The Age of Empire
The Victorian age, who took its name from Queen Victoria, was a period of a speedy expansion, both territorially and economically. The old agricultural economy in fact was replaced by a modern urban economy of manufacturing industry and international trade. Moreover the Britain had become the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, primarily for the material exploitation of its growing number of colonies and secondly for the lowly pay workers who worked in the factories. The masses of the urban poor were perceived as a potential danger so the government insert in steps during the century reforms and progressive policy.
The growth of industrial cities
Another development of this period was the growth of industrial cities. The seven largest town after London were Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield and Bradford. The people in fact was attracted by industrial cities for the possibility to find a work. The worker’s condition is yet bad like living into overcrowded slums besides the building regulations were generally ignored. The national health disservice caused the diffusion of deadly diseases like cholera, smallpox and tuberculosis.
The pressure for reform
Britain appalled by years of rebellion which had followed the storming of the Bastille. Therefore political reforms was inevitable but the first reform Bill of 1832 unfair because excluded the working classes completely. This unjust reform gave rise to the Chartist movement who demands six changes: votes for all mails; annually elected parliaments; payment of members of Parliament so that also working class men could become MPs; secret voting; abolition of the property qualification for candidates seeking election; the establishment of electoral district equal in population. This proposals was rejected for three times. The only changes happened were an annually elected parliament since 1860 and since 1918 votes for all man over 21.
The most technological innovation was exhibited in Crystal Palace, in London, who became a symbol for Britain’s dominant position as an industrial and imperial trading power.
The communication revolution
Invention of steam-powered machinery transformed completely both industry and transport. In fact, between 1820 and 1850, around 6000 miles of railways were opened. Railways gave enormous consequences for the life of ordinary citizens, reaching most isolated areas as well as the centers of cities. Communication were also greatly improved thanks to a more efficient mail services and the invention of the telephone.
The cost of living
Mechanization meant increased competition. The price of finished products fell, although the increase of sales. So to increase profit margin, the only solution was to cut production costs by the direct cutting of wages. The cost of living, however, was kept high by the corn laws, which maintained the price of corn Britain at an unrealistically high level by taxing importing corn. The result of corn laws was the starvation of both textile and agricultural workers. Was a Tory prime minister who repealed the corn laws in 1846.
The transformation of labour
In terms of economic productivity this social transformation was an immense success; but not in human suffering: this was a tragedy, deepened by the agricultural depression after 1815. An industrial economy needs labour. In fact the rural population were the most obvious sources to work in factories. All the workers had to learn to work in a manner suitable to industry, that mean a rhythm of regular unbroken daily work; it had also to learn to be responsive to monetary incentives. The laborers must do a harsh work discipline. In the factories, where the problem of labour discipline was more urgent, it was often found more convenient to employ the cheaper women and children.
Poverty and the Poor Laws
Among the most unjust pieces of legislation passed in Victorian Britain were the Poor Laws, which reflected the general Victorian view that poverty was a moral problem, like crime, to be managed through repressive measures.
Managing the Empire
The Victorian period saw the massive expansion of Britain. In part this expansion was occurred to protect trade routes to and from India, called Jewel in the Crown. Since 1857 with closure of Indian Company the administration passed to Britain and in 1876 Queen Victoria was declared Empress. Britain annexed a number of territories including South Africa, Egypt, Burma, Malaysia and Afghanistan to maintain safe the routes necessary to the trade of tea, spices, silk and cotton. Another important colony was Australia which had originally served as a prison to which criminals and political agitators had been transported.
The Victorian ideal
The Victorian ideal represented by such values as church, family, the home and the sanctity of childhood applied only to those happy few who could afford them. Middle-class women were expected to conform to a domestic role, they so-called angel in the home. By stepping outside this role, the category of fallen women, which extended from adulteresses to unmarried mothers to prostitutes, was condemned by a hypocritically moralistic establishment. Similar the idea of childhood as a golden age, masked the fact that the children of the poor were forced into labor and often separated from their families.
The late Victorian period
William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli characterized the late Victorian period. Initially Gladstone moved to the Liberals but he sailed to bring about self-government for Ireland and carried out lot of important reforms. However he had a political opponent, Benjamin Disraeli, who was Jewish; he was a great reformer who, through patriotic campaigns and parliamentary reforms, was able to secure working-class support for the Tories. These two important figures both made a gradual incorporation of the working classes. They thought that this was the best way to avoid mass revolutionary insurrections and also a way of providing industry with a well-equipped work force that was increasingly needed in this sector. Moreover they both supported the Elementary Education Act which was an association that recognized right of children to a basic education and the Trade Union Act. This ideology led to the formations of an Independent Labor Party. Also wages and standards of living were continually rising , in fact elementary education became free, the school leaving-age was raised to twelve and working classes started enjoying some leisure time.
A time of new ideas
Over the course of the century, the Victorians were responsible for some innovations: this was the age in which the ideas of democracy, feminism, the unionization of work, socialism began to come alive. After John Stuart Mill had failed the obtainance of the vote for women in 1867 with an electoral reform, pressure for female equality started two grow, culminating in women’s groups united in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which was successively superated by the Women’s Social and Political Union. The gradual shift of liberal politicians towards socialist principles was assisted by the Fabian Society, composed of socialist intellectuals bound to the Labor Party.
Women rights were extremely restricted: they could not go to university, nor could they inherit property if there was a male child in the family. The education of girls from middle-class families typically consisted of the kind of accomplishments that would make them attractive wives, such as playing the piano, drawing and embroidery.
The most important new idea of the Victorian Age was Darwin’s theory of evolution, which demonstrated that change an necessity were the determining factors in the survival and evolution of a species. This theory started a crisis in religious values, which were based to creationism. Darwin’s ideas found moreover political application in the theories of racial superiority.