The monitor 1755-1765: A political essay paper and popular London opinion
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The Monitor is one of the few long-lived examples of that periodical form peculiar to the eighteenth century, the political essay paper. Conducted under the patronage of Richard and William Beckford, aldermen and members of parliament, it was written and managed chiefly by Arthur Beardmore, attorney, and the Rev. John Entick, with much help from occasional contributors, the only one of whom that can be identified with any certainty being John Wilkes. Internal evidence as well as external connections places the Monitor in the tradition of the popular toryism of the City of London. It seems to have been founded in 1755 to reawaken that toryism, both in the City and generally, as an aid to the political ambitions of the Beckfords. At first, in the uncertain political situation of 1755-6, its loyalties in national politics were unclear. In 1756, however, when the storm over the loss of Minorca put wind in the sails of the opposition Pitt had launched the autumn before, the Monitor, with William Beckford, declared for Pitt. From then on its commentary can be used as a valuable indicator both of the methods and of the degree of success of Pitt's attempts to maintain a popular base while in office, especially in the City and among the tories. It promotes the image of Pitt as a 'patriot minister' in foreign and domestic affairs and reflects his skill in using appropriate issues to establish this reputation while avoiding blame for unpopular decisions. Yet it also shows how readily shaken Pitt's 'popularity' was, especially in the early years, by such developments as his coalition with Newcastle, the failure of the expedition to the French coast at Rochefort in 1757 and the decision to send British troops to Germany in 1758. The Monitor commentary illustrates how constantly criticism had to be answered, especially about the German war, even when Pitt's popularity was widened and secured by the victories of the war, and further, how pressure from his supporters out-of-doors could be an influence on Pitt, for example over peace terms. At the same time, by using the Monitor commentary with other sources, it is possible to trace something of the development of William Beckford's influence in the City and to show that it was not dominant even among the 'popular' interests there until the end of the decade. It seems that Beckford rose in the City on the growing popularity of Pitt more than he contributed to that popularity. The Monitor commentary goes on to reflect some of the uncertainties of 1760-1, after the accession of George III, particularly the strength of reaction against the war and to show indirectly what a challenge the new circumstances were to Pitt's political strength. It rallies strongly to Pitt after his resignation - and here Beckford’s dominance in the City was put to Pitt’s service - but its very vehemence and persistence in his defence emphasize what a serious crisis for Pitt the resignation was. In 1762 the Monitor initiates and plays a major part in the intensification of political controversy around the figure of Bute, to the extent of having warrants issued against those concerned in it. After the peace it returns to domestic affairs and re-establishes its interest in constitutional questions. Although it shows some interest in the Wilkes affair arising out of the North Briton 45, its close involvement in politics gradually lapses. This is perhaps partly an effect of the warning of the warrants, but much more the result of Pitt’s refusal to take an active and concerted part in opposition. Because of Pitt's wayward contempt for the active cultivation of his political base, Beckford lost his sense of purpose, the City lost it’s unusually close involvement in national politics, and the Monitor lapses into senility and finally, in March 1765, disappears. The detailed commentary of the Monitor on politics and foreign policy thus elucidates some important aspects of contemporary affairs. Because of its connection with William Beckford and popular elements in the city in these vital years, its attitudes on constitutional issues show something of the origins of radicalism. A description of them brings out the Monitor’s adherence to, yet uneasiness within, the traditional framework of the mixed balanced constitution, and its distinctive emphasis on the role of the people. The significance of these attitudes is examined by looking at the modes of constitutional discussion the eighteenth century inherited and especially at the “country” tradition, in which important seventeenth-century ideas were kept alive and which famed a major part of the vigorous constitutional debate occurring in the eighteenth century. The close reliance of the Monitor on this tradition and its sources is shown while, at the same time, the emphasis on a crisis in the constitution, the need for reform and the role of the people was subtly modifying the tradition and creating a genuine radicalism of the left. In the process, without significantly changing its views, the Monitor ceases to call itself tory and adopts the whig label. In this subtle modification are to be found the roots of almost all later eighteenth-century radicalism, a radicalism arising clearly out of traditional ways of thought. Finally in the Epilogue a brief attempt is made to assess the contemporary influence of the Monitor. It was important enough to be copied by a significant number of other publications yet not enough to figure largely in the correspondence of leading politicians and observers. In the development of political comment in the press, this form of weekly controversy appears to mark a transition from the situation where major debate was conducted in pamphlets to that where it found its place in newspapers proper, at a time when political comment was growing in important in influencing politicians but especially in educating a wider political nation.