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6.8 19th-Century Social Reform

4 min readfebruary 12, 2023

Jillian Holbrook

Jillian Holbrook


AP European History 🇪🇺

335 resources
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Industrialization was beginning to take its toll on the people, especially those in the working class and cities. Uneducated workers—male and female—suffered in grueling conditions with extremely low pay and cruel treatment. Moral issues were raised about the institution of slavery, serfdom, and even alcohol!
In response to the treatment of workers, multiple trade unions and movements arose to push for social and economic changes. In 1834, the first trade union was created in England. Known as the Great Trade Union, it was a mix of workers in various trades that sought basic reforms: better wages, fewer hours, and the regulation of child labor. 💵

Movements for Rights and Reform

Poverty and a lack of general education were rampant in the cities, especially when it came to children. To counter this, various social movements, usually religious, popped up to fix the problem despite having no government support, including the introduction of Sunday School.
Some blamed alcohol as the source of the woes of the working class, including crime, poverty, and alcoholism itself. Temperance advocates argued that alcohol was a social and moral evil that needed to be eradicated, and they promoted a range of measures to achieve this goal. These measures included education and public awareness campaigns, legal restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol, and the establishment of alternative recreational activities and venues. 🍺🙅
In various parts of the world, slavery and serfdom still existed. The institutions had become a moral issue, and abolishing them seemed to be the morally righteous route. Religious groups began to advocate for the abolition of slavery in England’s numerous colonies as part of the British abolitionist movement.
Women also played an important role; they were some of the most vocal and active advocates for social reform. Feminists pressed for legal, economic, and political rights for women as well as improved working conditions. However, they also demanded universal male and female suffrage. 👩🏻‍🤝‍👨🏽

Politics and Parties 🗳️

Trade unions and social movements soon evolved into mass political parties representing a specific subset of people. These groups now had an impact on politics due to a large number of supporters from the working class. 
Mass-based political parties emerged as sophisticated vehicles for social, economic, and political reform. The political affiliations of various economic classes created ideological divides and fostered new ideas about policy.

Mass-Based Political Parties

Conservatives and Liberals in Great Britain

The Liberal Party emerged in the mid-19th century and quickly became a major force in British politics. It was a coalition of various progressive and reform-minded groups, including Whigs, radicals, and free traders. The party advocated for individual rights, religious tolerance, and economic liberalism, supporting a wide range of social and political reforms, including the extension of voting rights, the abolition of slavery, and the establishment of public education.
The Conservative Party, which had previously been dominated by aristocrats and the landed gentry, also began to evolve into a mass-based party during this period. It drew support from a wide range of conservative and traditionalist groups, including the Church of England, rural landowners, and industrialists. The party supported traditional values, economic protectionism, and the maintenance of the established social order.
Both parties recognized the importance of building broad-based coalitions in order to win elections and achieve their policy goals. They developed sophisticated campaign strategies, including the use of mass media, public rallies, and grassroots organizing, and relied heavily on patronage and political mobilization to build support.

Conservatives and Socialists in France

In France during the 19th century, there were two mass-based political parties with different ideological orientations: the socialists and the conservatives.
The French Socialist Party represented the interests of the working class. It was influenced by Marxist and socialist ideas and sought to improve the lives of workers through political action.
On the other hand, the French conservative movement was represented by various parties throughout the 19th century, including the Legitimist Party, the Orleanist Party, and the Bonapartist Party. These parties were influenced by conservative and royalist ideas and sought to maintain the traditional power structures of French society. The conservative movement was supported by the aristocracy, the Catholic Church, and other conservative groups.
The conservative and socialist parties were in constant opposition to each other, with each seeking to promote its own interests and ideology. They clashed over issues such as workers' rights, the role of the state, and the distribution of power in society!

Political Parties Representing Workers

The German Social Democratic Party

The German Social Democratic Party, founded in 1875, was the first major socialist party. It emphasized social democracy, democratic socialism, and progressive policies, including a strong social welfare state, workers' rights, and equality. The party was formed through the merger of several Marxist and labor parties and sought to advance the interests of the working class through political means.

The British Labour Party

The British Labour Party was founded in response to the perceived failure of the Liberal Party to address the concerns of the working class. It sought to provide a political voice for workers and the broader labor movement, including calls for better working conditions, universal suffrage, and a reduction in the power of the aristocracy.

The Russian Social Democratic Party

The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) was founded in 1898 and was the main socialist political party in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The party was founded by a group of Marxist intellectuals who sought to organize the working class and overthrow the autocratic regime of the Tsar.

Browse Study Guides By Unit
🎨Unit 1 – Renaissance & Exploration
⛪️Unit 2 – Reformation
👑Unit 3 – Absolutism & Constitutionalism
🤔Unit 4 – Scientific, Philosophical, & Political Developments
🥖Unit 5 – Conflict, Crisis, & Reaction in the Late 18th Century
🚂Unit 6 – Industrialization & Its Effects
Unit 7 – 19th Century Perspectives & Political Developments
💣Unit 8 – 20th Century Global Conflicts
🥶Unit 9 – Cold War & Contemporary Europe
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