The aim of this article is to evaluate Thornton’s early contributions to the great public debates of the mid-Victorian period. Specifically, it reveals his methods for resolving pressing public concerns of the day through the application of the postulates of classical economics. It also highlights the divergence of his conclusions from the orthodox formulations prescribed by some leading classical writers. The remainder of the article is organized as follows.

The first section covers briefly Thornton’s views on the causes of and remedies for overpopulation and poverty in rural Britain.

Sections 2 and 3 discuss his views, respectively, on the Old Poor Laws and the New Poor Laws. Section 4 reviews his recommendations on the reform of the industrial workplace and factory system.

Section 5 covers his views on land tenure reform, with special reference to the so-called Irish land question. The next section presents a variety of responses by leading Victorian figures to Thornton’s early economic writings. It also highlights the pastoral verse he published in the 1850s as a literary device intended to extol the virtues of a bygone agrarian era.

Some concluding remarks follow in section 7.


peer-reviewed, Victorian social reform, John Stuart Mill, poor law reform

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