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Petitioning and Petitioners to the Westminster Parliament, 1660–1788

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jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pNarratives of the mid‐18th‐century state as drifting towards oligarchy and closure have long been superseded by accounts stressing its responsiveness to outside interests and opinion. Participatory election rituals, crowd activity and the expansion of print media demonstrate that political activism was not limited to a narrow circle of elites, even after the passage of the 1716 Septennial Act. Additionally, as an institution after 1688 the Westminster parliament rendered itself useful to propertied society through its passage of greater amounts of legislation. However, while the strength of party and trajectory of electoral participation is well mapped, as are addresses to the crown, the petitioning of interest groups has had few systematic quantitative surveys. This article first sets out the chronology of petitioning to both houses of parliament from 1660 to 1788, demonstrating that petitioning was at its height before 1722, rather than rising to its greatest levels with the reform movements in the 1780s. Second, the article demonstrates the role of petitioning in expanding the political nation beyond the boundaries of parliamentary boroughs, and why, on occasion, petitioning involved women and illiterate men. Third, in order to emphasize the continuity in petitioning and its contribution to the formation of public opinion, the article compares the different roles that concurrent subscription practices envisaged for the public. Finally, the article argues that despite the rising tendency to cite numerical strength to arbitrate political divisions, petitioners continued to legitimise their voices on the basis of representing collections of reasons and interests rather than opinion.</jats:p>



4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology

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Parliamentary History

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British Academy (pf160004)
Arts and Humanities Research Council, the British Academy (grant pf160004).
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