Mass Politics in the Nineteenth Century

This research considers the changing forms of mass politics in the nineteenth century, and the ways in which they reshaped the workings of parliamentary democracy.

Eastern Market
Eastern Market

The nineteenth century was marked by great changes in the formal boundaries of the polity (the right to vote and to stand for office), the forms of political activity (from the rise of nonviolent protest to the growth of open electoral campaigning and the increasing habit of party formation), and the meanings of ‘democracy’. This research considers some of the changes in Australia, the United States and Great Britain.

One strand of this research examines changes in the election campaign. It charts the rise of the campaign speech or ‘stump speech’, from its controversial identification in the south-western states of the United States in the early nineteenth century to its wide acceptance at the end of that century across the Anglo-world. This research resulted in Sean Scalmer, On the Stump: Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Great Britain and Australia (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2017), which received the NSW Premier’s Prize for History (General Prize) in 2018.

Another strand of this research traces the career of Graham Berry - thrice Premier of the colony of Victoria over the 1870s and 1880s. Berry’s life – from apprenticed linen-draper in London and then grocer in gold-rush Victoria, to major political leader – captures broader changes in the political world. He was among the first ‘self-made men’ to hold high office, he was a star orator in mass assemblies (sometimes attracting many thousands), he was the founder of the first mass political party in Australia, he was a thwarted campaigner for constitutional change, he dedicated himself to self-government for white men but was less supportive of white women and Indigenous people and actively hostile to the involvement of Chinese people. This research resulted in Sean Scalmer, Democratic Adventurer: Graham Berry and the Making of Australian Politics (Clayton: Monash University Press, 2020).

A new strand of the research traces the rise of nonviolent social movements in the Anglo-world over the nineteenth century.


Australian Research Council Discovery grant


Professor Sean Scalmer