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Response to Review of The Cato Street Conspiracy: Plotting, counter-intelligence and the revolutionary tradition in Britain and Ireland

We are grateful to Robert Poole for his thoughtful assessment of The Cato Street Conspiracy. There are inevitably a number of points in his detailed review with which we disagree, but subscribers to Reviews in History will be glad to hear that we do not propose to launch into a detailed (for which, read 'pedantic' or 'peevish') response. This is not, after all, the letters page of the London Review of Books.

Robert generously notes that our book opens new perspectives on the history of British and Irish radicalism and extremism. As editors, we argue for the seriousness of the rebels' projected attack on the cabinet, but are unconvinced about the likelihood of the broader revolution about which they dreamed. The Cato Street men constituted a highly organised and potentially deadly terrorist cell. As such, we do need to make clear that we disavow Robert's statement that we write from a position of "empathy" or sympathy with the plotters' aims and actions. Our book is a scholarly examination of how and why a conspiracy which was seen by contemporaries as extremely significant has faded from historical and popular memory.

One significant direction for future research is the extent to which this plot was, as Robert claims in the second half of his review, directed by the followers of the radical thinker Thomas Spence (1750-1814). It is true that several of the leading conspirators knew Spence or had been members of the 'Society of Spencean Philantropists' founded after his death. But if the measure of a Spencean is that he or she espoused Spencean ideas, it is surely significant that those involved in the plot never discussed the maestro's plan for the communal ownership of land. In fact, the declarations that the plotters drafted to explain their actions to the public in 1820 explicitly guaranteed the existence of private property. The Cato Street rebels discussed examples of 'tyrannicide' from classical history, and acknowledged their debt to the writings of Volney and Paine. They conspired with a contingent of London-based Irish radicals who claimed to have been 'out' in 1798 and 1803: men by the name of Burke, McKeever, McMahon, and Malin. These Jacobin and Irish contexts explain why, if the plot has been successful, the rebels intended to proclaim in print:

United Britons and Irishmen

Civil and Religious Liberty

is Decreed.

We wish to finish by paying tribute to Malcolm Chase, whose article in our book appeared shortly before his untimely death. Malcolm was extremely generous in supporting our project and sharing references to obscure manuscripts and books with a number of contributors. Even after undergoing intensive medical treatment he insisted on taking the time to help with fine-tuning the introduction to the book. He was always positive and supportive. He was a lovely man as well as a very fine scholar, and we and all of the contributors to the book send our sincere condolences to his wife Shirley, his daughter Sarah, and his grand-daughter Sophie.