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The delegates: a radical tradition

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'We have not the least Dout but by Unity amongst ourselvs and a steady Peaceable perseverance to Carry our Point.' The delegates, elected leaders of the Spithead mutiny, were men of deserved influence with a sophisticated understanding of the issues involved in their action. They understood the political context, the strategic dimensions, and the vulnerability of Pitt's government. The Channel Fleet, the largest in home waters, comprising eighty ships and thirty thousand men, pursued their action on behalf of the entire Royal Navy. The majority of these crews had mustered together for at least two years, some far longer. They were experienced seamen professionals who knew and trusted each other. They selected as their leaders men whom they respected as seamen and whom they believed would successfully present their case and conduct their negotiations. They understood the terrible risks these men faced: the almost inevitable capital punishment inflicted upon the ‘ringleaders’. The seamen determined that the whole fleet would act in unison to prevent this outcome. The term ‘delegate’ had been used in the Culloden mutiny of 1794, suggesting to Admiral Howe both American and French revolutionary and political practices, but the concept was far older. In 1647 the New Model Army mutinied over Parliament's plan to disband the army and non-payment of wages. To seek redress of grievances, first soldiers and then officers elected two Agitators from each regiment to speak for the whole army.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Naval Mutinies of 1797
Subtitle of host publicationUnity and Perseverance
EditorsAnn Veronica Coats, Philip MacDougall
PublisherBoydell and Brewer Ltd
Pages39-60
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781782040057
ISBN (Print)9781843836698
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011

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