The British Revolution That Didn't Happen
The definition of a revolution is the complete overthrow of the
system, usually by force, by people not in power.
The first period of instability at this time was 1789 - the French
Revolution. It's been said that "this inspired many people and ideas;
in particular it influenced the British to examine their own
constitution and provided confidence in the possibility of change."
However, Asa Briggs believes "the main effect of the French Revolution
was not to revitalise English politics at the base of society but to
encourage repression from above." The main objectives of the radical
groups appearing at this time seem to be "reformist rather than
revolutionary" (Peaple & Lancaster). As a result of the French
Revolution Pitt turned away from reform, now subsequently linked to
revolution. Many of the elite feared that social and political changes
might occur in Britain as they had in France. Due to this belief,
reform agitation was met with repression and it's believed by many
that what was thought to be the threat of revolution in the 1790s is
best seen as a "panic reaction amongst some of the propertied classes
as a result of the intensification and growing violence of events
across the channel" (Peaple & Lancaster). On reflection, rather than
inspiring radical protest, the French Revolution encouraged its
suppression, although it did play an important role in the political
awakening of the lower classes as the radical ideology of liberty,
equality and brotherhood was derived from French example.
Throughout this period the industrial revolution was taking place and
many of the emerging cities had no MPs. A new wealthy 'middle class'
of manufacturers and merchants were frustrated to find the system so
biased against them. It created new problems and tensions for
industrial workers, and many believed a change in the political system
would be the first step towards better conditions. It additionally
created the Luddites, a group of farmers upset about their decreased
wages due to new machines taking over jobs. Between 1811 and 1816
there were sporadic outbreaks of 'Luddite' machine breaking which
eventually led to 'Swing Riots of 1830-31.
The Russian Revolution shows that to be successful, middle class
support would be required. Behagg notes that this period was "the only
time in British history when the working class and middle class were
firmly united in an extra-parliamentary campaign for political
reform". Many of the middle classes were prepared to refuse payment of
taxes to initiate trouble and it appears many of the radical leaders
were middle class. This is important because it shows how widespread
the discontent was and a key feature for revolution was in place. It
can also be said that the middle classes were carrying out "dual...