The Little Circle and Manchester Politics, 1812-46

  • David Knott

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis argues that a group of eleven reformers who worked and lived in Manchester, known throughout this study as the Little Circle, presented a unique understanding of how middle-class public opinion should be formulated and how it should respond to various political issues between 1812 and 1846. Using a range of sources including newspapers, personal papers and administrative records, this thesis furthers our understanding of how a group of Nonconformists and self-described middle-class and liberal reformers attempted to effect political change in Manchester. Historians of extra-parliamentary politics during the early nineteenth century have predominantly focused on working-class radical enterprises that sought to influence political change through mass popular political participation. The way the members of the Circle reacted to the events of Peterloo (1819) informed the way they thought extra-parliamentary politics should be managed and conducted. Unlike the working-class radicals who relied on mass popular participation and the use of large outdoor meetings, this thesis shows that the members of the Little Circle utilised forums such as the press and indoor public meetings to express their political voice. Importantly, this thesis argues that the use of the press and indoor public meetings were forums through which the Circle believed a small and rational public, that was composed of middle-class men, could successfully represent the political interests of their fellow townsmen. Public opinion, from the Circle’s perspective, had to reflect the intelligent and rational segments of their community. As this thesis argues, the use of indoor public meetings in particular was a defining characteristic of how middle-class public opinion was generated in Manchester. While the use of small indoor public meetings worked effectively in Manchester in the period leading up to the passage of the 1832 Reform Act, these tactics were challenged in the late 1830s and 1840s. Additionally, this thesis argues that after 1832, when Manchester was enfranchised and granted two MPs, the locus for the formation of middle-class public opinion shifted to partisan forums or those necessitating more formalised and permanent organisational structures, as in the case of single-issue campaigns. In this sense, this study highlights that there was an important transition in the way middle-class reformers such as the Circle approached and thought about ways in which extra-parliamentary politics should now be directed.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHannah Barker (Supervisor)

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