Free Trade and Print Culture: Political Communication in Early Nineteenth-Century England

Henry Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article highlights the potency of traditional popular print culture as a form of political communication for one of the pioneering campaigns of the nineteenth century: the free trade agitation of the 1840s. Contributing to recent debates about Victorian political communication, it challenges the view that the spread of literacy and print replaced a more traditional, inclusive, hybrid style of communication. The use and adaptation of broadside culture that blurred literacy, orality and visuality proved to be a more effective means of communicating free trade to popular audiences than ‘modern’ methods of political communication such as official newspapers or mass propaganda. Joseph Livesey, the most successful free trade populariser, was able to bridge the gap between free trade and Chartism, by drawing on elements of radical print culture, while seeking to shift them onto a more respectable trajectory. Livesey and cheap free trade print culture anticipated the shift from popular radicalism to popular liberalism in political culture and popular politics that occurred after 1850.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-54
JournalCultural and Social History
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2017


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