Social reforms and religious movements – Study Material
A reform movement is a type of social movement that aims to bring a social or political system closer to the community’s ideal. A reform movement is distinguished from more radical social movements such as revolutionary movements which reject those old ideals in the first place. Reformists’ ideas are often grounded in liberalism, although they may be rooted in socialist (specifically, social democratic) or religious concepts. Some rely on personal transformation; others rely on small collectives, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s spinning wheel and the self-sustaining village economy, as a mode of social change. Reactionary movements, which can arise against any of these, attempt to put things back the way they were before any successes the new reform movement(s) enjoyed, or to prevent any such successes.
- After two decades of intensely conservative rule, the logjam broke in the late 1820s with the repeal of obsolete restrictions on Nonconformists, followed by the dramatic removal of severe limitations on Catholics in Britain.
- The Radical movement campaigned for electoral reform, against child labour, for a reform of the Poor Laws, free trade, educational reform, prison reform, and public sanitation.Originally this movement sought to replace the exclusive political power of the aristocracywith a more democratic system empowering urban areas and the middle and working classes. The energy of reform emerged from the religious fervor of the evangelical element in the established Church of England, and Evangelical workers in the Nonconformist churches, especially the Methodists
Chartist Movement :
The Chartist movement in Britain sought universal suffrage. A historian of the Chartist movement observed that “The Chartist movement was essentially an economic movement with a purely political programme.”[A period of bad trade and high food prices set in, and the drastic restrictions on Poor Law relief were a source of acute distress. The London Working Men’s Association, under the guidance of Francis Place, found itself in the midst of a great unrest. In the northern textile districts the Chartists, led by Feargus O’Connor, a follower of Daniel O’Connell, denounced the inadequate Poor Laws. This was basically a hunger revolt, springing from unemployment and despair. In Birmingham, the older Birmingham Political Union sprang to life under the leadership of Thomas Attwood. The Chartist movement demanded basic economic reforms, higher wages and better conditions of work, and a repeal of the obnoxious Poor Law Act.
Women’s Rights Movement :
Many consider Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) to be the source of the reformers’ long-running campaign for feminist inclusion and the origin of the Women’s Suffrage movement. Harriet Taylor was a significant influence on John Stuart Mill’s work and ideas, reinforcing Mill’s advocacy of women’s rights. Her essay, “Enfranchisement of Women,” appeared in the Westminster Review in 1851 in response to a speech by Lucy Stone given at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850, and it was reprinted in the United States. Mill cites Taylor’s influence in his final revision of On Liberty, (1859) which was published shortly after her death, and she appears to be obliquely referenced in Mill’s The Subjection of Women.
Reform in Parliament :
- Earl Grey, Lord Melbourne and Robert Peel were leaders of Parliament during the earlier years of the British reform movement. Grey and Melbourne were of the Whig party, and their governments saw parliamentary reform, the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, and Poor Law reform. Peel was a Conservative, whose Ministry took an important step in the direction of tariff reform with the abolition of the Corn Laws.
- William Ewart Gladstone was a reformer. Among the reforms he helped Parliament pass was a system of public education in the Elementary Education Act 1870. In 1872, he saw the institution of a secret ballot to prevent voter coercion, trickery and bribery. By 1885 Gladstone had readjusted the parliamentary district lines by making each district equal in population, preventing one MP from having greater influence than another.
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