Effects Of The Napoleonic Wars Essay Research

Effects Of The Napoleonic Wars Essay, Research Paper

Napoleonic wars had a great effect on the industrialization process in Europe.

Napoleonic wars had a great effect on industrialization process in Europe. Let’s take Great Britain as an example because of its position of the most powerful industrial country of that time.

While Europe’s “great men” plotted grand schemes to pursue their political and intellectual ambitions during the crisis of the Napoleonic wars, obscure British inventors designed machines whose impact would dwarf their efforts. They industrialized textile making by using machines and new power sources to accomplish a task formerly done by human and animal power. They began what has been called by some the Industrial Revolution. The huge increase in productivity made possible by using machines can be shown in the amount of raw cotton Britain imported in 1760 and 1850. In 1760 the British imported a bit over 1000 tons; in 1850 the number had risen to over 222,000 tons.

The story behind the growth of the textile industry is one of a continual “catch-up” game between the spinners and weavers to respond to a growing market. After the 1707 Act of Union with Scotland, Britain possessed an expanding population with a larger per capita income than that of any other European state. The population growth stemmed from a gradual decline in death rates and an increase in the birth rate. (J. D. Chambers ) It provided more customers and workers.

Practical people seeing the need for greater output solved the practical problems of production. In the many steps from the raw cotton to the finished cloth, there were bottlenecksprimarily in making yarn and weaving the strands together.

In 1733, John Kay (1704-1764), a spinner and mechanic, patented the first of the great machines – the flying shuttle. This device made it possible for one person to weave wide bolts of cloth by using a spring mechanism that sent the shuttle across the loom.

This invention upset the balance between the weavers of cloth and the spinners of yarn: ten spinners were required to produce enough yarn needed by one weaver. James Hargreaves (d. 1778), a weaver and carpenter, eliminated that problem in 1764 with his spinning jenny, a mechanical spinning wheel that allowed the spinners to keep up with the weavers.

Five years later, a barber named Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) built the water frame that made it possible to spin many threads into yarn at the same time. Ten years after that Samuel Crompton (1753-1827), a spinner, combined the spinning jenny and water frame into the water mule, which, with some variations, is used today.

The end of the long wars against Napoleon did not usher in a period of peace and contentment. Although both agricultural and industrial production had greatly, if unevenly, increased during the wars, the total national debt of Great Britain had nearly quadrupled since 1793. Of the total annual public revenue after 1815, more than half had to be employed to pay interest on this debt. Furthermore, the abolition of Pitt’s income tax in 1816 meant that the debt burden fell on consumers-many of them with low incomes-and on industrialists. The archaic and regressive nature of the national taxation system, along with a mounting scale of locally levied poor-law rates, which fell heavily on middle-income groups, provoked widespread anxiety and criticism.

The postwar economy and society

The postwar period was marked by open social conflicts, most of them exacerbated by an economic slump. As the long-run process of industrialization continued, with a rising population and a cyclic pattern of relative prosperity and depression, many social conflicts centred on questions of what contemporaries called “corn and currency,” agriculture and credit. Others were directly related to the growth of factories and towns and to the parallel development of middle-class and working-class consciousness.

The agriculturalists, who were predominant in Parliament, attempted to safeguard their wartime economic position by securing, in 1815, a new Corn Law designed to keep up grain prices and rents by taxing imported grain. Their political power enabled them to maintain economic protection. Nonetheless, many of them suffered, particularly after 1819, when there was a return to the gold standard, from a serious fall of agricultural prices. Debts contracted during the wars became more onerous as prices fell. There were many complaints of agricultural distress during the early 1820s.

Many of the industrialists, an increasingly vociferous group outside Parliament, resented the passing of the Corn Law because it favoured the landed interests. Others objected to the return of gold in 1819, which was put into effect in 1821. Whatever their outlook, industrialists were beginning to demand a voice in Parliament. The term middle classes began to be used more frequently in social and political debate.

Town and village labourers were also unrepresented in Parliament, and it was they who bore the main brunt of the postwar difficulties. Bad harvests and high food prices left them hungry and discontented, and in the worst years, whenever bad harvests and industrial unemployment coincided, discontent assumed a political shape. Moreover, the development of a steam-driven factory system with new rhythms of work and new controls led to a breakdown in traditional family relationships and the growth of towns with structures of communication that were quite different from those of villages or preindustrial urban communities. These changes fostered the emergence, though it was not always shared, of the sense of a working class. There were radical riots in 1816, 1817, and particularly in 1819, the year of the Peterloo Massacre when there was a clash in Manchester between workers and troops of the yeomanry, or local citizenry.

Early commentators were quick to recognize the debilitating effects of this military build-up on the English economy. The historian J.E. Thorold Rogers, for instance, observed that the cost of the Napoleonic Wars was high indeed:

Thousands of homes were starved in order to find the means for the great war . . . the resources on which the struggle was based, and without which it would have speedily collapsed, were the stint and starvation of labor, the overtaxed and underfed toils of childhood, and the under-paid and uncertain unemployment of men (Rogers, 1891, quoted in Hartwell, 1971, p. 326).

Modern statistical evidence and economic theory lends support to such observations. Government war spending and borrowing increased interest rates, thus “crowding out” private investors who desperately needed capital to construct new factories, build better canals, and design new inventions. Growth was present during the war, but it was excruciatingly small. In the long run, this meant fewer jobs and lower wages for the working class.

But, for the common man, the war had more painful and immediate consequences than slowing the rate of economic growth. Various government schemes to finance the war debt led to monetary instability and uncertainty. This monetary instability, coupled with severe harvest failures, led to rapidly increasing food prices throughout the Napoleonic Wars (Redford, pp. 89-93). In fact, food prices soared upward by more than twenty-five per cent (Williamson, p. 187). Considering that the British working class then only earned on the average little more than Ј11 per year, it is no wonder how these developments led to hardships and deprivation that invariably resulted in social unrest.

Although decidedly the most important, war was not the only form of government intervention that decreased the quality of life. Government monopolies, such as the East India Company and Cutler’s Company, served to lessen economic efficiency and growth. The entire area of foreign commerce and trade was forced to contend with massive government regulation (Ashton, pp. 138-39).

Notwithstanding the popularity of pessimistic interpretations, the evidence of increasing real incomes and improving mortality rates indicates that significant improvement took place in the standard of living of the working class. These factors and other evidence also suggest that most qualitative aspects of the quality of life at least remained stable, and probably improved. This progress took place despite constant warfare and other counterproductive forms of government intervention that significantly hindered improvement.

While these immediate effects should not be overlooked, the real benefits of the industrial revolution are enjoyed by those living in today’s world of comparative luxury and splendor. The industrial revolution was the “great discontinuity” that built the foundations for our modern society (Hartwell, 197 1). It has led us into an age without the famines, epidemics, and other disasters that continually plagued pre-industrial societies. Perhaps the only way to fully appreciate the impact of the industrial revolution is to look at those in the modern world who have yet to undergo industrialization. The fate of the hungry and disease-ridden peasants in such areas as Africa and India is perhaps the most forceful and convincing argument in favor of capitalism’s industrial revolution.

Napoleonic wars affected industrialization greatly. In some countries it made industrialization slower or impossible while in some, like Britain, it couldn’t hinder industrial revolution’s development. Napoleonic wars meant fewer jobs and lower wages for working classes which are significant moving froce of industrial revolution. The overall conclusion could be: if there were no wars at the time of industrialization , European industry would grow much faster.

Ashton, T.S., The Industrial Revolution 1760- 1830 (London: Methuen and Co., 1957).

Hartwell, R.M., “Capitalism and the Historians, ” Essays on Hayek (New York: New York University Press, 1976). Hartwell, R.M., “History and Ideology,” Modern Age, Vol. 18, No. 4, Fall, 1974.

Hartwell, R.M., The Industrial Revolution and Economic Growth (London: Methuen and Co., 197 1).

Hayek, F.A., Capitalism and the Historians (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954).

Hutt, W.H., “The Factory System of the Early Nineteenth Century,” Capitalism and the Historians F.A. Hayek, editor, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954).

Jefferson, J.M., “Industrialization and Poverty: in Fact and Fiction,” The Long Debate on Poverty (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1972).

McCloskey, Donald, “The Industrial Revolution 1780-1860: A Survey,” The Economic History of Britain Since 1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

North, Douglass, Structure and Change in Economic History (New York: Norton, 1981).

The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 2 (London: Norton and Co., 1979).

Redford, Arthur, The Economic History of England (1760-1860) (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1931).

Rude, George, Debate on Europe 1815-1850 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972).

Williamson, Jeffrey, Did British Capitalism Breed Inequality? (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1985).

J. D. Chambers, “Enclosures and the Labour Supply in the Industrial Revolution,” Economic History Review, 2nd series, V, 1953, pp. 318-343


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