chapter  XIV
Pages 23

THE ending of the war in r8r5 made a vital difference to the prospects of every cause in which Cobbett was concerned. With one brief interval, Great Britain had been more than twenty years at war, and during all that time it had been impossible to get more than intermittent attention for Parliamentary Reform, or for any question vitally affecting the condition of the people. The National Debt had mounted up to a vast sum: the circulation of paper money had hugely increased, and had been accompanied by a great rise in prices. Among the agricultural workers and in many of the towns, the growth of pauperism had kept pace with the increase in the Debt. While the Orders in Council were in operation, there had been widespread distress among the operatives in the new factory towns and many employers had passed through trying times, or even been driven to bankruptcy. The mushroom growth of private banks, without adequate resources behind them, and the rapid growth of new businesses unsupported by any reserves of capital, made industry peculiarly unstable and helpless to resist periods of adverse trade. At the same time, the progress of enclosures was driving the cottagers off the land into the towns: high rents and short tenancies were causing the growth of large farms, and depriving the yeoman farmer of his independence. The growth of machinery was rendering obsolete the craft skill of the hand-loom weavers and other once relatively prosperous workers, and was bringing into the labour market huge armies of women and children, who were driven to tend the new machines for incredible numbers of hours in the day, at a wage barely enough to keep body and soul together-and a falling wage at that.