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Wealth makes worship : attitudes to joint stock enterprise in British law, politics and culture, c.1800-c.1870

Taylor, James Conrad (2002) Wealth makes worship : attitudes to joint stock enterprise in British law, politics and culture, c.1800-c.1870. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86043) (KAR id:86043)


This thesis takes issue with many of the claims and assumptions of much of the existing historiography on joint stock enterprise in nineteenth-century Britain. Historians have presented the conferral by the state of automatic rights of incorporation on companies in a Whiggish light, as a natural and inevitable step towards a modern economy. Such accounts denigrate opponents of this intervention as ignorant, prejudiced, or self-interested and suggest that opposition was restricted largely to the Conservative Party. The first part of the thesis presents an alternative picture which stresses the coherence, breadth, and depth of antipathy towards joint stock enterprise. This interpretation is based on an extensive reading of popular sources including novels, plays, newspapers, and cartoons, alongside parliamentary papers, law reports, and pamphlets. Part two of the thesis traces changing attitudes towards corporate enterprise, and considers why joint stock companies were accorded legislative sanction between 1844 and 1862. It rejects simplistic accounts which describe this process in terms of the rising tide of free trade and laissez faire, and argues that a significant reconceptualisation of the joint stock company occurred in these years, by which the boundaries between public and private spheres were redrawn. Corporate privileges became viewed as private rights which the state could not justly withhold from joint stock enterprise. The legislative framework constructed between 1844 and 1862 was severely tested by the commercial crisis of 1866, but ultimately the crisis served to entrench rather than to undermine the position of joint stock companies. Despite continued criticism of joint stock enterprise after 1866, it is argued that this was harmless, partly owing to the redefinition of companies as private entities, partly because those concerned by standards of commercial morality thought that the only way to purify commerce was to reform personal behaviour rather than impose legislative solutions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86043
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: joint stock
Subjects: A General Works > AZ History of Scholarship. The Humanities
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CB History of civilization
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
H Social Sciences > HG Finance
K Law > KZ Law of Nations
L Education > LA History of education
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Kent Law School
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:26 UTC
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2022 01:39 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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