The French Revolution in Britain

debate and practice
in a revolutionary
George Cruikshank, A Radical Reformer (1819)
William Blake, Glad Day (c1794)
Celebration of Glorious Revolution
• 1788-89: Centennial of 1688
• Celebration of the mixed
One of many pieces of
celebratory literature in 1788
Initial Impact of the French Revolution
• British: FR adopting a Constitutional
• Support from politicians (Fox) and
• William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, William Blake
Coleridge in 1795
The Reaction in Great Britain
• Abolition of feudalism, privilege,
monarchy; disestablishment of
• Defects in British system?
• Popular democratic societies
A French revolutionary print: “The
End of Privileges” (1789)
The Pamphlet War
• Edmund Burke (1729-97)
• Irish politician and political
• Reflections on the
Revolution in France (1790)
• Themes
– First principles vs history
– Theory vs. practice
– Mechanical vs organic
James Gillray, Smelling out a Rat;– or –
The Atheistical-Revolutionist disturbed
in his Midnight “Calculations.” (1790).
Burke was notorious for his glasses.
The Pamphlet War
Gillray cartoon: Paine taking the
measure of the crown. Paine had
been a stay-maker.
• Thomas Paine (17371809)
– Rights of Man, 1791.
– Deficiencies of society
of privilege
– Human reason applied
to gov’t.
• Mary Wollstonecraft,
Vindication of the Rights
of Women (1792)
Feminist Mary
The Pamphlet War
• John Thelwall
– From political rights to social
• Thomas Spence
– Communitarian economies
– Form and media
John Thelwall
Examples of Spence’s tokens
• Association Movement (1780s)
• Society for Constitutional
Information: Middle Class 1780
– John Cartwright
– Goals?
• London Corresponding Society,
– Social stratum: Thomas Hardy
– Goals?
– A British national convention
and new constitution?
Gillray’s unsympathetic cartoon
showing a mid-1795 LCS mass
meeting outside London
Regicide and Terror: the Jacobins in Power
• Flight to Varennes, Je ‘91
• The Republic, Sept. ‘92
• Jacobins take power,
Spring ‘93
– Committee of Public
• Fear of counterrevolution
• Political revolution 
social revolution
M. Robespierre,
key figure on the
Contemporary image of the arrest of
Louis XVI at Varennes, June 1791.
The Shadow of the Guillotine
• Slippery slope reaction
• Issues tabled: Parliamentary
Reform; Catholic Emancipation;
Abolition of Slave Trade.
• Revolt of the intellectuals:
Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robert
Gillray: The Blood of the Martyr’d,
Crying for Vengeance (1793)
• Fear of cross-class collaboration
• Attack on radical print networks
– Royal Proclamation against
seditious writings 1792
– Paine tried in absentia (1792)
• British Convention (Edinburgh, fall
• 1794 Treason Trials
• Government propaganda: Anti-Jacobin
• Reevite Loyalist Societies (late ’92)
Evidence of radical
arming brought forward in
Hardy’s trial (Oct. 1794)
Joseph Gerrald, LCS delegate to the
British Convention at Edinburgh.
Transported to Australia in 1794.
Crisis of 1795
George Cruikshank, A Free Born
Englishman, the Envy of the World!
• 1795 food riots
• Monster meetings (up to 100,000
near London)
• Riot against King’s carriage
• Two Acts, Nov. 1795
– Treasonable Practices Act
– Seditious Meetings Act
• Anti-Combination Act 1799
Gillray satirizes the gov’t Opposition
by making them the assassins
taking aim at Geo. III (1795)
Pitt’s assumptions concerning peace
Nov. 1792: Edict of Fraternity
Nov. ’92: French occupy Belgium
1793 War against the French Revolution
France promised aid to Irish and English
French volunteers
answer the call to arms
Impact on Government
• Pitt’s policies of financial austerity
• Financial assistance to allies.
• Increased surveillance: local and
central government
• Controversial policies and
William Pitt (the Younger)
Impact on Parliamentary Politics
• Disintegration of the Whig Party
– Old Whigs vs Fox and the New
– Fox’s support for the Revolution
– Charles Grey: the Friends of the
• Burke, the Portland Whigs (June
Charles James Fox
Pitt vs Fox
• Fox identified with support for
– The Revolution
– Parliamentary Reform
– Greater levels of popular
participation in politics.
• Fox identified with opposition to
– Power of Crown
– Government “despotism”
– Continuing the war with France
Fox (top) taking aim at Lords and Commons; and
(bottom whipping Wm. Pitt).
Pitt vs Fox
• Pitt identified with
opposition to
– French Revolution
– Parliamentary Reform
• Pitt identified with support
– British constitution
– Monarchy
– Tradition and hierarchy
– Strong executive
– Support for war
Pitt (top) running roughshod over
British liberties, and (bottom) on
trial after the British Revolution
Irish Rebellion 1798
• United Irishmen, 1791
– Constitutional reforms based on
French ideals
– Leaders: Wolfe Tone and Lord
Edward Fitzgerald, Fox’s cousin.
• Secular republic to reconcile
Protestants and Catholics, and
separate from Britain
– 1793: Society driven underground
– 1795: planned insurrection; FR
– 1798: insurrection--largely rural
disorder--suppressed by British
army. 30,000 killed
•  New South Wales
Wolfe Tone
Irish Union
• Irish government had
failed to prevent rebellion
• Westminster Government
required greater control to
maintain order and prevent
a French landing
• Catholic rights more
achievable under Union?
• Act of Union, 1800
One of many atrocities
during the ’98: prisoners
trapped in a burning church
• Nationwide philosophical debate
• Expansion of political sphere
– Print networks; mass mobilization;
Volunteer Associations
• Reaction triumphant
– “Patriotism” articulated as conservatism
– Split the Whig opposition and
strengthened the (Tory) government
• Heritage of working-class activism 
• Ideas + famine created social unrest
– Britain, 1815-1848

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