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LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1850 - 1899

Beautiful New Zealand scene with snow-capped mountains and ruddy plains

In 1839, Parliament's Durham Report strongly recommends self-government for Canada. Its recommendations will be applied to New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa as well.
Wherever we are, "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." (A quote The Lord of the Rings, which was filmed in New Zealand, shown above.)

Photo: mountlynx@istockphoto.com

BRITS BECOME
SELF-GOVERNING
AROUND THE WORLD

Brits demand self-government, establish an incorruptible Civil Service, gain
property rights and voting rights for women, expand voting rights for men,
and insist on honest elections.

1850s AUSTRALIAN, CANADIAN, NEW ZEALAND, AND SOUTH AFRICAN COLONIES GAIN SELF-GOVERNMENT

Australia, a penal continent of exile in the early 19th century, becomes a golden land of opportunity by the 1830s. For many Brits, transportation to Australia for a crime committed in Britain is a liberation, albeit one filled with hard work. They discover gold, energetically raise wheat, cattle, and sheep, and trade with Britain. (In 1838 the British Parliament establishes laws to protect the Aborigines, who do not share in the general prosperity.)

In Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, and Canada, people are examining their relationship with Britain, and seeking self-government. The situation is especially tense in Canada.

"Deplorable imbecility" is the way the Durham Report of 1839 described Britain's policies in Canada. Asked by Parliament to examine the situation, the Earl of Durham (also known as 'Radical Jack'), the brilliant Charles Buller, and Edward Gibbon Wakefield (who had written about land reform in Australia "while languishing in Newgate prison," where he had been sent for eloping with an under-age heiress) wrote a blunt report. Recommending a union of the colonies now known as Canada, they called for local self-government that gives a people "real control over its own destinies."

Brits bite the bullet, and implement the Durham Report. Beginning in 1842 an imperial act establishes the self-governing democracy of New South Wales followed by Nova Scotia in 1848, and by Victoria, South Australia, the Canadian colonies and New Zealand in the 1850s. In 1853, the Cape Colony in South Africa is granted representative government and African men are granted a colour-blind right to vote. It is the first time that any nation has willingly granted self-rule to her colonies.

Vancouver, British Columbia, harbour, skyscrapers and mountains

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's Pacific port
"Brilliant"

"Now I know it's unfashionable to refer to colonialism in anything other than negative terms. And certainly, no part of the world is unscarred by the excesses of empires. But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant." (Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, 2006)

1854 EDUCATION BEST PROMOTED BY FREEDOM, NOT BY STATE ENDOWMENTS

Long before state education is mandated, the vast majority of Brits can read and write. There is an explosion of education in the 19th century as thousands of generous individuals help to establish schools. (Curiously, some of the Brits' most innovative thinkers and inventors receive very little formal education. See the Science Timeline)

Edward Baines writes a book that education is best promoted by freedom, and predicts what will happen if the state takes over education. He warns that:

Parents will lose influence over the schools and their children;

Large, inefficient bureaucracies will waste time and money;

The state will insist on particular ways of teaching, and will resist innovation and flexibility.

His warnings are not heard.

1853 -1854 ESTABLISHING PRINCIPLES OF INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN GOVERNMENT

In 1853 Parliament breaks the powers of nepotism and patronage in the Indian Civil Service by passing the Government of India Act. No longer will civil service positions be bought and sold. They will be obtained by merit only.

In 1854 the Northcote Trevelyan Commission takes an in-depth look at the Civil Service, and establishes something still all too rare in the world today – a professional and ethical government service.  Stafford Northcote and Charles Trevelyan’s report call for ethical and professional standards and rigorous qualifying exams. Brits implement the reforms, and transform corruption-riddled public organisations into worldwide bywords for efficiency and honesty. 

Commissioned by Prime Minister William Gladstone, the Report shows that the integrity and impartiality of the Civil Service are essential to a people’s freedom, justice, and prosperity. 

A corrupt civil service ties down the efforts of millions of men and women. It takes food out of the mouths of children. It feeds like bloodsuckers on the health and hopes of young and old with bribery, graft, nepotism, sloth and violence. It is a curse wherever it occurs. 

1856 SECRET BALLOTS IN AUSTRALIA PROTECT VOTERS

The Chartists had called for secret ballots to protect voters from intimidation. On February 7, secret balloting is introduced in Tasmania, Australia. On March 19, Victoria implements secret ballots, and on April 2, led by William Boothby, South Australia does. (Though it is later in establishing them, Victoria garners the credit.)

In the United States the practice becomes known as the "Australian ballot". Four effective practices are followed: There is an official, publicly printed ballot with all the candidates and referenda listed which are distributed only at the polls, and which are marked in secret.

Pretty bride looking sweet

Any inheritance a wife receives or any earnings she makes belong to her husband, even if they are estranged and living apart. With Parliamentary reforms, women obtain
financial rights.

Photo: aldra@istockphoto.com

1857 MARRIAGE ACT SEEKS TO PROTECT WOMEN

Caroline Norton describes her difficulties as a woman controlled by a despotic husband in the widely praised novel Stuart of Dunleath (1851). Supporters of reform move a bill in Parliament to transfer divorce into the law courts, and allow a woman who has been deserted by her husband to retain her earnings and to inherit like a single woman. Partly as a result of Caroline’s efforts, Parliament passes the Marriage and Divorce Act.

1863 INDIAN CIVIL SERVICE BREAKS COLOUR BARRIER

The Indian Civil Service, jokingly but also admiringly called the "heaven born" consists of Brits who can pass an exam so rigorous it is doubtful that more than one hundred persons could pass it today. The 1,000 British civil servants are said to "rule" 400 million Indians. In fact they handle legal disputes, the fight against cholera, the paving of roads, the establishment of water supplies, and irrigation, to name a few, and often die of exhaustion. They are called "the incorruptible" because they are immune to bribes. Working with them, and key to day-day-day administration in each District are 4,000 Indians in the uncovenanted service and an army of Indian employees.

Queen Victoria had promised that the Indian Civil Service would be open to any applicant regardless of colour. In 1863, Satyendernath Tagore becomes the first of a number of Indians to pass the exam.

1867 BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT GIVES SELF-RULE TO CANADIANS

The Durham Report recommendations become reality, and Canadians are on their way to governing themselves.

1867 TWO MEN AND A WOMAN EXPAND RIGHT TO VOTE IN SECOND REFORM BILL

At last.

A man given to reading Homer and helping prostitutes (he personally donated a vast sum of money to help women get off the streets), William Gladstone is four times Liberal Prime Minister. He takes his Christian faith seriously.

The creative and flashy Benjamin Disraeli, who was baptized a Christian after his father quarreled with the synagogue, is twice Conservative Prime Minister. He acts with determination in Britain’s national interest.

Each man detests the other, and both men leave their mark on the Second Reform Bill, but it is a woman who is the key to progress: In 1865 Queen Victoria, who favors Disraeli and dislikes Gladstone, urges them to give more Brits the vote.

Gladstone’s bill to give more men the vote in national elections is defeated, but the following year Disraeli proposes a stronger bill, and Parliament passes it. It is far more democratic than almost anyone had envisioned, and gives the vote in national elections to all male householders who live in towns and pay taxes and to renters who pay at least £10 yearly rent. However, millions of men who work in the country and all women still lack the right to vote.

1869 SOME WOMEN GAIN RIGHT TO VOTE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS

The prevailing idea is that a married woman is represented by her husband, who votes. The male holders of this blinkered view recognise the injustice of forcing an unmarried woman to pay taxes without being represented. They agree to allow unmarried, tax-paying women to vote in local elections. It is a small but vital step.

1869 GLADSTONE INTRODUCES BILL TO DISESTABLISH THE CHURCH OF IRELAND

Despite stiff resistance in the House of Lords, PM William Gladstone and his Liberal party manage to pass a bill that removes the official status of the Protestant Church in Ireland. The Irish no longer have to support with their taxes a church that many of them loathe. This is one of a number of bills to expand freedom, achieved under Gladstone in six brilliant years. His crusade to give Home Rule to the Irish will break him and his party.

1868 -1919 MILLICENT FAWCETT ADVOCATES FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND WOMEN’S EDUCATION

Millicent Fawcett is the sister of Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman doctor in Britain, and an ardent supporter of women’s rights and education for women. Married to Henry Fawcett, Radical MP for Brighton, who was blinded in a shooting accident, she learns politics by helping him in work as MP, and is encouraged by him to write and work for women’s rights.

In 1868 she joins the London Suffrage Committee, emerges as the one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement due to her superb organisation, and is elected president of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). In the early 20th century she will disagree with the tactics of Women’s Social and Political Union, but she will continue to work for the cause of women’s rights – in a fifty-year-campaign.

1869 JOHN STUART MILL CHAMPIONS THE EQUALITY OF WOMEN AS A FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE AND A BOON FOR BOTH SEXES

Mill defies the "mass of feeling" which opposes equality for women. In his essay "The Subjection of Women," he logically argues that "the legal subordination of one sex to the other is wrong itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement." For the sake of society, and for men as well as women, Mill argues that inequality "ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other."

With his courageous assault on the unfair treatment of women, Mill conclusively proves that women deserve equality, and that all of society would profit if they shared equality with men.

1872 SECRET VOTING SHIELDS VOTERS

Imagine mounting a public platform, calling out the name of the candidate you are voting for, and having your vote recorded in a public poll book. Other voters may try to intimidate you. If your boss dislikes your vote, he may punish you. 

PM William Gladstone ends voting coercion when his Government introduces a system of private voting in the Ballot Act.

Isle of Man seen from the air

The Isle of Man from the air. Here on this island between Britain and Ireland, Manxwomen become the first women in the world to vote in national elections.

Photo: fsachs78@istockphoto.com

1880 - 1881 KEYS OPEN DOOR: WOMEN WILL VOTE ON THE ISLE OF MAN

On the Isle of Man, an internally governing dependent British territory, the Keys take up an Election Bill that will give all Manxmen the right to vote. Englishwomen note that with the simple deletion of the word 'male' in the Bill, the right to vote to those who own property and pay taxes will extend to Manxwomen as well. They organise a series of meetings on the Isle to discuss the idea. Manxwomen agree this is simple justice since they pay taxes.

The question is whether Manxmen will support them. Led by Sir John Stenhouse Goldie-Taubman, the men of the Keys agree to strike the word male from the Bill. Manxwomen become the first women in the world to vote in national elections.

1882 MARRIED WOMEN GAIN PROPERTY RIGHTS

Because they lack property rights people all over the world lack secure rights to their homes, businesses, and personal property. As a result they have no incentives to work and prosper, and are at permanent risk of eviction by the powerful.

In Britain men had property rights under Common Law, but married women did not, and as a result often suffered abuse and poverty.  A married woman had no property that she could call her own, not even her own ownings. (Single women and widows could inherit and own property.) 

In 1870 Richard Pankhurst advocates for women by writing a bill that gives them property rights, but it is only a small step forward since Parliament passes a watered down version of his bill.

Year after year new bills to correct the injustice are moved in Parliament.  Finally Parliament approves the Married Women’s Property Act, which recognizes the rights of married women by establishing that she and her husband are two different legal bodies.

1883 CORRUPT VOTING PRACTICES ATTACKED

In Britain, a Royal Commission reveals that voters are being bribed to cast their votes for candidates, and Brits are outraged. Parliament swiftly passes the Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it a criminal offence to bribe voters, imposes penalties on those caught doing so, establishes agents responsible for seeing that elections are honest, and sets the maximum amounts to be spent on campaigns. Queen Victoria happily gives her royal assent.

1884 - 1885 COUNTY VOTES GET THEIR DUE IN THIRD REFORM BILL

AT PM William Gladstone’s urging, the House of Commons passes a bill that gives the vote to many voters in the country (the counties) who had not been able to vote in national elections. However, the Lords are not impressed with the bill’s architecture, which neglects to explain how seats will be redistributed, and rejects the bill.

Gladstone meets with opposition party leaders from the Conservatives to make redistribution arrangements (the Arlington Street Compact). Parliament amends the bill, and gives the vote to every adult male householder and lodger in the counties. Two million agricultural workers are now able to vote. In 1885 the Redistribution of Seats Act reflects the new voter realities on the ground.

1887 LORD ACTON DELIVERS HIS DICTUM

With estates on the continent and Europe, Lord Acton is too congenial to ever have enough time to write the history of liberty he envisioned. However, he is extremely well-read, studying and annotating thousands of volumes in his libraries, and he acquires an honorary degree from Cambridge, which had initially denied him admittance because he was a Roman Catholic, and becomes Regius Professorship of Modern History at Cambridge.

A political liberal, Lord Acton's great friendship with Gladstone probably influences Gladstone's decision to free the Irish from an established church. Acton also opposes the Pope's doctrine of papal infallibility. In 1887 he writes to Bishop Mandell Creighton the line that has ever since been a rebuke to power: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Less well known is his idea that "Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political
end. . .liberty is the only object which benefits all alike. . ."

1888 GETTING SOME ACTION FROM COUNTY COUNCILS 

Slowly but surely both men and women who are taxpayers are gaining representation. The latest advance:  They can vote for their representatives on County Councils.

1888 – 1889 MATCHBOX GIRLS AND DOCK WORKERS STRIKE

Girls making matchboxes successfully strike for better wages and hours. One year later, London Dock workers win better wages and reduced hours through a highly disciplined strike. Coal miners gain a living wage and improved working conditions. Striving to better their members' lives, unions contribute in a big way to prosperity and fair wages.

young woman rejoices at getting the vote

New Zealand gives women the right to vote in national elections. It claims to be the first country in the world
to do so.

1893 WOMEN GAIN RIGHT TO VOTE IN NEW ZEALAND'S NATIONAL ELECTIONS

New Zealand is a self-governing Dominion of Britain when it makes a momentous decision: New Zealand women will have the right to vote in local and national elections. However, women still cannot stand as candidates.

1894 INCH BY INCH, BRIT WOMEN MAKE LOCAL ELECTION ADVANCES

Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Franchise League wins married women the right to vote in Britain's local elections. It is a largely psychological victory, but it reinforces the idea that a married woman must be seen as her own person. Emmeline Pankhurst will throw herself body and soul into the cause of women's suffrage.

Over the centuries Brits suffer violence from those who oppose representative government, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and votes for women. One thing liberty-questing Brits have in common is a willingness to withstand scorn and abuse and to stand up – if necessary, to stand up alone – for freedom.

1894 SOUTH AUSTRALIAN MEN APPROVE AN ELECTORAL BREAK-THROUGH FOR WOMEN

The miners and cattle ranchers living in the British Dominion of South Australia believe their wives and daughters should have the vote. Women help men survive in this, the driest state in the driest continent on earth, and the men respect them. Brits in South Australia vote to give women both the right to vote and, for the first time anywhere in the world, to stand as candidates in state elections.

To 20th CENTURY

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass