The House of Lords in the Age of Reform, 1784-1837: With an Epilogue on Aristocracy and the Advent of Democracy, 1837-1867

By A. S. Turberville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
The Peers and the French Revolution

The inclusion of Lord Loughborough in Pitt's Administration was symptomatic of the break-up of the Whig Opposition which was brought about by the events of the French Revolution. The process had become already obvious in the autumn of 1793, and it was complete in the summer of 1794. There was from the first a coterie of Englishmen who like Fox hailed the outbreak of the Revolution in France with enthusiasm, and who like Dr. Price conceived that the movement was to be regarded as an expression of Gallic Whiggism, the National Assembly at Versailles merely setting out to do in 1789 what our own Convention Parliament had accomplished precisely a century before. But the excesses with which the Revolution soon unfortunately became associated, the horrors of the guillotine and the attacks upon the royal authority, soon converted the mass of the English people to Burke's way of thinking, and not only those who were thrilled and carried away by the brilliant declamation of his Reflections, but others were influenced simply by what they read in the newspapers about events across the Channel became inspired with a new enthusiasm for Church and State, so that when the mob rioted, it was not against the Government but (in 1791) against Dr. Priestley, the Nonconformist divine and man of science who dared to avow his sympathy with the Revolutionaries, and when a design was on foot in 1795 to organize a great demonstration in Yorkshire against the Ministerial policy, Wilberforce had no difficulty in transforming it into a triumphal movement for Pitt and the King's men against the Jacobins.

If such was the first reaction of the man in the street, even in industrial centres such as Birmingham and those of the West Riding of Yorkshire, to the doctrines and the occurrences of the

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