Eighteenth-century newspapers and public opinion

Authored by: Victoria E. M. Gardner

The Routledge Companion to British Media History

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415537186
eBook ISBN: 9781315756202
Adobe ISBN: 9781317629474


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Following the lapse of the Licensing Act in 1695, the newspaper press came to provide a new and powerful communication network and medium for influence across Britain. Newspapers’ immediate and extensive interest in foreign and domestic politics, their regular production and their commercial character positioned them as ideal mediators between parliament and the people. Over the eighteenth century, contemporaries came to recognize that public opinion was becoming an integral part of Britain’s political machinery, although they differed in the role and value they accorded it and in their assessments of whom exactly ‘the public’ comprised. An emerging rhetoric of press liberty and appeals to public opinion did not necessarily develop along a Whiggish trajectory to democracy but was dependent upon a changeable political and legislative climate.

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