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The Nonconformist Conscience

By Edward Royle | Published in 1982 
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Chapel and Politics, 1870-1914 by D.W. Bebbington

Nonconformists always had consciences, and in the first half of the nineteenth century participated in crusades to right such wrongs as slavery and to secure the disestablishment of the Anglican church. Only in the last three decades of the century, though, did this conscience harden into an historical phenomenon meriting capital letters and a very good book by Dr Bebbington.

Like the terms 'Quaker' and 'Methodist', the phrase 'The Nonconformist Conscience' began as a term of abuse. The context was the apparent support of Nonconformists for Irish violence in the later 1000s and the charge pressed by The Times and Conservative supporters was one of hypocrisy. Leaders of Nonconformist opinion like Hugh Price Hughes of the Wesleyans and John Clifford of the Baptists wore the badge with pride. They attempted increasingly to exert pressure on governments and politicians from the breaking of Parnell's career in 1890 to the Liberal landslide victory of 1906. Though their actual achievements were few, the Nonconformists played an important part in a number of political developments between circa 1876 and 1914. In tracing this role thematically, Dr Bebbington opens up wider perspectives on late Victorian and Edwardian politics than the main title of his book might imply.


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