Trial by Jury and English Political Radicalism c.1792 – 1825
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This thesis explores the jury trial in English radical thinking, politics and political culture during the age of revolution. Its significance for radicals and the wider political nation has been underappreciated by scholars, as the ballast stabilising the British constitution and polity. I argue that juries served as a counterweight to repression and surrogate site of power for the underrepresented middling sorts: as jurors checking the power and social dominance of corrupt elites. Radicals recognised the power inherent in independent juries, campaigning to defend their verdicts and bolster their powers. The jury played a critical role in the rhetoric of English constitutionalism. Radical leaders exploited the middling sorts’ search for power to defend the jury against threats to its independence and existence. The thesis argues that jury- related controversies and jury trials of prominent radicals gave radicals an influence that was difficult to obtain elsewhere in their opposition to state-led political repression. Chapters one and two examine a campaign in favour of the 1792 Libel Act and efforts by the London Corresponding Society (LCS) to circulate information on jurors’ rights, analysing the production, dissemination and arguments of pamphlets. Study of the LCS archive and a mapping of the dissemination of its republication of Hawles’s The Englishman’s Right (1793) shows demand for the text on the part of the middling sort. Chapters three, four and five place verdicts in the 1794 treason trials in the immediate politics of radical celebration and longer commemoration, including popular and material culture. They employ newspapers to interrogate popular, loyalist and radical reception of the verdicts and jurymen. The post-war radical and loyalist rhetorical and strategic uses of the jury are explored in chapter six through studies of publisher William Hone’s acquittal (1817) and parodic responses to the Peterloo Massacre (1819). Government efforts to pack London juries in the early 1820s have not been studied before: the final chapter studies the radical efforts of resistance as documented through archival sources, The Black Dwarf and The Republican.
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