Open Access Dissertation
Date of Award
Eric H. Ash
LONDON CALLING: THE LONDON CORRESPONDING SOCIETY AND THE ASCENSION OF POPULAR POLITICS
FRANK L. PETERSMARK III
Advisor: Dr. Eric H. Ash
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
This proposed dissertation will focus on the short but historically important life of the London Corresponding Society (LCS) in Britain in the last decade of the eighteenth century, from 1792-1799. The intent of such a focus should serve as a way to better understand the spread of political participation in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century and the key role that the London Corresponding Society played in that phenomenon. This dissertation will also suggest and argue that the London Corresponding Society effectively leveraged and even accelerated an existing trend toward widening political participation through the use of a growing mass media, a more politically astute public sphere, and a language of political engagement that was carefully constructed to represent a reconciliation with British constitutional traditions and ideals, rather than any radical break from the past as was the case in France during this period. To that end, this dissertation will attempt to answer the following historical questions:
1. What role did the London Corresponding Society play in the widening of political participation in Britain at the end of the eighteenth century?
2. What approaches, methods, and tactics were utilized by the London Corresponding Society in their quest to achieve their objectives of parliamentary reform and universal manhood suffrage?
3. To what extent did the London Corresponding Society and other such political associations contribute to a widening public sphere in late eighteenth century Europe?
4. To what extent was the London Corresponding Society influenced by the events in America and France in the late eighteenth century, and how did that impact the methods the London Corresponding Society used to achieve their goals and objectives?
5. What is the historical legacy of the London Corresponding Society?
The rise and fall of the LCS, while short in duration, marks another important mile marker in the evolution of British politics, and can and should be used as a prism with which to view the changing nature of political culture in Britain and its empire during this period. Founded primarily by Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker, the LCS began as a group committed to political education, but the LCS quickly evolved into something that was much more politically and publically aggressive, leading to the arrests and deportations of many of its members. The fact the LCS and other such groups were established as the French Revolution radicalized was not lost on British conservatives and authorities, and connections were drawn between what had happened in America beginning in 1776, and what was happening in France beginning in 1789, and the threat that posed to political, social and economic stability in the British Empire.
The British government watched the development of these "radical" groups closely, including the use of local police officials and spies, and had access to most of the correspondence of the LCS, as we now do. One need not read too far into the correspondence of the LCS without
divining their political goals in the Society's support of the ideas of Thomas Paine, its congratulatory letters to the new Jacobin leaders of France, and its attempts to organize groups in Scotland in preparation for a British convention of radical reformers. All of this resulted in harsh crackdowns by the British government, including the suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1794, and part of the story of the LCS is its ability to persist and survive, at least temporarily, in this politically charged environment. The LCS managed to hold huge rallies in London in 1794 and 1795, and there are some estimates that a rally led by LCS co-founder John Thelwall was attended by 100,000 people. LCS founders Hardy, Thelwall, and others, were arrested and tried for treason and sedition in 1794 and 1795, and the LCS was ultimately put to an untimely death in the 1799 with the passage of the Corresponding Societies Act.
Petersmark, Frank L., "London Calling: The London Corresponding Society And The Ascension Of Popular Politics" (2015). Wayne State University Dissertations. 1161.