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The Southern Tree of Liberty (book cover)



The Democratic Movement in New South Wales Before 1856

The struggle for democracy in NSW occurred in one of Australia’s most turbulent and violent periods. For twenty years, the advocates of democracy mobilised the working class and fought hard to bring popular rule to the colony. The elites, on the other hand, used their legislative powers to halt this march towards liberty, most notably in the Constitution of 1853.

This book is a radical challenge to the accepted view of the coming of self-government to the Australian colonies. In a nutshell, the book denies that democracy and representative government are interchangeable terms; it restores working people and radical intellectuals to key roles in the story, and it discovers a wave of rioting that gave teeth to a popular movement for democracy but also a ruling class determined to stop it. It argues that the form of representative government introduced in the 1850s was imprinted with claims and ideas that had emerged from the struggles of this social movement for popular democracy in the 1830s and 40s.

The Federation Press, Sydney, 2006

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