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How And Why Did The Role Of British Government Increase During The Industrial Revolution?

1135 words - 5 pages

During the period between the 1770's and the late 1800's, known as the Industrial Revolution, a vast expansion in the role of government in Britain ensued. Such an expansion can be contributed to a number of factors defining this era, in such fields as overseas influences and ideologies, the economy, social structure and the state of the working class. When such considerations are taken into account, the drastic increase in the role of government in Britain was inevitable.The state of France during the 18th century affected the political atmosphere in Britain greatly. New principles that initially fuelled the political unrest in France, which lead to its Revolution, were highly regarded by many in Britain. Political manifestos, notably Rousseau's social contract of 1762, Votaire's writing against the power of the Church, the work of the Economists and Montesquieu's novel The Spirit of the Laws, in which different systems of government were discussed, resulted in the introduction of laissez-faire, liberalist, socialist and utilitarian forms of government. Such ideologies were debated over and adopted by varying reformist individuals and factions in Britain, such as John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine, William Lovett and the Chartists and Liberalists. However, due to the events of the "reign of terror", in which the French monarchy was overthrown by the increasingly radical middle class, the British upper classes feared a similar revolt. Thus, the upper classes were called upon to improve the situation of the lower classes through their legislative power. The introduction of these ideologies and the demonstration of the power of the middle and working classes in France paved the way for the greater role of government in Britain, with the need to satisfy an increasingly demanding and socially aware population.The economy of Britain was an area in which the government was forced to expand into. The Corn Laws of 1815, used to control the imports of corn into Britain, demonstrated how parliament was manipulated to suit the interests of the upper class, maintaining elevated wheat prices. This led to an economic depression and civil unrest resulted, with riots such as the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, breaking out. In order to prevent such action, the governments passed the Six Acts of 1819 suppressing meetings and seditious publications. However, the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846 out of necessity, culminating in the free trade policy. Reform of the old Navigation Acts and reduction of customs duties in 1923 can also be linked to the success of British mercantilism. Lastly, the Companies Act and Bank Charter Act of 1844 aimed to provide a more stable base for the economy and to prevent such disasters as the South-Sea Bubble. Thus government involvement in the economic policies of Britain definitely extended its role further.The changing nature of the workforce, as a consequence of the rise of the factory system, resulted in the emergence of Britain's...

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