Ch 13 Liberal Ascendancy

CH.13-LIBERAL ASCENDANCY

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CHAPTER XIII: LIBERAL ASCENDANCY

SECTION 1: THE NEW POOR LAW AND THE RAILWAY AGE

 

AFTER 1832, THE WHIGS, HAVING HAD TO ACCEPT THE WORKERS AS ALLIES, CONSOLIDATED THEIR POSITION BY ESTABLISHING LOCAL GOVERNMENT. THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT IN THE TOWNS WAS ANTIQUATED AND CHAOTIC, EVEN MORE SO IN THE BOROUGHS.

TOWNS WERE CONTROLLED BY CORPORATIONS ELECTED BY FAVOUR, AND MANY NEW TOWNS HAD OUTGROWN THEIR ADMINISTRATION. THE LEGAL SYSTEM OF JUSTICES OF THE PEACE WERE RUN ON CORRUPT AND INEFFICIENT LINES.

THE MUNICIPAL REFORM ACT IN ENGLAND 1835 AND BURGH ACT IN SCOTLAND 1833 SWEPT AWAY MOST OF THESE OLD SYSTEMS, WHICH WERE REPLACED BY CORPORATIONS ELECTED BY £10 HOUSEHOLDERS AND THEN BY ALL RATEPAYERS.

THIS ENSURED THE CONTROL OF MOST LARGE TOWNS BY THE WHIG MIDDLE CLASSES. IT WAS NOT UNTIL LATE IN THE CENTURY THAT WORKING PEOPLE BEGAN TO ENTER MUNICIPAL POLITICS AS AN INDEPENDENT FORCE.

THE RURAL DISTRICTS WERE ABANDONED TO THE TORY SQUIREARCHY, AND NOT UNTIL 1888 WERE COUNTY COUNCILS SET UP TO FORM ANY KIND OF LOCAL SELF GOVERNMENT. THESE DISTRICTS WERE STILL DOMINATED BY THE LANDLORDS. LOCAL ADMINISTRATION CONTINUED LIKE THIS THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE PERIOD OF THE ASCENDANCY OF THE INDUSTRIAL CAPITALISTS.

IT ENABLED THE CORN LAWS TO BE RETAINED (SEE NEXT CHAPTER) AND MADE THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM OF PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT A REFLECTION OF THE DIVISION WITHIN THE BRITISH RULING CLASS.

OTHER REFORM MEASURES TAKEN BY THE WHIG GOVERNMENT INCLUDED THE FACTORY ACT OF 1833 (SEE LAST CHAPTER), THE ABOLITION OF NEGRO SLAVERY AND THE ALLEVIATION OF INTENSE CLASS CONFLICTS. THESE CHANGES WILL BE DEALT WITH LATER. NOTHING AROUSED MORE BITTER FEELING THAN THE CLASS STRUGGLE ASSOCIATED WITH THE POOR LAWS OF 1834.

THE REVISION OF THE POOR LAW WAS NECESSARY FOR TWO REASONS. IN 1815, OUT OF A BUDGET OF £67M, £25M WAS RAISED BY DIRECT TAXATION AND £14M BY INCOME TAX.

AFTER THE WAR, THE BOURGEOISIE WERE ABLE TO SECURE THE ABOLITION OF INCOME TAX. IN 1831, ONLY £11.5M OUT OF £47M WAS OBTAINED BY DIRECT TAXATION. THE BALANCE WAS PAID AS INTEREST TO THE HOLDERS OF THE NATIONAL DEBT. THE RESULT WAS UNBALANCED BUDGETS, WITH AN ALTOGETHER DISPROPORTIONATE BURDEN OF TAXATION FALLING ON THE MASS OF THE PEOPLE.

LOCALLY, THE SPEENHAMLAND SYSTEM WAS LESS EFFECTIVE FOR AN INDUSTRIAL COUNTRY AND HAD BROUGHT MANY PARISHES TO THE EDGE OF BANKRUPTCY BECAUSE OF THE ‘POOR RATE’ INCREASE.

THE SPEENHAMLAND SYSTEM WAS NOT ONLY BECOMING EXPENSIVE, BUT PREVENTED THE FLOW OF A VERY CHEAP LABOUR SUPPLY TO THE INDUSTRIAL TOWNS.

FOR YEARS, THE WEAVERS, CRAFTSMEN, FARM WORKERS AND UNEMPLOYED FOUGHT TO ESCAPE THE FACTORIES. YEAR BY YEAR THEIR INCOMES FELL UNTIL A MAN COULD NOT COPE WITH FIVE TO SIX SHILLINGS FOR A FULL WORKING WEEK. EVEN WITH THE HELP OF POOR LAW GRANTS, THESE WERE STARVATION WAGES. BUT AT LEAST THEY STARVED IN THE OPEN AIR.

IN 1834, THEY WERE OFFERED THE CHOICE OF THE FACTORY OR THE WORKHOUSE. BY ABOLISHING THE POOR RELIEF, IT BROUGHT FRESH SECTIONS OF WORKERS INTO THE PROFIT MAKING EMPLOYMENT OF THE CAPITALISTS, MUCH AS THE HUT TAX DID FOR THE AFRICAN NEGROES LATER.

THE PRINCIPLE OF THE NEW LAW WAS SIMPLE: IF YOU NEEDED RELIEF, IT WAS ONLY AVAILABLE INSIDE THE WORKHOUSE. PREVIOUSLY, WORKHOUSES HAD CATERED FOR THE DISABLED, THE OLD AND THOSE TOO DEFENCELESS TO AVOID BEING IMPRISONED THERE.

NEW WORKHOUSES WERE BUILT TO COVER GROUPS OF PARISHES KNOWN AS ‘UNIONS’. FOR THE NEW SYSTEM TO WORK, IT WAS NECESSARY FOR THE PAUPER TO BE LESS ELIGIBLE THAN THE LEAST PROSPEROUS WORKER ON THE OUTSIDE.

IN 1834, THE POOR LAW COMMISSIONERS WERE HEARTLESS AT A TIME WHEN MILLIONS WERE ON THE EDGE OF STARVATION AND HAD NO REPRESENTATION WHATSOEVER. THEY COULD BREAK UP FAMILIES, MAKE FOOD SCANTY AND POOR AND SUBJECT INMATES TO EVERY IMAGINABLE FORM OF MEANNESS AND CRUELTY, GIVING THEM USELESS TASKS SUCH AS OAKUM PICKING AND STONE BREAKING.

THE COMMISSIONERS AND THEIR SECRETARY, EDWIN CHADWICK, BECAME THE MOST DETESTED MEN IN BRITAN. (SEE LIST OF INFAMOUS NAMES AT THE END.)

THE ACTIONS TAKEN THEN RESEMBLE THE SETTING UP OF THE UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE BOARDS BY THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT OF 1934.

IN THE COMMONS DURING LAST YEARS OF HIS LIFE, COBBETT BEGAN THE STRUGGLE AGAINST THE ‘POOR LAW BASTILLES’, BUT IT WAS LEFT TO OTHERS TO CARRY ON THE STRUGGLE AND MERGE IT WITH THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT.

NOTHING DID SO MUCH AS THE POOR LAWS TO MAKE THE WHIGS (LIBERALS) UNPOPULAR AND CONVINCE PEOPLE THEY HAD BEEN CHEATED OVER THE REFORM BILL. HUGE DEMONSTRATIONS LISTENED TO OASTLER AND THE METHODIST JR STEPHENS, WHO DECLARED THAT:

“SOONER THAN WIFE AND HUSBAND AND FATHER AND SON SHOULD BE SUNDERED AND DUNGEONED AND FED ON ‘SKILLIE’ - SOONER THAN MOTHER AND DAUGHTER SHOULD WEAR PRISON DRESS - SOONER THAN THAT, NEWCASTLE OUGHT TO BE AND SHOULD BE ONE OF FIRE, WITH ONLY ONE WAY TO PUT IT OUT, AND THAT WITH THE BLOOD OF ALL THOSE WHO SUPPORTED THE MEASURE.”

WORKHOUSES WERE STORMED AND BURNED. CLASHES WITH TROOPS WERE COMMON.

THE MASS AGITATION DIED WITH THE PASSING OF THE FIRST PHASE OF CHARTIST ACTIVITY IN 1839. THE POOR LAW HAD ACHIEVED ITS OBJECTIVE, IN BOTH RURAL AND INDUSTRIAL AREAS.

IN THE LATE 30S, THE POOR RATE FELL TO £4M DUE TO VARIOUS REASONS, WHICH INCLUDED THE COMING OF THE RAILWAY AGE.

THE DARLINGTON TO STOCKTON LINE WAS COMPLETED IN 1823. MORE IMPORTANT WAS THE MANCHESTER TO LIVERPOOL LINE IN 1829. AT FIRST, RAIL CARRYING GOODS THEN PASSENGERS, AS IT WAS DISCOVERED THAT STEAM ENGINES COULD GO MUCH FASTER AND CHEAPER THAN THE STAGECOACH.

THERE WAS A BOOM IN RAILWAY BUILDING AND SPECULATION. FROM 1834 TO 1836, £70M WAS RAISED FOR BUILDING RAILWAYS.

A SECOND INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION BROUGHT RAIL TO LONDON AND THE PROVINCES, STRENGTHENING THE MONOPOLY OF BRITISH MANUFACTURERS. THE COMMENCEMENT OF A HEAVY INDUSTRY OCCURRED. KEY INDUSTRIES OF COAL AND IRON EXPANDED.

EXPORTS ROSE FROM £69M TO £197M. COAL OUTPUT ROSE FROM 10M TONS IN 1800 TO 100M TONS BY 1865.

EXPANSION WAS NOT LIMITED TO HOME, AND BRITAIN CONTRUCTED RAILWAYS AT IMMENSE PROFIT, ESPECIALLY IN COLONIAL AND SEMI COLONIAL COUNTRIES.

BRITISH CONTRACTORS FINANCED OTHERS, AND A NEW PHASE OF BRITISH COMMERCE BEGAN. UP TO 1850, EXPORTS WERE MAINLY ARTICLES FOR CONSUMPTION, MOSTLY COTTON TEXTILES, BUT SOON LARGE QUANTITIES OF IRON WARE, LOCOMOTIVES, RAILS AND OTHER MACHINERY WERE THUNDERING DOWN THE TRACKS.

THE CENTRE OF BRITISH CAPITALISM SHIFTED FROM MANCHESTER TO BIRMINGHAM, AND HUGE PROFITS WERE MADE. HOWEVER, OVER TIME AND TO BRITAIN’S COST, RURAL INDUSTRIES WERE SET UP IN EVERY CONTINENT.

THE RAILWAY BOOM BROUGHT A DEMAND FOR LABOUR IN CONSTRUCTION AND MINING. NAVVIES NUMBERED 200,000. MANY WERE IRISH, BUT THE MAJORITY WERE ENGLISH LABOURERS ‘RELEASED’ BY THE POOR LAW OF 1834. DESPERATE AND UNORGANISED, THEY WORKED FOR THREE TO FOUR PENNIES A DAY LESS THAN THE REGULAR MINERS.

THE RAILWAYS MADE IT EASIER FOR WORKERS TO GET FROM VILLAGE TO TOWN, AND DISTRESSED AREAS, INCLUDING EAST ANGLIA, SAW MASSIVE MIGRATION.

ANOTHER KIND OF MIGRATION, EMIGRATION, TOOK PLACE TO NEW ZEALAND AND AUSTRALIA. IN 1840, THE NUMBER OF SETTLERS ARRIVING WAS SO LARGE THAT THE CONVICT STATIONS WERE ABANDONED. IN CANADA AND THE US, 2,500 MILES OF TRACK WERE LAID BY 1840, AND 70,000 WERE EMIGRATING A YEAR.

BY 1840, THE WHIG GOVERNMENT WAS TOTTERING. FIVE UNBALANCED BUDGETS AND A SLUMP DESTROYED IT. THERE WAS THE UNPOPULAR POOR LAW, AND THE CHARTISTS DEMANDED AN END TO THE ‘SOCIAL EXPERIMENT’. A REACTIONARY TORY VICTORY HEADED BY PEEL TOOK PLACE IN 1841.

THE LANDOWNERS WERE INTENSELY RELIEVED, BUT ECONOMIC NECESSITY PUSHED THE NEW GOVERNMENT ALONG THE ROAD TO FREE TRADE AND THE REPEAL OF THE CORN LAWS.

THE ROYAL COMMISSIONERS OF 1832 WHO DECIDED ON THE NEW POOR LAWS INCLUDED:

NASSAU, SENIOR-PROFESSOR AT OXFORD UNIVERSITY, WHO WROTE THE REPORT BEFORE THE DATA, POORLY WORDED, WAS COLLECTED;

BISHOP OF LONDON BLOMFIELD;
WLLIAM STURGES BOURNE;
WILLAM COULSON;
BISHOP JOHN BIRD;
REVEREND HENRY BISHOP OF ORIEL COLLEGE OXFORD;
EDWIN CHADWICK (SECRETARY).

THE ENTIRE PARLIAMENT SUPPORTED THE DEGRADATION OF ‘PAUPERS’, WHO WERE CAUSED BY HIGH FOOD PRICES THEY THEMSELVES HAD CREATED ALONG WITH SUBSEQUENT UNEMPLOYMENT. MILLIONS WERE FORCED TO MIGRATE OR EMIGRATED. NO WONDER IT LED TO THE ORGANISATION OF THE WORKING CLASSES THAT THESE BASTARDS STILL TRY TO DISCREDIT THROUGH THE BBC, THE MEDIA AND THE STATE ON BEHALF OF THE RULING CLASS.

EVEN THE PRESENT PRIME MINISTER ASKS PERMISSION OF THE QUEEN TO FORM OR DISSOLVE A PARLIAMENT.

HAVE YOU BEEN CONDITIONED, OR ARE YOU AWARE OF THE CONTINUED STRUGGLE?

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