Part Representation and the Public

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Part 1. Representation and the Public.

‘The word “representation” is one of the most difficult of all the words used by the historian because its meaning may reflect deep-seated historical changes’.1
'we ought … to be prepared to ask ourselves quite aggressively what is supposed to be the practical use, here and now, of our historical studies'.2
‘The best lectures in politicks are deduced from occurrences of moment, that have hapned either within the compass of our own memories or those of our predecessors. These we are furnished with from history…’3

  1. Chapter 1. Introduction.

B. The Argument.

This is a book about later Stuart political culture. The central theme is an examination of the concept and nature of representation at a key period in its history. I argue that in the later Stuart period England witnessed a significant shift towards a representative society. This was the result of the conjunction of several factors. General elections were held, on average, every two and a half years in the period between 1679 and 1716. A huge and expanding electorate voted more regularly than ever before. Pre-publication licensing lapsed, temporarily in1679 and then permanently in 1695. Political parties - Whigs and Tories- were born and flourished in bitter conflict with one another. Men and women engaged in an ideological struggle about the nature of the church, the state, authority and obedience. And there was a financial revolution that created a publicly-funded national debt for the first time. These factors combined to produce a partisan political culture that was truly national and in which the public became a routine, participating, part of the political process. Yet the involvement of the public, and its expanded role as a source of authority, raised questions about the capacity of the people to make informed, rational political judgements. The partisan press, clubs, coffee-houses, electioneering, addresses and petitions were a means of informing and involving a reified public, but also potentially a means of subverting its rational judgement through mendacity, impartiality, passion and even rage. The period thus witnessed an experiment in representation but also, in the eyes of many contemporaries, one in misrepresentation through slander, political lying and partisan fictions.

To be sure, many aspects of the later Stuart political culture can be seen earlier, particularly in the 1640s, and it is easy to exaggerate the 'Glorious Revolution' as the key turning point. There was a coup in 1688-9, but a revolution process spanning at least 1640-1720. We can therefore find instances of the anxieties that have just been outlined well before the 1670s. Indeed, one can find continuity across the early modern period (and before and after it) between periods of great political and religious tension. Polemic, an appeal to popularity, a fear of the effects of print, anxiety over truth-claims can all be found in the sixteenth and earlier seventeenth centuries, as well as in the eighteenth. Contemporaries were particularly aware of the role that the mid-century revolution played in changing the political culture. From the 1670s onwards, when the failures of the restoration settlement of the 1660s became apparent, explicit reference was made to 1641 and to a lesser extent 1648, in order to warn against repeating earlier mistakes. Yet, as this focus on the 1640s suggests, alongside the perceived continuities there were also recognised shifts over the seventeenth century. The mid-century revolution was certainly one such period of change. But this book focuses on the second half of the 1640-1720 revolution, partly because it has been much less well studied than the first, but also to emphasise the importance of innovations in the later phase that have sometimes been overlooked.

The shifts over the seventeenth century were quantitative. Whereas the 1584 bond of association was a relatively circumscribed affair, subscribed for the most part by men of substance and amounting to about two dozen sets of parchments, the parallel 1696 oath of association was signed by men of all social levels and about 430 were collected.4 Similarly, whereas the irreverent satire of the ‘Martin Marprelate’ controversy ran to about 15 or 16 tracts in the late 1580s, there were about 128 polemical titles a century later, debating the revolution of 1689-90.5 One important difference between the late sixteenth and the late seventeenth century had therefore to do with scale. There was a wider, more consistently invoked, public.

This shift in scale was accompanied by a qualitative shift. Although the later Stuart period was in many ways the culmination of trends over a ‘long seventeenth century’, spanning from the 1580s to the late 1710s, the nature of the later appeal to the public and of public politics was different. This was the result of changes brought about during the mid-century revolution but also by the later-seventeenth one. As a result, whereas scholars of the early seventeenth century have seemed reluctant to embrace the notion of a 'public sphere' based on early capitalism, new communicative practices and public rational discourse, such a model seems far more suited to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. This book therefore examines the two key components of this qualitative shift. First, it seeks to demonstrate the centrality of the public to politics: as voters, as readers, as a legitimating authority, as umpires and judges of state and church. Second, it explores attitudes to the public and identifies public judgement as one of the key issues causing concern. Part one focuses on the first of these, and part two on the second, although both themes will recur throughout the following chapters.

The public acquired new prominence and importance as a collective fiction with an enlarged role as a legitimising power and as an umpire. The vacuum of authority resulting from the undermining of traditional authorities such as the crown and church during the mid-century crisis was thus partly filled by the public. This becomes clear when we examine frequent electioneering, the proliferation of cheap political print, and the expansion of public petitions and addresses. In each case the scale of such appeals to popularity was either unprecedented or matched only (and then temporarily) during the 1640s. Such appeals worked to create a national political culture, with labels and structures recognised in every borough and in which every borough was expected routinely to participate. The public was asked repeatedly, and consistently, to judge. It had to decide how to vote, whether it believed what it read and whether or not to sign petitions and addresses.

Much of this debate was carried out in public, and in print. The expansion of the political press had a transformative impact on the 1640s but also on the later Stuart political culture. Thus although the genre of printed electoral advice literature had emerged in the 1640s, it is a reflection of the later development of mid-century innovations that such literature flourished only when electioneering became frequent and routine after the 1670s. Moreover, by then the short cooling-off time between elections ensured that print had become a decisive player in the new political culture. Print was not only a means to communicate but also a political tool. Printed interventions became an intrinsic part of the political contest. Finally, and in part facilitated by print debates about political economy and printed news about stocks and trade, the public acquired new importance because of the revolution in public finance. After the 1690s it was the public that supported the national debt and conferred the 'public credit' necessary to fight a large-scale, and semi-global, war with France. Public opinion gave value to stocks and even to money itself. The fiscal revolution after 1689 was a public, representational one.

Greater stress on the public and the role of public judgement nevertheless led to anxieties about popularity and public reason. Again, these were not new; but they were writ large in new ways. We can find anxieties about the seditious nature of print, the irrationality or credulity of the multitude and the subversion of truth well before the age of party. Yet parties, a new development characteristic of the late restoration period, intensified these anxieties and gave them a new context. Party was symptomatic of, and fostered, state zeal, political heat or 'rage'. Such vehement partisanship was thought to transport men and obscure their ability to discern what was true. Truth became relative to partisan conviction and party institutionalised a system of rival truth-claims. Anxieties about the abuse of language and the public’s inability to discern right reason and truth thus became embedded into the structure of politics. Partisans championed, or admitted, the public as an umpire, and yet feared that many might not have the capacity for rational judgement and to discern the truth. Knowledge and truth were thus political issues. In that sense, the period is important in stressing the early stages of a political enlightenment that coincided with the religious and scientific ones. Moreover, such debates were routinely fought out at a local level, and spilt far beyond the religious sphere - into matters of political economy, electioneering and personal credit, and into the nature of language itself.

Contemporaries across the political spectrum had, by the accession of the Hanoverians, come to fear a paradox at the heart of publicly competitive politics: an appeal to the public was an integral part of such politics, but it was through such an appeal that truth could become subverted. Political knowledge was both conveyed by public discourse; but also potentially undermined by it. This was no abstract problem. A failure on the part of the public to judge properly threatened defeat by the most powerful military force in Europe, the destruction of civil and religious liberties, and the destabilisation of an emerging capitalistic economy. Once again, the means by which partisanship corrupted public discourse were not particularly new, but they were certainly intensified. Contemporaries across the political spectrum feared deliberate and systematic campaigns of propaganda designed to mislead. They worried that slogans, words and phrases were routinely being given different meanings by each interest-group so that a shared language was dissolving, replaced by cant and jargon. Contemporaries thought their age had perfected the art of political lying, with each side seeing the other as based on a series of lies. Partisanship thus ensured that everything political could be seen in two ways - the same words, phrases, people and events were routinely represented differently according to party allegiance. As a result men and women of all stripes saw themselves surrounded by a world of ambiguities, misrepresentations and fictions. Such a culture could be highly creative, with imaginative fictions embedded in partisan polemic, so that the political and the literary were fused. Even so, later Stuart political culture intensified, embedded and made routine representational phenomena and anxieties associated with earlier crises.

The consequences were profound. In order to try to control and order such phenomena contemporaries developed a series of informal and formal controls. The languages of politeness and reason were prized because they appeared to offer an antidote to the incivility and passionate irrationality of partisan discourse. As ideals they were increasingly articulated in response to partisanship. The language of moderate, rational politeness was thus the inverse of how contemporaries characterised partisan polemic and discourse. But as well as a stress on an idealised way of talking, there were also shifts in attitudes to the press. Printed vindication or rejoinder, rather than censorship, was recognised as the best means of countering an opposing viewpoint - an implicit recognition that the mind could not be forced in politics any more than in religion. The press was thus regarded not just as a corrosive influence but also as an antidote to partisan poison. For this to happen readers had to read rightly. And they were encouraged to learn how to become critics capable of deconstructing a political text in order to learn its true meaning. Literary style duly became part of the political contest. More formally, the triennial act of 1694, that had guaranteed frequent parliaments, was repealed in 1716 in favour of a provision for elections only once every seven years. This was defended in terms that drew on anxieties about a decayed public discourse and public judgement that had been mounting over the previous forty years. In other words, the later Stuart period not only offers us a culmination and in part a resolution of the preoccupations of the seventeenth century, but also an explanation of the concerns of the eighteenth century. The later Stuart period helped to place on the agenda matters to do with partisanship, politeness, sociability, public opinion, political economy, truth, fiction and reason, together with the means available for the construction of individual, group and national identities.

The book thus studies how diversity of opinion - seemingly made dangerous by its public nature in an age of extensive print, new communicative practices, frequent elections, civic conflict, a financial revolution and religious division - could be accommodated peacefully within the state. It argues that partisanship shaped the political culture in innovating ways but also that such a culture explored means of containing the resulting passion and party rage. The book pursues the relationship between the style, language and content of public discussion between the 1670s and 1720, with a particular stress on the reign of Anne, during which division was both intensely bitter and widespread. It aims to connect a number of different strands - political, intellectual, literary, economic, social and religious - by focusing on how public discourse operated to legitimise or undermine authority and allegiance. My analysis situates the political culture of the later Stuart period as one of transition, towards new ways of talking and acting, towards new anxieties about how the abuse of words imperilled political choice. It is thus part of a larger narrative about the development of a representative society. By that I mean a society (not democratic) in which public representation, defined both as a political concept and as a mode of communication, was key to the justification and exercise of power. This involved a curious re-blending of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy, the combination of which produced something rather extraordinary, centered around a representational form of politics. As Montesquieu recognised when trying to classify it, the British system that emerged in this period, particularly after 1689, was a fascinating, delicately-balanced hybrid, reliant for the preservation of its liberty on a potentially tyrannous public that nevertheless checked itself through the party system.6

By studying both the inventiveness of, and anxieties heightened and created by, the publicly partisan political culture the book also seeks to engage with problems inherent in all representative societies: how are voters best informed? How, if at all, does the language of politics aid or enlighten public choice? How can political judgement best be inculcated? Is partisanship a positive or negative force? Later Stuart political culture thus posed and sought to answer timeless questions about the nature of representation.7 It explored the relationship between the represented and their representatives, the claims of minorities to represent the whole, the means by which opinion could be determined, and how misrepresentation might be avoided.

  1. Rethinking Periodisation.

The study of later Stuart political culture gives us an important piece of a historiographical jigsaw that so often has the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century pieces missing. The period saw the culmination of trends that had been evolving over the long seventeenth century (1580-1720) but also offers a starting point for our study of the long eighteenth century (1689-1832). And the period is crucial not just for our understanding of Britain, but also of Europe. In that context this book also seeks to contribute to the ongoing debate about the nature of the enlightenment.8 Although the European enlightenment is often characterised (or caricatured) as confident in rational truth, unity, ‘progress’ and objective knowledge – virtually everything that postmodernism sets itself against – the early, English enlightenment displayed considerable scepticism about the nature of truth, about the possibility of unity, and about the nature of progress. And it did so not (or not only) through grand philosophical texts but through the cut and thrust of everyday politicking that affected nearly every borough in the country. Questions about knowledge and human understanding were routinely explored in partisan political literature that offered rival versions of the truth to the public. As a result, it was an age of uncertainty about how to discern truth, an era obsessed with the nature of language, anxious about the degradation of politics and about the absence of universal frameworks that gave common meaning. In other words, the study should make us question not only how we periodise the past but also where we look for 'enlightenment' debates.9

The later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are usually conceived as constituting the end of the 'early modern' period and a starting place for the 'modern'. Yet the era often tends to fall out of both historiographies.10 The partly justifiable attack on a Whig interpretation of history (one that stressed progress towards secular values of civil liberty achieved through the efforts of one party) has had two unfortunate consequences. First, it resulted in a neglect of the study of partisan political culture that gave birth to that Whig interpretation and second, it tended to give centre stage to the mid-seventeenth-century crisis and divorce it from its aftermath.11 Without restoring a whiggish teleology we should aim to recover a study of partisanship and explore the shifts as well as continuities apparent after 1640. At a time when issues to do with identity, the negotiation of authority, state formation, the nature of truth, and the historicising of texts are at the heart of current research agendas, a sidelining of the era of party rage and political literature seems not only odd but also indefensible. So to some extent this book represents another attempt to persuade early modernists to look beyond 1640 and modernists to consider the period before 1720. If we look to the consequences of processes of reformation and revolution, as much as to their origins, we open up exciting lines of enquiry.

As these remarks suggest, it is worth restating at the outset that change and continuity are not mutually exclusive. In many ways the period 1670-1720 displays important continuities with the sixteenth and earlier seventeenth century, and these should be fully recognised. The later Stuart period witnessed the culmination, expansion, evolution and development of a number of trends apparent far earlier, especially those concerning polemical appeals to the public.12 Nevertheless, it is equally important to discern how changing contexts led to an evolving political culture. This study thus seeks not only to connect the later and early Stuart worlds, but also to link the Stuart and the Georgian political cultures. To do so begs the charge of a whiggish concern with linear progress culminating in the birth of modernity. Such a critique is not just. Change does not need to be equated with progress; and representation can be the preserve of authoritarians as well as liberal democrats, a means to exclude as well as include the 'people'.

B. Five Factors for Change
An outline of factors at work and the changes they effected will provide the reader with some sort of a map by which to chart later - hopefully more nuanced - discussions.13 It is possible to discern five main factors promoting (and reflecting) change.

  1. Frequent Elections and Parliament’s Coming of Age.

The first factor was a new role for parliament, involving frequent elections, frequent sessions and an expanded electorate. Frequent elections had been a feature of the 1620s (1621, 1624, 1625, 1626 and 1628) and then again in the late 1650s and 1660s (1654, 1656, 1659, 1660, 1661); and during both these periods the frequency had marked effects on the political culture.14 But they had not been sustained. Frequent elections after 1679, by contrast, occurred over a period of almost forty years. Between 1679 and the repeal of the triennial act in 1716 there were 16 general elections: on average, about one every two and a half years.15 This intensity was profoundly influential. It sharpened a trend already apparent by the 1680s, but largely brought about due to the mid-century conflict, for contested elections. But the consequences of the shift Mark Kishlansky identifies, from selection to election, are clearest after his end-point of 1685. In the period 1690-1714 only one English county, Dorset, and a dozen English boroughs failed to experience a contested election.16 Electors were presented with choices between candidates in well over a third of all elections in that period; and many more were disputed before polling day. In other words, protracted electoral conflicts occurred in nearly every borough and county in the land. This novel situation served to tie civic and national politics ever more closely. Such a trend was also encouraged by the marked shift in the longevity and productivity of parliamentary sessions. After 1689 there were sessions every year without fail, and each session lasted longer, averaging 112 days, almost double the Restoration figure. This greater regularity and longevity had a great impact on legislative initiatives. From 1660 to 1688 Parliament passed on average about 26 statutes per session; between 1689 and 1714 this rose dramatically to 64 per session. Legislation became, constituencies realised, a reliable means of getting things done. As Julian Hoppit puts it, 'Parliament as a legislature had come of age'. It was responsive to both central and local initiatives in a new way; but its role needed working out at both a practical and theoretical level.17

The relationship between parliament and the public was also shifting. More people were eligible to vote than ever before. A growth of the size of the electorate was not in itself new – the expansion occurred over the seventeenth century.18 But the increase for the later Stuart period was remarkable.19 Determining the size of electorates is not a precise science and we should probably talk of those who actually voted (a 'voterate') rather than those eligible to vote.20 Nevertheless the number voting in 1715 amounted to at least 250,000, almost 20% of the adult male population - a higher percentage than after the 1832 Reform Act.21 Expansion of the electorate was all the more remarkable given the marked slow-down in the rate of population growth in the later Stuart period. For Holmes all this was proof that the representative system did express the opinion of the electorate. Bill Speck similarly concluded from his work on poll books that not only was the 'electoral system more representative in Anne's reign than it had ever been before' but also that voters enjoyed considerable autonomy.22 Although the degree of voter independence and political awareness has been questioned by some studies, the size of the increase and the increasing pressure this placed on the need to manage and influence voters has not.23

  1. The Development of a Fiscal-Military State and Commercial Expansion.

The second factor promoting change was the development of a fiscal-military state and commercial expansion. The development of a fiscal-military state began in the 1640s, when innovative methods of raising revenue and improved collection dramatically increased the state's resources.24 We should not underestimate how far the nerves of state were strengthened before 1689, particularly during the civil war but also under the pressure of naval wars against the Dutch in the 1650s, 60s and 70s. Even so, sustained warfare against France between 1689 and 1713 (with only a short break between 1697 and 1702) fostered a financial as well as a military revolution.25 Not only was the size of the armed forces unprecedented - there were, for example 48,000 seamen in 1710 compared to 20,000 in 1660 and not even 10,000 in the 1630s - but unheard of amounts of money were needed to finance the war effort.26 Average tax revenue during the war years of the 1690s was £3.64m, about double the state's tax income before 1689. In 1720 the state took 10.8% of income in tax, compared to just 3.4% in 1670.27 The state's capacity to tax outstripped the growth of the economy. Even so, this increase was insufficient to pay for the armed forces, necessitating the new phenomenon of public credit. Public indebtedness, which was unknown before 1689, stood at £16.7m by 1697, £36m in 1713 and over £50m by 1720.28 Fiscal innovation and reform brought about not only major re-coinage in the 1690s but also the introduction of long-lasting expedients, such as the creation of the Bank of England in 1694, paper money and the development of the stock market.29 At the same time, commerce expanded, boosted in particular by the re-export trade from the colonies, and a mercantile culture was strengthened.30 Each of these developments was overseen or shaped by parliament. Moreover, parliamentary taxation not only underwrote the debt, but had itself increased in relative importance. Again the 1640s had been instrumental in shifting state revenue from royal demesne to parliamentary grant; but by 1714 only 3% of national revenue was of a non-parliamentary nature, compared to about three quarters in the early Stuart period.31 Thus two features of the 'political economy' need stressing. The first is the role of parliament as the institution where innovation was ratified and debated. The second is that the new phenomenon of public credit. It was not only linked to representative politics - credit fluctuated with political power - but it was itself a representative system, based in part on paper money, exchequer bills and stocks that had representative rather than intrinsic value. The fiscal-military revolution was also a representational one.

  1. Print, Coffee-Houses and Clubs.

Developments in communicative practices are a third factor explaining change. Again, we should not exaggerate the innovations of the later Stuart period. A number of scholars have suggested that information about, and discussion of, public affairs was common and vigorous in the early Stuart period. Others argue that the real step-change occurred in the 1640s, when the abolition of Star Chamber not only unlocked the floodgates but also destabilised control over print's content.32 Similarly, it has been suggested, it was the 1640s that breached the norms of secrecy that had hitherto prevailed and made an appeal to public opinion both routine and justifiable.33 In terms of the quantity of print, the control over print, and the conventions that applied to public discourse, the mid-century crisis undoubtedly marked a watershed. Yet there were marked developments in all three of these areas during the later Stuart period. The quantity of print is often difficult to assess, but a count of titles is one, albeit unsophisticated, guide to availability and influence. Using the database of printed titles compiled by the English Short Title Catalogue, the output of the press can be measured over time, using cumulative counts per decade.34

Caption: Output of printed titles per decade 1480-1800.
As the graph shows, the 1640s were indeed a turning point; but output achieved that decade was not sustained. Rather, it contracted in the 1650s, only regaining its previous height during the crisis of 1679-81.35 But from 1695 the quantity remains reasonably consistent for the next half-century, before sharp rises in the second half of the eighteenth century. If we examine the number of titles by year, the output of 1641 and 1642 was rather unique, but almost matched in 1660, 1667, 1674, 1680, 1685, 1688. It was then surpassed regularly (and importantly far more consistently, year on year), from 1703 onwards, reaching a first quartile peak in 1714. In part the pattern correlates with pre-publication censorship, which lapsed in 1641, again in 1679 but only permanently in 1695.36 Again, we might be wary of reading too much into this, since bills continued to be introduced to regulate the press, and taxation in the form of the Stamp Act was introduced in 1712, curbing production.37 But in the 1710s the average yearly output of titles was 2416, 25% higher than that of the 1640s; and by the 1720s there were twice as many printers as there had been in the late 1640s.38 We can conclude that the mid-century crisis broke the mould but that paper warfare was waged and sustained at similarly high or higher levels after 1695.

We should also note that literacy levels continued to rise over the second half of the seventeenth century and early eighteenth century.39 To be sure, much of the improvement in literacy occurred before the rage of party got underway; oral and manuscript culture continued to flourish; and there was tremendous variation in literacy according to region, urbanisation, gender, trade and class. Nevertheless male headline illiteracy had been reduced from 70% in 1640 to about 55% by 1715, with corresponding decreases for women from 90% to 75%.40 In urban areas, illiteracy was far lower. Thus for male artisans and tradesmen in London and Middlesex it fell from 25% in 1640 to 13% by 1696 and a mere 8% by the 1720s.41 It is more difficult to establish that the greater quantity of print was reaching new readers. Yet it is in distribution that the later Stuart period was most innovative. Improvements in the postal system, especially after the introduction of London's penny post in 1680, facilitated dissemination. Coffee-houses were locales specifically designed to cater for the highly literate, news-hungry public who flocked there to read and debate as well as drink. Coffee-houses spread rapidly in the capital after their introduction in the 1650s, so that by 1700 there were about 500, but they were also established in many provincial towns in the last decades of the seventeenth century.42 They were, moreover, a forum for the numerous clubs and societies that began during this period.43 Of course, taverns, inns and alehouses had earlier provided venues for discussion, debate and association; but, as we shall see, the new spaces seemed to pose new challenges. Moreover, the lapse of the licensing act had the dramatic consequence (perhaps more important than that of removing censorship) of opening up provincial publishing, which had been forbidden by statute. Thus the first provincial newspaper was printed in Norwich in 1701. By 1710, 13 provincial newspapers had been started and the capital had 18 newspapers, including a daily.44
[caption: The Coffee House Mob (1710), shows how integral print was to the coffee-house culture but also how it engendered bitter dispute - here a dish of coffee is thrown in anger. The dating of 1710 is significant, since the nation was divided then over the impeachment of a high church cleric, Dr Henry Sacheverell.]

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