The ‘Spirit of Liberal Reform’: representation, slavery and constitutional liberty in the Glasgow Advertiser, 1789-94

Benchimol, A. (2020) The ‘Spirit of Liberal Reform’: representation, slavery and constitutional liberty in the Glasgow Advertiser, 1789-94. Scottish Historical Review, 99(1), pp. 51-84. (doi: 10.3366/shr.2020.0434)

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The period from 1789 to 1794 in Britain witnessed both an accelerated momentum for reform movements as well as a crisis point for the realisation of their aims, in part through widespread official panic about the domestic appropriation of notions of political liberty associated with the French Revolution. In Scotland, the trajectory for political reform reached back before these crisis years through the movement to make the administration and representation of the nation's expanding cities more transparent and accountable to an ascendant commercial class. The burgh reform movement, like the campaign to abolish the slave trade and the movement for parliamentary reform in the early 1790s, took advantage of periodical print as a principal vehicle for the dissemination of its key legislative aims. The essay examines John Mennons's Glasgow Advertiser (1783–1801) as an important case study for how this Scottish public sphere projected these three temporally and ideologically overlapping reform campaigns during a compressed and concentrated period of political volatility, focusing in particular on the newspaper's attempts ‘to maintain a posture of strict independence in the face of sharply polarizing opinions and official harassment’, as Bob Harris argued. The essay maps the trajectory of these three reform movements in the Advertiser's pages, and details how its column inches during the 1792–4 crisis years reflected a commitment to presenting key issues around parliamentary reform to meet a new demand for constitutional information amongst the west of Scotland's labouring classes, whilst continuing to maintain its pages as a platform for the ideological concerns (and manifest anxieties) of the region's propertied readers. What resulted was a unique Scottish periodical space that reconstructed binary debates on the nature of the British constitution—sometimes in items directly juxtaposed on its pages—emerging from increasingly segregated spatial contexts within the Scottish public sphere.

Item Type:Articles
Keywords:Scottish newspaper press, John Mennons, French Revolution, Burgh Reform, slave trade, R. B. Sheridan, Scottish Association of the Friends of the People, Glasgow Constitutional Association.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Benchimol, Dr Alex
Authors: Benchimol, A.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN1187 Scotland
N Fine Arts > NE Print media
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Research Group:Scottish Romanticism Research Group
Journal Name:Scottish Historical Review
Journal Abbr.:SHR
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press
ISSN (Online):1750-0222
Published Online:01 April 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © The Scottish Historical Review Trust 2020
First Published:First published in Scottish Historical Review 99(1):51-84
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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