Voter ID and the Freeborn Englishman

In Uncategorized on December 27, 2016 by kmflett

Voter ID and the Freeborn Englishman


It is surprising to find some of a broadly conservative frame of mind arguing that they can see no issue with Voter ID. The left, certainly since the period after World War One, particularly the Fabian left, has seen a positive role for the State and, for example, the NHS has made the point.

Yet historically the Freeborn Englishman, not someone easily classified as on the right or left reliably, disliked the State telling him what to do. E.P Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class carries a well known section on the matter (the excerpts below are from New Left Review 1/15 May June 1962).

We don’t live in the early nineteenth century of course but that doesn’t mean the history isn’t important.

this question of the limits beyond which the Englishman was not prepared to be ‘pushed around’, and the limits beyond which authority did not dare to go, is crucial to an understanding of this period. The stance of the common Englishman was not so much democratic, in any positive sense, as anti-authoritarian. He felt himself to be an individualist, with few affirmative rights, but protected by the laws against the intrusion of arbitrary power.

This constitutionalism coloured the less articulate responses of the ‘free-born Englishman’. He claimed few rights except that of being left alone.

Resistance to an effective police-force continued well into the 19th century. Moreover, not only freedom from intrusion but also equality before the law was a source of popular congratulation. Sensational reading-matter, such as the New Newgate Calendar; or Malefactor’s Bloody Register, recorded with satisfaction instances of the noble and titled brought to. Tyburn. Local annalists recorded smugly such cases as that of Leeds’ ‘domineering villanous lord of the manor’ who was executed in 1748 for killing one of his own tenants in a fit of temper. And, in hostility to the powers of any central authority, we have a curious blend of popular and parochial defensiveness. Local rights and customs were cherished against the encroachment of the State by gentry and common people alike; hostility to ‘the Thing’ and to ‘Bashaws’ contributed much to the Tory-Radical strain which runs through from Cobbett to Oastler, and which reached its climax in the resistance to the Poor Law of 1834.


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