Queen Victoria, when she was only eighteen, succeeded William IV, her uncle. There was a difficult political and economic situation: slump in industry and ten years of bad crops (the hungry 40s), a period of misery. The working classes still endured very poor conditions, aggravated by crises in industry and agriculture. Workers’ meeting and demonstrations were common and protest often seemed on the verge of revolution, as in the rest of Europe.
The largest organised workers’ movement was that of the Chartists: it was a consequence of the poor conditions. In 1838 they drew up a People’s Charter asking for the extension of the right to vote and to stand for election to the working class, voting for secret ballot, and other democratic reforms. The Chartists Movement failed in 1848 because of political immaturity.
During Victoria’s reign two of Britain’s modern parties were born: the Conservatives grew out of the old Tories, and the Liberals out of the Whigs. In 1900 was founded also the Labour Party. Liberals and Conservatives have different political view but they alternated in power: Peel and Disraeli were Conservatives; Palmerston and Gladstone were Liberals. This alternation, fairly regular, was positive. The Liberals were in favour of an extension of the franchise, but it was after Disraeli’s initiative that in 1867 a second Reform Bill was passed: it gave town workers the right to vote. A third Reform Bill (1884) extended the suffrage to all male workers.
In 1846 there was the abrogation/repeal of the Corn Law carried out by the Anti-Corn League: it kept the price o the corn high. So started protectionism to protect British economy from foreign competition:- very high price of bread - lack of food
They succeeded in the abrogation of this law: protectionism was substituted by free trade; so all goods have low customs duties. This was welcomed by the industrial and mercantile middle and upper class, since trade with foreign countries increased and British manufacturers had little to fear from limited foreign competition. Because of prosperity resulting from free trade policies, England did not have the armed revolutions that in 1848 broke out all over Europe. Three years later, 1851, the Great International Exhibition of London, opened by Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, displayed the wonders of industry and science, revealing to an admiring world as the world’s leading political and economical power.
During the Victorian Age several important reforms were carried out:
▪ Ten hours’ Act, limiting working hours to ten a day both for men and women;
▪ Mines Act, forbidding the employment for women and children in mines;
▪ Emancipation of religious sects, which allowed Catholics to hold government jobs and to enter the universities of Oxford and Cambridge;
▪ Public Health Act, improving health conditions;
▪ Trade Union Act, which legalised the activities of the unions of workers;
▪ Factory Act; improvement in working conditions;
▪ Poor Law: workhouses were instituted.
The Irish Question broke out: Ireland was very poor and the population was mostly Catholic. It was an agricultural country: diet was based on potatoes but there were recurrent famines especially during the hungry 40s. This caused mass starvation and emigration especially to the USA. In these years born the Movement for Irish Independence with Parnell; they asked for home-rule: self-government. Parnell convinced Gladstone to present the law in Parliament: it was twice rejected and accepted only after World War I.
Humanitarian Crusades (by theorists and reformers)
There was a movement called Evangelicalism: the people who belong to this movement were strict Puritans and they were really concerned with human problems. They have a strict code of behaviour: Sunday was a day of absolute rest. They also advocated social reforms: 1st Reform Bill and abolition of slavery.
In 1848 was published the Manifesto of Communism by Marx and Engels: it sustained a new social re-organization and a new distribution of wealth. It never flourished in England.
The Fabians Society founded in 1884 by Sidney and Beatrice Webb: they were socialists inspired by the Marxist doctrine; they believed in gradual reforms and not in violent and revolutionary methods.
Philosophies (end of 19th century)
==> Positivism by A. Compte
==> Utilitarism by Jeremie Bentham
▪ Only what is useful is good;
▪ All efforts should be directed towards achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
==> Evolutionism by Charles Darwin: the theory of evolution in the Origin of the Species is about the descent of man:
▪ Man descends from the apes
▪ The law of natural selection rules the world: the strong survive, the weak perishes.
==> Schopenauer, the most pessimistic philosopher
==> Taine: the man is the product of three factors:
▪ The race;
▪ The environment;
▪ The pressure of the past over the present.
The age of science and industry
There is triumph of industry represented by steam engine (the fiery devil):
▪ Railroads developed quickly: by 1848 trains covered most of the country;
▪ Steamboats (1824), by 1849 there were regular links between UK and USA and the rest of the world
▪ 1901: cars and airplanes
The Iron Industry (mechanical factory) was the most developed in the world. Textile Industry was also very developed. Shipyards: shipbuilding boomed after the discovery of gold (USA and Australia); ships were needed to transports million of emigrants.
The scientific research was applied to the invention and construction of machinery: the study of electricity (Volta, Ampere, Faraday) led to Morse’s invention of telegraph and then to the invention of telephone, photography and cinema. Gas lightning was developed: London in 1816; Berlin in 1828; Paris in 1829; Vienna in 1833.
In 1840 Rowland Hill invented the stamp: penny black.
People believed that happiness could be reached through progress: optimism. Macauly preaches the celebration of progress. Most of people were proud in their welfare, so they tended to ignore the problems, which affected England:
▪ misery and distress in the working classes;
▪ growth of slums: filth and moral degradation;
▪ health problems;
▪ lack of hygiene;
▪ poor education (incompetent teachers/too much corporal punishment).