Essay on Motivation For Working Class Unrest And Radicalism

Essay on Motivation For Working Class Unrest And Radicalism

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Explain the motivation for working class unrest and radicalism in the early nineteenth century, with reference to at least two key groups

The working classes’ unrest and radicalism in this period was motivated primarily by their economic and pecuniary environment. This economic milieu which incorporated the working classes of the nineteenth century was the fundamental basis from which unrest sprang; it was the origin of their motivation, rationale and, to the limited extent it existed, their solidarity. In this context radicalism found purchase; it capitalised on the latent political energy of the working class, emergent amongst the economic malaise that followed the end of twenty-three years of war in 1815, as well as the failure of Luddism and the unions to enact any positive reform and what Thompson asserted was the ‘confluence’ of radicalism and the highly appealing, utopian, and socialist Owenism. Consequently, radicalism increasingly became a realm that incorporated the working class. As their motivations and ideology began to align, working class unrest and radicalism was informed by the press and important, influential writers such as Cobbett and Hunt. These vocal opponents of government policy and electoral corruption were popular figures who enjoyed a great deal of influence amongst the working class; their views helped to inform, motivate and direct unrest and radicalism. It was this radicalism that incorporated unrest, eventually becoming an offensive force – by reform or force – rather than the instrument of defensive, reactive riots and revolts against actual and perceived notions of a moral, paternalistic and just economy betrayed. In the rhetoric of influential radical reformers like Cobbett, the working classe...

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...radicalism and the unrest that resulted was, therefore, informed by disillusionment with and unrepresentative and corrupt government. Specifically their issues came from the unreformed electoral system and the economy following the Napoleonic Wars which In Cobbett’s words led to an ‘enormous debt to be created and, in consequence, a prodigal sum to be raised annually in taxes;’ a system which he railed against as the ‘cause of our present miseries.’ Much of the economic misery, therefore was a result of the post-war depression, government policy and parliamentary corruption, especially in the form of pensions; those heavy economic abuses maintaining what historians term the ‘fiscal-military state, and Cobbett, in vitriolic tones called ‘the Thing.’ In this context, the economic motivations of working class unrest became highly politicised and radical.

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