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The Friends of Liberty

The Friends of Liberty

The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution

Albert Goodwin

ISBN 9780674323391

Publication date: 05/23/1979

This book is the first comprehensive study tracing the origins and growth of English radicalism from the time of John Wilkes’s defiant fight for the rights of parliamentary electors to the final suppression of radical societies in 1799. It spans the age of revolution in England as the revolution absorbed reverberations from the American colonies and France, and was sometimes diverted by happenings in Scotland and Ireland.

“The Friends of Liberty” was the name English reformers took under George Ill's reign as they fought aristocratic rule and imperial domination within the English empire and abroad. They supported universal manhood suffrage, annual parliaments, social justice, the right of association, and they fought government suppression. At the height of their activity they were attacked as Jacobins, but the unfair denigration only hastened the beginnings of working class political consciousness and the formation of English conservatism.

Albert Goodwin contributes greatly to a profound understanding of the origins of popular radicalism in three ways. He reifies radicalism in urban areas beyond London—in the provincial cities of Manchester, Sheffield, Norwich, Birmingham, Derby, and Leicester. He places radicalism into a continental context. Finally, he traces radical thought from its seventeenth-century origins, through metropolitan Wilkite radicalism, Painite republicanism, and to Godwinian and Spencerian utopianism.


  • Original, incisive, and elegantly written, The Friends of Liberty puts English radicalism in a British and European setting. It is a major contribution to the debate about radicalism and reform in the age of the French Revolution.

    —John Brewer

Book Details

  • 576 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press