How far was Lord Liverpool's government directly responsible for the popular unrest of the years 1815-1820?

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Natalya Frederick


How far was Lord Liverpool’s government directly responsible for the popular unrest of the years 1815-1820?

Although much of the legislation passed and many of the tactics used by Lord Liverpool’s government in response to the unrest in the years 1815-1820 aggravated the situation, they were not directly responsible for the popular discontent.

Some of the reasons for discontent pre-dated the Liverpool administration.  

Lord Liverpool’s government took office in 1812, when the Luddite movement was already at its peak – the first major and open displays of radical discontent.  Not only did industrialisation cause new technological advances to replace workers, but the remaining workers (particularly in major cities) experienced worsening working conditions and lower pay at the hands of ruthless employers who wanted to meet the increasing demand for heavy goods.  Another reason for discontent that was largely beyond government control, was the population growth of the time and the subsequent migration to newly industrialised urban areas for employment opportunities.  The high population in poor urban areas resulted in social problems such as poor sanitation, squalor, disease and over-crowding.

These problems were exacerbated by the end of the Napoleonic war, which marked the end of the economic ‘boom’ period that the country had enjoyed due to demands on the armament and other war associated industries, causing acute depression to hit soon after.  This caused widespread unemployment, poverty and poor standard of living.  In the countryside, low crop prices due to good harvests and the influx of foreign corn, caused farmers and the farming industry to be in crisis conditions by the mid 1810s.  Although government response to these problems aggravated situation, they were not directly responsible for the consequences of the war’s end.  These acute social and economic problems caused an intensification of the radical movement in order to win over the suffering working classes by capitalising on the popular unrest and increasing the movement’s popularity.

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The radical message was spread in a number of ways during this period in order to increase awareness of radical aims amongst the working classes.  The radical press was circulated nation-wide, with newspapers such as The Political Register, Black Dwarf and The Republican working to translate and criticise government action from a radical viewpoint.  With increasing literacy rates, this was an effective way of stirring political unrest among the working classes and presenting evocative anti-government propaganda such as political cartoons which would present Lord Liverpool’s administration as oppressive, corrupt and totally undemocratic.  Through these radical publications, the workforce was able ...

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