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The years of power and danger

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Part 1

Britain in the nineteenth century was at its most powerful and self-confident. After the industrial revolution, nineteenth-century Britain was the "workshop" of the world. Until the last quarter of the century British factories were producing more than any other country in the world. By the end of the century, Britain's empire was political rather than commercial. Britain used this empire to control large areas of the world. The empire gave the British a feeling of their own importance which was difficult to forget when Britain lost its power in the twentieth century. This belief of the British in their own importance was at its height in the middle of the nineteenth century, among the new middle class, which had grown with

industrialization. The novelist Charles Dickens nicely described this national pride. One of his characters, Mr Podsnap, believed that Britain had been specially chosen by God and "considered other countries a mistake". The rapid growth of the middle class was part of the enormous rise in the population. In 1815 the population was 13 million, but this had doubled by 1871, and was over 40 million by 1914.This

growth and the movement of people to towns from the countryside forced a change in the political balance, and by the end of the century most men had the right to vote. Politics and government during the nineteenth century became increasingly

the property of the middle class. The aristocracy and the Crown had little power left by 1914. However, the working class, the large number of people who had left their villages to become factory workers, had not yet found a proper voice.

Britain enjoyed a strong place in European councils after the defeat of Napoleon. Its strength was not in a larger population, as this was half that of France and Austria, and only a little greater than that of Prussia. It lay instead in industry and trade, and the navy which protected his trade. Britain wanted two main things in Europe: a "balance of power" which would prevent any single nation from becoming too strong, and a free market in which its own industrial and trade superiority would give Britain a clear advantage. It succeeded in the first aim by encouraging the recovery of France, to balance the power of Austria. Further east, it was glad that Russia's influence in Europe was limited by Prussia and the empires of Austria and Turkey. These all shared a border with Russia. Outside Europe, Britain wished its trading position to be stronger than anyone else's. It defended its interests by keeping ships of its navy in almost every ocean of the world. This was possible because it had taken over and occupied a number of places during the war against Napoleon. These included Mauritius (in the Indian Ocean), the Ionian Islands (in the eastern Mediterranean), Sierra Leone (west

Africa), Cape Colony (south Africa), Ceylon, and Singapore. After 18 15 the British government did not only try to develop its trading stations, Irs policy now was to control world traffic and world markets to Britain's advantage. Britain did not, however, wish to colonize everywhere. There were many areas in which it had no interest. But there were other areas, usually close to its own possessions or on important trade routes, which it wished everyone else to leave alone. It was as a result of defending these interests that Britain took over more and more land. Britain's main anxiety in its foreign policy was that Russia would try to expand

southwards, by taking over the Slavic parts of Turkey's Balkan possessions, and might reach the Mediterranean. For most of the century, therefore, Britain did its best to support Turkey against Russian expansion. In spite of its power, Britain

also felt increasingly anxious about growing competition from France and Germany in the last part of the century. Most of the colonies established in the nineteenth century were more to do with political control than with trading for profit. The concerns in Europe and the protection of trade routes in the rest of the world guided Britain's foreign policy for a hundred years. It was to keep the balance in Europe in 1838 that Britain promised to protect Belgium against stronger neighbors. In spite of political and economic troubles in Europe, this policy kept Britain from war in Europe for a century from 1815. In fact it was in defense of Belgium in 1914 that Britain finally went to war against Germany.




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