A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
Reform and Democracy: the price of progress

REPRESSION AND REFORM

The years of the French Revolution and the triumphs of Napoleon had brought no victory of reason and the laws of nature, no dividends of felicity, no Heavenly City in this world. Weary after twenty years of war, Europe wanted peace and security. When the Congress of Vienna ended its labors in June, 1815, there seemed reason to believe that peace and security had been achieved. Napoleon was a prisoner on St. Helena. A new map of Europe had been shaped. Steps had been taken to ensure conservative stability against the dangers of liberalism and destructive revolution.

England was now the foremost power in the world. As unchallenged mistress of the seas she controlled the water lanes of trade. Her colonies had steadily increased in number and importance. No foreign competitor was yet able to threaten her industrial and commercial supremacy. Her position seemed impregnable.

Despite the advantageous situation of England in 1815 so far as the world beyond her shores was concerned the scene at home was neither calm nor satisfactory. It was difficult to transform the economy of a nation that had been at war for twenty years into a peacetime system. The various economic dislocations--the fall in foreign trade, the currency inflation, the bad harvests, the industrial collapses--were inevitably matched by social disturbances. Such was the shadowed landscape of 1815. During the next three years the darkness of a great depression spread over all England. More grain crops failed. Factories closed. Poverty, disease, dirt, ignorance, and a widespread feeling of disillusionment and frustration united to produce bitter complaints and violence.

The Tory government of Lord Liverpool( 1812-1827) took only a

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