HISTORICAL CONTEXT

• When George III came to the throne, he restored the old authority of the Crown, dismissed the Prime minister and surrounded himself with incompetent ministers (“the king’s friends”) and so the parliamentary system was managed by the king. A Whig journalist attacked the increasing power of the king and so he was captured and imprisoned for insolence. He believed that free speech is the basic right of the human being; he defended himself and won his case, establishing the important principle that man cannot be imprisoned out of “state of necessity”. He showed that public opinion was now a new and powerful influence on politics and that Parliament was unrepresentative because its members were not responsible to their electors.
• The demand for liberty was growing on the American colonies and their relations with the home country were getting worse because colonies were getting impatient of economical subordination to Britain, established with the Navigation Acts. It imposed the rule that American trade should be carried on British ships and it forced them to buy manufactured goods from the home country. Moreover, duties were imposed on legal dealings and colonies tried to evade them because it was wrong to pay taxes when they had no right to elect their members at Westminster (“No taxation without representation”). In 1770 all duties were repealed except the one on tea, so some colonists, three years later, threw a shipload of tea into the harbour of Boston (the Boston tea party). It was rebellion and the Government decided to defeat it by force. In 1775 the American War of Independence had begun. A Continental Congress met and raised an army leaded by G. Washington. On 4th July 1776 the Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, which claimed that all men had the right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The British army was defeated and in 1783, with the Treaty of Versailles, Britain recognised the independence of its colonies. In 1878 G. Washington became the first President of the new United States of America.

INDUSTIAL AND AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION

• In the last decades of the 18th century Britain became an industrial country. The stimulation of trade and technology provided the capital for the invention of new machinery and the development of the first industries. English trade had begun in the Elizabethan period with the competition of Spain & Holland; so many charted companies had been established and they gave part of their profits to the Crown. In 1694 we have the foundation of the Bank of England. Britain was also the largest internal market in Europe after the union between England and Scotland (Restoration). Moreover, the colonies supplied raw materials and also provided a market for British manufactured goods. In the Augustan Age most people earned their living in agriculture. There were small industries (woollen industry) and most of the work was carried on in the cottages of agricultural workers with the contribution of the whole family. There was a great increase in population, so there was the necessity of more pots, beer and (above all) clothes. The first changes were introduced thanks to the technological invention, especially machinery for textiles industries. First industries were built by the sides of rivers because water was used as energy for the machines. Moreover, with the new machines, America could supply Britain with all the cotton it required. In 1775 Watt made an engine that was more powerful and wasted less fuel than any that have been used before. New factories were built on the coal and iron fields of Midlands and they produced more cheaply but many people were out of work. New waterways were built, and transport by canals was cheaper than by land. The condition of roads were bettered and rapid road travel and cheap transport by canal made the economical success of the Industrial Revolution possible.
• The Agrarian Revolution took two principal forms: massive enclosure of “open fields” and common lands and improvements in the breading of cattle and in farming techniques. Much of the country was still cultivated under the medieval system of the open field but they were transformed into large unit farms.

SOCIAL CONTEXT

• Population growth depends on the disappearance of the plague and the more productive use of the land. It begun in the countryside, where cultivation had long been improving alongside the exploitation of the land’s mineral resources. The population came to be used as a source of labour and of purchasing power and so of economical expansion. The nation came to be divided into two new classes: those who lived by earning (wage-earners) and those who lived by owning (wage-payers). So there was an increasing difference between poor and rich, but not between aristocracy, gentry and middle class. Wealth was more present in England than elsewhere and this also turned England into a “consumer society” where the wish of people to imitate the improving standards of their betters was common to all classes. (Even labourers acquired a taste for tea and sugar). There was a movement from the agricultural areas (south) to the midlands after the development of the steam-engine, the new factories were built near the coalfields which provided them with fuel. Small towns were constructed to house the worker. Woman and children were employed in factories because they could be payed less and because children could move more easily in mines. Industrial cities lacked elementary public services and the air and the water were polluted by smoke and filth; the houses were overcrowded. Life expectancy of the poor inhabitants of the industrial cities was well below twenty years due to incessant toil.

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