Century of progress

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Course: United Kingdom: History and Political System
Book: Century of progress
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Date: Sunday, 1 October 2023, 5:35 AM

Century of progress

In 1707, the Act of Union was passed. Under this agreement, the Scottish parliament was dissolved and some of its members joined the English and Welsh parliament in London and the former two kingdoms became one ´United Kingdom of Great Britain´. However, Scotland retained its own system of law, more similar to continental European system and it does so to this day.

Britain was governed under a mixed constitution, achieved through the Glorious Revolution of 1689. The monarch ruled in conjunction with the two houses of parliament. All three parties were closely involved in political decisions.

Within Parliament, two opponent groups were formed. One group, the Whigs, were the political descendants of the parliamentarians. They supported the Protestant values of hard work and thrift. The other group, the Tories, had a greater respect for the idea of the monarchy and the importance of the Anglican Church. This was the beginning of the party system in Britain.

The monarchs of the eighteenth century were Hanoverian Germans with interests on the European continent. The first of them, George I, Elector of Hanover, became king in accordance with the Act of Settlement, 1702. The act stipulated that, after the death of the childless Queen Anne (the last legitimate Stuart monarch) the British monarchy should be Protestant and Hanoverian. George could not even speak English. Perhaps this situation encouraged the habit whereby the monarch appointed one principal, or prime, minister from the ranks of Parliament to head his government. It was also during this century that the system of an annual budget drawn up by the monarch´s Treasury officials for the approval of Parliament was established.

During the Hanoverian era, Britain experienced considerable demographic growth, the birth of an industrial economy, and extensive social change.

Industrial revolution

In England, the growth of the industrial mode of production, together with advances in agriculture, caused the greatest changes in the pattern of everyday life since the Germanic invasions. Britain built factories and canals, extended agricultural productivity through parliamentary enclosure, experienced rapid urban growth, manufactured and patented new industrial techniques, achieved a breakthrough in fuel sources for energy and traded extensively along its own coasts and with Ireland, Europe and the wider world.

Areas of common land, which had been used by everybody in a village for the grazing of animals, disappeared as landowners incorporated them into their increasingly large and more efficient farms. (There remain some pieces of common land in Britain today, used mainly as parks. They are often called ´the common´.)

Industrialisation did not affect all parts of the nation equally. It was particularly strong in south Lancashire, Yorkshire, Birmingham and the Black Country, the Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor and London.

Sea power

Britain's development between 1714 and 1837 had an important international and military dimension. An empire based on commerce, sea power and naval dominance consolidated British overseas settler societies.

At the beginning of the 18th century, Britain possessed colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America, numerous sugar islands in the Caribbean and a foothold in Bengal. Georgia became a British colony in 1732. Britain acquired the Ceded Islands in 1763.

Despite the disastrous loss of the 13 North American colonies in the American War of Independence in 1783, Britain subsequently acquired settlements in New South Wales, Sierra Leone, Trinidad, Demerara, Mauritius and the Cape Colony. She also extended her hold over Bengal and Madras.