The author of 547 publications, Defoe was a ministerial student, a merchant, an importer, and a political agent for the English monarchs William and Mary. He was representative of the English intellectual revolution that denounced traditional authority and questioned even sacrosanct subjects, making him too radical for both Whigs and Tories. In 1685 he participated in Monmouth’s Rebellion against King James II, narrowly escaping Judge Jeffrey’s Bloody Assizes. As part of William and Mary’s triumphal procession into London (1689), Defoe wrote pamphlets advocating William’s policies.
Defoe’s best-known novels, Robinson Crusoe (1719), A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Moll Flanders (1722), examine contemporary social problems but avoid politics. He was censored in England for his controversial political pamphlets about religious minorities, the Jacobite threat, the Scottish Union, the standing army, the Act of Settlement, and King George’s accession. When Defoe’s mentor, King William, died in 1702, Tories attacked Defoe as a Whig radical.
Defoe’s most famous pamphlet, The Shortest Way with Dissenters (1702), ridiculed church bigotry, outraging both non-Anglican “dissenters” and Anglican officials. Defoe was tried for seditious libel in early 1703, under a law that defined libel as any criticism of government that reduced “the affection of the people for the king or his ministers...
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