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Europe (1815-1848)

Bourgeoisie and Chartism (1830s and 1840s)

Change in the 1830s (1827-1832)

1848 Revolution: Paris


The 1830s and 1840s were a time of great industrial progress and growth in Britain and France, but not everyone in the population shared in the new wealth.

In 1834, British Parliament made a concession to the workers, passing a Poor Law that was aimed to protect workers from starvation in time of unemployment. Poor houses represented the beginnings of a welfare society, since they provided places for workers to go if they ran out of money and work. However, British lawmakers were concerned that the workers would stop working and flock to the poor houses, so they made the poor houses depressing and wretched. Instead of encouraging workers to find work, the wretchedness of the poor houses only further enraged workers against the "bourgeoisie" government. Though still illegal, workers formed labor unions to negotiate for better wages and conditions. Some started to seriously advocate the overthrow of the wage-labor system, in order to replace it with Socialism.

In France, Socialism was spreading rapidly, and the working public became more and more interested in the memory of highly radical leaders like Robespierre. Writers like Louis Blanc began to glorify the act of Revolution.

In Britain, where Revolutions were far more rare than France, the workers sought reforms within the system, forming the Chartist Movement. A reform bill was drafted in 1838, called the Charter. The Charter demanded six reforms:

1. Annual elections to the House of Commons

2. Universal suffrage for adult males

3. Secret ballots

4. An end to the Rotten Boroughs

5. Allowing poor workers to be elected to the House of Commons

6. Salaries for members of the House of Commons, so any workers elected to that body could afford to serve as a member.

Although it did not pass, the unfazed Chartists started collecting signatures. By 1839 they had a million signatures, but the House of Commons still would not pass the Chartist bill. By 1842, the Chartists reached 3 million signatures, but despite the millions of signatures and the possibility of violence, Parliament continued to vote against the Chartist reforms. After the failure of Chartism, the British labor union movement began to swell in numbers.


The revolutions of 1830 and the Reform Movement of 1832 in Britain provided more political and social power to the disenfranchised but wealthy bourgeoisie. The liberal ideal of the time seemed to be that if you were wealthy, you deserved to vote. In Britain, even after reforms, only an eighth of adult males could vote. In France the percentage was even lower. However, in Britain, the landed aristocrats, though losing power to the manufacturers, could at least stop them from being totally dominant. In England, the workers were be able to play the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie against each other. Thus, no violent revolution was needed in Britain for change to occur. In contrast, France, under Louis Philippe, was so utterly dominated by the bourgeoisie that the laborers had little hope of improving their lot outside of violent rebellion.

In both countries, industry was growing rapidly by the 1830s, as capitalists made more and more money, reinvested it, and continued the growth cycle. New laws, particularly modern corporation laws, were powering industrial growth. Previously, corporations had to be "chartered" to serve the government in some way. Now, these new corporations helped businessmen structure their enterprises and reduce risk and liability without having to get a specific charter from the government. Manufactures were also changing in emphasis at this time, from textile to iron production. Steamships services began to appear, further accelerating trade.

As workers continued to live in terrible conditions while the rich got richer, Laissez Faire economists argued that the world had to be this way, because if the workers had easier lives and higher wages, they would simply produce more children, glutting the labor market and driving wages down and unemployment up. Workers, and the thinkers who championed the cause of workers, found fault with this explanation of the system, and suggested other ways of organizing society. The idea of a totally disenfranchised, exploited proletariat class began to appear in the 1830s and 1840s. Observing the plight of workers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote their influential works on Communism.

The Chartist Movement was very progressive, probably more forward-looking than any other major movement at the time. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, British political elites feared that if the uneducated "mob" was allowed to vote, they might destroy democracy by making bad decisions. Although it failed in its own time, the demands of the Chartist movement nearly all became law in Britain eventually. While other acts would soon be passed to satisfy workers, Chartism was simply too advanced for its time.

The battle between the "isms" was continuing, and slowly the balance was turning towards more inclusive, equal societies. (At least in Western Europe) More and more, a division between the Liberal West and the Reactionary East was developing, as the Western bourgeoisie class increased in power. The workers, who had only shared very little if at all in the vast economic growth of the early 19th century, were now starting to enter the political fray.

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