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Imperial Reform In Britian From 1815 To 1870

1917 words - 8 pages

Imperial Reform in Britian from 1815 to 1870

The period 1815 to 1870 was characterized by radical change in the
character of the British Empire, to the extent that, by the end of the
period, the empire consisted of two distinct parts: one made up of
‘dependent’ colonies, experiencing direct formal rule; and the other
made up of self-governing ‘settlement’ colonies. This development
occurred as a result of a series of social, political and economic
reforms. In order to judge whether economic factors dominated imperial
reform during this period, an assessment of the causes and nature of
reforms is necessary. However, while imperial reform was multicausal,
great weight can be given to the argument that underlying economic
factors which stimulated initial social reform and change, which in
turn propagated political reform.

One of the earliest reforms was the dismantling of the slave system,
initiated by Britain in 1807 through the end to British involvement in
the transatlantic slave trade, and again in 1834 through the abolition
of colonial slavery. The abolition can be seen as a result of a
combination of economic, social and political factors. The economic
decline of the British Caribbean and other regions, due to foreign
competition, may have rendered the slave system unsustainable,
contributing to the need for abolition. However, a more dominant
reason for the abolition can be found in the work of anti-slavery
pressure groups which pushed for governmental reform. Moreover, this
was assisted by 19th century industrialisation and urbanisation which
caused the emergence of an alternative middle-class mindset that
viewed slavery as part of an outmoded mercantilist system in need of
repair. Thus, the social transition, stimulated by industrial
development, caused a change in attitude which led to the emergence of
the abolitionist movement. In turn, the abolitionist movement,
consisting of humanitarian reformers, church missionaries etc exerted
political pressure on government ministers, creating a climate in
government circles which led directly to the passing of the abolition
acts. Therefore, the first major imperial reform of the 19th century,
the abolition of slavery, was primarily motivated by social and
political factors, rather than merely economic ones. Nevertheless,
underlying economic factors, such as the cost of the slave system in
regions experiencing economic decline, as well as the economic
advantages of industrialisation which caused the emergence of a new
middle class with differing views, may have contributed to the change.

Political reforms of the period focus mainly on the development of
self-government within the colonies of settlement. The granting of
self-government was sparked by an armed rebellion in Canada in 1837
following the failure of the British...

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