Two Early Political Associations: The Quakers and the Dissenting Deputies in the Age of Sir Robert Walpole

Two Early Political Associations: The Quakers and the Dissenting Deputies in the Age of Sir Robert Walpole

Two Early Political Associations: The Quakers and the Dissenting Deputies in the Age of Sir Robert Walpole

Two Early Political Associations: The Quakers and the Dissenting Deputies in the Age of Sir Robert Walpole

Excerpt

From their first appearance on the national political stage in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, political associations like the Society for Promoting Constitutional Information, the London Corresponding Society, the Hampden Clubs, Attwood's Political Unions, O'Connell's Catholic Association, and the Anti-Corn Law League played an enormously important part in British political and constitutional evolution. At a time when property rather than people was represented in Parliament the political associations provided a vital link between the people and the Government; they were a channel through which the masses by peaceful agitation could hope to influence government policy long before they were represented in the Commons. They were a useful safety valve for popular discontent in a period when economic, social, and political grievances were always likely to generate more steam than the constitutional system could easily contain. They provided, too, a pattern for the organization of political parties. And they were, finally, a practical forum in which people could practise the techniques of democracy, preparing themselves for participation eventually in the democratic State they were so often agitating for; undoubtedly, the successful working of our political system today owes much to the training and education in democratic practices which the political associations inevitably provided. In short, political associations were one of the fundamental factors which determined that Britain's nineteenth-century political and constitutional evolution was to be democratic, peaceful, and non-revolutionary.

The justification for attributing such constitutional importance to political associations is partly found in a consideration of their characteristics and techniques. They can be defined as extra-parliamentary and extra-governmental groups which . . .

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