ELECTIONS: CHARTIST LIFE:
THEY are about to abolish our old-fashioned
Nomination Days—and not before due time. But I must confess I enjoyed the
old days. I used to enjoy them in the old Guildhall at Lincoln, when
Bulwer was proposed by a leading Liberal, and old Dean Gordon used to
propose Colonel Sibthorpe. Poor dear old Sibby! I can see his
odd grimaces, and hear him swear so funnily in his speeches, as if it were
but yesterday! And the joke when old Ben Bromhead had got his
written speech in his hat, and young Charley Fardell stole it out!
To see how old Ben twisted his hat round to find the stolen speech, while
the people were laughing. Ah, some of those Lincoln days were
naughty days,—and one must not tell the history of them, to the full.
I must confess I enjoyed the nomination day in Leicester
market-place. Our Chartists kept their stand well, in the centre,
before the hustings. As I faced them, the Tories with their blue
flags were on my right, and the Whigs with their orange and green flags
were on my left. I, as the universal suffrage candidate for the
representation of Leicester, had the largest show of hands, for only a
part of our Chartist crowd held up their hands for "Colonel Forester" who
was not to be found—while all the working-men who were on the Tory side
held up their hands for me, to spite the Whigs. But the Mayor said
Sir John Easthope and Wynn Ellis had the show of hands—at which there was
much shouting on the Whig side—much shouting for joy—but the scene was
One of our Chartist flag-bearers happened,
intentionally, to droop his flag on one side, till it touched the heads of
some of the Whigs who were shouting. The gudgeons caught the bait!
They seized the poor little calico flag and tore it in pieces!
"Now, lads, go it! " shouted some strong voices in the
Chartist ranks, and the rush was instant upon the Whig flags. A few
escaped; but his own supporters declared that the orange and green flags
which were "limbed," or torn up in the course of perhaps ten minutes, had
cost Sir John Easthope seventy pounds—for they were all of silk.
A more gentle joke was played something earlier. Samuel
Deacon, a well-known native of Leicester, had made a large tin
extinguisher, and fastened it to a pole. With this he approached the
hustings, and before I could be aware of what he meant to do—placed it on
my head, while the Whigs cried out, "There! he has extinguished the
The election for the borough was over; but then came the
elections for the north and south of the county. I and Bairstow were
proposed at Loughborough, for the Northern Division of the county; but we
had no great number of hands held up for us. On the nomination day
for the Southern Division of the county, which was held in Leicester
Castle yard, I thought I had the show of hands again; but the Sheriff
decided for the Tories.
I was also present at the Nottingham election—where the
Chartists suddenly reversed their policy, and voted against Walter, and in
favour of the noble philanthropist, Joseph Sturge. Feargus O'Connor,
while in York Castle, had advocated the policy of voting for the Tories in
preference to the Whigs but he now came down to Nottingham, and by his
speeches encouraged the Chartists to support Joseph-Sturge. With the
thought of rendering help in some form or other, McDouall, Clark, and
other Chartist leaders, also came to Nottingham. The Tories,
on the other side, secured the presence of the redoubtable Joseph Raynor
The night before the day of nomination the Tories drew a
waggon into the market-place, and Stephens mounted it to address the
crowd. The Liberals had already scented the intent of their
opponents, and drew up a waggon facing the other, and at about twenty
yards from it. Joseph Sturge, Henry Vincent, Arthur O'Neill, and
other friends of Mr. Sturge, were in the waggon when O'Connor and the
other leaders of our Chartist party reached it. We climbed up into
the waggon; but soon found there could be no speaking. The crowd
were assailing Stephens with the vilest epithets, and tearing up his
portrait which had formerly been issued with the Northern Star,
arid throwing the torn fragments at his face.
Stephens, meanwhile, with his spectacles on, and with folded
arms, stood silently and majestically defying the crowd.
The Tory lambs—the reader has heard of the "lambs of
Nottingham!"—the roughs who do all the work of blackguards, either on the
Whig or the Tory side—the Tory lambs began to lose patience because the
crowd would not hear Stephens; and the leaders of them—chiefly butchers in
blue linen coats—were seen to form themselves into a body and soon charged
upon the Chartist crowd with their fists. The battle was fierce, and
the Tory lambs were forcing their way towards our waggon.
Mr. Sturge, with Vincent, and the rest of Mr. S.'s friends,
quitted the waggon; and it was wise of them to do so. It was not our
part, however, to retreat. Feargus waited until the Tory lambs got
nearer, and then, throwing his hat into the waggon, he cried out "Now, my
side charge!" and down he went among the crowd; and along with him went
McDouall and Tom Clark—and gallantly they fought and faced the Tory
butchers. It was no trifle to receive a blow from O'Connor's fists;
and he "floored them like nine-pins," as he said himself. Once, the
Tory lambs fought off all who surrounded him, and got him down, and my
heart quaked,—for I thought they would kill him. But, in a very few
moments, his red head emerged, again from the rough human billows, and he
was fighting his way as before.
I did not quit the waggon. Neither did another of the
so-called Chartist leaders of the time, who, it was said, had been in the
Navy several years, and was usually called "The old Commodore," or
"Cooper," said he, "I think we had better not quit the
"No," said I; "you stick by me, Commodore, and I'll play the
Admiral; and we'll keep the ship."
So we remained, and looked upon the battle. Suddenly, I
saw Stephens unfold his arms, and pull off his spectacles to see who was
drawing near to him. It was McDouall, who had long had a sore
private grudge against him. Stephens did not stay another moment;
but turned his back, jumped off the other side of the waggon, and made his
way out of the crowd into a friendly shop in the Long Row forthwith.
O'Connor and his party finally put the Tories to flight, and
sprang upon the Tory waggon, when three lusty cheers were given; and after
Feargus and McDouall had addressed the crowd it dispersed.
The nomination day was a very signal day in Nottingham.
O'Connor and Vincent were proposed and seconded as candidates, as well as
Mr. Sturge; but it was merely to give them the right of addressing the
people. And their speeches were noble. O'Connor displayed
greater knowledge of the science of politics, if I may so speak, than I
ever heard him display at any time; and Vincent's oratory was charmingly
ornamental, and drew forth bursts of cheering. But when Joseph
Sturge spoke, and, in the course of his speech, turned to look upon the
aged Tory, Walter, who was sitting near his feet, you might have heard a
pin fall in that vast audience. Joseph solemnly entreated his
opponent to remember that death was at hand, and the great account must be
given for our life-course, before the throne of the Eternal Judge. I
saw Walter's lower jaw fall, and a conscience-stricken look pass over his
face as he listened to Sturge's words; and I did not wonder at the silence
of the crowd, and the awe I saw depicted on all their faces.
Mr. Sturge's committee were very confident that he would win
the election. McDouall and Clark and I accompanied O'Connor to the
committee-room that evening. Thomas Beggs and others said they were
sure of Mr. Sturge's return, for they had received so many pledges in his
favour. It was agreed that it would be well to watch during the
night whether any of the Tory agents were slily creeping about to try to
bribe voters. O'Connor said he would not sleep.
"We will parade the town, Cooper," said he; "and you shall
lead the singing. We shall be ready then to secure the
polling-booths in the morning, so that the first votes may be for Mr.
Sturge: that is always the surest step towards winning an
And parade the town we did, singing "The lion of freedom is
come from his den" (a song attributed to me, but I never wrote a line of
it: it was the composition of a Welsh Chartist woman) and
"We won't go home till morning—till Walter runs away!
We won't go home till morning—till Sturge has won the day!"
So foolish are
the ways of men at election times! I have seen the gravest and
soberest men do the wildest and silliest things, at such times; and
therefore cannot wonder that I have done them myself.
We called Joseph Sturge out of bed, about two o'clock in the
morning; and he stood, in his shirt, at the chamber window, while we gave
three cheers for his success, and three groans for Walter, and then bade
him "Good morning." About three o'clock, O'Connor said "How d'ye
feel, Cooper—pretty well?" I told him I was well enough.
"Then," said he, "I'll go and have a sleep, for I'm drowsy; but take care
that you keep the people together, Cooper, and I'll be with you before the
polling-booths are open."
But he did not return; and the men began to drop off, till I
had but a paltry few to lead, and they were chiefly half-starved, lean
stockingers, several of them from Sutton-in-Ashfield. We took care
to be in the neighbourhood of the polling-booths by five o'clock; but by
six the Tory voters began to crowd into the booths under the fierce
protection of the "Lambs the butchers, armed with stout sticks.
"Shall we have a fight, and drive 'em out?" said one of the
poor stockingers to me; "we'll do it—if you'll speak the word."
"No," said I, "they would soon break some of your poor heads
or limbs. You have not the strength to cope with these men.
You had better go home and go to bed; and I'll go to the Sturge
I went and told Thomas Beggs, and others, that the Tories
would have all the first votes.
"Never mind that," said one of the committee; "we are sure of
"But if Walter keeps at the head of the poll till noon, the
waverers will then go in and vote for him, instead of Mr. Sturge," said I.
I found it was in vain to talk to them, so I left them to
seek O'Connor; but found he had gone back to London. Nor could I
find any other of our men. It turned out as I said it would.
Walter kept at the head of the poll till noon, and then the waverers
hastened to vote for him. Joseph Sturge failed. That he might
have won that election had the polling booths been filled with his friends
in the morning, I feel the greatest certainty. Mr. Walter lost his
seat for bribery; but Joseph Sturge was not returned in his stead.
To return to Leicester. I was put out of the little
shop in High Street; but Mr. Oldfield let me a house in Church Street.
So I had now a good shop and several rooms of considerable size. Two
large rooms were set apart as coffee-rooms, and they were the resort of
workingmen, daily; but on Saturday evenings they were crowded. All
meetings of committees were also held in these rooms. In the shop
below, I also commenced the sale of bread. During the remaining part
of the year 1841, I had a really good business,—there being a little
prosperity in the staple trade of the town until some weeks after
Instead of the halfpenny Rushlight, I started the
penny Extinguisher—taking the name from the playful fact that
occurred at the election. I continued to address the people on
Sundays, in the evenings, and began now to take my stand in the
market-place for that purpose. We always commenced with worship, and
I always took a text from the Scriptures, and mingled religious teaching
with politics. When autumn came, we felt uncertain as to where our
Sunday meetings were to be held during the dark evenings. There was
a very large building in the town, which had originally been built for
Ducrow, called "the Amphitheatre." It held 3,000 people. I had
hired it for O'Connor to speak in, and for other extraordinary meetings;
but could not think of paying three pounds for the use of it every Sunday
night. In front of it was a large first-floor room, which had been
used also by Ducrow's "horse-riders," as a dressing-room, and which was
called the "Shaksperean Room." I got the use of it, for all or any
kind of meetings, at so much per week; and so now I held my Sunday night
meetings invariably in the " Shaksperean Room."
I shall not dwell on one recital. John Markham, a
shoemaker, who had been a Methodist local preacher, was considered their
"leader" by the Chartists, when I entered Leicester. We continued
friendly for some time. But himself and a few others began to show
signs of coldness in the course of the autumn, and went back to the little
old room at All Saints' Open, and constituted themselves a separate
Chartist Association. So I proposed that we should take a new name;
and, as we now held our meetings in the "Shaksperean Room," we styled
ourselves "The Shaksperean Association of Leicester Chartists."
I shall conclude this chapter with the solemn record that my
dear mother died on the 1st of August (her birthday) in this year, being
seventy-one years of age. I went over to Gainsborough to bury her,
in the churchyard so well known to me from the days of childhood.
"I laid her near the dust
Of her oppressor; but no gilded verse
Tells how she toiled to win her child a crust,
And, fasting, still toiled on: no rhymes rehearse
How tenderly she strove to be the nurse
Of truth and nobleness in her loved boy,
Spite of his rags."
CHARTIST POETS: CHARTIST LIFE, CONTINUED:
I HAD not joined the ranks of the poor and the
oppressed with the expectation of having those rough election scenes to
pass through. And now I had passed through them, I began to turn my
thoughts to something far more worthy of a man's earnestness. As
soon as the Shaksperean Room was secured, I formed an adult Sunday-school,
for men and boys who were at work on the week days. All the more
intelligent in our ranks gladly assisted as teachers; and we soon had the
room filled on Sunday mornings and afternoons. The Old and New
Testaments, Channing's "Self-culture," and other tracts, of which I do not
remember the names, formed our class-books. And we, fancifully,
named our classes, not first, second, third, etc., but the 'Algernon
Sydney Class,' 'Andrew Marvel Class,' 'John Hampden Class,' 'John Milton
Class,' 'William Tell Class,' 'George Washington Class,' 'Major Cartwright
Class,' 'William Cobbett Class,' and so on.
I began also to teach Temperance more strongly than before.
I became a teetotaler when I entered Leicester, and I kept my pledge,
rigidly, for four years. We devised a new form of pledge,—"I hereby
promise to abstain, etc., until the People's Charter becomes the law of
the land;" and I administered this pledge to several hundreds. I
fear the majority of them kept their pledge but for a brief period, yet
Next, I drew up a body of rules for our Chartist Association;
and, as we so often indulged in singing, I proposed to two of our members
who had occasionally shown me their rhymes, that they should compose hymns
for our Sunday meetings. John Bramwich, the elder of these persons, was a
stocking-weaver, and was now about fifty years old. He had been a soldier,
and had seen service in the West Indies and America. He was a grave,
serious man, the very heart of truth and sincerity. He died of sheer
exhaustion, from hard labour and want, in the year 1846. William Jones,
the other composer of rhymes I referred to, was a much younger man, of
very pleasing manners and appearance. He was what is called a
"glove-hand," and therefore earned better wages than a stockinger. He had
been a hard worker, but had acquired some knowledge of music. He published
a small volume of very excellent poetry, at Leicester, in 1853, and died
in 1855, being held in very high respect by a large circle of friends.
The contributions of Bramwich and Jones to our hymnology,
were published in my weekly Extinguisher, until we collected them
in our "Shaksperean Chartist Hymn Book." The following is the most
favourite hymn composed by Bramwich.—We sang it to the hymn tune "New
Britannia's sons, though slaves ye be,
God, your Creator, made you free;
He life and thought and being gave,
But never, never made a slave!
His works are wonderful to see,
All, all proclaim the Deity;
He made the earth, and formed the wave,
But never, never made a slave!
He made the sky with spangles bright,
The moon to shine by silent night;
The sun—and spread the vast concave,
But never, never made a slave!
The verdant earth, on which we tread,
Was by His hand all carpeted;
Enough for all He freely gave,
But never, never made a slave!
All men are equal in His sight,
The bond, the free, the black, the white:
He made them all,—them freedom gave;
God made the man—Man made the slave!
Fourteen hymns were contributed by Bramwich to our "Shaksperean Chartist
Hymn Book," and sixteen by William Jones. The following was our
favourite hymn of those composed by Jones, and we usually sang it to the
hymn tune called "Calcutta."
Sons of poverty assemble,
Ye whose hearts with woe are riven,
Let the guilty tyrants tremble,
Who your hearts such pain have given.
We will never
From the shrine of truth be driven.
Must ye faint—ah! how much longer?
Better by the sword to die
Than to die of want and hunger:
They heed not your feeble cry:
Lift your voices—
Lift your voices to the sky!
Rouse them from their silken slumbers,
Trouble them amidst their pride:
Swell your ranks, augment your numbers,
Spread the Charter, far and wide!
Truth is with us:
God Himself is on our side.
See the brave, ye spirit broken,
That uphold your righteous cause;
Who against them hath not spoken?
They are, just as Jesus was,
By bad men and wicked laws.
Dire oppression, Heaven decrees it,
From our land shall soon be hurled;
Mark the coming time and seize it—
Every banner be unfurled!
Spread the Charter!
Spread the Charter through the world.
I venture to add one of the only two hymns that I contributed to our Hymn
Book: we sang it in the noble air of the "Old Hundredth."
God of the earth, and sea, and sky,
To Thee Thy mournful children cry:
Didst Thou the blue that bends o'er all
Spread for a general funeral pall?
Sadness and gloom pervade the land;
Death—famine—glare on either hand;
Didst Thou plant earth upon the wave
Only to form one general grave?
Father, why didst Thou form the flowers?
They blossom not for us, or ours:
Why didst Thou clothe the fields with corn?
Robbers from us our share have torn.
The ancients of our wretched race
Told of Thy sovereign power and grace,
That in the sea their foes o'erthrew—
Great Father!—is the record true?
Art Thou the same who, from all time,
O'er every sea, through every clime,
The stained oppressor's guilty head
Hast visited with vengeance dread?
To us,—the wretched and the poor,
Whom rich men drive from door to door,—
To us, then, make Thy goodness known,
And we Thy lofty name will own.
Father, our frames are sinking fast:
Hast Thou our names behind Thee cast?
Our sinless babes with hunger die:
Our hearts are hardening!—Hear our cry!
Appear, as in the ancient days!
Deliver us from our foes, and praise
Shall from our hearts to Thee ascend—
To God our Father, and our Friend!
We now usually held one or two meetings in the Shaksperean Room on week
nights, as well as on the Sunday night. Unless there were some
stirring local or political topic, I lectured on Milton, and repeated
portions of the "Paradise Lost," or on Shakspeare, and repeated portions
of "Hamlet," or on Burns, and repeated "Tam o' Shanter;" or I recited the
history of England, and set the portraits of great Englishmen before young
Chartists, who listened with intense interest; or I took up Geology, or
even Phrenology, and made the young men acquainted, elementally, with the
knowledge of the time.
Often, since the days of which I am speaking, some seeming
stranger has stepped up to me, in one part of England or another—usually
at the close of a lecture—and has said, "You will not remember me. I was
very young when I used to hear you in Leicester; but I consider that I owe
a good deal to you. You gave me a direction of mind that I have
followed,"—and so on. If events had not broken up the system I was
forming, how much real good I might have effected in Leicester!
These thoughts have just brought to mind a pleasing incident
which I ought to have mentioned earlier. I had been appealing
strongly, one evening, to the patriotic feelings of young Englishmen,
mentioning the names of Hampden and Sydney and Marvel; and eulogizing the
grand spirit of disinterestedness and self-sacrifice which characterised
so many of our brave forerunners, when a handsome young man sprung upon
our little platform and declared himself on the people's side, and desired
to be enrolled as a Chartist. He did not belong to the poorest
ranks; and it was the consciousness that he was acting in the spirit of
self-sacrifice, as well as his fervid eloquence, that caused a thrilling
cheer from the ranks of working men. He could not be more than
fifteen at that time; he passed away from us too soon, with his father,
who left Leicester, and I have never seen him but once, all these years.
But the men of Sheffield have signalized their confidence in his
patriotism by returning him to the House of Commons; and all England knows
if there be a man of energy as well as uprightness in that house, it is
Anthony John Mundella.
Our meetings were well attended, the number of our members
increased greatly, and all went well until January, 1842, when the great
hosiery houses announced that orders had ceased, and the greater number of
the stocking and glove frames must stand still. The sale, not only
of the Northern Star, but of my own Extinguisher, declined
fearfully. Some of the working men began to ask me to let them have
bread on credit; and I ventured to do it, trusting that all would be
better in time. Our coffee-room was still filled, but not half the
coffee was sold.
One afternoon, without counselling me, some five hundred of
the men who were out of work formed a procession and marched through the
town at a slow step, singing, and begging all the way they went. It
wrung my heart to see a sight like that in England. They got but
little, and I advised them never to repeat it.
While difficulties increased, I gave up both the sale of
bread and the publication of my Extinguisher for a few weeks.
But several of the most necessitous men declared they must perish if I did
not let them have bread. So I returned to the sale of bread—but had
to give it to some to prevent them from starving. Of course I
contracted debt by so doing; and I did it very foolishly. I would
not do it again; at least, I hope I should not do it. I found also
that our cause could not be held together without a paper. We had no
organ for the exposure of wrongs—such as the attempts of some of the
grinding 'masters' to establish the Truck System, extraordinary acts of
'docking' men's wages, and so on.
So I now issued another paper, and called it the
Commonwealthsman, and inserted in it the lives of the illustrious
Hampden, Pym, Sir John Eliot, Selden, Algernon Sydney, and others of their
fellow-strugglers for freedom. I had a good sale for the earlier
numbers—for they were sold for me by agents at Manchester, Sheffield,
Birmingham, Wednesbury, Bilston, Stafford, and the Potteries. But
trade grew bad in other towns; and the sale soon fell off.
In Leicester everything looked more hopeless. We closed
the adult school—partly because the fine weather drew the men into the
fields, and partly because they were too despairing to care about learning
to read. Let some who read this mark what I am recording. We
had not many profane men in our ranks, but we had a few; and when I urged
them not to forsake school their reply was, "What the hell do we care
about reading, if we can get nought to eat?"
A poor framework-knitter, whom I knew to be as true as steel,
concealed the fact of his deep suffering from me for several weeks, though
I saw the change in his dress, and knew that he must have pawned all but
the mere rags he was wearing. He was frequently with me in the shop,
rendering kindly help. I spoke to him, one night, about his case;
but some one came into the shop and interrupted me, and he suddenly
retired. At eleven o'clock, just before we were about to close the
shop, he came in hastily, laid a bit of paper on my desk, and ran out.
On the bit of paper he revealed his utter destitution, and
the starvation and suffering of his young wife and child. On the
previous morning, the note informed me, his wife awoke, saying, "Sunday
come again, and nothing to eat!"—and as the babe sought the breast there
was no milk!
About the same time—I think it was in the same week-another
poor stockinger rushed into my house, and, throwing himself wildly on a
chair, exclaimed, with an execration,—"I wish they would hang me! I
have lived on cold potatoes that were given me these two days; and this
morning I've eaten a raw potato for sheer hunger! Give me a bit of
bread, and a cup of coffee, or I shall drop!" I should not like
again to see a human face with the look of half insane despair which that
poor man's countenance wore.
How fierce my discourses became now, in the market-place, on
Sunday evenings! I wonder that I restrained myself at all. My
heart often burned with indignation I knew not how to express.
Nay—there was something worse. I began—from sheer sympathy—to feel a
tendency to glide into the depraved thinkings of some of the stronger, but
coarser spirits among the men. It is horrible to me to tell such a
truth. But I must tell it. For if I be untruthful now, I had
better not have begun my Life-story.
The real feeling of this class of men was fully expressed one
day in the market-place when we were holding a meeting in the week.
A poor religious stockinger said,—"Let us be patient a little longer,
lads. Surely, God Almighty will help us soon."
"Talk no more about thy Goddle Mighty!" was the sneering
rejoinder. "There isn't one. If there was one, He wouldn't let
us suffer as we do."
Such was the feeling and language of the stronger and coarser
spirits; and it was shared by such of the Socialists as we had among us.
Not that there was ever any union of the Socialists with us, as a body.
They had a room of their own in Leicester, and their leading men kept at a
distance from us, and even protested against the reasonableness of our
hopes. Indeed, to show us that we were wrong, they brought Alexander
Campbell and Robert Buchanan (the father of Robert Buchanan the poet) to
Leicester, to lecture on their scheme of "Home Colonisation" and
challenged us to answer them. I sustained the challenge myself, as
the champion for the People's Charter.
During the summer of 1842, I often led the poor stockingers
out into the villages,—sometimes on Sunday mornings, and sometimes on week
day evenings,—and thus we collected the villagers of Anstey, and Wigston,
and Glenn, and Countesthorpe, and Earl Shilton, and Hinckley, and Syston,
and Mount Sorrel, and inducted them into some knowledge of Chartist
principles. One Sunday we devoted entirely to Mount Sorrel, and I
and Beedham stood on a pulpit of syenite, and addressed the hundreds that
sat around and above us on the stones of a large quarry. It was a
Gwennap—Wesley's grand Cornish preaching-place—on a small scale.
Our singing was enthusiastic; and the exhilaration of that
Chartist "camp-meeting" was often spoken of afterwards. Now and
then, I preached Chartist sermons on Nottingham Forest,—where at that time
there was another natural pulpit of rock; but it was seldom I had meetings
there, though I liked the place, the open air, and the people, who were
proud of their unenclosed "Forest,"—unenclosed, now, no longer—but thickly
As the poor Leicester stockingers had so little work, they
used to crowd the street, around my shop door, early in the evenings; and
I had to devise some way of occupying them. Sometimes I would
deliver them a speech; but more generally, on the fine evenings, we used
to form a procession of four or five in a rank, and troop through the
streets, singing the following triplet to the air of the chorus "Rule
"Spread—spread the Charter—
Spread the Charter
through the Land!
Let Britons bold and brave join heart and hand!"
Or chanting the "Lion of Freedom," which I have already alluded to,—the
words of which were as follows:
The Lion of Freedom is come from his den;
We'll rally around him, again and again:
We'll crown him with laurel, our champion to be:
O'Connor the patriot: for sweet Liberty!
The pride of the people—He's noble and brave—
A terror to tyrants—a friend to the slave :
The bright star of Freedom—the noblest of men:
We'll rally around him, again and again.
Who strove for the patriots—was up night and day—
To save them from falling to tyrants a prey?
'Twas fearless O'Connor was diligent then:
We'll rally around him, again and again.
Though proud daring tyrants his body confined,
They never could conquer his generous mind:
We'll hail our caged lion, now freed from his den:
We'll rally around him, again and again.
The popularity of this song may serve to show how firmly O'Connor was
fixed in the regard of a portion of the manufacturing operatives, as the
incorruptible advocate of freedom. As a consequence, they
immediately suspected the honesty of any local leader who did not rank
himself under the banner of Feargus, the leader-in-chief.
CHARTIST LIFE, CONTINUED: CORN-LAW REPEALERS:
OUR singing through the streets, in the fine
evenings, often accompanied with shouts for the Charter, had no harm in
it, although many of the shop-keepers would shut up their shops in real,
or affected, terror. This only caused our men to laugh, since all
knew there was no thought of injuring anybody.
"But why did you sing 'Spread the Charter,' and and why did
you keep up your Chartist Association?" the thinking reader will say.
Had you any hope of success? You yourself, and the men you led, must
have had some real or imaginary expectation of a change."
If the reader be little acquainted with the political,
industrial, and social history of this country, I recommend him to turn to
an article entitled "Anti-CornLaw Agitation," which he will find in No.
141 of the Quarterly Review, published Dec. 1842. The article
is, of course, filled with the strongest spirit of antagonism to the
celebrated "Anti-Corn-Law League;" but it will present the inquirer with a
truthful and most thrilling epitome of the state of things in the
manufacturing districts at that period.
It was not simply a few poor ragged Chartists in Leicester
who were expecting a change. It was expected in all our industrial
regions. Agitation, under the influence of the powerful League, was
rife all over the Midlands and the Northern Counties. Manufacturers
declared things could not go on much longer as they were. They began
to threaten that they would close their mills, or, as the Tories
interpreted the threats, to try to precipitate a revolution! The
speeches of Richard Cobden, John Bright, Joseph Sturge, George Thompson,
James Acland, and a host of less powerful agitators—had not only stirred
up a strong feeling of discontent, but had excited a confident expectation
Now thirty years have passed away, I see how much poor
Chartists resembled the fly on the wheel during that period of political
agitation. But men far more experienced than my poor self thought
that Chartism would succeed before Corn Law Repeal; that a great change
was at hand, and that the change would not be Free Trade, but a great
enlargement of the franchise, and the accompanying political demands
embodied in the People's Charter.
We petitioned Parliament twice during the time that I was in
Leicester, and two petty Conventions were held in London; to the first of
which one of the members of the old Convention, Thomas Rayner Smart, was
sent as our delegate from Leicester; and young Bairstow to the second.
Duncombe and Wakley supported the prayer of these Chartist petitions very
boldly and bravely. But there was nothing in the behaviour of the
vast majority of the House of Commons that indicated any enlargement of
the franchise to be at hand. Yet we still held by the People's
Charter, and fondly believed we should succeed.
Feargus O'Connor, by his speeches in various parts of the
country, and by his letters in the Northern Star, chiefly helped to
keep up these expectations. The immense majority of Chartists in
Leicester, as well as in many other towns, regarded him as the only really
disinterested and incorruptible leader. I adopted this belief,
because it was the belief of the people; and I opposed James Bronterre
O'Brien, and Henry Vincent, and all who opposed O'Connor, or refused to
act with him.
Common sense taught me that no cause can be gained by disunion. And as I
knew no reason for doubting the political honesty and disinterestedness
which O'Connor ever
asserted for himself, and in which the people believed, I stuck by
O'Connor, and would have gone through fire and water for him. There was
much that was attractive in him
when I first knew him. His fine manly form and his powerful baritone voice
gave him great advantages as a popular leader. His conversation was rich
humour, and often evinced a shrewd knowledge of character. The fact of his
having been in the House of Commons, and among the upper classes, also
lent him influence.
I do not think half a dozen Chartists cared a fig about his boasted
descent from "Roderick O'Connor, the king of Connaught, and last king of
all Ireland;" but the connection of
his family with the "United Irishmen" and patriotic sufferers of the
last century, rendered him a natural representive of the cause of
I saw no honest reason for deserting him, and getting up a "Complete
Suffrage Association," if the people who got it up veritably meant
politically what we meant as
Chartists. The working men said there was deceit behind their cry of "Complete Suffrage;" and I maintained their saying. For the demagogue, or
popular "leader," is rather
the people's instrument than their director. He keeps the lead, and is the
people's mouthpiece, hand and arm, either for good or evil, because his
quick sympathies are with
the people; while his temperament, nature, and energetic will fit him for
the very post which the people's voice assigns him.
Besides, we could not think of giving up our demand for the People's
Charter, to adopt the new cry for "Complete Suffrage," when we remembered
what had occurred in
Leicester before that cry was heard. I can never forget the stirring shout
that went up from the voices of working men in one of our Chartist
meetings in the New Hall, when the eloquent successor of the great Robert
Hall, the Rev. J. P. Mursell, uttered the words,
"Men of Leicester, stick to your Charter! When the time comes, my arm is
bared for Universal Suffrage!
It is true that Mr. Mursell never attended another Chartist meeting,
although he was eagerly enough looked for, and his presence hoped for by
our poor fellows.
"Where's Parson Barearm?" shouted one of the merriest of them, on one of
our meeting nights, while the room rang with laughter.
Nor was it the Rev. Mr. Mursell alone, of the middle-classes, who was
known to sympathise with us in our political creed. The Messrs. Biggs,
Baines, Viccars, Hull, Slade,
and others, were understood to regard the People's Charter as a fair
embodiment of popular rights, although they acted and voted with the
I maintained union—but no mere factiousness. I never suffered any meeting
to be held by Chartists, while I was leader in Leicester, to oppose the
repeal of the Corn Laws. It
was a part of Chartist policy, in many towns, to disturb Corn Law Repeal
meetings. I never disturbed one; and never suffered my party to do it. The
Leicester Whigs said
we did. But it was a falsehood. We were called disturbers as soon as we
entered a meeting, and before we had spoken!
Of course, there was a policy in that; but it was a dirty policy.
When we were fairly permitted to take our part, they saw what we meant. There was one large meeting of the Corn Law Repealers, in the
market-place, that I remember well,
where I and a few of my Chartist friends were allowed to be on the
platform. I interrupted no speaker, nor did a single Chartist utter
a word of disapproval. They finished their speeches,
and put their proposition to the vote. I held up my hand, and cried to my
own party who composed a large part of the crowd, "Now, Chartists!" and
every man of them held
up his hand for Corn Law Repeal. I then told the chairman that I should
beg leave to make another proposition, and I would not take up much time
in doing it. I then
proposed a resolution in favour of the People's Charter; and the chairman
put it formally to the vote. Mr. Wm. Baines, Mr. Slade, Mr. Hull, Mr.
Joseph Biggs, and three or four
others on the platform, held up their
hands with the great body of working men. "On the contrary!" said the
chairman; and there was a solitary hand held up. It was that of Mr. Tertius Paget. I have
no doubt he remembers it well—but
never mind! He was a young man then.
To resume the broken thread of my narrative. The decrease of work, and the
absolute destitution of an immense number of the working classes in
Leicester, led to alarming
symptoms, in the summer of 1842. The Union Poor House, or 'Bastile,' as it was always called by the
working men, was crowded to excess; and the throngs who asked for outdoor
relief for a time seemed to
paralyse the authorities. A mill was at length set up at the workhouse,
and it had to be turned by the applicants for relief. The working of the
wheel they declared to be
beyond their strength; and no doubt some of the poor feeble stockingers
among them spoke the truth. They complained of it also as degrading, and
it kindled a spirit of
strong indignation among the great body of working men in Leicester.
Meetings were held in the market-place to protest against the measures of
the Poor Law Guardians, and against the support afforded to them in their
harsh measures by the
magistrates. And at these meetings
I and my Chartist friends were often speakers. The labourers at the mill
were only allowed a few pence per day; and about forty of them used to go
round the town in a
body, and beg for additional pence at the shops. At length they resisted
one of the officials set to watch them at the wheel, and this led to a
riot, in which the windows of the
Union Poor House were broken. Police, however, were soon on the spot: the
disorder was quelled, and the ringleaders taken into custody.
The whole affair was utterly unconnected with our Chartist Association. None of the men who were in custody were on our books as members and:
might have been tried and dismissed, or imprisoned, as the case might be,
had it not been for the proposal made to me by a man who had generally
passed for a Tory, but
who suddenly came and offered his name and his subscription, as a member
of the Shaksperean Chartist Association.
This was Joseph Wood, an attorney of low practice, but well known in the
town. He offered to conduct the cases of the men who had been placed in
custody for the "Bastile
Riot," as it was called, and who had to be brought before the magistrates. Their relatives and friends had no sooner accepted his offer, than he
sought a private interview with
me, and proposed a scheme which too well accorded with my excited
imagination and feelings. It was, that I should, in a formal way, by the
drawing up of an agreement
and signing it, become his clerk, that he might empower me to conduct the
poor rioters' cases before the magistrates, myself. And I did this,
bullying and confounding the
witnesses, and angering the magistrates, by my bold defence of the
offenders, for two whole days. The market-place was thronged with crowds
who could not get into the
over-filled magistrate's room to hear the trials. And at last the
magistrates did—what, if they had been possessed of the brains and
courage of men, they would have done,
at first—put an end to my pleading, by declaring that I was not a
properly qualified representative of any attorney. By their foolish
cowardice and incompetence, the town
Leicester was in more danger of a real "riot," than it had ever been, by
our harmless singing of the " Lion of Freedom" through its streets. A
troop of horse was sent for from
Nottingham to overawe the working men; and the convicted "rioters" were
sentenced and sent to gaol.
For myself, the "destiny" was in progress. I was elected as delegate
from Leicester to the Chartist Conference, or Convention, which it had
been resolved should be
held in Manchester, on the 16th of August. As I had some small accounts
owing to me for my Commonwealthsman, in Birmingham, Bilston,
Wolverhampton, Stafford, and
the Staffordshire Potteries, I thought I would take that route to
Manchester. We had learned in Leicester that some of the colliers were on
strike in the Potteries, and that the
whole body of them had struck, in South Staffordshire, or the "Black
Country," and were holding meetings in the open air, almost daily; but I
had no foresight of danger in
going among them.
CHARTIST LIFE, CONTINUED: THE RIOT IN THE STAFFORDSHIRE POTTERIES:
I LEFT Leicester on Tuesday, the 9th of August, 1842, and lectured that
night, in the Odd Fellows Hall, Birmingham. The next morning I was taken
on to Wednesbury, to
assist in holding a meeting of the colliers on strike, at which, it was
thought, 30,000 men were present. Arthur G. O'Neill, Linney, Pearson, and
others addressed the
colliers, counselling them to persevere with their strike; and, above all
things, to avoid breaking the law or acting disorderly. I addressed them
on the necessity of uniting to
win the People's Charter. On Thursday night, I spoke on the same subject
to another meeting of colliers at Bilston. On Friday morning, I addressed
another meeting, in
the open air, at Wolverhampton; and the same evening, addressed two
meetings at Stafford, one in the market-place, and the other on the
The people, everywhere, seemed perfectly orderly. A policeman, stimulated
by the Tory party at Stafford, tried to create disorder; but I drew the
away from the market-place to the common, and defeated their purpose. And
all seemed perfectly quiet when I reached Hanley, the principal town of
the Potteries, on the
Saturday. I saw nothing of the colliers who were on strike; and companied
with the Teetotal Chartists, whom I had known when I paid a few days'
visit to Hanley, in April
On Sunday morning, in company with these Chartist friends, I went and
spoke in the open air at Fenton, and in the afternoon at Longton. In the
evening I addressed an
immense crowd at Hanley, standing on a chair in front of the Crown Inn:
such ground being called "the Crown Bank," by the natives. I took for a
text the sixth commandment:
"Thou shalt do no murder"—after we had sung Bramwich's hymn "Britannia's
sons, though slaves ye be," and I had offered a short prayer.
I showed how kings, in all ages, had enslaved the people, and spilt their
blood in wars of conquest, thus violating the precept, "Thou shalt do no
I named conquerors, from Sesostris to Alexander, from Caesar to Napoleon,
who had become famous in history by shedding the blood of millions: thus
violating the precept,
"Thou shalt do no murder."
I described how the conquerors of America had nearly exterminated the
native races, and thus violated the precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I recounted how English and French and Spanish and German wars, in modern
history, had swollen the
list of the slaughtered, and had violated the precept, "Thou shalt do no
I rehearsed the plunder of the Church by Henry the Eighth, and the burning
of men and women for religion, by himself and his daughter, Mary—who thus
fearfully violated the
precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I described our own guilty Colonial rule, and still guiltier rule of
Ireland; and asserted that British rulers had most awfully violated the
precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I showed how the immense taxation we were forced to endure, to enable our
rulers to maintain the long and ruinous war with France and Napoleon, had
suffering on millions; and that thus had been violated the precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I asserted that the imposition of the Bread Tax was a violation of the
same precept; and that such was the enactment of the Game Laws; that such
was the custom of
primogeniture and keeping of the land in the possession of the privileged
classes; and that such was the enactment of the infamous new Poor Law.
The general murmur of applause now began to swell into loud cries; and
these were mingled with execrations of the authors of the Poor Law.—I
I showed that low wages for wretched agricultural labourers, and the
brutal ignorance in which generation after generation they were left by
was a violation of the precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I asserted that the attempt to lessen the wages of toilers under ground,
who were in hourly and momentary danger of their lives, and to disable
them from getting the
necessary food for themselves and families, were violations of the
precept, "Thou shalt do no murder."
I declared that all who were instrumental in maintaining the system of
labour which reduced poor stockingers to the starvation I had witnessed in
Leicester,—and which was
witnessed among the poor handloom weavers of Lancashire, and poor
nail-makers of the Black Country—were violating the precept, "Thou shalt
do no murder."
And now the multitude shouted; and their looks told of vengeance—but I
went on, for I felt as if I could die on the spot in fulfilling a great
duty—the exposure of human wrong
and consequent human suffering. My strength was great at that time, and my
voice could be heard, like the peal of a trumpet, even to the verge of a
crowd composed of
thousands. How sincere I was, God knows! and it seemed impossible for me,
with my belief of wrong, to act otherwise.
I fear I spent so much time in describing the wrong, and raising the
spirit of vengeance in those who heard me, that the little time I spent in
conclusion, and in showing that
those who heard me were not to violate the precept, "Thou shalt do no
murder," either literally, or in its spirit, but that they were to practise the Saviour's
commandment, and to forgive their enemies, produced little effect in the
way of lowering the flame of desire for
vengeance, or raising the spirit of gentleness and forgiveness.
Before the conclusion of the meeting, which was prolonged till dusk, I was
desired to address the colliers on strike, on the same spot,—"the Crown
Bank"—the next morning
at nine o'clock. I agreed, and instantly announced the meeting.
I was lodging at honest and devoted Jeremiah Yates'; but often went across
the road to the George and Dragon, an inn to which a large room was
attached, in which Chartist
meetings were usually held. When I reached the inn that night, the
Chartist Committee told me they had received instruction from the Chartist
Committee in Manchester to
bring out the people from labour, and to persuade them to work no more
till the Charter became law—for that that resolution had been passed in
public meetings in
Manchester and Stockport, and Staleybridge, and Ashton-under-Lyne, and
Oldham, and Rochdale, and Bacup, and Burnley, and Blackburn, and Preston,
Lancashire towns, and they meant to spread the resolution all over
"The Plug Plot," of 1842, as it is still called in Lancashire, began in
reductions of wages by the Anti Corn-Law manufacturers, who did not conceal
their purpose of driving the
people to desperation, in order
to paralyse the Government. The people advanced at last, to a wild
general strike, and drew the plugs so as to stop the works at the mills,
and thus render labour
impossible. Some wanted the men who spoke at the meetings held at the
beginning of the strike to propose resolutions in favour of Corn Law
Repeal; but they refused.
The first meeting where the resolution was passed, "that all labour should
cease until the People's Charter became the law of the land," was held on
the 7th of August, on
Mottram Moor. In the course of a week, the resolution had been passed in
nearly all the great towns of Lancashire, and tens of thousands had held
up their hands in favour of
I constituted myself chairman of the meeting on the Crown Bank, at Hanley,
on Monday morning, the 15th of August, 1842, a day to be remembered to my
life's end. I
resolved to take the chief responsibility on myself, for what was about to
be done. I told the
people so. I suppose there would be eight or ten thousand present. I
showed them that if they carried out the resolution which was about to be
government on earth could resist their demand. But I told them that "Peace, Law, and Order" must be their motto; and that, while they took
peaceable means to secure a
general turn-out, and kept from violence, no law could touch them.
John Richards, who was seventy years of age and had been a member of the
oldest Chartist leader in the Potteries,—proposed the Resolution, "That all labour cease until the People's Charter becomes the law of the
A Hanley Chartist, whose name I forget, seconded it, and when I put the
resolution to the crowd all hands seemed to be held up for it; and not one
hand was held up when I
said "On the contrary." Three cheers were given for success, and the
meeting broke up.
I went to my lodging at the George and Dragon, to remain till the evening,
when I should lecture in the room, according to printed announcement. But
I had not been many
minutes in the inn, before a man came in with a wild air of joy, and said
they had got the hands out at such and such an employer's; others
followed; and then one said the
crowd had gone to Squire Allen's, to seize a stand of arms that had be
longed to the Militia. And then another came, and said the arms were at
Bailey Rose's; and they
had gone thither for them; and then another said they had done neither.
I strolled out and saw the shopkeepers shutting all their shops up, and
some putting day-books and ledgers into their gigs, and driving off! I
stepped into the Royal Oak, a
small public-house kept by Preston Barker, whom I had known in Lincoln. A
man came in there whom I stared to see. It was my
old Italian instructor, Signor D'Albrione! He had been settled in the
Potteries for a short time, as a teacher,—a fact I had no knowledge of. Men soon
came in with more reports of what the crowd were doing—but the reports
I went out into the street, and had not gone many yards before I saw a
company of infantry, marching, with fixed bayonets, and two magistrates on
their officers, apparently in the direction of Longton. Women and children
came out and gazed, but there was scarcely a male person to be seen
looking at the soldiers. I met
a man soon, however, who told me that the crowd, after visiting Bailey
Rose's, had gone to Longton, and no doubt the soldiers were going thither
I passed to and fro, and from and to my inn, and into the streets, viewing
the town of Hanley as having become a human desert. Scarcely a person
could be seen in the
streets; all the works were closed, and the shops shut. I went again to
my inn and wrote a letter to Leicester, telling our committee that they
must get the people into the
market-place and propose the Resolution to work no more till the Charter
became the law of the land. Then there was the sudden thought that I must
not send such a
letter through the post-office. A Chartist came into the inn whom the
landlord said I might trust; and he offered to start and walk to Leicester
with the letter at once. I wrote
another letter for my dear wife, gave the man five shillings, and
committed the two letters to his care. He delivered them safely, the next
morning, in Leicester.
The day wore on, wearily, and very anxiously, till about five in the
afternoon, when parties of men began to pass along the streets. Some came
into my inn, and began to
relate the history of the doings at Longton, which had been violent
indeed. Yet the accounts they gave were confused, and I had still no clear
understanding of what had been
By six o'clock, thousands crowded into the large open space about the
Crown Inn, and instead of lecturing at eight o'clock in the room, the
committee thought I had better
go out at once, and lecture on the Crown Bank. So I went at seven o'clock
to the place where I had stood in the morning. Before I began, some of the
men who were drunk,
and who, it seems, had been in the riot at Longton, came round me and
wanted to shake hands with me. But I shook them off, and told them I was
ashamed to see them.
I began by telling the immense crowd—for its numbers were soon
countless—that I had heard there had been destruction of property that
day, and I warned all who had
participated in that act, that they were not the friends, but the enemies
of freedom—that ruin to themselves and others must attend this strike for
the Charter, if they who
pretended to be its advocates broke the law.
"I proclaim Peace, Law, and Order!" I cried
at the highest pitch of my voice. "You all hear me; and I warn you of
the folly and wrong you are committing, if you do not preserve Peace, Law,
At dusk, I closed the meeting; but I saw the people did not disperse; and
two pistols were fired off in the crowd. No policeman had I seen the whole
what had become of the soldiers I could
not learn. I went back to my inn; but I began to apprehend that mischief
had begun which it would not be easy to quell.
Samuel Bevington was the strongest-minded man among the Chartists of the
Potteries; and he said to me, "You had better get off to Manchester. You
can do no
more good here." I agreed that he was right; and two Chartist friends went
out to hire a gig to enable me to get to the Whitmore station, that I
might get to Manchester:
there was no railway through the Potteries, at that time. But they tried
in several places, and all in vain. No one would lend a gig, for it was
reported that soldiers and
policemen and special constables had formed a kind of cordon round the
Potteries, and were stopping up every outlet.
Midnight came, and then it was proposed that I should walk to
Macclesfield, and take the coach there at seven the next morning, for
Manchester. Two young men, Green
and Moore, kindly agreed to accompany me; and I promised them half-a-crown
"But first," said I, "lend me a hat and a greatcoat. You say violence is
going on now. Do not let me be mixed up with it. I shall be known, as I
the streets, by my cap and cloak; and some
who see me may be vile enough to say I have shared in the outbreak."
So Miss Hall, the daughter of Mr. Hall, the landlord of the George and
Dragon, lent me a hat and great-coat. I put them on, and putting my
travelling cap into my bag, gave
the bag to one of the young men, and my cloak to the other; and,
accompanied by Bevington and other friends, we started. They took me
through dark streets to Upper
Hanley; and then Bevington and the rest bade us farewell, and the two
young men and I went on.
CHARTIST LIFE CONTINUED: REMARKABLE NIGHT JOURNEY:
MY friends had purposely conducted me through dark streets, and led me out
of Hanley in such a way that I saw neither spark, smoke, or flame. Yet the
rioters were burning
the houses of the Rev. Mr. Aitken and Mr. Parker, local magistrates, and
the house of Mr. Forrester, agent of Lord Granville (principal owner of
the collieries in the Potteries)
during that night. Scenes were being enacted in Hanley, the possibility of
which had never entered my mind, when I so earnestly urged those excited
thousands to work no
more till the People's Charter became the law of the land. Now thirty
years have gone over my head, I see how rash and uncalculating my conduct
was. But, as I have
already said, the demagogue is ever the instrument rather than the leader
of the mob. I had caught the spirit of the oppressed and discontented
thousands, and, by virtue of
my nature and constitution, struck the spark which kindled all into
Nor did the outbreak end with that night. Next morning thousands were
again in the streets of Hanley and began to pour into the other Pottery
towns from the surrounding districts. A troop of cavalry, under
Major Beresford, entered the district, and the daring colliers strove to
unhorse the soldiers. Their commander reluctantly gave the order to
fire; one man was killed at Burslem. The mob dispersed; but quiet
was not restored until the day after this had been done, and scores had
been apprehended and taken to prison.
Many days passed before I learned all this. I must now
call the reader's close attention to a few facts which very closely
concern myself, and show that, amidst the fulfilment of the "destiny," an
Everpresent and All-beneficent Hand was guiding events, and preventing a
fatal conclusion to my error. My friend Bevington, and those
who were with him, charged the two young men, Green and Moore, who
accompanied me, not to go through Burslem, because the special constables
were reported to be in the streets, keeping watch during the night; but to
go through the village of Chell, and avoid Burslem altogether.
I think we must have proceeded about a mile in our night
journey when we came to a point where there were two roads; and Moore took
the road to the right while Green took that to the left.
"Holloa!" I cried out, being a short distance behind them,
"what are you about? what is the meaning of this?"
"Jem, thou fool, where art thou going to?" cried Moore to the
"Why, to Chell, to be sure!" answered Green.
"Chell! thou fool, that's not the way to Chell: it's the way
to Burslem," cried Moore.
"Dost thou think I'm such a fool that I don't know the way to
Chell, where I've been scores o' times?" said Green.
"So have I been scores o' times," said Moore ; "but I tell
thee that isn't the way to Chell."
"I tell thee that I'm right," said the one.
"I tell thee thou art wrong," said the other.
And so the altercation went on, and they grew so angry with
each other that I thought they would fight about it.
"This is an awkward fix for me," said I, at length. You
both say you have been scores of times to Chell, and yet you cannot agree
about the way. You know we have no time to lose. I cannot
stand here listening to your quarrel. I must be moving some way.
You cannot decide for me. So I shall decide for myself. I go
this way,"—and off I dashed along the road to the left, Moore still
protesting it led to Burslem, and Green contending as stoutly that it led
They both followed me, however, and both soon recognised the
entrance of the town of Burslem, and wished to go back.
"Nay," said I, "we will not go back. You seem to know
the other way so imperfectly, that, if we attempt to find it, we shall
very likely get lost altogether. I suppose this is the highroad to
Macclesfield, and perhaps it is only a tale about the specials."
In the course of a few minutes we proved that it was no tale.
We entered the market-place of Burslem, and there, in full array, with the
lamp-lights shining upon them, were the Special Constables! The two
young men were struck with alarm; and, without speaking a word, began to
stride on, at a great pace. I called to them, in a strong whisper,
not to walk fast—for I knew that would draw observation upon us.
But neither of them heeded. Two persons, who seemed to be officers
over the specials, now came to us. Their names, I afterwards
learned, were Wood and Alcock, and they were leading manufacturers in
"Where are you going to, sir?" said Mr. Wood to me.
"Why are you travelling at this time of the night, or morning rather?
And why are those two men gone on so fast?"
"I am on the way to Macclesfield, to take the early coach for
Manchester," said I; "and those two young men have agreed to walk with
"And where have you come from?" asked Mr. Wood; and I
answered, "From Hanley."
"But why could you not remain there till the morning?"
"I wanted to get away because there are fires and disorder in
the town—at least, I was told so, for I have seen nothing of it."
Meanwhile, Mr. Alcock had stopped the two young men.
"Who is this man?" he demanded; "and how happen you to be
with him, and where is he going to?"
"We don't know who he is," answered the young men, being
unwilling to bring me into danger; "he has given us half-a-crown a piece,
to go with him to Macclesfield. He's going to take the coach there
for Manchester, to-morrow morning."
"Come, come," said Mr. Alcock, "you must tell us who he is.
I am sure you know."
The young men doggedly protested that they did not know.
"I think," said Mr. Wood, "the gentleman had better come with
us into the Legs of Man" (the principal inn, which has the arms of the
Isle of Man for its sign), "and let us have some talk with him."
So we went into the inn, and we were soon joined by a
tart-looking consequential man.
"What are you, sir?" asked this ill-tempered-looking person.
"A commercial traveller," said I, resolving not to tell a
lie, but feeling that I was not bound to tell the whole truth. And
then the same person put other silly questions to me, until he alighted on
the right one, "What is your name?"
I had no sooner told it, than I saw Mr. Alcock write
something on a bit of paper, and hand it to Mr. Wood. As it passed
the candle I saw what he had written,—"He is a Chartist lecturer."
"Yes, gentlemen," I said, instantly, "I am a Chartist
lecturer; and now I will answer any question you may put to me."
"That is very candid on your part, Mr. Cooper," said Mr.
"But why did you tell a lie, and say you were a commercial
traveller?" asked the tart-looking man.
"I have not told a lie," said I; "for I am a commercial
traveller, and I have been collecting accounts and taking orders for
stationery that I sell, and a periodical that I publish, in Leicester."
"Well, sir," said Mr. Wood, "now we know who you are, we must
take you before a magistrate. We shall have to rouse him from bed;
but it must be done."
Mr. Parker was a Hanley magistrate, but had taken alarm when
the mob began to surround his house, before they set it on fire, and had
escaped to Burslem. He had not been more than an hour in bed, when
they roused him with the not very agreeable information that he must
immediately examine a suspicious-seeming Chartist, who had been stopped in
the street. I was led into his bedroom, as he sat in bed, with his
night-cap on. He looked so terrified at the sight of me—and bade me
stand farther off, and nearer the door! In spite of my dangerous
circumstances, I was near bursting into laughter. He put the most
stupid questions to me; and at his request I turned out the contents of my
carpet-bag, which I had taken from the young men, with the thought that I
might be separated from them. But he could make nothing of the
contents,—either of my night-cap and stockings, or the letters and papers
it held. Mr. Wood at last said,—
"Well, Mr. Parker, you seem to make nothing out in your
examination of Mr. Cooper. You have no witnesses, and no charges
against him. He has told us frankly that he has been speaking in
Hanley; but we have no proof that he has broken the peace. I think
you had better discharge him, and let him go on his journey."
Mr. Parker thought the same, and discharged me. His
house was being burnt at Hanley while I was in his bedroom at Burslem.
I was afterwards charged with sharing the vile act. But I could have
put Mr. Parker himself into the witness-box to prove that I was three
miles from the scene of riot, if the witnesses against me had not
proved it themselves. The young men, by the wondrous Providence
which watched over me, were prevented going by way of Chell. If we
had not gone to Burslem, false witnesses might have procured me
transportation for life!
Were these young men true to me? Had they deserted me,
and gone back to Hanley? No: they were true to me, and were waiting
in the street; and now cheerily took the bag and cloak, and we sped on
again, faster. We had been detained so long, however, that by the
time we reached the "Red Bull," a well-known inn on the highroad between
Burslem and the more northern towns of Macclesfield, Leek, and Congleton,
one of the young men, observed by his watch that it was now too late for
us to be able to reach Macclesfield in time for the early coach. The
other young man agreed; and they both advised that we should strike down
the road, at the next turning off to the left, and get to Crewe—where I
could take the railway for Manchester. We did so; and had time for
breakfast at Crewe, before the Manchester train came up, when the young
A second special Providence was thus displayed in my behalf.
If we had proceeded in the direction of Macclesfield, in the course of
some quarter of an hour we should have met a crowd of working men, armed
with sticks, coming from Leek and Congleton to join the riot in the
Potteries. That I should have gone back with them, I feel certain;
and then I might have been shot in the street, as the leader of the
outbreak; or, if taken prisoner, I might have forfeited my life.
Do not feel surprised, reader, when I say I feel certain I
should have gone back with that crowd. How rapid are our changes of
mind and the succession of our impulses and resolves, when we are under
high excitement, none can know, except by dread experience. As we
journeyed along that night, I was compelled to keep behind the young men,
in order to do battle with my own thoughts. If truth did not demand
it, I would hardly tell what tumultuous thoughts passed through me.
"Was it not sneaking cowardice to quit the scene of danger?
Ought I not to have remained, and again, on the following morning, have
summoned the people to hear me, and proclaimed 'Peace, Law, and Order'?
"Or, what if like scenes should be transacting in Lancashire
and elsewhere, and this be really an incipient Revolution—ought I not to
have remained, and displayed the spirit of a leader, instead of shunning
"Could I expect the people to take the advice I had given
them in the morning, and expect all to be as quiet as lambs, when labour
was given up? Had I not better turn back, and direct the struggle
"No: it was better to go on to the Manchester convention, and
learn the truth about Lancashire, and know the spirit of the leaders with
whom I had to act. O'Connor would be there; and surely he would not
be deficient in courage, if he saw any real opportunity of leading the
people to win a victory for the People's Charter.
"But, whatever others might do, if the report given in
respecting the spirit of the people, by members of the Convention, showed
that there was a strong resolve to work no more till Right was done—I
would fight if the people had to fight. Why not end the Wrong, at
once, if it could be ended?"
When I entered the railway carriage at Crewe, some who were
going to the Convention recognised me,—and, among the rest, Campbell,
secretary of the "National Charter Association." He had left London
on purpose to join the Conference; and, like myself, was anxious to know
the real state of Manchester. So soon as the City of Long Chimneys
came in sight, and every chimney was beheld smokeless, Campbell's face
changed, and with an oath he said, "Not a single mill at work! something
must come out of this, and something serious too!"
CHARTIST LIFE CONTINUED: MY FIRST TRIAL AND ACQUITTAL:
IN Manchester, I soon found McDouall, Leach, and
Bairstow, who, together with Campbell, formed what was called "The
Executive Council of the National Charter Association." They said
O'Connor was in Manchester, and they hoped he would be at a meeting to be
held that afternoon, at a public-house. He came to the place, but
said it was not advisable to hold the Conference there: some better place
must be had for the evening; and we had better separate. We all
thought he seemed frightened.
In the streets, there were unmistakable signs of alarm on the
part of the authorities. Troops of cavalry were going up and down
the principal thoroughfares, accompanied by pieces of artillery, drawn by
horses. In the evening, we held a meeting in the Reverend Mr.
Schofield's chapel, where O'Connor, the Executive, and a considerable
number of delegates were present; and it was agreed to open the
Conference, or Convention, in form, the next morning, at nine o'clock.
We met at that hour, the next morning, Wednesday, the 17th of August, when
James Arthur of Carlisle was elected President. There were nearly
sixty delegates present; and as they rose, in quick succession, to
describe the state of their districts, it was evident they were, each and
all, filled with the desire of keeping the people from returning to their
labour. They believed the time had come for trying, successfully, to
paralyse the Government. I caught their spirit—for the working of
my mind had prepared me for it.
McDouall rose, after a while, and in the name of the
Executive proposed, in form, that the Conference recommends the universal
adoption of the resolution already passed at numerous meetings in
Lancashire,—that all labour shall cease till the People's Charter becomes
the law of the land. When the Executive, and a few others, had
spoken, all in favour of the universal strike, I told the Conference I
should vote for the resolution because it meant fighting, and I saw it
must come to that. The spread of the strike would and must be
followed by a general outbreak. The authorities of the land would
try to quell it; but we must resist them. There was nothing now but
a physical force struggle to be looked for. We must get the people
out to fight; and they must be irresistible, if they were united.
There were shouts of applause from a few, and loud murmurs
from others,—and up rose O'Connor.
"I do not believe," said he, "that there is a braver man in
this Conference than Mr. Cooper; and I have no doubt that he would do what
he proposes others should do. But we are not met here to talk about
fighting. We must have no mention of anything of the kind here.
We are met to consider what can be done to make the Charter the law of the
land; and the general extension of the strike which has been begun is
proposed as the means to be used. Let us keep to the resolution
before the meeting."
In spite of O'Connor's protest, Mooney of Colne, Christopher
Doyle, and one or two other delegates, stood up, and in a fiery style told
the Convention they were for the strike because they were for fighting;
and they were glad I had spoken out—for the strike really meant fighting.
But now uprose William Hill, who had been a Swedenborgian
minister, and so was often termed "Reverend"—but who had for some years
been O'Connor's servant, as editor of the Northern Star. He
admired, he said, the clear intelligence which had led me to proclaim in
so decided a manner that the strike meant fighting; but he wondered that
so clear an intellect should dream of fighting. Fighting!—the
people had nothing to fight with, and would be mown down by artillery if
they attempted to fight. The strike had originated with the Anti
Corn-Law League, and we should simply be their tools if we helped to
extend or prolong the strike. It could only spread disaster and
suffering. He denounced the strike as a great folly and a mistake;
and he moved a resolution that the Conference entirely disapproved of it.
Richard Otley of Sheffield followed on the same side.
He was astonished, he said, to hear his friend Cooper talk of fighting.
How could I expect poor starving weavers to fight? and what had they to
fight with? Had I calculated that if we endeavoured to form
battalions for fighting, the people would need food and clothing—they
would need arms and powder and shot; they would, very likely, have to
bivouac in the fields-anyhow, could I expect poor weavers to do that?
It would kill them in a few days.
Nothing caused so much amazement in the Conference as the
speech of George Julian Harney. He supported Editor Hill—even he, Julian,
the renowned invoker of the spirits of Marat, Danton, and Robespierre, in
the old Convention times!—Julian, the notorious advocate of physical
force, at all times!
"What! Julian turned 'moral-force humbug!' what will happen next?" was
said by the advocates of the strike. And yet, Julian had supported Editor
Hill in a very sensible
manner; and a more sincere or honest man than Julian, perhaps, never
There were only six votes in favour of Editor Hill's amendment. O'Connor
spoke late—evidently waiting to gather the spirit of the meeting before
he voted with the majority,
which he meant to do from
the first. Yet he meant to do nothing in support of the strike, although
he voted for it!
McDouall was a different kind of spirit. He hastily drew up an exciting
and fiercely worded address to the working men of England, appealing to
the God of Battles for the
issue, and urging a universal strike. He got Leach to print this before
the Convention broke up in the evening. The address was brought into the
Convention, and McDouall
read the placard; but Editor Hill defiantly protested against it; and
O'Connor moved that instead of its being sent out in the name of the
Convention, the Executive should send
it out in their own name. McDouall said the Executive would do so—and the
Conference broke up.
The publication of the address, with the names of the Executive appended
to it, caused the police to look after them very sharply. Campbell got off
to London, McDouall got
away into Yorkshire, and only Leach was left at his own home in
Manchester, where the police soon found him. Bairstow, I took back with me
to Leicester. We walked
through Derbyshire, as far as Belper, and then took the railway.
I found Leicester in a state of terror and discouragement. Before my
letter from Hanley reached them, the working men had taken their own
resolution, and held a meeting in
the market-place, declaring their adherence to the strike which had
in Lancashire. They then withdrew to an elevation in the neighbourhood of
Leicester, which bears the singular name of "Momecker Hill." Here they
were charged by the
county police, and dispersed. It often causes a laugh in Leicester, to the
present time, when old Chartist days are mentioned, and some one says,
"Were you at the Battle of
Laughter was not perceptible in Leicester, when I re-entered it. The
police, I was told, had charged the people in the streets, as well as upon Momecker Hill, and smitten and
injured several with their staves. I called Chartist friends together,
with great difficulty; and endeavoured to reassure them. And then I
issued a printed address to the magistrates of Leicester, boldly reprehending them for
dispersing the people; and assuring them that I should still contend for
the People's Charter.
I had not been one week at home, before the Leicester police came and
handcuffed me, and took me to the Town Hall, where—in presence of Stokes,
the Mayor, who looked
as white as a sheet, and never spoke a word!—I was handed over to the
constable of Hanley, who had come to apprehend me. We reached Hanley at
night, and I was taken
to a "lockup," where a large, coarse fellow, who was set to watch over me,
put huge iron bolts on my ancles, so that I could not sleep as I lay in my
clothes on a board. The
next day I was taken to Newcastle-under-Lyme, and brought before Mr.
Mr. Ayshford Wyse, magistrates. Several witnesses appeared against me;
and I saw what I must expect when the real trial came. I had to complain
of the "leading
questions" put to the witnesses, eliciting replies which were damaging to
"He proclaimed 'Peace, Law, and Order,' and shouted it aloud," said one of
the meanest of the witnesses, with a laugh.
"But how did he say it?" asked Mr. Mainwaring; " did he say it as if
he meant it?"
"Oh, no!" cried Dirty Neck, as the fellow was called in the Potteries;
"it was only innuendo."
"Is there any particular statute against inuendo?" I asked the
magistrate; "would it not be strange, if I were convicted of the crime of
inuendo? Do you think it right, sir,
to put answers into men's mouths in this way?"
They committed me to Stafford Gaol, on the charge of aiding in a riot at
Hanley, etc. But I was kept at Newcastle-under-Lyme until next day,
Sunday—when, to my
amazement, I was borne away in an open carriage drawn by four horses, with
a troop of cavalry, having drawn swords, escorting me, to the Whitmore
station, on what was
then called the
"Grand Junction Line," there being no railway through the Potteries at
that time, as I said before. At the Whitmore station, the constable of
Newcastle-under-Lyme handcuffed me to his wrist, and took me in the train
to Stafford; and so on Sunday evening,
the 28th of August, 1842, I first became a prisoner in Stafford Gaol.
From that time till the commencement of the Special Assizes, in October,
eight hundred persons were brought to Stafford Gaol, as participators in
the riot of the 15th
August. I was surrounded with a score, and sometimes more, of these men,
in the prison ward, in the daytime; but I slept alone. During these six
weeks, before I was
brought up for my first trial, and while surrounded with the colliers and
potters who were charged with sharing in the riots, I composed several of
the simple tales which will be
found in "Wise Saws and Modern Instances," published in 1845. I also
commenced my intended "Purgatory of Suicides," in blank verse, and struck
off one hundred lines.
But these were afterwards abandoned.
The day of trial came, the 11th of October, before Sir Nicholas Conyngham
Tindal, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas: Sir William Follett, the
Solicitor-General, and Mr.
Waddington, being the two prosecuting barristers. I had engaged Mr.
Williams, an honest Radical of the Potteries, as my attorney; and he
engaged Mr. Lee, as the
barrister to assist me on law points only—as I had determined to conduct
my own case. William Prowting Roberts, the "Chartist Attorney-General,"
as he was often called,
also kindly promised to assist me with advice.
I felt stunned, as if a person had given me a blow on the head, when
Roberts came to have a private
interview with me in the prison, but a week before the trial, and he told
me I was to be tried for the alleged crime of "arson," or aiding and
abetting the burning of justice
"They are about to arraign you," he also said, on the morning before the
trial, "in company with seventeen other prisoners. Now, if you permit
you are a lost man. Mind what I say: you have a chance of a fair trial, if
you do two things—first, you must demand 'to sever,' that is, to be tried
alone. If you
persist in your demand, you will gain it. Secondly, you must 'challenge
the jury,' that is, you must ask every Juryman, before he is sworn,
whether he has served on
any trial during this Special Assize—and then object to him, if he has so
served,—for all who have hitherto served are prejudiced men. Refuse to
plead either 'guilty' or 'not
guilty,' before the court grants you leave to sever and to challenge the
I refused to plead until both demands were granted me, although I was
resisted, very sternly, by Sir William Follett. Two or three witnesses
swore that they saw me
arm-in-arm with William Ellis (whom I had never known or seen in my life)
walking to the fire at justice Parker's house. One witness, Mr Macbean,
surgeon of Hanley,
gave his evidence in a clear, honest, and intelligent manner; but no one
else did. The Solicitor-General, both in addressing the jury and in
great unfairness, as I thought. Once he made me spring up and contradict
"My lord, and gentlemen of the jury," he said, in his very deep voice,
"the prisoner at the bar is declared by several witnesses to have said,
while addressing the crowd that
had just returned to Hanley, after burning the house of the Reverend Mr.
Vale, at Longton, 'My lads, you have done your work well, to-day!' What
work, gentlemen? Why the destruction of property, to be sure—"
"Sir William!" I cried out, " you are slaughtering me! You know it is
false to say I meant they had done their work well in destroying property. You know that your most
intelligent witness, Mr. Macbean, declared the words were, 'You have done
your work well in turning out the hands!' And those were the words: wrong
or right, I shall not
Moore, Green, Worthington, Sylvester, and others of my own witnesses, not
only proved my alibi, but the later witnesses against me showed that I was
at Burslem, in
Justice Parker's bedroom, at the time that the earlier witnesses swore
they saw me, arm in arm, with William Ellis, in the streets of Hanley! I
occupied some two hours of the
time of the Court in delivering my own address. I dealt, first, with the
evidence of the witnesses and their contradictions; secondly, I told the
truth about my alibi on the night
of the riots; and thirdly, I sketched my own life, and
asked the jury if they could believe any intent of urging men to the
destruction of property could dwell in the mind of one who had spent so
much of his life in mental and
The judge, it was observed by Roberts, who was his kinsman, and knew him
well, was much affected with my address; and some of the ladies who sat
near him shed tears.
In summing up, the judge told the jury, most positively, that they could
not convict me of the crime of arson; that I certainly was at Burslem,
and not at Hanley, during the
time that Mr. Parker's house was on fire. The jury retired; and, after
twenty minutes of agonizing suspense for myself, gave in their verdict of
I was taken down into the " glory-hole," as the felons call the filthy
place under the Courts of Assize in Stafford; and there I first saw
William Ellis, who had just been
sentenced to twenty-one years' transportation, although, he assured me,
most solemnly, he was not at the fires. I was taken back to the prison,
and two days afterwards I
was again taken, in the prison-van to the Court, and arraigned again
before Sir Nicholas Conyngham Tindal—first for the crime of conspiracy
with William Ellis, Joseph
Capper, and John Richards; and secondly, for the crime of sedition.
Again, kindly instructed by Roberts, I asked "to traverse:" that is, to
have my trial adjourned to the next Assizes. Sir William Follett smiled
with gladness when he heard
my request. The ambitious,
hard-working, highly intelligent man was dying; and the fortnight's
terrible work at Stafford, though he was paid several thousands for it,
hastened his end. He readily
consented, and Daddy Richards, as he was always called in the Potteries,
was also allowed to traverse. But Capper would not traverse.
"I want to go whooam," said the obstinate old man ; "try me and get done
wi' me I've done nowt amiss."
So they arraigned him, separately, on the charge of sedition, and soon
brought him in guilty, and sentenced him to two years' imprisonment. I
knew when they had done that,
that I should receive a sentence of imprisonment also for two years, at
some future day. Daddy Richards and I were taken back to prison till we
could find bail. Daddy found
good bail in the Potteries. Mr. Robert Haimes, of Oundle, in
Northamptonshire, a beneficent gentleman of eighty years of age, went,
first, by mistake, to Lancaster, and then
to London, that—with my friend and benefactor, Mr. Samuel Mullen—he
might give bail for myself, although I was utterly unknown to him, except
by mere report, as a poor
Chartist in trouble. Although we thus readily found friends—substantial
friends—who offered bail for us, the Staffordshire magistrates threw all
kinds of impediment in our
way—evidently desiring to keep us in prison. After five more weeks had
passed we were liberated. My first imprisonment had thus lasted eleven
CHARTIST LIFE, CONTINUED: STURGE CONFERENCE:
I HAD a public entry into Leicester—a procession round the town, with
flags,—and all that sort of thing; but I saw, before the day was over,
that all had been going wrong in
my absence. Duffy, an excitable Irishman, who had suffered a long
imprisonment for Chartism, and had so suffered that he had become sad and
soured, had formed a party
with a few turbulent men; and two or three other petty parties were
opposed to these: in brief, all was discord and jealousy. My poor wife,
too, who had sustained her burden
of trouble most heroically, had gradually declined, till she was obliged
to tenant her bedroom only.
The election of Mr. Thomas Gisborne for Nottingham drew me away from home
for a few days. It was determined to give Thomas Slingsby Duncombe, M.P.,
a public entry
into Nottingham,—as the political patron or advocate under whose
persuasion Mr. Gisborne was to be accepted by the Nottingham electors. O'Connor wished me to
meet him at Nottingham, to do honour to Duncombe ; and so I went over. Our
Chartists joined the procession with their flags, mingling friendlily with
the other shades of Liberals ; and O'Connor and I, adorned with rosettes,
led the horses of the open carriage in which Mr. Duncombe entered
Nottingham. He was in the very prime of life, and I never saw a handsomer
man in form and figure; nor could aught surpass, in attractiveness, the
winning smile he wore, and the graceful way in which he acknowledged the
hearty and almost tumultuous welcome he received.
During Christmastide, at Leicester, Chartist divisions were hushed, that
we might make provision for taking our part in what was afterwards called
the 'Great Birmingham Conference,' and by some the 'Great Sturge
Conference.' Since it was composed of more than 400 persons, it might well
bear a designation of importance. The leaders of the Complete Suffrage
party had met Lovett, Collins, O'Brien, and other old Chartists who were
not of O'Connor's party, at Birmingham, in an earlier part of the year;
and it had then been determined to hold a Conference on a large scale of
Leicester was privileged to return four delegates. The Complete Suffrage
party wished two of the delegates to be chosen in a meeting composed of
parliamentary electors only; and to leave the unrepresented to elect the
two other delegates. But this did not meet the views either of Chartists
or of working men generally. They forced their way into the meetings called by
the respectables; and the respectables disappeared. It was of their own
respectable good pleasure that they withdrew. If they had remained,
working-men would have voted for the Rev. J. P. Mursell and Mr. William
Baines, to be delegates with Duffy and myself. But respectables held our
characters to be defective, and they would not act with us. So we acted by
ourselves. I and Duffy and two other Chartists were voted delegates for
Leicester, and we went to Birmingham: no respectables went.
Our Chartist delegates were the most numerous party in the Birmingham
Conference; but my expectation rose when I saw so many persons present
belonging to the middle class. I thought that if such persons would
assemble with us to confer about presenting a petition to Parliament for
making a law whereby all mature men should have the franchise, it showed
we were really advancing. If the strike for the Charter had ended almost
as soon as it begun, and had ended disastrously,—if neither we nor the
Anti Corn-Law League had succeeded in paralysing the government, it looked
as if there were a party in the country who were determined yet to let the
Government understand that there was real cause for discontent, and it was
time the wrong should be righted.
The truly illustrious Joseph Sturge was elected
chairman of the Conference, by acclamation—for not a single working-man
delegate in the meeting wished for any other chairman. And now, if Mr. Sturge himself, or Edward Miall, or the Rev. Thomas Spencer, or the Rev.
Patrick Brewster of Paisley, or Mr. Lawrence Heyworth of Liverpool, or any
other leading member of the Complete Suffrage party present, had risen in
that assembly, and spoken words of real kindness and hearty conciliation,
I am persuaded that not even O'Connor himself, if he had desired it, could
have prevented the great body of working-men delegates from uttering
shouts of joy.
But there was no attempt to bring about a union—no effort for
conciliation—no generous offer of the right hand of friendship. We soon
found that it was determined to keep poor Chartists "at arm's length." We
were not to come between the wind and their nobility. Thomas Beggs of
Nottingham, a mere secondary member of the Complete Suffrage party, was
put up to propose their first resolution, to the effect,—That the "People's Bill of Rights" form the basis from which the petition should be
drawn that this Conference would present to Parliament.
But what was the "People's Bill of Rights"? A document which had been
drawn up by a barrister, it was said, at the request of the Complete
Suffrage party, in which the six points of our Charter were embodied, and
some definite propositions were made for distributing the country into
equal electoral districts.
But Chartists knew nothing of all this. And it was preposterous to ask us
to vote for what we knew nothing of. Copies of the new bill were laid on
the tables. But who could be expected to read and digest a mass of print
amounting to many pages, in the lapse of a few hours, or while listening
to exciting speeches, and then give a judgment on it? Murmurs of
discontent, and soon of indignation, began to arise—when up rose William
Lovett, throwing up his tall form to its full height, and, with a glance
of haughty defiance towards the Complete Suffrage leaders, to our utter
amazement he led the attack upon them!
If they had made up their minds, he said, to force their Bill of Rights
upon the Conference, he would move that the People's Charter be the basis
from whence the petition should be drawn for presentation to Parliament. He also openly charged the Complete Suffrage party with unmanly
"You have not kept faith with me," he said; when I and my friends met
you, in this town, some months ago, we were given to understand that no
measures contrary to our views would be taken without our being informed
of it; and now this resolution is proposed—so contrary to fairness. If
you will withdraw your motion, I will withdraw mine; and then we will endeavour to come to a fair agreement. If you refuse to withdraw your
resolution, I stand by mine as an amendment."
Lovett's conduct won the hearts of all who were
O'Connor Chartists, and, apparently, of O'Connor himself—for he followed
with a highly-spiced eulogium on Lovett. But Lovett evidently did not
accept his flattery. He was irreconcilably opposed to O'Connor, as a mere
trader on political agitation; and he was, constitutionally, too proud to
bear the thought of being under another's leadership. But so far as
parties could be distinguished in that Conference, there were now but
two. We had looked on Lovett and his friends as a doubtful party when the
Conference was opened. All thought of that was now gone; and the debate
soon began to be very stormy—for the Complete Suffrage party stuck by
their "People's Bill of Rights," and we stuck by our "People's Charter."
The best orator in the Conference was a friend of Lovett's, utterly
unknown to the great majority of delegates. He was then a subordinate in
the British Museum, but has now, for many years, been known to all England
as the highly successful barrister, Serjeant Parry. The Reverend Patrick
Brewster of Paisley distinguished himself by the length of his speech; and
Mr. Lawrence Heyworth by his offensiveness.
"We will espouse your principles, but we will not have your leaders," he
cried; and when the outcry against him grew strong, he grew still more
offensive—"I say again," he shouted, "we'll not have you—you tyrants!"
The good chairman now interposed, and begged of him not to proceed in that
style; or I think George White, and Beesley, and a few others, who were
heard swearing roughly, would have been disposed to try another and more
conclusive way of arguing than mere speech.
The Rev. Mr. Spencer, a clergyman of the Complete Suffrage party, was
heard with kindly patience, for he addressed us respectfully, though he
did not convince us. We had a clergyman on our side also—a very great
contrast, every way, to Mr. Spencer—but well known for many years, among
London Radicals, as a very determined politician: the famous, fat "Parson Wade," as he was always called.
"What is this 'Bill of Rights'?" he asked; "this mysterious something
which we are expected to swallow—this thing begotten in darkness, and
brought forth in a coal-hole—this
'Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.'
This pig in a poke?—What is it? I say. We know nothing about it. And I
wonder at the effrontery—nay, sir, I tell you plainly I wonder at the
impudence of any party who can call together a Conference like this, and
mock us with such a proposition."
"I am a Chartist," he cried, in conclusion; "I am a whole hog! and I
don't care who knows it."
During the time that some prosy speaker was occupying the Conference, or
rather consuming their
time, I fell into conversation with James Williams of Sunderland. He
expressed to me his regret that something had not been done—even if the
attempt were unsuccessful—to bring back the Conference to fairness. I
told him it was too late—for it was now far on, on the second day;—but
it would be well to propose a resolution even if none voted with us. It
would be a protest for fairness, if it were no more. So he moved, and I
seconded, a proposition that both People's Charter and People's Bill of
Rights be laid on the table, that they might form the basis of the
petition to be sent to Parliament by the Conference.
I do not think we had half a dozen supporters. It was, as I said, too
late. Chartists were not likely to give way under such circumstances. To
abandon their Charter, for which so many of them had suffered
imprisonment, and for which all had endured scorn and persecution—in
order to accept a proposition so offensively advocated by some, and so
irrational in its suddenness—could not be expected of them.
When the decisive vote was taken, we were apparently as three to one; and
Joseph Sturge, after a little hesitation, rose and told us that he and his
friends had come to the determination to leave us: they would withdraw,
and hold a Conference by themselves. All was tumult for a time. An
independent Quaker, from the Isle of Wight, protested, and said he would
not withdraw. The Rev. H. Solly, of Yeovil,
also refused to withdraw. And Arthur O'Neill, though
no O'Connorite, stuck by us, like a true-hearted partisan of the side of
the poor, as he has always been. Henry Vincent withdrew with the Complete
Suffrage party. We blamed him; but, during the last thirty years, he has
done more to liberalize the middle classes, in politics, than any other
What a wretched look did the face of good Joseph Sturge weal as he uttered
his last words to us, and stepped down from the chair!
"Cooper," said O'Connor to me, "that man is not happy. He does not want to
leave us." And I thought so too.
Mr. Patrick O'Higgins of Dublin, an old associate of Feargus—(there was a
rumour, once, that he was to marry O'Connor's sister)—was proposed by
O'Connor as our chairman, and Lovett as our secretary; and we prepared to
continue the Conference; but we felt wearied, although there was a deal of
I asked Lovett, openly, if we might expect him to join us heartily in our
effort to get the Charter; but he told us, unhesitatingly, that he meant
to abide by his own plans; and unless we accepted them he could not join
us. Not a man of the O'Connorite party felt disposed to do this; so my
attempt to conciliate Lovett failed. He and Parry, and his other friends,
left us before the Conference was formally concluded; and we retired to a
smaller room, where I proposed a plan of organisation, with a view of
strengthening our members; but the Executive opened a quarrel with O'Connor; and soon it was all quarrel and confusion, and we came to a conclusion
without any form at all.
When my plan of organisation was published, Editor Hill proposed his. Letters followed in the Northern Star; and a fuss was made about "Organisation " for a time; but no
real and effective organisation ever took place. That Birmingham
Conference ruined the prospects of Chartists; and the Complete Suffrage
party never made any headway in
the country. The middle and working classes could form no union for
winning the broad franchise; and so the expectation of winning it grew
faint and fainter.
The months of January and February, 1843, passed away very drearily. I was
in debt to John Cleave for copies of the Northern Star and other
periodicals; I was in debt to
Warwick, my printer; I was in debt to my baker, for bread given away to
the poor; I was in debt to the lawyer who had prepared my case for defence
and perfected my bail.
And the divisions which had sprung up rendered it difficult for me to keep
the Chartist party together—although Markham, the old leader, now, in the
time of my trouble,
showed himself friendly.
It was proposed to raise money for the law expenses by the performance of
a play. So we hired the Amphitheatre, and I took the part of Hamlet—as I
knew the whole play by
heart. We performed the play twice; but I found it useless to proceed
further in that direction: the amphitheatre, which, as I have
already said, held 3,000 people, was crowded to excess, each night; but
the people who went on the stage as actors and actresses, all demanded
payment, both for the
cost of their dresses and their time, and so the income hardly covered
I was glad when we reached the month of March, 1843, and the Spring
Assizes at Stafford drew near. The judge, this time, was the Hon. Sir
Thomas Erskine; and the
Counsel arrayed against myself, and Daddy Richards, and Capper (for Ellis
was already across the sea), were, Serjeant Talfourd, M.P., Mr. Godson,
M.P. for Kidderminster,
Mr. Richards, an elderly barrister, and young Mr. Alexander.
My second trial commenced on my birthday, March 20th, 1843. I was angered
greatly when I found that the Hanley lawyers and magistrates had resolved,
in this my second
trial, to revive the old, vilely false charge of "arson,"—although I had
been acquitted of the charge after a full trial, where I had the most
powerful pleader at the bar against me,
and the best lawyer on the Bench for my judge!
I would have no counsel; nor had I the slightest legal assistance this
time. I was sole lawyer and sole counsel for myself and also for my
companions in trouble. The trial
began on Monday morning, and I exerted all my strength up to Saturday at
noon in cross-examining the witnesses brought against us, and making them
themselves—for some of them were the very scum of the Potteries for bad
character, and would have sworn away any man's life for a few shillings. Major Beresford was the last witness brought up against us; and I was
surprised when they told me there were no more witnesses to appear, as the
list they gave me before the trial contained several other names.
The Court broke up for an hour, and then I had to begin my defence. I had
only half finished when the usual time came for closing the Court; and so
I had to resume on Monday morning—making about ten hours altogether for
my defence. I do not think that I ever spoke so powerfully in my life as
during the last hour of that defence. The peroration, the Stafford papers
said, would never be forgotten; and I remember, as I sat down, panting for
breath and utterly exhausted, how Talfourd and Erskine and the jury sat
transfixed, gazing at me in silence; and the whole crowded place was
breathless, as it seemed, or a minute.
The witnesses on our side were not subjected to much cross-examination,
except my friend Bevington; but his intelligence and perfect
self-possession brought him easily through. The Judge and Counsel and jury
were all wearied, and hastened to come to an end. Judge Erskine took
nearly the whole of Tuesday to sum up; and first told the jury that he
should not read to them that part of his notes which recorded the evidence
that I was present at the fires—unless they wished it to be read—but
should write Mistake on all the pages, instead. The jury conferred together a few
moments, and desired him to write Mistake. I felt this to be a great triumph—for God had delivered me from
the snare of those who still hoped they should get me sent over the sea;
and I was declared innocent of the charge of felony!
We were, of course, declared Guilty of the crimes of Sedition and
Conspiracy; but the good, kind-hearted Erskine said, that, since our case
had been removed by "Writ of Certiorari " to the Court of Queen's Bench
when we traversed, he should not pronounce sentence, but leave that to the
Chief justice and judges of that Court. So again John Richards and I went
back to our homes, by virtue of our bail.