Radical Liberalism and the Industrial Revolution

    Due to the liberal economic policies and Enlightenment ideals of 18th c. England, enough capital was available to invest in new technologies which led to the invention of the steam engine. Mechanization on the factory floor enabled businesses to produce cheap goods and then transport them far more quickly to markets all over the world. Attracted by the demand for factory jobs, poor people moved to new industrial centers ill-equipped to house them. Factory owners felt no responsibility for providing safe working or decent living conditions for the workers, and instead they colluded to keep wages artificially low and maximize their profits. Radicalized by the dangerous conditions of the factories, long work hours, and unhealthy living conditions, the workers  began to demonstrate for their fair share of the astronomical profits earned by the owners. Through street protests and, eventually, strikes, the workers pressured Parliament to approve reform legislation that would improve working conditions, shorten hours, eliminate child labor, and grant higher wages. Influenced by images and stories by liberal writers about poverty, the voting population began to see the injustice and they chose vote to make it right. Although the reform process moved slowly, eventually the workers convinced Parliament to accede to their demands, and by the end of the 19th century, they had gained the right to vote. In this way, England avoided a social revolution.

II. Origins of the Industrial Revolution

     The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries had its origins in an Agricultural Revolution from an even earlier age. During the 17th century English landowners like Jethro Tull, Charles Townshend, and Robert Bakewell developed methods of farming which vastly increased the amount of food that English farmland produced. Jethro Tull invented the seed drill after becoming frustrated with the inefficient methods of planting seeds by hand. The seed drill allowed more crops to be planted at a faster rate for less money and work, " He designed his drill with a rotating cylinder. Grooves were cut into  the cylinder to allow seed to pass from the hopper above to a funnel  below. They were then directed into a channel dug by a plough at the  front of the machine, then immediately covered by a harrow attached to  the rear. This limited the wastage of seeding and made the crop easier  to weed," (BBC).  Charles Townshend created the method of four field crop rotation. Four field crop rotation is the process of growing a series of different crops seasonally. Townshend’s innovation reduced the possibility of blight in the crop and balances the nutrient requirements of each crop to maintain the fertility of the soil, "One immediate economic benefit of crop rotations is improved yields...Crop rotation, in combination with cultural practices plus necessary fungicides, is the most desirable method of disease control," (Michael D. Peel). Robert Bakewell systemized the breeding of livestock. Favorable traits could then be recreated by specified breeding. Animals could be used more efficiently for  specific uses, "by inbreeding his livestock he fixed and exaggerated those traits he thought were desirable,"  (BBC).

     As the food supply increased the population increased also.The flux of people only made the situation worse. People were still starving, only now there was more people to house.  "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparisonof the second," (Thomas Malthus). After the population boom, the people needed more wood to heat their homes. However, much of England's woods had already been chopped down to build the English Navy, "England (was) out of Wood by (the) 18th C. Lord Nelson was so worried about implication for the Navy, he went around (with) Acorns in his pocket." (Halsall). As such, they were forced to use coal to heat their houses. When they began relying on coal, they needed to dig deeper mines. At a certain depth the mines begin to fill with water and man power alone was not efficient enough to pump the water out, "(The steam engine) was mainly employed for draining mine workings at depths hitherto impossible," (Wikipedia).   

III. What Happened During the Industrial Revolution?

A. Industrial Technology

    The Industrial Revolution progressed through the investment of venture capitalists who wanted not only to further their economic prowess, but also to invest in new technologys that would revolutionize their industry and enhance society itself. These capitalists were only able to do so in a government which supported their right to invest.

    As the coal mines became harder to dig through, company owners required methods to drain flooded mines as well as increase an overall productivity. Thomas  Newcomen built a prototype of a pump powered by steam that would empty the mines.  Using coal as the fuel he would melt iron ore to make the  steam engine.  The first steam powered pump exploaded when tested.  As  it turns out, the coal did not burn at a high enough temperature to  purify the iron so the impurities in the iron, otherwise known as slag,  would seperate layers of iron in the engine.  The impurities throughout  the engine did not make it possible for the engine to withstand the high  pressures it was exposed to.  The brittleness of the  engine forced  Newcomen to find help on his engine, furthering the scientific progress  in the 18th century. The Newcomen design was actually inefficient, but the financers had already seen the possibilities of such inventions.

    "The Newcomen Engine was by no means an efficient machine, although it was probably as complicated as engineering and materials techniques of the early eighteenth century could support. Much heat was lost when condensing the steam, as this cooled the cylinder. This did not matter unduly at a colliery, where unsaleable small coal (slack) was available, but significantly increased the mining costs where coal was not readily available, as in Cornwall."(Wikipedia). Indent extended quotes.

    In  order to create an engine that could contain the intense compression and  power, created by the heated steam a new type of iron was needed. This iron had to be purified and without certain substances that made the iron brittle and susceptible to explosions. In the past what caused  these impurities and eventually explosions was the presence of slag. To  achieve this goal of a slag free iron a new type of heating source was  used, this was called coke. Coke is a solid carbon material derived from  coal, which is created in a natural environment with a lack of oxygen,  making it a more pure substance, lacking specifically in sulfur. (Coke) Coke was then used to create an iron, more specifically a coke pig iron that did not have slag.

    In  1709, a man named Abraham Darby succeeded in smelting iron, in a blast furnace, using coke as fuel. This technological achievement allowed a  major expansion of the iron trade. In the space of forty years the small village of Coalbrookdale, where Darby made his discovery, became a major mining site, and employed nearly five hundred people. (Blast furnaces)   With this easy way to make iron ore, the mineral was able to be mass  produced much like steel was towards the end of the century. With iron being mass produced, more sturdier engines could be built.

    In  1763 The University of Glasgow sent a Scottish instrument maker named James Watt a model engine to work on.  Little did they know, they had  just sent a model engine to the man who would eventually create the first efficient steam engine.  In 1765 Watt added a seperate condensation chamber that could propel the piston without a significant  loss of heat.  His early engine relied on atmospheric pressure to push the piston back down.  He later used a vacuum pump to take out the warm condensation and recycle it as feedwater for the boiler.  The vacuum  would evacuate the steam from under the piston and pump it down no  longer relying on atmospheric pressure.  In 1775 he had perfected the steam engine pump and it went into production. (Wikipedia)

    When James Watt's invention was applied to the textile industry, investors were eager to gamble their resources on something they thought could make an overall benefit to their industry. “Their backgrounds were quite diverse, yet they had one thing in common: the daring to seize the opportunity to invest in new ventures. It was these capitalists who gave the necessary impetus to the speedy growth of the Industrial Revolution.” (Montagna) If these products are finished in such a fashion that they would be sturdy and reliable, they could eventually earn the investor a large product of not only his total investment but also his annual profit. The first machines were unsafe and unreliable, so it took even more time and money to enhance the design.

    "Manufacturers took a substantial portion of their profits to “plough back” into their business, or they invested capital in ventures that were related to their primary business. Eventually, as opportunities to realize great profits proliferated, it was not uncommon to find these entrepreneurs investing substantially in concerns about which they knew very little."(Montagna) .

     With a more efficient steam engine, a technological evolution in transportation came to be in the form of more advanced machines such as railroads and steam ships.

     One of these substantial development was that of railroads. With this huge development came many options, such as transportation of people, good and other trade, all in massive numbers. Not only was transportation, through the use of railroads, extremely valuable for the movement of products in great numbers, but it also was a key stone for the movement of these same products across longer distances then ever have been covered before at one time. The locamotive came into being by means of a steam engine that would power the wheels. "The locomotive's principle features were a cylindrical horizontal boiler and a single horizontal cylinder let into it. The piston, propelled back and forth in the cylinder by pressure of steam, was linked by piston rod and connecting rod to a crankshaft bearing a large flywheel. " (Spartacus Educational). The origin of the railroad was in the mind of Richard Trevithick, who originally experimented with the ideas of producing a miniature steam locomotive. This idea blossomed into the production of a much larger locomotive, and after Trevithick had made these initial models he took his ideas to London and to certain leading scientists. In 1803 a company called Vivian & West, agreed to finance Trevithick's experiments. After certain failed attempts Trevithick was forced to  find a new sponsor, Samuel Homfray. Eventually, he would fall into obscurity after even more failures and loss of sponsers. He would leave it to other inventors such as George Stephenson to finish and perfect his design. Stephenson originally designed his locamotive for a coal mine with successful results. "By 1814 he had constructed a locomotive that could pull thirty tons up a hill at 4 mph. Stephenson called his locomotive, the Blutcher, and like other machines made at this time, it had two vertical cylinders let into the boiler, from the pistons of which rods drove the gears." (Spartacus Educational).

      Through more trial and error, George Stephenson was able to refine his design until it could carry several tons of goods at a speed of up to 20 miles per hour. Such a feat was revolutionary as it did not require the power of a horse. The invention of the railroad revolutionized the way goods and trades were transported. It did this both by exponentially increasing the amount of a product and the distance they can be moved while decreasing the time it takes to move said products.

    Another invention that was the product of the steam engine was the steam ship. The steam ship had a similar effect as the railroad in revolutionizing its industry. Railroads revolutionized nationwide transport and trade while the steam ship revolutionized international trade and tranport. The steam ship was more reliable than a regular ship because regular ships relied on wind power, but a steam ship is powered by a steam engine. A steam ship could not be stopped because there was no wind. The main creator of the steam ship was Isambard Brunel. Brunel worked with railroads originally and it gave him inspiration for a steam ship. "In March 1833, the twenty-seven year old Isambard Brunel was appointed chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. His work on the line that linked London to Bristol, helped to establish Brunel as one of the world's leading engineers. Brunel persuaded the Great Western Railway Company to let him build a steam boat to travel from Bristol to New York." (Isambard Brunel. Spartacus Educational). His first ship, the Great Western, was 236 feet long and took fifteen days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. This shortened the voyage by a great deal. In a total of eight years, it made the trip across the ocean sixty times. Later models could carry twelve hundred tons of cargo. Steam ships meant for public voyages could take up to four thousand passengers. Through more and more sponsers, the industry began to grow along with the advancement of factories and the ships themselves grew greater and greater.

    With the advancments in so many areas of technology, the lives of all people especially those of every day workers were drastically efected. These changes were a mix of good and bad, but it largley depends on how one looks at it, in either the grand scheme of things or in more individual conditions.

The Social Effects of Industry

       Before the inventions of such machines, many people lived in the rural countryside with no  running water. Compared to the living style in the city to the living style standard of living in the rural area, the city living was much better. The city of Manchester started off as a small fort for the Romans in AD  79 but was converted into one of the biggest and first industrial  cities in 1761, thanks to the inventions and discovery of coal and steam-powered engines.  In the city there were streets, sturdy homes, water (although some of it was unsafe), and the people did not have to farm their own food. Thus when the word of a better lifestyle got out to the people in the countryside (rural overpopulation was happening at the time too; 1750) the people flooded the cities in search of the city-life, for it was only in England that industrial growth was rapid enough to absorb the  rural surplus. The people went to the first and biggest industrial city at the time: Manchester. Manchester started off only weaving cotton until the Duke of Bridgewater began importing coal and building factories.  Since coal and the steam engine were produced more rapidly, factories did not need no longer needed the power of common streams to create power. These new job openings allowed for an influx of people. However, the city of Manchester was not ready for such amounts of people  a migration. In 1772, 25,000 people inhabited Manchester;   in less than twenty-eight years (1800) the population  grew to 95,000 people (Spartacus)  In  1825, railway tracks were laid which added for more profit due to the ability to export goods to more people. The entrepreneurs and business men loved the new city, for every 10 put into the companies, an average  of  100 was received. Finally, by 1851 over 455,000 people were living in the city. (Spartacus).

        Most  of the people who moved into the city were factory workers. Housing was tight and compact, the food supply was short, and working conditions were horrible."There was no running water or toilet. A whole street would have to share an outdoor pump and a couple of outside toilets" (Nettlesworth Primary School) Manchester was not ready for  this many people and could not support it. Housing was horrible;  reports  even stated that there were two toilets for every 250 people. These conditions would lead to the spread of contagious diseases like dysentery and cholera. As bad as sanitation was, though, the issue which radicalized the people and eventually led the people them to strive for a better lifestyle in the cities was the price of corn.

        England could not afford a worker’s movement.  England had just finished a war with France, which had left them financially vulnerable.  After the war had finished, the workers wanted the price of corn and bread to be more affordable.  Even though England knew what the consequences could be, they passed laws that kept the price of corn and bread high.  As a result, the workers lined up in St. Peter’s Fields in Manchester to protest these laws and  problems arose between them and the Lancashire militia.  The Lancashire militia was present to preserve order.  Thus, they charged at the workers and killed many which sparked the start of the worker’s revolution  reform movement.  The event became known as the Peterloo Massacre.  The Peterloo Massacre ignited unrest among the workers.     

        Not only were the prices of basic staples inflated to support local landowners and the forces of the government at the disposal of the owners,  the workers in Manchester had horrible living and working conditions.  They lived next to the factories and the factories themselves were dirty and dangerous. The workers were upset because they didn’t make enough money to afford food, they were forced to work long fourteen to sixteen hour days. The whole family was required to work in the factory: women and children too.  The reform laws that Parliament would pass over the next century prevented the workers from starting a revolution.  Although striking was outlawed, the workers continued to protest. They called in particular for reforms to the voting laws for election to Parliament. The first reform act in 1832 enabled more people to vote.  Specifically, the middle class business owner was able to vote.  The middle class is composed of small business owners.  The reform act of 1850 limited the amount of hours that women and children could work every day (12) and it also increased the amount of hours that grown men could work each week (60).  Thus, profit was kept the same, but children and women had more time to relax which kept the people happy.

 3.      Victorian London: Political Activism to 1880

    Parliament’s steps to provide both social and economic reform, driven by the voices of the oppressed workers, led to better conditions for the poor and laborers.  Victorian London saw a large population boom within the city with now over fifty percent of the population living in the cities rather than the rural country, enticed by the new factory jobs. (citation needed)  The boom left the city unequipped to handle the large populations and this led to awful conditions for the working men and women.  The government was inefficient in dealing with the poor, utilizing the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601 to deliver poor relief through their parishes that was funded from a small tax.  This gave the poor necessities and a place to live – the workhouse – for those who could not support themselves.  This law was outdated and could not efficiently handle the new mass of people.

    General upset with the deteriorating conditions and the newfound unity of the people that came from so many of them together pushed the government to reform.  The poor law was redefined in the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 which hoped to ease the costs of the welfare and put it to more use.  This was later updated to the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 that kept some of the poor away from the workhouses and allowed freedom to get back on their feet.  Rather than sustaining them for a number of years, they were able to get the money needed to keep their homes and provide food so that they could eventually rise from poverty, effectively reducing the poverty rate.  In 1858, the need to own property to be in parliament was demolished.  Therefore workmen could be members of parliament and with their previously nonexistent representation the working class could make more laws that would benefit themselves..  Thus, they passed a law in 1859 which allowed peaceful picketing.  The law enabled workers on strike to stand in front of their factory without new workers being able to push through them.  Factory owners couldn’t just hire new workers when old workers went on strike.  Thus, factory owners had to give the workers better working conditions and more money.  In 1867, the working classes were becoming very restless.  They wanted more representation, thus demonstrations were organized all around England.  The demonstration which forced the reform act of 1867 took place at Hyde Park.  Hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating, and there were too many of them for the soldiers.  Thus, the home secretary, Spencer Walpole, was forced to resign.  The Reform Act of 1867 extended the amount of voters further.  Many working men could now vote.  The factory workers had more power, thus they were able to pass laws to better themselves.  Therefore the factory workers obtained more rights.  With more rights, the factory workers became happier.  Thus, the revolution was avoided.

    Sanitary conditions were deplorable, in many areas of London.  A primitive sewage system left  waste, both human and animal, as well as the products of slaughterhouses  in the water supplies of the people. "By  the middle of the 19th century, Soho had become an insanitary place of  cow-sheds, animal droppings, slaughterhouses, grease-boiling dens and  primitive, decaying sewers. And underneath the floorboards of the  overcrowded cellars lurked something even worse -- a fetid sea of  cesspits" (UCLA) This  led to the breakout of Asiatic cholera, the origin and spread only  discovered after Dr. John Snow appealed for the government to take  notice to the previously unknown waterborne spread of the disease. In 1848  the Public Health Act was written to create a board to deal with health  risks such as the cleanup of sewers and sanitation of houses.  Due to  the ineffectivenss of the of the new law, this act was followed up by  the 1866 Sanitary Act that aimed to clean up the streets and waterways,  connect all households to a new, clean sewer and enforce sanitation with  appointed sanitary inspectors.  Joseph Bazalgette created a new sewer  system that did not involved dumping into the River Thames in a way that  would affect the water supply.  This advancement led to a healthier  water and lack of waterborne diseases like cholera. These improvements  led to better living conditions and allowed the people to start enjoying  the benefits the new technology that the time had brought. (citation needed)

IV. Cultural Responses

A. Literary  

1.      The Economics of Authorship

    The 19th century radical liberal authors, such as Charles Dickens, inspired the voters in the property owning classes of England to reform their society through telling stories in which the impoverished escaped their situation through the help of the rich. These radical liberal reformers were the first to grasp the power of the new emerging media made possible by the ability to mass produce short stories and even novels in weekly magazines. By tailoring stories about poor children struggling with the horrors of the industrialized city to the serialized form of the weekly magazine, Dickens was able to not only amass a large fortune, but also spread his message among all the literate of England. He wrote in order to catch the attention of those who had the power to sway parliaments vote. “His works, which register his audience's reactions, have a unique dialogical relation to that that audience,” (Victorian Web) . All of his stories contained characters whose lives were so tragic that they forced the wealthy into feeling sympathetic towards their workers. Dickens released his stories in segments and used writing techniques such as “cliff hangers” in order to keep his readers entertained from week to week. A perfect example of a cliffhanger can be found at the end of the first chapter of Oliver Twist. After descrbing a scene of a girl dying and a new baby, Dickens ends the chapter by saying,"Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder," (Oliver Twist). Rather than selling a single novel, Dickens would sell each segment.This method would make him much more money, as he would receive a weekly salary rather than just book sales. Through these weekly installments, Dickens was able to not only keep the attention of the public and spread his idea of reform but also amass a large fortune.

2.      Social Protest in Literature

   The sanitary conditions were so terrible in London that they caught the attention of the radical liberals most potent force, the writers. Dickens wrote a description of the conditions in an article of Household Words,

"Into the imperfect sewers of this overgrown city, you shall have the immense mass of corruption, engendered by these practices, lazily thrown out of sight, to rise, in poisonous gases, into your house at night, when your sleeping children will most readily absorb them, and to find its languid way, at last, into the river that you drink," (Household Words).

     He later mentioned the raw sewage in a selection from Oliver Twist, "The ground was covered, nearly ankle-deep, with filth and mire; a thick steam, perpetually rising from the reeking bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest upon the chimney-tops, hung heavily above," (Oliver Twist). Dickens' encouragment of improving sanitation conditions led to reform acts such as Public Health Act. This is pure radical liberalism as Dickens uses his art to sway the ideas of his readers and encourage reformation. This shows how the power of the radical liberals came in the form of the pen. The writers of the industrial revolution were able to sway the vote of parliament through their ability to contort the beliefs of the vote holding society.     

        Dickens depicted characters such as Oliver Twist who served in workhouses and experienced the intensity of the industrial revolution.  Upon visiting a workhouse in 1850, Dickens observed a young child, who craved, “a little more liberty — and a little more bread,” (A Walk in the Workhouse, Charles Dickens). This image, among others, of the starving innocent children never failed to inspire people to change their realities. In the second chapter of Oliver Twist, Dickens writes, "The hungry and destitute situation of the infant orphan was duly reported by the workhouse authorities to the parish authorities."  (Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens.http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/olivertwist/3/)

 Through simple yet effective writing techniques, Charles Dickens was able to change the peoples' perspective and completely render their political beliefs, specifically those men and women who had a say in a political sense. Essentially, by creating stories that tell of innocent men and women who are desperate for the simple necessities of life, he is almost demanding a greater assistance from the bourgeoisie for the impoverished in England.
        Not only was Oliver Twist a perfect example to how Charles Dickens was using writing to inspire and demand a radical change in the government of this new society, but he also writes a novel entitled Hard Times, in which he writes a chapter about a city called Coketown, a descriptional chapter that highlights the chaos and horror of the Industrial Revolution. Specifically, Dickens describes what he sees now in England, which includes a town called Coketown motivated by the idea of progress with a new kind of work in the industry. This idea dramatically allows the reader to visualize what exactly was going on in towns and cities across England. Charles Dickens writes, "It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it." (Hard Times, Charles Dickens.http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/coketown.html ) Aside from the fact these buildings were covered with colors displaying a sort of depressing feeling, Coketown was also working to the point of potential obsession with production. Dickens writes, "If the members of a religious persuasion built a chapel there - as the members of eighteen religious persuasions had done - they made it a pious warehouse of red brick," (Hard Times, Charles Dickens. http://www.uncp.edu/home/rwb/coketown.html ). By empasizing this sense of continuous and almost eternal work, Charles  Dickens proves that where this revolution was headed was not necessarily all for the better. The people of England have become so infatuated with the notion of progress, perhaps they have forgotten the ideals their civilization was formed upon.

3.      Mass Production and Popular Culture

B. Realism in Art (Garrett S.)

 Influenced by images and  stories by liberal writers about poverty, the  voting population began  to see the injustice and they chose vote to  make it right.  

See Dore's prints from his London Pilgrimage: http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/dore/gallery1.html

        A movement in art started in the nineteenth century called Realism that intended to depict life as realistically as possible unlike the previous movement which depicted life ideally.  With the invention of the steam engine it was now possible to create thousands of pictures and distribute them to upper middle class.  These images depict life in a factory of the lower class which is miserable. These images inspired compassion in the house wives of the upper middle classs.  Which, in turn, caused the husbands with extra money to invest in lower class citizens because "modern life was about social mixing, social mobility" (Gersh-Nesic ). The system was sucessful because people were naturally good and were willing to donate money because these realistic paintings inspired empathy. Painters, such as Gustave Courbet, decided that if he could not see a picture it was not worth painting.  The steam engine helped mass produce and spread this propaganda and prevent a revolution.  Rather it provided the middle class to see the terrible life of the lower class and want to help them suceed. Without the invention of the steam engine none of the factory workers would ever have been able to make it out of the miserable life they are in.

V. Conclusion

Works Cited



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