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In the Theater of Counterrevolution: Loyalist Association and Conservative Opinion in the 1790s


Conservative movements have generally played a negative role in accounts of the history of political expression in Britain during the period of the French Revolution. Where E. P. Thompson and others on the Left tended to identify radicalism with the disenfranchised and with a struggle for the rights of free expression and public assembly, conservative activists have been associated with state campaigns of political repression and legal interference. Indeed, conservatism in this period is typically conceived in negative terms, as antiradicalism or counterrevolution. If this has been the view of hostile commentators, it is consistent with a more sympathetic mythology that sees nothing novel about the conservative principles that emerged in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Britain. They represent an establishment response to alien challenges. Even where conservatives set about mobilizing the resources of print, opinion, and assembly in a constructive fashion, the reputation for interference has endured. John Reeves's Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers is a useful case in point, since it managed in its brief but enterprising history to combine fierce anti-Jacobinism with the later eighteenth century's rising tide of voluntary civic activism. The association came together at the Crown and Anchor Tavern when a group of self-professed “private men” decided “to form ourselves into an Association” and announced their intentions through the major London newspapers in November and December of 1792. The original committee then called on others “to make similar exertions in their respective neighbourhoods,” forming energetic local associations that would be linked by regular correspondence with the central London committee. In this way, the loyalist movement grew with astonishing speed.

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Austin Mitchell , “The Association Movement of 1792–3,” Historical Journal 4 (1961): 6162

H. T. Dickinson , “Introduction: The Impact of the French Revolution and the French Wars, 1789–1815,” and “Popular Conservatism and Militant Loyalism, 1789–1815,” in Britain and the French Revolution, 1789–1815, ed. H. T. Dickinson (London, 1989), pp. 1–19, 103–25

J. E. Cookson , “The English Volunteer Movement of the French Wars, 1793–1815: Some Contexts,” Historical Journal 32 (1989): 868

A. V. Beedell , “John Reeves's Prosecution for a Seditious Libel, 1795–6: A Study in Political Cynicism,” Historical Journal 36 (1993): 821–22

Thomas A. Horne , “‘The Poor Have a Claim Founded in the Law of Nature’: William Paley and the Rights of the Poor,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 23 (1985): 55, n. 24

Ronald Paulson , “Life as Journey and as Theater: Two Eighteenth-Century Narrative Structures,” New Literary History 8 (1976): 52

John Rieder , “Civic Virtue and Social Class at the Scene of Execution: Wordsworth's Salisbury Plain Poems,” Studies in Romanticism 30 (1991): 334

Stewart Justman Regarding Others,” New Literary History 27 (1996): 8485

Donald E. Ginter , “The Loyalist Association Movement of 1792–93 and British Public Opinion,” Historical Journal 9 (1996): 179

Michael Duffy , “William Pitt and the Origins of the Loyalist Association Movement of 1792,” Historical Journal 39 (1996): 947–48, 952–53

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Journal of British Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9371
  • EISSN: 1545-6986
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-british-studies
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