The Moral Climate of Reform

Angus Hawkins

in Victorian Political Culture

Published in print May 2015 | ISBN: 9780198728481
Published online June 2015 | e-ISBN: 9780191795336 | DOI:
The Moral Climate of Reform

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Political History


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This chapter examines the changing moral climate surrounding renewed discussion of parliamentary Reform after 1848. Britain’s avoidance of revolution in 1848 was celebrated as proof of the strength and virtues of the constitution. Debate about extending the franchise took on a comparative cultural dimension, with the word ‘culture’ coming to denote the distinctive character, customs, and beliefs defining society. A shift in theological thinking in the 1850s from an emphasis on retribution to a greater stress on redemption, as well as the impact of scientific writings, accompanied discussion of ‘respectability’, rather than property, as a qualification for enfranchisement. The influence of writers such as John Stuart Mill, Robert Southey, Samuel Coleridge, and Thomas Carlyle are discussed. Politics and institutions became seen less as acting on society than as embedded in society. This shift in constitutional understanding is exemplified in Walter Bagehot’s 1867 book The English Constitution.

Keywords: 1848 Revolutions; John Stuart Mill; Thomas Carlyle; Matthew Arnold; Walter Bagehot; 3rd Earl Grey; redemption; retribution; respectability; culture

Chapter.  14506 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Political History

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