How successful was Lord Liverpool’s government in responding to Popular Discontent in the years 1815 to 1820? Lord Liverpool’s government faced popular discontent in the years 1815 to 1820 due to various social, political and economic factors which led to the majority of the British Public wanting a change. A change in government, government policies and a change to overcome the mass unemployment they were suffering from as a direct result of the end of the Napoleonic War, industrialisation and urbanisation.
However, despite the widely held view that amendments – in favour of the working class – were needed, no such change came about in the years 1815 to 1820. Lord Liverpool’s government was partly responsible for this as it introduced a number of repressive policies to prevent the people from revolting; however it is argued that the main reason for the lack of change was due to the disorganisation of the radical opposition. At the end of the Napoleonic War, Britain began trading with Europe once again.
This worried the farmers who were afraid that the importation of foreign corn would lower prices. As a result, the British landowners put pressure on the House of Commons to take action and protect their profit and were successful, resulting in the Corn Law being introduced. This applied a tax to all foreign wheat imports unless they reached the domestic price of 80 shillings and was viewed by the industrial class as a way in which the government was protecting the rich landowners – and paying no regard to the working, industrial class majority.
The introduction of this law made things incredibly hard for the poor who were already struggling to feed their families and suffering from unemployment, furthermore manufacturers were affected by this law as their workers began demanding higher wages. As well as strikes, the Corn Law led to food riots all over Britain and was the reason many middle class moderate reformers began joining in to the call for change.
Therefore it can be viewed as one of the reasons Lord Liverpool’s government was unsuccessful in dealing with popular discontent as rather than introducing reforms in favour of the radicals, it did the opposite and intensified their outcry for change. The Corn Law was followed by the abolition of income tax in 1816 to protect the wages of the landowners once again. As a result, indirect taxes were added to everyday items such as tea, sugar, tobacco, beer and salt. The abolition of Income Tax was a tax which benefited the rich more than the poor, however the indirect added taxes
harmed the poor more than the rich, as they were victims of unemployment and low wages. This therefore created further popular discontent and was once again viewed as another policy to favour the rich, landowning class and is hence seen as a reason the government was unsuccessful in dealing with popular discontent. Having said that, from 1817 to 1820 various repressive measures were introduced to control popular discontent and ensure that the government of Lord Liverpool was not overthrown.
The first of these was the suspension of the Habeas Corpus act; this meant that the government could hold political prisoners for an indefinite period of time and therefore intimidated people from opposing Liverpool and his government. Despite this act creating internal popular discontent it was successful as people were now angered by the government – arguably even more so than before – however were too intimidated by the idea of transportation or being arrested for an indefinite period of time to react in protest. Furthermore, in 1819 the Six Acts were introduced.
The first of these gave local magistrates extensive powers to restrict public meetings and therefore prevented people from planning any forms of riot or protest. The Seizure of Arms Act gave local magistrates the right to search for and seize arms, making it virtually impossible for the radicals to up rise using violent methods. The Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act prevented the opposition to generate support through propaganda and raising awareness, as any publications unapproved by local magistrates could be seized.
The fifth of the six acts introduced a four pence stamp duty on newspapers to ensure that the price of the radical newspapers was beyond the means of most members of the working class, this further prevented support through propaganda. And finally the Misdemeanours Act sped up procedures for bringing treason to trial, its impact led to people being too afraid to protest in fear of being arrested and even transported.
As mentioned above, these repressive policies made it practically impossible for the radicals to organise a mass uprising to overthrow the unjust government of Lord Liverpool as doing so required authorisation from their local magistrates – authorisation they obviously would not be granted. Therefore this is an example of how Lord Liverpool’s government was successful in dealing with popular discontent as instead of abolishing it by giving in, it was dealt with through prevention policies.
However, despite these wonderful repressive policies introduced by his government to prevent popular discontent, it must be noted that this cannot be solely credited to Lord Liverpool. The radical opposition was far from organised, and was divided into groups consisting of people who advocated violence like the Spenceans in the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820, and other non violent groups.
This division weakened the development of a united working class response and gave the impression of protestors who were hopeful – but by no means forceful – for change. Furthermore, the radicals were not well equipped with weapons and perhaps this can be credited to the Six Acts, however even if the Seizure of Arms Act had not been introduced, the working class radicals would most likely not have had the means to acquire sophisticated forms of weaponry.
Therefore it can be concluded that the government of Lord Liverpool’s reactionary acts played an important role in preventing popular discontent as despite being harsh enough to provoke opposition, were repressive enough to prevent it taking place. However, in my opinion, the lack of change in favour of the working class was far more due to a failure on their part, than a success for the government of Lord Liverpool.
Courtney from Study Moose
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