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The French Revolution and British Politics


Influenced by earlier reform movements but now spread further down social scale and more geographically widepsread. Demands more radical including calls for republic, written constitution, improvements in position of women, equal distribution of property, social welfare reforms.

Debates on radicalism. See E P Thompson, Making of English Working Class. Radicalism crucial in formation of a class. Supported by Gwyn Williams, Artisans and Sans Culottes.

Radicals active in important centres of Dissent and emerging manufacturing centres eg London, London Corresponding Society formed Jan 1792, artisan based. Sheffield, Society for Constitutional Information had 2000 members by 1792. Norwich 40 small tavern clubs, newspaper, The Cabinet. Scotland important centre. July 1792 Society for the Friends of the People founded in Edinburgh. First Convocation led by Thomas Muir.

Objectives of radical societies: mostly used moderate, well practised tactics eg petitions, political education, meetings, newspapers. But were 'revolutionary' activities.

Loyalism and conservatism

Pride in historic liberties and constitution of British people. Anti-French dimension, loyalist clubs ans societies formed, press and pulpit used to disseminate propaganda, organisation of public meetings, creation of Volunteer groups. Writers included Burke, William Paley, Hannah More, John Reeves. Latter founded Association [for the Preservation of Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers] movement.


recent research has sought to counter earlier work that Britain was close to revolution in 1790s and has stressed coherence and endurance of conservative loyalism. However both claims need to be substantiated. Did popularity of both groups owe more to circumstance than intellectual or ideological coherence. Both drew on deep-seated traditions in British politics and were to some extent continuations of those debates.