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Political ideas in the North Briton, 1762-1763: A 'Whig-country' view of the English Constitution

This dissertation examines the constitutional ideas and attitudes which emerge from the North Briton's view of the state of English politics in 1762-3. The object of the study has been to determine the nature of these ideas and attitudes, and their place in the stream of political and constitutional ideas that grew into what historians have described as eighteenth century ‘radicalism’. An examination of later seventeenth and eighteenth century political thought reveals that the constitutional concerns of the North Briton were entirely unoriginal. Its view of the constitution has been labelled ‘Whig country' because it is from both Whiggish ideas and attitudes, and from the long tradition of country' ideas and opposition to government, that the North Briton draws its own constitutional outlook. Like almost all politically aware Englishmen in the eighteenth century, the authors of the North Briton held that the constitution was balanced, and the liberty of the subject thereby guaranteed, by the equipoise of the constitution's three components - king, lords and commons. However, this idea was capable of different interpretations depending upon the political ends for which it was utilized. Almost all agreed the constitutional balance was in danger of upset, but men in opposition invariably disagreed with those in power as to the source of the danger. The North Briton, in opposition to the ministry of Lord Bute, clearly echoes the obsessive ‘country' fear of the corrupting influence of power in its charges that the administration is working in its own interests rather than in those of the people, and is thereby upsetting the balance of the constitution. The people are regarded as legitimate critics and even supervisors of government by the North Briton; their role being to restore the constitutional balance by ensuring that parliament properly represents the people. The North Briton's political solution to present problems is to get men they believe can be trusted to look after the people's interests back into power. Such men, it argues, are the Whigs (specifically Lord Temple) and William Pitt, whose ability and public esteem had previously been so amply demonstrated. The authors of the North Briton have no intention of upsetting the balance of the constitution in favour of the democratic element. Nevertheless, their emphasis on the role of the people has within it a potential for the development of later 'radical' ideas that came to view the people as an entity separate from the traditional parts of the constitution. Although the North Briton is on the verge of interpreting 'the people' as a separate entity, its retention of the Whig solution counters the 'radical' potential of its 'country• views. Thus in 1762-3 the North Briton continues to voice non-'radical' 'Whig-country' attitudes. By 1768 the Whigs and Pitt had demonstrated that they were incapable of providing a viable solution to contemporary problems. "The Continuation" of the North Briton, no longer inhibited by trust in a Whiggish solution, discards its conservative Whiggism, becomes wholly 'country' oriented, and by 1771 appears to be well and truly 'radical' in its demands for proportional representation and in its hints at support for a democratic franchise.
Type of thesis
Knight, A. W. (1972). Political ideas in the North Briton, 1762-1763: A ‘Whig-country’ view of the English Constitution (Thesis, Master of Arts). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/10111
University of Waikato
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