London Corresponding Society
was a moderate-radical body concentrating on reform of the Parliament of Great Britain
in the 1790s.
The London Corresponding Society (LCS) was a corresponding society founded on January 25, 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. Shortly after its formation it 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
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 into 1795
there were a number of large meetings, including one near Copenhagen House
attended by around 100,000 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
In March 1796 leading LCS men John Binns and John Gale Jones were arrested. Into 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)
Selections From The Papers Of The London Corresponding Society
- two mathematical instrument makers
, Cambridge University Press 1983, page xix.)
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.