History - Radical Reformers, 1790-1819 (Theme 3)

  • Created by: AshLia
  • Created on: 19-12-17 14:05


Colonialism (c.1500-) - Led to the Slave Trade and resulted in the American Revolution

Slave Trade (c.1500-1830) - Led to the British Industrial Revolution

Scientific Revolution (c. 1600-1800) - Led to Enlightenment and resulted in the British Industrial Revolution

Enlightenment (c.1715-1789) - Led to the American Revolution and the French Revolution

British Industrial Revolution (c. 1760-1820)

American Revolution (c. 1765-1783) - Led to the French Revolution

French Revolution (c.1789-1799)

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The French Revolution

The French Revoluiton of 1789, following on from & influenced by the American Revolution of 1765-83, had a profound impact on British politics

In North America, colonists had rejected the taxation of the Crown, often citing their reights as Englishmen

The French Revolution also challenged arbitrarty monarchical rule

In August 1789 the Consituent Assembly passed 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens' which emphasised liberty and legal equality

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Britain - The Intellectual Response

The Intellectual response in Britian to the French Revolution was mixed

Some, such as the Romantic poets Coleridge and Wordsworth, saw it as the beginning of a new dawn for man

However, in his 'Reflections on the Revolution in France' (Nov. 1790), Irish Whig MP Edmund Burke urged caution, stressing, its tendency towards anarchy

The main influence came with Thomas Paine's pro-revolutionary 'Rights of Man' (1791-1). Part II, available for 6d, sold 200,000 copies during 1792 alone

There was a large reading public: 14 million newspapers were being printed annually by 1785, compared with 1 million in 1690. 500,000 attended Sunday school. 

Edmund Burke refered to the mass populace as "the swinish multitude" 

Paine challenged the idea that tradition ought to be respected, claiming that the monarchy had its origins with "a French ******* landing with an armed banditti & establishing himself King of England"

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Britain - The Economic Context

The American & French Revolutions had been caused largely by heavy taxation

Tax burdens had also fallen on the English, leading to 'economical reforms' (1780s)

The new wave of radicalism in Britian erupted in 1792 more because of the writings of Paine than because of economic circumstances at that time. 

The radicals of 1792-5 were mainly artisans - the better of working class

However, the intensification of radicalism during 1794-5 was also the result of poor harvest & of consequent rising prices

E.P. Thompson's research showed and supported that the radical movement of 1792-5 was largely led by the artisans

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Britain - The Politics of Radicalism

Organised radicalism during 1792-5 centred on the corresponding societies, the largest of which was the London Corresponding Society (LCS) led by Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker originally from Scotland

As the name suggests, the LCS corresponded with other radical societies, with the most important outside of London to be found in Sheffield and Norwich

The LCS had around 5,000 paying members during 1794-5, with those in Sheffield and Norwich perhaps having 2,000 each

The aims of the corresponding societies were to achieve universal male sufferage, the holding of annual parliaments & the spreading of ideas

It took particular courage to lead a radical society in Britain during the mid 1790s as the activities of the corresponding societies was regarded as treasonous

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The Loyalist Backlash

The 'Association of Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers' was formed in 1792. These were loyalist 'mobs'

In December 1792 Thomas Paine was outlawed (in absentia) and so was his 'Rights of Man' depicted now as seditious libel

In January 1793 the King of France, Louis XVI, was executed, follwed in October of the same year by the execution of Marie Antoinette

The Outbreak of War between Britain and France in February 1793 made it harder than ever to espouse radical causes openly

Effigies of Paine were bruned, newly formed Loyalist societies ounumbered the LCS & went on the rampage, whilst in May 1794 Hardy was arrested on charges of treason. He was acquitted but his wife died when a mob arrived

It could be argued that the outbreak of war with France in Feb. 1793 set back the cause of reform in Britain by at least two decades

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Causes of Radicalism in Britain during 1792-5

  • Ideas associated with revolutions in America and in France
  • Thomas Paine's 'Rights of Man' (1791-2)
  • Existing radical traditions (e.g. Wilkes in 1760s & 1770s)
  • Pitt's own attempted political reforms of 1785
  • The existence of cheap press & six-penny copies of Paine's work
  • Connections between London & the provincial centres
  • Discipline & organisation of corresponding societies
  • Poor harvests & high prices during 1794-5
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Industrial Revolution

Changes in argiculture:

  • During 1760-1820 the process of enclousure was at its peak. Common rights were lost & fewer people owned the land
  • Those forced of the land either moved to the towns & cities for work or stayed in the countryside as hired agricultural labourers

Changes in industry:

  • During the same period, new machines were invented which made spinning & weaving more efficient, including the spinning mile (1779) & the power loom (1785)
  • After 1810 the power loom became more common & traditional handloom weavers (a male role) were threated with loss of status
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The Luddites

With political radicalism driven underground for the duration of the war, the stage was left free for secret societies driven by economic agendas

From 1811, attacks were carried out on factories in Nottinghamshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire

The targets were the new machines, especially the power looms that had threatened handloom-weavers' jobs

The men with blackened faces claimed to be lef by a semi-mythical Ned Ludd, a kind of Robin Hood figure

The Frame-Breaking Act (1812) made machine breaking a capitol offence; many Luddites were executed or transported. A few manufacturers were killed by Luddites

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Post -War Legislation

Lord Liverpool's government needed to make money quickl;y after the war to pay off its debts & interest on its debts

After the war, interest paid on loans used up to 80% of the governments income

The government dealt with this without damaging the landowning interest

The wartime income tax was dropped & replaced by indirect taxes on sugar, tea, soap, candles, beer and tobacco

In 1815 the Corn Laws were intoduced, putting high prices on imported corn & thereby increasing the price of bread

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Corresponding Societies

Years active?

  • 1792-1795

Areas most active/

  • London, Sheffield and Norwich


  • Thomas Hardy


  • Mostly middle class
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Corresponding Societies (2)

Size of membership?

  • 5,000 paying members in Lodnon & 2,000 paying members in Norwich and Sheffield. But they had members unlimited

Causes of protest?

  • The French Revolution and lack of enfranchisement 

Methods of protest?

  • National conventions


  • Annual parliament, universal male sufferage
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The Luddites

Years active?

Areas most active?



Size of membership?

Causes of protest?

Methods of protest?


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William Cobbett and the Political Register

Cobbett's 'Political Register' sold thousands of copies during the years immediately after 1815. The price of the pamphlet, which was made affordable to the working classes was 2d.

The years after 1815 were a time of economic distress for many. Cobbett saw the main cause for this distress being indirect taxation

Cobbett' main targets were government officials who, he claimed, recieved money for doing next to nothing. He described them as being 'parasites'  and ' placement'

A particularly harsh winter and increases in bread during the years 1816-17 led to further increase in sles of Cobbett's 'Political Register'

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The Hampden Clubs

The Hampden Clubs were radical political clubs, with the first being founded in 1812. The founder was Major John Cartwright

The Hampden Clubs aimed to win over 'respectable' support for reform. The cost of the weekly subscription that one had to pay in order to become a member of a club was 1d

The subscriptions were used to support publication of pamphlets supporting radical causes. Manhood sufferage and the abolition of the Corn Laws were both causes advocated by the Hampden Clubs

During 1816-17 the Hampden Clubs organised petitioning campaigns for political and economic reform. The Hampden Clubs were at their strongest in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands

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The Spa Fields Meeting, Dec. 1816

Henry Hunt was the radical orator who addressed the crowd at the mass Spa Fields meeting in London in December 1816

One slogan displayed by demonstators at the Spa Fields meeting was 'Four million in distress. Half a million live in splendid luxury'

Just before the main speeches commenced, a riot broke out and gun shops were looted. The Pencean rioters marched towards the Tower of London

The radical mood continued in the months following the Spa Field meeting. During 1817, 700 petitions were delivered to Parliament, some containing thousands of names but all were duly ignored

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The Pentridge Rising, June 1817

The government of Lord Liverpool and Viscount Castlereagh had no sympathy for the reformers and instead used spies to encourage the reformers to rebel and thereby provoke arrest. These spies were known as 'agents provocateurs'

Oliver was the government spy who infiltrated a discontented group of workers in Derbyshire in 1817, which led to the Pentridge Rising

The spy tricked the workers into believing that if they marched from Pentridge to Nottingham, it would start a nationwide rebellion. 200 men took part in the march, bearing pikes, forks and a few guns

The main leader of the rising, Jeremiah Brandreth, was hanged and then beheaded, along with two others. Thirty other men were punished through transportation

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Peterloo, Manchester, August 1819

The year 1818 had seen some economic improvement and the demonstration in St. Peter's Field took place in a mood of quiet optimism. Eyewitness accounts suggests that around 60,000 people gathered to hear Henry Hunt speak

Hunt asked the crowd in Manchester to wear their 'Sunday best' in order to impress the authorities with the respectability and good order of the demonstration, thereby contrasting it to the Luddite era before 1817

When the Manchester yeomanry clashed with the crowds they attempted to arrest Hunt which led to the deaths of approximately 11 and wounding around 400

The government of Lord Liverpool and his Home Secretary Viscount Sidmouth congratulated the local magistrates in reaction to the news of the Peterloo massacre

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The Cato Street Conspiracy, 1820

Authur Thistlewood was the leader of the radicals behind the Cato Street Conspiracy

The conspirators intended to murder the leaders of the government, including Lord Liverpool, Viscount Castlereagh and Viscount Sidmouth, at a cabinet dinner

The conspirators were seeking revenge for the Peterloo Massacre

The government was able to foil the conspirators and prevent the murders from taking place through their employment of a spy

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Pitt's Repression (1790s)

In May & December 1792 proclamations against seditious writings were issued, targeting Paine

These enabled the government to use spies, open letters & infiltrate groups

In 1794, 41 radicals, including Thomas Hardy, were arrested and charged with high treason. However, Hardy was acquitted & further trials abandoned

From May 1794 to July 1795, habeas corpus was suspended

In 1795 the Treasonable Practices & the Seditious Meetings Acts were passed

In 1799 the Combination Act was passed, banning trade union activity

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Breaking the Machine-Breakers

To combat the Luddite threat, in February 1812 the government of Spencer Perceval passed a law that made frame-breaking a capitol felony

In July 1812 the new government under Lord Liverpool also made oathy-taking for felonious purposed a capital offence

Thousands of troops were stationed in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire

For a few months in 1812, 12,000 troops were stationed i these counties

Of rioters in Lancashire in April 1812, 23 were sentenced to death, 21 to transportation

In the summer of 1812, more troops were engaged against te Luddites than with the Duke of Wellington on his Peninsular campaign in Iberia

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Spies & agents provocateurs

The governments of Pitt & Liverpool reguarly used spies and agents provocateurs to stop radical reforms and prevent a possible revolution

The most notorious agents provocateurs was William Oliver, who incited the Pentridge riding of June 1817

Oliver tipped off government troops, leading to the execution of the leader Brandreth, and the transportation of 30

The last words spoken by one of the men on the scaffold were: 'This is the work of the Government and Oliver'

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The 'Gagging Acts', 1817

The 'Gagging Acts' was the common name given to two acts of Parliament passed in 1817, namely:

  • The Treason Act (March 1817)
  • The Seditious Meetings Act (March 1817)

The former enacted the suspension of habeas corpus, enabling the arrest of persons merely on suspicion of discussion of revolutionary activities

The latter forbade meetings of more than 50 people without the consent of the local magistrate

Home Secretary Viscount Sidmouth pursued those suspected of sedition

The parliamentary acts of March 1817 were largely a resuly of an attack on the carriage of the Prince Regent on 28th January 1817

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The Six Acts, 1819

It is not clear whether the government had any direct involvement in the Peterloo massacre, but they certainly congratulated those who did

The Six Acts were passed in December 1819 and were as follows:

  • Act 1: prohibited drilling & military training
  • Act 2: authorised justices to enter & search houses. without warrants, looking for arms
  • Act 3: prohibited meetings exceeding 50
  • Act 4: increased stamp duty on periodical publications
  • Act 5&6: sought to speed up judical proceedings & toughen punishments for seditious writings
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