I’ve been especially interested in the way Britain revived itself between 1820 and 1848. Its comeback has some humbling lessons for us today.
Britain was roiled by economic and demographic changes. There were financial crises, bad harvests and a severe depression. There was crushing inequality. The average life expectancy nationwide was 40, but in the industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool it was around 28.
.. The Chartists cohered around The People’s Charter, which had six demands, including universal male suffrage, vote by ballot and equal electoral districts. In 1842, the Chartists presented a petition to Parliament with three million signatures.
.. Finally, there was the Anti-Corn Law League. This was the best organized and best funded pressure group in 19th-century Britain. It promoted free-trade legislation to reduce the power of the landed gentry, to make food cheaper for the working classes and to encourage international exchange and cooperation.
.. Britain was blessed by a stable parliamentary system and by a legislative culture that valued deliberation and debate. Political leaders in both parties understood that the winds of change were blowing and they had better initiate reforms if they wanted to head off a revolution.