The relative quiescence of British working-class radicalism during much of the two decades after 1848, so central to the foundations of mid-Victorian stability, has been the subject of many explanations. Though Chartism did not expire finally until the late 1850s, its mainstream strategy of constitutionalist organization, huge meetings, enormous parliamentary petitions, and the tacit threat of violent intimidation seemed exploded after the debacle of Kennington Common and the failed march on Parliament in April 1848. But other factors also contributed to undermine the zeal for reform. Alleviating the pressures of distress, emigration carried off many activists to America and elsewhere. Relative economic prosperity rendered the economic ends of reform less pressing, and proposals like the Chartist Land Plan less appealing. The popularity of various self-help doctrines, including consumer cooperation, also militated against collectivist political action. “Labour aristocrats” and trade union leaders, moreover, preferred local and sectional economic improvement to the risks and expense of political campaigning.
Accounts of mid-Victorian political stability have had little to say, however, about the impact of European radicalism on the British working-class movement after 1848. That the failure of the continental revolutions brought thousands of refugees to Britain is well known. But although useful studies exist of the internationalist dimensions of Chartism prior to 1849—and of some of the refugee groups generally in this period—the effects of the exiled continental radicals on British working-class politics in the early 1850s have remained largely unconsidered.