Political agitation, or ‘pressure from without’ as contemporaries called it, was a major component of nineteenth-century British political history and forms the fourth theme in this analysis of urban politics. Perhaps in some ways it represented the first stage of political commitment for a citizen since, as we have already seen, there was a marked tendency towards organization in the city and to join a political movement was often a man’s first political act. Participation in a political agitation in turn motivated activities in parish, municipal or electoral politics. Yet, in terms of institutions on which the political activity focused, pressure from without was the highest level of urban politics because its aim was to convert Parliament. Where the parish politician wished to control a vestry, the municipal politician to manage a council or the party agent to return a couple of M.P.s, the political agitator wished to secure a majority in Parliament for his cause. The most striking characteristic of mid-nineteenth century political agitation was its enormous variety. Movements rose and fell for such causes as a free press, an amended Poor Law, municipal reform, temperance, public health, university reform, administrative reform, pacifism, moral reform, the abolition of slavery, co-operation, land reform, and many more. Running through this complex web of agitations were three broad strands which were not only the most prominent movements but were also akin to seed plots from which others sprouted.
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