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Popular Politics in Georgian Britain. What is Popular Politics? Two senses: intervention of people into public business or political debates (not always.

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Presentation on theme: "Popular Politics in Georgian Britain. What is Popular Politics? Two senses: intervention of people into public business or political debates (not always."— Presentation transcript:

1 Popular Politics in Georgian Britain

2 What is Popular Politics? Two senses: intervention of people into public business or political debates (not always welcomed); theory that ordinary people have a right to participate in public affairs directly or via representation Political ‘radicalism’ is an anachronistic term for the period Support for more democratic basis of politics is episodic, activists are divided, politicians are opportunistic. The 19 th century definition of radical is one who holds the most advanced views of political reform along democratic lines but this does not really apply in the 18 th century. Many of those arguing for electoral reform in the early eighteenth century want to restrict the franchise to create a purer, less corrupt electorate.

3 18 th Century radicalism Historians increasingly recognise a lively ‘out of doors’ political Colley, Krey, Langford, Rogers and Speck. Wilson has included an imperial dimension to this. Radical tradition focused on a vigorous resistance to ruling cartels; a sense of liberty and freedom among the English. Any attempts to extend standing armies, erect military barracks, centralise the police forces or tax collection met with fierce resistance (legacy of Commonwealth). Advocacy was less about progress towards full democracy and the creation of new rights and more about the defence of rights that, it was perceived, had always been held by the English people and were enshrined in documents such as the Magna Carta (1215) and Bill of Rights (1689) Popular politics is commercialised in this period: press and pamphlet literature, production of ‘political’ artefacts that were badges of allegiance

4 Bonnie Prince Charlie Scent Bottle

5 Lecture structure Role of Whigs & Tories Jacobites Excise Crisis Wilkes

6 Whigs & Tories Age of Whig Oligarchy c. 1720-1760: did Whigs and Tories exist as separate entities in politics? ‘the Tories were pre-eminently the landed gentry, unconnected with the Court - a social group rather than a political party’. (Brooke) Traditional view stresses division of politics based on Court and Country loyalties (which were fluid) rather than political parties. Period before 1760 sees a metamorphosis of the Whigs from the party of ‘the people’ to the party of established wealth; Whigs dominate government from 1715 (aftermath of Jacobite revolt) The Tories swing from the party of established wealth to the party of the people—or at least people angry at the Government. So is popular politics mainly associated with Toryism or country politics in this period? Can popular politics be ‘reactionary’?

7 Jacobite Chronology 1689 James II lands at Kinsale in Ireland; siege of Londonderry; Dundee musters Jacobites at Lochaber and launches Highland War; 1692Glencoe massacre; 1708 Old Pretender arrives at Dunkirk and sail for Scotland but turn back 1715 Bolingbroke flees to France; 4 leading Tories impeached; pro-Jacobite rioting in Midlands and North; Mar raises rebellion at Braemar; captures Perth; uprisings in Northumberland, Moffat, Rothbury, Kelso, Lancaster, Preston; Old Pretender lands at Peterhead 1744British discover plot of French invasion, mass arrests 1745French defeat Cumberland at Fontenoy; Young Pretender lands at Eriskay; capture Edinburgh; enters England but turn back at Derby; 1746 French invasion cancelled; defeated at Culloden by Cumberland; Charles returns to France 1747Jacobite demonstrations at Lichfield races 1753‘Elibank’ plot betrayed; Cameron executed - last man to die for Jacobite cause

8 Culloden Today The Battle of Culloden was fought on this moor 16th April, 1746. The graves of the Gallant Highlanders who fought for Scotland and Prince Charlie are marked by the names of their clans.

9 Interpretations of Jacobitism Romantic tradition: Jacobitism was a genuine political movement; E. Cruickshanks argued in Political Untouchables that the Tory party were at heart Jacobites. Monod that Jacobitism infiltrated all levels of society. Reactionary Fringe: the Revolution settlement & power of state kept Jacobites at bay and ultimately defeated them. Jacobites were out of touch and unpopular. Many Whig historians ignore Jacobitism or dismiss it briefly.

10 Excise Crisis Walpole wanted to reduce the burden of the land tax and shift government revenues to other sources. Excise scheme of 1733 involved converting the customs duties on tobacco and wine into inland duties—shift tax burden on to consumers. Walpole had already introduced excise duties on tea, chocolate, and coffee and in 1732 had revived the salt duty

11 Walpole (1676-1745) (John Wootton, c. 1730)

12 Opposition Tory country gentlemen held the view that it was their duty to shield their social inferiors. Price of this paternalism was the land tax—Walpole wanted to reduce it down to 1s in £1 prior to election of 1734. Others opposed to all aspects of Walpole’s policies Excise duties involved giving extensive powers of search to revenue officers (expanding the power of the state), and a wide jurisdiction to magistrates and excise commissioners. Englishman’s right to privacy on his own property and also to trial by jury seen to be in jeopardy Orchestrated campaign in the press which exploited such fears.



15 From Eighteenth Century Collections Online. On a search for titles containing the word ‘Excise’ between 1733 and 1735 there were 71 results.

16 "A panegyrick on Cardinal Wolsey", an anonymous satire on Sir Robert Walpole. Commonplace book, Latin and English prose and poetry in several hands, c.1719-42 or earlier, the main verse hand probably 1730s. (Brotherton Library, Leeds)

17 Aftermath George II stood by Walpole and as a result, he recovered although serious damage was caused General election of 1734 was especially contentious. 136 contested elections [out of 558 seats in the House of Commons], more than in any other general election before 1832 except 1710 and 1722. In open constituencies government was heavily defeated MPs who supported the excise scheme were severely punished in the large constituencies Walpole retained a substantial majority of about eighty but lost oligarchic control

18 A turning point in popular politics? Excise crisis marked beginning of an organised opposition that looked to some element of the excluded public for support. Jacobitism as the main vocabulary of popular opposition to central government began to be displaced National dimension of agitation against the excise Constitutionalist discourse (peoples’ ancient rights and liberties at risk) used by merchants opposed to the excise for self-interested reasons but demonstrated the possibility of an extra-parliamentary constitutionalist opposition John Wilkes spread-headed the first mass movement to project the ideology of popular constitutionalism into a political programme (people have a right to participate in government)

19 John Wilkes (1725-97) Of middle class extraction - his father was a wealthy distiller in Clerkenwell. Educated as a gentleman including a spell at University abroad. Married a Buckinghamshire heiress Wilkes entered parliament in 1757. Wilkes was a publicist of immense skill and he cultivated the press by associating himself with the defence of liberty Wilkite movement was far more than the character of Wilkes himself. Indeed Wilkes told George III that he was not a Wilkite. He provided a rallying point for popular discontent

20 John Wilkes (1725-1797), by Johan Zoffany, c. 1779-82 [shown with his daughter Mary WIlkes].

21 Wilkes Affair Wilkes a campaigned against Lord Bute (John Stuart, PM 1762-3) in his paper the North Briton. Issue number 45 (April 1763) contained a trenchant attack on Bute (‘45 associated with failed Jacobite rising) To secure evidence against Wilkes a series of arrests and searches were undertaken under the legitimacy of general warrants issued directly by secretaries of state. The courts found general warrants to be illegal. Wilkes was arrested whilst he was an MP and this was judged a breach of parliamentary privilege. Thus Wilkes was expelled from the House. Wilkes fled to exile on the continent. He returned in 1768 and began his campaign to be elected to parliament. Once elected as MP for Middx he surrendered to the authorities and was sentenced to 22 months in the King’s bench prison for his authorship of the article in the North Briton.

22 Wilkes Elections In 1767-8 the state of the electoral system attracted renewed attention. The corporation of Oxford was discovered in an attempt to sell its representation in order to pay off its debts. Wilkes began his election campaign for the City of London. In the London election he was unsuccessful but stood for Middlesex and swept the poll. Ejected from his seat at Middx but as often as he was expelled the people re-elected him In December, Serjeant John Glynn, Wilkes' counsel in his libel trial succeeded in a byelection in Middlesex Wilkes stood as an alderman in Farringdon and polled 1300 out of 1500 votes. Support for Wilkes had now spread beyond London and there were 55,000 signatures on petitions in support of his cause.

23 Wilkites and the Law Wilkites were strongly committed to reform: liberty of press; more frequent elections; removal of placemen from the Commons and a more fair and equal representation. Moved from particular grievances to demands for a structural reform of the political system Wilkites used the courts to generate drama from the courtroom. View of the law dominated by four main themes: accountability; the elimination of partial justice; right to trial by jury; and governing by public consent rather than by force. Wilkites used cases for their own political ends: eg the printers cases of 1771. These centred on the right of newspapers to publish parliamentary debates.

24 Portrayals of Wilkes Popular plebeian politics is seen in Wilkite images as form of disorder. Politics with the people is portrayed as contentious and divisive and disorderly Popular prints also condemned social emulation. Eg in tailor riding to Brentford. His unsteadiness hints at a forthcoming fall and the rules for bad horsemen is displayed in his pocket. Exceeding one’s station in politics or horsemanship is foolish and hazardous. Echoed by the blacksmith who neglects his work for ill-informed and idle gossip.



27 Wilkes’ Supporters Main support came from London and the Home counties Sporadic support for him from all over Britain. ‘essentially a product of the metropolis’. Middling tradesmen supported him wholeheartedly eg the coopers, hatters, jewellers of the London livery companies and freemen. Supported by the London mob who chalked Wilkes and Liberty on the streets of the city; smashed the windows of Lord Bute. The great majority of these were labourers, servants, journeymen and petty traders.

28 Conclusions Were the eighteenth century reform and agitation movements really radical? Reformers’ ideal was a broad, propertied oligarchy in which the lower orders should accept their place. No wish to curb the powers of the monarchy or reform the House of Lords. Emphasised lower taxes and cheaper more economical government but not poor relief or reform of economic injustices. Private property rights were still sacrosanct. Radical opinion from Wilkes onwards endorsed the principle of the sovereignty of the people and the derivation of political power from the populace. Yet often innately conservative movements The 'mob' played a peripheral role in the disquiet of the period and often took to the streets for reasons other than political ones.

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