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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - Who were the people? From ‘Swinish Multitude’ to ‘Members Unlimited’ in the British world

21st February 2019, 17:30 to 18:30, Sheraton Park, Ustinov College, Professor Paul Pickering (Australian National University)


When the abusive appellation ‘Swinish Multitude’ was first coined by Edmund Burke in 1790 it provoked a sharp response: approbation from Tory politicians and commentators alarmed by potential advances of ‘the mob’, and outrage among some reformers including the redoubtable Tom Paine. Equally important were those radicals who embraced to term, albeit in a tone dripping with an admixture of irony and sarcasm, in pamphlets, poems, songs and images, often equating it with the idea of ‘the public’ and ‘the people’. At about the same time a handful of members of the nascent London Corresponding Society – ‘Tradesmen, Shopkeepers, and Mechanics’ – meet to discuss the question of whether or not they had the right to champion the cause of parliamentary reform. As E.P. Thompson famously and succinctly put it: ‘They decided they had’. Thereafter they opened their ranks to ‘Members Unlimited’. The course of their campaign writ large and the panicked resistance to it over the decades to follow is well-known. What is less understood is how the campaign – framed by the question of who were the people? – played out in Britain’s colonies of settlement, including those dealing with a heritage of convict transportation. This is far more than a footnote to a metropolitan narrative. An examination of the ranks of ‘Members Unlimited’, and the course of their campaigns for the rights enjoyed, theoretically at least, by free-born Britons, forces us to reframe our understanding of the course of British politics.

This lecture is free and open to all.

Details about Professor Paul Pickering

Location of Sheraton Park, Ustinov College (close to Clay Lane and the A167).

Contact for more information about this event.