Radicalism in nineteenth-century Britain was a political project with a number of programmes, differing for the most part only in detail, presentation and appeal. Important as these differences were, there was an underlying commitment to the essential features of British political culture. Whether they wished to go back to the roots (the literal meaning of radicalism) or to return to first principles (which might suggest a complete rejection of the past), radicals sought almost without exception to extend and redefine, not to challenge and subvert, the proud political heritage of constitutional rights and parliamentary government. Throughout the period under study, this ‘constitutionalist idiom’ — and the particular history it embodied — served to identify and distinguish competing political groups.1 Conservatives imbued the constitution with the force of established law and divine providence: as upheld in the Glorious Revolution and the Act of Settlement, it had delivered England from popery, poverty and disorder.
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