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

Gilmartin, Kevin (2002) In the Theater of Counterrevolution: Loyalist Association and Conservative Opinion in the 1790s. Journal of British Studies, 41 (3). pp. 291-328. ISSN 0021-9371. doi:10.1086/341151.

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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,1 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.2 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.3 In this way, the loyalist movement grew with astonishing speed. By the early months of 1793, it included perhaps a thousand local affiliates (the London committee claimed over two thousand),4 all engaged in the business of corresponding with other societies, circulating conservative pamphlets, issuing loyal addresses, and exposing the threat of Jacobin conspiracy. Though the association maintained a high public profile in all these areas, its repressive legal campaign against the radical press and the London Corresponding Society has attracted the most notice. According to one historian of extraparliamentary organization, "the Association, with Reeves in command, had one object. Its mission was repression... . The campaign against subversion was swift, vindictive, and unrelenting."5

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Additional Information:© 2002 by The North American Conference on British Studies. This article is taken from his book in progress on antiradical and antirevolutionary writing in romantic period Britain; another essay from the project, on Hannah More and evangelical moral reform, is forthcoming in ELH. For helpful responses to this article, he is grateful to James Epstein, Nicholas Rogers, James Chandler, John Barrell, Gabrielle Starr, Julie Carlson, and to audiences at the March 1999 Clark Library conference on British Radical Culture of the 1790s, Los Angeles, and the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies in Santa Barbara, Calif., in March 2000.
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ID Code:3969
Deposited By: Archive Administrator
Deposited On:20 Jul 2006
Last Modified:08 Nov 2021 20:13

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