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Lecture 13

Politics and Political Reform in the Eighteenth Century


1. The Hanoverian Succession

  • Whigs
  • Tories
  • Jacobites

2. Namier’s analysis

The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (1929) under the following features:

monarch at the centre of the political stage - little sense of party - sovereign had power to appoint and dismiss ministers at will

ministries were hard to form and harder to maintain. Little Opposition except as various fluctuating political factions

stability only achieved by those who knew how to work the system rather than a steady inexorable rise to a more liberal system

problems of making the `constitution’ work in practice meant that politicians had to be expedient rather than principled. Not much emphasis on ideology

Key to understanding politics was the precise micro analyses of the interests of politicians, the composition of parliament and the workings of patronage


2. Whiggism and a one party ascendancy

core of principles which they upheld:

  • -defence of the constitution
  • -protection of Protestantism
  • -repudiation of Jacobitism
  • -support for religious toleration

3 Court v. Country divide

4.What was Jacobitism and how important was it?

absolutism, Catholicism and French imperialism

Tories and Jacobites

5. Rebirth of radical politics

Social base of radicalism

urban middling classes

key changes that stand out are:

  • the growth of credit as a means of conducting transactions at all levels of society
  • increase in and changing nature of the tax burden in Britain
  • growth of statute law, indicative of the permanent role that the legistlature had come to play in govt. after the Revol. of 1688
  • credit system and economic instability
  • stockjobber and speculator were hated
  • found taxation vexing - land tax never provided more than 32% of the total tax revenue - commodity taxes provided over 70%
  • also dislike of the growth of the executive and emergence of a spoils system - saw themselves as paying for corruption
  • Big Government and Country ideology
  • patronage and clientage
  • judicial process - statute law
  • reform movements of the 1760s and 1770s were committed to on-going accountability in the legislature
  • a thriving political culture outside formal govt. by the 1760s
  • newspapers
  • pamphlets and prints
  • clubs
  • coffee houses

6. Wilkes

Who was Wilkes?

The general warrants and political campaign

founding of a Society of the Supporters of the Bill of Rights - became the base of the Wilkite movement

the Wilkites

strongly committed to reform - for liberty of the press, more frequent elections, removal of placement from the Commons and a more fair and equal representation.

commercialisation of politics

7. Assessment of Wilkes

distinctive political movement

patriotism and little England

mentality of shopkeeper and small trader - no challenge to private property

not a politics of the plebeian orders - natural rights to await American Revolution