CHAPTER VII. THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
The inevitable adjustment of the population to these altered economic conditions entirely changed its distribution. Hitherto the progressive and predominant parts of England had been the south and east; conservatism found its refuge in the north and west, which rebelled against the Tudors and fought for Charles I. The south and east had been the manufacturing centres because iron was smelted with wood and not with coal. Now that coal was substituted for wood, the juxtaposition of coal and iron mines in the north attracted thither the industries of the nation, while the special features of its climate made South Lancashire the home of cotton-spinning. The balance of population and political power followed. To-day southern England, apart from London and some other ports, hardly does more than subsist, and its occupations are largely parasitic. The work and the wealth and the trade which support the empire and its burdens have their origin and being in the north.
The population not only shifted, but rapidly increased. The uprooting of peasants from their little plots of land which acted in medieval England and acts to-day in France as a check upon breeding, and their herding in crowded tenements, weakened both moral and prudential restraints in the towns; while in the country the well-meant but ill-considered action of the justices of the peace in supplementing the beggarly wages of the labourers by grants out of the rates proportioned to the number of each man's children produced a similar effect. The result was an increase in the population welcome to patriots who hoped for hordes of soldiers and sailors to fight Napoleon, but startling to economists like Malthus, who inferred therefrom a natural law constraining population to outrun the earth's increase. Malthus did not foresee the needs of the empire, nor realize that the rapid growth in the population of his day was largely due to the absence from the proletariate of a standard of comfort and decency. Without the Industrial Revolution Great Britain would not have been able to people the lands she had marked for her own.
This increase and shifting of the people put the finishing touch to the incongruities of the old political system, in which vast centres of population teeming with life and throbbing with industry were unrepresented, while members sat in parliament for boroughs so decayed that nothing was left of them but a green mound, a park, or a ruined wall. The struggle with the French Revolution and then with Napoleon gave the vested interests a respite from their doom; and for seventeen years after its close the Tories sat, clothed in the departing glories of the war, upon the safety-valve of constitutional reform. Then in 1832, after one general election fought on this issue, and after further resistance by the House of Lords on behalf of the liberties of borough-proprietors and faggot-voters, the threat to create peers induced a number to abstain sufficient to ensure the passing of the first Reform Bill. It was a moderate measure to have brought the country to the verge of political revolution; roughly, it disfranchised a number of poor voters, but enfranchised the mass of the middle and lower middle-class. Absolutely rotten boroughs were abolished, but a large number of very small ones were retained, and the representation of the new towns was somewhat grudging and restricted. A more drastic measure, giving the vote to most of the town artisans was - being introduced by a Tory minister, Disraeli, in 1867 - passed by the House of Lords without difficulty. The last alteration of the franchise, giving the vote to agricultural labourers was - being introduced by Gladstone in 1884 - only passed by the House of Lords at the second time of asking and after an agitation.
Political emancipation was but one of the results of the Industrial Revolution; commercial expansion was another. England had now definitely and decisively specialized in certain industries; she could only do so by relying upon external sources for her supply of other wants. The more her new industries gave her to export, the more she required to import from customers upon whose wealth her own prosperity depended. In particular, England became dependent upon foreign producers for her food supplies. During the war the foreign supply of corn was so hampered that it was as dear to import as to grow at home; but after the peace the price began to fall, and the farmers and landlords, whose rents depended ultimately upon the price of corn, demanded protection corresponding to that which extensive tariffs on imported articles gave to the manufacturers. The manufacturers, on the other hand, wanted cheap food for their workpeople in order to be able to pay them low wages. As a compromise, the Corn Laws of 1814 and 1828 provided a sliding scale of duties which rose as prices fell, and fell as prices rose, a preference being given to colonial wheat.