Society in the 18th Century
I. The Inglorious Revolution-The Marriage of Militarism and Commerce
A great turning point in English history was the revolution of 1640-1660.
The English Revolution was a conflict among three social forces. The
bourgeoisie, led by Oliver Cromwell and organized in the parliament, aroused
by the English working class all warring against Charles I, the High Church,
and the aristocracy.
Once Cromwell vanquished them he turned on his allies, the people. During
the course of the struggle with the King the movement had empowered and
politically mobilized the masses to demand true democratic freedoms.
The mass mobilization though threatened the new capitalist order that
Cromwell and Parliament sought to impose. During the mobilization the army
would elect its own officers, the first democratic political party in world
history emerged, and the questioning of all types of authority was the
It was in the this chaotic context that the poet John Milton composed
Paradise Lost while being imprisoned and targeted by assassins. In many ways
Milton epic was an allegory of what was happening to English economy and
society. In the first two books of the poem Satan is preparing an assault on
Heaven. Hundreds of thousands assembled in war council at Pandemonium to
plan how to conquer heaven. Here Lucifer listened to the advice of his three
major counsellors Moloch, Belial and Mammon. Milton was saying that After
May of 1660 Satan was not trying to recover power in England: he had won it.
Moloch was the first to speak and like Cromwell he advocated open war. An
immediate mobilization of millions. Under Cromwell and Charles the II the
entire English state was reorganized for war. By 1694 the army had grown
500% to 90,000 soldiers, the navy had 207 man of wars built which consumed
75% of the national budget.
In Scotland during the 1690's England had to deal with wars of repression
within its lands. In the lowlands the Kirk were able to transform this area
into one of the most dynamic capitalist areas in Britain. But in the
highlands, society was not only pre-capitalist, it was also pre-feudal and
the Gaelic culture was militaristic and did not know private property.
Following the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692, Highland society consisted of a
huge pauperized and landless population, and a growing group of English
client landowners living upon the confiscated estates.
During the military campaign of 1690 the English also attacked the Irish and
their properties. The majority of Ireland's lands and best properties went
to Protestant captain officers of the English army. It was the biggest land
grab in history until the Louisiana Purchase a century later.
While the English elite quarreled over who should get the best estates, they
did agree on the main points of Irish policy. First, the majority of Irish
people must be kept subjugated by a penal code directed against the Catholic
religion. This policy was intended to make them poor and keep them poor.
Secondly, by keeping them poor and taking their lands away from them the
Irish would migrate to England where they could be exploited efficiently and
brought to profitable labor.
It was also a great period of external war.
England fought against Spain (1656-9), the Netherlands (1652-4 1665-7,
1672-4), France (1689-1714). Moloch fought upon four continents in Brazil,
the Caribbean, New England, Africa, India, Scotland, and Ireland
The Caribbean was the cockpit of the European Powers where the struggle
among the fighting cocks of the imperialist powers was fast, furious, and
vicious. Barbados, Bermuda and the Bahamas were English conquests. These
colonies provided sugar products and served as a dumping ground for the
losers of the British class war (the Irish, the Quakers, the Monmouth
The problem was, of course, how to make the Irish and others work for their
new English lords. In Ireland it was reported that Irish workmen would only
work two hours and then take the rest of the day off. Through the wage and
taxation the Irish work force was disciplined.
Jamaica had been an English colony since its conquest from Spain in 1655.
Jamaica was the hub of British activities in the Caribbean and Latin
America. In 1713 England acquired the licence to sell slaves to the Spanish
So, by the 1690's the Molochs of England had set up chimneys belching
sulphur over five continents and seven seas and had produced the first
But empire affected those within England and those without. It was the
golden age of coerced labor as a national and imperial policy. The paupers
in the cities, the slaves in Jamaica, the Sailors, and the Irish children
from the age of 5 to 14 who worked in workhouses for ten-hours a day six
days a week, all were expressions and the product of the unholy marriage of
militarism and commerce.
There was forced labor, slave labor, bonded labor, convict labor, indentured
labor, incarcerated labor, craft labor, pressed labor and child labor. A
longer working week, a longer working day, the abolition of holidays,
mechanization, and reduced wages between 1690 and 1720 speeded up the twin
processes of profit and capital accumulation in the hands of the elite.
This was truly the age of Mammon. Where the Mammonites understood the
contradiction of how to thrive under evil. Workhouses sprung up everywhere
and were modeled after the plantations of the Caribbean in order to ensure
the same orderliness and discipline of slave labor. Children as young as
three worked as virtual slaves in the workhouses of London.
II. 1690-1720 The Period of Finance Capital
A new morality had emerged among the capitalist class at the end of the 17th
century. Labor, which had been the curse of the fallen man, had become a
religious duty, a means of glorifying god. Poverty had ceased to be a holy
state and was associated with wickedness.
During a period when England was expanding overseas with slavery for Africa
and America there was repression at home. The repression is seen in the
legislation of the period. There was the Riot Act, The Transportation Act,
The Combination Act, The Workhouse Act, etc.
The Riot Act of 1715 provided the ruling class with its most simple and
often used legal ploy against working class action. If 12 or more person
assembled, and if the people failed to disperse after a court order then
they were guilty of a felony.
By law the courts were forced to either hang a felon, or brand him on the
thumb and let him go.
But the Transportation Act of 1719 sanctioned the use of felons being sent
to the colonies of the West Indies or to North American plantations as a
moderate punishment to satisfy the hungry demands of forced labor.
The Act provided a transportation of either 7 or 14 years of hard plantation
It was also the triumph of the monetization of the economy and law.
Yet the poverty of London reached crisis proportions in the 1690's. Starving
people were everywhere and crime and prostitution were at historic levels.
There were shortages of coal and bread.
In response to the poverty people made their own money clipping, coining,
and counterfeiting threatened the stability of the empire
Crime boomed, highwaymen roamed the roads robbing the wealthy. It was in
this environment that the criminalization of the poor occurred with the
death penalty being extended to those convicted of the most minor thefts
such as seamstresses stealing a bobbin of thread.
They and hundreds of others convicted of property crimes were hung.
The hanging tree at Tyburn had become the only social policy of England. In
essence England had become a Thanatocracy where the death penalty had become
an official policy of the state to ensure social control and discipline of
the work force.
III. 1720-1750: The Triumph of The Free Market and Wage Economy
During the first of this period Robert Walpole was PM. And he favored peace
and pursued a policy of expanding trade and the acquisition of foreign
In the British Isles a home market was being formed during this period. A
transportation infrastructure was built, roads were constructed, capitalist
methods of marketing were imposed, people were forced into the wage economy
and off their lands. In Ireland and Scotland banditry prevailed and in
London highway robbery.
Bandits and highwaymen conducted their crimes in traditions that harkened
back to the time of the moral economy.
It was also in this period during the triumph of the free market that the
British nation came into being as well as its flag and anthem.
It was also a great period of imprisonment and prostitution. Prostitution
was at the time a very flexible category that women on various occasion
engaged in. There were many names for prostitute depending on their
specialities. Names such as bunter, smut, trumpery, crack, mawkes...at the
poorer end of the trade names included buttered buns, buttock, squirrel,
mackerel, cat, moll, froe, vrow.
IV. Industry, Idleness in the Period of Manufacture: 1750-1776
This period begins with the 7 years war and concludes with the War for
American Independence. The competition between England and France for the
command of world labor needs to be understood in terms of the struggle of
world laborers against their European masters.
Anti-Imperial violence was widespread: The Battle of Plassey (1757) and Mir
Kasin (1763) in India; Tacky's Rebellion in Jamaica (1760); the Whitebody
Movement in Ireland in 1761; Pontiac's rebellion in Michigan (1763-6); wars
in the Hudson Valley (1765-6); the Regulators in North Carolina (1765-9);
the Silver MIners Strike in Mexico (1766) and the Maroon Wars in Surinam
(1768-72). at stake were huge amounts of international plunder.
Back in the British Isles there were developments that transformed the
countryside. A vast number of enclosure acts were passed by Parliament that
affected nearly 30% of all land. Sheep were then introduced into the
countryside. There was an aggressive push for the cattle industry in
In the face of all this the populations either had to accept a drastically
lowered standard of living or else move to the cities to work as cheap
exploited labor in the developing factory economy.
Things got so bad for the working class that there were many insurrections,
mutinies and urban riots throughout the 1760's.
IV. The Failure of Thanatocracy and The Era of Revolution: 1776-1800
In this period the industrial revolution occurred and its effects proved
that free competition many produce wealth without producing well-being.
Indeed industrial wealth was based upon inequality and riches meant poverty.
After 1792 the goal was to direct the poverty into the labor that would
produce wealth for others.
It would be the wage system that would be the lever that would organize
society in this way. The wage system would be the force around which class
The wage organized social production and was a variable of exploitation.
It operated to lengthen the working day, intensify labor by speeding up
production, competition over wages served to divide the working class, and
wages created a stratified society of rich and poor.
Sugar was transformed during the second half of the 18th century from an
upper class luxury to a working class necessity. Between 1700 and 1800
British per capita consumption of sugar rose over almost 500%.
Sugar was an essential part of the industrial diet. It was a cheap source of
calories that gives the body much quick energy. It saves time and fuel in
Yet sugar also drains the body of precious vitamins and minerals causing
fatigue, nervousness, depression and apprehension.
Sugar became the favorite commodity of the factory and the workhouse, and
the favorite food of capitalism.
Cheap sugar was available due to the colonies in the Caribbean especially
Jamaica. But there were often slave rebellions that became increasingly
serious. The largest invasion force to sail from England set sail in 1796 to
Jamaica where a Maroon War had broken out and six other islands where in
Thousands of people left England to suppress the slave insurrection and
sugar production had collapsed.
The rebellions after years of bloodshed were suppressed but no one knows how
many thousands died in the Caribbean.
England desperately fought to repress liberty for African Americans
throughout the Caribbean and in doing so save not only their empire but also
the productive relations and class structure that had developed between 1650
The working poor and slaves in the Caribbean supported the rich and
subsidized their life styles.
In a sense colonialism aborad and internal colonialism at home generated
tremendous profits that then would be invested in the new productive
technologies of the day and birth the Industrial Revolution of the 1800's.
This above text found anonymously on the internet.
Africans and Irish in Barbados
During the 1600's, African slaves and Irish natives shared a common fate on
the island of Barbados. Slaves first arrived on the island in the 1620's
with the first white settlers and continued to be brought there as the need
for labor created a new market for the international slave trade. By 1645,
the black population on the island was 5680, and by 1667, there were over
40,000 slaves on the island. In the early years of the colony's growth,
Barbados also became a destination for military prisoners and Irish natives.
Oliver Cromwell "barbadosed" Irish who refused to clear off their land and
allowed other Irish to be kidnaped from the streets of Ireland and
transported to Barbados. Those who were barbadosed were sold as slaves or
indentured servants, to British planters. They lived in slave conditions and
had no control over the number of years they had to serve. The number of
Barbadosed Irish in not known and estimates very widely, from a high of
60,000 to a low of 12,000.
Both groups suffered in harsh conditions and joined together to revolt
against British settlers.
The colony had its own set of problems, including raids by Spanish and
French pirates, and turbulent weather that decimated crops and precipitated
African and Irish slave revolts. Slave revolts often coincided with raids or
uncontrollable weather when slave owners were distracted and sent slaves to
other settlers or towns for help. The ability to move about gave slaves an
opportunity to pass on information to other rebels. The rebellions increased
the fear of white slave owners and added to the image of Irish natives as
The enslavement of Africans in Barbados continued until 1834 when slaves
were emancipated, and then apprenticed for a period of four years. By then
the kidnaped Irish had disappeared into history and the census of the 1880's
did not identify any Barbadians as Irish. What did remain was a small
population of poor whites, often called 'redlegs', who may be the
descendants of the Barbadosed Irish.
Francis A. West, The Duty of British Christians in Reference to Colonial
Slavery: A Discourse Delivered in the New Road, and Brunswick-Place Chapels,
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, October 17th, 1830 (Newcastle: Printed by G. Atkinson,
1830), p. 1-10, passim.
Above text found at Yale.edu
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