Between 1830 and 1870 the internal development of the United Kingdom passed through two phases, dividing roughly at 1850. By the middle of the century Great Britain (but not Ireland) had been transformed from a society that was predominantly rural and agricultural to one predominantly urban and industrial. In the first two decades social and political conflicts arose between the landed and agricultural interest on one hand and the growing commercial and industrial interests on the other. They arose over such issues as the reform of the electoral and parliamentary system, reorganisation of poor relief and of municipal government, free trade and factory legislation. The decades 1830-50 also saw the rise and temporary failure of such working-class movements as Chartism and trade unionism, born of the growth of industrialism during these years. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was clear that at almost every point the commercial and industrial interests had gained what they wanted, and that the efforts of the working classes to claim that freedom of action and association which the rising class of merchants and manufacturers succeeded in claiming for themselves, had been severely checked. The two decades after 1851 brought consolidation and extension of the advantages gained by the new ruling classes; a remarkable growth of overseas trade and investment as well as of total national wealth; and a multitude of legislative measures adjusting the political and administrative system to the needs of the new society of towns and factories. From this growth in national wealth and in legislative protection the working classes gained considerable benefits. They succeeded in establishing trade unions and voluntary organisations which laid the basis for their future power in the state.
Behind these conflicts and shifts of power lay the constant factor of immense and rapid expansion: expansion of population, of production, of trade and investment. Between 1831 and 1871 the population of the whole United Kingdom (constituted in 1801 by the union of Ireland with Great Britain) grew from roughly 24 to nearly 32 millions. This increase was almost equal to the total numbers of people who had inhabited England and Wales in 1800, and it was a continuation of the immense growth in population which had been happening since the middle of the eighteenth century. The increase varied between the different parts of the United Kingdom. The population of England and Wales grew steadily and sharply in these years, and that of Scotland grew steadily but less sharply. The population of Ireland increased until 1845 and then, mainly because of massive emigration and famine, decreased equally sharply until the end of the century. Thus Great Britain grew during the first two decades from 16 1/2 millions to more than 21 millions, and then to more than 26 millions by 1871; but the population of Ireland rose from roughly 7 millions in 1831 to a peak figure of 8 1/2 millions in 1845, and then fell to less than 5 1/2 millions by 1871. More than 2 million people emigrated from the United Kingdom during the first two decades, and more than another 3 1/2 millions during the second two decades. Most of them went to the American continent, and probably not more than 1 million returned. Within the British Isles themselves there was also considerable movement of people, from Ireland to Scotland and England, from Scotland to England, and from countryside to town within each. This great mobility was in part cause and in part effect of the rapid industrialisation.
Within the United Kingdom the distribution and occupations of people were, in consequence, changing equally rapidly. In 1871 agriculture still, as in 1831, employed more men and women than any other industry, though after 1831 it soon ceased to be true that half the families of Great Britain lived by work on the land or by trades and industries which served countrymen. Agriculture directly employed 275,000 families in Great Britain in 1831, and throughout the period the numbers employed remained almost stationary. It was not that agriculture declined but that the proportion of people making a living out of industry, trade and the occupations of transport and communication, immensely increased.
The years between 1830 and 1850 were the great age of railway and steamship construction and, partly in consequence, were a time of expansion in the heavy industries, mining and textiles. When the duke of Wellington, in September 1830, attended the opening of the new Manchester and Liverpool railway, he witnessed the first great triumph of the steam locomotive: its acceptance as the best means of traction by rail. Between 1825 and 1835 fifty-four Railway Acts of all kinds went through Parliament. The first boom in railway construction came in the years 1836-7, when thirty-nine more bills for new lines in Great Britain were passed and 1000 miles were added to the railroads of the country. After a second boom in the years 1844-7, some 6600 miles of line were in use by the end of 1850. By 1870 the total had increased to 15,620 miles, leaving relatively little more to be constructed. The lines were consolidated and amalgamated into a system, and the telegraph developed mainly as an adjunct of the railways. In 1840 Sir Rowland Hill introduced the penny post. In the same year the Cunard Steamship Line was founded, and twelve years later it was running a weekly service from Liverpool to New York. Between 1827 and 1848 the total tonnage of British shipping, both sail and steam, rose from 2 1/2 to 4 million tons, and to 5 million tons by 1860. In 1850 nearly 60 per cent of the world’s ocean-going tonnage was British, and the tonnage of all shipping entered and cleared from ports in the United Kingdom (exclusive of coastal trade and of trade between Britain and Ireland) rose from more than 6 million tons in 1834 to more than 14 million tons in 1847. It suffered a setback after the commercial crisis of that year, and then rose to more than 36 1/2 million tons by 1870. This is perhaps the most vivid index of how much the prosperity of Britain had come to depend on overseas trade.
The output of British coal mines rose from 30 million tons in 1836 to 57 million tons in 1851, and to 110 million tons by 1870. By the middle of the century probably half the world’s production of pig iron took place in Great Britain, and a quarter of that output came from the west of Scotland. It was, however, an age of coal and iron rather than of steel (cf. ch. II, pp. 29-31). Although the discoveries of Bessemer, Siemens, Thomas and Gilchrist had by the end of this period perfected the making of steel, its widespread use came only after 1870. But by 1871 more than three-quarters of a million people were employed in the metal, engineering and shipbuilding trades, and more than 300,000 in coal-mines. British exports of coal, iron and steel increased correspondingly. During the four decades the value of exports of coal rose from £184,000 to £5,638,000, and of iron and steel from little more than £1,000,000 to over £23,500,000. Engineering and the industries devoted to making machines remained small-scale until after the middle of the century; then there grew up a large engineering and machine-tool industry.
It was as much the Age of Cotton as the Age of Coal and Iron, and because its raw material had to be imported the industry was even more closely linked with overseas trade. Already in 1830 three-quarters of the raw cotton came from the United States; and in 1849 the total import was as high as 346,000 tons, estimated to be worth about £15,000,000. The following year the exports of cotton yam and cotton goods (mainly cloth, hosiery and lace) were worth more than £28,250,000, and by 1870 cotton exports were worth £71,416,000. In 1851 more than half a million people were employed in the cotton industry alone, and textiles as a whole employed well over one million people. Textiles were the industry most representative of the Age of Machinery and Power. From the beginning of the period, cotton was the pre-eminent factory industry, and the other textile manufacturers, in wool and flax and silk, before long organised their workers in larger factories. Mechanisation was slow throughout the period, and production still depended on cheap labour and long working hours.
The effect of economic change in these four decades was that by 1850 Great Britain had triumphantly established herself both as ‘the workshop of the world’ and as the shipper and trader of the world. For the next two decades she enjoyed the great advantages and profits which this position opened up to her enterprise and labour. Her interests, become world-wide, were soon to be deeply and seriously affected by formidable rivals whose industrialisation had meanwhile taken place. The greatest of these were Germany and the United States. But until the decade after 1870 she continued to harvest very rich rewards, as the impetus of her growth and productivity carried her forward. Between 1850 and 1870 her imports trebled in value from £100,000,000 to £300,000,000. Her total exports increased from £71,000,000 to nearly £200,000,000. The gap between imports and exports was much more than bridged by her ‘invisible exports’ in the form of shipping, banking and insurance services. Her great accumulations of capital were partly invested abroad, so that by 1870 her overseas investments amounted to probably £700,000,000. In 1830 they had been only £110,000,000. She became in every sense of the term a world power.
The domestic history of the United Kingdom in these years was dominated by the consequences of these basic demographic and economic developments. The classes which benefited most from them were on the one hand the mine-owners and mill-owners, shippers and traders, bankers and financiers, and all the subsidiary businessmen connected with so vast a growth in production and commerce; on the other, the fast-growing masses of urban workers who, by finding employment in these industries, escaped the fate of their fellows in Ireland. There, rapid growth of population combined with a shortage of land and a lack of large-scale industrialisation to produce extreme poverty and famine. British landowners and farmers, though they benefited from greater mechanisation and the application of more scientific methods, and from the growing home market for foodstuffs, did not so directly share in the rich profits and boundless prosperity of the mid-Victorian era. Although the decline of British agriculture did not become apparent until the ’seventies, the conditions which made it vulnerable were created before 1850.
Even before Great Britain became predominantly an industrial state the political system, which had evolved on the assumption that land was the most important form of wealth, had been fundamentally challenged and modified. This challenge was the movement for parliamentary and municipal reform, and these modifications were the Reform Acts of 1832 and the Municipal Reform Act of 1835. Once these changes had been made, the way was open for a long series of other modifications which still further destroyed the previously overwhelming preponderance of the landed interest. They included the abolition of the Navigation and the Com Laws, a sequence of free-trade budgets under Sir Robert Peel and W. E. Gladstone, and the Representation of the People Act of 1867. In aggregate these modifications shifted the whole balance of political power and transformed the electoral and parliamentary systems. The state as well as society underwent great and permanent changes in these decades.
The admission of the growing commercial and industrial classes to a larger share of political power was achieved only to a moderate extent by the Reform Acts of 1832, and no effort was made to destroy the hegemony of the landed and agricultural interests. The property qualification for members of the House of Commons, imposed in 1710, was left intact except in Scotland, so that county members had to own a landed estate of £600 a year and borough members a landed estate of £300 a year. In 1838 the qualifications were extended to include personal as well as real property, and there were several well-established devices for evading the requirements of the law. No such qualifications were required in Scotland after 1832, but it was 1858 before the qualification disappeared in the rest of the United Kingdom. The heavy cost of contesting elections and the non-payment of members ensured that the great majority of parliamentary representatives remained, as they had been before 1832, men of independent means, often country gentlemen and members of aristocratic families.
The House of Lords had already, before 1832, become much larger and in many respects more broadly representative of the nation as a whole than it had normally been in the eighteenth century. Its average size throughout the previous century had been 220, and most peers had represented the landed interest. As a result of the lavish creations of peerages by the younger Pitt and his successors, the House of Lords by 1837 numbered 456 and included large numbers of service chiefs and administrators, wealthy businessmen and manufacturers. This insertion, alongside the landed aristocracy, of representatives of new forms of wealth and social power was achieved in the lower house by the Reform Acts, and became of significant proportions only after the Act of 1867.
The major change effected by the Act of 1832 was the redistribution of constituencies. The House of Commons consisted, as before, of 658 seats. But whereas the number of county members had been 188 it now became 253, and instead of 262 boroughs returning 465 members, there were now only 257 borough constituencies and 399 borough members. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and Trinity College, Dublin, each returned two representatives. The disfranchisement of fifty-six smaller boroughs and the reduction of thirty others to one-member constituencies was a blow to the influence of the landowners and borough-mongers who had in practice controlled the electoral power of these boroughs. The increase of county representation by sixty-five members strengthened the direct territorial interest at the expense of the oligarchical system of nomination, influence and corruption. At the same time, the creation of twenty-two new boroughs with two members each, and of twenty more with one member, gave more power to the manufacturing and commercial interests which enjoyed this new enfranchisement in the urban areas of the midlands and the north. London was left under-represented as compared with other urban areas. The great era of borough proprietors was brought to an end by the bill: but through the retention of many boroughs with small electorates and the extension of the vote in counties to tenants-at-will of small substance, opportunities were preserved for considerable electoral influence and corruption. Nearly fifty boroughs and well over sixty members still depended on the influence of great peers and landowners in England and Wales alone. There were still some forty peers and a few commoners who could virtually nominate a representative to the House of Commons. In large and popular constituencies the amount of money spent on electioneering could be very great; and it seems likely that although corrupt practices changed in character they hardly diminished in extent. Indeed, with a tendency for more seats to be contested, there were more occasions for expenditure. In the five elections between 1832 and 1847 on average more than half the 401 constituencies were actually contested: a high proportion as compared with elections before 1832. When ballot was still not secret (until 1872) and when electors mostly regarded the vote as a property right which entitled them to profits at election-time, there could not be much decline either in pressure and intimidation or in bribery and other forms of corrupt persuasion.
The electorate, numbering less than 500,000 before 1832, was increased by about half by the Act of 1832. It rose to well over one million by 1867, mainly because the total population increased, and the value of money fell. The Reform Act of 1867 further extended the electorate of England and Wales to nearly two millions, and the corresponding Acts for Scotland and Ireland in the following year added another 260,000 voters to the registers. But the Act of 1867 increased the urban electorate much more than the rural, for it more than doubled the borough electorate (from 514,000 to 1,203,000), whilst it increased that of the counties from 543,000 to only 792,000. Thereafter in England and Wales the boroughs, for the first time in history, had collectively more voters than the counties. They had for long had more representatives in the Commons, so an old disparity was removed. At the same time the Act redistributed forty-five seats by taking away one member from boroughs of less than 10,000 inhabitants and transferring them partly to the counties and partly to the larger towns. The Act thus served as a political reflection of the growth of urbanisation and industrialisation during these decades. Its effect was to increase the middle-class vote in the counties, and (by establishing household suffrage in towns) to extend the vote to the artisans and most well-to-do industrial workers. Like the first Reform Act, it produced little immediate change in the social composition of the Commons: middle-class men were still chosen as representatives. But the House of Commons as a whole was henceforward subject to wider and more popular pressure, and party organisation made such influence more direct and effective.
By the middle of the century the system of local government was also radically reformed. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 set up Boards of Guardians elected by the ratepayers. These boards assumed responsibility, hitherto borne by the parish vestries and Justices of the Peace, for the care of the poor. They worked under the general direction and instructions of a new central authority, the Poor Law Commissioners. Parishes were grouped into unions for the purpose of maintaining workhouses, and by 1840 six-sevenths of the population lived in areas covered by poor-law unions. The following year town government was overhauled by the Municipal Reform Act. In most boroughs the old closed corporations had remained in power. Again reform was based on the twin principles of locally representative bodies and tighter central control. Henceforth borough councils elected by the ratepayers became the regular form of municipal government. They worked through certain paid officials, at least a town clerk and a borough treasurer. They had power to make by-laws and exercised control over the new police, municipal property, and such aspects of finance as the collection of local rates. The floating of loans required approval from the Treasury. The electorate of the councils included all householders who had occupied their properties for at least three years and had paid the poor rate. It was normally narrower than the parliamentary electorate and narrower than that for the election of Poor Law Guardians: but it was wide enough to include most of the wealthier merchants and industrialists of the large towns. In 1848, when the recurrence of cholera and the efforts of Edwin Chadwick drew public attention to the desperate needs of the towns for minimal safeguards of public health, a central Board of Health was created on the lines of the Poor Law Commissioners, with certain powers to create local boards. At last, in the ’sixties, local authorities were compelled to appoint sanitary inspectors and to undertake the provision of sewers, water supply and refuse disposal. In 1870 the Education Act set up locally elected school boards. Thus the recurrent features of local government were a multiplication of locally elected bodies for separate functions, and in consequence a great complication of authorities; but also an increasing activity, by public authorities of diverse kinds, local and central, on behalf of the welfare of the population.
As administration became more extensive, more elaborate and more technical, there was increasing reliance on expert, paid officials. Inspectors of prisons and factories, town clerks and treasurers, doctors and commissioners, constituted a growing class of public servants and officials. Central government, too, encountered the need for a larger number of more carefully chosen civil servants. In 1853 Sir Charles Trevelyan and Sir Stafford Northcote published their Report on the Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service. On the model of the new Indian Civil Service, instituted by Macaulay in the Government of India Act of that year (cf. ch. VIII, p. 206), they urged recruitment exclusively by competitive examination, conducted by one central board, in place of the previous system of recruitment by patronage and by departmental tests: and organisation of the civil service into two levels or grades. An Order in Council of 21 May 1855 set up a Civil Service Commission, empowered to arrange with the heads of departments the conditions of entry into their respective departments. ‘Limited competition among selected candidates, not “open” competition among all comers, with final responsibility for appointments remaining with the heads of departments—these were the key-notes of the 1855 reform.’ In 1870 Gladstone, by another Order in Council, abolished patronage, adopted the principle of recruitment by ‘open competition ’, and introduced the two-class organisation. The ideal of an efficient and unified service was not yet achieved in 1870, but a basis for it now existed.
The four decades between 1830 and 1870 were a period of first Whig and then Liberal hegemony, broken by short but important interludes of Conservative government. The three Reform Acts of 1832 were passed by Whig ministers, under pressure from Radical agitation in the country and against strong opposition from the Tories. The Representation of the People Acts of 1867 and 1868 were passed by a Conservative government, led by Benjamin Disraeli and Lord Derby, under both Liberal and Radical pressure in parliament and country. Between the two dates the nature and alignments as well as the organisation of political parties underwent great changes. The personalities of Lord Melbourne and Sir Robert Peel dominated the party contests of the first two decades, those of Lord Palmerston and W. E. Gladstone the last two. Party alignments were confused during the first two by the issue of free trade: and although the Whigs for the most part supported the free-trade agitation led by Richard Cobden and John Bright on behalf of the manufacturing and commercial interests, it was Peel, a Conservative, who in 1846 split his party by repealing the hated Com Laws. They were confused during the last two decades by the resistance of Lord Palmerston to parliamentary reform; because although the Liberals in general favoured it, it was in the end Disraeli, a Conservative, who once again ‘dished the Whigs’ by passing the Act of 1867.
Yet, throughout the period of confusion, divisions between the parties were hardening upon other issues, and the organisation of parties for both electoral contest and parliamentary debate was greatly elaborated. After 1832 a fairly well contrasted division of political issues could be presented to the electorate; and at first the contrast was even exaggerated, because the Tories regarded the Reform Act as much more radical than it was whilst the Radicals were bitterly disappointed with its moderation. Thus the Whigs, with the support of the Radicals, stood for such measures of reform as the abolition of slavery, reform of the system of poorlaw and municipal government, and free trade; whereas the Tories, recreated into the Conservative Party by Peel and accepting the Reform Act as a fait accompli, emerged as the defenders of the landed interest, the Church and Parliament against further radical change. Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto of 1834 became the charter of this cautious but more liberal conservatism implying, in his words, ‘a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper, combining with the firm maintenance of established rights the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances’. The existence of a larger electorate and the technical requirements of electoral registration gave an impetus to more elaborate local party organisation in the country, and centrally led to the formation of the Conservative Carlton Club in 1832 and of the Liberal Reform Club in 1836. Unlike previous political clubs, which had been social centres in which politics had gradually taken hold, these were from birth designed to be political party organisations combining the functions of central office and national headquarters, and concerned primarily with problems of registration and the conduct of elections. From this time onwards the whole apparatus of more modern party organisation developed. Party funds, managers and whips existed already: now local constituency associations, registration committees and election agents began to be added. In 1867 appeared the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations, followed ten years later by the National Liberal Federation. The great parties became nation-wide organisations. They were in structure combinations of local associations, although they differed greatly in the extent to which their programmes were framed by the parliamentary leaders and the central office, or by opinion expressed through the national federation.
These stronger and more elaborate organisations prepared the way for the decisive party majorities of the years after 1868. But most ministries of the four previous decades enjoyed only precarious majorities. Governments were unstable and party allegiances shifted. The parties in Parliament were moved less by their own constituency associations than by the large and independent associations which grew up so spectacularly in these years: the Anti-Corn Law League, the Chartist Associations, and the many other propagandist societies born of the radical technique of popular agitation. The political life of the period represents a transition stage in the development of parties. The force of public opinion had become powerful and active: party cohesion in Parliament was growing. But these two major factors in the development of Victorian Britain remained disjointed one from the other and it was only after 1868, when parties were prompted to strike their own roots deeper into the constituencies, that the classical pattern of two-party rivalry could emerge under the leadership of Gladstone and Disraeli.
A somewhat similar disjointedness existed between the parliamentary parties and the ministries. Cabinet posts were still filled predominantly by peers rather than commoners, in the tradition of the eighteenth century and of Pitt. It was more common for the Prime Minister to be a peer than to be a commoner, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was always a commoner the Foreign Secretary was nearly always a peer. The House of Lords, still serving a more focal purpose in parliamentary life than in later decades, was throughout predominantly Conservative: yet most of the time there was a Whig or Liberal majority in the Commons. The two Houses played a more equal part, both in parliamentary debate and in control of the ministries, than in the twentieth century. Relations between ministers and the monarch were likewise on a flexible and ill-defined footing. The supremacy of the Prime Minister in relation to his colleagues and the principles of cabinet solidarity and collective responsibility were by now generally accepted. But their full implications had not been worked out. Queen Victoria expected to play an independent and active role in government, especially in such matters as foreign and military affairs; and until the end of this period the complexity and fluidity of party politics left her with some room for choice and for influencing the formation of cabinets. She succeeded in preserving the power of dissolution as a royal prerogative, and would not pledge herself to accept her Prime Minister’s advice about it. Her famous memorandum to Lord John Russell about Palmerston, shortly before Palmerston was abruptly dismissed for expressing approval of the coup d'etat by Louis Napoleon in France, is a classical statement of the conception of constitutional monarchy which she succeeded in asserting during these decades.
She requires: 1. That he [Lord Palmerston] will distinctly state what he proposes in a given case, in order that the Queen may know as distinctly to what she has given her Royal sanction. 2. Having once given her sanction to a measure, that it be not arbitrarily altered or modified by the Minister; such an act she must consider as failing in sincerity towards the Crown, and justly to be visited by the exercise of her Constitutional right of dismissing that Minister. She expects to be kept informed of what passes between him and the Foreign Ministers before important decisions are taken, based upon that intercourse; to receive the Foreign Despatches in good time, and to have the drafts for her approval sent to her in sufficient time to make herself acquainted with their contents before they must be sent off.
The British Constitution in these years preserved enough aristocratic influence and enough royal power to keep the parliamentary system in its traditional ways. Whilst political parties were still finding new strength and new foundations in popular opinion, these traditional elements made it possible for democratic forces, as well as the new purposes of the industrial and commercial classes, to find some satisfaction in the political system without violent upheaval and without dislocation of government and administration. Strong humanitarian and philanthropic movements succeeded in getting important measures through the reformed parliament. One of the first acts of the reformed parliament was to abolish slavery throughout the British empire. The slave trade had been made illegal within the empire since 1807, and an Abolition Society, headed by Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton and Zachary Macaulay, pressed for the abolition of slavery itself. In 1833 Lord Stanley, backed by Buxton, steered through parliament his Act ‘for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies’. The British taxpayer provided £20,000,000 which might be paid in compensation to the slave-owners: and the sum of £18,669,401 was so paid. The colonies chiefly affected were the West Indies, British Guiana and Mauritius. The economy of these territories was seriously affected by the change, but by the end of these decades the development of crops other than sugar and the introduction of Indian coolies did something to restore their economy.
Another reform which philanthropic and humanitarian movements sponsored in the reformed parliament was improvement in the conditions of industrial workers at home. Several Factory Acts had already been passed between 1802 and 1819, and their effect was to ban the employment of children in cotton mills for more than 12 hours a day between the ages of 9 and 16, and to prohibit the employment of children under 9. Child labour in other than cotton mills, and the conditions of adult labour, remained unrestricted. The Factory Act of 1833 extended regulation to all types of textile factory. It imposed the limit of an 8-hour day for children between 9 and 13, and of a 12-hour day for young people between 13 and 18, with some exceptions for silk factories. Children of the protected age-groups were to attend school for at least 2 hours each day. Factory inspectors, responsible to the Home Office, were appointed to enforce the law. Thus three important new principles were established; more general regulation, compulsory education, and impartial inspection and enforcement. The Act also began the long agitation for the 10-hour day for adults, an agitation which Short Time Committees maintained until 1847. The Ten Hours Bill of that year was defeated in operation by the obstructiveness of employers and by legal interpretation, but in 1850 compromise was reached in the Ten-and-a-Half Hours Act. Meanwhile tireless individual philanthropists like Robert Owen and Lord Shaftesbury collaborated with Edwin Chadwick and other Radical reformers to improve, by similar regulation, the lot of boy chimney-sweeps, lunatics and prisoners. Much was done by the force of good example, such as Robert Owen’s reorganisation of his own factory at New Lanark in the early years of the century and Lord Shaftesbury’s work for the farm labourers on the estates which he inherited from his father in 1851. More could be done by parliamentary agitation. Public conscience was stirred, and the way was prepared for more extensive state regulation of economic life.
A Mines Act of 1842 extended regulation and inspection to coal mines, and prohibited employment of women and girls underground. A Factory Act of 1844 secured the fencing of machinery and other restrictions, and in 1845 calico-printing was added to the list of protected industries. In 1860 the protection given by the factory acts was extended to women and children employed in the bleaching and dyeing trades. In 1864 the definition of ‘factory’ was widened to include ‘any place in which persons work for hire’, and such trades as the pottery and match industries were brought under regulation. Three years later small workshops, foundries, glassworks and blast-furnaces were likewise covered. By the end of the period it was widely accepted that industry should in such ways be subject to regulation by the state in the interests and for the welfare of its employees. It was also increasingly realised that, far from improvements in working conditions hampering business and trade, production could even be increased, as Robert Owen had maintained, when workers were not debilitated by excessive hours of labour and bad conditions.
Whilst the state in these ways increasingly regulated industrial life, its old regulation of trade was being demolished. Since the first volume of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations had appeared in 1776 there had been demands for freer trade and a simplification and reduction of duties On imports and exports. This movement grew immensely in strength after 1830, and in 1836, with com very dear, the first Anti-Com-Law Association was founded by the London Radicals. But Lancashire of the cotton mills was destined to be the real home and power-house of the free trade movement. Raw cotton had to be imported, and cotton goods constituted a very high proportion of British exports. The prosperity of Lancashire very obviously depended directly upon foreign trade: and it seemed particularly monstrous that foreign trade should be impeded by corn laws designed primarily to keep the price of food high. In the 1830’s Richard Cobden, himself a calico manufacturer, became the leading parliamentary spokesman of this interest. Soon he was joined by John Bright, the son of a Rochdale mill-owner. Although they wanted free trade in general, it was both natural and expedient first to concentrate the attack upon the hated Com Laws. On this issue the conflict between the agricultural interest and the manufacturing and commercial interests reached its height. In 1838 new Anti-Corn-Law Associations were formed. Being supported by the rich class of manufacturers, they had large funds at their disposal for public meetings and printed propaganda. Soon their publications were filled with denunciations of the crimes of landlords, the game laws, and the selfishness of the farmers. The agitation for the Ten Hours Bill, backed in the 1840’s by the Church of England, was in part a reprisal of the landed interest. One rich class fought another, each appealing for the support of working-class opinion even before it was enfranchised.
On 28 January 1839 The Times declared in favour of free trade. It had been attacking the new Poor Law system, and now it turned its fire against the Corn Laws, arguing that the sliding scale of duties produced constant fluctuations in the price of corn and so did not benefit even the farmers. The local associations combined, in the same year, to form the national Anti-Com-Law League, with its headquarters in Manchester. John Bright was himself a Quaker, and nonconformists in general began to back the League. With the Church of England supporting the agitation for factory regulation there was competition between the churches in demanding social improvement, just as there was competition between the landed and the industrial interests, each eagerly detecting motes in the eyes of the other. The principles of free competition, applied to agitation for social reforms, seemed as likely to produce beneficial results as the Manchester free-traders contended it would produce in economic life and in international relations. In such conditions it was possible for ‘Cobdenism’ to become what a century later would be called an ‘ideology’: a complete philosophy of human behaviour and, in the minds of its most fanatical disciples, almost a religion. In mass meetings, pamphlets and the press the arguments against the Com Laws and in favour of general freedom of trade were propagated with great intensity and fervour.
The impact of this kind of strenuous popular agitation on political parties and on the functioning of the parliamentary system has already been noted. At some moments (as in 1842) the movement became revolutionary in character, linked up with Chartism, and popular feeling became inflamed against the government. By 1843 its weekly publication, The League, reached a circulation of 20,000 and twenty-four mass meetings were held in Covent Garden Theatre, so spreading the movement to the capital. As it spread to the country districts, rick-burning and agrarian unrest spread with it. From the summer of 1844 onwards the Anti-Corn-Law League perfected the method of purchasing land and distributing it as freehold property to League sympathisers, so securing them a vote as forty-shilling freeholders. Despite good harvests in 1842, 1843 and 1844, it grew in strength. In 1845 the harvest was less good, and a devastating disease mined the potato harvest. Since potatoes rather than corn were the staple diet of Ireland, this brought famine to that country. The League demanded the immediate and complete repeal of the laws which kept out imported corn. Confusion prevailed among both parties. Peel resigned but Lord John Russell failed to form a minority government. Peel formed a new cabinet, little different from the old, and tackled the overhaul of the whole fiscal system. The duty on maize was at once completely abolished. A greatly reduced sliding scale of duties on wheat, oats, barley and rye was substituted for the scale of 1842, and from the beginning of 1849 they were to be subject only to a fixed nominal duty of one shilling a quarter. He halved the duties on butter, cheese, hops and preserved fish, and permitted the free importation of all other foodstuffs. To compensate the farming interests for this loss of protection, he proposed to lighten their burdens in local finance and to lower duties on the import of manufactured goods. His previous budgets of 1842 and 1845 had practically abolished duties on the import of raw materials. He now completed the process of turning England into a free-trade country. The famine in Ireland was met partly by emigration on an immense scale, and partly by extensive measures of public and private charitable relief. The Navigation Laws, which even Adam Smith had defended on the grounds that ‘defence, however, is of much more importance than opulence’, had been designed to protect British shipping in much the same way as the Com Laws had been intended to protect farming. In 1849 they too were abandoned, involving no loss to British shipping interests because these already enjoyed so great a natural superiority in the world. So, by the middle of the century, duties remained only for reasons of revenue and not for purposes of protection.
The whole controversy was conducted in exaggerated terms, with inflated hopes and fears on both sides. The price of com did not in fact fall after repeal, though repeal possibly prevented its rising. Nor were the Com Laws the only or necessarily the major factor controlling the cost of living. The underlying truth was that Great Britain had by now reached the point of becoming an industrial and commercial state, whose interests lay predominantly in cheap food and cheap raw materials; and both technologically and in total productivity for export she was so much ahead of all her competitors that she had nothing to fear from foreign competition in world markets. Now that large and cheap supplies of com were becoming available from Russia, Germany and North America, it was at least for some time to come more profitable for her to import such supplies and pay for them with export of manufactures and with commercial services. But these advantages were not to last much longer than another two decades, and as competition in world markets intensified so protective measures were eventually to be restored. The error of the most ardent champions of free trade was to assume that a policy which was undoubtedly to British advantage for one generation would necessarily remain equally appropriate for ever.
Peel’s great ministry lasted from 1841 to 1846, and was a climax of Tory reform. Its other achievements included the Bank Charter Act of 1844 which anchored sterling to the gold standard. It fixed the relationship between the Bank of England and the other joint-stock banks which had now proved their success. Since 1826 joint-stock banks had been permitted to issue notes outside a radius of sixty-five miles from London; and since 1833 had been permitted within this radius. Financial crises, resulting from rash expansions of credit during the railway boom of the middle 1830’s, led to demands for the restriction of such issues. Accordingly the Act of 1844 separated the Banking Department of the Bank of England from its Issue Department, limited its fiduciary issue of notes to £14,000,000 and required nearly all notes additional to that sum to be backed by a reserve of bullion or coin. New banks would not be permitted to issue notes, and other existing banks could not increase their issue (see ch. II, pp. 40-1). Another act of the same year regulated the operation of joint-stock companies. Peel’s budgets succeeded in overhauling and simplifying the whole fiscal system, and in reducing the burden of customs and excise duties and the charges on the national debt.
Whilst the enterprising classes of manufacturers and merchants were in these ways staking out a new place for themselves in the state and for their interests in the shaping of national policy, the working classes were by no means inactive. By 1830 there was already a vigorous tradition of self-help and of radicalism among the town workers. Radical ideas spread in the years after 1815, despite the repressive measures of frightened governments. The Political Unions took some part in the agitation for the Reform Bill, just as the labours of men like Francis Place succeeded, in 1824, in securing the repeal of the most oppressive features of the Combination Acts. Whilst social distress during the post-war years stirred working-class feelings, the growth of industrialism made possible a remarkable spread of labour organisations. The disguise of friendly societies, previously used to mask trade union activities, could now be dropped. New unions were formed with open constitutions and published books of rules. They succeeded in making many local bargains about conditions of work, wages and apprenticeship. The chief features of the next two decades were the alliance between radicalism and the new socialism expounded by Robert Owen, and the collaboration of both with working-class movements and organisations. If by 1850 their concrete achievements amounted to relatively little, they had at least disseminated and demonstrated the principles of working-class self-help and voluntary organisation. And by 1870 organised labour asserted its position as a force of crucial importance in the state, whilst some of the demands of the Chartists had either been granted or were increasingly accepted as desirable in a democratic society.
Radicals were bitterly disappointed with the moderation of the Reform Acts of 1832; and the harsh operation of the new poor law in its early years stirred up working-class grievances. Between 1832 and 1850 social unrest found expression in the drive for more general trade union organisation, in the political agitation of the Chartist movement, and in the Co-operative movement. Many of the leaders of these movements felt that success depended on creating a sense of solidarity and strenuous self-help amongst the working classes and on exerting pressure on the governing classes and the industrial employers. The free-trade movement was, from this point of view, a rival and a diversion, in that it encouraged expectations of prosperity through legislative and fiscal reforms, and emphasised some conflict of interests between industrial and agricultural workers. On the other hand, as already suggested, it similarly emphasised a conflict of interest between two sections of the rich and powerful classes. But the demand for cheap food was more compelling than demands for the vote and for annual elections: and by the middle of the century there was a striking contrast between the complete success of the free-trade agitation and the failure of Chartism as well as of efforts to bring about a more general union of trade unions. Of the main working-class movements of these two decades, only the Co-operative movement made much headway.
Chartism, indeed, received some of its impetus from the early failures of trade unionism. In 1829 John Doherty formed a General Union of Operative Spinners, and the next year he founded the National Association for the Protection of Labour. It flourished mainly in the textile industries and extended its affiliations to societies in pottery, mining, hat-making and engineering. It had little driving force and achieved little before it withered away. But amongst the larger labour organisations was the Builders’ Union, and it soon took the lead with more than 40,000 members. In 1833 it adopted the teaching of Robert Owen, recently returned from America with a scheme for co-operative production by which capitalism could be abolished, and the building trade taken over by a Grand National Guild: and in 1834 it became the nucleus of the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, aiming at combining all trade unions into a national organisation. This included agricultural labourers and women workers hitherto little touched by trade unionism. The culmination of such associations as Owen’s Grand National Moral Union of the Productive Classes of the United Kingdom and his Society for Promoting National Regeneration (both formed in 1833) was the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. Unlike them, it was confined to trade unionists. The various co-operative and propagandist societies which proliferated in these years had no place in it, and Owen himself did not at first join it. It marked the climax of several abortive attempts to achieve a ‘general union’, seeking unity of action, though not uniformity of organisation, among the many existing trade-union bodies. But its plan was too ambitious for the stage of development reached by unionism. Its projects were too visionary to succeed in the face of ruthless employers and a hostile government. It suffered a fatal blow when six agricultural labourers of Tolpuddle in Dorsetshire were convicted of administering unlawful oaths and sentenced to transportation for seven years. Their purpose had been to form a friendly society of agricultural labourers and establish some contact with the Grand National Consolidated. Their savage punishment produced extensive protests, organised by a ‘London Dorchester Committee’ headed by William Lovett. But the government refused to lighten the sentence, and henceforth fear of the law drove many workers out of unionism. The Grand National Consolidated collapsed. The ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’ were pardoned four years later, but their fate remained a stern deterrent to unionist activities. In most trades national organisation vanished, and even the Builders’ Union broke up into its constituent trades. In the 1840’s the miners set up a National Association, and in 1845 a further attempt at a ‘general union’ met with only temporary success. A pattern for the future was laid only in 1851, when the Amalgamated Society of Engineers was created with centralised control, high contributions and benefits and national scope. Skilled workers in particular succeeded in forming stable unions, such as the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners in 1861; and in 1868 the Trades Union Congress was formed. From then onwards trade unionism spread and flourished.
Meanwhile, the failures of the 1830’s gave impetus to the tide of discontent and agitation which produced Chartism. In 1836 William Lovett formed the London Working Men’s Association of respectable and selfeducated London artisans. Two years later he and Francis Place drew up the ‘People’s Charter’ of six points which became the programme of reforms on which a majority of the radical and working-class movements could unite. It called for universal male (but not female) suffrage; equal electoral districts; removal of the property qualification for members of Parliament; payment of members of Parliament; secret ballot; and annual general elections. The last point—the only demand of the Chartists never subsequently obtained—was the most radical of all and would, if gained, have transformed the whole character of the parliamentary system. A House of Commons subject to annual elections would have been an instrument of direct democracy, and the nature of parliamentary responsibility (and so of ministerial responsibility) would have been completely changed.
The Birmingham Political Union of 1816, now revived by the banker and currency-reformer Thomas Attwood, sponsored the Charter and called for a National Petition on its behalf. So, too, did the reformers of Leeds headed by the stormy Feargus O’Connor, whose paper the Northern Star became the official Chartist organ. On the tripod basis of London, Birmingham and Leeds, the Chartists organised mass-meetings and nationwide popular agitation. Highly inflammatory orators, like J. R. Stephens, Bronterre O’Brien and Richard Oastler, aroused popular enthusiasm for the ‘Charter’, which was soon regarded as a panacea for all social ills. The climax of the movement was the National Convention which in the spring of 1839 met in Westminster Palace Yard and organised a monster petition to Parliament. But the movement was deeply divided between the moderates, led by Lovett and his southern followers, and the violent groups led by O’Connor and O’Brien and their northern followers. There was a tang of civil war in the air in July when, after the Convention had moved to Birmingham, the petition with nearly a million and a quarter signatures was rejected by the House of Commons. Riots and local strikes, and even an insurrection in South Wales, followed the rejection. But the firmness of the government and the solid sense of the working-class artisans discouraged violence. A National Charter Association was formed to keep the movement alive. A second petition was presented, and again rejected, in 1842; and yet a third, with many forged signatures, was presented in 1848. Chartism after 1839 was more violent in tone but less solid in strength. It revived in times of bad harvests and more acute social distress, but it never again attained its original impetus. It was killed partly by reviving trade and greater prosperity. But it was the first effective and spontaneous working-class organisation; it drew the attention of all classes to the urgency of social reforms; it stirred the conscience of Victorian England and shook its hardening complacency; and it left a deep and permanent mark on English history.
The ideals of voluntary co-operation for production, to replace the system of competitive private enterprise for individual profit, were extensively canvassed in the years after 1815: and most actively by Robert Owen and his followers. They founded the Co-operative and Economical Society in 1821, and similar co-operative experiments were made in various places. They suffered by the general collapse of unionism in 1834, and Owenism thereafter lost ground. But such experiments in co-operative villages as Queenwood lasted into the eighteen-forties, and in 1844 the ‘Rochdale Pioneers’ founded a successful co-operative store. It was based on democratic control by its members as consumers, and gave members a ‘dividend on purchases’. In 1854 they also formed the Rochdale Co-operative Manufacturing Society, so extending their principles to production as well as retail trading: and a decade later set up the Cooperative Wholesale Society, which was followed by its counterpart in Scotland in 1868-9. Industrial and Provident Societies Acts, passed in 1852 and 1862, greatly facilitated their progress: and they received considerable help from both the trades unions and the Christian Socialists. By the 1870’s the principles were being rapidly extended to other sectors of economic life, and cooperative collieries, textile mills and banks were set up. The movement was the most speedily and conspicuously successful of all the working-class movements of these years.
The two decades before 1868 were an era of immense national prosperity and of solid middle-class predominance. Radical agitation for secret ballot and extension of the franchise went on. Violent controversy arose over the startling theories of Charles Darwin, whose Origin of Species appeared in 1859. But the acute social tensions of the previous two decades had passed away. Working-class agitation subsided. The domestic legislation that was passed was less violently controversial. Under the leadership of Lord Palmerston foreign affairs predominated. The rise of Napoleon III in France, the excitement of the Crimean War, the American Civil War and the domination of European affairs by Bismarck, absorbed public attention. These issues of foreign policy, dealt with elsewhere in this volume (chs. XVII and XVII), need concern us here only so far as they were connected with imperial developments.
Under Palmerston Britain welcomed every movement of suppressed nationalities to achieve self-government. She kept a watchful eye on the expansion of rival powers, especially of Russia, and the only important European war in which she took part in this period was against Russia. She tried by means of commercial treaties, of which the most important was the Cobden Treaty with France in 1860, to free her trade with Europe. Her policy was peaceful because war—even a civil war like that in America between 1860 and 1865—interfered with trade and damaged her industrial production. One of the most persuasive arguments brought forward by Cobden and Bright in favour of free trade was that it would eliminate some of the main causes of war and bind nations together by bonds of mutual interest. Britain’s interests, in short, were not thought of as in conflict with those of other countries. Because they were world-wide, and because freedom of trade and movement would remove impediments to the realisation and working of the natural harmony of interests among peoples, the expansion and the prosperity of Britain were steps towards the general progress of the world. It was a blissful and comfortable belief, but also a sincere and dynamic faith.
These ideas which shaped British commercial and foreign policy likewise revolutionised her colonial policy. The momentous changes in colonial policy, which established self-government in the Dominions and gave birth to a new conception of Empire and Commonwealth, were made possible by the growth of economic interests so world-wide that they seemed to be in harmony with universal freedom of the seas and free trade, and with universal progress. The expansion of trade, whether with the colonies or with other countries, had repercussions on the development of emigration and oversea investment; and both were closely connected with the growth of railways and shipping, and with the development of the idea of colonial self-government. Underlying all was the quest of a rapidly expanding industrial production for correspondingly expansive markets and sources of supply. What enabled Englishmen to pursue this quest on a more completely world-wide scale than ever before was the dramatic improvement in means of transport and communication: especially of railways, steamships and telegraph.
Already by 1840 a service of steamship lines linked Britain with her colonies and spheres of interest in the Indian Ocean; but the Mediterranean route still involved transport overland from Alexandria to Suez and Aden, and the bulk of the eastern trade still went by sail round the Cape, taking between six and eight months on the way. By then, too, steamship lines ran from the Cape to Australia. In 1870 the British Indian Telegraph Company laid the first successful direct cable linking England with Bombay: and from Bombay it ran to Singapore, and thence on to Australia. Railways in the oversea colonies were slower to develop. By 1853 Canada had only some 200 miles of line, and Australia virtually none. India’s railways developed only in the 1860’s and were financed almost entirely by British capital. The colonies were transformed from remote outposts and bases, difficult of access, into a much more closely knit network of economic interests: and this integration of their economic development with that of Great Britain took place pari passu with a greater readiness to loosen the political controls and commercial regulations which hitherto had been regarded as the natural bonds of empire. Yet the economic status of the colonies was at first broadly maintained, even whilst their political status changed. They were to remain sources of raw materials and markets for English goods; and this division of labour between England and her colonies was not merely maintained but extended during these years, as the influx of English capital joined the flow of English manufactures. ‘Increasing concentration upon a few staple products for export, large capital imports in the shape mainly of capital goods, a high rate of investment, full employment despite heavy immigration, profit inflation and rising property values; this was the common pattern of economic activity in the colonies.’
This development of the colonies tended, after about 1850, to change the focus of British oversea capital investment, and even to narrow its geographical range. Before then capital flowed out to the whole world, but little of it to the colonies: during the third quarter of the century, it concentrated increasingly on the colonies. In 1850 about one-third of England’s overseas investment (of some £225,000,000) was in America, and the rest mainly in Europe. By 1870 more than £75,000,000 of it had been sunk in Indian railways alone, and probably a quarter of the total was invested in loans to colonial governments.
Between 1830 and 1870 the oversea interests of the United Kingdom were transformed in two ways: they became for the first time really world-wide in extent, and they ceased to be predominantly commercial in character. The old colonial empire, which broke up when the thirteen American colonies achieved their independence, had consisted mostly of contiguous territories in North America and had centred mainly on the North Atlantic. Imperial connections with Canada and the West Indies, and close economic connections with the United States of America, kept British interests anchored there still. But the balance of imperial interests had shifted, meanwhile, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, where the growth and consolidation of British trade and power in India, Ceylon and Burma were creating a vast new eastern empire. In consequence, Britain was acquiring extensive new interests in the South Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Cape Colony and a chain of islands and west African ports formed stepping-stones on the routes between the North Atlantic region and the Indian Ocean. The map of British possessions in 1830 looks like a sketchy outline of the shape of things to come. By 1870 the West African ports and trading-posts had grown into large colonial possessions, Livingstone had explored central Africa, the Cape had become the spring-board for immense expansion northwards, and on the western shores of the Indian Ocean lay a corresponding chain of British possessions. In the South Pacific, what had been mere footholds in southern Australia and northern New Zealand were fast becoming a solid continent under British control. It was expected, after the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, that the new possibility of the much quicker Mediterranean route to India would at once destroy the value of the older ‘all-red’ route round the Cape. But the Cape long retained those advantages which it held at the end of this period, and which an official of the Colonial Office stated thus: ‘It is clear of the Suez complications, almost equally distant from Australia, China, India, Gibraltar, the West Indies and the Falklands, the best sanatorium for troops from the East, and the best depot for reliefs, a good and cheap market for provisions, and a repairing place for large ships.’
The expansion of trade and the quest for markets were still important impulses behind these developments. But now other motives and impulses were no less strong than the purely commercial. The industrial revolution, which reached its phase of most rapid expansion of output in these decades, demanded not merely colonial markets but world markets. Britain’s policy of free trade meant the death of that colonial policy which had also been mercantilist policy, and the repeal of the Navigation Laws half-way through this period denoted a new assessment of the commercial value of colonial territories. They were valued as foundations of a worldwide trade. To open and to keep open the supplies and the markets of the world for British manufactures was regarded as more important than the securing of special commercial advantages in scattered colonial possessions. They were valued as points of strategic advantage and strength, for securing the ‘freedom of the seas’; as offering opportunities for investors, missionaries and emigrants; as providing national prestige in an era of intensifying nationalist rivalries. The aggregate of such advantages outweighed the more purely commercial motives of the old mercantilism.
Abandonment of mercantile commercialism as the unifying policy of colonial expansion and administration left, for a time, a vacuum. At the beginning of the period there was no coherent policy about colonies, and the most influential schools of thought regarded them as an encumbrance to be shed as soon as possible. But during the next generation a new and positive policy of empire emerged, involving the systematic use of colonial lands for organised emigration and investment, and the establishment of responsible self-government as the goal of colonial administration. Optimistic liberalism, which based its faith in free trade on the dogma that there was a natural harmony of interests among producers and consumers as well as among nations, applied the same ideas to colonial affairs. Instead of control exerted from London, there should be a timely concession of self-government to the colonists: and self-interest, operating through the natural harmony of interests among free peoples, would prove a stronger cement of empire than the artificial regulation of their trade or long-distance political direction by the mother country. Given freedom of trade and freedom of the seas, and given, too, the immense lead of the United Kingdom in industrial production, the colonies could also enjoy the freedom of self-government. The ‘open door’, even in British colonies, was a small price to pay if it secured an ‘open door’ everywhere else: so long as British manufactures could, with little competition, profit from every opening.
In 1798 Jeremy Bentham had urged the French, ‘Emancipate your Colonies’, and the early radicals, partly influenced by the experience of American independence, were opposed to colonialism as a part of the old order which they condemned. But in the 1830’s there grew up a group of younger radical reformers who saw in the enlightened planning and administration of colonial settlements both an outlet for the rapid growth of population in the United Kingdom (which gloomy prophets like Malthus predicted would lead to general impoverishment) and an opportunity for creating new communities on more rationalistic foundations. John Stuart Mill, Charles Buller, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Lord Durham shared this belief. The extensive migrations of the middle decades of the century, combined with a sequence of urgent colonial problems, afforded them the chance to carry their principles into operation. Through their achievements the principles of responsible self-government were extended to all the overseas territories settled by people from Britain, and the concept of ‘Dominion status’, one of the most creative and fertile concepts produced by nineteenth-century Britain, made possible a new ideal of imperial cohesion founded not on control and restriction but on independence and freedom. The administration of India, the largest portion of the empire, was also reorganised by these radical reformers: and through the reforms of the Indian civil service effected by Macaulay in 1853, new standards of efficiency and integrity were introduced which in their turn influenced, as has been described above (p. 337), the administrative system of the United Kingdom itself. The Indian penal code, introduced in 1860, was also drawn up by Macaulay on the basis of the ideas of Bentham and James Mill.
The younger radicals first turned their attention to Australia, and Wakefield worked out a plan for its systematic colonisation. He proposed that the government should sell land at a high figure and, with the profit, organise the immigration of the labourers needed to cultivate the land. So would the United Kingdom unload its surplus population to the advantage of a new and prosperous colony. Bentham prepared for him the plan of a joint-stock colonisation society, which was duly formed. It was backed by J. S. Mill, George Grote and Sir William Molesworth. Although Wakefield’s ingenious scheme was only partially carried out, the agitation of his society stimulated a new interest in the fortunes and future of Australia and New Zealand. Immigration was assisted partly by proceeds from the sale of land and partly by grants from the British government, and the hitherto slow trickle of migrants quickened during the 1830’s. Transportation of convicts was stopped for New South Wales in 1840, but was resumed for Western Australia between 1850 and 1868. In 1837 Wakefield founded the New Zealand Association to promote his idea, and a New Zealand Land Company was formed two years later. Settlement took place amidst the greatest confusion, but in 1840, by the Treaty of Waitangi, the British crown acquired the sovereignty of New Zealand.
Meanwhile rebellion in Canada attracted the attention of the radicals, and by 1838 it seemed clear that the division instituted by the Canada Act of 1791, between the predominantly British settlement of Upper Canada and the mainly French settlement of Lower Canada, could no longer be preserved. The English-speaking minority of Lower Canada had grown by immigration, but bad feeling between the two national groups produced constitutional deadlock between the French majority of the elected Assembly and the British Governor and Council. For different reasons— the conflict between the executive controlled by the old Loyalist families and the Assembly dominated by the newer and poorer immigrants—a similar deadlock appeared in Upper Canada. At the end of 1837 rebellions broke out in both provinces. Lord John Russell introduced a law suspending the constitution of Lower Canada, and in 1838 Lord Durham was sent out as High Commissioner with wide powers, and as Governor-General of all the North American provinces (including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland, as well as Upper and Lower Canada). He was accompanied by Buller and Wakefield, and his mission was regarded as the test case for Whig and Radical statesmanship in colonial affairs. The following year Durham produced his Report on the Affairs of British North America which has justly become the charter of British Commonwealth development.
The Report contrived to deal not only with the immediate political and constitutional problems of Canada, but also with the broader colonial issues of public lands, migration and settlement, and future political self-government and unification. Its two essential recommendations were the reunion of Upper and Lower Canada and the grant of responsible government. By reunion Durham meant complete fusion and not federation; and he regarded this as the necessary prelude to self-government. Like John Stuart Mill, he regarded some degree of national unity as essential to self-government and aimed ‘to settle, once and for ever, the national character of the province’. This would be achieved by complete hegemony of British over French, so eliminating for ever ‘some idle and narrow notion of a petty and visionary nationality’. He looked to a united Canada to serve as the nucleus for a future federation of the whole of the British territories in North America. By responsible government he meant making the executive authorities of the provinces responsible directly to the legislative assemblies, instead of to the London government. ‘It is difficult’, he wrote, ‘to understand how any English statesman could have imagined that representative and irresponsible government could ever be combined.’ He argued that responsible government would itself preserve the unity of the empire, by making it a community of free peoples: but he made important concessions to the wish of the government to preserve some control by proposing a distinction between the domestic affairs of the provinces in which they would enjoy complete self-determination, and certain reserved subjects still controlled by the government in London. The latter included ‘the constitution of the form of government, the regulation of foreign relations and of trade with the mother country, the other British colonies and foreign nations, and the disposal of the public lands’. The Governor, still made responsible to London, was to look for ‘no support from home in any contest with the legislature except on questions involving strictly Imperial interests’.
In 1840 Upper and Lower Canada were united, and the problem of establishing responsible government was left to be worked out in practice by subsequent governors-general. In 1846-8 instructions were sent first to the Governor of Nova Scotia, and then to the Governor-General of Canada, that they should act on the advice of ministers acceptable to the representative legislatures. Between 1847 and 1853 Lord Elgin, who was Durham’s son-in-law, gradually established the conventions by which the executive submitted to the consent of the legislative assembly on all domestic matters. In 1867 the British North America Act opened the door for the federation of all the provinces, except Newfoundland, and the process was completed by 1873. Within a generation Canada had moved from discontent and disunity to self-government and national cohesion. But the change was not easy. In 1846 Canadian com-growers lost the preferential treatment they had enjoyed in the United Kingdom market, and it was three years before the Navigation Laws, which confined their export trade to British markets, were repealed. Had Elgin not succeeded in making the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in 1854, the drift of Canada away from Britain might well have become more pronounced. The western expansion of the new Dominion was slow and difficult. In 1869 it purchased the vast area of the Hudson Bay Company between Lake Winnipeg and the Rockies, and in the following year established the new province of Manitoba. The Canadian Pacific Railway, the vital link between the western provinces and the eastern, encountered many obstacles and it was 1885 before the first train ran from Montreal to the Pacific.
The progress of Canada towards responsible government served as a model for the constitutional development of Australia, New Zealand and Cape Colony. In 1851 New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania were invited to draft their own constitutions as self-governing colonies. The constitutions were accepted and legalised by Act of Parliament in 1855. As in Canada, self-government was followed by expansion into more of the continent, much stimulated by the discovery of gold fields in New South Wales and Victoria. In 1859 Queensland became a separate colony, but Western Australia remained small and undeveloped until the discovery of gold in 1890. Between 1850 and 1870 the total population of Australia increased fourfold, from less than half a million to nearly two millions. In 1852 New Zealand was divided into six provinces, each with an elected council. The government of the whole colony was vested in a Governor, a nominated Council, and an elected House of Representatives. From 1857 until 1870 the country was plagued by the Maori Wars, and it was 1876 before British troops could be withdrawn completely and New Zealand became a united Dominion enjoying self-government. In 1870 her population was still only a quarter of a million. Cape Colony received responsible government in 1872, having had a Legislative Assembly since 1854.
In 1865 the Colonial Laws Validity Act declared that laws passed by colonial legislatures should be void only in so far as they were clearly repugnant to an Act of the British Parliament, or to an Order or Regulation made under such an Act, which was designed to apply to the colony. This was, in effect, a general assurance of internal self-government to all the colonial legislatures, and a formal removal of the doubts cast by judgments in the courts of South Australia upon the validity of colonial legislation which conflicted with English law. It meant that within its own sphere a colonial legislature was sovereign, and that it was subordinate only to the Imperial Parliament. It was the ‘charter of colonial legislative independence’. The process of abandoning Durham’s proposed restrictions had already begun. By Acts of 1840 and 1852, control of the unoccupied lands of Canada had been turned over to the provinces. In 1858 the Canadian legislature succeeded in imposing a tariff on English goods. By 1870 the process of establishing complete Dominion autonomy had substantially begun: and it was to continue until the formal recognition of it in the Statute of Westminster in 1931.
But this pattern of development so clearly set for the white settlements of Canada, Australia and New Zealand was by no means universal in the empire. Some of the older colonies, such as Barbados, Bermuda and the Bahamas, kept their ancient representative constitutions but did not gain responsible government. Jamaica, which had previously had an elective legislature, lost it. Most of the colonies acquired by conquest or concession after 1814 were not given representative institutions of the old type. In India, after the Mutiny of 1857-8, the government of the East India Company came to an end, and was replaced by direct rule of the crown. In the empire as a whole it was as likely that direct colonial administration would continue as that the principles of responsible selfgovernment would spread from the favoured white settlements. In so diversified an empire, diversification of methods of government seemed, indeed, more appropriate than a rigid assimilation to any single pattern.
The general character of British development, both at home and overseas, during these years is epitomised in the system of imperial defence which was devised by 1870. These decades saw the change-over in the navy from sail to steam, from wood to iron, and from shot to shell (cf. ch. XI). The new types of ship and gun demanded greater technical skill and therefore more expensive training. Expenditure on the navy roughly doubled during this period. Except for the strong garrison in India, the imperial army came to be concentrated at home. This was made possible by the existence of rapid steam transport, and advisable by the threatening situation in Europe. The reorganisation of the army achieved by Edward Cardwell after 1868 produced a more efficient as well as a more democratic fighting force than the army which had fought the Crimean War. Growing realisation that Britain’s world-wide interests and territories required a coherent scheme of imperial defence won acceptance for the strategic principles laid down in classical form by Sir John Colomb in 1867. They were significantly based on the thesis that trade is the link of empire. In war the function of the navy should be to blockade enemy ports and keep open the vital sea routes linking the naval and commercial bases of the empire; so destroying enemy trade whilst securing British trade. The role of the army would be to garrison India, protect home ports and oversea naval bases, and under cover of naval protection serve as the spearhead of attack on enemy territories. This was clearly the defence system best suited to the needs of a maritime commercial empire; and it was characteristic that it should be but a modernisation of the doctrines of Chatham and Wellington. The changes which had made Britain rich in new ways had also made her vulnerable in new ways. But by inventive adaptation of traditional institutions and principles to new needs, she might yet hope to be strong as well as rich.