Political Development of England: 1660-1800

Society in the 18th Century

 

I. The Inglorious Revolution-The Marriage of Militarism and Commerce

 

A great turning point in English history was the revolution of 1640-1660.

 

The English Revolution was a conflict among three social forces. The bourgeoisie, led by Oliver Cromwell and organized in the parliament, aroused by the English working class all warring against Charles I, the High Church, and the aristocracy.

 

Once Cromwell vanquished them he turned on his allies, the people. During the course of the struggle with the King the movement had empowered and politically mobilized the masses to demand true democratic freedoms.

 

The mass mobilization though threatened the new capitalist order that Cromwell and Parliament sought to impose. During the mobilization the army would elect its own officers, the first democratic political party in world history emerged, and the questioning of all types of authority was the fashion.

 

It was in the this chaotic context that the poet John Milton composed Paradise Lost while being imprisoned and targeted by assassins. In many ways Milton epic was an allegory of what was happening to English economy and society. In the first two books of the poem Satan is preparing an assault on Heaven. Hundreds of thousands assembled in war council at Pandemonium to plan how to conquer heaven. Here Lucifer listened to the advice of his three major counsellors Moloch, Belial and Mammon. Milton was saying that After May of 1660 Satan was not trying to recover power in England: he had won it.

 

Moloch was the first to speak and like Cromwell he advocated open war. An immediate mobilization of millions. Under Cromwell and Charles the II the entire English state was reorganized for war. By 1694 the army had grown 500% to 90,000 soldiers, the navy had 207 man of wars built which consumed 75% of the national budget.

 

In Scotland during the 1690's England had to deal with wars of repression within its lands. In the lowlands the Kirk were able to transform this area into one of the most dynamic capitalist areas in Britain. But in the highlands, society was not only pre-capitalist, it was also pre-feudal and the Gaelic culture was militaristic and did not know private property.

 

Following the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, Highland society consisted of a huge pauperized and landless population, and a growing group of English client landowners living upon the confiscated estates.

 

During the military campaign of 1690 the English also attacked the Irish and their properties. The majority of Ireland's lands and best properties went to Protestant captain officers of the English army. It was the biggest land grab in history until the Louisiana Purchase a century later.

 

While the English elite quarreled over who should get the best estates, they did agree on the main points of Irish policy. First, the majority of Irish people must be kept subjugated by a penal code directed against the Catholic religion. This policy was intended to make them poor and keep them poor. Secondly, by keeping them poor and taking their lands away from them the Irish would migrate to England where they could be exploited efficiently and brought to profitable labor.

 

It was also a great period of external war.

 

England fought against Spain (1656-9), the Netherlands (1652-4 1665-7, 1672-4), France (1689-1714). Moloch fought upon four continents in Brazil, the Caribbean, New England, Africa, India, Scotland, and Ireland

 

The Caribbean was the cockpit of the European Powers where the struggle among the fighting cocks of the imperialist powers was fast, furious, and vicious. Barbados, Bermuda and the Bahamas were English conquests. These colonies provided sugar products and served as a dumping ground for the losers of the British class war (the Irish, the Quakers, the Monmouth rebels.

 

The problem was, of course, how to make the Irish and others work for their new English lords. In Ireland it was reported that Irish workmen would only work two hours and then take the rest of the day off. Through the wage and taxation the Irish work force was disciplined.

 

Jamaica had been an English colony since its conquest from Spain in 1655. Jamaica was the hub of British activities in the Caribbean and Latin America. In 1713 England acquired the licence to sell slaves to the Spanish empire

 

So, by the 1690's the Molochs of England had set up chimneys belching sulphur over five continents and seven seas and had produced the first British empire.

 

But empire affected those within England and those without. It was the golden age of coerced labor as a national and imperial policy. The paupers in the cities, the slaves in Jamaica, the Sailors, and the Irish children from the age of 5 to 14 who worked in workhouses for ten-hours a day six days a week, all were expressions and the product of the unholy marriage of militarism and commerce.

 

There was forced labor, slave labor, bonded labor, convict labor, indentured labor, incarcerated labor, craft labor, pressed labor and child labor. A longer working week, a longer working day, the abolition of holidays, mechanization, and reduced wages between 1690 and 1720 speeded up the twin processes of profit and capital accumulation in the hands of the elite.

 

This was truly the age of Mammon. Where the Mammonites understood the contradiction of how to thrive under evil. Workhouses sprung up everywhere and were modeled after the plantations of the Caribbean in order to ensure the same orderliness and discipline of slave labor. Children as young as three worked as virtual slaves in the workhouses of London.

 

II. 1690-1720 The Period of Finance Capital

 

A new morality had emerged among the capitalist class at the end of the 17th century. Labor, which had been the curse of the fallen man, had become a religious duty, a means of glorifying god. Poverty had ceased to be a holy state and was associated with wickedness.

 

During a period when England was expanding overseas with slavery for Africa and America there was repression at home. The repression is seen in the legislation of the period. There was the Riot Act, The Transportation Act, The Combination Act, The Workhouse Act, etc.

 

The Riot Act of 1715 provided the ruling class with its most simple and often used legal ploy against working class action. If 12 or more person assembled, and if the people failed to disperse after a court order then they were guilty of a felony.

 

By law the courts were forced to either hang a felon, or brand him on the thumb and let him go.

 

But the Transportation Act of 1719 sanctioned the use of felons being sent to the colonies of the West Indies or to North American plantations as a moderate punishment to satisfy the hungry demands of forced labor.

 

The Act provided a transportation of either 7 or 14 years of hard plantation labor.

It was also the triumph of the monetization of the economy and law.

 

Yet the poverty of London reached crisis proportions in the 1690's. Starving people were everywhere and crime and prostitution were at historic levels. There were shortages of coal and bread.

 

In response to the poverty people made their own money clipping, coining, and counterfeiting threatened the stability of the empire

 

Crime boomed, highwaymen roamed the roads robbing the wealthy. It was in this environment that the criminalization of the poor occurred with the death penalty being extended to those convicted of the most minor thefts such as seamstresses stealing a bobbin of thread.

They and hundreds of others convicted of property crimes were hung.

 

The hanging tree at Tyburn had become the only social policy of England. In essence England had become a Thanatocracy where the death penalty had become an official policy of the state to ensure social control and discipline of the work force.

 

III. 1720-1750: The Triumph of The Free Market and Wage Economy

 

During the first of this period Robert Walpole was PM. And he favored peace and pursued a policy of expanding trade and the acquisition of foreign markets.

 

In the British Isles a home market was being formed during this period. A transportation infrastructure was built, roads were constructed, capitalist methods of marketing were imposed, people were forced into the wage economy and off their lands. In Ireland and Scotland banditry prevailed and in London highway robbery.

 

Bandits and highwaymen conducted their crimes in traditions that harkened back to the time of the moral economy.

 

It was also in this period during the triumph of the free market that the British nation came into being as well as its flag and anthem.

 

It was also a great period of imprisonment and prostitution. Prostitution was at the time a very flexible category that women on various occasion engaged in. There were many names for prostitute depending on their specialities. Names such as bunter, smut, trumpery, crack, mawkes...at the poorer end of the trade names included buttered buns, buttock, squirrel, mackerel, cat, moll, froe, vrow.

 

IV. Industry, Idleness in the Period of Manufacture: 1750-1776

 

This period begins with the 7 years war and concludes with the War for American Independence. The competition between England and France for the command of world labor needs to be understood in terms of the struggle of world laborers against their European masters.

 

Anti-Imperial violence was widespread: The Battle of Plassey (1757) and Mir Kasin (1763) in India; Tacky's Rebellion in Jamaica (1760); the Whitebody Movement in Ireland in 1761; Pontiac's rebellion in Michigan (1763-6); wars in the Hudson Valley (1765-6); the Regulators in North Carolina (1765-9); the Silver MIners Strike in Mexico (1766) and the Maroon Wars in Surinam (1768-72). at stake were huge amounts of international plunder.

 

Back in the British Isles there were developments that transformed the countryside. A vast number of enclosure acts were passed by Parliament that affected nearly 30% of all land. Sheep were then introduced into the countryside. There was an aggressive push for the cattle industry in Ireland.

 

In the face of all this the populations either had to accept a drastically lowered standard of living or else move to the cities to work as cheap exploited labor in the developing factory economy.

 

Things got so bad for the working class that there were many insurrections, mutinies and urban riots throughout the 1760's.

 

IV. The Failure of Thanatocracy and The Era of Revolution: 1776-1800

 

In this period the industrial revolution occurred and its effects proved that free competition many produce wealth without producing well-being. Indeed industrial wealth was based upon inequality and riches meant poverty.

 

After 1792 the goal was to direct the poverty into the labor that would produce wealth for others.

 

It would be the wage system that would be the lever that would organize society in this way. The wage system would be the force around which class relations revolved.

 

The wage organized social production and was a variable of exploitation.

 

It operated to lengthen the working day, intensify labor by speeding up production, competition over wages served to divide the working class, and wages created a stratified society of rich and poor.

 

Sugar was transformed during the second half of the 18th century from an upper class luxury to a working class necessity. Between 1700 and 1800 British per capita consumption of sugar rose over almost 500%.

 

Sugar was an essential part of the industrial diet. It was a cheap source of calories that gives the body much quick energy. It saves time and fuel in food preparation.

 

Yet sugar also drains the body of precious vitamins and minerals causing fatigue, nervousness, depression and apprehension.

 

Sugar became the favorite commodity of the factory and the workhouse, and the favorite food of capitalism.

 

Cheap sugar was available due to the colonies in the Caribbean especially Jamaica. But there were often slave rebellions that became increasingly serious. The largest invasion force to sail from England set sail in 1796 to Jamaica where a Maroon War had broken out and six other islands where in revolt.

 

Thousands of people left England to suppress the slave insurrection and sugar production had collapsed.

 

The rebellions after years of bloodshed were suppressed but no one knows how many thousands died in the Caribbean.

 

England desperately fought to repress liberty for African Americans throughout the Caribbean and in doing so save not only their empire but also the productive relations and class structure that had developed between 1650 and 1800.

 

The working poor and slaves in the Caribbean supported the rich and subsidized their life styles.

 

In a sense colonialism aborad and internal colonialism at home generated tremendous profits that then would be invested in the new productive technologies of the day and birth the Industrial Revolution of the 1800's.