liberalism
III. Revolution of 1848
III.1 Started from where ?
III.2 Who started it ?
IV. Factors that exempted England from the effect of 1848-1849 revolution
IV.1 Working Labor Movement
IV.1.1 Chartism
IV.1.2 Repeal of Corn Law
IV.2 Electoral Reform of 1832
V Conclusion

I. Introduction
            19th century Europe was era of various alterations. Due to industrialization, people's lifestyle changed a lot and rapid urbanization greatly changed social as well as economical circumstances of whole Europe. Several side effects of such changes intensified people¡¯s discontent toward society and people started to change government by their hands under the name of 'Revolution of 1848-1849.' It was first systematically organized in France and then spread across the whole European continent. However, there were some nations that avoided its effect and Great Britain was one of them. In this paper, it will focus on factors that exempted Great Britain from the effect of prevalent revolution while dealing with revolution itself as well.

II. Socioeconomic Problems of 19th century Europe

II.1 Environmental Circumstances
            While the process of industrialization spread, the population of Europe continued to grow on the base of the eighteenth-century population explosion. During the period, population of Britain rose from 16.3 million to 20.8 million. (1) More and more people lived in cities and by mid-century, one-half of the population of England had become town dwellers. (2) Migration from the countryside meant that existing housing, water, sewers, food supplies, and lighting were completely inadequate. (3) Slums with indescribable filth grew, and disease, especially cholera, ravaged the population. (4) Human misery and degradation in many early-nineteenth-century cities seemed to have no bounds.

II.2 Poverty

II.2.1 Unemployment
            Though increase of average income, but the distribution of income was unequal as unemployment increased. Real incomes of ordinary people could have fallen despite the rise in average income. (5) With an introduction of labor-saving technology, artisans were losing their works. They were attempting to maintain the value of their skills and control over their trades in the face of changing features of production. (6) All these working people faced possible unemployment, with little or no provision for their security. II.2.2 Diseases
            Along with industrialization, many people moved to urban cities to find jobs. However, environment of cities could not pace with rapid urbanization. Clean water and fresh air were not provided to the people in the 19th century Europe. Such contaminated conditions gave way to the bacteria to invade human beings. Two most prevalent diseases were cholera and tuberculosis. Unlike many other common diseases of the day that touched only the poor, cholera struck all classes, and the middle class demanded a solution. (8). However, tuberculosis affected the poor more often than the wealthy, females more than males, and people of all ages. Anyone could be a victim of these fatal diseases.

II.3 Food Shortage
            Severe food shortages had prevailed since 1846. Grain and Potato harvests had been poor due to potato blight. As a result of grain and potato scarcity the cost of basic commodities dramatically increased, especially in the spring of 1847. (9) Besides village and urban poverty which already had turned to public or private charity, artisans were especially hard hit. (10) Formerly prosperous masters were impoverished; journeymen and the autonomous mass artisans suffered chronic undernourishment and particularly in the spring of 1847 often had to go hungry on a regular basis. (11) Inflation and pauperization led in turn to bread riots and hunger revolts in numerous states directed against usurers and grain speculators and often could only be brought under control by massive deployment of troops in the first half of 1847.

II.3.1 Irish Famine
            The famine in Ireland was simply the worst example of a more widespread situation. (12) The effects of the Potato blight were most severely manifested in the Great Irish Famine. Potato blight, caused by fungus, destroyed between one-third and half of the potato crop in the harvest of 1845 across Ireland. The price of potatoes more than doubled over the winter: a hundredweight [50kg] of potatoes rose in price from 16p to 30p. (13) By the time of harvest in 1846, almost the entire crop had been wiped out. A priest in Galway wrote "As to the potatoes they are all gone-clean gone. If traveling by night, you would know when a potato field was near by the smell. The fields present a space of withered black stalks." (14) It was in 1846 that the first starvations started to happen. The appearance of Cholera in 1849 worsened the situation.

II.4 Uprising Ideology: Liberalism
            The transition to liberal society in Europe sometimes came through revolutionary or secessionist violence, and there were repeated explicitly liberal revolutions and revolts throughout Europe in the first half of the 19th century. (15)
            One of the basic ideas of the first wave of thinkers in the liberal tradition was that individuals?made agreements and owned property. Gradually, the liberal tradition introduced the idea that voluntary consent and voluntary agreement were the basis for legitimate government and law. (16) This view was further advanced by Rousseau with his notion of a?social contract.
            Between 1774 and 1848, there were several waves of revolutions, each revolution demanding greater and greater primacy for individual rights. The revolutions placed increasing value on?self-governance. (17) Political liberalism was often driven by economic liberalism, namely, the desire to end feudal privileges, guild or royal monopolies, restrictions on ownership, and laws which did not permit the full range of corporate and economic arrangements being developed in other countries. (18)

III. Revolution of 1848
            The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout the European continent. "The Year of Revolutions," 1848, witnessed the uprising of popular democratic ideas and resulted in the fall of several thrones. (19)

III.1 Started from where?
            The period of unrest began in France an then, further propelled by the French Revolution of 1848, soon spread to the rest of Europe (20)

III.2 why and by whom was it started ?
            Revolutions arose from such a wide variety of causes that it is difficult to view them as resulting from a coherent movement or social phenomenon. Numerous changes had been taking place in European society throughout the first half of the 19th century. Massive movement toward urban cities changed the environment of society and new values and ideas such as popular liberalism, nationalism, and socialism began to spring up. (21) A series of economic downturns and crop failures produced starvation among peasants and the working urban poor. (22)
            The dynamic force for change in 1848 originated, not with the working classes, but with the political liberals, who were generally drawn from the middle classes. (23) Throughout the Continent, liberals were pushing for their program of a more representative government, civil liberty, and unregulated economic life. (24)

IV. Factors that Exempted England from the Effect of 1848-1849 Revolution

IV.1 Working Labor Movement

IV.1.1 Chartism
            Chartism was a movement for political and social reform in the United Kingdom as well as the first mass working class labor movement in the world during the mid-19th century between 1838 and 1850.
            By mid-century, such artisans, proud of their skills and frustrated in their social and economic expectations, became the most radical political element in the European working class. (25) From at least the 1830s onward, these artisans took the lead in one country after another in attempting to formulate new ways to protect their social and economic interests. (26) By the late 1830s, many British workers linked the solution of their economic plight to a program of political reform known as Chartism. (27) The Six Points of the Charter included universal male suffrage, annual election of the House of Commons, the secret ballot, equal electoral districts, and the abolition of property qualifications for and the payment of salaries to members of the House of Commons. (28) Chartism as national movement failed but on the local level, the Chartists scored several successes and controlled city councils in Leeds and Sheffield. (29)

IV.1.2 Repeal of Corn Law
            The Corn Laws which the farming industry imposed on the country in 1815 were not designed to save a tottering sector of the economy, but rather to preserve the abnormally high profits of the Napoleonic war-years, and to safeguard farmers from the consequences of their wartime euphoria, when farms had changed hands at the fanciest prices, loans and mortgages had been accepted on impossible terms. (30)
            At the end of the French Wars that year Parliament passed legislation that stated that no foreign corn?could be imported into Britain until domestic corn cost 80/- per quarter. (31) The high price caused the cost of food to increase and consequently depressed the domestic market for manufactured goods because people spent the bulk of their earnings on food rather than commodities. The Corn Laws also caused great distress among the working classes in the towns. These people were unable to grow their own food and had to pay the high prices in order to stay alive. Since the vast majority of voters and Members of Parliament were landowners, the government was unwilling to reconsider the new legislation in order to help the economy, the poor or the manufacturers who laid off workers in times of restricted trade. (32)
            The Anti-Corn Law Association was set up in London in 1836 but had little success there; it was re-formed in 1838 in Manchester and in 1839 was re-named the Anti-Corn-Law League (ACLL). (33) The members of this movement were mainly in middle-class such as manufacturers, merchants, bankers and traders. They wanted the Corn Laws to be repealed so that they could sell more goods both in Britain and overseas. The keystone of the protectionist system was thought to be the Corn Laws: once they were repealed, the ACLL thought that free trade would follow. (34) The ACLL headed a nation-wide campaign for the repeal of the Corn Laws which ended in success in 1846 when the Prime Minister,?Sir Robert Peel repealed the legislation. (35)

IV.2 Reform act of 1832
            The?Representation of the People Act 1832, commonly known as the?Reform Act 1832, was an?Act of Parliament?that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of the?United Kingdom. (36) The?Representation of the People Act 1832, commonly known as the?Reform Act 1832, was an?Act of Parliament that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of the?United Kingdom. (37)
            In 1832?Reform Act?gave the vote to a sizeable proportion of the industrial middle classes. This piece of legislation meant that the manufacturers now had more importance in the governance of Britain and some notice had to be taken of their opinions. (38)

IV.3 English Factory Acts
            The Factory Acts were a series of Acts passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to limit the number of hours worked by women and children first in the textile industry, then later in all industries. (39) The way in which it proposed to do this was the following: The working day was to start at 5.30 a.m. and cease at 8.30 p.m. A young person (aged thirteen to eighteen) might not be employed beyond any period of twelve hours, less one and a half for meals; and a child (aged nine to thirteen) beyond any period of nine hours. From 8.30 p.m. to 5.30 a.m.; that is during the night; the employment of such persons was altogether prohibited. (40)

V Conclusion
            As the dominant industrial and maritime power of the 19th century, the United Kingdom played a leading role in developing parliamentary democracy. (41)
            While in other countries of contemporary era, frustration and discontent of the urban artisan and laboring classes due to miserable socioeconomic problems of the era, and their claim for government that can solve these problems, effected by liberalism were rising and these finally begot the result called the 'Revolution of 1848-1849.'
            However, during this dynamic period, Great Britain was one of the only countries that were not affected by 1848-1849 revolution. In Great Britain, the middle classes had been pacified by general enfranchisement in the?Reform Act 1832, with consequent agitations, violence, and petitions of the?Chartist movement?that came to a head with the petition to Parliament of 1848. The repeal of the protectionist agricultural tariffs - called the "Corn Laws" - in 1846, had defused some proletarian fervor. Government¡¯s rapid and satisfactory reaction toward people's request prevented itself from rough rebellion.


(1.)      Western Heritage
(2.)      ibid.
(3.)      ibid.
(4.)      ibid.
(5.)      Industrial Revolution Was Good for Common Worker, Conservative Colloquium
(6.)      Western Heritage
(7.)      ibid.
(8.)      ibid.
(9.)      Economic Crisis in Germany, Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions
(10.)      ibid.
(11.)      ibid.
(12.)      Western Heritage
(13.)      The Famine 1: Potato Blight, Travel through the Ireland story
(14.)      ibid.
(15.)      Liberalism, Wikipedia
(16.)      ibid.
(17.)      ibid.
(18.)      ibid.
(19.)      Europe in the 19th Century,
(20.)      Revolutions of 1848, Wikipedia
(21.)      ibid.
(22.)      ibid.
(23.)      ibid.
(24.)      Western Heritage
(25.)      ibid.
(26.)      ibid.
(27.)      Chartism, Wikipedia
(28.)      ibid.
(29.)      Western Heritage
(30.)      The Corn Laws, The Victorian Web
(31.)      ibid.
(32.)      ibid.
(33.)      ibid.
(34.)      ibid.
(35.)      ibid.
(36.)      Reform Act 1832, Wikipedia
(37.)      ibid.
(38.)      ibid.
(39.)      Factory Acts, Wikipedia
(40.)      1833 Factory Act, Spartacus Educational
(41.)      Unemployment Rates From Around the World, Ezine Articles


Note : websites quoted below were visited in July 2009.
1.      McKay, Hill, Buckler; Western Heritage, A History of Western Society, Volume II, Eight Edition; Houghton Mifflin; 2006
2.      Industrial Revolution Was Good for Common Worker, Conservative Colloquium - An Intellectual Forum for All Things Conservative
3.      Economic Crisis in Germany¡±, Encyclopedia of 1848 Revolutions <>
4.      The Famine 1: Potato Blight, Travel through the Ireland story
5.      Liberalism, Wikipedia
6.      Europe in the 19th Century, <>
7.      Revolutions of 1848, Wikipedia
8.      Chartism, Wikipedia
9.      The Corn Laws, The Victorian Web
10.      Reform Act 1832, Wikipedia
11.      Factory Acts, Wikipedia
12.      1833 Factory Act, Spartacus Educational
13.      Unemployment Rates From Around the World, Ezine Articles

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