Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. R.A. Rempel
In 1873 there were in Great Britain over ninety republican clubs, together with another fifty societies that were republican in sentiment if not in name. Since there is no published book or article containing that information, these are significant historical facts of which very few people are aware. The following dissertation constitutes the very first synthesis of Victorian republicanism at both the metropolitan and provincial levels, and is an attempt to fill a gaping hole in British historical scholarship.
The Victorian republicans had a sound native intellectual traditions on which to draw, and they were inspired further by foreign examples. Some British republicans would have been happy to duplicate the American system, but by 1870, an increasing number were becoming disillusioned with the United States. It was startlingly evident to republicans that simple political republicanism had done little to better the lot of the American working man. An oppressor was still an oppressor whether he be a capitalist or a landed aristocrat. Thus, the men who looked forward to a truly egalitarian society turned to France. But, the French opportunity of 1870 was squandered by selfish politicians, and the resolute Parisian workmen established their own commune. The result was a civil war between the republicans themselves hardly a shining example for the rest of the world.
As if trying to emulate their French bretheren, the British republicans were constantly quarrelling amongst themselves. London republicanism, being the most diverse, inevitably experienced the greatest difficulties. By the end of 1872, a working relationship had been painfully achieved, only to be immediately offset by a feud with the republicans of Sheffield. British republicanism was therefore hampered not only by ideological but also regional rivalry. For the most part, republicanism in the provinces developed independently of the capital, but on a national level, the movement would certainly have been stronger had London provided strong unified leadership. Three national conferences took place between December 1872 and September 1873, but they were organised by two different groups and only a few clubs sent delegates to each event.
Disappointment with foreign experiments, disunity within the movement itself, and the failure to win over substantial numbers of the middle classes, all contributed to the decline of British republicanism in the mid-1870's. But equally important was the return of a Conservative government in 1874 and the establishement of a propaganda campaign which linked the Monarchy with a strong nation and empire. This ideology was reinforced, moreover, by the longevity of Queen Victoria.
By the late 'seventies, most social republicans had turned to socialism. But, political republicanism, spearheaded by die-hard individualists and secularists, persisted well into the 'eighties. The reason for this was that socialism could not win over a majority of workers until the generation that had been socialised with the middle class values of self-help and independence, which socialism seemed to deny, was replaced. Once that process was complete, the way was clear for a socialist victory. Republicanism had become an outmoded demonology belonging to a bygone era. Yet, republican ideals did not die out. Rather, they became dormant, waiting for those opportune moments to temporarily re-emerge.
Smith, Michael Pearson, "Republicanism in Victorian Britain" (1979). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 678.