Chapter 21 1830-1850 Economic Advance and Social Unrest

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Chapter 21

1830-1850 - Economic Advance and Social Unrest

As the title indicates, the years 1830 to 1850 saw the Industrial Revolution spread from Great Britain to the continent with the railroad engine being the new symbol of the Industrial Revolution. But many economic groups still opposed the inevitable. And as society changed in ways that nobody could have foreseen, the years brought increasing anxiety for entrepreneurs who needed to make decisions vital to their endeavors, as well as industrial workers and artisans who lived with the fear of unemployment and the peasants who also lived in fear, mostly of sufficient food supplies. All these factors would culminate in the major unrest known as the Revolutions of 1848.

Moving Towards an Industrial Society

As we saw in Chapter 15, the Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain in the eighteenth century with the advent (coming) of the textile and iron industries. England had the natural resources, sufficient capital (money), technological expertise and spirit, a growing food supply (from a dynamic Agricultural Revolution), domestic mobility (especially canals and natural rivers) and both strong foreign and domestic markets for mass-produced textiles. As British factories and production grew, new markets opened up in North America – both the United States and Canada (competing with incipient or growing industries) - and the newly independent Latin American nations. The Napoleonic Wars had destroyed the French Atlantic trade and it is important to remember that Great Britain commanded the world markets from India to Asia to the Americas and much of Europe.

However by the 1830s, Belgium, France and Germany were catching up and the use of the steam engine was applied in railroads, factories and mines. In the Ruhr and Saar Basins in Germany, coke was rapidly replacing charcoal in iron and steel production. But it must be remembered that, as manufacturing centers grew – Lyons, Rouen and Lille in France and Liege in Belgium – with the new techniques and factories, most manufacturing still took place in the countryside. And it meant that by 1850, the peasant and the urban artisans were still more important than industrial factory workers.

Population and Migration

Population Growth




32.5 million

38.5 million


26.5 million

33.5 million


16.3 million

20.8 million
As industrialization spread, the population of Europe continued to grow. More and more people were living in the cities and by mid-century one half of the population of England and Wales and one quarter of the population of France and Germany were living in urban areas. Eastern Europe, by contrast remained overwhelmingly agrarian.

The growth of urban areas as a result of migration from the country caused numerous problems for cities. Resources such as housing, clean water, sewers, food supplies, heating and lighting were inadequate to non-existent. Slums sprang up with unspeakable filth, rampant disease, crime and human misery beyond description. And the countryside was not much better. The Enclosure Movement in England began the process of redistribution of the land. During the French Revolution, peasants outright received their own lands they once worked for the aristocracy. The emancipation of serfs in Prussia and Austria in 1848 commercialized landholding but failed to create a new independent peasantry.

What happened was that in England peasants were driven off the land while on the continent peasants did not have enough land to make the agricultural innovations necessary to support themselves or produce enough surplus to make profits. It is also important to note that the late emancipation of the serfs in Germany and Russia slowed the pace of industrialization because it made the movement of peasants to the cities (where they formed the bulk of growing industrial workforces) extremely difficult.

The Irish Potato Famine

In spite of scientific advancement and industrialization, poor harvests still haunted Europe and the worst of these was the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 to 1847. Ireland was a poor land and most of the farmland was owned by English landlords who lived in England and collected rents from small Irish farmers who tilled the land that was once theirs. To make ends meet during the eighteenth century, the Irish were able to make the potato (from South America via the Colombian Exchange) not only a staple food crop but a more efficient means of raising cash to pay their landlords since more potatoes could be grown per acre than almost any grain. But then in 1845, a mysterious fungus wiped out the potato crop - and again in 1848.

The mistake which had been driven by necessity was that when an agricultural economy becomes dependent on one a single crop, it becomes vulnerable, if that one crop fails. The result in Ireland was that the farmers could not pay their rents and were thrown off their farms by the landlords. Starvation and disease spread and tens of thousands died. What made matters worse was that the English masters of Ireland continued to export grain and potatoes from Ireland to maintain their profits even when it meant the deaths of more than a million people from starvation. Another million people fled Ireland (most to the United States and some to England) to escape the disaster and much of Ireland was depopulated.

The Potato Famine marked a watershed in Anglo-Irish relations because the intense anger created towards the British directly led to increasing nationalist agitation which demanded independence for Ireland. Nevertheless, when migrating Irish arrived in America or Britain, they often found jobs in the expanding factories of the Industrial Revolution.

The Transportation Revolution

The growth of railroads also contributed to increased European migration. Although canal construction and steamboats had hastened the early spread of the Industrial Revolution, the railroad locomotive would become the icon which embodied (representing something in a clear and obvious way) the most dynamic application of the revolution. In 1815, George Stephenson, a self-educated engineer and inventor, invented a high-pressure steam engine and put it into a locomotive. Fourteen years later, in 1829, his steam locomotive, the Rocket, won a contest by reaching an astonishing 28 miles per hour (45 kph). Even though it was lighter and more efficient than Watt’s engine, Stephenson’s steam engine was still too heavy for many ship applications. But by 1850, steam engine technology was lighter, more fuel efficient and was quickly catching up with eventually eclipsing the clipper ships in oceanic travel.

The bottom line was that – as the Industrial Revolution produced better steam engines - trains could carry far more cargo than horses or canals and that drastically reduced transportation costs. Transportation networks began link mines with industrial centers and industrialized nations with one another. The first English Railway, the Stockton and Darlington, opened in 1825. By 1830, another line had been built between Manchester and Liverpool and was carrying several hundred passengers a day. By 1850, the English had built over 6,000 miles of railroad track; the French 1,800 miles; and the various German states almost 3,500 miles. Such staggering growth in turn caused another revolution as people began to ride the railroad and by the middle of the nineteenth century millions were riding the rails annually.
The Emergence of a Wage-Labor Force

In the early nineteenth century, no single kind of labor force existed. The labor forces included factory workers, domestic craftsmen (as in the Putting-out System), household servants, miners, farmers and farmworkers, countryside peddlers, soldiers and sailors and railroad workers. Some workers were well paid and well off and others were referred to as the laboring poor who had jobs but could barely make a living. One of the most dreadful examples of these latter, were the women and children who worked under terrible conditions in Welsh mines. Nevertheless, the second two decades of the nineteenth century saw factory workers and artisans create a wage labor force which was a commodity of the labor marketplace. This process has been termed Proletarianization.

In simple terms, Proletarianization was the social process whereby people moved from being employers to being employed as wage laborers by an employer. In this process, artisans gradually lost ownership of production and peasants left their land to move to the city. In both cases, they contributed their labor for a wage. In Marxist terms, proletarianization is seen as a downward spiral of social mobility. In other words, workers became socially unable to change employment or better themselves in a proletarian wage setting; or said another way, they were at the mercy of their employers.
Industrialization and the factory system created a revolutionary impact on society as it forced people to adjust to new patterns of family and working life. We shall see in emerging industrial societies, how the proletariat (the working class) did not initially benefit from the Industrial Revolution, but how, over time, both the working and middle classes came to share in the wealth and comforts brought by the Industrial Revolution as nations worked to build more equitable and just societies.
Industrialization then changed the way people worked, earned a living and lived out their daily lives. The basic building block of society continued to be the family, but families were radically transformed. Before factories and offices and other kinds of industrial workplaces, family members worked together at home or on the farm for the welfare of the family group. But after the Industrial Revolution, the family dynamic was reshaped by moving economic production outside the home and creating a sharp distinction between working life and family life. These changes were often gradual, as extended family economies persisted into the Industrial Revolution, as fathers, mothers and children pooled their wages and sometimes even worked together in factories.
In the nineteenth century, it became more and more difficult for master craftsman or skilled artisans [both terms refer to skilled manual labor workers] to maintain control over their trades. The French Revolution had outlawed such organizations and economic and political liberals opposed labor guild organizations and worked to have the government ban them. Master craftsmen also found themselves under increased pressure from larger, more competitive and heavily capitalized establishments or from industrialization (i.e., factories) itself. In many workshops, many skilled artisans began to follow a practice – known in France as Confection – whereby goods such as shoes, clothing and furniture were produced in standard sizes rather than by special orders for individual customers.
The practice of Confection led to increased division of labor as each artisan produced a smaller part of a relatively uniform final product. Thus less skill was required of each artisan and so the master craftsmen tried to pay less to the artisans because their talents were less valuable. These tactics led to work stoppages and strikes and the problem was made worse when migrants from the country were willing to take the same jobs for the reduced pay. It also made it more difficult for artisans to gain the skills necessary to become master craftsmen. From the 1830s onward, these artisans took the lead in one European country after another in trying to protect their social and economic interests.

In the mid-1830s, many British workers linked the solution of the economic difficulties to a program of political reform known as Chartism. In 1836, William Lovett (1800-1877) and other radical artisans formed the London Working Men’s Association. In 1838, the group issued the Charter, a document which demanded six reforms: universal male suffrage, annual elections to the House of Commons, the secret ballot, equally sized electoral districts and the abolition of property qualifications for and the payment of salaries to members of Parliament. For more than ten years the Chartists, who were always loosely organized, agitated for their reforms and on three occasions the Charter was presented to Parliament which refused to pass any of its reforms.

Petitions with millions of signatures were sent to the House of Commons. Strikes were called and the Chartists published their own newspaper, The Northern Star. Fergus O’Conner (1794-1855), a powerful speaker and the most famous Chartist, made speeches across Great Britain (He was so popular that many Chartists named their children after him).
Despite all of this, Chartism failed as a national movement mostly because its ranks were split between those who advocated violence and those who favored peaceful tactics. On the local level however, Chartists won several victories and controlled many city councils including Leeds and Sheffield. Economic times also grew better in the early 1840s and Chartist demonstrations in 1848 failed. But it is important to note that in the long run several of the Chartist reforms were eventually enacted into law and Chartism also set an example of generally peaceful methods of seeking economic and social redress by artisans and laborers.
The Family and the Industrial Revolution

The Factory system modified but did not destroy the working class family. Fathers left home to work but remained the head of the family. In fact, some English factories allowed a father, as head of his family, to employ this wife and children as his assistants. In both Britain and France, families would move near a newly built factory so the family could work as a unit in the factory. Still for the proletariat class, these accommodations did not offset long hours, strict discipline and low wages. Moreover, as newer machines were invented, less skill was needed to operate them and so more unmarried women and children were employed because they would work for less money. This was one of the major causes of unemployment in the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, as time went by, more men moved upwards in the system and received both higher wages and more status. These new middle class men now came to be seen as the “bread winners” and in many homes they no longer did chores which were delegated with other menial tasks to women and children.

In upper and middle class families (i.e., the bourgeoisie), men gained enormous prestige in the family and the community at large. Many professionals (doctors, lawyers, various bureaucrats, bankers and businessmen) adopted a strong work ethic even though they now had free time for shorter working hours, relaxation and vacations. They also sought self-improvement, especially reading or attending lectures. Moreover, they demanded the same work ethic of their factory employees.
Such attitudes resulted in a whole new ideal of respectability and morality which was reflected in churches, schools and factories. Gambling, boxing matches, socializing at bars and staged dog or cock fights were outlawed by the rising respectability of the middle class. Lower class workers who could not afford middle class lifestyles often resented the hypocrisy of such attitudes and many adopted “Holy Monday” ideals (starting the work week on Tuesday) and fought for social equality with the more well to do.

Like men in pre-industrial times, women worked long hours. Agricultural and Cottage industries demanded as much. But within the context of working in the home, it was easy for women to adopt the dual role of coworker with her husband and mother to her children. When women were forced to move into the factory or office, however, the family dynamic changed. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, factory owners allowed husbands to hire their wives (and children) as assistants but by the late 19th century Middle Class Morality expected that women stay at home. Poor women had no choice; they had to work to survive. Single middle class women sometimes worked in limited professions such as school teaching; married women did not.

By the 1820s, unmarried women rapidly became employed in factories where fewer skills were needed such as tending machines. Such “opportunities” created a paradox for women because many new employment opportunities opened up but the skills needed were lowered. Many women left factory employment when they married; many widows conversely joined the factory labor force to make ends meet after the deaths of their husbands. At any rate, as the Industrial Revolution spread, it transformed the family from the chief unit of both production and consumption to the chief unit of consumption.
Nevertheless, by midcentury female factory employees accounted for less than half of all employment for women. In France, the largest group of employed women continued to be as farmers. In England, the largest group of employed women was domestic servants. Throughout Western Europe, domestic cottage industry (Putting-out-System) employed many women in such employment as lace making, glove making, garment making and other kinds of needlework. In almost all cases, women were exploited and their working conditions were harsh, whether they working in homes or sweatshops (a factory or workshop, especially in the clothing industry, where workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under substandard conditions). The ubiquitous charwoman [a women employed to do odd chores, hard cleaning and washing around a house] was a common sight across Europe and a symbol of the exploitation of poor women.
Early Industrialization created a terrible evil in Child Labor. Children had worked with their families in pre-industrial times but that was in the context of the family. In the early days of industrialization, children were taken away from home and parents to work long hours in factories. They were exploited and even physically mistreated. The tragedy was that the poor were so poor that they often could not survive without their children working. The English Factory Act of 1833 forbade the employment of children under the age of nine, limited the workday of children aged nine to thirteen to nine hours a day and required factory owners to pay for two hours of education a day for working poor children.
In 1847 – in response to demands by adults to limit working hours – Parliament mandated a ten-hour workday. By our standards, it was long but in the nineteenth century it allowed parents and children more time together as a family unit. Ultimately, the wage economy meant that families were less closely bound together than in pre-industrial times. Because wages could be sent over long distances to parents, children often moved farther away from home – and once they moved away, the link to the family was weakened.

Problems of Crime and the Social Order

Throughout the nineteenth century, the political and economic elites – still shaken by the revolutions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and coping with the social and economic changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution – were deeply concerned about the social order in society. Growing cities and industrial areas had to deal with poverty and unemployment; criminal activity against property especially theft and arson. There was much incomplete recordkeeping but what is known is that, as the nineteenth century unfolded, crime rates grew and each country reacted in different yet similar ways. For the wealthy and propertied elite, controlling the social order lay in two challenges: creating more effective police forces and prison reform.

Professional Police Forces

Across Europe professional police forces appeared in the early nineteenth century to protect property, keep order and apprehend criminals. These policemen differed from the army in that they were in charge of domestic – not national -security. Professional police did not exist until the early nineteenth century and differed from one country to the next in power and organization. Nevertheless, their appearance was necessary to the emergence of a modern, orderly European society. Professional police appeared in Paris in 1828 and the next year in London. These latter were known as Bobbies (or sarcastically, Peelers) named for the home secretary, Sir Robert Peel, who pushed the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 through Parliament. After the Revolutions of 1848, police appeared in Berlin and many other European states.

All these officers were easily recognizable by their uniforms; the police on the continent carried guns; those in Great Britain did not. Although citizens sometimes viewed the police with suspicion – especially in Britain where many people felt that the police were a threat to their traditional liberties – most Europeans regarded the police a their protectors.

People in the upper and middle classes (especially the Bourgeoisie) felt that the police made their property more secure – as did people from the working classes, especially in emergencies. In Eastern Europe however – especially in the Russia of the autocrat Nicholas I – the secret police, who had broad powers and often used torture and summary execution, were hated and feared.

Prison Reform

Before the nineteenth century, prisons were usually local jails or state prisons such as the Bastille. Many criminals were sent to prison ships called hulks. Some Mediterranean nations sentenced criminals to row in naval galleys where they were chained to benches usually until they died – but not always. Prison inmates lived in dreadful conditions. Men, women and children were housed together and persons guilty of minor offences – such as indebtedness – were put in the same quarters as those guilty of the most serious crimes.

The British also transported prisoners to the colony of New South Wales (Australia). It was an alternative to capital punishment for the hardened and cheaper for the state than to house the indebted poor and their families. When Transportation was stopped midcentury, the British housed long term prisoners in Public Works Prisons. Russia used Siberia as a penal colony for criminals. Siberia was a vast land with a harsh climate and far from the Russian heartland. Penal labor was perfect to use in developing logging and mining industries as well as the building of railroads.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, reformers in England such as John Howard (1726-1790) and Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) along with Charles Lucas (1803-1889) in France exposed the terrible condition in prisons and demanded reforms. Reforms came slowly because prison reform was expensive and many had little sympathy for criminals – even those who were imprisoned for indebtedness. But opinions seemed to shift in the 1840s in Britain and France when serious efforts at reform were undertaken. The core of this change came from the growing belief that criminals were flawed and needed to be rehabilitated before they were returned to society. This led to more progressive and scientific prison systems in Europe and the United States.

The two leading models came from the United States. The first was the Auburn System from New York State, where prisoners were separated from each other at night but could associate while working during the day. The second was the Philadelphia System in which prisoners were kept rigorously separated from each other both day and night. Both systems had an individual cell for each prisoner and long periods of isolation and silence among the prisoners.

The most famous (or infamous) of these prisons was Pentonville Prison near London in which each prisoner was housed in a separate cell and was never allowed to see or speak to another prisoner. In the courtyard, each prisoner wore a mask; in chapel; each prisoner had his own stall or seat separated from the other prisoners. The purpose was to induce self-reflection so that the prisoners would think about their crimes and eventually decide to give up their criminal ways. The Pentonville Prison failed because the intense isolation frequently led to mental breakdowns.

In France, imprisonment became more repressive as the nineteenth century passed. The French constructed a few prisons on the model of Pentonville in the 1840s, a number that increased to sixty by 1908. In theory, prisoners were to be trained in a trade or skill while in prison so they could become contributing citizens when they were freed. In 1885 due to the vast numbers of repeat offenders, the French government transported repeat and serious offenders to places like the infamous Devil’s Island in Surinam and New Caledonia in the South Pacific to ensure they would never return home.

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