Pacifists making guns: the Galtons of Birmingham and Britain’s industrial revolution.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend this lecture from Professor Priya Satia (Stanford) delivered at the University of Birmingham, the university has posted the full video to view for free:
The biggest gun-making firm in 18th century Britain was owned by a Quaker family, the Galtons of Birmingham. They were major suppliers of guns to the slave trade in West Africa, the East India Company, settlers and trading companies in North America, and the British government, which was at war almost constantly from 1688 to 1815. But a core principle of the Quaker faith is belief in the un-Christian nature of war; Quakers do not participate in war or war training. From the seventeenth century, they were a persecuted minority because they refused to swear loyalty to the king or to arm themselves in the defence of his realm. So how do we explain the Galtons? -and other Quakers’ quiet tolerance of their business for nearly a century? For nearly a century, their livelihood attracted no critical notice in the Quaker community. Then, suddenly, in 1795, the Religious Society of Friends threatened to disown Samuel Galton Junior unless he left the arms trade. What changed? Why did the Galtons’ gun-manufacturing suddenly become a scandal? Had guns changed? Had Quakerism changed? And what was the result? Was Galton disowned? These are the questions Prof. Satia’s talk will pose and answer. And the answers reveal how difficult it was in eighteenth-century British industrial society to extricate oneself entirely from participating in warfare, regardless of principles. War was integral to the Industrial Revolution.
Priya Satia is a professor of British History at Stanford University. She is author of Spies of Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East published by Oxford University Press and her writing appeared in the TLS, Slate, the Financial Times, Washington Post, and Time Magazine, among others. She received an MSc in Development Studies (Economics) at the London School of Economics and a PhD in History at the University of California, Berkeley.