Surprises in English history

Michael T. Davis, ed.,
Radicalism and Revolution in Britain, 1775-1848

H.T. Dickinson, “‘The Friends of America’: British Sympathy with the American Revolution,”

“In 1775 Lord North admitted to George III that ‘the cause of Great Britain is not yet sufficiently popular’, and Lord Camden claimed that ‘the common people hold the war in abhorrence and the merchants and tradesmen, for obvious reasons, are likewise against it’, and he told the House of Lords: ‘You have not half of the nation on your side.’ Benjamin Franklin believed that ‘the body of the English people are our friends.’ In August 1775, John Wesley...was alarmed that the bulk of the people were ‘dangerously dissatisfied’ and highly critical of the King himself...Temple Luttrell, having returned from a tour of England, told the House of Commons ‘that the sense of the mass of the people is in favor of the Americans.’” (2-3)
But what does this mean? In the first place, are these descriptions all accurate, or are they being made by people with an agenda? And in the second place, what of it? Englishmen had relatives in America, and they probably thought of the colonists as people like themselves. They could be against coercion (how does this compare to their reaction to Irish coercion?) on general principle, without being pro-American. And, they could be against war. And then, when the war became one against France and Spain, they could become patriotic.

“In London, Arthur Lee and William Lee, the brothers of the Virginia merchant Richard Henry Lee, and Richard’s trading partner, Stephen Sayre, were very active in the American cause, with others including Benjamin Rush...Arthur Lee became influential in radical circles in London. He wrote pamphlets and a series of newspaper articles as ‘Junius Americanus’ 1769 he persuaded the radicals to include the government’s American policy in their list of grievances...William Lee...and Stephen Sayre were elected as the two sheriffs of London in 1773 and they both unsuccessfully contested parliamentary seats in the general election of 1774.” (5) This is interesting -- we don’t normally think of the American revolutionaries holding positions of authority in England. It’s a good reminder that they were rich, influential Englishmen right up to the last moment.

“Benjamin Franklin was deeply involved with a group of radical thinkers (many of whom were Dissenters) who belonged to the Club of Honest Whigs in London.” (Joseph Priestley was a member) (6)

“Failure in the American war also encouraged a major revival of radicalism. From 1779 Christopher Wyvill began to organize a nationwide association movement committed to economical and moderate parliamentary reform...The American patriots...had shifted the debate to a prolonged discussion about who could vote and in favor of the conclusion that all taxpayers should be directly represented in the legislature.” (21)

Carlile’s Deist included writings by American Elihu Palmer. How did these get to Carlile?

Michael Durey, “The United Irishmen and the Politics of Banishment, 1798-1807”

“In 1807 the old Federalist leader Rufus King was defeated when he stood for election to the New York assembly on a nativist “American ticket’. Significant opposition to him was raised by a number of Irishmen who had recently settled in New York city and who were able to manipulate the considerable Irish voting bloc in the state. Among these new Americans were Thomas Addis Emmet, William James MacNeven, William Sampson and George Cuming, all former United Irish leaders, who in 1798, among a large group of state prisoners, had reached an accommodation with the Irish government...According to the state prisoners, their desire to emigrate to the United States in 1798 had been thwarted by an unholy alliance between Rufus King, then American ambassador to the court of St. James, and the Irish and British governments.” (96)
Durey says this story they told is substantially untrue, but it’s interesting that they were in New York and able to use this story to influence American politics.

Paul Crook, “Whiggery and America: Accommodating the Radical Threat” starts to explore some of the disillusionment with nineteenth century America.

“Disillusioned by the actions of Americans in Texas and Oregon, appalled by accounts of slavery and political corruption...[Nassau] Senior found little in the American example to confound his pessimistic analysis of democracy.” (200)
One could ask, what was he really looking for? Sounds like he managed to confirm his prejudices. But, there’s a point in this, too.

“As Chartist clamour rose for America’s ballot and universal suffrage...some of the old Whigs became positively anti-American in their efforts to oppose change...Even [Edinburgh Review editor Francis] Jeffrey conceded that in America everything depended on the suffrage and favor of the sovereign people: ‘and accordingly, it would appear that they are pampered with constant that no one will venture to tell them of their faults, and moralists...dare not whisper a syllable of their prejudice.’” (198)

Iain McCalman, “Controlling the Riots: Dickens,
Barnaby Rudge and Romantic Revolution”

McCalman mentions that in the 1780 Gordon Riots, “that had visited more destruction on London in a week than Paris experienced throughout the Revolution,” (207) Dickens understood “it was precisely Lord George Gordon’s blending of religious enthusiasm and enlightenment rationality that made him so dangerous. Edmund Burke, himself a target of the rioters in June 1780, made the same diagnosis...forced to defend his family and house with a drawn sword...He reflected in 1796: ‘had the protentous comet of the Rights of Man...crossed upon us in that internal state of England, nothing human could have prevented our being irresistibly hurried...into all the vices, crimes, horrors and miseries of the French Revolution.’” (220)
This tends to mitigate my response to Burke as Paine’s antagonist, and explain the shift between the Burke of 1770 and the Burke of 1796. Why have I never heard of the Gordon riots before?