Category Archives: Political

Robert Peel and the Corn Laws – 1822

 

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Robert Peel and the Corn Laws

Sir Robert PeelDuring the long French war British farmers had reaped great profits through the high price of wheat, and at the close of the war, in [1815], to keep up the price, an act was passed prohibiting the importation of foreign wheat until the price in Britain reached eighteen shillings a quarter; colonial wheat, which was unimportant in quantity, might be brought in when the price reached only sixty seven shillings. 

n [1822] a sliding scale of duties was adopted.  When the price of wheat was low the duty was to be high, that the English landowner might be always free from the competition of cheap wheat.  Radical reformers attacked these Corn Laws bitterly, and of course laid emphasis upon the injustice to the poor in making wheat dear to benefit well-to-do landlords.  But both the Tory and Whig leaders supported the Corn Laws, and Lord Melbourne declared in [1839] that free trade in corn was the wildest and maddest scheme ever imagined. Richard Cobden’s clear and forcible reasoning enlisted John Bright’s great eloquence in the cause.

These leaders joined the Anti-Corn-Law League formed in [1838], and soon their influence was felt.  Rigid Whigs and Tories still made light of the movement, but Sir Robert Peel saw that the existing system must be changed.  In [1842] and [1845] he lowered the duties, not yet on corn, but on many other commodities, and when there was famine in Ireland in [1845] he begged his Tory colleagues to relieve the starving multitudes by removing the duties on corn.  They refuged, and he resigned. But it was found that no one else could form a ministry; Peel resumed office, and the repeal of the Corn Laws was then certain. 

Supported by many Whigs under Lord John Russell, but amid the execrations of his former Tory friends, Peel carried through in June, [1846], the great measure by which, after February 1, [1849], wheat was admitted free with the exception of a registration duty of a shilling a quarter; even this duty was abolished in [1869]; it was reimposed in [1902], but so wedded was the nation to free trade that it was again abolished in [1903].

Excerpt from The British Nation by George McKinnon Wrong – 1903

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Further Reading and External Links

The Campaign for the Repeal of the Corn Laws

The Irish Famine

Sir Robert Peel – Prime Minister

Lack of Money

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Lack of Money

Roman CoinsLack of money was one of the great evils.  The empire did not have sufficient supplies of precious metals for the demands of business; and what money there was was steadily drained away to India and the distant Orient (p. 15).  By the fourth century this movement had carried away hundreds of millions of dollars of coined money.  Even the imperial officers were forced to take part of their salaries in produce, robes, horses, grain.  Trade began to go back to the primitive form of barter; and it became harder and harder to collect taxes.

In the third and fourth centuries there were no more great poets or men of letters.  Learning and patriotism both declined.  Society began to fall into rigid castes, the serf bound to his spot of land, the artisan to his trade, the curial to his office, Freedom of movement was lost.   Above all, there was dearth of money and dearth of men.  The Empire had become a shell.

For five hundred years, outside barbarians had been tossing wildly about the great natural walls of the civilized world.   Commonly they had shrunk in dread from any conflict with the mighty Roman legions, always on sleepless ward at the weaker gaps – along the Rhine, the Danube, the Euphrates.   Sometimes, it is true, the barbarians had broken through for a moment, but always to be destroyed promptly by some Roman Marius or Caesar.   In the fifth century they broke in to stay.

But meanwhile Christianity had come into the world.  The supreme service of the dying Empire was to foster this new force for human progress.

Excerpt from The Story of Modern Progress by Willis Mason West – 1920

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Further Reading and External Links

Why did the Roman Empire Fall

The Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Concluding our John Wilkes Story

THE END – 1788-1797

WHEN the king was taken ill, and it seemed unlikely that he would recover his reason, Wilkes passed through a period of much anxiety.  For him the political situation was full of menace.  If a Regency were established it was probable that he would lose his seat in Parliament, and possibly be deposed from the office of Chamberlain.  From his point of view it was most important that the Prince of Wales should not be invested with the royal authority, for in such a contingency it was inevitable that Fox would come into power.  Although still claiming a nominal independence, Wilkes’s political fortunes were bound up with those of Pitt and the Tories, and it was certain that his old allies would be glad to punish him for his apostasy.1

During the three months that the king’s malady was at its height, Polly Wilkes was staying in Paris on a long visit to her old friend, Madame La Valliere, Duchesse de Chastillon, and all through the momentous winter she received the latest bulletins from her father, who was ever on the watch for news of the royal invalid.  Upon each favourable symptom he dwelt joyously, as though he were announcing the convalescence of a beloved relative, “thanking Heaven” when there was improvement, exulting greatly when the patient slept or was able to take food. “The stories of the King, Queen, and youngest Princess,” he

          1.  Wilkes joined with Fox in opposing the Shop Tax in [1787], Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. lvii., Part I, p144

wrote in a burst of feeling, “are so affecting that I have not courage to transcribe them.”  A very different Wilkes indeed this sentimentalist who paid “the voluntary tribute of tears” to the pathos of royal domesticity from the malicious author of “No. 45.” The jest of his revolutionary days that “he loved the King so well that he hoped never to see another” no longer had a double meaning.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 21 –  The End

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The Growth of the Athenian Empire

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The Growth of the Athenian Empire  479-462 BC

A Greek BoatThe history of this time with its rush of events and its startling changes exhibits on the Athenian side a picture of astonishing and almost preternatural energy.  The transition from the Athenian hegemony to the Athenian empire was doubtless gradual, so that no one could determine precisely where the former ends and the latter begins: but it had been consummated before the thirty years’ truce, which was concluded fourteen years before the Peloponnesian War, and it was in fact the substantial cause of that war.  Empire then came to be held by Athens, partly as a fact established, resting on acquiescence rather than attachment or consent in the minds of the subjects, partly as a corollary from necessity of union combined with her superior force: while this latter point, superiority of force as a legitimate title, stood more and more forward, both in the language of her speakers and in the conceptions of her citizens.  Nay, the Athenian orators of the middle of the Peloponnesian War venture to affirm that their empire had been of this same character ever since the repulse of the Persians: an inaccuracy so manifest, that if we could suppose the speech made by the Athenian Euphemus at Camarina in 415 B.C., to have been heard by Themistocles or Aristides fifty years before, it would have been alike offensive to the prudence of the one and to the justice of the other.

The imperial state of Athens, that which she held at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, when her allies, except Chios and Lesbos, were tributary subjects, and when the AEgean Sea was an Athenian lake, was of course the period of her greatest splendour and greatest action upon the Grecian world.  It was also the period most impressive to historians, orators, and philosophers, suggesting the idea of some one state exercising dominion over the AEgean, as the natural condition of Greece, so that if Athens lost such dominion, it would be transferred to Sparta, holding out the dispersed maritime Greeks as a tempting prize for the aggressive schemes of some new conqueror, and even bringing up by association into men’s fancies the mythical Minos of Crete, and others, as having been rulers of the AEgean in times anterior to Athens.

Even those who lived under the full-grown Athenian empire had before them no good accounts of the incidents between 479-450 B.C.; for we may gather from the intimation of Thucydides, as well as from his barrenness of facts, that while there were chroniclers both for the Persian invasion and for the times before, no one cared for the times immediately succeeding.  Hence, the little light which has fallen upon this blank has all been borrowed – if we except the careful Thucydides – from a subsequent age; and the Athenian hegemony has been treated as a mere commencement of the Athenian empire: credit has been given to Athens for a long-sighted ambition, aiming from the Persian War downwards at results which perhaps Themistocles may have partially divined, but which only time and successive accidents opened even to distant view.

Excerpt from The Historians’ History of the World by Henry Smith Williams – 1907

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Further Reading and External Links

iTunes U – FREE Video – Ancient Greek History

More on Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece for History-World.org

Making of the Athenian Empire

THE MAKING OF THE ATHENIAN EMPIRE (479 BC – 445 BC)

The Long Walls of AthensThe Rebuilding of Athens; the Fortifications of the Piraeus.

After the battle of Plataea and the expulsion of the barbarians from Greece, the Athenians who had found an asylum at Salamis, AEgina, and other places returned to Athens.  They found only a heap of ruins where their city had once stood. Under the lead of Themistocles, the people with admirable spirit set themselves to the task of rebuilding their homes and erecting new walls.

The rival states of the Peloponnesian League watched the proceedings of the Athenians with the most jealous interest.  The Spartans sent an embassy to dissuade them from rebuilding their walls, hypocritically assigning as the ground of their interest in the matter their fear lest, in case of another Persian invasion, the city, if captured, should become a stronghold for the enemy.  But the Athenians persisted in their purpose, and soon had raised the wall to such a height that they could defy interference.

At the same time that the work of restoration was going on at Athens, the fortifications at Piraeus were being enlarged and strengthened.  That Athens’ supremacy depended upon control of the sea had now become plain to all.  Consequently the haven town was surrounded with walls even surpassing in strength the new walls of the upper city.  The Piraeus soon grew into a bustling commercial city, one of the chief centers of trade in the Hellenic world.

1 (478-477 B.C.) . 1A few years after this Themistocles fell into disfavor and was ostracized (471 BC).  He finally bent his steps to Susa, the Persian capital.  King Artaxerxes appointed him governor of Magnesia in Asia Minor and made provision for his wants by assigning to three cities the duty of providing for his table: one was to furnish bread, a second wine, and a third meat.    Piutarch relates that one day as the exile sat down to his richly loaded board he exclaimed, “How much we should have lost, my children, if we had not been ruined I” He died probably about 460 BC.

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Further Reading and External Links

iTunes U – FREE Video – Ancient Greek History

More on Themistocles

An Exhausted Volcano

 

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AN EXHAUSTED VOLCANO – 1780-1788
CHAPTER XX

John Wilkes – Porcelain Figure in British MuseumIN the summer that followed the melancholy visit to Bath, when Wilkes had sat and sighed in Mrs. Stafford’s empty home, he was once more in the midst of a political tumult that affected his reputation more considerably than any event since his release from prison.  After having caused the rising of a hundred mobs, he was obliged at last to take his share in quelling the fiercest riot that the capital had ever seen.  A woeful object lesson showed him the fallacy of the convenient doctrine that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”  For the first time since the accession of George the Third, he found himself on the side of the Government.  It was the outbreak of the Gordon Riots that caused this remarkable tergiversation, and he played his new role as resolutely as he had played the demagogue.  

One of the periodical epidemics of religious intolerance had swept over the kingdom.  All the legions of rabid Protestantism were ablaze with wrath because Parliament had put an end to the persecution of Catholics by allowing them the right to worship in their own faith and by removing the penalties under which their property had been liable to forfeiture.  With Lord George Gordon as their hysterical leader, the most combative of the fanatics began a fierce agitation against “Popery,” and it was resolved that a procession of twenty thousand malcontents should march to St. Stephen’s with a petition for the repeal of the Relief Act.  On the appointed day a turbulent mob, three times as large as was expected, surged around the walls of Westminster Palace.  The demonstration speedily became a riot.  Maddened by religious bigotry the crowd was determined that Parliament should obey its commands.  Every member, as he made his way through Palace Yard, was obliged to assume the blue cockade, and to promise that he would vote for the repeal of the obnoxious laws.  All who were suspected of sympathising with the Catholics were seized and beaten, some of them being grievously hurt before they could be rescued.  With wild shouts of “No Popery,” a multitude forced its way into the lobbies, where Lord George Gordon addressed them in an incendiary speech, denouncing his fellow-members as the emissaries of Rome.  For several hours both the Lords and the Commons were kept prisoners in their respective Houses, waiting, sword in hand, for the onslaught of the rioters, who were expected every moment to burst through the locked doors.  It was not until the arrival of the Guards that Parliament was rescued from its humiliating position, when the mob withdrew without any attempt at resistance, manifesting its zeal for the Protestant faith by burning two Catholic chapels near Golden Square and Lincoln’s Inn Fields before it dispersed into the slums.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 20 –  An Exhausted Volcano

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Further Reading and External Links

The National Archives – The second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.

Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.

John Wilkes on Google Books

The Rise of Athens

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Excerpt from Ancient History by Hutton Webster – 1913

The Rise of Athens (to 500 B.C.)

The World according to Hecataeus (500 BC)From the story of the growth of Sparta, we now turn to recount the development of her neighbor and rival, the city of Athens.   Athens, it has been said, is for us the history of Greece.  In art, in literature, in social and intellectual life, Athens was to represent the highest and best in Greek culture.  We shall deal, in later chapters, with these contributions of the Athenian genius to civilization.  For the present we must confine ourselves to the Athenian achievement in creating the first really democratic government in antiquity.

The district of Attica, though smaller than our smallest American commonwealth, was early filled with a number of independent city-states.  It was a great step in advance when, long, before the dawn of Greek history, these several communities were united with Athens.  The inhabitants of the Attic towns and villages gave up their separate governments and became members of the one city-state of Athens.  Henceforth a man was an Athenian citizen, no matter in what part of Attica he lived. 

At an earlier period, perhaps, than elsewhere in Greece, monarchy at Athens began to give way before the rising power of the nobles.  Kingly rule, which Oriental peoples never succeeded in abolishing, disappeared from Athens before its recorded history begins.

The rule of the nobility bore harshly on the common people.  Popular discontent was especially The World according to Homer (900 BC)excited at the administration of justice.  There were at first no written laws, but only the long-established customs of the community.  Since all the judges were nobles, they were tempted to decide legal cases in favor of their own class.  The people, at

We do not know anything about Lycurgus, but we do know that some existing primitive tribes, for instance, the Masai of East Africa, have customs almost the same as those of ancient Sparta.  Hence we may say that the rude, even barbarous, Spartans only carried over into the historic age the habits of life which they had formed in prehistoric times.  1 See page 138.

length, began to clamor for a written code. Every one then could know just what the laws were.

After much agitation, an Athenian named Draco was employed to write out a code for the state.  The laws, as published, were very severe.  The penalty for most offenses, even the smallest theft, was death.  The Athenians used to declare that the Draconian code had been written “not in ink, but in blood.”   However, its publication was a popular triumph, and the first step toward the establishment of Athenian democracy.

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Further Reading and External Links

iTunes U – FREE Video – Ancient Greek History

More on Draco and Solon Laws

The Athenian Court System

 

In The House

 

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IN THE HOUSE – 1774 – 1782

Houses of Parliament[1774]-[1782] WITH the close of [1774] the tide in the affairs of John Wilkes had reached its flood.  After a ceaseless struggle of more than five years his faithful followers had succeeded in giving him a place in the House of Commons…

…When Wilkes took his seat in the new House of Commons on the 2nd of December, the Opposition regarded him with little more favour than the ministry.  Like all who have repudiated the trammels of party discipline, he had committed a political offence almost as heinous and unforgivable as one who has deserted to the other side.  The recent dispute with Edmund Burke over the candidature for Westminster had increased the mistrust of the Rockingham faction.  With the exception of Sir George Savile none of the prominent Whig leaders would have any dealings with him.  In the Upper House there was no one but his fellow symposiast, “the wicked” Lord Lyttelton, who could be relied upon to give him assistance.  Despite their antagonism in city affairs Lord Shelburne was the only statesman with whose policy he was in sympathy, but the enmity of Oliver and Townsend made an alliance impossible.  So he stood alone with his little band of disciples, bearing the ominous badge of independence like “hay upon his horns,” and every party was on its guard against him.

Undoubtedly his programme was intolerable to the most progressive Whig.  He vociferated still that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”  Among his followers the famous resolutions promulgated by the Supporters of the Bill of Rights three years before continued to be the test for all parliamentary candidates, who were required to sign a declaration, promising to support a drastic reform bill and other revolutionary measures.  Not only were the terms of the required pledge abhorrent to official Whiggism, but the principle itself was regarded with antipathy in the belief that it would reduce the representatives of the people to the position of delegates.  Yet the great families who cherished the dogmas of “the glorious revolution” failed to realise that their views were as retrogressive as those of the Wilkites were extreme, and that, while the spirit of the age demanded that the Member of Parliament should become more regardful of his constituents, the relations between them might be modified in harmony with the theory of the constitution. To Wilkes is due the credit (if such it is) of being the first to make the relationship between the representative and the electors a more intimate one.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 17 In The House

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Further Reading and External Links

The National Archives – The second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.

Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.

John Wilkes on Google Books

Lord Mayor of London

 

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Lord Mayor of London

[1772]-[1775] DURING the next four years Wilkes was the most conspicuous figure in the turbulent arena of city politics.  Two powerful factions were arrayed against him all the while, disputing his progress step by step, the mercantile adherents of the Government and the party of Oliver and Townsend…

…It was Wilkes’s fate invariably to be badly served by those he trusted, being, in spite of all his shrewdness, absolutely without discretion when choosing a subordinate.  

During his shrievalty and for many years afterwards, the Supporters of the Bill of Rights continued to pay his debts and provide him with an annuity.  With happy tact, shortly after the great schism, he had persuaded the society to “take into consideration the state of his affairs,” declaring at the same time that he had no claim upon them.  The docile and opulent Bull was proud to act as treasurer, Sir Watkin Lewiswhile Brass Crosby and Watkin Lewis contended with each other for the chair.  Although the contributions of the faithful flowed in a less copious stream, the principal members of the club could afford to make up the deficiency.  Dr. Wilson and Sir Joseph Mawbey were wealthy men, and Humphrey Cotes, who remained a devoted slave, was always ready to canvass for the benefit of his leaders.  Many of the Whig magnates, including Lord Rockingham and the Dukes of Portland and Devonshire, contributed an annual sum of £100 for Wilkes’s benefit.   An occasional legacy swelled the balance-sheet.   And though his income was considerable, he supplemented it largely by credit.

At the next election he stood for the mayoralty.  In order to prevent the return of a “ministerial alderman,” James Townsend was chosen as the other popular candidate, Lord Shelburne’s influence in the city being in a large measure responsible for his selection.  Having proclaimed publicly in his dispute with Oliver that “it was the duty of every gentleman to submit to the Livery the choice of his colleague,”  Wilkes could make no objection, although the enmity between Townsend and himself was more bitter than ever.  In the Court of Common Council they had accused one another respectively of committing perjury and uttering falsehoods, and everyone believed that sooner or later a duel must take place.  Wilkes headed the poll, as all had expected, followed closely by his enemy, who received only twenty-three votes less, and though their opponents demanded a scrutiny the election was confirmed.  During the contest Townsend disdained to appear on the hustings, proclaiming ostentatiously that he had “gone shooting.”

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 16 Lord Mayor of London

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Further Reading and External Links 

John Wilkes on Spartacus Educational

John Wilkes on Google Books

John Wilkes on Wikipedia

The Shrievalty

 

 

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The Shrievalty1770-1778

John WilkesWILKES’S first task after leaving prison was to find a suitable residence for his daughter and himself.  Having £4000 in ready cash and a yearly income of nearly £1400, there was no reason why he should remain in his old lodgings at Mrs. Henley’s.  A few days after his release, with characteristic unselfishness, he allowed Polly to pay a visit to Paris, at the invitation of Madame de Chantereine, in order that she might see the Dauphin’s wedding, so his house-hunting had to be done alone.  Wishing to live near his old home, he secured a lease of No. 7 Prince’s Court, the last house at the end of Great George Street, by Storey’s Gate, with its windows facing Birdcage Walk, paying the moderate rent of fifty guineas a year.  At the same time, deeming it necessary to have a country cottage during the summer months, he took a furnished villa in Elysium Row, Fulham.

For a short period he hesitated to devote himself seriously to civic affairs, feeling instinctively that he would be out of his element.  “I am determined not to be sheriff unless Parliament be dissolved before midsummer,”  he informed his daughter soon after he had made his debut in the Guildhall, wisely regarding the shrievalty as a matter of minor consequence.  At that moment, however, there was no other career to occupy his restless energy, and it seemed probable that the Government would remain in office for another five years.  Fearing, perhaps, that he might fall into obscurity, he allowed his new friends to persuade him to join in the struggle against the court party in the city.  It was a fall as stupendous as that of Lucifer!  In descending from imperial to local politics, Wilkes found himself involved in a hundred petty squabbles and ignoble jealousies with which he need have had no concern.  Men like Sawbridge, Townsend, and Oliver, to whom he was immeasurably superior in wisdom and intelligence, would have accepted him as their political leader without question instead of regarding him as an unwelcome rival, had he not invaded their own special domain.  It was a tactical error of the greatest magnitude and the only one that Wilkes ever made.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1907

Chapter 15 The Shrievalty

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Further Reading and External Links

The National Archives – The second half of the 18th century saw a flowering of ideas concerning popular rights. In the 1760s, many of these concern John Wilkes MP.

Remember John Wilkes
The radical, journalist and politician, John Wilkes, is remembered by a statue on Fetter Lane in the City of London.

John Wilkes on Google Books