Explain how liberalism affected events in Great Britain during 19th century.

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write8,912 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Classic liberalism emphasized individual freedom, economic freedom, and property rights. It was built on the work of thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Liberals tended to come from the newly wealthy industrial classes in Great Britain and the lower classes, while landed aristocrats tended to be conservative.

For example, British Corn laws were an example of government interference into the economy that the Liberals wanted to end. The Corn Laws protected the landed aristocracy by limiting the import of cheap grains from abroad. This kept food prices high so that the aristocrats could remain rich. However, the high food prices created hardships for the poor. As the poor were increasingly working in factories, rich industrialists were under pressure to raise wages so the poor could afford to eat. This annoyed the industrialists, as they realized the higher wages would essentially subsidize an already privileged class who were enabled by the government to charge inflated prices for food. The Liberals called for an end to the Corn Laws and eventually prevailed.

Early in the nineteenth century, the Liberal party was able to enact legislation that banned British participation in the slave trade. It also gradually increased the number of males who could vote via the Reform Bills of 1832, 1867, and 1884. Liberalism, while it hardly addressed all the problems brought on by early industrialism, did allow England to distribute wealth somewhat more equally than the rest of Europe (there was, however, nothing like wealth equality in England) and to expand the vote, increasing the rights of the average person.

Liberalism's ascent meant less power in the hands of the landed aristocracy. By gradually expanding the rights of the average person, it probably helped England avoid a revolution of the type that erupted in Russia in the early twentieth century.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

I would say that one of liberalism's greatest impacts in Great Britain was with the advancement of the industrial revolution.  Liberalism played a major role in this development because of the laissez- faire approach that government demonstrated towards business and economic growth.  The liberalized policies that did not limit economic proliferation of wealth was something that played a major role in British history in the 19th Century.  Liberal ideas relating to government's role in business and the relationship that both shared helped to define much of the age.  There was very little control or regulation that government placed on business, due in large part to the construction of liberal philosophy that allowed for businesses to grow unfettered and for business owners to perceive government as an ally in their desire to gain and maintain economic power.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Ask a Question