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Liberalism

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As the Industrial Revolution progressed, the people of Britain found themselves in the middle of a vastly changing society in which new technologies and ideals were constantly arising. One such ideal was termed Liberalism and its characteristics were found to be very agreeable with the people of Britain during the 1800s. In 1832 the Liberal movement really took off due to the proposal of the Reform Act, which would give more people the right to vote since the borough franchise was lowered. Namely, the middle-class, or at least the upper-middle-class would now have a say in the government. The Reform Bill added about one million people to the voting population and most of them belonged to the middle-class working families, which set the stage for Liberalism and all the ideas it encompassed to take off and greatly affect the way politics would be run in Britain. The party's accordance with middle-class ideals caused the political philosophy to launch into the forefront of British politics and rapidly took a dominant seat in the decision making process during this time period. The three main tenants that the middle-class found great compatibility with were the sense of independence, the need to control their businesses as they saw fit without the threat of government intervention, and the idea that Britain's poor was not the problem of the government, but rather an issue for voluntary organizations. These three characteristics along with the ability to amass a sense of power and wealth that rivaled the aristocrats were driving factors in the rapid rise of the Liberal movement among the middle-class.

One of the most important aspects of Liberalism was the independence it offered to the middle-class. The main tenets of this philosophy were individualism, self-reliance, and self-respect. These ideals were combined and confounded into a concept known as "self-help," outlined by Sam Smiles, which exhorted people to stop complaining about their dispositions and use their talents to get ahead in the world. Basically, this was a message of hope for the middle-class and supposed the idea that just because someone was not an aristocrat did not mean they had no political clout or that they were less deserving of at least the opportunity to make a good life for themselves. Another hopeful message that this political view brought to the table was that the perfectibility of mankind was indeed possible. The middle-class thought that this goal could be achieved through the use of science, a field which was steadily blossoming in British circles. This sense of hope pulsed through middle-class veins and pervaded every aspect of their lives inspiring them to work even harder to overcome the obstacles that stood in the way of their quest for equality and betterment.

Another reason that Liberalism arose so swiftly and powerfully in this period was the idea that the middle-class should be allowed, for the most part, to govern themselves and not have to face the threat of unnecessary government regulations. In other words, they wanted laissez-faire to be a major part of their government. Specifically, the middle-class wanted to be free from economic regulations that the government might impose to infringe on their ability to make a living. An example of a potential economic regulation that threatened the middle-classes was wage rates. For factory owners, the amount of pay given to workers significantly affected the profits that could be made. During this time period Britain was in a state of deflation, which led to the lower prices. Therefore, even when factories decreased nominal wages, the worker's real wages were increasing. This however, was very hard for workers to understand and their ignorance often led to strikes and the possibility of government intermeddling. Liberals held the ideal that they should be able to pay their workers whatever wage they wanted and this idea obviously struck a chord with small factory owners and other middle-class workers since they flocked to rabidly to the movement.

The other idea pertaining to economics that pervaded Liberalism was that free trade should be encouraged in Britain. This principle can be observed by the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. The overturning of these laws served as a starting point for the advancement and benefits of free trade in Britain. The Liberal party owes a great debt to William Gladstone for furthering the idea of free trade to the winning over the "vast majority of the working class." by showing them that free trade in Britain would obviously carry some benefits for smaller business owners because they could increase the size of their market and turn higher profits. For liberals, when the government instituted protectionism on certain goods it was seen as a sort of "theft" and would not be stood for. The idea of protectionism was repulsive to most of the middle-class because it stunted their businesses' growth and the chance of preventing such governmental intrusions was a big selling point for the Liberal movement.

Another main tenet of Liberalism, which the middle-class fully supported, was the idea that it is not the government's responsibility to take care of the economically ailing populations, but instead a burden belonging to voluntary organizations such as the Church. If individuals wanted to give donations to the church then of course they were free to do so. However, Liberalists did not want to be responsible for supporting poor citizens who were poor due to laziness or similar attributes so the Poor Law of 1840 was enacted to differentiate between the deserving and non-deserving poor and prevented people from taking advantage of the charitable organizations. By shifting the duty of tending to the poor from the government to these voluntary organizations fewer tax dollars would be spent on the matter and therefore, could be used as a catalyst in more profitable applications serving to benefit the middle-class.

When all things are said and done the appeal of Liberalism was that the middle-class could do as they pleased to a certain extent and earn higher profits, thus, letting them live the "good life" that previously belonged to the upper-class and the aristocrats. The middle-classes obviously tried to emulate the aristocratic lifestyle after they came into their new found money. This can be seen from their incessant spending to acquire land, the sending of their children to the same fine schools as aristocratic and professional's children, and even the sports that the middle-classes began to dabble in. As the Liberal party's political influence began to steadily increase they began to trade with the aristocrats and other wealthy classes among them. They would offer those groups in the higher echelons power so long as

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