Land Reform and Working-Class Experience in Britain and the United States, 1800-1862

By Jamie L. Bronstein | Go to book overview

Introduction Why Were There Working-Class Land-Reform Movements in Britain and America?

Give me a cottage low and neat
Decked out with modest flowers
A cool retreat in summer's heat
Snug in winter's hours. . . .
Give me a hearthstone free from spot
A cheerful fire at night
A shining grate, a bubbling pot
and all around me bright. 1

Why were there working-class land-reform movements in Britain and America in the 1840's? Given that working people in Britain and the United States had divergent experiences of industrialization, and lived in countries with widely different definitions of political citizenship, how could these movements to claim the land for working people have been so similar? During a decade of reformist ferment with few precedents in either British or American history, working people on both sides of the Atlantic subscribed to the notion that society as a whole was deeply flawed because of the growing gap between the rich and the poor--but that it was also ready for change. 2 A fortuitous combination of circumstances in both countries--among them the experience of factory labor, transitions in the external environment, histories of failed political radicalism, the activities of experienced leaders committed to the notion of small proprietorship, and the widespread perception that farmers led particularly healthy and virtuous lives--combined to push this change in a new direction: the search for land for the laborers. 3 This study explores the way in which, in the face of material differences, an amazing confluence of ideas and organizational

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