Here we look at the origins and early development of radicalism. The first section looks at the emergence of reform societies across England, and tries to explain why they grew up in areas like Manchester, Sheffield and Norwich (see the chapter from Goodwin, referenced below). In 1792 one of the most famous radical societies was founded by Thomas Hardy. The London Corresponding Society forged links with other reform societies around the country, and encouraged correspondence with France as well. For E.P. Thompson it was the first 'working class' society, although that claim has been disputed by other historians. In the second section we look at its origins, and take a sample of its early ideas and activities. Finally we look at the proceedings of the 'British Convention' which took place in Edinburgh in autumn 1793, and which led to the trials of a number of key radicals, marking the onset of the government crackdown.




A The Growth of Reform Societies


‘Rules and orders of the Manchester Constitutional Society, instituted October 1790’ and ‘At a meeting of this society, October 5th 1790’ in Christopher Wyvill, ed., Political Papers (London, 1794-1802), II, pp. 570-5


*'Address from the Society for Constitutional Information in Sheffield, to the public', 19 December 1791.


Excerpts from Proceedings of the Revolution Society (1792) in ‘Appendix to the chronicle’, Annual Register for 1792 (London, 1798), II, pp. 130-141.




B The London Corresponding Society


*Thomas Hardy, 'Account of the origin of the London Corresponding Society' (1799).


'First Address of the LCS', 2 April 1792.


'Advertisements of the Society for Constitutional Information, and other Societies in Correspondence with that Society', 1792, in 'Appendix to the Chronicle', Annual Register for 1792 (London, 1798), II, pp. 144-50.


*Address of the LCS to the Other Societies of Great Britain, United for Obtaining a Reform in Parliament, 29 November 1792.


'Account from the newspapers of an English civic feast at White's hotel in Paris, on the 18th of November, 1792', in 'Appendix to the Chronicle', Annual Register for 1792 (London, 1798), II, 153-55.


‘Decree of Fraternity and Assistance to all people, passed by the Convention, Nov 19’, ‘State Papers’, Annual Register for 1792, II, pp. 355-6.


'Account of the fete in Sheffield to celebrate the victories of the French republican armies, 27 Nov 1792', Manchester Herald, 1 Dec 1792


C The British Convention


'Summing Up' and 'Verdict' in the Trial of Thomas Muir for Sedition, State Trials 23, pp. 229-236


*The Address of the British convention, assembled at Edinburgh, November 19, 1793, to the People of Great Britain (1793).


Proceedings of the British Convention, 4, 5, 6 December, State Trials, 23, pp. 464-71.





How extensive was provincial radicalism in the early 1790s?


‘The London Corresponding Society marked a profound departure in aims and methods from earlier reform societies’. Discuss.



Useful Reading


Thompson, E. P. The Making of the English Working Class (Harmondsworth, 1968)

Collins, H, ‘The London Corresponding Society’ in J. Saville, ed., Democracy and the Labour Movement (London, 1954), pp. 103-34.

Goodwin, A. The Friends of Liberty. The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution (London, 1979)

Jewson, C. B. Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution, 1788-1802 (London, 1975)

Alger, J. G. 'The British Colony in Paris', English Historical Review, 13 (1898), 672-94

Parsinnen, T.M. "Association, convention and anti-parliament in British radical politics, 1771-1848," English Historical Review, 88 (1973), 504-33

Barrell, J. Imagining the King's Death: Figurative Treason, Fantasies of Regicide, 1793-1796 (Oxford, 2000), esp. ch. 4.

Brims, J. 'From Reformers to "Jacobins": The Scottish Association of the Friends of the People,' in Devine, ed., Conflict and Stability in Scottish Society 1700-1850 (1990), pp. 31-50.

Devine, T.M. ‘The failure of radical reform in Scotland in the late eighteenth century’, in Devine, ed., Conflict and Stability in Scottish society 1700-1850 (1900), pp. 50-64

Emsley, C. "The London Insurrection of December 1792: Fact, Fiction or Fantasy?" Journal of British Studies, 17.2 (1978), 66-86