According to F. L. Smith, the People's League, "the first popular association formed in Britain with a prime interest in foreign affairs," grew out of protests by British radicals at Austria's annexation of part of Poland and the British government's failure to do anything in response. Several radicals, including William James Linton. the great wood-engraver, first founded the Democratic Friends of All Nations, to assist political refugees in England while encouraging "the cause of freedom abroad." This small group
became the nucleus for the more important People's International League, founded on 28 April 1847 under the aegis of Mazzini, with Linton as secretary. . . . The particular object of the League was to influence the making of policy in the Foreign Office. This department, the League asserted, was the section of government least subject to informed public opinion and the most infested by reactionary aristocrats. The League's special duty, therefore, was to make "Englishmen cognisant of the processes through which the progressive destinies of Europe are being worked out, so that whenever European Affairs may call for interference, they may be in no doubt as to the course to be pursued." The League members saw their role in foreign affairs as far from being merely passively propagandist. Surveying the turbulent liberal/nationalist movements in Belgium, Portugal, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, and the Slav states of the Austrian and Russian empires, they rightly saw Europe, in Linton's words, as "filled with the very elements of social combustion." [W. J. Linton: Radical Artisan, 59]
The People's League thus embodies radical working-class desires to have a say in the handling of foreign as well as domestic affairs. Although Carlyle shares the radicals' disdain for the aristocracy and may have believed that leaders could arise out of the people, he refused to believe that democracy as such — people making decisions en masse — could provide effective leadership. Hence his movement from sympathy with working-class radicalism and revolutionary violence to his reactionary opposition to universal suffrage in "Hudson's Statue."
Last modified 23 October 2002