Chapter 19 An Era of Expansion and Reform

In the late 1700s a wave of reform began to sweep through Europe.  The numerous changes that arose because of the Industrial Revolution created many new problems, which only great reforms could resolve.  Inspired by Enlightenment ideals and the French Revolution, reformers began to demand political and economic changes.  Christian revival movements, on the other hand, inspired humanitarians to improve conditions for underprivileged and oppressed groups. These ideals also made their way to Latin America.  The ideals of the French Revolution combined with crucial European events to make the way clear for the colonists to declare independence from Spain and Portugal.



1807            African slave trade abolished in the British Empire

1811            Simón Bolívar leads Venezuela to independence

1832            Reform Bill gives the vote to British middle-class men

1847            Canada obtains self-rule

1848            Revolutions in France, Germany; Chartist demonstrations in Britain

1861            Emancipation of the serfs in Russia

1863            Emancipation Proclamation abolishes slavery in the United States

1918            Women over 30 gain the vote in Britain

In 1783, the British slave ship Zong sailed from Africa fully laden with newly captured slaves.  Before reaching its destination in Jamaica, the ship began to run short of water and other supplies.  The captain of the Zong ordered 132 sick slaves to be thrown overboard, so that the remaining supplies would keep the crew and the rest of the slaves alive.  When this incident came before the court, the captain and his crew were not tried for murder.  Instead, this crime was tried as an insurance case,  since the ship's insurance company disputed the owner's claim for compensation for lost property.[1]              Lord Mansfield, the judge presiding over this case, said that "the case of slaves was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard" and awarded damages of £30 for each slave to the owner of the Zong.[2]  The outcome of this case revolted many humanitarians and focused attention in Britain on the need to abolish the brutal slave trade. Britain's role in abolishing slavery was a prime example of the reforms that swept through Europe during the late 1700s and 1800s.