Middle-class reformers in Britain increased pressure for abolition, calling for an end to slavery and the slave trade.
In this cartoon, the British prime minister opens a particular gate. What change in policy does the cartoon depict? Explain.
In Parliament, William Wilberforce led the movement to end the slave trade. A dedicated social reformer, Wilberforce also held strong religious convictions. Wilberforce helped shift political thought by persistently introducing anti-slavery motions for decades in Parliament. Finally, in 1807, Britain became the first European power to abolish the slave trade.
Banning the slave trade did not end slavery. Although the Congress of Vienna condemned slavery, it had taken no action. In Britain, liberals preached the immorality of slavery. Finally, in 1833, Parliament passed a law banning slavery in all British colonies.
Other reforms were aimed at the criminal justice system. In the early 1800s, more than 200 crimes were punishable by death. Such capital offenses included not only murder but also shoplifting, sheep stealing, and impersonating an army veteran.
In practice, some juries refused to convict people charged with crimes, because the punishments were so harsh. Executions were public occasions, and the hanging of a well-known murderer might attract thousands of curious spectators. By 1868 however, Parliament banned public hangings, and executions then took place behind prison walls. Afterward, instead of receiving a proper burial, the criminal's body might be given to a medical college for dissection.
Reformers began to reduce the number of capital offenses. By 1850, the death penalty was reserved for murder, piracy, treason, and arson. Many petty criminals were instead transported to penal colonies, or settlements for convicts, in the new British territory of Australia. Additional reforms improved prison conditions and outlawed imprisonment due to debt.
How did the Corn Laws affect the lower classes?
“Four [ghosts] haunt the Poor: Old Age, Accident, Sickness and Unemployment,” declared Liberal politician David Lloyd George in 1905. “We are going to [expel] them.”
Harsh working conditions and deadly accidents were common in British coal mines. With the Mines Act of 1842, Parliament prohibited all females and boys under age 10 from working in underground mines.
As early as the 1840s, Parliament passed some laws aimed at improving conditions for workers. Later in the 1800s and early 1900s, Parliament passed additional reforms, designed to help the working class whose labor supported the new industrial society.