How ‘great’ was GreatBritain from 1750 to1914? Well, to answer that question you would need todefine ‘great’, one word with many meanings. These include: big, large, or interms of influence. All of these are valid in this essay, and the ‘greatness’of Britain will be analysed throughout its, arguably, finest years.
Great canbe split into meanings, just as Britain can be with its main aspects. The’greatness’ of Britain can be spilt into the P.E.S.C.I.
M. formula (Political,Economic, Social and Cultural, Imperial and Military). It will also be exploredin a ‘case-study approach’, looking at some of the main aspects, and moments,from Britain’s best years. One of the factors whichcontributed to the social and cultural landscape of Great Britain during thisperiod was The British Empire.
This changed the way people spoke forever. Theyall communicated using one language, making trade easier between the coloniesand the British. This also brought new words into the language, such as jungleand pyjamas.
The Empire brought with them to the colonies their highly-renownededucation system, improving literacy rates, by almost 20% in Northern Americancolonies by 1760. The law systems were also improved, some of them up to today.Some of these countries speak English as one of the main languages, or have abetter ability to speak English after imperial rule. This was exceptional forthe colonies and development in them, as they were improved in many ways, likein infrastructure. This proves that Britain was not just great for itself, butfor the colonies they protected as well. Yet with all of thoseimprovements, came drawbacks. Native culture was ignored, banned and dying,because of the British culture being forced onto them.
This lead to theextinction of some native tribes, and some others were dying out, just becauseof British rule. Britain just stole the land, apart from in a few cases, fromthe people and the countries ruling them. They took resources too, just for thewell-being of citizens in the British Isles. They also stopped the practice ofnative religion, and forced Christianity onto the colonists. This only enragedthe people of the colonies, and later encouraged protest against the rule ofBritain, and eventually, independence. This is not normally heard of theempire, and knocks back their greatness. Although this is a big knock, thepositives outweigh the negatives, and only the colonies realised the downsides.
So this this is arguably the strongest piece of evidence for the ‘greatness’ ofGreat Britain and is one of the more significant pieces of evidence, because itaffected more than 400 million people and happened across one quarter of theface of the globe. In addition to this, afactor for the ‘greatness’ of Britain economically was the IndustrialRevolution. This rapidly improved the economy, and revolutionised the factoryworkplace. Technology was used in the workplace and increased jobopportunities. This gave more people in a working class family an opportunityto bring in even a small income. Exports of these goods were even moreimportant to the economy, they could be exported to the colonies of the empireand money would come from it.
A lucky few would own a factory and would oftenearn a solid amount of money out of selling the goods produced. The economy wasone of the biggest in the world, and was the first industrial country in theworld. The Industrial Revolution brought forward some of the greatest Britishminds of all time, such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who modernised the railway,and Richard Trevithick, who created the first working steam train in 1804. Thisonly heightens the ‘greatness’ of Britain further, and this makes it strongevidence for the greatness of Britain. Although the IndustrialRevolution was significant in many ways, it was bad for those involved. Most ofthe families, who lived in some of the worst conditions of all people, had smallhouses or none at all, because of poor wages. Almost all of the proceeds wouldgo to the owners of the workplace, therefore opening up the class gapeconomically. Children were separated from mothers as most of them startedworking at the age of about seven.
They then would do some of the mostdangerous jobs of the times, such as chimney sweep, and trapper, who opened thedoors of the mine with little to no light to work with. The mines were verydangerous places; toxic gasses could kill in mines. Only canaries were usedagainst these, when they fell from their perch, the people had to get out. Themachinery in factories could kill someone, and wouldn’t stop for ‘piecers’,young girls who would mend broken threads, and they risked losing limbs andeven death. This makes a big dent in the reputation of the revolution, butstill was a significant turning point in the economy. The weight of evidenceshows that the Industrial Revolution contributed hugely to the ‘greatness’ ofBritain in the period, because of how they were known to be an economicsuperpower and kept it until the 1900’s.
Britain was becoming morepolitically advanced during the 19th century, this is because of itsgrowth towards complete suffrage. Suffrage is where all people have the opportunityto vote in a democratic vote. Britain was growing towards this complex idea,although it did not reach complete democracy and suffrage until the twenties.
Abig turning point in this was the Peterloo Massacre, where fifteen died andfour hundred were injured. It was a big protest in St. Peter’s Field,Manchester, 60-80,000 strong, listened to great orators, hoping for politicalreform. Once Henry Hunt, one of the most liked, started talking, the crowdcheered. Threatened by this, the magistrates then trampled the protesters onhorses. The government, at the time, was run by the Tories (later ConservativeParty) and opposed by the Whigs (Liberals). They only allowed approximately 5%the vote, and some old manors voted for the same amount of M.
P.s as the city ofManchester. This forced the Chartists to form, the 1st mass middleclass movement in history. They proposed that all should get the vote andwanted reform, even after the Great Reform Act, which extended the vote to moremen.
They eventually got what they wanted, after the Chartist collapse of 1848after their embarrassment in their last main ballot. This came in the form ofthe 2nd Reform Act, thought of as ‘a leap in the dark’. It had mostof the chartist ideas in it and they affected voting after the fall ofChartism. Britain made movements towards women’s’ suffrage until 1928 where allabove 21 were allowed the vote.
This proves that Britain is ‘great’ becausethey may not have been democratic to start with, but made significant changesafter mistakes they made. Although Britain madeleaps and bounds into complete democracy, they did not start well, because itwas centred around the rich. Before the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, the top 5%voted for M.P.s and the middle and lower classes had no say in parliamentwhatsoever. The rich would get what they wanted, and who they wanted into powerbecause of how they revolved around the rich. The government would tax less andthe rich would become richer, and more powerful.
When more had the vote, thecity of Manchester would have the same amount of M.P.s as an old manor and thearea around. The master of it would get who he wanted into parliament bysetting him up in his constituency. This proves that Britain was makingconsistent mistakes, but improved eventually. This proves the ‘greatness’ ofBritain, not only naturally, but good at changing too.
The evidence strongly suggeststhat Britain was a power of the sea. Many of their finest victories came duringthe period. Some of the empire’s colonies were captured for naval purposes.Many great leaders were crushed, and created, in Britain’s naval battles. TheNapoleonic Wars highlight some of Britain’s finest moments from any era. Francedeclared war in 1793, and started one of the finest naval campaigns ever seen.One of the main turning points in these wars was the Battle of the Nile. Thiswas decisive, and Britain seemed to be greater than ever, bringing forward oneof the most famous Briton of all time, Admiral Horatio Nelson, to the publicview.
The French then went at the navyagain, at one of the most famous battles in history, the Battle of Trafalgar.Although Nelson was killed during the battle, his leadership defeated theSpanish and French powers, when heavily outnumbered. This created Britishidentity and was one of the ‘greatest’ points of the period. Some of the very fewlow-points of British naval domination were all the American revolution losses.These were rare defeats for an ‘unbeatable’ navy force, who were shocked bydefeats. Although these happened, arguably the ‘greatest’ strengths of Britainwere its navy, and was regarded as one of the best the world has ever seen.
Britain was at itsstrongest during the period, but did the reign of Victoria aid or hinderBritain. This may be true as she ruled over a superpower, and was coming intoits ‘Golden Era’. Before Victoria the country lacked something to make it’great’, but in the reign of Victoria, the empire was at its strongest. Thepopulation before 1750 was approximately 5.8 million, but at the peak of theempire, it was 21.1 million, a huge difference. The average GDP per capita was100 before 1750, but 149 by 1870. This could be because of how the IndustrialRevolution completely changed the economic landscape for years to come, andensured a stable economic future.
The country’s GDP was 100 before 1750, butrose to a huge 548 before 1870. This shows the strength of the economy and thecountry’s exports paying off. The numbers in the British Navy were hugelysmaller than countries it fought against, yet still gained big victory afterbig victory, after being overlooked for many years before. The British made bigchanges to the navy just before 1700, and the empire funded its growth. The empire funded the navy after it gainedland for the empire. After 1800, the navy grew to 140,000 strong and with 596cruise ships. This was a large difference compared to the 1775 figures 117ships of the line, and 82 cruisers.
This shows that Britain realised its navalstrength, and improved on it over time. By looking at this it screams out thatthe factors discussed improved the country massively, and made Britain’greater’. This evidence ensures thefact that all of the factors developed each other, until they finally reachedtheir peak. The economy grew and grew, the empire acquired more and morecolonies, and the navy maintained its lofty standards.
These all helped eachother grow stronger, and not one hindered their progress. This was Britain from1750 to 1914, and it only grew bigger, better, and greater. In conclusion to all ofthe evidence from incredible events, movements, and people, whose efforts madeBritain the biggest country in the world, Britain had proven itself againstother superpowers of the world, and had developed itself to set the pace forall the others. Britain influenced the colonies it was protecting, thecountries it was fighting against, and finally itself.
Its empire spanned aquarter of the globe and was unparalleled by others, as well as dwarfing them.It developed economically during the Industrial Revolution, and thereforebecame a global frontrunner economically, as well as keep up with thedemocratic standards of the time. The biggest part was the empire, it was’great’ to many extents, influentially, as well as the largest in the world. Itset the pace for all to follow economically, and was the crucial first dominoin the chain for Industrial Revolution. It had an ‘invincible’ navy force, anddid all of this while becoming a fully democratic nation.
By doing all ofthese, it brought forward some truly ‘great’ Britons. How ‘Great’ was GreatBritain from 1750-1914? Britain was one of the biggest powers in the world, andfulfilled all of the criteria for being ‘great’. To conclude and to answer thequestion, Britain was one of the greatest nations the world has ever seen.