Why Britian Avoided Revolution from 1815-1848

April 27, 2012 | | Comments Off

Original Work by Jeffrey Hoehn

While the rest of Europe was engaging in revolutions for nationalism and independence, Britain was busy industrializing even further and solving governmental problems through words not war.  Some of the reasons why Britain was able to avoid substantial violence was its characteristic of enjoying the broadest political and religious freedom.  Although the freedom was far from true liberty, it was considerably better than most other countries.  Probably the prominent reason why Britain avoided considerable violence was the Great Reform Bill and a number of concessions the government made.  First, it Roman Catholics and Protestant Nonconformists were given political rights.  This also affected Ireland because the Catholic majority could now hold political positions.  The government also avoided the influence of Metternich whose international policies did not fit the present need of Britain.

Another reason why Britain avoided revolution was the replacement of a modernist party (Whigs) from the previous conservative party (Torries).  The change in parties was an essential event in Britain because the Torries backed the Great Reform Bill, which reformed voting rights to the middle class by allowing these individuals to vote in elections.  Other reasons why revolution was avoided was the abolition of slavery, which appeased many humanitarians.  The impact of the loss of slaves to certain individuals was lessened by compensation of the government as well to quell their anger.  Towns and cities were gaining more power in self-government under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.  A significant reform that pleased many individuals was the reforms implemented to improve conditions in factories, and limiting children work hours.  Finally, the Chartist movement in Britain was utilized by many workers to express their concerns for the current conditions they faced.  The outlet allowed individuals to feel as if their voice was heard, therefore reducing the risk that workers would bind together and start expressing their concerns in ways that would entail more than simple words.


Edits and additions:

During the late 18th and Early 19th centuries, Britain experienced change in all aspects of life, as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Scientific advances and technological innovations brought growth in agricultural and industrial production, economic expansion and changes in living conditions, while at the same time there was a new sense of national identity and civic pride. The most dramatic changes were witnessed in rural areas, where the provincial landscape often became urban and industrialized following advances in agriculture, industry, and shipping.  Wealth accumulated in the regions and there was soon a need for country banking. (Source: https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/publications/online_research_catalogues/paper_money/paper_money_of_england__wales/the_industrial_revolution.aspx)


The Great Reform Act: Helped Britain avoid violence because they were focused on domestic affairs and positive policy changes. This Act did many things. It:

  • disenfranchised 56 boroughs in England and Wales and reduced another 31 to only one MP
  • created 67 new constituencies
  • broadened the franchise’s property qualification in the counties, to include small landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers
  • created a uniform franchise in the boroughs, giving the vote to all householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers

(Source: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/houseofcommons/reformacts/overview/reformact1832/)


Sir George Hayter, oil on canvas, image of the passing of the Great Reform Act:

NPG 54; The House of Commons, 1833 by Sir George Hayter

(Source: http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw00015/The-House-of-Commons-1833)


Yet another reason why Britain avoided revolution:

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833: Slavery had been abolished in England in 1772 and Britain had outlawd the slave trade with the Slave Trade Act in 1807, with penalties of  £100 per slave levied on British captains found importing slaves. Slavery was officially abolished in the British Empire on 1 August 1834. In practical terms, however, only slaves below the age of six were freed, as all slaves over the age of six were redesignated as “apprentices.” Apprentices would continue to serve their former owners for a period of time after the abolition of slavery, though the length of time they served depended on which of three classes of apprentice they were. (Source: http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Slavery-Abolition-Act-1833.pdf)


Slavery Abolition Act Image:


(Source: http://bernews.com/2011/12/freed-slaves-craving-for-education/)


Municipal Corporations Act of 1835: This act was an Act that reformed local government in the incorporated boroughs of England and Wales. It cleared up corruption and unfairness in town elections. All closed corporations were abolished, and councils were required to form a police force. (Source: http://www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/politics/municip.htm)


Boroughs that were affected:


(Source: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=22870)


Chartism, the origin: After the passing of the Reform Act 1832, which extended the franchise only to middle class men, the political leaders of the working class made speeches claiming that there had been a great act of betrayal. This sense that the working class had been betrayed by the middle class was strengthened by the actions of the Whig governments of the 1830s. Notably, the hated New Poor Law was passed in 1834, depriving working people of outdoor relief and driving the poor into workhouses, where families were separated. It was the massive wave of opposition to this measure in the north of England in the late 1830s that gave Chartism the numbers that made it a mass movement. It seemed that only securing the vote for working men would change things, and indeed Dorothy Thompson, the pre-eminent historian of Chartism, defined the movement as the time when “thousands of working people considered that their problems could be solved by the political organisation of the country.”

(Source: Dorothy Thompson, The Chartists: popular politics in the Industrial Revolution (1984) p 1)


Further: In the years 1839, 1842 and 1848, the Chartist Movement urged Parliament to adopt three great petitions. Of these, the best known is the final petition, with six million signatures (although a number of these were later found to be fake), presented to Parliament on 10th April 1848 after a huge meeting on Kennington Common. This event achieved great prominence in the story of Chartism, due largely to the reaction of the authorities as they faced the challenges of that turbulent year.

The presentation of the petition came at a time of much violent change in Europe; Louis Philippe had been removed from the French throne in February 1848, and revolutions were soon to convulse other European capitals. These events had given great heart to the Chartist leaders, although they were already much encouraged by the election to Parliament, in July 1847, of their most popular leader, Feargus O’Connor.

Working people had proclaimed themselves as Chartists at crowded meetings throughout March 1848. The authorities had viewed this campaign with great concern, and some of the propertied classes had come to believe that the Chartists intended revolution, even though the Movement’s leaders always emphasized their commitment to peaceful protest. The government’s concern led to Queen Victoria being dispatched to the Isle of Wight for her safety, and the Duke of Wellington – with thousands of soldiers and special constables – was brought in to defend London.

(Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/chartist_01.shtml)






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