It has been twenty-seven years since Professor Plumb, now Sir John Plumb, delivered the Ford lectures at Oxford University. In a prose that was elegant, spirited, at times colloquial, always luminous, he offered a persuasive explanation for the growth of political stability in eighteenth-century England. Later published as The Growth of Political Stability in England, these lectures were widely read and the explanation offered in them widely accepted. Professor Plumb's thesis became and remains the orthodox interpretation of the political stability that England enjoyed in the eighteenth century.
During the past twenty-seven years, however, a considerable literature has appeared concerning the growth of political stability, some of it occasioned by Professor Plumb's own fertile suggestions. Historians such as J. V. Beckett, Lloyd Bonfield, Christopher Clay, Linda Colley, Norma Landau, John Owen, John Phillips, and Nicholas Rogers have studied the rise of the great estates, the decline of party, the role of patronage, and the politics of deference. The appearance of this literature offers a useful occasion for looking once again at the growth of political stability. In particular, it offers an opportunity to ask how valid is the Plumb thesis, and, if found not to be valid, what alternative explanation can be given for the growth of political stability in eighteenth-century England.