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Britain in18 century

The Roots of World Empire

Britain in the 18th century was more deeply involved with the world beyond its shores than ever before.

British ships plied the world’s oceans, displacing the Dutch from their leadership in world trade. African slaves, Indian cotton textiles, and Chinese tea all served to fill the coffers of British merchants. Not only British trade but British dominion was rising. The Royal Navy was establishing a virtually insurmountable lead over all rivals and a global network of bases. The colonies in North America changed from isolated outposts to complex societies expanding into the American interior. The British colonies of the Caribbean, Jamaica, and Barbados, with their vast, slave-worked sugar plantations, were the source of immense wealth, even as slavery itself was increasingly controversial by the second half of the century.

The Hudson’s Bay Company, founded in 1670, traded with Native Americans for furs, although in the first part of the new century it was outpaced by French rivals. The East India Company, founded in 1600, had established a firm foothold in Bengal in northeastern India that became a base for further expansion by the mid-18th century. Knowledge went with power. Along with other strong European nations, Britain amassed knowledge of global navigation, cartography, and hydrography. British captains followed in the wake of the Elizabethan captain Francis Drake, but with an emphasis on knowledge rather than mere plunder. The most notable of these explorers was James Cook (1728–79), who charted the coast of Newfoundland and the Pacific Northwest coast of America, circumnavigated New Zealand, and was the first European to encounter the islands of Hawaii. Like other British explorers, Cook was accompanied by cartographers and natural historians who made the layout and resources of the newly discovered lands and peoples known to Britain and Europe.

The Industrial Revolution

The British economy in the late 18th century was transformed by the so-called Industrial Revolution, although the term itself was not used at the time. England had several advantages in being the first country to industrialize. It was well supplied with coal and iron, and it was a rich society by premodern standards, with a surplus of capital available for investment and a developed system of capital markets, making it relatively easy to get capital to entrepreneurs through joint-stock companies and other financial arrangements. British domination of the seas was actually strengthened by the wars with France. British colonies were exploited both for cheap raw materials and as captive markets. England also had mechanics and engineers who combined practical experience with some training in Newtonian physics.

Industrialism first emerged in the production and trade of textiles, particularly cotton known as light industry. Economic expansion in textiles was initially based on a series of technical and organizational innovations in spinning and weaving. Cotton was not as absolutely central to the British Industrial Revolution as it is often presented, but there is no question that it was very important. The origin of the factory system is closely associated with the cotton industry, and factory organization did not spread to other industries until after 1830. The quantity of raw cotton imported into the British Isles went from 11 million pounds in 1785 to 588 million pounds in 1850, and the output of cloth went from 40 million to 2,025 million square yards. This was an export-oriented trade, and it was efficient to the degree that, notwithstanding attempts by the French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) to block British goods from the European continent, even the French army was clothing soldiers in English cotton cloth.

British colonies in North America, India, and Africa were also British markets. After it won independence from Spain and Portugal in the early 19th century, Latin America became virtually an economic colony of Britain. Even the United States continued to be a major market for British manufactured goods after the American Revolution. Other British industries that were expanding included iron and coal, which would receive a powerful stimulus from the demands of war. The Industrial Revolution led to powerful social changes, especially in the growth of urbanization and new forms of labor. English urban areas, particularly

 London and the cities of the industrial north, grew at an astounding rate, and by the mid-19th century Britain was the first large nation to have a majority of its population living in cities. Thousands of people abandoned the daily and seasonal rhythms of agricultural work in favor of a life regulated by machinery and the clock and subject to the iron rule of factory owners. Owners forced workers to work long hours in harsh and dangerous conditions, paid the lowest wages they could get away with, and enlisted the state to prevent workers from organizing to better their conditions. Children were employed doing exhausting physical work from a very young age. The new cities were overcrowded, with shoddy, quickly built housing for the working population and poor hygiene and waste disposal.

Here is a very useful link to the History course
Helen Kuzmenok,
Feb 21, 2016, 4:15 AM