History of the Oxford Union
||The Union is the world's most prestigious debating society,
with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and
speakers to Oxford. It has been established for 182 years, aiming to
promote debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across
The Union is steeped in history. It was founded in 1823 as a forum for discussion
and debate, at a time when the free exchange of ideas was a notion foreign to
the restrictive University authorities. It soon became the only place for students
to discuss political topics whilst at Oxford. W.E. Gladstone, later to become
one of the greatest British Prime Ministers, was one of the leading figures of
the Union's early years. Gladstone was President of the Union in 1830, shortly
before entering the House of Commons. Many others have followed him into politics,
and the Union can boast dozens of former members who have been active in its
affairs whilst at Oxford and then gone to become both nationally and internationally
|Unlike other student unions, the Oxford Union holds no political views.
Instead, the Union is a forum for debate and the discussion of controversial
issues. For example; in the 1960s, Malcolm X came to the Union and demanded
black empowerment "by any means necessary". In the 1970s, Richard
Nixon in his first public speech after Watergate admitted, "I screwed
up - and I paid the price". In 1996, O. J. Simpson made his only public
speech in Britain after the controversial "not guilty"
verdict in his criminal trial. The Oxford Union believes first
and foremost in freedom of speech: nothing more, nothing less.
|The Oxford Union has been at the centre of controversial
debate throughout its history. As the most prominent debating platform
outside Westminster it is no surprise debates have been unrivalled
in their quality and impact. One of the most famous motions, "This
House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country",
was passed in 1933 by 275 votes to 153. The result sparked off a national
outcry in the press, and Winston Churchill denounced it as "that
abject, squalid, shameless avowal" and "this ever shameful
motion"; some say that the result encouraged Hitler in his decision
to invade Europe.
In 1975, days before the referendum on EEC membership, the motion "This
House would say 'Yes' to Europe" was carried by 493 votes to 92. This debate
was arguably a considerable influence on the referendum result.
|The Union has managed to absorb the greatest diversity, the wildest firebrands,
the most outspoken and non-conformist people. Diversity and outspokeness,
central to the Union's foundation, remain its guiding principles to this
|Acknowledgment: Oxford Union Website