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United Kingdom

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Although technically created by the 1707 Act of Union uniting England, Wales, and Scotland, the term United Kingdom came into wide usage following the 1801 Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland, which united the entire British Isles under one government. The nation was ruled as a constitutional monarchy with members of the House of Hanover (George III, George IV, William IV, and Victoria) serving executive roles as the royal heads of state and a bicameral Parliament creating and passing legislation. Parliament was comprised of the popularly elected House of Commons and the House of Lords representing the aristocracy. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the government became increasingly democratized as parliamentary voting restrictions were loosened which, in turn, gradually reduced the relative power of the monarch. Much of these reforms, especially the Great Reform Act of 1832, resulted from the collapse of the old two-party system dominated by the Tories and Whigs to a new one balancing the old Tories with a new Liberal Party more closely aligned with the rising industrial middle class.

This period also saw the United Kingdom emerge as the world's leading economic power, primarily due to the Industrial Revolution, which started in England. The resulting influx of capital not only led to the aforementioned new and powerful middle class but also spurred a revival of British imperial ambition. Having lost its most prosperous North American colonies in the American Revolution, Britain refocused on Asia and Africa, building the largest global empire in history which fueled industrial expansion in the mother country. This allowed the United Kingdom to become the first "world power" and dominate global politics and economics for much of the nineteenth century.

Although Anglo-American relations were relatively hostile during the first two decades of the nineteenth century - culminating in the War of 1812 - the two nations became more closely aligned as the century progressed. This was due to the United Kingdom's growing adoption of capitalism and free trade as well as the lucrative sale of American cotton to British textile mills. Tensions arose again in the 1840s over the northern boundary of the Oregon Territory but Britain conceded to the current border in 1846. The Civil War also exacerbated frictions between the United States and United Kingdom, as Parliament considered recognizing the Confederacy as a belligerent nation and British naval manufacturers aided in the creation of the Confederate Navy. The Trent Affair brought the two nations closest to war but diplomatic efforts by the Lincoln administration and Union military victories effectively ended British support for southern independence.

Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, & Dangerous People? England 1783-1846 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Howard Jones, Crucible of Power: A History of American Foreign Relations to 1913 (Wilmington, DE: SR Books, 2002); K. Theodore Hoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846-1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).