The Collapse of the Weimar Republic

Did The Weimar Republic Collapse Or Was It Destroyed?
The failure of a young democracy in the inter-war period was not an uncommon event: authoritarian governments in varying forms had been spreading across Europe for many years before 1939, and Germany was only one of the places where this happened. However, the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany has been studied far more than any of the authoritarian revolutions of the 1920s and 1930s. The main reason for this is of course the system which replaced the Weimar Republic - the Third Reich, with all the terrible consequences this was to have for the world. Nazism was so dreadful, so far removed from normal political activity in a country so advanced and modern as twentieth century Germany, that all aspects of its history have always inspired a great fascination, albeit sometimes a morbid one. There is however a more important aspect of the study of the end of the Weimar Republic. The Weimar constitution was a very modern one, perhaps even more so than its contemporary counterparts in Britain and France. It is also very similar to modern day systems, not least to the currant system of Democracy in Germany. Therefore, the reasons why it was replaced by a totalitarian fascist regime are very important for democracy today, so mistakes made in the Weimar period may not be repeated.

There have been many different explanations for why democracy in Germany ended in the early 1930s. Some have claimed that the Nazi influence was pivotal in destroying democracy and that they usurped power on their own initiative. Other arguments stress the economic chaos that had done so much damage to the German government that the people lost confidence in democracy itself, leaving the path open to the Nazis to seize control. Blame can also be apportioned to groups win the German state opposed to democracy, who conspired to bring about an authoritarian regime and so helped the Nazis to power. Obviously the real reasons for the Nazi seizure of power must be a mixture of a these possibilities.

One of the most widely acknowledged reasons for the failure of the Weimar system was the economic crisis known as the Great Depression, which gripped the world economy from the start of the 1930s. The economy of the Weimar Republic had never been very strong, even in the period of ‘stabilisation’ in the late 1920s. Unemployment had remained high throughout the 1920s, never recovering fully from the war, but the catastrophic increase in unemployment from 1929 was to have devastating effects on the credibility of German democracy. The total of the unemployed reached a peak of 6 million, a third of the total workforce. Industry was very hard hit, with a fall in production of 39% and the bankruptcy of many industrial and agricultural concerns. What this meant was a general crisis of confidence in democracy. Business blamed the Republican system for the crisis and the huge unemployment meant the Trade Unions and Socialist parties, groups which usually supported the Republic, were considerably weakened. Class conflict increased and so support for the Communists, a very anti-democratic group, grew rapidly. The young were especially badly hit by the depression - about 20% of the unemployed were school leavers. This fact was to damage democracy in Germany as well - the youth of the country made up many of the most enthusiastic and active members of the anti-democratic movements in Weimar Germany.

The reasons for the general weakness of the Weimar economy must be linked to the debts and reparations left from the war which she had to cope with, but the governments of the time must bear some responsibility for poor handling of the economic situation. Post war governments allowed inflation to increase because this reduced the real value of reparations and artificially inflated the economy, increasing their constantly marginal authority and popularity. However, the failure to stabilise the currency by using more harsh but sensible economic policy meant the economy remained fragile and had no basis on which to rest during the Great Depression. The ‘hyperinflation’ of 1923 wiped out savings and investments in Germany, meaning she had to rely on foreign loans to support investment, again a factor in the severity of the economic crisis from 1929. Inflation not only weakened democracy in Germany by damaging the economy, it also hit the middle classes hard because this group had the most of their wealth in savings accounts. This group should have been the most loyal to the Republic, but many blamed it for the inflation, and indeed once the Nazi Party gained mass support from 1930 the middle class were amongst its main supporters.

The Weimar Republic also had flaws from its very inception which would act against it in a crisis. It had enemies from the time of the first government - the Communists were an ever-present force, and the powerful DNVP was pro-monarchist. Crucially, many personnel in the civil service, armed forces and industry remained from the wartime and Imperial periods, and such people were to cause great problems to the Republic, as they had no loyalty to it. For example, the army refused to attack the right-wing Kapp Putsch soon after the start of the Republic, and the uprising was only defeated by a General Strike.

The army was however more than willing to defend the country against revolts from the left, defeating the Sparticist uprising at about the same time. Therefore a combination of the organised working class and the army meant the Republic survived the turbulent times of the early 1920s. Later on however this was not to be the case. In the 1930s both groups were considerably less likely to fight for the Republic. The influence of the army in government increased under the Presidential regimes and ideas of authoritarian government began to dominate. The working class were weakened both by divisions between the Communist KPD and Socialist SPD and also by the unemployment which considerably decreased their influence through the trade unions. Also, by the 1930s the SPD had become used to working within the system, having been the largest party for many years. It was then not willing to take up arms against the government, backed by the army, and risk a civil war when the government began to act undemocratically from 1930. However, although it would work against the government, it was also reluctant to work within it - the SPD preferred to stay in opposition as it usually suffered blame for the failings of Weimar when in power.

Therefore, the Weimar Republic faced a desperate economic situation in 1929 which was made worse by a fragile economic base and which cut away the very heart of support for democracy in Germany. Those who voted in Nazis and Communists in such unprecedented numbers in the 1930 election did not do so because of, for example, anti-Semitism or a respect for the Stalinist revolution in Russia, but rather they voted against the Weimar Republic because of its economic failure.

In addition to this, democracy had to contend with many within who did not want a democratic system. Some, especially Communist historians, have seen the take-over of fascism as an inevitable outcome of Capitalism. According to this theory industry turns to fascism as the only way of avoiding a working class revolution while still cutting wages to maintain profitability despite overproduction in the economy. However, this interpretation does not hold up to examination. Business in Germany did give the Nazis and other very right wing groups some support. However, this support came mainly from the traditional ‘heavy’ industries who preferred the protectionist policies and attacks on trade unions which they saw an authoritarian government as being in favour of. Yet much of Germany’s industry was export-based and so feared the loss of international standing an extremist government could produce, therefore preferring Conservatives to the Nazis. Industry also became wary of the Nazis because they feared it could bring social disorder, indicated by the street-fighting activities of the SA.

More serious for the Weimar Republic were the officials within it who were willing to assist revolutionaries. When Hitler’s attempt at revolution failed in his 1924 trial was more of a propaganda coup for the Nazis than a humiliation. The judges showed they thought more of the failed revolutionaries than the lawful constitution they were supposed to uphold. Not only was Hitler allowed to forcefully spell out his ideas in the trial and portray himself as a hero, but this was nationally reported for the whole of the trial in newspapers. He was given the lowest possible sentence, 5 years imprisonment, which was intended from the start to be cut short by a pardon. His prison conditions were also far better than more left-wing revolutionaries.Many have criticised the founders of the Republic for not going further in the revolution, removing such men from their positions of influence. However, they were constrained by the need for experienced administrators, and by a need to keep the support of the ‘elites’ to help prevent a left-wing revolution.

It was not only its armed forces and judicial system that the Weimar Republic had reason to doubt the loyalty of - there were also enemies of democracy in the ranks of its leading politicians, and this was in the 1930s to prove crucial. The Weimar Republic was able to use the people to defend against right wing revolution, and was able to use legal means to gag the Nazi party in the years after their failed revolt, but by 1930 there were politicians at the highest ranks of government who had little reason to try to save democracy in the economic depression, themselves favouring a very different regime, though perhaps not one involving the Nazi Party. The election of Hindenburg in particular had been a disaster for German democracy. He may have felt bound by his oath but was not adverse to over-using his presidential powers, and in the confusion and division of the Great Depression from 1930 he was able to do this very easily.Importantly, he was greatly influenced by his advisers, who tended to be from the aristocracy or the army, neither of whom had any love for the Republic. He used his power to keep the Socialists from government, despite their popularity, and maintain Chancellors who had neither support from the electorate nor the Parliament.

The most notable Chancellor maintained by Hindenburg in this way was Brüning. He was Chancellor from 1930-32 and so had to cope with the economic crisis as it began. Many saw him as a last chance for democracy as he tried to keep the currency stable, avoid inflation, and maintain Germany’s international position. He pursued orthodox economic policies and helped negotiate what became the effective end of reparations. He had no majority in the Reichstag, but as the Nazis and KPD had so many seats this would have been almost impossible anyway. However, more recent research, especially of his memoirs, has revealed very different aims than those formerly attributed to him. It appears he wanted some form of a restoration of the monarchy, with a government removed from the control of parties and Parliament. To achieve this he was prepared to use the support of anti-democratic parties and bypass the constitution. Later another chancellor, von Schleicher, was planning to utilise Nazi support to hold up a more authoritarian right wing government. To encourage the Nazis to support the plan, he ended the ban on the SA imposed by Brüning (leading to an explosion of political violence) and used Presidential decree to dissolve the Prussian Parliament. This was a democratic institution which had managed to hold together a Socialist coalition for many years. The move against it was totally unjustified, a blatant attack on democracy by the leaders of the Republic, and something the Nazis and Communists were greatly in favour of, although the Nazis were still unwilling to co-operate. With leaders such as von Schleicher, Hindenburg and von Papen, who were willing to work against the interests of democracy to pursue their own plans, the Republic had little chance to survive the crisis and enemies of the 1930s.

There is one factor often understated in discussions on the end of the Weimar Republic - the Nazi Party. As a party of profession revolutionaries, working for the overthrow of the Republic they had a great role in its decline. Their support, growing in the Reichstag had the effect of poisoning the stability of the Weimar Republic, and they used some very shrewd techniques to acquire popularity remove support from democracy. Hitler had used the time of relative stability in Weimar in the late 1920s to build an effective political machine which was to take the party to power. In this period the Nazis received very few votes. However, they did have advantages, as their membership was far younger than many of the other parties, and was apparently classless. It was also not associated with either the Republic or the Monarchy, both of which were discredited, or with a foreign government, as the Communists were once they joined the 3rd International.

In 1930, they broke through their electoral barriers, winning support from all over the country and becoming at a stroke the second biggest party in the Reichstag. This is usually attributed to the economic crisis, but the Nazis also went into the election with a new programme which concentrated on winning the support of the farming community and the middle classes, groups who were especially hard hit by the depression. The Nazis told the farmers what they wanted to hear - that they were a valuable group which should be protected from the rigours of the market, and similarly told the middle classes that they would protect small businesses. The crisis had obviously still helped them - many new voters turned out to support their radical policies, finally disillusioned with Weimar. Later, in the 1932 Presidential Election, the Nazis ran an excellent campaign, transporting many of their supporters around the country for demonstrations and marches, organising rallies and speeches. None of their opponents could match this kind of organisation and Hitler captured an amazing 13 million votes, putting him in second place and forcing the election to a second ballot.

Once Hitler was in the position of chancellor, he exploited his position expertly. Initially greatly outnumbered in the cabinet he persuaded his colleagues to call an election, then appointed Göring as Minister of the Interior in Prussia. Göring appointed 50,000 "auxiliary police" (mostly SA) to control the election and ensure a massive vote. Hitler then used a fire at the Reichstag to declare a state of emergency and suspend civil rights. Therefore, the Nazis manufactured a good deal of their success themselves - Hitler may have been helped to power by the leaders of the Weimar Republic but once he became Chancellor he very carefully established the dictatorial regime which was within months to destroy all of his competitors, as well as democracy, in Germany. That he was able to do this was however more a matter of luck for the Nazis than skill. The election of 1930 had ended the possibility of democratic government in Germany and so power defaulted to President Hindenburg and those he favoured. People in business, the military and the bureaucracy held the balance of power in Germany and these groups were marked by a lack of support for democratic government.

Obviously the Weimar Republic had been greatly weakened by the economic crisis and the instability that this created. However, it had experienced similar crises in the 1920s and yet democracy had endured. By surviving attempts at revolution it had shown itself to be a stronger system than, for example, Italy in the early 1920s. This showed that it was possible for the Weimar Republic to maintain itself through economic and political instability, and so it did not follow inevitably that the Great Depression from 1929 would end democracy. After all, the Depression was a world-wide phenomenon and did not cause totalitarian regimes to come to power in other countries. Therefore, a key factor in the 1930s tipping this balance in favour of authoritarianism must have been the Nazi party. They were very unified and were the first anti-democratic group to win support on this scale. However, though they did much to end democracy, they could not have done this without the help of the traditional elites of Germany. Nazi support had started to decline months before they came to power, and the economic crisis that had caused so much of their support was ending. This was perhaps the greatest fear of the elites - they wanted an authoritarian government and they feared Nazi support would drain away to the Weimar parties or the KPD, ending the possibility of reducing democracy. The Nazis were also the only group who could provide politicians such as von Schleicher with the mass support a new regime needed. Though they had no wish to allow a Nazi regime and turned to them in desperation, through a lack of alternatives, they felt they could control the Nazis and harness their popular backing. Therefore the Weimar Republic was destroyed by its leaders, but these were unable to control the Nazis, who quickly seized power and established their own dictatorship.



Bibliography

Richard Bessel, "Why Did The Weimar Republic Collapse?" Debates in Modern History - Weimar: Why did German Democracy Fail? Edited by Ian Kershaw

E. Kolb, The Weimar Republic, Unwin Hyman, 1988.

Martyn Housden, ‘The Subversion of Weimar’, Modern History Review, February 1993.

Ian Kershaw (ed.), Debates in Modern History - Weimar: Why did German Democracy Fail? Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1990

A. J. Nicholls, Weimar and the Rise of Hitler, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1977

Restoration of the Monarchy - restored an Absolutist state?

"A Thoroughgoing Restoration of all the Essentials of an Absolutist State". Discuss the validity of this judgement upon the Restoration Settlement.
After two decades of instability and strife, the English hoped to find the solutions to both in the ancient institution of the monarchy. When he came back to England to be restored as King, Charles II was so impressed by the weight of public feeling in favour of the restoration that he felt a fool for staying away so long. Indeed, especially coming after 20 years of civil war and revolutionary government, the speed and relative ease of the restoration surprised many contemporaries, and some even talked of supernatural forces at work in bringing the monarchy back. However, a more plausible reason is that England’s political order was collapsing and breaking apart by this time, and many politicians saw the need for restoring the monarchy to re-establish order and effective government. The direction of events had also been influenced by the work of many royalists, in England and in the exiled Court.

The End of the Republic was signalled on the death of Oliver Cromwell on 3 September 1658. That the Republican system of government had come to rest so heavily on one man perhaps showed the desire for stability and even monarchical government. Indeed, in the year before his death Cromwell was even urged by supporters to take the crown himself. However, he still ruled effectively, building a balanced administration with people drawn from different sides of the Republican movement and also from outside it. After his death his son Richard took over but, lacking his father’s political sense, he could not hold the position and fell after less than a year. The Rump parliament and the army took turns in trying to keep control of the situation, but without Cromwell they had become weak, divided and exhausted.

The increasing royalism in the country was shown in the election of more than 100 known Cavaliers to the Convention, which assembled to sort the constitutional situation out, much to the dismay of Presbyterian politicians who still hoped to be able to severely limit Charles’ power. The Convention took only a week to decide that a restoration of the monarchy was the only way to ensure stability. It was greatly helped in this decision by Charles’ Declaration of Breda, which reasserted Charles’ divine right to rule "by the laws of God and man" and stated how he intended to rule. This set the agenda as it gave the Convention something to base their deliberations on. It greatly reassured many people and doubtless eased Charles’ path to restoration by its comments on the three major problems of the time : amnesty for Republicans, the land question, and religion. On all these he gave his own rather reassuring views while leaving the details to parliament, therefore passing on potentially controversial and divisive problems while appearing to make good his promise to rule with Parliament.

The Restoration brought a re-establishment of the old social order as well as the King. The aristocratic landed elite had been badly shaken by the years of Republican rule, when the old deferential social order seemed to be breaking down and ancient privileges became ignored. When Charles came to power, he returned the old system of the landed families having their traditional roles in local government - the crown once again relying on the leading men of the counties. The extent to which they had fallen from both power and privilege during the Interregnum helps explain why they, represented as they were in Parliament were, were anxious to build up the King’s power, to prevent it happening again.

The elite, who dominated parliament, formed the settlement with the aim in mind of reasserting what they saw as the traditional balance of the constitution. One of the reasons that Charles was accepted back so readily and with so few limitations on his power is the popular view of monarchy as a system of government that had grown up, especially among the landed classes. The King was to be able to rule, choosing his own ministers and advisers, forming domestic and foreign policy, dispensing justice, protecting his people from revolt and attack and defending the established church and Christian morality. At the same time, he was to be restricted by laws preventing him from abusing his position - he was not to be able to make laws or levy taxes without consent. It was felt that if kept in these limits Monarchy would be the best form of government, being rational and avoiding the disorder of the years without a monarch.

However, although this system of limited monarchy was the intention of the men in Parliament who decided on the terms of the restoration the restrictions on the monarch that were essential to it were in general of a moral rather than a legal nature, and many remembered that Charles I had shown that if a monarch wanted to push back the limits of his power neither the courts nor the Parliament could easily stop him, and this must have been on many minds as they decided on the exact form of the restoration. Yet, Charles I operated in a very different situation. He had alternative sources of income if Parliament should deny him money, which his son simply did not have. In any case, the upheavals of the 1640’s and 1650’s were great severe enough, especially on the nobility, to make the need for strong monarchy seem more important that fears of monarchy originating from the fading memory of Charles I, and the royalist upsurge this created restored many privileges to the King, and also led to a re-assertion of belief in divine right by many people. Indeed, it was true that discussion about the basis for government, which had been so intense in the 1640’s, virtually stopped in the reign of Charles II - people still questioned him on specific issues but rarely on the foundations of his authority.

I have just mentioned that Charles I enjoyed much independence because of the alternative sources of income he had aside from grants from Parliament, and this may have been in the minds of the members of the Convention when they drew the limits of Charles II’s finance, as it was this that held Charles back from exercising power approaching that of an autocrat , at least for the first part of his reign. It had been the intention of the MPs at the Convention to make a financial settlement generous enough to cover the expenses of the crown, but the eventual settlement was not sufficient. This was because the fear of the king becoming more independent, but more importantly modern finance was simply not understood by most of the MPs. As a result even the grant for paying the arrears of the army and navy was about £375,000 short of what was needed, and it did not provide the £1.2 million per year it is estimated would be needed for royal expenditure. This can be excused to an extent though as it was not thought the standing army would be retained, and so expenditure was higher than anticipated, though it is also true Parliament did not want to maintain the high levels of tax the 1650’s had seen. However, the result of these financial inadequacies in the Settlement meant the power of Charles to rule independently of Parliament was severely restricted - as it was he had debts of £1.25 million by 1664. Later his position would be improved by grants from Louis of France and increases in revenue from trade, but at the time of the Restoration he was very dependant of Parliament for money.

Another factor preventing Charles from having the financial and political independence to become more of an unlimited monarch was his personal lifestyle, which involved great extravagance. For a start, his mistresses and bastards (of which 14 were acknowledged) had to be paid for, and the lavish and expensive nature of his lifestyle meant it was hard for ministers to persuade parliament to provide more money for him. However, even without the nature of his lifestyle he would have had financial problems.

The Restoration Settlement was a complicated mix of expectations and relief, anticipating a return of the "Good Old Days" which people saw as having existed before the 1640’s, of great freedom and power, and of both practical and moral limits to Charles’ power, and so it is difficult to discern from all this whether it did restore the essentials of an absolutist state. The years of the Republic do not seem to have left an instinctive fear of the powers of monarchy, but rather the reverse, as the legislation of 1660 and following years was deliberate in restoring the monarchy to the constitutional position it had occupied in the years before the revolution. The Militia Acts for example gave the King sole control of the militia, and the Revolution Act of 1661 laid down severe penalties for anyone claiming that Parliament could rule without the King. Other acts such as those in favour of "tumultuous petitioning" and in favour of censorship showed the great reaction in favour of the crown at that time. The position that Charles inherited was very powerful - he could dissolve and call parliament, could veto legislation, could make foreign policy.

However, he was limited in becoming an absolutist monarch by both his personal lifestyle and style of rule, and also the financial position he was in. The shortage of money in his reign meant he was dependant on Parliament, and this was a major obstacle to him being independent. What we know of his personality suggests that his preference of frivolity and license as opposed to the tedium of day-to-day politics was detriment to good relations with parliament and effective running of government by himself. However, in the end, the position he inherited had the makings of an absolutist state. The financial restrictions upon him would always be a very great obstacle but even Charles, by the end of his reign, had shown there were ways past these. Those who framed the Restoration Settlement had been largely badly treated by the years of the Republic and uppermost in their mind was keeping the monarchy strong. They had very definite ideas of the boundaries within which the monarchy should operate and the constitutional balance of the Settlement would be lost if he chose to ignore those boundaries, but they were more moral than constitutional, and a determined, strong and concentrated King could have taken advantage of the pro-royalist backlash against the years of the Interregnum and what it stood for to become, in effect, an absolute monarch. Charles II did not have such a character and perhaps not the necessary ambition either, and this was perhaps the most important reason why the restoration Settlement did not restore an absolutist state to power, but rather a state where Parliament and King shared authority.



Bibliography

Barry Coward, The Stuart Age: A History of England 1603-1714, , Longman, 1980

John Miller, Restoration England: The Reign of Charles II, Longman, 1985

Robert M Bliss, Restoration England 1660-1688,

Geoffrey Holmes, The Making of a Great Power: Late Stuart and early Georgian Britain, Longman, 1993
After two decades of instability and strife, the English hoped to find the solutions to both in the ancient institution of the monarchy. When he came back to England to be restored as King, Charles II was so impressed by the weight of public feeling in favour of the restoration that he felt a fool for staying away so long. Indeed, especially coming after 20 years of civil war and revolutionary government, the speed and relative ease of the restoration surprised many contemporaries, and some even talked of supernatural forces at work in bringing the monarchy back. However, a more plausible reason is that England’s political order was collapsing and breaking apart by this time, and many politicians saw the need for restoring the monarchy to re-establish order and effective government. The direction of events had also been influenced by the work of many royalists, in England and in the exiled Court.

The End of the Republic was signalled on the death of Oliver Cromwell on 3 September 1658. That the Republican system of government had come to rest so heavily on one man perhaps showed the desire for stability and even monarchical government. Indeed, in the year before his death Cromwell was even urged by supporters to take the crown himself. However, he still ruled effectively, building a balanced administration with people drawn from different sides of the Republican movement and also from outside it. After his death his son Richard took over but, lacking his father’s political sense, he could not hold the position and fell after less than a year. The Rump parliament and the army took turns in trying to keep control of the situation, but without Cromwell they had become weak, divided and exhausted.

The increasing royalism in the country was shown in the election of more than 100 known Cavaliers to the Convention, which assembled to sort the constitutional situation out, much to the dismay of Presbyterian politicians who still hoped to be able to severely limit Charles’ power. The Convention took only a week to decide that a restoration of the monarchy was the only way to ensure stability. It was greatly helped in this decision by Charles’ Declaration of Breda, which reasserted Charles’ divine right to rule "by the laws of God and man" and stated how he intended to rule. This set the agenda as it gave the Convention something to base their deliberations on. It greatly reassured many people and doubtless eased Charles’ path to restoration by its comments on the three major problems of the time : amnesty for Republicans, the land question, and religion. On all these he gave his own rather reassuring views while leaving the details to parliament, therefore passing on potentially controversial and divisive problems while appearing to make good his promise to rule with Parliament.

The Restoration brought a re-establishment of the old social order as well as the King. The aristocratic landed elite had been badly shaken by the years of Republican rule, when the old deferential social order seemed to be breaking down and ancient privileges became ignored. When Charles came to power, he returned the old system of the landed families having their traditional roles in local government - the crown once again relying on the leading men of the counties. The extent to which they had fallen from both power and privilege during the Interregnum helps explain why they, represented as they were in Parliament were, were anxious to build up the King’s power, to prevent it happening again.

The elite, who dominated parliament, formed the settlement with the aim in mind of reasserting what they saw as the traditional balance of the constitution. One of the reasons that Charles was accepted back so readily and with so few limitations on his power is the popular view of monarchy as a system of government that had grown up, especially among the landed classes. The King was to be able to rule, choosing his own ministers and advisers, forming domestic and foreign policy, dispensing justice, protecting his people from revolt and attack and defending the established church and Christian morality. At the same time, he was to be restricted by laws preventing him from abusing his position - he was not to be able to make laws or levy taxes without consent. It was felt that if kept in these limits Monarchy would be the best form of government, being rational and avoiding the disorder of the years without a monarch.

However, although this system of limited monarchy was the intention of the men in Parliament who decided on the terms of the restoration the restrictions on the monarch that were essential to it were in general of a moral rather than a legal nature, and many remembered that Charles I had shown that if a monarch wanted to push back the limits of his power neither the courts nor the Parliament could easily stop him, and this must have been on many minds as they decided on the exact form of the restoration. Yet, Charles I operated in a very different situation. He had alternative sources of income if Parliament should deny him money, which his son simply did not have. In any case, the upheavals of the 1640’s and 1650’s were great severe enough, especially on the nobility, to make the need for strong monarchy seem more important that fears of monarchy originating from the fading memory of Charles I, and the royalist upsurge this created restored many privileges to the King, and also led to a re-assertion of belief in divine right by many people. Indeed, it was true that discussion about the basis for government, which had been so intense in the 1640’s, virtually stopped in the reign of Charles II - people still questioned him on specific issues but rarely on the foundations of his authority.

I have just mentioned that Charles I enjoyed much independence because of the alternative sources of income he had aside from grants from Parliament, and this may have been in the minds of the members of the Convention when they drew the limits of Charles II’s finance, as it was this that held Charles back from exercising power approaching that of an autocrat , at least for the first part of his reign. It had been the intention of the MPs at the Convention to make a financial settlement generous enough to cover the expenses of the crown, but the eventual settlement was not sufficient. This was because the fear of the king becoming more independent, but more importantly modern finance was simply not understood by most of the MPs. As a result even the grant for paying the arrears of the army and navy was about £375,000 short of what was needed, and it did not provide the £1.2 million per year it is estimated would be needed for royal expenditure. This can be excused to an extent though as it was not thought the standing army would be retained, and so expenditure was higher than anticipated, though it is also true Parliament did not want to maintain the high levels of tax the 1650’s had seen. However, the result of these financial inadequacies in the Settlement meant the power of Charles to rule independently of Parliament was severely restricted - as it was he had debts of £1.25 million by 1664. Later his position would be improved by grants from Louis of France and increases in revenue from trade, but at the time of the Restoration he was very dependant of Parliament for money.

Another factor preventing Charles from having the financial and political independence to become more of an unlimited monarch was his personal lifestyle, which involved great extravagance. For a start, his mistresses and bastards (of which 14 were acknowledged) had to be paid for, and the lavish and expensive nature of his lifestyle meant it was hard for ministers to persuade parliament to provide more money for him. However, even without the nature of his lifestyle he would have had financial problems.

The Restoration Settlement was a complicated mix of expectations and relief, anticipating a return of the "Good Old Days" which people saw as having existed before the 1640’s, of great freedom and power, and of both practical and moral limits to Charles’ power, and so it is difficult to discern from all this whether it did restore the essentials of an absolutist state. The years of the Republic do not seem to have left an instinctive fear of the powers of monarchy, but rather the reverse, as the legislation of 1660 and following years was deliberate in restoring the monarchy to the constitutional position it had occupied in the years before the revolution. The Militia Acts for example gave the King sole control of the militia, and the Revolution Act of 1661 laid down severe penalties for anyone claiming that Parliament could rule without the King. Other acts such as those in favour of "tumultuous petitioning" and in favour of censorship showed the great reaction in favour of the crown at that time. The position that Charles inherited was very powerful - he could dissolve and call parliament, could veto legislation, could make foreign policy.

However, he was limited in becoming an absolutist monarch by both his personal lifestyle and style of rule, and also the financial position he was in. The shortage of money in his reign meant he was dependant on Parliament, and this was a major obstacle to him being independent. What we know of his personality suggests that his preference of frivolity and license as opposed to the tedium of day-to-day politics was detriment to good relations with parliament and effective running of government by himself. However, in the end, the position he inherited had the makings of an absolutist state. The financial restrictions upon him would always be a very great obstacle but even Charles, by the end of his reign, had shown there were ways past these. Those who framed the Restoration Settlement had been largely badly treated by the years of the Republic and uppermost in their mind was keeping the monarchy strong. They had very definite ideas of the boundaries within which the monarchy should operate and the constitutional balance of the Settlement would be lost if he chose to ignore those boundaries, but they were more moral than constitutional, and a determined, strong and concentrated King could have taken advantage of the pro-royalist backlash against the years of the Interregnum and what it stood for to become, in effect, an absolute monarch. Charles II did not have such a character and perhaps not the necessary ambition either, and this was perhaps the most important reason why the restoration Settlement did not restore an absolutist state to power, but rather a state where Parliament and King shared authority.



Bibliography

Barry Coward, The Stuart Age: A History of England 1603-1714, , Longman, 1980

John Miller, Restoration England: The Reign of Charles II, Longman, 1985

Robert M Bliss, Restoration England 1660-1688,

Geoffrey Holmes, The Making of a Great Power: Late Stuart and early Georgian Britain, Longman, 1993

Scramble for Africa - driven by private or public interests?

To What Extent Was The Scramble Advanced By Private Rather Than National Interests In Africa?

The Nineteenth century saw very little official European involvement in Africa before the 1880s. The British had become involved to an extent through the campaign against the slave trade, including the colony of Sierra Leone, and they had developed their colony at the Cape. The French increased their official control in the North through the century. However, in the vastness of Africa, this made little impact and was mainly done for reasons other than a move to colonise Africa - such as the pursuit of the slave trade and protection of the route to India. This is not to say there were no Europeans in Africa - many had gone to Africa as missionaries and traders, driven by an urge to ‘civilise’ the African peoples by making them more European. Besides revealing information about the interior of Africa, these had little impact, but this situation was to change as the century progressed. Improvements in medicine, especially the introduction of quinine in 1857, drastically reduced the very high death rates of European expeditions in Africa. Improvements in steam ships, rail, weaponry and communications all made Africa more easily accessible, breaking down the natural barriers which had kept Europeans at bay for so long.

However, technology was not the only reason for the increased involvement of Europeans in Africa from the middle of the century. Business became seriously interested in Africa for the first time, and this started the process that was to become the Partition of Africa. Investment spread from centres of existing settlement, especially the Cape and Egypt. This drive came from Britain's powerful and wealthy trading companies, which could afford to run steamships, build infrastructure and finance settlement, and they saw great opportunities in the unknown, untapped resources of the gigantic African continent. European governments had been unwilling to spend valuable resources on sending pioneers to Africa, but once the private companies were established there governments found that national interests dictated they should be protected - and so began the Partition, with countries dividing up Africa to protect the advances made by their subjects.

This is of course only one of many possible interpretations of what occurred in Africa in the 1880s and 1890s. There is no doubt that certain individuals involved in private enterprise in Africa, as well as many smaller traders, had a very important role in advancing the partition. The important question, however, is to what extent these initiated the Partition, with governments becoming involved once national interest was established, and to what extent private interests were used by governments to achieve their objectives without the risks and costs of colonisation.

A classic example of the businessmen who went to capture the potential of Africa in the late Nineteenth Century is Sir George Goldie. He had been one of many traders who set up around the River Niger. These had developed the region to an extent and built up their companies, trading local raw materials. However, prices had fallen and the European Depression was making their position difficult. There was also the problem of the French, whose traders were active in the region and whose government showed signs of interest. Goldie, the leading of these traders by the mid 1880s, suggested to the British government an extension of control could be in the national interest. He exaggerated the value of the area to a great extent, and as many in his business he had influential contacts in Britain to help to pressure the government to support him. In 1886 his Royal Niger Company was offered a Charter to administer the region. He therefore advanced European involvement in the area - building up a presence there and receiving a Charter which would guarantee the protection of the British. However, his success was due in no small part to an assessment that an operation in the Niger region would be self-supporting financially - had it not been for this supposed potential the Charter might not have been possible. But the British government might have had reasons other than being assured little financial risk for granting Goldie what he wanted - the region was coming increasingly to the attention of other powers, especially the very competitive French. The government was under pressure to keep the area open to British trade, and so they used the willing Goldie to safeguard the region against French encroachment. Of course without men such as Goldie in the area, there might have been little reason for the British to be interested at all, but there is no doubt he was allowed to take the area over simply because this achieved Britain's objectives without unnecessary risks and expenditure.

On the other side of the continent William Mackinnon was active in a similar endeavour to Goldie. A dynamic businessman, he had quickly built a wealthy trading company in India and wanted to expand his interests. As the Suez Canal opened, he saw that East Africa was ripe for development, especially as relations were long established with the Sultan of Zanzibar, a very important power in the region. After starting a steamship service there he negotiated with the Sultan a concession in 1879 allowing his company to take over a very large part of the mainland of East Africa, administering and developing it for profit. Yet the Foreign Office in London would not allow this to take place. Unlike on the Niger several years later, there was no foreign power poised to dominate the region, and Whitehall simply feared Mackinnon’s company would fail and leave the British government forced to take the area as a colony. After showing how it could ignore the wishes of commercial interests in Africa if it chose, the British government then showed how it viewed them as effectively tools for government objectives. Several years later the Germans suddenly became interested in East Africa and took over a large portion of the interior. Fearing that they could lose all their access to the area, the British then allowed Mackinnon his Charter for a substantial region - a decade after his original attempt. Here at least we can see that private interests had very little influence in advancing the partition - they were simply used to fulfil government plans at the lowest possible cost.

Cecil Rhodes, however, is a different case. Of all the ‘private interests’ in Africa in the late nineteenth century he was without a doubt the greatest and most important. His companies figured more prominently on the stock market than any other, his personal reputation was far more widespread. He even had a country named after him, something all the more remarkable because he died before he was 50. Of any of the major players in European private enterprise in Africa in the 1800s he seems in character the least likely to have been manipulated by government. He had a reputation for being cunning and astute - for example he secretly bought the press of South Africa before embarking on his political career to ensure their support. He enlisted the support of many influential people in London, including the Queen’s son-in-law and the well known Earl Grey. He formed a connection with the Irish Nationalists, financing their activities in return for the support of their 70 seats in the British Parliament. He was the managing director of the British South Africa Company, acting almost without control by its Board in London, and was the Prime Minister of the Cape for 8 years.

Therefore, if anyone was in a position to advance the Partition of Africa independently of national control, it was Rhodes. He was shrewd and intelligent enough to build a tremendous position of power, and was helped greatly by the passivity of those who should have limited his freedom of action - the Colonial Office and the Company’s London Board - as long as he remained successful. He could, however, be seen in a similar way to Goldie, acting independently to further the Partition, but being allowed to succeed because his actions tied up with the aims of the government. For example, as Rhodes moved North from the Cape in search of new areas of gold deposits to rival the Rand, he was allowed to take control of territory because it reserved the land, protecting it from being taken by the Germans, French, or one of the other European nations involved in Africa.

However, even if the companies involved in administering territory under Charter in Africa were being used to fulfil their objectives by government, they still had a great role because of their willingness to establish centres and infrastructure for European expansion in Africa. Why were these companies so suddenly interested in the ‘opportunities’ presented by Africa? Some have suggested that in Europe there was surplus capital available for investment - rates of return on investment in Europe were falling and so companies looked elsewhere, including Africa. As an ‘undeveloped’ region with little recognised authority controlling the land, its resources were an obvious target for exploitation. Industrialised trading nations such as Britain were also experiencing increasing competition from each other and finding it harder to get markets for their goods. Many would look to the less developed regions of the world to be the new markets for cheap mass-produced goods, and private interests in international trade would support and try to further government official control because this could mean the new markets were protected.

The vast improvements in technology and medicine also made a great contribution to the ability of investing companies to carve out an existence for themselves in Africa, and famous success stories such as the many fortunes created in the mines of South Africa ignited people’s interest. In the financial and trading slumps of the mid 1870s advancing into such areas must have been attractive.

The depression of the 1870s also had the effect of forcing many people in Europe from rural areas to the cities in search of work. The expansion of European cities increased demand for food as well as raw materials for industry as it pulled out of the Depression, meaning commodity prices rose sharply. Africa was becoming an increasingly important source for several commodities, such as rubber, vegetable oil, ivory, cocoa, copper and gold. These had been extracted for many years with no formal control but companies felt that colonial or chartered company control could make this easier and protect against competition. This was supported by economists who saw the new success of America and Germany being founded it part on having access to huge resources behind protective barriers , and government became more pressured to support private demands for increased official involvement in Africa. Changing views of authority and society in Africa, reports of waste and brutality, created a feeling that the potential productivity in Africa could only be realised with more direct control.

In some areas companies were pressuring government to intervene because they faced competition from foreign companies. For example, in West Africa British and French companies started on the coast, but bean to move inland in the 1870s to expand their operations. They quickly became suspicious about the other’s intentions and both wanted their governments to help them reserve the area. They also found the need for government intervention where the local populations had become destabilised. This happened in Lagos in the early 1890s, where the end of the slave trade had taken much revenue away from the traditional African rulers, who were then forced to depend on the static income from Palm Oil. The resulting collapse of social cohesion when the price fell made the traders involved there put pressure on the London government, who then reluctantly pacified the interior and made it a protectorate in the early 1890s.

Therefore private companies had many reasons to pressure government for action in Africa. They were often able to exert this pressure very effectively - the more successful companies would ensure they had influential support in Britain, such as the aristocrats controlled by Rhodes. There was still some antagonism between government and private interests in Africa; companies disliked the dislocation and cost of wars, especially when they had to foot some of the bill, and they also resented the tariffs and taxes government could erect in an area they controlled. Yet by the late Nineteenth Century private companies were also worried by the increasing activity of foreign powers - and if they were wary of control by the British government they were positively fearful of what foreign governments would do.

It could be said that before the 1870s both commerce and government in Britain did have ambitions for Africa, but they did not see the need for colonial rule as there was little outside interest in the continent. Where they could they would work with the existing rulers, building states that would resist the slave trade and engage in commerce - and the companies were not anxious to involve government more than this. Besides, Britain's commercial and industrial dominance was such that the protection of colonies was unnecessary. Therefore, an important consideration has to be the effect of increased foreign competition from the 1870s, increasing both private and official backing behind securing British interests in Africa.

Before the 1870s Europe had been quite unstable, and so had little interest in places such as Africa. However, the 1870s saw a new stability which changed this very suddenly. Germany and Italy completed their unifications, in France the regime of Napoleon III was crushedand Germany under Bismark became the dominant diplomatic power of Europe. Figures in Europe such as Leopold of the Belgians started to press for a more rigorous colonial policy. The increasing activity of other European countries meant people saw themselves as living in an era of delimitation, something Rosebury called "a partition of the world", a phrase also used by the German Carl Peters and the French minister Étienne. As early as January 1885 the Morning Post diagnosed a "scramble for Africa and Oceania". This was made worse by events such as the British suppression of the 1882 nationalist uprising in Egypt led Ahmed Urabiand subsequent occupation of Egypt - something highly resented in France and leading to a strong Anglo-French rivalry in Africa.

This atmosphere had a profound effect on British politicians. That Britain's industrial and commercial dominance had slipped was increasingly clear: her share of world trade was 23% in 1876, but this fell to 19% in only 9 years.Her rivals developed more efficient industry and erected protectionist barriers while Britain stuck to free trade. Obviously in this situation, with Britain economically outpaced and now colonially threatened as well, there were many calls for an extension of the Empire by British businesses - including export industries at home as well as those involved directly in Africa.

Therefore the changing world economic situation and the expansionistic behaviour of France, Leopold of the Belgians, Germany and even countries such as Portugal meant Britain had to participate in what it saw as already having started - the Partition. Between 1874 and 1902 Britain acquired 4,750,000 square miles of land into the Empire, containing almost 90 million people.This was not just for prestige - it was an economic need to defend interests. It was in this period that men such as Goldie, Mackinnon and Rhodes were allowed to bring territory under British protection and administer it, something they all wanted to do and usually initiated, but something which might not have been allowed under different circumstances. If Britain's objective was to defend her oversees interests then she did well - she secured control of India, her chief concern, and also large swathes of African territory in which she had real or potential interests.

Britain was a very long established world-wide trader. She had subjects, bases, colonies and trading interests in most parts of the world, and this had long included Africa, at least its coasts. She sent out many missionaries as well, spreading her civilisation through conversion and commerce. From all directions her influence was spreading slowly through the century into Africa - from the Cape in the South, from Egypt in the North, from Zanzibar in the East and her colonies, such as Lagos and Sierra Leone in the West. She had naval bases on the coast, often for the anti-slave trade squadrons. This cultural and economic penetration into Africa without political rule was successful for a long time, but it had two pre-requisites if it was to continue. First, the societies they had contact with had to withstand the strains this contact put on their economy and culture. Secondly, the poorly defended areas of influence had to be free from outside interference.

The first of these conditions had already showed signs of cracking before the 1880s. There were many destabilising elements in the affairs of Africa - the withdrawal of the power of the Ottoman Empire in the North, population shifting and warfare in the interior, the effects of the destruction of the slave trade, especially on ruling elites who had depended on it for their income, and therefore their authority. By the 1880s the second condition had also started to fall and European countries started to become interested in areas formerly assumed by Britain to be under their influence. In these circumstances both business and government wanted to protect the gains Britain had made, seen as especially important in a period of lost pre-eminence.

British colonial policy has been described as "Imperialism on the cheap". Long before the partition of Africa the British had tried to extend their Empire and get the peoples they ruled over to pay for it. This had been long true of the Indian possessions. It was an attempt to force the Thirteen Colonies to pay for their own Imperial protection that helped cause the American Revolution. The experience of America taught the British a lesson in managing their Empire, and they sought a different way to keep colonial expenses low than simply taxing the people in the Empire. They shifted to the more enlightened policy of allowing the countries to rule themselves at their own expense, and success in India meant there were companies willing to administrate in this way. The charters that were handed out all over Africa at the end of the Nineteenth Century were a product of the desire to retain areas for Britain at the same time as not having the risk and expenditure of formal colonies.

This is not to say that the private interests did not have any influence on the direction and nature of the Partition. They were essential in keeping Africa high on the government agenda and crucial for establishing British interest in areas they otherwise would not have been involved in. They often had direct influence over government and public opinion. In many instances, especially in West Africa, traders do seem to have independently advanced the partition, making demands that were met - but this only happened when fiscal and diplomatic sense agreed with them; they were sometimes refused, such as William Mackinnon in 1879. Private interests were influential, especially in building up the potential of Africa in the minds of officials and politicians - but broadly speaking, government followed its policies in Africa for its own reasons and effectively controlled the ambitions of its companies and entrepreneurs, rather than the other way round.



Bibliography

P. J. Cain, Economic Foundations of British Oversees Expansion 1815-1914, 1980 Macmillan

P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 1688-1914, Longman, 1993

J. E. Flint, "Chartered Companies And The Scramble For Africa." in Joseph C. Anene & Godfrey N. Brown (eds.) Africa In The Nineteenth And Twentieth Centuries, Ibadan University Press, 1970

John S. Galbraith, Crown and Charter - The Early Years of the British South Africa Company, University of California Press, 1974

Ronald Hyam, Britain's Imperial Century - 1815-1914 - A Study of Empire and expansion, B. T. Batsford, London, 1976

J. M. MacKenzie, The Partition of Africa, Methuen, 1983

Roland Oliver & G. N. Sanderson (eds.), The Cambridge History of Africa. Volume 6 - from 1870 to 1905, Cambridge University Press, 1985

Lord Liverpool

How Effective A Prime Minister Was Lord Liverpool?
Having served in government’s highest office for well over a decade, Lord Liverpool was one of this country’s longest serving Prime Ministers. Yet, for his length of service, he is surprisingly little known. When he is discussed, Liverpool is often remembered as a moderate, weak man whose time in office saw little of value, especially compared to the achievements of the younger Pitt before him and the Great Reform Act which followed him. Another view of Lord Liverpool comes from the old radical opinion of his term as a time of repression and reaction. However, more recently both of these views have come to be questioned and revised as Liverpool’s achievements and abilities come to be better appreciated.

Lord Liverpool saw a great deal of political service before his rise to power as Prime Minister. He was an MP under Pitt and saw the terror and destruction of the French revolution, something claimed to have affected his attitude towards popular radical protest. He made his career as a minister during the war - he served as the secretary of the Home Office, Foreign Office and finally excelled as War Secretary. He was not a man who could have easily been noticed early on as the material long serving Prime Ministers are made of - he was often overshadowed by the brilliance of those around him, especially men such as Canning. However, through years of service he acquired a reputation as a dependable, stable administrator, interested in serving his country and king rather than being greedy for power. His steady, reliable style made him popular among the older statesmen of the time, and trusted by his fellow politicians.

He did not seem in a promising position when he first came to power, in fact there could have been few who thought he would last long, let alone the length of time he remained Prime Minister. He was not the first choice of the Prince Regent but was able to form a ministry, and the problems he faced were very great. The first challenge was obviously the defeat of Napoleon, which was pursued effectively. He had no clear majority behind him in Parliament, and his position in the House of Lords meant he had to leave it to others to keep control of the House of Commons. However, he quickly constructed a fairly broad coalition of various different groups, united by the culmination of the wars on the continent and a wish to defend the establishment against the sort of radicalism the French had seen prior to the wars. In this he did well - he already had much experience of government during wartime from his years as a minister, but it was in peacetime that the real challenges were to come and where Lord Liverpool was to prove his ability.

Wartime has a habit in the British Parliament of creating unity and stability for its duration, but it is far harder to maintain support in peace, as there is less of an obvious common enemy. With no great resources of patronage behind him, as his predecessors had possessed, and no centrally controlled and disciplined party system, as would appear later - gaining consistent majorities was no easy task. Liverpool knew that essential to his survival was the support of the Prince Regent, soon to become George IV with the eventual death of his father. Liverpool had a great respect for the crown, and was determined that its powers should be sustained as an integral part of the constitution, but he was just as determined that the wayward Prince would not frustrate government policy. He had very clear ideas on the duties of the crown to support ministers who had the approval of Parliament as well as the duties of those ministers to the crown. He treated the Prince accordingly, paying attention to his wishes and being careful to maintain his support while reminding him of hid duties when the situation accorded such a reminder.

However, whatever his skill in dealing with the crown, the ability which marks Lord Liverpool as a very able man, suited to the post of Prime Minister, was his ability to create majorities in Parliament. He carefully built a coalition of many different groups from many different viewpoints, all united by a desire to protect the constitution, but bound together by the personality of their Prime Minister. This was not a party in any modern sense - they served under Liverpool as he could seem to guarantee stability, as well as his royal support. He extended his well developed sense of service to his other ministers - he expected them to put service to the crown and government above loyalty to any faction they might belong to or dogma they might believe in. One commonly held myth about him is that he could not control his ministers, but this does not fit with his character. He knew the importance of keeping moderate sensible government so as not to upset the delicate coalition, and so kept a firm grasp on the direction of policy. This was the start of collective responsibility in cabinet, and that he could allow his ministers a great degree of freedom while keeping control of the thrust of policy showed not only his fair-mindedness but also his effective control of government.

The charge that he was an "arch-mediocrity" (a jibe about him which stuck), because his government did not pursue radical, important policies does have some basis in fact. He was not disposed to enact legislation which he felt to be controversial, the reason being that this could upset his coalition. He knew he would lose the confidence of the House of Commons should he go beyond conventional opinion. The issue which always threatened to do exactly this was Catholic Emancipation. This was becoming a very important issue and was obviously very controversial - prejudice against Catholics was still a very prominent feature of society, and Liverpool’s cabinet was very divided on the subject - and therefore Liverpool did not face the issue, but simply kept it open, with Emancipation neither granted nor categorically refused.

Another feature of his term in office which has tarnished his reputation is his association with the Corn Laws. These are popularly viewed as a greedy act of landed society to enhance their prosperity at the expense of the commercial and industrial interests of the country and causing unnecessarily high food prices. However, this must be understood in the context of the time. It was firstly nothing very new - there had been duties on imports since the seventeenth century. It was also not a greedy measure to increase the profits of a narrow class at the expense of the rest of society. At this time industry was decades away from becoming dominant in the nation’s economic well-being - agriculture was the dominant part of the economy as well as employing many people, and there was a genuine fear that after the years of war, when producers had invested heavily to bring as much land under the plough as possible, the farming community could be devastated by the flood of cheap grain from the continent. Ideas of free trade, prevalent later, were still relatively new and hardly universally accepted. In 1812 Liverpool had indicated he was a supporter of freer trade when he said "the less commerce and manufacturing were meddled with the more likely they were to prosper", but he would place practical considerations first - the Corn Laws seemed necessary to maintain support of the mainly landed elite and made good economic and social sense.

The final major charge popular belief makes at Lord Liverpool was that his government was repressive and reactionary, refusing popular demands and overreacting to popular movements. A charge of being reactionary is usually levelled against a government which resisted eventually successful movements - which Liverpool did with such movements as that for Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary reform and repeal of the Corn Laws. However, his government was never insensitive to demand from below - shown for example by the Poor Employment Bill of 1817 - and he governed in the traditional aristocratic fashion, preferring a "national view" to a narrow interest view of a particular class or group. He might resist demands for a radical change because it threatened the essential nature of the constitution, which he held as sacred, but he was not insensitive.

Charges of repression are often made, especially in view of several famous events which took place, such as the Spa Fields Riot, the March of the Blanketeers, the Pentridge Rising and especially the Peterloo Massacre. However, as with the Corn Laws, these events must be put into their historical context. This was a time of great confusion and uncertainty. The unprecedented effects of industrialisation, erratic employment, bad harvests and economic problems caused by the end of the war (including 300,000 men discharged from the services) made a unique situation, especially with the still fresh memories of the French Revolution. The reform movements must have seemed a dangerous element in this, and so action against them was understandable. Besides, violence was usually the fault of incompetent yeomanry or frightened magistrates, rather than government policy. The "repressive" Six Acts of 1820 were in fact very mild, preventing drilling with weapons by radicals and increasing magistrate powers to break up meetings, and they were largely to reassure the backbenches and elite that government was taking the situation seriously, and they succeeded in restoring confidence.

On balance, Lord Liverpool was a very effective Prime Minister. He presided over a very turbulent time in the nation’s history, and managed to keep peace and stability. He believed in the constitution, but was not blind to the fact it had to change to retain its vitality and popularity. He understood society was changing and if the new forces found nothing to admire in the old system it would not last, and so he was careful to help the new industrial and commercial classes, making them feel government was sensitive to their needs and reforming slowly and carefully - while being careful not to alarm the landed elite. Through his term in office he never stopped looking for new ways of getting support and enlarging his coalition. The vital role he played in holding his party together is best shown by events following his retirement from politics, caused by a stroke. There was great political confusion and the coalition disintegrated very fast indeed. Demands for Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary reform became too great to resist and several Prime Ministers rose and fell in a short time. It could be claimed that this was a failing of Lord Liverpool - that he failed to construct a coalition that could outlast him, but he did not intend to make a party. He was dedicated to service, not to party political ends, and he managed to hold a stable government together through very unstable times, and in this he proved to be very effective. He also showed that the constitution could work, providing effective and stable government, renewing confidence in the government when the world seemed to hold fewer certainties.



Bibliography





Cookson, J E, Lord Liverpool’s Adminstration 1815-22, Scottish Academic Press, 1975

John W Derry, Politics In The Age Of Fox, Pitt And Liverpool, Macmillan, 1990

Eric J Evans, The Forging of the Modern State : Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870, Longman, 1983

Glyn Williams and John Ramsden, Ruling Britannia - A Political History of Britain 1688-1988, Longman, 1990
Having served in government’s highest office for well over a decade, Lord Liverpool was one of this country’s longest serving Prime Ministers. Yet, for his length of service, he is surprisingly little known. When he is discussed, Liverpool is often remembered as a moderate, weak man whose time in office saw little of value, especially compared to the achievements of the younger Pitt before him and the Great Reform Act which followed him. Another view of Lord Liverpool comes from the old radical opinion of his term as a time of repression and reaction. However, more recently both of these views have come to be questioned and revised as Liverpool’s achievements and abilities come to be better appreciated.

Lord Liverpool saw a great deal of political service before his rise to power as Prime Minister. He was an MP under Pitt and saw the terror and destruction of the French revolution, something claimed to have affected his attitude towards popular radical protest. He made his career as a minister during the war - he served as the secretary of the Home Office, Foreign Office and finally excelled as War Secretary. He was not a man who could have easily been noticed early on as the material long serving Prime Ministers are made of - he was often overshadowed by the brilliance of those around him, especially men such as Canning. However, through years of service he acquired a reputation as a dependable, stable administrator, interested in serving his country and king rather than being greedy for power. His steady, reliable style made him popular among the older statesmen of the time, and trusted by his fellow politicians.

He did not seem in a promising position when he first came to power, in fact there could have been few who thought he would last long, let alone the length of time he remained Prime Minister. He was not the first choice of the Prince Regent but was able to form a ministry, and the problems he faced were very great. The first challenge was obviously the defeat of Napoleon, which was pursued effectively. He had no clear majority behind him in Parliament, and his position in the House of Lords meant he had to leave it to others to keep control of the House of Commons. However, he quickly constructed a fairly broad coalition of various different groups, united by the culmination of the wars on the continent and a wish to defend the establishment against the sort of radicalism the French had seen prior to the wars. In this he did well - he already had much experience of government during wartime from his years as a minister, but it was in peacetime that the real challenges were to come and where Lord Liverpool was to prove his ability.

Wartime has a habit in the British Parliament of creating unity and stability for its duration, but it is far harder to maintain support in peace, as there is less of an obvious common enemy. With no great resources of patronage behind him, as his predecessors had possessed, and no centrally controlled and disciplined party system, as would appear later - gaining consistent majorities was no easy task. Liverpool knew that essential to his survival was the support of the Prince Regent, soon to become George IV with the eventual death of his father. Liverpool had a great respect for the crown, and was determined that its powers should be sustained as an integral part of the constitution, but he was just as determined that the wayward Prince would not frustrate government policy. He had very clear ideas on the duties of the crown to support ministers who had the approval of Parliament as well as the duties of those ministers to the crown. He treated the Prince accordingly, paying attention to his wishes and being careful to maintain his support while reminding him of hid duties when the situation accorded such a reminder.

However, whatever his skill in dealing with the crown, the ability which marks Lord Liverpool as a very able man, suited to the post of Prime Minister, was his ability to create majorities in Parliament. He carefully built a coalition of many different groups from many different viewpoints, all united by a desire to protect the constitution, but bound together by the personality of their Prime Minister. This was not a party in any modern sense - they served under Liverpool as he could seem to guarantee stability, as well as his royal support. He extended his well developed sense of service to his other ministers - he expected them to put service to the crown and government above loyalty to any faction they might belong to or dogma they might believe in. One commonly held myth about him is that he could not control his ministers, but this does not fit with his character. He knew the importance of keeping moderate sensible government so as not to upset the delicate coalition, and so kept a firm grasp on the direction of policy. This was the start of collective responsibility in cabinet, and that he could allow his ministers a great degree of freedom while keeping control of the thrust of policy showed not only his fair-mindedness but also his effective control of government.

The charge that he was an "arch-mediocrity" (a jibe about him which stuck), because his government did not pursue radical, important policies does have some basis in fact. He was not disposed to enact legislation which he felt to be controversial, the reason being that this could upset his coalition. He knew he would lose the confidence of the House of Commons should he go beyond conventional opinion. The issue which always threatened to do exactly this was Catholic Emancipation. This was becoming a very important issue and was obviously very controversial - prejudice against Catholics was still a very prominent feature of society, and Liverpool’s cabinet was very divided on the subject - and therefore Liverpool did not face the issue, but simply kept it open, with Emancipation neither granted nor categorically refused.

Another feature of his term in office which has tarnished his reputation is his association with the Corn Laws. These are popularly viewed as a greedy act of landed society to enhance their prosperity at the expense of the commercial and industrial interests of the country and causing unnecessarily high food prices. However, this must be understood in the context of the time. It was firstly nothing very new - there had been duties on imports since the seventeenth century. It was also not a greedy measure to increase the profits of a narrow class at the expense of the rest of society. At this time industry was decades away from becoming dominant in the nation’s economic well-being - agriculture was the dominant part of the economy as well as employing many people, and there was a genuine fear that after the years of war, when producers had invested heavily to bring as much land under the plough as possible, the farming community could be devastated by the flood of cheap grain from the continent. Ideas of free trade, prevalent later, were still relatively new and hardly universally accepted. In 1812 Liverpool had indicated he was a supporter of freer trade when he said "the less commerce and manufacturing were meddled with the more likely they were to prosper", but he would place practical considerations first - the Corn Laws seemed necessary to maintain support of the mainly landed elite and made good economic and social sense.

The final major charge popular belief makes at Lord Liverpool was that his government was repressive and reactionary, refusing popular demands and overreacting to popular movements. A charge of being reactionary is usually levelled against a government which resisted eventually successful movements - which Liverpool did with such movements as that for Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary reform and repeal of the Corn Laws. However, his government was never insensitive to demand from below - shown for example by the Poor Employment Bill of 1817 - and he governed in the traditional aristocratic fashion, preferring a "national view" to a narrow interest view of a particular class or group. He might resist demands for a radical change because it threatened the essential nature of the constitution, which he held as sacred, but he was not insensitive.

Charges of repression are often made, especially in view of several famous events which took place, such as the Spa Fields Riot, the March of the Blanketeers, the Pentridge Rising and especially the Peterloo Massacre. However, as with the Corn Laws, these events must be put into their historical context. This was a time of great confusion and uncertainty. The unprecedented effects of industrialisation, erratic employment, bad harvests and economic problems caused by the end of the war (including 300,000 men discharged from the services) made a unique situation, especially with the still fresh memories of the French Revolution. The reform movements must have seemed a dangerous element in this, and so action against them was understandable. Besides, violence was usually the fault of incompetent yeomanry or frightened magistrates, rather than government policy. The "repressive" Six Acts of 1820 were in fact very mild, preventing drilling with weapons by radicals and increasing magistrate powers to break up meetings, and they were largely to reassure the backbenches and elite that government was taking the situation seriously, and they succeeded in restoring confidence.

On balance, Lord Liverpool was a very effective Prime Minister. He presided over a very turbulent time in the nation’s history, and managed to keep peace and stability. He believed in the constitution, but was not blind to the fact it had to change to retain its vitality and popularity. He understood society was changing and if the new forces found nothing to admire in the old system it would not last, and so he was careful to help the new industrial and commercial classes, making them feel government was sensitive to their needs and reforming slowly and carefully - while being careful not to alarm the landed elite. Through his term in office he never stopped looking for new ways of getting support and enlarging his coalition. The vital role he played in holding his party together is best shown by events following his retirement from politics, caused by a stroke. There was great political confusion and the coalition disintegrated very fast indeed. Demands for Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary reform became too great to resist and several Prime Ministers rose and fell in a short time. It could be claimed that this was a failing of Lord Liverpool - that he failed to construct a coalition that could outlast him, but he did not intend to make a party. He was dedicated to service, not to party political ends, and he managed to hold a stable government together through very unstable times, and in this he proved to be very effective. He also showed that the constitution could work, providing effective and stable government, renewing confidence in the government when the world seemed to hold fewer certainties.



Bibliography





Cookson, J E, Lord Liverpool’s Adminstration 1815-22, Scottish Academic Press, 1975

John W Derry, Politics In The Age Of Fox, Pitt And Liverpool, Macmillan, 1990

Eric J Evans, The Forging of the Modern State : Early Industrial Britain 1783-1870, Longman, 1983

Glyn Williams and John Ramsden, Ruling Britannia - A Political History of Britain 1688-1988, Longman, 1990

The 1832 Great Reform Act

"Were the consequences of the Reform Act of 1832 satisfactory to its makers?"
"Large enough to satisfy public opinion and to afford sure grounds of resistance to further innovation". These instructions from Earl Grey to the committee he formed to frame the Reform Bill in 1830 tell us a great deal about the motives that the government had behind reform. Grey believed that the landed interests of the ruling elite were best served not by reactionary resistance of change, but rather measured reform and concessions, while retaining real political power and avoiding violent revolution from below. However, to fully understand the motives of the framers of the Great Reform Act of 1832, we must first understand both the situation that prompted the reform and the framers themselves.

As is so often the case, demands for constitutional change were prompted by a period of economic problems. Food prices were rising after the failure of the 1829 harvest, and unemployment in the cities was on the increase. These economic factors came just after the resignation of the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool, ending a long and stable period of government, and his replacement by the popular but politically inexperienced Duke of Wellington, adding political instability to the situation. Three other developments followed which seemed designed to further demands for reform and weaken the forces of reaction. George IV, who had been very biased against the Whigs, died and was replaced by William IV, who was relatively politically unbiased on his accession, removing royal opposition to a Whig government. Secondly, in 1830 a bloodless Paris revolution deposed the reactionary Charles X and brought in a period of reform in France, a harsh reminder in Britain of the bloody days of 1790’s revolutionary France. Finally, the disturbances in 1830-31 caused by agricultural workers in the South which became known as the Swing Riots convinced many that, if even this usually docile and conservative group were becoming agitated and politically active, then the whole fabric of society was in danger. Against this background, the 1830 election showed the mood of the country, as many aristocrats and opponents of reform lost their seats, showing the desire, and therefore electoral value, of reform.

Wellington continued for a time after the election amid great public protest and civil unrest, but after he claimed to the House of Lords that the system was as good as it could be and had the full support of the country, showing himself to be completely opposed to reform, a group of Tories rebelled and Wellington resigned, thus bringing Earl Grey’s Whig government to power and setting the scene for the fight to pass the Reform Bill. The committee Grey established struggled with the details of the reforms through the winter of 1830-31, and after the draft bill was amended by the Whig leaders (for example removing the secret ballot), it was presented to a shocked parliament, being far more radical than had been expected.

The Reform Bill had several clauses. Firstly, it replaced the bizarre and varied systems of borough franchise with a single qualification, of adult males with property worth at least £10 per year. Secondly, the county franchise was defined as those owning freehold property worth at least 40 shillings per year. It also redistributed many seats, removing representation from some small constituencies and "pocket boroughs" and increasing the representation in the county seats and previously unrepresented towns, especially new industrial towns in the North. Scotland and Ireland had their own Reform Acts.

The debate then raged in the House of Commons between the Whig supporters of the Bill and their Tory opponents. This can be seen not as a debate on the objectives of the House, but rather how these were to be attained. Both sides were predominantly aristocratic and made up of MPs largely representing the landed interest, and so their objective, whether supporting the Reform Bill or not, was to preserve the dominance of the landed interest in government. There were few supporters for radical measures; even Lord John Russell, a member of the committee which framed the Bill, said the universal suffrage and secret ballot were "incompatible with the constitution of this country". However, Whigs looked to the Reform Bill to strengthen the existing social and political order by bringing the middle classes into the constitution, rather than leaving them to agitate against it from without, whereas the Tory opponents of reform said it would weaken that very order it was trying to preserve.

After another election had given the Whigs the majority necessary to pass the bill in the Commons, the fight moved onto the House of Lords. There it faltered again, as there was still an anti-reform majority in the upper house, which, after furious debate, threw the bill out. This caused another resurgence of popular protest, and the country seemed to be moving even closer to violent revolution, such was the public demand for constitutional change. Meanwhile political activity in parliament to pass the Bill was no less dramatic, with the unwilling king persuaded by Grey to create new pre-reform peers until the bill would pass the Lords. This worked and the bill passed in April 1832, but when a wrecking amendment was also passed in May, Grey demanded the creation of 50 new peers to force the reforms through; and when the king seemed unwilling, he resigned.

Then began a dramatic time known as the ‘Days of May’, where Wellington tried to form a government and pass more moderate reforms, on the request of the king. This caused public outrage and petitions and demonstrations came from all over the country. When Wellington proved unable to hold the Tory government together and resigned, William IV had no choice but to ask Grey to return to power and promise him to provide the necessary peers if it was needed. At this series of events, the parliamentary opposition collapsed and the Reform Act was passed, receiving its royal assent on 7 June 1832, though the king was notably absent from Parliament at the time.

A mistake made by some who do not know much about the details of the Act and its effects is that it somehow transformed the constitution of the country into an essentially modern one, eliminating corruption and imbalances. This was never the intention of the Whig framers of the Bill - no matter how much it may have been on the minds of the supporters of reform outside parliament, and especially outside the franchise. Bribing and treating of voters, for which elections had become notorious, was not decreased by the Reform Act, indeed because it led to many more elections being contested this practice almost certainly became more widespread. As well as corruption, many remarkably undemocratic elements remained after the Reform Act. Although some of the more famous examples, such as Old Sarem, were swept away, some still remained, most notably several boroughs with fewer than 200 voters in 1833, while Doncaster, Loughborough and Croyden remained unrepresented despite having populations in excess of 10,000. Russell said in 1831 of the committee "anomalies they found, and anomalies, though not such glaring ones as now existed, they meant to leave", and indeed they did. Patronage was a well-known undemocratic part of the unreformed system, but Norman Gash has estimated that 60-70 MPs may have been elected through patronage in the reformed system. These bizarre and by our standards corrupt and unfair practices survived because it was not the intention of the Whigs to remove them, and in this way the system after reform was very similar to before and therefore was satisfactory to its framers.

One very definite achievement of the Act was to increase the electorate - the overall effect was to add about half a million voters to an existing electorate of about 400,000, in a population of 24 millions. This meant that one in seven adult males in Britain had the vote. The uniform £10 franchise in the boroughs meant that non-property owners, who were deemed unworthy of the vote, were kept out of the franchise. The social level of the newly enfranchised voters differed around the country because of varied rental values (for example high land prices in London meant even some working class had the vote while in areas of lower land value, such as Devon and Cornwall, even some of the middle classes were excluded.). Despite variations, the overall effect, by design, was to enfranchise the propertied middle classes. This, the most important motive and effect of the Reform Act, was done for two closely linked reasons. Firstly, it was thought that they would be a very conservative group. Although they had been among those agitating most strongly for reform and attacking the unrepresentative parliament, it was believed that once they had the vote they would become very great supporters of resistance to further change. As Michael Brock said, "most of the new voters wanted not to challenge the aristocracy, but to win recognition from it: once they had their rightful position they did not favour further adventures." The success of this part of the plans of the reforming Whigs was seen very clearly only a few years after 1832, when the working class Chartist movement became an important agitating force for change, and the lower middle class, the shopkeepers and small tradesmen, who before 1832 had been the allies of working class Reform movements, became one of their most staunch critics.

This showed their success in their second motive for enfranchising the middle class, that is to separate the alliance that seemed to be growing between the middle and working classes. This growing movement had been shown in 1830 when Attwood formed a "General Political Union between lower and middle classes of the people", one of many to be formed in the towns at that time, which put on very visible shows of strength, including rallies, petitions and demonstrations. This trend was comprehensively stopped by the Reform Act, and the working class organisations were rightly angry at what they saw as the "betrayal" by the middle class in the Reform Act.

I have already said that one of the main aims of the framers of the Act was to maintain the dominance of politics and society of the Aristocracy, and this was seen as being threatened by the enfranchisement of the middle classes by opponents of the reform bill. However, it became obvious very soon after the Act had passed that the calculation of Grey had been correct. The first post-reform Parliament to be elected, in December 1832, showed virtually the same social makeup in the MPs as before reform- the same people were ruling Britain. It is estimated that between 70% and 80% of the MPs represented the landed interest, with no more than 100 MPs being drawn from the middle classes. Indeed, it was not until the 1870’s that the dominance of parliament by the landed aristocracy was starting to slip away. This was partly because the politically active members of the middle class were often more interested in local politics, and after the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act they did indeed come to dominate it.

However, a very important practical reason for the continued dominance of the landed interest was the fact that being an MP was increasingly a full time job, and so only a man with the means to support himself without working on a separate career could be a MP - most who could do this had inherited wealth and most of this was landed.

While talking of the very real motives of the framers of the Reform Act, that is preserving the dominance of the upper class and splitting the extra-parliamentary alliance between middle and working class radicals, it has to be remembered that a primary motive behind the very hastily framed Act was to prevent a violent overthrow of the government, something that seemed a very real threat during 1829-32, with massive protest and civil disobedience, and the haunting memory of the revolutions in France brought suddenly back to the minds of the ruling class. If the reform act was designed to maintain the government and prevent violent overthrow it was undoubtedly successful. Even as the landed interest lost the overall dominance of government later in the 19th century, it was not a violent usurpation but a slow shift in power reflecting the changing nature of society and the economy. Grey, with the Reform Act, forged a powerful alliance between land and industry that stood firm against demands from the working class and gave the rights of property the boost it needed to survive, led by practically the same people. By including the middle classes in the constitution, Britain became the only advanced European nation not to be rocked by political revolution in he 1830’s and 1840’s. We cannot say what may have occurred it the reforms had not been passed by Parliament, but it is not a foregone conclusion that the landed interest would have retained the level of power it did, for the length of time that it did.

Despite the appearance that the Reform Act of 1832 saved the Aristocracy and the establishment, it can be seen with the benefit of hindsight that it was the start of something that none of its makers either intended to wanted; the slow and bloodless evolution of the British political system into a modern, democratic, representative system, and there comes the great failure of the makers of the Act to fulfil their intentions. They had intended the act to be the "final solution of a great constitutional question", as Lord John Russell put it, and yet only 30 years later it was conceded that the working men needed the vote, and by the end of the century the middle class was firmly taking over from the aristocracy as the dominant class of parliament. Therefore, in their search for finality the Whigs were unsuccessful. Their reforms set the precedent for change, showed that it was possible, and also showed the value of popular protest in this process, with disturbances in 1829 and 1832 both achieving results. The Reform Act of 1832 set the country on the path to change, creating the nature of the constitution that has perhaps served it the best over the past century and a half, that is its ability to adapt to the enormous changes in society and the distribution of wealth and power in the country that the modern age and industrialisation have brought. In its immediate effects, it was hugely successful and almost certainly served the interests of the landed ruling elite better than reactionary refusals of change could have. In the long term it did not preserve this dominance, but it was vital for the constitution in preventing violent, bloody revolution, both at the time it was passed, and in the subsequent years. In this achievement, the makers of the 1832 Great Reform Act might indeed be satisfied with its consequences.



Bibliography

Ward, J.T. Popular Movements c.1830-1850, The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1976

G. Williams & J. Ramsden Ruling Britannia: A Political History of Britain 1688-1988, Longman, 1990

E. J. Evans The Great Reform Act of 1832 Routledge, 1994

E. J. Evans The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-1870, Longman,