Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797

An English radical, whose advocacy of equal rights for women and men attracted considerable attention in her lifetime, Wollstonecraft has subsequently acquired a reputation as the pre-eminent feminist polemicist of her day. Wollstonecraft was born on 27 April 1759 in Spitalfields, London, the second of seven children of Edward John Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Dixon. Her […]

Viscount Palmerston (Henry John Temple), 1784-1865

If we date the modern Liberal Party from the 1859 meeting in Willis’ Tea Rooms, we must accord Palmerston the honour of being the first Liberal Prime Minister, though he would have thought himself the Queen’s minister and the nation’s leader rather than a party’s. In truth, he was more the last of the old […]

Earl of Aberdeen (George Hamilton-Gordon), 1784-1860

Lord Aberdeen was the Prime Minister who first brought together the coalition of Whigs, Peelites and Radicals which later became the Liberal Party. He is perhaps best known for being premier at the time of the Crimean War. After his death several copies of a text were found which seemed to indicate that he felt […]

Viscount Melbourne (William Lamb), 1779-1848

Right from his London birth on 15 March 1779, at Melbourne House in Piccadilly, William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne, was at the centre of Whig social circles. The second son of Peniston Lamb, first Viscount Melbourne, he followed a normal early life for sons of Whig magnates Eton, Cambridge University, and education for a legal […]

Earl Grey (Charles Grey), 1764-1845

Charles Grey, second Earl Grey, Viscount Howick and Baron Grey, was the Prime Minister who oversaw the Great Reform Act of 1832, which overhauled the country’s parliamentary electoral system and was the culmination of two years of intense political crisis. Born on 13 March 1764, at Fallodon in Northumberland, his youth was spent in a […]

Charles James Fox, 1749-1806

Charles James Fox was born in London on 24 January 1749. His family was firmly placed within the political establishment, with his mother being the great-granddaughter of Charles II and his father having faithfully served Walpole for many years. From his early years, Fox mixed both a willingness and aptitude for hard work with periods […]

Jeremy Bentham, 1745-1832

Jeremy Bentham, the English moral philosopher, jurist, social reformer, political economist and founding father of modern utilitarianism was born in London on 15 February 1748. His ambitious father, also a lawyer, had plans for young Jeremy to become Lord Chancellor of England, not only making his name but also his fortune in the process. Despite […]

Joseph Hume, 1777-1855

Joseph Hume was a Scottish radical who devoted his political career to championing the principles of retrenchment. He was born near Montrose, Forfarshire in January 1777, the first son of James Hume. Hume’s father, master of a small fishing ship, died when he was nine and the family was forced to fall back on the […]

Thomas Paine, 1737-1809

Thomas Paine was born on 29 January 1737 at Thetford in Norfolk and was educated at the local grammar school. His father was a stay-maker, and this was Paine’s first occupation. In 1759, he married Mary Lambert, the daughter of a customs officer, but she died within a few months. This may have determined him […]

David Ricardo, 1772-1823

Less well-known than Adam Smith, Ricardo is nevertheless his intellectual and philosophical equal. He is credited alongside Smith with founding the classical school of economics. Inspired by Smith and driven by his friend, James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill), Ricardo provides an historical bridge between the economic and political liberals, although his own writings […]

Adam Smith, 1723-1790

Adam Smith did for economic liberalism what John Locke had done for political liberalism, namely, to lay the philosophical foundations on which others would build a distinctive liberal tradition. Smith’s ideas, however, have permeated the western political tradition to the extent where not only liberals but also other contemporary schools of thought claim to be […]

Impact of the French and American Revolutions

The French Revolution had important consequences for every major country in Europe. What was particularly remarkable about the impact of the French Revolution on Britain was its profound and abiding influence on the ideological climate and its impact on the development of politics inside and outside parliament.

Journal articles


Defender of Liberties: Charles James Fox

2006 saw the bicentary of the death of the Whig leader Charles James Fox. A proponent of the supremacy of Parliament, the freedom of the press and the rights and civil liberties of the people, and a believer in reform, rationalism and progress, rather than repression, the ideas he defended particularly over the challenge of the state to the liberties of the individual in time of war are as relevant to our own times as to those of the Britain of 200 years ago.

Thomas Paine and the radical liberal tradition

To coincide with the publication of the special issue of the Journal of Liberal History on Liberalism and the Left (summer 2010), we are delighted to welcome Prof Edward Royle and Dr Edward Vallance to the History Group for an evening focusing on the life, works and influence of Thomas Paine.

In the two centuries since Paine’s death, his works and reputation have been both vilified and appropriated by individuals and movements from across the political spectrum. His name has become a touchstone of left-wing and liberal thought, celebrated for the courage of his political vision, even as the specific context of his writings has too often been disregarded. We invite our speakers to consider the continued resonance of Paine’s thought and to assess his relevance for radical and liberal activists today.

Speakers: Edward Royle, Emeritus Professor, University of York and author of many works on 18th and 19th century history including Revolutionary Britannia? Reflections on the Threats of Revolution in Britain, 17891848 and Robert Owen and the Commencement of the Millennium: A Study of the Harmony Community; Dr Edward Vallance, University of Roehampton and author of A Radical History of Britain: Visionaries, Rebels and Revolutionaries the Men and Women who fought for our Freedom and The Glorious Revolution: 1688 Britains Fight for Liberty. Chair: Dr Richard Grayson, Head of Politics, Goldsmiths College, guest editor of the Liberalism and the Left special issue of the Journal and co- editor of After the Crash: Reinventing the Left in Britain and Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century.