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Essay on Role of 19th Century Middle Class in Political Development of Colonial Australia

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The middle class had fought long battle to get equality as the foundation of the political growth of the 19th century colonial Australia (Sawer, and Brent, 2011). The labour movement which was majorly a movement led by the working middle class signified the political growth of the nation and contributed towards shaping of the politics and democracy in this nation. The absence of hereditary upper class in the 19th century parliament of Australia and the role of women even helped in realizing the strength of the radicals.

The middle class and the movements organised and led by them has contributed significantly in paving the path of political development for colonial Australia in the 19th century. With the beginning of the 19th century and even in starting of 20th century, the idea of colonial nationalism was widespread in the nation which embarked the beginning of political; development in the nation (Macintyre, 2016). One of the strong supporters of a broad scaled movement, Labour Movement, which has shaped and modified politics to the current picture is the middle class of colonial Australia (Grattan, 1944, p. 58). The democratic reform in colonial Australia in the 19th century came in two broad categories called the Chartists and Radicals (Sawer and Brent, 2011, p. 4). These two categories have been defined and provided the democratic rights individually considering their economic status in the 19th century colonial Australia. There is a popular negative view among the world over the middle-class Australians and their economic and political contribution towards the nation in the present day. Though, the picture of political development in Australia in the 19th century clearly suggests the active participation of the middle class under the category of radicals for the political development of the then colonial Australia. 

In the 1890s, the middle class of colonial Australia was not contemplated with their position and was struggling with the social violence faced along with the worker's group. They hardly have any position in the political growth of the nation (Grattan, 1944, p. 62). The middle class fought back and in the outlook of socialism consistently struggled to get a position in the politics of the then nation. Interestingly, almost all the people of the 19th century Australia were likely to identify with the middle class in one way or another. As stated by Marx and Dahrendorf, the position of the people in that century was a reflection of their class only (Guclu, 2014). The people with white-collar jobs were more likely to relate to the middle class (Kelley and McAllister, 1985, p. 403). The recognition of one's class has had an impact on political views as well as the middle class mostly were in support of the Liberal-National Coalition in the 19th century.

On the initiation of the labour movement in the 90s, the middle class sensing the unity of being working class came together and approached the courts for arbitration and mediation despite being sceptical over the functioning and procedures of these courts in resolving the disputes. Later, the liberal middle-class politicians detected imperfections in these laws but the class relied heavily on courts and is in controversy till today (Grattan, 1944, p. 71). The Labour Party formed as a collaboration of middle class played a magnificent role in the establishment and elaboration of the social services and the ventures owned by the state. The middle class-based party led the establishment of labour to the political power and advocated various policies in contrast to the welfare and wellbeing of the middle class. Consequently, the establishment of railways, telegraphs and post office related services modified and established considering the voice of the people. Although, these establishments are not directly related to the increasing strength of middle-class sin politics of colonial Australia but had very much positively affected by the rise of this class in politics (Grattan, 1944, p. 65).

The role of equality is compulsory to be secured and shifted to a prior position in the political development of any nation. In the case of colonial Australia in the 19th century, the middle class played a remarkable role in building a democracy with equality at its foundation (Sawer and Brent, 2011, p. 4). The Radicals along with the Chartists demanded their people not only the right to access Parliament but also included secret ballots, such as equal-sized electoral districts, equal weightage to all the voters, payment for the members of Parliament, etc. This has made the significant recognition of equality by the government and to include this as part and parcel of the democracy of the colonial Australia. The tendency of the Australian democracy to treat with equality had got its birth in the efforts of the radicals who were mostly middle class of the 19th century. Even the heavy presence of the middle class along with the absence of the hereditary upper class, after the failed revolutions in Europe in the 1840s which incidentally got coupled with the lure of the Australian goldfields in the 1850s, the equality became a strong contender of politics in Australia

One of such radicals who has a crucial role in political development in the 19th century was Thomas Muir He advocated for the freedom and liberty in the fledgeling legal systems of the colonies. He was transported to New South Wales of Australia as a punishment for sedition in the nation. (Watson and Arnold, 2019). Another significant class of people of the middle class who has contributed towards the political development in the 19th century is the women class and their approach towards equality and political participation. Maybanke, the leading campaigner in 19th century South wales had made a significant contribution in getting the adult suffrage for the women category. The process of bringing the women indulged into the motherhood and religion only to politics was a long story shaped and developed with then initiation of women like Maybanke (Kingston, 1994).

The middle class and movements led by them have made the nation realize various new aspects to the politics in colonial Australia in the 19th century. The role of radicals who are usually the working class and the labour class of the population of the 19th century colonial Australia was vital shaping of the political growth of the nation as we perceive it in the present day. Apart from these radicals, the role of women is as much as the value of well considering the fact that women were a major part of the population and their involvement and perception towards politics in 19th century were considerable for the growth of the nation in respect of the politics. Thus, the active participation and initiation of the middle class in the 19th century colonial Australia can never be overlooked even in the current politics of the nation.

References for Equality and Australian Democracy

Grattan, C. (1944). The Australian Labor Movement. The Antioch Review, 4(1), 56-73. 10.2307/4608989

Guclu, I. (2014). Karl Marx and Ralf Dahrendorf: A Comparative Perspective on Class Formation and Conflict.

Kelley, J., and McAllister, I. (1985). Class and Party in Australia: Comparison with Britain and the USA. The British Journal of Sociology, 36(3), 383-420. 10.2307/590458

Kingston, B. (1994). Women in Nineteenth Century Australian History. Labour History, (67), 84-96. 10.2307/27509277

Macintyre, S. (2016). A Concise History of Australia (4th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Sawer, M. and Brent, P. (2011). Equality and Australian Democracy. Democratic Audit Discussion Paper.

Watson, J. and Arnold, A. (2019, September 19). The convicts who shaped Australian democracy as we know it. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-29/political-convicts-chartists-made-australian-democracy/11520622

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