The Search for God and Knowledge: Rational Dissenters and the Transformation of English Radicalism in the Age of Revolution Open Access

Chang, Jane Jiyoung (2016)

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The French Revolution has often been identified as the pivotal point in European history for the transformation of radicalism characterized by modern democratic values. Although works such as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and Thomas Paine's Rights of Man propounded the ideas of liberty and democracy, the emergence of British radicalism dated back earlier to the American Revolution. Given the extensive scholarship that primarily analyzes British radicalism from a political standpoint during these two revolutions, this thesis seeks to trace the development of British radicalism prior to 1789 through a small, underappreciated group: the Rational Dissenters. With their freedoms curtailed by the Test and Corporation Acts and subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Rational Dissenters sought to relieve their status as second-class citizens. Thus they focused initial efforts on the basis of religion. However, Parliament's policies towards the colonial crisis facilitated the creation of a new-found identity for the Rational Dissenters--one that merged their theology and politics. By examining three specific Rational Dissenters (Joseph Priestley, John Jebb, and George Walker), this thesis explores how the notion of an absolute independent will and individual interpretation of scripture derived from heterodox theology influenced their scientific/mathematical and political interests. This intersection translated into dissenting political culture, which had its beginnings in the 1770s in light of petitions calling for the repeal of subscription and supporting the American colonists. By 1780, Priestley, Jebb and Walker solidified a political philosophy and fostered a political culture that greatly contributed to the movements for parliamentary reform and abolition. Rather than acting as a subsidiary force, the Rational Dissenters had already set a framework for the radicalism of the 1790s from 1768-1789 through their active presence in the public sphere, which ranged from fast sermons, through scientific endeavors, to political societies.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Chapter 1: Scrutiny of Religious and Political Liberties during the American Revolution: Development of Dissenter Radicalism (1768-1781). 14

Chapter 2: Societies and Social Networks: A "holy alliance" between science, politics, and religion (1776-1789)..........43

Epilogue and Conclusion. 74

Bibliography. 91

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