Church, Chapel and Party: Religious Dissent and Political Modernization in Nineteenth-Century England (Review)

Document Type

Book Review

Publication Date

Winter 2009


The age of modern party politics began just before Victoria's reign. The expansion of the electorate by the 1832 Reform Act forced politicians to rebuild their authority on a wider, more popular basis, craft party manifestoes, and assemble party machinery to register and motivate voters. The change in party labels—Conservative instead of Tory and Liberal instead of Whig—indicated that this new politics was based on commitment to contrasting principles rather than differing alliances to patronage. The essential contention of Richard D. Floyd's new work is that historians have underestimated the role that religious controversy played in this early formation of party alignments. By carefully analyzing poll books of five diverse boroughs and by evaluating the parliamentary voting patterns of the MPs from those boroughs over the course of the 1830s and 1840s, Floyd demonstrates a consistently strong pattern of nonconformist support for Liberal party candidates, and a reciprocal commitment of Liberal MPs to dissenters' interests. His analysis also reveals a nearly equal and opposite connection between defenders of the Established Church and the Conservative party. This firm pattern, Floyd argues, was the bedrock of popular party politics in the age of its birth.

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