Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1800 to 1833

African man sold as slave in British colonies: his strength is chained

BRITS FACE DOWN AN EMPEROR,
END SLAVERY,
FREE CHILDREN,
OPEN UP TRADE,
INSURE HONEST ELECTIONS

Entrenched and ruthless powers oppose the Christian abolitionists trying to end slavery. Every society on earth had slavery, but only the Anglosphere ends the slave trade and slavery.
Brits also defeat a foreign invasion, tackle Parliamentary reform, free themselves from the Corn Laws, and pass laws to protect children and women.

Photo: sdominick@istockphoto.com

1801 PITT THE YOUNGER BATTLES FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM FOR CATHOLICS

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger tries to right a long history of egregious misrule in Ireland.  Pitt works to swing the half-mad George III behind giving Irish Catholics the right to vote, and succeeds in bringing Irish members into Parliament in the 1801 Act of Union. But Pitt fails to persuade Parliament to allow those Irish who are Catholic to vote, and in protest, he resigns.

1802 BROUGHAM LAUNCHES CAREER AS REFORMER

Henry Brougham goes to university at 14 to study science and mathematics, but becomes interested in social reform, and decides to train as a lawyer.  He launches the EDINBURGH REVIEW with his friends, jumps into a career in politics, and throws himself into the great struggles of the day, including the abolition of slavery, rights for women, and the right of all free men to vote. Handsome and efficient, he has enough spare energy to design the famous carriage pulled by one horse (the brougham) and to help establish the University of London.

Statue of Horatio Nelson shows him dressed in naval uniform. Due to war injuries he is missing his right hand and blind in one eye.

Horatio Nelson is twelve when he enlists in the Royal Navy. Though often seasick, he adores the sea and the Navy, and becomes a captain at 20.  He loses his right eye to debris from a French shot, but undaunted he continues to lead his men.  Well-liked, he often plans his tactical moves with them. Famous for clapping the telescope to his blind eye so he could ignore a signal to withdraw, Nelson helps to defeat Napoleonic aggression.

Photo: stevegeer@istockphoto.com

1802 – 1806 BRITS DEFEAT IMPERIAL FRENCH CONQUEST OF EUROPE

Enlightenment ideas help to create the French Revolution. Unfortunately the French Revolution (1789-99) exalts the tyranny of ideology over the liberty of the individual. As a result it descends into violent chaos. While thousands of Frenchmen are being murdered in the French Terror, Napoleon Bonaparte manages to become a French general.

During his long and infamous career, Napoleon attacks and plunders Italy, treacherously turns his guns on the Knights of Malta, who had defended Europe from Muslim pirates, conquers the Mamelukes in Egypt, meets with defeat at the hands of the Royal Navy, deserts his troops, returns to France, manages to engineer a propaganda victory and a coup d'etat and to have himself crowned Emperor of France in 1804.

He goes on to conquer most of Europe, describing the death and destruction he leaves in his wake as his beneficient plan to create "the common fatherland" with "Paris as the capital of the world". In 1805 Napoleon assembles a French and Spanish fleet to gain control of the English Channel, so that he can invade Britain. By now Pitt the Younger has come back on board as Prime Minister.

In April, 1805, Charles Middleton (Lord Barham) becomes First Lord of the Admiralty when William Wilberforce and Parliament force his predecessor to resign because of corruption. Parliament's ethical move will have tremendous implications for stopping Napoleon and ending the slave trade.

Lord Barham is 79 years old, and incorruptible. He has spent years rebuilding the Royal Navy. He is also a master naval strategist with strong nerves, and he works out a plan with Commander Horatio Nelson to defeat the French Navy at sea and prevent the planned invasion. For his part, Nelson has taught individual officers to think for themselves, and they love him for this, and excel in battle.

Nelson takes on the French and Spanish fleets outside Cadiz at the Battle of Trafalgar. He has broken with the rigid tactic of fighting battle in line, and initiates a new plan for "pell-mell battle". As the fleets close, he signals, ‘England expects that every man will do his duty’. The battle rages furiously. Nelson, as usual, is on deck, leading his men. A bullet fired from a French ship hits him, and breaks his spine. He is carried below, and lives just long enough to hear that the Royal Navy is victorious. The Brits have ended the threat of a French invasion.

First Duke of Wellington

Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington
Unable to marry the woman he loved because he had 'no prospects', Wellesley threw himself into military service. His first campaign in 1794 proved educational - he later laconically observed that it had at least taught him ‘what one ought not to do; and that is always something!’ (DNB)

1808 - 1813 NAPOLEON INVADES PORTUGAL AND SPAIN; BRITAIN GOES TO THEIR AID

Napoleon has lost at sea, but not on land. He defeats the Austrian and Russian armies at Austerlitz, and in 1806, he establishes a continental blockade to isolate Britain and destroy Britain's economy. When Portugal refuses to join the blockade, French and Spanish armies invade Portugal.

In 1808 Napoleon turns on his Spanish ally, and in an 'invasion of stealth' seizes Spain. The Spanish Army is demoralised. (Its finest troops are holding Denmark for the French.) But like all tyrants, Napoleon goes too far. The people of Asturias and Madrid begin spontaneous, popular uprisings. When Napoleon has their citizens massacred, rebellions break out all over Spain. The British Army arrives to help the Portuguese and Spanish.

The British are immobilised by logistics; the Spanish are divided by disputes. Napoleon leads 300,000 men into Spain in "an avalanche of fire and steel". The Spanish and British resist valiantly, but to no avail.

It is only in 1811, after years of stalemate, that the tide begins to turn. General Thomas Graham and the skill and courage of British soldiers prevents a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Barroso, and Major-General Sir Arthur Wellesley leads British, Portuguese and Spanish troops to victories across Portugal and Spain and finally to the Battle of the Pyrenees. Fighting far from his supply line against equal numbers of French, Wellesley wins with a brilliant strategy. Meanwhile, Napoleon, enslaved by his megalomania, has invaded Russia with half a million men.

1813 - 1814 ALLIES DEFEAT NAPOLEON

The Russians fight bravely, and lose half their army. Rather than be ruled by Napoleon, the heroic Russian people abandon Moscow and all their houses and possessions. Moscow is lost, but the abandoned city swallows Napoleon's army the way sand swallows water. Confronted with a Russian Army that refuses to surrender, with his own soldiers more interested in plunder than in fighting, and with winter advancing, Napoleon retreats. His men die, killed by Russian irregulars, disease, cold, and starvation. Napoleon abandons his men, fleeing in his coach to France.

In France, Napoleon regroups, and musters another vast army. The Congress of Vienna declares him an outlaw. The Brits and their Prussian, Dutch, Russian, and Austrian allies unite. In an attempt to divide and defeat them separately before they are ready to meet him, Napoleon invades the Netherlands.

Led by Arthur Wellesley, now the Duke of Wellington, who becomes famous for avoiding gaudy uniforms and wearing instead a simple black civilian hunting coat, the Brits meet Napoleon at Waterloo. The battle appears lost many times, but Wellington remains both highly skilled and unfazed. The Brits and the allies refuse to give up despite appalling losses, and eventually defeat the Napoleonic tyranny.

In a telling little episode recounted by Peter Coborn in the DAILY TELEGRAPH, Napoleon is said to have “complained bitterly to the British Ambassador, Whitworth, about the mockery he was subjected to at the hands of [British] satirists and pamphleteers. Whitworth shrugged his shoulders, and told him Britain’s rulers were used to it.” Not surprisingly, a general willing to abandon his men could not take a joke.

Boy with map of Africa on face

A fellowship of men and women abolished slavery.
Their story begins here.

1807 BRITS END SLAVE TRADE

Year after year William Wilberforce moves abolition in Parliament, bringing witnesses forward, rebutting bribed witnesses, writing digests, delivering three and four hour off-the-cuff speeches that transfix the House of Commons. Every year the votes increase in support of abolishing the slave trade, but he still cannot carry his motion.  Working with him are Granville Sharp, Henry Brougham, and Thomas Clarkson, who is organizing anti-slavery societies all over Britain.

News reports of Wilber’s speeches begin swinging public feeling behind abolition, and petitions flood the House, demanding the cruel, murderous trade be abolished.  But economic self-interest and fear of chaos in the West Indies defeat Wilber’s motions.

In May 1804, the new Irish MPs surge in to support Wilber’s motion. Leading them is witty and irrepressible Richard Martin. The House of Commons votes to consider the Bill by a huge margin. On June 27, 1804, seventeen years after Wilber first began to urge abolition, the Bill passes its Third Reading in the House of Commons, but stalls in the House of Lords.  Meanwhile, the nation is preoccupied by war with Napoleon. 

In 1806, Wilber’s brother-in-law, James Stephen, makes an ingenious suggestion, and the new PM, William Grenville (who sat with Wilber under the famous oak tree in 1787) supports it: A bill that stops slaves from being taken to colonies hostile to Britain is pushed through both Houses, followed by a Resolution that calls for the abolition of the slave trade. 

Wilber and friends drum up support for the resolution, and the House of Lords finally decides that justice and humanity demand the end of the trade. On February 24, 1807, Wilber sits with his head bowed and tears streaming down his face as the House of Commons passes the resolution by an overwhelming majority.

Charles Middleton, Lord Barham, the abolitionist who had been First Lord of the Admiralty, had made the Royal Navy fit to sail. Now the Royal Navy swings into action, stopping and seizing slave ships. It is all part of The Fellowship to Abolish Slavery

1809 CURWEN’S BILL SPIKES SALES OF PARLIAMENTARY SEATS 

In the House of Commons, J. Christian Curwen denounces the heavy tax burdens of his constituents, and is scornfully told that his constituents are happy with their lot. Curwen, originally from the Isle of Man, is a tall squire, physically and intellectually powerful.  The following evening, he strolls into Parliament with clogs on his feet and a knife in his hand to cut a ploughman’s dinner of bread and cheese. As the House falls deadly quiet, he cuts the black crust of the loaf  “with a noise like the crushing of cinders.”  It is the most withering rebuke Parliament has yet received on the kind of food farmers are reduced to eating due to Parliament’s heavy tax burdens.

Curwen persuades Parliament to lift the tax on horses and salt. He also succeeds in passing a Bill which prohibits the selling of Parliamentary seats, but other MPs weaken his tough measures. At home in Cumberland, Curwen promotes sanitation and science to improve agriculture.

1810 HENRY BROUGHAM CLAMPS DOWN ON SLAVE TRADERS

Though abashed at being given his seat in Parliament by the Duke of Bedford who owns it, Henry Brougham enters Parliament to see what good he can do.

Brougham learns that the Royal Navy is seizing the ships of slave traders, but that some slave ship captains continue to ply their horrible and lucrative trade outside British control. He persuades Parliament to pass a Bill making participation in the slave trade anywhere in the world a felony.

1811 TACKLING PARLIAMENTARY REFORM (AGAIN)

Along with many others, John Cartwright enters the fray to reform Parliament. He works inside Parliament, making common cause with a coalition of MPs that includes abolitionists.  Now in his seventies, Cartwright emphasises the taxpayer’s right to be represented. 

Men exchanging bribe money for political favours

Support for reform grows. Brits do not want seats in Parliament sold to the highest bidder. They will continue to fight for incorruptible government.
See Defeating Threats to Freedm
to read about the fight against corruption in the European Union.

1812 HANDWEAVERS START TRADE UNION; BROUGHAM DEFENDS THEM

For hundreds of years the Brits have organized in medieval guilds and friendly societies to help each other, but when 38 handloom weavers try to organize a trade union to deal with common issues like wages, they are arrested. (Earlier Adam Smith had declared it was arrantly unfair to attack attempts at collective bargaining when owners were already united in a tacit combination to keep wages low.)

Henry Brougham finds the weavers in jail in Manchester, accused of sedition. He mounts a brilliant defense, and all 38 are freed.

1819 PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY IN ST. PETER’S FIELDS RUNS WITH BLOOD

The owner of thousands of acres, Henry Hunt’s ideas get shaken up when, at the age of 27, he lands in jail after a dispute with his neighbour over pheasants. There he meets a reforming lawyer, and awakes to the conviction that every man who pays taxes should be able to vote. 

Hunt starts addressing huge public meetings, attracting 10,000 and more working men with the power of his ideas and eloquence.  (Prior to radio and television, public meetings are wildly popular.) Hunt stands for Parliament, but gains only 84 votes, since few of the thousands who support him can cast a ballot.

In 1819 a crowd of over 50,000 gathers in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester, to hear him. They are desperately poor due to a rocky economy and unfair wages, but they are peaceful. Nervous local authorities try to disperse the gathering. In the resulting melee soldiers kill 11 men and injure 400 in what becomes known as the Peterloo Massacre. Hunt, John Knight, and Samuel Bamford are jailed under the Coercion Laws. Henry Brougham protests, but cannot win their freedom.

After 30 months in jail, Hunt emerges. He stands for Parliament in 1831 in Preston, where all the male taxpayers have the vote. He wins.  He will work for reform in Parliament. Public anger at the massacre will be channeled into support for the Chartists (see below).

English country – a path between a beech trees

"Tomorrow morning we set off for the New Forest."
The self-taught son of a yeoman farmer, William Cobbett is a big, physically powerful man, blunt, pragmatic, and sometimes very angry as he rides through England, and struggles against what he calls ‘the thing’. 

Photo: armadillo@istockphoto.com

1820s –1830s BATTLING AGAINST ‘THE THING’

The 'thing' is a state of affairs that puts place-seekers, fund-holders, and lords into Parliament where they create laws that institutionalize starvation wages for workers and their families. Writing the literary masterpiece Rural Rides, William Cobbett asks, “If such an operation do not need putting an end to, then the devil himself is a saint.”  

Cobbett’s writings, which sell more than 200,000 copies, support giving every man the vote, secret ballots, and annual parliaments. Joining forces with Henry Hunt, he is determined that every man receive “the fair fruit” of his labour. Elected to Parliament, Cobbett tirelessly advocates for farmers and labourers, who are are staggering under low wages, joblessness, and high taxes.

1823-1827 POET, ADMIRAL, AND ROYAL NAVY HELP GREEKS TO WIN FREEDOM FROM OTTOMAN EMPIRE

For hundreds of years British schoolboys have read of the great stand of the Ancient Greeks against the forces of Oriental despotism at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. The Greeks fought for freedom, and succeeded in creating the world's first democracy at Athens. It is shocking therefore that the Greeks have been enslaved for the last 400 years by the oppressive Ottoman Empire. In 1821, under the leadership of Theodor Kolokotronis, who had received his training in the British Army, and with the help of sympathisers in Europe and America, Greeks take up arms all over Greece to fight for their freedom against the Turks. The response of the Ottoman Empire is savage.

A prolific Romantic and satirical poet whose love life had shocked British society, Lord Byron throws himself behind the cause of Greek independence. In 1824, at the age of 36, he sails from Italy to help the Greeks. Byron's difficult, dangerous work helps to unify the divergent Greek forces, but in less than a year he is struck down by a fever and dies. His death captures the imagination of Europe, and intensifies support for the Greeks.

The Ottoman Empire has called on modernized Egyptian forces to crush the rebellion, and led by an Albanian, they recapture much of Greece.

On October 20, 1827, Admiral Edward Codrington, one of Nelson's captains and a hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, risks his career and his life to lead the Royal Navy against the Ottoman Navy to help free Greece. Along with French and Russian squadrons, whose commanders join him, the Royal Navy destroys the Ottoman Navy at the Battle of Navarino.

With this essential assistance the Greeks are able to win their freedom. On March 22, 1829 they create the free nation of Greece.

1824 COMBINATION ACTS REPEALED, FREEING EMPLOYEES

The Combination Acts made it illegal for two or more people to combine in order to negotiate more pay and better working conditions. Parliament repeals these flagrantly unfair acts, and allows the growth of trade unions.

1829 TEST ACTS REPEALED; CATHOLICS FREED FROM UNJUST LAWS

Dating from the 17th century, the Test Acts require every candidate for public office and all public employees to be members of the Anglican Church, to denounce the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, and to accept the monarch as the head of the Church. Many Brits escape these oppressive laws by heading to America. Parliament ends these oppressive laws when it passes the Catholic Emancipation Act.

Irish mother and child

The Irish and the Brits have been intimately connected in Ireland for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer for hundreds of years. In the 19th century the Irish, including the Anglo-Irish, become fiercely determined to achieve Irish Emancipation and Home Rule. This aim pits them against the government of Britain. The story of their struggle to become free and independent does not show Brits at their best, though many Brits support them. We shall not attempt to describe the Irish story here, though we honour their achievement. 

Fiona and Jack, County Kildare
Photo: Catherine Glass

1829 ROBERT PEEL ESTABLISHES POLICE AS CIVILIAN, NOT MILITARY FORCE

Robert Peel is a cool man whose smile resembles “moonlight playing on a tombstone.” He establishes the Metropolitan Police as a civilian force with clear principles and limits. The public is concerned that the police could be repressive. Peel makes certain that the "bobbies" (the public's affectionate name for them) serve the people and are not an arm of the Government, as would be the case in a police state.

Peel establishes principles of policing essential to the preservation of civil harmony and freedom today, including:

  • 1. The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

  • 2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.

  • 3. Police must secure the willing co-operation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.

  • 4. The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.

  • 5. Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.

  • 6. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient.

  • 7. Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

  • 8. Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.

  • 9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it

1832 PARLIAMENT PASSES MAJOR REFORM

It has been famously remarked that angels do not govern nations. Charles, Lord Grey, has worked for 40 years to get voting reforms enacted, but Parliament’s entrenched MPs refuse to support change. However perseverance pays off. Grey becomes Prime Minister. Standing with him are Henry Brougham and Lord John Russell, who are equally determined to make Parliament more representative.

Russell rises in the House of Commons to move the first Reform Bill, and is greeted with shouts of scorn and laughter. Many MPs believe a seat in Parliament is something to be bought and sold. They care nothing about allowing citizens to vote, and reject the bill. 

But middle class and working class Brits support the bill. After a national uproar and new elections, Lord Grey returns as PM, and Henry Brougham becomes Chancellor. The reform bill is moved for a second time, and the newly elected House of Commons passes it by one vote. The bill goes to the House of Lords, which rejects it.

Newspapers announce the result in pages bordered in black. Brits all around the country announce they will go on strike and refuse to pay taxes. They are aware that even in the 13th century, many Brits were able to vote for their representatives in Montfort's Parliament. They want the same right

Lord Grey and Henry Brougham ask the King to name members to the House of Lords who will pass the Reform Act. William IV privately advises those Lords who oppose the bill to abstain and allow it to go through. The Lords do, with the result that middle class Brits and industrial towns gain greater representation in Parliament. Pocket boroughs, owned by the rich, and rotten boroughs, which had few voters, are swept out of Parliament. The vote is given to all men who own property worth 40 shillings a year (this is the same amount used in the 13th century) or who lease £50 worth of property. In addition, voting procedures are simplified.

Lady

The aid of women and the rebellions of slaves helped to end slavery. See Abolishing Slavery, The Fellowship

1833 SLAVERY ENDED IN BRITISH COLONIES; NEWS RUSHED TO WILBERFORCE

Having ended the slave trade in 1807, William Wilberforce, Henry Brougham, and friends aim to free the slaves in British colonies. But over the years, repeated efforts to legislate the end of slavery in British colonies fail. Wilber remains resolute about ending slavery, but he is growing old. To stand upright he has to wear a steel girdle encased in leather. Illness forces him to resign from the House of Commons in 1825. By then he has been instrumental in improving working conditions and reforming prisons, has helped to found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and has given most of his fortune to the poor. Over the next eight years, he continues to urge the end of slavery.

It is now, when the forces to abolish slavery seem on the wane that Christian women rise up in hundreds of associations around the country, boycotting sugar, the largest trade export from the slave plantations, organising monster petititons and town meetings. The effort has already been joined by Christian slaves in the West Indies who are mounting courageous rebellions.

In 1832 Parliament is very close to ending slavery, but by then Wilber has only months to live. In July 1833, he is dying. Aware of his condition, MPs muster every vote. The Abolition of Slavery bill passes its Third Reading, and the House of Commons rushes a messenger to Wilberforce's house. They reach him just before he dies, in time to tell him that slavery in all British colonies is at an end. Wilberforce's funeral service is one of the largest ever held in Britain. Later it is estimated that he saved the lives of more than half a million African people.

1834 - 1849

 

When you contribute to this website,
you support Brits at their Best.

Join the Circle of Friends

English bulldog puppy

 

Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass