[1789] - Price addresses the London Revolution Society

The London Revolution Society was formed to commemorate the ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688 when the English and Scottish crowns transferred from James II to William III. Although rumoured to have been in existence since 1688, the first records of the meetings of the London Revolution Society begin on 16 June 1788. Its membership included Dissenting ministers, merchants, traders and prominent political reformers such as John Horne Tooke, Thomas Brand Hollis and John Cartwright. In addition to championing the principles of the 1688 revolution, the Society supported the cause of political and religious reform. Although it began as a predominantly middle-class association of reform-minded members, it became increasingly radical in its activities, forging close links with the Society for Constitutional Information and corresponding with the French National Assembly and some of the leading representatives of the Jacobin clubs.

Each year from 1788 the Society held an annual celebration on 4 November to commemorate the birthday of William III. The inaugural celebration was attended by around 800 members and guests: a sermon was preached at the Old Jewry, and this was followed by a grand dinner at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand. On 4 November 1789 Richard Price delivered a particularly controversial anniversary sermon in which he welcomed the dawn of liberty, signalled by the outbreak of the French Revolution. He ended with a sharp warning to the opponents of reform:

Tremble all ye oppressors of the world! Take warning all ye supporters of slavish governments and slavish hierarchies! Call no more (absurdly and wickedly) reformation, innovation. You cannot now hold the world in darkness. Struggle no longer against increasing light and liberality. Restore to mankind their rights, and consent to the correction of abuses, before they and you are destroyed together. (Discourse, 1789, pp. 50–1)

Price’s sermon marked the beginning of an extensive pamphlet war on the French Revolution and the rights of the individual. Edmund Burke responded indignantly to Price’s Discourse in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and, a year later, Thomas Paine defended Price’s position in The Rights of Man (1791). Over the next ten years hundreds of books and pamphlets were printed in response to the Price–Burke controversy.

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