From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England

By Paul P. Slack | Go to book overview

6
BODIES POLITIC

An examination of welfare activity in the final decades covered by this study-the quarter-century from 1714 to 1740 -- brings into sharper focus a topic which has been implicit, if not always at the forefront of attention, in previous chapters: the subject of agency. Thus far, most of my clusters of reforming activity have depended upon some authority willing and able to impose a reformation: godly magistrates, would-be absolute monarchs or their ministers, or a Parliament informed for a time by a moral consensus. Each of these proved wanting in one way or another. But they left behind them a multitude of what might be termed residuary bodies, survivors from the various efforts at reformation considered earlier in this book, all of them armed for action. Some were agents of local government, from county quarter sessions down to the vestries of the civil parish. Some were corporations, old or new, chartered or statutory, whether municipal or otherwise. Some were formally charitable trusts and others less formal voluntary associations.

Not all of them were strictly speaking 'bodies politic' incorporated in law. But they were all in a more general sense 'political bodies'. That was the term Josiah Woodward applied to the voluntary religious societies, which he thought 'not only requisite but even natural' in a world 'where considerable bodies of men of contrary inclinations join together to oppose them.'1 These contending associations included many of the subsidiary bodies run by men of property which Dr Langford's Ford Lectures showed us shaping the competitive public world of Hanoverian England;2 and they necessarily determined much of the quality and quantity of its welfare activity. When there was no single authority able to impose reformation in the name of a single public good, several lesser agents pursued improvement in a number of them.

____________________
1
Josiah Woodward, An Account of the Rise and Progress of the Religious Societies ( 2nd edn., 1698), 24-5.
2
P. Langford, Public Life and the Propertied Englishman 1689-1798 ( Oxford, 1991).

-126-

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From Reformation to Improvement: Public Welfare in Early Modern England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Abbreviations viii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - THE COMMON WEAL 5
  • 2 - GODLY CITIES 29
  • 3 - ABSOLUTE POWER 53
  • 4 - THE PUBLIC GOOD 77
  • 5 - THE PARLIAMENT'S REFORMATION 102
  • 6 - BODIES POLITIC 126
  • 7 - CIVIL SOCIETIES 150
  • Index 167
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