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Macaulay: Sources

Macaulay refers to the existence of research to support his claims - 'It has often been found', 'It can easily be proved' – but he does not actually provide it. This is mainly because he was writing for a popular audience who would soon be bored if they had to go over his sources; there is a marked contrast here with Edward Gibbon, who was writing for a more scholarly readership. Macaulay's purpose is not to prove his claims but to reassure his readers that they can be proved, and easily too.

Moreover, even a superficial knowledge of history will show that, while European countries had been staging revolutions with bewildering frequency at the time Macaulay was writing, no such thing had happened in Britain since the seventeenth century. When Macaulay claims, therefore, that 'our government has never once been subverted by violence' he does not offer evidence because he sees no need to: his readers know this and our own knowledge, when it is confirmed by what we read, is always the most convincing evidence. Macaulay did research his work, but his reading was largely confined to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century political pamphlets, which were produced in their thousands in the days before regular newspapers. It was a relatively narrow basis of evidence for the wide-ranging claims Macaulay intended to make.

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