Thomas Spence (2 July [ O.S. 21 June] 1750 –8 September 1814) was an English Radical and advocate of the common ownership of land and a democratic equality of the sexes. Spence was one of the leading revolutionaries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was born in poverty and died the same way, after long periods of imprisonment, in 1814.
Born in 1750 to a Presbyterian family,Spence later left Newcastle for London in 1787. He kept a book-stall in High Holborn. In 1794, with other members of the London Corresponding Society, he spent seven months in Newgate Gaol on a charge of high treason, and in 1801 he was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment for seditious libel. He died in London on 8 September 1814.
The threatened enclosure of the common land known as Town Moor in Newcastle in 1771 appears to have been key to Spence's interest in the land question and journey towards ultra-radicalism. His scheme was not for land nationalization but for the establishment of self-contained parochial communities, in which rent paid to the parish (wherein the absolute ownership of the land was vested) should be the only tax of any kind.His ideas and thinking on the subject were shaped by a variety of economic thinkers, including his friend Charles Hall.
At the centre of Spence's work was his plan, which argued for:
Spence's Plan was first published in his penny pamphlet Property in Land Every One's Right in 1775. It was re-issued as The Real Rights of Man in later editions. It was also reissued by, amongst others, Henry Hyndman under the title of The Nationalization of the Land in 1795 and 1882.
Spence explored his political and social concepts in a series of books about the fictional Utopian state of Spensonia.
Spence may have been the first Englishman to speak of 'the rights of man'. The following recollection, composed in the third person, was written by Spence while he was in prison in London in 1794 on a charge of high treason. Spence was, he wrote,
This is in reference to the story of "Jack the Blaster" at Marsden Grotto.
Spence was a self-taught radical with a deep regard for education as a means to liberation. He pioneered a phonetic script and pronunciation system designed to allow people to learn reading and pronunciation at the same time. He believed that if the correct pronunciation was visible in the spelling, everyone would pronounce English correctly, and the class distinctions carried by language would cease. This, he imagined, would bring a time of equality, peace and plenty: the millennium. He published the first English dictionary with pronunciations (1775) and made phonetic versions of many of his pamphlets.
Examples of Spence's spelling system can be seen on the pages on English from the Spence Society.
Spence published The Rights of Infants in 1797 as a response to Thomas Paine's Agrarian Justice. In this essay Spence proposes the introduction of an unconditional basic income to all members of the community. Such allowance would be financed through the socialization of land and the benefits of the rents received by each municipality. A part of everyone’s earnings would be seized by the State, and given to others.
Spence's essay also expresses a clear commitment to the rights of women, although he appears unaware of Mary Wollstonecraft's 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Woman .
Spence is listed on the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
His admirers formed a "Society of Spencean Philanthropists," of which some account is given in Harriet Martineau's England During the Thirty Years' Peace.The African Caribbean activists William Davidson and Robert Wedderburn were drawn to this political group.
Members of the Society of Spencean Philanthropists (including Arthur Thistlewood) maintained contacts with United Irish exiles in Paris,notably with the veteran conspirator William Putnam McCabe, and were implicated in the Spa Field riots of 1816 and the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820.
Agrarianism is a political and social philosophy that has promoted subsistence agriculture, smallholdings, and egalitarianism, with agrarian political parties normally supporting the rights and sustainability of small farmers and poor peasants against the wealthy in society. In highly developed and industrial nations or regions, it can denote use of financial and social incentives for self-sustainability, more community involvement in food production and smart growth that avoids urban sprawl, and also what many of its advocates contend are risks of human overpopulation; when overpopulation occurs, the available resources become too limited for the entire population to survive comfortably or at all in the long term.
Thomas Paine was an English-born American Founding Father, political activist, philosopher, political theorist, and revolutionary. He authored Common Sense (1776) and The American Crisis (1776–1783), two of the most influential pamphlets at the start of the American Revolution, and he helped to inspire the Patriots in 1776 to declare independence from Great Britain. His ideas reflected Enlightenment-era ideals of human rights.
A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or a farmer with limited land-ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, three classes of peasants existed: non-free slaves, semi-free serfs, and free tenants. Peasants might hold title to land outright, or by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.
The London Corresponding Society (LCS) was a federation of local reading and debating clubs that in the decade following the French Revolution agitated for the democratic reform of the British Parliament. In contrast to other reform associations of the period, it drew largely upon working men and was itself organised on a formal democratic basis.
Geolibertarianism is a political and economic ideology that integrates libertarianism with Georgism. It favors a taxation system based on income derived from land and natural resources instead of on labor, coupled with a minimalist model of government, as in libertarianism.
The Cato Street Conspiracy was a plot to murder all the British cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister Lord Liverpool in 1820. The name comes from the meeting place near Edgware Road in London. The police had an informer; the plotters fell into a police trap. Thirteen were arrested, while one policeman, Richard Smithers, was killed. Five conspirators were executed, and five others were transported to Australia.
Arthur Thistlewood was an English radical activist and conspirator in the Cato Street Conspiracy. He planned to murder the cabinet, but there was a spy and he was apprehended with 12 other conspirators. He killed a policeman during the raid. He was executed for treason.
Michael Davitt was an Irish republican activist for a variety of causes, especially Home Rule and land reform. Following an eviction when he was four years old, Davitt's family migrated to England. He began his career as an organiser of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which resisted British rule in Ireland with violence. Convicted of treason felony for arms trafficking in 1870, he served seven years in prison. Upon his release, Davitt pioneered the New Departure strategy of cooperation between the physical-force and constitutional wings of Irish nationalism on the issue of land reform. With Charles Stewart Parnell, he co-founded the Irish National Land League in 1879, in which capacity he enjoyed the peak of his influence before being jailed again in 1881.
Thomas Thistlewood was an English planter in colonial Jamaica. Thistlewood migrated to the western end of the Colony of Jamaica where he became a plantation overseer, plantation owner and slaver. His lengthy and detailed diary is an important historical document chronicling the history of Jamaica and slavery there during the 18th century. The diary includes a detailed account of the brutal treatments of his slaves, including his torture and rape of enslaved women. Thistlewood routinely punished his slaves with fierce floggings and other cruel and gruesome punishments.
The Land War was a period of agrarian agitation in rural Ireland that began in 1879. It may refer specifically to the first and most intense period of agitation between 1879 and 1882, or include later outbreaks of agitation that periodically reignited until 1923, especially the 1886–1891 Plan of Campaign and the 1906–1909 Ranch War. The agitation was led by the Irish National Land League and its successors, the Irish National League and the United Irish League, and aimed to secure fair rent, free sale, and fixity of tenure for tenant farmers and ultimately peasant proprietorship of the land they worked.
The Spa Fields riots were incidents of public disorder arising out of the second of two mass meetings at Spa Fields, Islington, England on 15 November and 2 December 1816.
The law of equal liberty is the fundamental precept of liberalism and socialism. Stated in various ways by many thinkers, it can be summarized as the view that all individuals must be granted the maximum possible freedom as long as that freedom does not interfere with the freedom of anyone else. While socialists have been hostile to liberalism, which is accused of "providing an ideological cover for the depredation of capitalism", scholars have stated that "the goals of liberalism are not so different from those of the socialists", although this similarity in goals has been described as being deceptive due to the different meanings liberalism and socialism give to liberty, equality and solidarity, including the meaning, implications and norms of equal liberty derived from it.
The 1794 Treason Trials, arranged by the administration of William Pitt, were intended to cripple the British radical movement of the 1790s. Over thirty radicals were arrested; three were tried for high treason: Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall. In a repudiation of the government's policies, they were acquitted by three separate juries in November 1794 to public rejoicing. The treason trials were an extension of the sedition trials of 1792 and 1793 against parliamentary reformers in both England and Scotland.
Spensonia is a fictional Utopian country created by the English author and political reformer Thomas Spence. Spence laid out his ideas about Spensonia in a series of literary works published in the late 18th century:
William Davidson was a British African-Caribbean radical executed for his role in the Cato Street Conspiracy against Lord Liverpool's government in 1820.
William Ogilvie of Pittensear FRSE FSA(Scot) (1736–1819), known as the Rebel Professor and described by his biographer as the ''Euclid of Land law Reform', was a Scottish classicist, numismatist and author of an influential historic land reform treatise. Published in London in 1781, An Essay on the Right of Property in Land was issued anonymously, necessarily it seems in a revolutionary age.
Peter Finnerty was an Irish printer, publisher, and journalist in both Dublin and London associated with radical, reform and democratic causes. In Dublin, he was a committed United Irishman, but was imprisoned in the course of the 1798 rebellion. In London he was a campaigning reporter for The Morning Chronicle, imprisoned again in 1811 for libel in his condemnation of Lord Castlereagh.
The labour movement or labor movement consists of two main wings: the trade union movement or labor union movement on the one hand, and the political labour movement on the other.
Alternative legal systems began to be used by Irish nationalist organizations during the 1760s as a means of opposing British rule in Ireland. Groups which enforced different laws included the Whiteboys, Repeal Association, Ribbonmen, Irish National Land League, Irish National League, United Irish League, Sinn Féin, and the Irish Republic during the Irish War of Independence. These alternative justice systems were connected to the agrarian protest movements which sponsored them and filled the gap left by the official authority, which never had the popular support or legitimacy which it needed to govern effectively. Opponents of British rule in Ireland sought to create an alternative system, based on Irish law, which would eventually supplant British authority.
Thomas Evans was a British revolutionary conspirator. Active in the 1790s and the period 1816–1820, he is otherwise a shadowy character, known mainly as a hardline follower of Thomas Spence.