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The Majesty of the PeoplePopular Sovereignty and the Role of the Writer in the 1790s$
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Georgina Green

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199689064

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.001.0001

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Assembling the People

Assembling the People

John Thelwall and the London Corresponding Society

Chapter:
(p.41) 2 Assembling the People
Source:
The Majesty of the People
Author(s):

Green Georgina

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199689064.003.0003

Chapter two looks at 1790s extra-parliamentary activism, which challenged the idea that the people have no political existence outside of Parliament and the concept of ‘virtual representation’. The legitimacy of London Corresponding Society popular assemblies and petitions were debated in parliament and print culture in 1795 and 1796. In one interpretation of the English constitution, revealed by these debates, the people as a whole have no political existence whatsoever. London Corresponding Society popular assemblies challenge this view, and John Thelwall, too, represents a commitment to the importance of popular assembly in giving the people a voice and political existence. This commitment is explored via a discussion of his conflict with William Godwin, who argues that reason cannot be exercised in crowded assemblies. This conflict involves reflection on how texts are received and the importance of the situation of reading.

Keywords:   John Thelwall, William Godwin, London Corresponding Society, popular assembly, virtual representation, petitions

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