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Victorian Political Culture'Habits of Heart and Mind'$
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Angus Hawkins

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198728481

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198728481.001.0001

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The Moral Climate of Reform

The Moral Climate of Reform


(p.215) 6 The Moral Climate of Reform
Victorian Political Culture

Angus Hawkins

Oxford University Press

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

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