The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1785-1865

By Boyd Hilton | Go to book overview

PREFACE

If every author were required to print a correct account of his cerebral development in his preface, a great saving of discussion might be effected.

The Phrenological Journal and Miscellany 3 ( 1825-6), 51

Many years ago I started researching for a doctoral thesis on economic policies between 1815 and 1830. That period saw the cautious beginnings of policies which were to characterize the Victorian Pax Britannica -- Free Trade, laissez-faire, sound money, and public retrenchment. I started out by asking several fairly mechanical questions about the process of policy formation. Were governments responding to pressure from extra- parliamentary lobbies? Did policy emerge through a process of political manœuvre, either at ministerial or parliamentary level? Was there a conscious application of economic doctrine, and how far did unconscious assumptions about the nature of the economy and society affect the outcome? My answers to these questions were largely negative, for most policies seemed to result from the pragmatic responses of officially minded ministers faced with practical problems like those of food supply, monetary instability, public indebtedness, a confusing and inefficient tariff.

And yet this conclusion was not entirely satisfactory, if only because years of academic cohabitation with those Tory ministers had left me with a strong impression of ideological differentiation. Liverpool, Canning, Huskisson, Wallace, Peel, Robinson, Dudley, Grant, and Goulburn, those so-called Liberal Tories who were mainly responsible for the new economic policies, seemed temperamentally different from their more paternalistic and protectionist colleagues -- Castlereagh, Wellington, Eldon, Sidmouth, Bathurst, Ellenborough, and Vansittart. But is temperament the same thing as ideology? I returned to what I had written and discovered that at several points I had in fact attributed an implicit ideology to my Liberal Tories. This was at moments when they had acted with unnecessary fervour, as over the 1819 decision to resume cash payments, or else in irrational ways, as when in the summer of 1826 they had almost allowed the Government to break up over the question of issuing exchequer bills to firms in temporary trouble. In order to explain such things it was necessary to examine their often unspoken assumptions about economic

-vii-

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