Evidence of Class Conflict and Harmony in mid-Victorian Britain

Propaganda of the day is evidence of conflict and harmony between mid-Victorian Britain’s classes.

 Proof available to make a case here can be understood to be propaganda of its day. The case will be made using evidence available in two articles. The first, by Charles Dickens, called ‘On Strike’, was published in his weekly periodical ‘Household Words’. In it, he pointed out faults of both sides involved in a strike and lockout in Preston, during February 1854. There is also the report of Lord Palmerston’s speech, at the South London Industrial Exhibition, in the ‘Illustrated London News’, 8 April 1865. In this article, Palmerston seems to be stirring people, with new initiatives of the time, onward, irrespective of class. By selecting relevant points in these documents, we will show evidence of both conflict and harmony. We will also take note of different types of mid-Victorian classes and consider why parts of these texts can be understood to be propaganda.


Starting with Dickens’ article, his discussion in it can be seen as a description of a conflict. This article gives us insight into what was a popular literary artist’s and reporter’s view of the Preston strike. The two sides involved, worker and employers, could be seen to be in conflict due to there being, ‘no relationship between wages and profits’. (1) It was inferred that workers instigated the strike, as requests for wage increases went unheeded.


There was further evidence of conflict, when Dickens transcribes his conversation, with a ‘gentleman’. He told of how employers combined. This combination apparently produced a ruling to the effect, ‘no man should be employed henceforth who belonged to any combination … ’ (1)


This suggested those of the ‘employers’ class, were telling those of the ‘workers’ class, they were not allowed to combine or come togther to make desisions. This is something which the employers had done themselves to come up with the ruling.. With this two classes involved, are described.


Dickens gave accounts of both sides of this conflict to his audience. His apparent objective of bringing a social conscience to mid-Victorian Britain seemed evident. He pointed to there being equal fault in the makeup of both workers and employers, to this ‘gentleman’, who could be seen as being of Dickens’ own class. This leads us to think that the audience, for his articles of the day, could have been similarly educated and respectable people.


The report can be understood to be propaganda by its nature, which is rather political. It was published each week and must have been well read to be able to keep going, from an economic perspective. With it, he seemed to be aiming to change his readership’s views of the class system and injustices therein.


In addition to conflict, evidence of harmony between classes may be seen in Dickens’ article. The way he reports the ‘New Song of the Preston Strike’, is a good example. Excerpts from this song went:


Henry Hornby, of Blackburn, he is a jolly brick,

He fits Preston masters nobly and is very bad to trick;

He pays his hands a good price, and I hope he will never sever,

So we’ll sing success to Hornby and Blackburn forever.

There is another gentleman, I’m sure you’ll all lament … (1)


It could be seen from the above that there were good and bad employers. Workers could be said to have sung of both harmony and conflict, between themselves and their mid-Victorian ‘masters’. 


Further supporting there being harmony and conflict, Dickens noted in his conclusion, there should be mediation between the two sides, via a mutually trusted third party. This intimates workers may have discussed problems with employers elsewhere and thus harmony could be understood to have existed. Yet, as this was not happening, he said ‘… there is certain ruin to both in the continuance or frequent revival of this breach.’ (1)


Moving to the report of Lord Palmerston’s speech, more harmony is suggested in it. He was quoted as saying, ‘… you will, by systematic industry, raise yourselves in the social system of your country …’. (2) It could be understood that Palmerston was saying; it was possible for people, from all classes, to rise up through the social ranks. With Protistantism agreeing no mans position is set in stone and can be improoved, there seemed little to stop one moving  upward and onward.


The ranks Palmerston saw in society were, ‘… an aristocracy of wealth and an aristocracy of rank …’. (2) All the way through his speech, the concept of the freedom for all to further themselves and their family seemed evident. It could be judged that he was trying to spread word about a form of harmony that was available to all.


The more you read into this speech, the more it seems that his cause is brought to the forefront. Also suggested in it was, undertakings like the inventions and initiatives of the new aristocracy of wealth, gained respect from Britain – as was seen by the awards given at the exhibition – and gained respect for Britain, from the rest of the world. This speech, from a British politician of the time, was in the public arena and this was Lord Palmerston’s job. The way the speech was reported could be considered propaganda for these reasons.


Another possible reaction to this speech might be considered. Although it can only be surmised about, there may have been some conflict brewing for Lord Palmerston among his peers and superiors. When anyone tries to change the way things are perceived by society, a backlash can occur. This backlash, if from the Queen toward the Lord, could be further evidence of conflict between classes, if it could be proved. 


Both of the texts we have looked at can be seen as propaganda. They can be considered political and to have a cause. More to the point, Dickens report gave us detail of a strike, our conflict. Yet, he also opened up a concept of what workers and employers could have been doing, to solve their problems. His solution presented to us harmony. Also, the report of Lord Palmerston’s speech tells of what might be done by anyone, no matter what their background, for Britain, pointing to more harmony between classes. These documents are evidence, by definition, of both harmony and conflict, between what they also describe to us as classes in mid-Victorian Britain.





(1) Charles Dickens from ‘On Strike’, 11 February 1854


(2) Report of a speech by Lord Palmerston at South London Industrial Exhibition, April 1865, in the ‘Illustrated London News’, 8 April 1865


P.S. Please note this was my first ever attempt at writing a structured essay. Produced by Kevin Ireson 26 Jan 2007.


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