England, 1870-1914

England, 1870-1914

England, 1870-1914

England, 1870-1914

Excerpt

When the guns of the Franco-Prussian war first thundered in earnest on 4 August 1870 a new epoch began, although Europe at the time did not know it. At midnight of the same day just forty-four years later the sands of Great Britain's ultimatum to Germany ran out; and with them the epoch ended. It is the task of the present volume to trace the history of England during these forty-four years.

Why did the war of 1870 inaugurate a period in a sense in which no other since Waterloo had done? Why was it in a different class from the wars of 1854, of 1859, or of 1866, all of which had engaged Great Powers and two of which helped to unify great nations? For three principal reasons. First because it transferred from France to Germany the political ascendancy over Europe, which the former, with only passing interruptions, had exercised for well beyond two centuries. Secondly, because the singular completeness of the victor's success (he not only won all his objects in six months, but covered the whole of his military expenses by the war indemnity) gave the world a new conception of war's possibilities as an instrument of policy under modern highly-organized conditions. Thirdly, because the defeat of France's professional army by the conscript reservists of Prussia was the triumph of a particular system. It led speedily to the adoption of nation-wide military conscription by all considerable continental states. Europe's long vigil under arms--'powerless from terror of her own vast power'--was the logical outcome, and the catastrophe of 1914 its quasi-inevitable climax.

But the period is also a very distinct one for the internal history of our island; and here (if again we try counting) it may be viewed in at least five different lights. To begin with, it witnessed the conversion of English government into a democracy. Disraeli's Act of 1867 had opened the first breach in the narrow franchise of 1832. But it took a little time to make itself felt, and needed for its completion the Ballot Act of 1872 and the rural franchise extension of 1884. Equally necessary was it that other organs of democracy should be developed besides the central parliament. Such were supplied by the system of elective municipal government; which had had its franchise democratized by Disraeli's Act, and was extended in different forms to the rural areas and . . .

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