History

Corruption and economical reform in Jamaica, 1783–91
Aaron Graham

Between 1781 and 1793 the British government embarked on a programme of what contemporaries called ‘economical reform’, which aimed to address problems of political and administrative corruption revealed by successive defeats in the American Revolutionary War. It triggered a process that would, arguably, root out entrenched or Old Corruption from the British political system by the mid-nineteenth century. The underlying factors for its success have been debated, and one of the suggestions is that the campaign was no mere bureaucratic exercise but involved a series of dialogues between popular demands, political practicalities and administrative realities that made for effective, long-term change. Focusing on a comparable process of economical reform undertaken at the same time but on a smaller scale in Jamaica during the 1780s, this chapter shines some much needed light on the experience of anticorruption initiatives in colonial settings, and contributes to the wider literature by reinforcing the importance of the interplay between political support and administrative direction. It argues that reforms in Jamaica lacking such support failed, but where that support existed, it had to be channelled in productive directions, since the political ideology – Old or Country Whig – that gave the movement its edge could work both for and against effective change. The experience of Jamaica, for all the differences from Britain in its society and economy, also shared some important similarities and helps to clarify what enabled and inhibited successful programmes of anticorruption reform at this critical juncture for the British imperial state.

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Economical reform and the regulation of the East India Company, 1765–84
Ben Gilding

The early development of the British Empire in India was decisively shaped by concerns for the domestic constitution, and, conversely, the East India Company was an important feature in debates on ‘economical reform’ in Britain. Studies of corruption in the East India Company have frequently focused on the allegations levelled against their overseas employees, dubbed ‘nabobs’, culminating in the spectacle of Warren Hastings’s impeachment trial. This chapter, however, uncovers the intersections between various forms of Old Corruption in the British state and those in the East India Company at a time when the Company was undergoing a metamorphosis from a private mercantile corporation into a quasi-independent imperial agency. Whereas Hastings’s impeachment took place after the passage of Pitt’s India Act of 1784, which settled the major contours of the relationship between the state and the Company until well into the nineteenth century, the corruption analysed in this chapter was intimately connected with the process of reform, and thereby had a far more significant impact on the development of the British Empire in India. In particular, the chapter argues that the legislative reforms imposed on the Company during the 1760s and 1770s, which aimed to curtail certain forms of corruption, inadvertently opened the door to many others, as the domestic and imperial became structurally entangled.

in The many lives of corruption
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The Scottish crisis and the Black Legend of the House of Stuart, 1650–2
Thomas Cogswell

Shortly after the execution of Charles I and the establishment of the new Free State, authors sympathetic to the republican regime began developing increasingly lurid tales not simply about the dead king, but also about his extended family. It highlighted the Stuarts’ political misrule and religious indifference, but it also advanced a remarkably detailed, and eye-catching, account of their sexual depravity. Charles preyed on court ladies; James was addicted to lithe young men; Anne of Denmark – not surprisingly – had a marked preference for Nordic males; Mary Queen and Scots was sexually voracious, just as her mother Mary of Guise had been. All paid a steep religious and political price for their unchecked libidos, for by 1649, God – these authors all argued – had marked the entire family was destruction. This systematic denunciation of the Stuarts in the early 1650s, furthermore, corresponded almost exactly with the Third Civil War in which the Free State faced off against the unholy alliance of Charles II and the Scottish Covenanters. The direct political relationship between the emerging Black Legend and the Republic becomes even clearer since it was partly written and almost certainly coordinated by John Milton, Marchmont Nedham and their protégés. This chapter examines this development of the rhetoric of an Accursed Family in the early 1650s, and in the process, it underscores the utility of Ann Hughes’ work of printed culture and sexual politics during the English Revolution.

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Westminster scandals and the problem of corruption, c. 1880–1914
Tom Crook

This chapter argues that the problem of corruption mutated in some key respects during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In particular, it argues for the development of a new and essentially vigilant culture of reform, based on the assumption that all public office-holders, of whatever party-political stripe, were: (a) inevitably sustained by – and at the very least exposed to – networks and relations of financial self-interest; (b) thus always and necessarily at risk of acting corruptly; and (c) as such, constantly exposed to a speculative, cynical watchfulness on the part of the press and their political opponents. In short, though few regarded corruption as inevitable, it was at this juncture that the culture of liberal-patrician reformism that had done away with Old Corruption was surpassed by one that took it for granted that corruption formed an ever present object of party-based agitation and public cynicism. One example of this, the chapter suggests, is the new premium placed on ‘conflicts of interest’ and ensuring that there were no grounds whatsoever even for public suspicion (the ‘rule of Caesar’s wife’). But the argument is also developed through an examination of three key scandals centred on the Westminster elites: the Hooley affair (1898), the Kynoch affair (1900–01) and the Marconi scandal (1912–13). Overall, it suggests that the turn of the twentieth century should be seen as a key moment of transition in the politics and politicisation of corruption in public life.

in The many lives of corruption
Militancy and mobilisation in London, 1643
David Como

This chapter examines the finances of the so-called ‘General Rising’, a scheme by militant parliamentarians to raise the populace for all-out war against the king in the summer of 1643. Drawing upon heretofore unknown manuscript accounts, this article dissects the General Rising from the ground up, attempting not only to understand who was responsible for driving the scheme forward, but also why the plan ultimately ended in failure. In the process, the chapter illuminates the composition of the coalition that came together behind this radical program, allows for an assessment the contribution of women to the mobilisation, and helps to make sense of the emergent divisions that were coming to destabilise parliament’s war effort.

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The case of Belfast and Glasgow, c. 1920–70
Peter Jones

Historians of municipal corruption have generally focused on particular ‘scandals’ and ‘affairs’. The corruption scandals that afflicted the Metropolitan Board of Works in the 1880s and the Poulson affair of the 1970s have been especially well served. Such scandals have been seen as a product of multiple factors, among them personal greed and lax morals, confused understandings of ‘corruption’ on the part of key players and insufficiently robust cultures of administrative accountability. Yet the attention lavished on high-profile scandals and the actions of individuals, or groups of individuals, has not been without some costs. In particular, it has obscured the existence of more endemic, durable and, in some respects, more mundane and communal forms of civic corruption, born of peculiarly fractious and divided urban societies. This chapter examines two cities where corruption assumed this more diffuse, socially embedded form: Belfast and Glasgow, from roughly the 1920s to the 1960s. Arguably, they were the most corrupt cities in the UK during the mid-twentieth century; but they certainly shed light on how social and political antagonisms – in both cases profoundly etched with sectarianism – as well as poverty and economic dislocation can undermine civic trust and probity and foster forms of corruption rooted in group loyalty and party faction. The chapter examines each city in turn, before discussing their commonalties and differences in the conclusion.

in The many lives of corruption
Malcolm Crook

Comparative analysis of the history of electoral corruption is practically non-existent. This chapter seeks to establish some of the coordinates around which such accounts might be written and does so by examining the trajectory of electoral reform in Britain, France and the United States, from roughly the late eighteenth century until the eve of the First World War. Above all, it aims to place Britain in the wider context of two countries which also witnessed expanding male suffrage and increasingly competitive elections. Such developments encouraged unprecedented efforts to influence the outcome of elections, thereby prompting reflection on the nature of canvassing and voting, which in turn led to attempts at regulation. New norms of behaviour, however, were by no means automatically endorsed, and it would be wrong to suggest a linear process of electoral purification. In each country reformist aspirations had to contend with deep-seated customary norms, while the meaning of ‘corrupt practices’ was widely contested. Nonetheless, it will be argued that by the early twentieth-century anticorruption legislation had eradicated the most egregious manifestations of electoral malpractice. Old norms of communal interaction and influence gradually gave way to a conception of voting based on the security of individual expression. Crucially, this comparative approach allows for a reappraisal of Britain’s peculiar route to mass democracy: although something of a laggard in other respects, here Britain led the way, and was the first to introduce a fully secure secret ballot and a non-partisan culture of electoral administration.

in The many lives of corruption
Alex Middleton

Existing work has shown that colonial sinecures and agencies were vital stays in the edifice of Old Corruption during the early nineteenth century; but historians have yet to explore in any detail contemporary arguments about the nature and consequences of corrupt rule in Britain’s overseas possessions. This chapter addresses this neglect by focusing on the criticism aimed at the Colonial Office during the period 1820 to 1850, when it administered Britain’s empire outside of India. This critique was not just a Radical project: Conservative and Liberal commentators were equally convinced of the dangers of allowing imperial corruption to continue unchecked. The chapter opens by exploring the various forms of corruption which contemporaries detected in operation under the Colonial Office. It then moves to discuss how these accusations of corrupt practice were linked to wider political arguments about the centralising ‘tyranny’ of the Colonial Office, and the social effects of irresponsible government over distance. The final part of the chapter asks how ‘the Office’ had come by the early 1850s to be seen as a model of administrative probity, worthy of emulation by other departments of government. In this way, the chapter restores the empire as a crucial site of the politics of Old Corruption. It speaks in equal measure to the increasingly rich historiography on the idea of ‘corruption’ and to the wider literature on politics and ideas in early Victorian Britain.

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The British way in corruption
Ian Cawood and Tom Crook

This final chapter summarises the key contributions that emerge from the volume as a whole and develops their significance in terms of how they might be used to rethink the bigger picture of how corruption has informed – and undermined – the making of a democratic state in modern Britain. In particular, it cautions against dominant social-scientific approaches and argues for the essentially political nature of corruption, both as an analytical category and as a problem of governance. It then turns to how the volume opens up new ways of engaging the historic peculiarities of the British case, arguing that existing social-scientific accounts fail to accord enough importance to the British Empire. Once we put the British Empire back into the picture, it suggests, we end up with a decidedly more complex, and above all critical, sense of Britain’s status as a historic pioneer of clean government. It ends by once more affirming the essentially political nature of corruption.

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Corruption and the police, c. 1750–1910
Francis Dodsworth

The chapter examines how the problem of corruption evolved within the context of police reform, from the mid-eighteenth century, amid the first systematic attempts to redefine the nature and organisation of policing in London, through to the birth and institutionalisation of the ‘new police’ during the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It seeks to historicise what became – and remains – an established mode of posing the problem of police corruption – that is, corruption as the result of the actions of a handful of malign, negligent officers on the one hand, and corruption as the result of more systemic defects of professional culture and institutional organisation on the other. This emerged during second half the eighteenth century, when it was argued that new forms of organisational ‘system’ would overcome the corruption and inefficiency of what became known as the ‘old police’. At this point, however, the problem was still entangled with more degenerative conceptions of corruption inherited from earlier centuries. Only with the advent of the ‘new police’ from the 1850s did the form of debate change decisively, coming to focus more clearly on problems of individual agency versus the corrupting aspects of institutionalisation itself and the effectiveness of organisational controls for preventing it. Ultimately, as a number of scandals from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods suggest, though the problem of corruption was now posed in recognisably modern, office-based terms, it could appear just as entrenched and opaque as it had been under the ‘old police’.

in The many lives of corruption