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For mid-Victorian radicals, the Tichborne cause was the farcical sequel to the heroic and democratic politics of the 1830s and 1840s. Whereas previous radicals and workers were concerned with such movements as Chartism and Owenism, many in the new generation were devoted to the less egalitarian task of restoring the property of a long lost aristocrat. We do not know how one contemporary radical, Karl Marx, felt but it is unlikely he approved.
Similarly, historians have tended to reflect the desperation of George Potter and Charles Bradlaugh who complained that so much working-class energy was devoted to such a worthless cause. Tichborne has barely rated a mention in historical accounts of this period although, as David Kynaston has pointed out, the 1870s are an ‘under-researched decade’. There have been several books on the case but they have scarcely affected the prevailing historiography. On the face of it, this is understandable; in many respects, the Tichborne cause was absurd. And yet the relative silence among historians ignores the fact that Tichborne was one of the largest (if not the largest) popular movements between the end of Chartism and the development of socialism and independent Labour politics in the 1880s and 1890s. Between 1872 and 1886 some 250 Tichborne associations were formed all over the country. In 1875, 283,314 people signed petitions in support of the Claimant. For Thomas Wright, he was ‘the best-beloved or most-grieved-over personage in the country’.
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