The political prisoner is a figure taken for granted in historical discourse, with the term being used broadly to describe any individual held in captivity for oppositional activities. This article argues for understanding the political prisoner, for whom prison becomes a vehicle of politics, as the product of modern states and political movements. The earlier practices of the “imprisoned political,” for whom prison was primarily an obstacle to politics, gave way to prisoners who used the category creatively against the regimes that imprisoned them. Using the cases of Polish socialists in the Russian Empire, Fenians in Ireland, suffragettes in Britain, and satyagrahi in British South Africa, this article explains how both regimes and their prisoners developed common practices and discourses around political incarceration in the years 1865–1910.
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