18th C politics and Propaganda.


The argument (and, note, an arg that we are going to challenge in this lecture) that we have run so far is that

propaganda is a strategy of persuasion to a target population –

perhaps with core and periphery aspects –

seeking to inculcate into the population,

a positive image as well as a set of points (‘facts’) and beliefs

about a cause or group usually political or economic in character.


However, we have seen that prop is typically deployed as the function of a unitary voice (this OR that party)


...to a weakened often non-rational audience i.e. those who have suffered from socio-political or economic trauma and are susceptible to less than benign influences of  siren anti-democratic voices


or to an audience made non-rational by the acquisitive temper of the modern consumerist psyche. (i.e. victims of advertising)


Whichever, propaganda seems to rest on a combination of unitary force and its audience. Inasmuch as the relation of power existing here is that of the dominant irresistible voice and the accepting receptive weaker mind we have the relation between propaganda and the syringe model of communications. Mass society theory posits the idea of the average mass man into who ears is dripped the persuasive tones of a singular ‘average’ message – one size fits all.


This approach to power is that of the A gets B to do what he would not otherwise do variety as well as being of the centre/periphery kind. (see my lecture nottes from 4 weeks ago on Prop and power)


BUT…what if we were to take a rather more distributed, more post-structural theory of power – perhaps something like the idea of power that Foucault developed.


Power as multiple and as an analytics rather than a theory  - that is to say, as a dynamic variable set of lines of force, utterance, statement, action that intertwine and bifurcate from all the other lines.


Seeing power as a kaleidoscope which can stabilise around certain typifying features and issues only to break up into varied disputes. In other words there is no centre to power. Yet it is always-already underway and power is not a definite act but an effect of the totality of lines of force. It is a variable image.


And this might bring us to a case study for today – that of 18th C english politics and the propaganda and pamphleteering that was used as a means of circulating arguments, debate and disputations or behalf of one side of the other. And such words needed authors and so it was that political factions and grouping within parliament and within the country employed the pens of the greatest writers of the Augustan age. Names we should note from the time of the monarchy of William and Mary through Queen Anne to the three Georges are Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Addison and Steele, Pope, Congreve and many others.


But though undoubtedly they were brilliant essayists in political  and religious causes of the day, they were by these terms propagandists but under complex highly varying religio-political and monarchical circumstances.


Our model of Propaganda so far has been one of a passivised audience looking to be saved, but the world of 18th C propaganda is very different.



In the 18th C there were multiple forms of publication...

A chapbook is a pocket-sized booklet. The term chap-book was a variety of ephemera (disposable printed material), popular or folk literature. It includes many kinds of printed material such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children's literature and almanacs. Where there were illustrations, they would be popular prints. The term is derived from chapmen chap coming from the Old English céap meaning "deal, barter, business", a variety of peddler, who circulated such literature as part of their stock

Chapbooks were an important medium for the dissemination of popular culture to the common people, especially in rural areas. They were a medium of entertainment, information and (generally unreliable) history. They are now valued as a record of popular culture, preserving cultural artifacts that may not survive in any other form.

Chapbooks were priced for sales to workers, although their market was not limited to the working classes. Broadside ballads were sold for a halfpenny, or a few pence. Prices of chapbooks were from 2d. to 6d., when agricultural labourers wages were 12d. per day. The literacy rate in England in the 1640s was around 30% for males and rose to 60% in the mid-18th century (see Education in the Age of Enlightenment). Many working people were readers, if not writers, and pre-industrial working patterns provided periods during which they could read. Chapbooks were undoubtedly used for reading to family groups or groups in alehouses.

They even contributed to the development of literacy. Francis Kirkman, the author and publisher, wrote about how they fired his imagination and his love of books.

Ballad sheets: sheets with words of songs celebrating or mocking political or criminal events, sold on street corners for 1/2d or less. See The Frisky Girls of London (p.312)

Newspapers that reported on daily or weekly periodicals) events. These included the official press i.e. The Times, The Guardian as well as the radical press such as the Poor Man’s  Guardian.

Magazines: periodicals that were more niche in their topics e.g. The Lady.

Other terms used: Journal, Register, Miscellany, Almanacs. The latter were important as they played into the tendency of the poorer public to have  strange mystical beliefs about time and the prediction of events and the meaning of the stars and the zodiac. Other almanacs simply set out the order of events in say politics across the year.


The rough but complicated world of 18th C politics


Consider a world of rough politics fought out in a turbulent parliament and Westminster lacking clear party groupings but where even the two loose grouping of whigs and tories were each riven by factions and further they were split by feeling and attitude towards the key issues of the day:


a) the nature of the source of monarchical power; b) church politics, whether high or low, or dissenting; c) attitudes to the jacobite cause which could be used to as a stick to beat sympathisers inasmuch as it could d) suggest a sympathy to Catholicism and thus threaten the post 1688 ‘Glorious revolution’ settlement of the constitution of England under a protestant monarchy.


What I want to discuss is an alternative view of propaganda as a contestable practice of claim and counter-claim as a form of political agonistics against a backdrop of a set of always moving political ‘tectonic’ plates. Nothing was stable.


Background: Tories have always appealed to the natural order of things and of tradition. This was especially so in the areas of religion and monarchy. The English Civil War in the 1640s had destroyed this idea by causing a Catholic Monarch to be in armed dispute with Parliament and protestant religion. The very structure of the English state with all its evolved traditions were being broken, and with it the Tory sense of good government, of a King by inheritance and by the authority of God, expressing the religion of his people, and of the continuity of order in the nation.

After the Civil war and the republic under Cromwell that followed, Monarchy was restored with Charles II. Being childless there was a threat that after his death, his brother James, a Catholic, would become King. Tories, being now (like the whigs) solidly Anglican Protestants, were torn between their tradition of principled support for a rightful inheritor of the throne (as James was) and the unacceptable matter of a Catholic monarch. James short reign in 1688 was fated by his promotion of Catholics to positions of power.

James was quickly driven out in a bloodless coup by both whigs and tories inviting William of Orange (protestant dutch), the husband of James eldest daughter, Mary (a good protestant), to become King of England. (This episode was the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688.) With this rather dodgy arrangement, tories could pretend that the protestant succession had been saved, and the order of tradition, monarchy, nation and state preserved. After William, his daughter, dully protestant Anne, came to the throne in 1702. She was supportive of the Tory administration of Robert Harley, and the mercurial Henry St John, Lord Bolingbroke. But she was childless and her successor was George, Elector of Hanover (Germany). (George was a very distant relative of Anne, whose right to the English throne had been arranged by parliament in 1701 as a pre-emptive manoever against a future Catholic monarch.) Thus it was that in effect a monarch was appointed by parliament rather than by some tory ideal of ‘natural’ (by direct line/birth) successor ordained by God. Again the tory sense of the proper order of things was undermined. George I and II were supportive of the whig interest and ministers and thus ensured the dominance of whig politics until the 1760s.


Whig v Tory.

18th century politics can be divided into two broad factions – whig and tory. But within and between these can be found many quarrelsome factions who fought for political influence over the populace, and power over, or in government. Roughly speaking, in Georgian England, (the reigns of George I, II, III after the death of Queen Anne in 1714) the Whigs dominated government and enjoyed the support of the Monarch until George III’s reign in the late 1760s. Whig in this time refers to a political faction and a set of attitudes towards certain issues, notably things like religious toleration, individual freedom and so forth, where whig was seen as being the Court party who were close to the Monarch and more generally sympathetic to the interests of the City, finance, and the importance of liberty of the individual.

Tories on the other hand, being out of Office (government) for so long across the 18th century, felt alien from favour at Court and saw themselves as aligned with the interests of the country. This condition of exile nurtured resentment against government, London, power, the threat of social, religious, and political change. The ‘country’ symbolised for the Tory, not just being anti-court and anti-cosmopolitan, but also an organic sense of belonging to the land. A sense of the uncorruptable Englishman. The authenticity of roots as opposed to the rootless life of city-based dodgy-dealing politics. This sense of toryism remained with its successor, the Conservative party. The Tory of the early 18th C damned politicks and its knavish tricks because its underlying and spreading corruption. That is to say, the conniving politics of the whigs who increasingly more overtly, especially under the premiership of Robert Walpole, saw politics not as a means of to do right by god and the country but, to manage power on a largely secular basis of manoeuvrings and manipulation by any means necessary.

For the historian W A Speck, Walpole’s time after the death of Queen Anne was a tie of power politics that caused a pronounced emphasis upon the division not of whig and tory but of court an country factions. The dominant George Ist appointed Junto of the leading whig Lords and Walpole in the Commons as PM from 1720 until 1742 were the centre of a system of Govt (and because the govt was formally appointed by the monarch) patronage. Govt since the Glorious Rev had expanded and thus had patronage…which the country factions – predominantly tories saw as corruption and unbalancing of the separation of power as between Monarch, lords and commons – i.e. too much power in the hands of the court. But even though tories had no truck with the unorthodox not least in religion i.e. dissenting ministers who did not accept all the articles of faith of the Church of England, nonetheless, when it came to Walpole admin that played power politics and patronage games without fearing the wrath of God, both Tory and whig country factions were joined in opposing Walpole..but now politics did not seek its justifications in Christian principle but in secular pragmatism.

  England perhaps until mid-century was deeply riven by faction, religion, and tendency as between court and country, power, and duty, and increasingly god and mammon where Walpole conferred privileges upon the leading city corporations that would then arrange serious loans to the nation to prosecute Marlborough’s wars. He created a national debt but of course manipulated the idea of patriotism and the betrayal of the Revolution by Country Tories to provide support for his fiscal policies. However, on some matters the writers of the day came together and the main cause was upon a fantasy of the tripartite idea of the mixed monarchy.

Writers as diverse as Swift, Trenchard, Addison, Defoe by turns celebrate, nay propagandised the wonders of the constitution: Asherly, 1727 says: “tis the Britannic constitution that give this kingdom its lustre above other nations…it equally advances the greatness and power of the crown at the same time as it secure Britons their private property, freedome and liberty….”

It took Swift in his famous Gulliver’s Travels to sour things a little on behalf of the Tory country approach. Swift in his search for preferment  (explain) had got fairly close to the Junto Whigs but each time they had refused to give him a ticket out of his parish of Laracor, perhaps suspected that he was capable of writing the most marvellous malice and would turn it on the whig interest in a trice…which upon their refusal to help out of the bogs of Ireland, he assuredly did. And this point to one odd thing about propagandists across the ages, they are not always necessarily committed to the cause of their masters out of principle. But sometimes out of resentment. Whichever, Swift uses the praising of the British Constitution to attack whig/court corruption. In GT he has Gulliver whiggishly lecture the King of Brobdingnag about the marvels of the Brit Const but, he has the King produce perceptive questions showing how the practice has fallen short of the ideal by its distortion of the checks and balances of the system thereby producing conditions for overweening power and corruption in court hands...and thereby Swift is using the medium of a bestselling satire/novel to campaign on behalf of the Tory/Country cause.

So the two main interests divided on the meaning of the british constitution and what powers it gave to its key players. In terms of Whig propagandists they at once insisted upon the balance of the constitution being maintained by the fact that monarchy was agreed by contractual agreement. And not by divine providence – the Divine Right of Kings. This was a revitalisation by Defoe and Addison and others of Lockean doctrines…but written in a way that downplayed the implication that if a monarch broke the contract, they could be deposed. Defoe and others emphasised Locke’s arguments about contract leading to the creation of a state in which man rights of life liberty and property were protected…by the state. This played to the whiggist/Walpolean endorsement of a centralising state apparataus..and of course opposed the tory/country fear of over-large govt.

In the case of Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, he is in the employ of Walpole and pumps out Whig propaganda especially as a spin doctor, if by this we mean someone who manipulates or even invents stories to gain immediate public reaction. In his Journal of the Plague Year which across its narrative seems to suggest some similarities between  how the then French  plague could be brought to Britain unless there was strong govt action i.e. Walpole’s proposal to have a Quarantine Act (1720) Defore writes the piece to impress the nation with the idea of a strong govt. Overall however, he spent his life advocating whig ideas of men of property rather than old trad vested interests that was at the heart of Tory/Country ideas.

For their part Tory propagandists as was their wont, appealed to a naturalistic root of rights in the idea of an ancient constitution. Trenchard, and Gordon (Cato letters) and Bolingbroke argued that Britain had once had an ancient division of the ruling powers of lords, commons and monarch that every so often got usurped and the building up of monarchical powers, not the least of which was the emergence of a standing army under the whig govt, was a threat to the power balance. Soldiers and placemen (by patronage) could corrupt the independence of parliament Thus in their pamphlets and papers tory propagandists cavilled at reduction of such powers and the reduction of the standing army.

What we can see here is yet another dimension typical of propagandism which is the use of mythologies or the true constitution which needs to be saved from its gravediggers. We must put back the true nation etc etc. Each side offering their version of patriotic discourse.


The Sacheverell issue: Dr Sacheverll a noted firebrand high church clergyman gave an incendiary speech to the london mayor and corporation at St Paul’s that uncompromisingly damned the whigs and the whiggist notion of the constitution. He raged at this audience suggesting that the Whig Junto had bewitched Queen Anne making her a creature of their own power. His worst offense was to directly attack the whig idea that agreement and contract was the basis of the relation between people, state and monarch because this attacked the basis upon which the protestant settlement of 1701 and indeed the whig led  sending for William and Mary  that saved the constitution from popery and jacobitism. It did seem to infer that jacobitism was justifiable. And the clear crit of the junto minister infuriated them especially when Sacheverell published his sermon and it sold 40, 000 copies in a few days.

Sacheverell was impeached and show trial arranged. Chritopher Wren would build the scaffolding or the trial and whole nation  would be witness to his arraignment. A show down with the Tories was in flow..and the tories for their part had their champion who would be helped by Sir Simon Harcourt and  Francis Atterbury distinguished lawyer and cleric respectively. This was a battle between church and whiggist state and the pamphleteers lined up accordingly. Whigs were cast as republicans  and atheists; tories as treasonous to the post-revolution constitution. Tories widened the issues to take in their objection to  dissenters against whom Sacheverll had fulminated. Tories were devoted to the C of E and  any who were not should be able to assume public office – the whigs insisted on tolerance and therefore were seem as not defenders of the faith and thus not in line with the very god appointed person of the queen. This issues perhaps more than most was the subject of propaganda and pamphlets galore as it went to very heart of the dispute between tories and whigs and moreover between court and country and the debate over the old corruption and godlessness of  the nascent liberal mind and outlook.


Back to the Press and politics:

It is clear that life in Britain was very divided by politics, religion, monarchy, and sentiment. There was much to argue about and writers did their work paid for by supporters of various factions. The press then was heavily dependent upon political patronage – newspapers and journalists in the pay of these political interests. Individual newspapers circulated the ideas and opinions of individual political factions and their sometimes charismatic leaders. One could not report what was happening in Parliament, so again journalists needed good relations with Ministers and parliamentarians to tell them what was going on. Some of the very greatest English writers of the early 18th century were strongly associated with certain political factions, notably Jonathan Swift (whig, later Tory) (he wrote‘Gullivers Travels’– a political satire).

 A broad generalisation is that many news-sheets of the 18thC acted as an agency of particular political opinions. However, there were of course many kinds of newspapers, and lots of papers circulating in the cities were little more than gossip sheets about the doings of local people.


Control: Direct and Indirect.

Although the press had been in the pay of politics, politics in the form of the government of the day were always suspicious of the power of the press when it could generate hue and cry about an issue and encourage anti-governmental sympathies. On the one hand politicians subsidised the press and on the other they were motivated when in power, to create legislation which could in various ways censor and control the press.