4GK005 Campaigning and Citizenship

Historical context and notions of citizenship


Citizenship - a citizen is a full member of a state, with individual legal rights and the right to participate in politics
Subordination - a group is subordinated when it is treated as inferior to another group, has less power, fewer rights and fewer opportunities
Condition - the way in which people live - particularly their economic and social situation
Role - what a group in society are expected to do
Position - the status, power, condition and role of one group compared to another

Generalizations about the 19th century

At beginning of 1800s, only small minority of population of Britain and Empire had citizenship rights - in Britain, right to vote extended to m/c men in towns 1832, w/c men in towns who were householders in 1867, w/c men in rural areas who were householders in 1884.
As British direct rule over colonies extended during 1800s, everyone considered to be 'subjects' of the British Crown.

Britain in the 1830s

Key themes

  • Industrialisation
  • Colonialism
  • Political reform

5 Key Dates

  • 1828 Lord William Bentinck became Governor General of India
  • 1832 Great Reform Act
  • 1833 Factory Act
  • 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act
  • 1834 Abolition of slavery in British colonies


The period under scrutiny within this module can be described as the initial stage of 'industrial capitalism'. This emerged out of rapid change and progress we now call the industrial revolution. This had significant impact upon peoples lives not only in the way in which they earned their living, but also socially, politically and economically.

For definitions, see

Industrial Revolution

Between 1750 and 1850 the economy of the UK changed in four particular ways:

  • from an economy based on agriculture to one based on manufacturing industry
  • from predominance of small scale merchants/manufacturers/farmers to predominance of large scale ones
  • from workshop and domestic production to factory production (especially in textile industry)
  • from machines driven by hand to machines driven by power
Some exceptions to this though - the nail, chainmaking and lock industries (key Black Country industries) remained in small workshops and carried by hand.

Whole populations affected by these significant economic changes:

  • landowners' desire for larger and more productive farms led to eviction of many small tenant farmers and enclosure (i.e. seizing) of common land - reduced opportunities for agricultural labourers to supplement income by grazing livestock and collecting fuel on common land.
  • mechanisation of farm work led to unemployment of agricultural labourers - many families moved to towns to work in new factories.
  • When spinning and weaving cloth became mechanised, this had to be carried out in factories rather than at home - whole families went to work in textile mills - the money earned by family members would be paid to father - called the "family wage".
The male head of the household therefore, was the one to control the finances of the household: 'owned' the labour of his wife and children, and other family members who might be under his dominance.
1833 Factory Act
Applied only to textile industry (excluding silk)
  • children under 13 limited to 8 hours work a day
  • young people 13-18 limited to 12 hours work a day
This was the first enforceable Factory Act - now had a Factory Inspectorate.
1834 Poor Law Amendment Act
In the past local rates had been used to supplement agricultural workers' wages if they dropped below minimum level for survival - too expensive in conditions of 1830s and it is likely that manufacturers did not see why they should subsidise farmers' wage bills.
Fluctuating prices made economic life of Britain and employment patterns for the labouring classes very unstable. The Corn Laws introduced from 1815 onwards were supposed to protect farmers from fluctuating prices by prohibiting corn imports until the home price had reached a certain level.
The result was that ordinary workers could not afford to buy bacon eggs, cheese, milk etc. as well as bread at these times. Bread formed part of the staple diet of the poor.
As David Thomson says in his book on England in the 19th century, "the Corn Law was the wrong answer to a real economic problem" (1950:36). The result was even greater numbers of those who were seeking poor law relief in their parishes.

From 1834 local Boards of Guardians set up to use rates to build and run workhouses. Those who could not support themselves were incarcerated and set to work in workhouses - men and women, parents and children were separated - intended that "paupers" should not have any more children.

The new Poor Law system probably also intended to control the poor and unemployed and prevent them turning to violent protest and crime. Workhouses deliberately made unpleasant so that they were the less attractive option than even the lowest paid work - called the "less eligibility rule". Meant to discourage "idleness" - underlying reason was to reduce cost of poor relief and keep down wages.

The Workhouse
Workhouses in Wolverhampton

Resistance to the new Poor Law in northern England was part of basis for Chartism - a working class movement for political reform which was active between the years 1838 - 1848.


At the same time, the impact and importance of British influence was being felt in a global sense. We had already been traders for several centuries with other countries, and industrialisation had meant an expansion of these markets.


The 1830s marked a new era in British colonialism - conscious attempts to impose Western values and institutions on India particularly. Asia as a whole, throughout this period of history, was an important market for British goods. India was called 'the Jewel in the Crown' of the British Empire in the Victorian era.

The British Empire - in other words the domination of many other countries of the world by Britain, was seen as the triumph of a 'superior' nation - on maps Britain's growing influence and control was always seen as the huge amount of land depicted in red - as belonging to, or under the rule of, Great Britain.

1828 - Lord William Bentinck became Governor General of India - despised Indian 0culture, languages, laws, customs and religions. The policy of westernisation particularly important during his time - developed 'formal' rule of India.

English became official government language - Western systems of higher education set up to train Indian men for government service. Christian Missionaries encouraged to work in India - also critical of Indian ways of life. In 1833 British allowed to become plantation owners in India - local people who protested were kidnapped and murdered by planters.

Links between colonialism and industrialisation
The European voyages of discovery of the late 15th century were mainly motivated by a desire to find a sea route to India and the East to obtain gold, silver and spices. European adventurers, established trading posts in the Caribbean, America, India, Western coast of Africa - large fortunes made by British merchants, shipowners and manufacturers in 17th and 18th centuries, particularly out of trade in goods and people.
Slave Trade
3 million African people carried by British traders from Africa to America and Caribbean. A total of between 18 and 25 million Africans were enslaved in the 17th and 18th centuries.

'It is difficult to find another episode of British imperial history which is both as rapacious and as exploitative as the history of slavery',
J. Walvin (1992) Slaves and Slavery: the British Colonial Experience, p. 104)

The wealth of London, Liverpool and Bristol was built on the slave trade - goods transported to West Africa, exchanged for slaves who were transported to the Caribbean and America and sold - profits were then used to buy cotton, tobacco, sugar etc. which was then sold back into Britain - called the 'Triangular Trade'.

Sugar in the Atlantic World

This period of the amassing of huge fortunes by British merchants can be described as 'mercantile capitalism'. These fortunes were subsequently invested in the manufacturing industries here (factories and machines) and helped to bring about 'industrial capitalism'in the 19th century.

Interest of feminist historians in this period of history

This period provides the important context of the development of 19th industrial society. Its impact upon women was huge and for a long time went unrecognised by historians. The emergence of resistance strategies by women has become an important focus for feminist historians, through which we can see the connections between the lives of our ancestors, and our own.

In her book Beyond the Pale, Vron Ware says:
'The attempt to write history "the way it really happened" necessarily presents insurmountable problems. It implies the possibility of there being one version of events, shared by many diverse participants' (p.36).

How can we reconcile, for instance, the history of India that might have been written by Lord William Bentinck, to the narrative that might have been told by an Indian woman or man? Would the versions coincide? I think not!
How do we consider the story which might have been written down about the plantations of the Caribbean when told by a plantation owner? Might it be a different story if it was being told by the young black girl who was the domestic slave of his wife in his mansion?

The importance of looking beyond what is written down, to question who is writing it, and from what perspective they are coming from, has been the task of feminist writers to unmask what has been previously considered unbiased, and therefore objective, history.

White women have played an important role in the expansion, and the maintenance, of the Empire. Their presence in the Empire, as well as those of men, was crucial to the ways in which 'races' were perceived, and in what form.

Vron Ware points out that ‘English women were seen as the “conduits of the essence of the race”. They symbolised the guardians of the race, and ensured that British morals and principles were adhered to in settler communities. In the late C19th the theories of racial difference, and of eugenics, ensured that the British were seen as the “superior” race.
For most Victorians, whether they lived early or late in the queen's reign, the British were inherently, by “blood” a conquering, governing, and civilizing “race”; the “dark races” whom they conquered were inherently incapable of governing and civilising themselves’ (Ware 1992: 161, citing Brantlinger 1988).


Brantlinger, P. (1988) The Rule of Darkness: British Literature and Imperialism 1830-1914, New York: Cornell University Press.
May, T. (1972) The Economy 1815-1914, Britain in Modern Times series, Collins. McDonough, F. (1994) The British Empire 1815-1914, London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Thomson, D. (1950) England in the 19th century, London: Pelican books.
Ware, V. (1992) Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History, London: Verso.

Tasks for students

  1. Make a list of all the inequalities between people that were important in the 1830s. Are the same inequalities important today?
  2. Think about your own citizenship. How do you define yourself?
  3. Find some definitions of 'campaign' and 'campaigning' ready for later in the module.

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/4GK005-1.htm
Page created by Penny Welch and Pat Green October 2003/last checked October 2015

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