Burke and the British Condition. A section of the British ruling class supported the cause of American independence. Burke said that the Americans were fighting to achieve these aims, which are recognized as the English Constitution’s basic principles. It was commonly agreed that no tax should be imposed without the consent of the taxpayers or their elected representatives,
The British Parliament, therefore, could not justifiably impose any tax on the American taxpayers without first giving them representation in Parliament. As this representation was denied them, the American people were justified in waging their struggle for independence.
However, the British dominant classes with one voice opposed the French Revolution. Only a small liberal group among the remnant Whigs expressed sympathy towards this democratic revolution. Burke condemned it outright in his Reflections on the French Revolution treatise that proved popular among England’s Tory rulers. The bourgeois led the French Revolution in France, so the bourgeois classes of the European Continent were sympathetic towards it. Consequently, the bourgeois parties and the people in South Germany and Italy welcomed the revolutionary armies of France as instruments of their liberation from feudal oppression.
Why did, then, the English bourgeois rulers oppose this Revolution? The reason was obvious. The European bourgeois class was still denied a share in political power; its class interests coincided with the peasants and the common people. The European bourgeoisie wanted to end the monarch’s oppressive rule and the nobility allied to him by leading a democratic revolutionary upsurge against them. The English bourgeoisie, on the other hand, had already become a ruling class and had allied both with the aristocracy and monarchy. Any democratic revolution could endanger their rested interests, and therefore, England’s oligarchical constitution satisfied them fully. In Parliament, the franchise was limited to the members of the bourgeois and the aristocracy. This led Burke to sing panegyrics of the British constitution.
The slogan of the French Revolution was Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. How could Tory England accept equality and fraternity between the capitalist and the worker, landlord, and tenant? The French revolutionaries confiscated the estates of the nobles and distributed them among the peasants. How could the Tory landowners approve this act of sacrilege? The Constituent Assembly of France proclaimed manhood suffrage with no property restrictions, and The English ruling class was puzzled. Even revolutionary Cromwell did not commit this outrage. This was, according to the dominant class. Perception, no. liberty but a license to anarchy and chaos.
Violation of Human Rights:-
To crush Revolutionary France, Tory England imposed repressive practices on the progressive popular movement, demanding human rights for the English people, and simultaneously entered into a military alliance with reactionary monarchist powers like Austria, Prussia, and Spain. The revolution in France-was not only a political menace to British social structure, but a bourgeois France ruled by the capitalists could also develop into a serious colonial and commercial rival of an imperialistic England. The war against the French Republic and later against Napoleon continued till 1815 and ended in the restoration of the reactionary Bourbon regime in Paris. This inaugurated a period of political repression and large scale violation of civil liberties in England.
In 1794 Pitt began the persecution of persons professing radical republican views by suspending the Habeus Corpus rule. Thomas Paine’s popular treatise Rights of Man was -banned. The author sought political asylum in France and lived there or in the United States of America for the rest of his life. Democratic associations were also banned.
The strikes and sabotage occurred in factories on a large scale. When soldiers expressed sympathy for the agitators, a mounted police corps was organized, recruited from the upper-class members. The police and the army were instructed to guard the factories; every radical citizen’ was regarded as a Jacobin or a French agent.
Even after the end of the war in 1815, civil liberties remained suspended. When six thousand Manchester citizens started on hunger-march to London, the police resorted to violence and dispersed the marchers. In August 1819, eighty thousand people assembled in Manchester at Peter-loo to listen to a Radical leader Hunt’s speech.
As soon as Hunt stood up to begin his speech, the mounted police arrested him and attacked the peaceful assembly with pointed Spears killing eleven people on . the a and injuring four hundred people, including one hundred women. It was probably a rehearsal of the Amritsar massacre perpetrated of British territory itself by the forefathers of Brigadier-general Dyer.
The British working class still commemorates the grim tragedy of the Peter-loo massacre even today. This was the naked dance of capitalist dictatorship prevailing at that time in England. In Tory England, then the rule of law had given way to the rule of the sword.
Parliament passed laws to suppress civil liberties. The magistrates were empowered to prohibit any assembly of fifty people and order the search of any house on the suspicion that the arms were concealed there. Flags and bands could not be used in a procession. Mass physical exercise and drills were declared unlawful. The additional tax was imposed on political newspapers and publications to make them costlier for the common people. Several publishers of radical literature were arrested and prosecuted for spreading disaffection. Some of them were exiled. The British ruling class thus crushed the popular movement.
Extension of Representative Government:-
The Industrial Revolution in England created a new social class of industrial capitalists, who demanded that all social classes be represented in Parliament, installing a government of people’s representatives. The ‘Tory Party was under the influence of big landowners, big bankers, and big merchants. The industrial class was discontented with the Tory administration. Therefore, the members of that class started a reformist liberal movement under the leadership of a small group of liberal Whig leaders. The new Liberal Party was very critical of the electoral system for the House of Commons. Industrialization brought about—significant changes in the distribution of the population. The population of cities like’ London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, etc., multiplied rapidly.
However, there was no corresponding crease in the representation of cities in Parliament. Several cities did not send even one member to Parliament. Many constituencies known as the pocket boroughs, controlled by the Tory landlords, consisted of depopulated rural areas. The emerging class of industrial capitalists scarcely had any representation in Parliament. As the industrial workshops were small, the employers maintained personal contact with the workers under their employment. The Trade Unions were still unlawful. The workers at that moment looked upon their employers as their well-wishers and leaders.
Thus the united front of the British industrialists and the workers challenged the Tory reactionaries’ oligarchical rule. In 1831 the Liberal Party, supported by a powerful mass movement, succeeded in reforming the House of Commons’ electoral system despite the Tory Party’s obstruction aided by the House of Lords. The pocket boroughs were abolished, forty-two new constituencies were created for London and other cities, and sixty-five counties with new urban settlements.
The franchise was extended from 220 000 voters before the reform to 670,000 citizens entitled to vote after the reform. Even this number was quite small because England’s population at that time was estimated as 14,000,000.
However, the change’s political significance should not be underestimated—England’s industrial bourgeoisie, riding on the shoulders of a loyal working. Class, had by this measure, successfully challenged the aristocratic Tory patrons of finance capital. This was the secret of the rise and success of the Liberal Party in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The franchise was not extended to the English working-class by the Reform Act of 1832. However, by actively participating in a mass movement led by the Liberal Party, the working-class established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the United Kingdom’s subsequent political history.