London Corresponding Society
London Corresponding Society was a moderate-radical body concentrating on reform of the Parliament of Great Britain, founded on 25 January 1792. The creators of the group were John Frost (1750-1842), an attorney, and Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker and metropolitan Radical. The aim of the society was parliamentary reform, especially the expansion of the representation of working class people.
In common with the other corresponding societies its membership was predominantly drawn from artisans and working men: early members included Joseph Gerrald, Francis Place, Edward Marcus Despard, Maurice Margarot and Olaudah Equiano. The London Corresponding Society had affiliates in Manchester, Norwich, Sheffield and Stockport.
The society irritated the establishment with its opposition to the wars with France and was deeply infiltrated by spies. A British Convention of reform group leaders in Edinburgh organised by the Scottish Friends of the People society in October 1793 was broken up and a number of men were arrested and tried for sedition. The LCS representatives, Gerrald and Maragot, were sentenced to fourteen years transportation. John Frost received only six months for his sedition. Undaunted, the remaining LCS leaders met with other reformist groups, including the Society for Constitutional Information, in 1794 to discuss a further national convention as well as producing a large number of pamphlets and periodicals.
Repression and decline
In May 1794 the government took more action: certain of the society leaders were arrested and Hardy, John Thelwall and John Horne Tooke were tried for treason in October, but were acquitted. The society was not quietened by these efforts and in 1795 there were a number of public meetings, including one near Copenhagen House attended by a few thousand people. Also King George III's carriage was stoned as he went to open parliament. The government responded with the so-called Two Acts - an extension of the treason laws with the Treasonable Practices Act and also the repressive Seditious Meetings Act 1795; detention without trial had already been in force since 1794 when habeas corpus was suspended.
In March 1796 leading LCS men John Binns and John Gale Jones were arrested. In 1798 the society became increasingly split and in 1799 it and several other radical groups were declared illegal under the Corresponding Societies Act. The LCS effectively ended then, although it maintained a vague, informal existence for a little time after. But the ideas had an influence on the 19th century Reform Bills and on Chartism.
Members were mostly small craftsmen, people whose jobs were secure even when their politics were unpopular. Three hundred and forty-seven listed members included:
- forty-three shoemakers
- twenty-seven weavers
- twenty-four tailors
- nineteen in the watch trade (specifically, two watch case makers, a watch face painter, a watch spring maker, ten watchmakers, a clock case maker and four clock makers)
- two mathematical instrument makers
Many of the leading members were Deists, those who were against organized religion and believed that nature and reason were the only way to experience God.
- Arnold-Bake, Charles (1996) The Companion to British History (2nd ed.) Routledge, London, pp. 364-365 ISBN 0-415-26016-7 ;
- I. R. Christie, Stress and Stability in Late Eighteenth-Century Britain. Reflections on the British Avoidance of Revolution (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 50-51.
- Selections From The Papers Of The London Corresponding Society, Cambridge University Press 1983, page xix