Simon James Morgan
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The people’s champions
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The second chapter examines the projection of radical popular politicians as ‘people’s champions’, part of the characterisation of radical politics as an adversarial confrontation between the people and a corrupt state apparatus. Building on earlier studies of the ‘gentleman radical’, the chapter argues that ‘championing’ was a key part of the charismatic appeal of such men and women, drawing on contemporary fascination with a romanticised medievalism and the trope of the romantic Byronic hero. Champions were expected to stand up for the rights of the people against their oppressors, and were usually drawn from a higher social class than those whom they led. The chapter also explores the rhetoric of ‘martyrdom’ in political campaigns that were often subject to official repression and the imprisonment of leaders, and concludes with an investigation of the tactics of Anti-Corn Law League lecturers in 1839–40 in attempting to build popular enthusiasm for the cause in the agricultural districts by appealing to landless labourers over the heads of farmers and landlords, as revealed through the letter books of the Anti-Corn Law League.

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Celebrities, heroes and champions

Popular politicians in the age of reform, 1810–67

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