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Liberalism and Local Government in Early Victorian London

Liberalism and Local Government in Early Victorian London

Benjamin Weinstein
Volume: 80
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Liberalism and Local Government in Early Victorian London
    Book Description:

    In the second quarter of the nineteenth century the British capital witnessed a growing polarisation between metropolitan Whig politicians and the increasingly vocal political force of London radicalism - a tension exacerbated by urban, and in many respects specifically metropolitan, issues. Though Whiggery was a political creed based on tenets such as the defence of parliament and free trade, it has been traditionally thought out of place and out of favour in large urban settings, in part because of its association with aristocracy. By contrast, this book shows it to have been an especially potent force in the early Victorian capital where continual conflict between Whigs and radicals gave the metropolitan constituencies a singularly contested and particularly vibrant liberal political culture. From the mid-1830s, vestry-based metropolitan radicals active in local governing structures began to espouse an anti-Whig programme, aimed in part at undermining their electoral strength in the metropolitan constituencies, which emphasised the preservation and extension of "local self-government". This new cause displaced the older radical rhetorics of constitutional "purification" and "re-balance", and in so doing drove metropolitan radicalism away from its earlier associations and towards a retrenchment-obsessed and anti-aristocratic liberalism. Benjamin Weinstein is assistant professor of history at Central Michigan University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-849-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    Benjamin Weinstein
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book considers the development of London’s liberal political culture between the general election of 1832 and the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855. Such an undertaking is badly needed. While excellent work has been produced on London’s Regency, mid-Victorian and late Victorian political culture, accounts of the early Victorian period are relatively scarce.¹ Moreover, much of what has been produced focuses quite narrowly on the sociology of early Victorian ‘popular radicalism’. David Goodway’s analysis of London Chartism and Geoffrey Crossick’s study of politicised artisans in Kentish Town are representative of this approach, which seems to have...

  6. 1 Liberal Attachments to the Unreformed Metropolis
    (pp. 11-38)

    Prior to the 1832 parliamentary reform, the idea of ‘London’ was central to the ways in which both Whigs and constitutional radicals constructed their group identities. At the same time the idea of ‘London’ influenced the manner in which these liberal subgroups interacted with the metropolitan constituencies, and with one another. Interaction between Whigs and constitutional radicals was both vigorous and formative in the immediate pre-reform period. Francis Burdett’s vacillation between the dinner table at Holland House, the debating table at Bentham’s Queen Square salon, and the Speaker’s table at the Crown and Anchor tavern is just one example of...

  7. 2 The ‘Radicalisation’ of Metropolitan Political Culture, 1832–1841
    (pp. 39-69)

    In late November 1831 Charles Grey dismissed fears that parliamentary reform would precipitate social revolution. In particular, Grey did not share the concern, voiced by many Tory opponents of reform, that London’s increased representation would result in a flood of plebeian ultra-radicals into parliament. Although he acknowledged that the proposed Whig reform bill would extend the metropolitan franchise quite far down the social ladder (owing to higher metropolitan property prices), Grey had been reassured by Lord Durham and by Lord Althorp that the £20 householder, rather than the £10 householder, would predominate in the metropolitan electorate.¹ Grey consequently anticipated the...

  8. 3 The Polarisation of Metropolitan Political Culture, 1842–1855
    (pp. 70-97)

    At the fall of Melbourne’s second government, vestry reformers still wielded significant electoral influence in the metropolitan boroughs. In Marylebone, the Barlow Street committee, although smarting from the 1838 by-election return of the Tory Lord Teignmouth, was still powerful enough in 1841 to engineer the return of its preferred candidate, Admiral Sir Charles Napier. Like Duncombe, Tennyson and so many of his fellow metropolitan MPs, Napier cut an aristocratic and romantic figure. In addition to a reputation for military heroism (at sea rather than on land – Napier was sometimes mistaken for his namesake, the conqueror of the Sind, whose own...

  9. 4 Redefining the State, I: Rates and Taxes, 1834–1853
    (pp. 98-115)

    Few grievances mobilised the metropolitan radical opposition to Whiggery quite like the church rates and assessed taxes. It was Whig prevarication over the window tax, it will be remembered, that ultimately cost J. C. Hobhouse the support of Place’s Westminster Committee and his Westminster seat to boot. The assessed taxes fell heavily on Londoners and there was no shortage of commentary from the metropolitan radical press on London’s disproportionate suffering under the house and window taxes in particular.¹ In the House of Commons, the Westminster MP George DeLacy Evans frequently characterised the window tax as a uniquely metropolitan burden.² Moreover,...

  10. 5 Redefining the State, II: The London Government Problem
    (pp. 116-144)

    1834 was a decisive year in the deterioration of Whiggery’s relationship to the metropolitan radical movement. In addition to being the year of maturation for London’s Hobhouse vestries, 1834 played host to the heated debates on church rate and poor law reform which initiated a polarisation between vestry-based libertarians and Whig centralisers. From 1835 this was crystallised by debates on the reform of municipal government. London’s omission from the Municipal Corporations Act lent further force to the metropolitan radical critique of Whiggery as the party of centralisation while simultaneously undermining such a critique in the provinces. The same was true...

  11. 6 Marylebone in 1854: From Conflict to Compromise
    (pp. 145-166)

    Preceding chapters have emphasised the centrality of conflict to London’s liberal political culture. It has been argued that discrete liberal subgroups, which subscribed to incompatible and in many ways antagonistic sets of political priorities, emerged within the reformed metropolitan constituencies during the mid-1830s and immediately began to compete with one another for political supremacy. This competition was intensified, or at the very least reinforced, by the cultural fault-lines which lay between these groups. Whereas the input of London’s ‘shopocracy’ tied vestry radicalism to the related causes of government retrenchment and ratepayer self-determination, the cultural orientations of London’s large professional community...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 167-176)

    From the later 1840s radical and liberal critics of Russell’s government found in Lord Palmerston a handy foil to the unpopular prime minister. Although Palmerston served as foreign secretary throughout Russell’s first administration, he was no Russellite and certainly no ministerial stooge. He was, as Russell grudgingly conceded, the only truly ‘popular’ minister within the government. From 1848 Russell understood that his increasingly weak ministry could not survive Palmerston’s defection, and he consequently often indulged Palmerston’s borderline insubordination.¹ During the 1850s Palmerston’s growing reputation among liberals and radicals proceeded from an admiration of his foreign policy, and from an appreciation...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-196)
  14. Index
    (pp. 197-204)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-205)