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CHAPTER VI

THE REVIVAL OF THE BIRMINGHAM POLITICAL UNION
(1837-1838)


THE Birmingham Political Union, which had played so great a part in the Reform movement of 1830-32, declined and dissolved in 1831 after four years' activity.  Like other politically minded people, the leaders of this Union awaited quietly the fruits of their labours in the form of measures of social reform.  Meanwhile they took full advantage of the trade boom of 1832-36.  Even politicians must earn their living, and the leaders of the Political Union were flourishing bankers and manufacturers to whom prosperous trade was not without attractions.  During these years the Reformed Parliament was energetically at work and gave forth the result of its labours in the Poor Law Amendment Act and the Municipal Reform Act of 1834-35.  Good trade, enormous business with the United States, and super-luxuriant harvests diverted public attention from politics, and no doubt the reaction was wholesome after the excitement of the Reform Bill campaign.  The militant Owenism, which had largely contributed to the downfall of the Birmingham Union in 1833-34, passed away, to all appearances, as quickly as it had arisen.  In 1836, however, came the first indications of an economic collapse, heralded by astounding events in the United States.  As the year wore on the magnitude of the collapse grew, and Birmingham trade began to suffer severely.  Distress and unemployment increased to an unparalleled extent.  The austerity of the New Poor Law now became apparent, and all the ugly symptoms of social unrest made their appearance.

    The leaders of the old Union, many of whom were now members of the new Corporation of the town, felt it incumbent upon them to take measures to ameliorate the sad state of many of their fellow-townsmen and former faithful followers.  A Reform Association was set up in 1836 with this object.  It quickly developed into something more.  Instead of seeking merely to relieve the local distress, the leaders determined to devise a remedy for the general evil.  It was not far to seek.  Thomas Attwood (1783-1856), the Birmingham banker, had long possessed an infallible plan, and his colleagues easily became true believers.  Here is his diagnosis and his remedy.  The cause of distress is the dearness of food and the dearness of money.  The landlords pass laws to make food dear and the money lords pass laws to make money dear.  The result is great distress which drives people to the workhouse.  But the relentless cruelty of the dominant classes pursues them here also and converts their place of refuge into a horrible dungeon.  To crown all, the tyrants have established a Police Force to repress all protests and to nip sedition in the bud.[188]  What was the remedy?  Obviously the repeal of the Corn Laws and the Money Laws, but especially the latter.  Peel's Act of 1819, which authorised the return to gold payments and the "restriction" of the currency, must be repealed, and proper measures must be taken to regulate the currency according to the state of trade.  The great panacea was the "expansion" of the currency by the issue of more paper money.  As blood to the body so currency to trade: more blood better health.  Paper money would increase business, destroy unemployment, increase wages, decrease debts, in fact make everybody happy.

    Being a banker Attwood could pose as an authority, and he had long gathered round him a body of fervent disciples who had fought the glorious campaign of 1830-32 under his leadership.  Among these were R. K. Douglas, who urged his views in the Birmingham Journal; T. C. Salt, a lamp manufacturer [189] employing one hundred men, and a man of considerable influence amongst working people; Benjamin Hadley, an alderman, and a churchwarden of the Parish Church; George Edmonds, a solicitor, a guardian of the poor, and a convinced Radical; George Frederick Muntz, who made a fortune by the manufacture of a metallic compound known as "Muntz metal"; P. H. Muntz, also a man of finance; and Joshua Scholefield, who with Attwood himself represented the borough of Birmingham in Parliament.  The working-class wing of the party was led by John Collins, a shoemaker and a Sunday School teacher, an honest character, held in very high respect, and an orators of some talent.

    Early in 1837 [190] this group began to agitate the currency theory in and out of Parliament.  As the distress in the town grew, so did the activity of the old Unionists, in their capacity of the Birmingham Reform Association.  In April 1837 they decided to enlist working-class support for their movement and to call upon the ancient glories of 1830-32.  On the 18th they passed a resolution, restoring the name Birmingham Political Union.[191]  The formal revival took place on May 23, and a few days later the Union, which already numbered over 5000 members, published its first address to the public, asking for support in its endeavours to find a remedy for the existing distress. [192]

    This, as it later appeared, was a fatal step.  The revival of the Union was more than the revival of a name: it was the resurrection of a programme whose realisation was compatible with the Currency Scheme only in the sanguine minds of the followers of Attwood, and even they were not unanimous in their optimism.  On June 19 a great meeting of the Union decided upon a programme of Parliamentary Reform which included Household Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, Triennial Parliaments, Payment of Members of Parliament, and the abolition of the Property Qualification.[193]  The Attwoodites had thus added to their dubious measure of Currency Reform, which was scarcely calculated to awaken the enthusiasm of the working classes or of any other class except that of debtors who would like to avoid payment, a political reform in which they were only secondarily interested.  To carry one measure of doubtful value, they proposed to agitate for five others which, though much more desirable in themselves, were calculated to arouse the very strongest resistance.  Supposing that their influence in Birmingham was due to the manifest advantages of Currency Reform, they continued to keep that measure as the first plank of their platform.  It is doubtful whether the working classes of Birmingham were really concerned about currency at all, but they were concerned about the vote.[194]  The position of the Attwoodites was thus false, and its weakness was quickly exposed when they turned their programme over to the working classes as a whole.  The Currency plan was quietly shelved and with it the Birmingham Political Union.

    The split between the working-class members of the Union and their wealthy leaders, which developed gradually during 1838, was at first hidden under the show of general harmony.  The great meeting of June 19, 1837, at which fifty thousand persons are said to have been present, decided to send petitions to the Premier asking for immediate measures of relief.[195]  The deputation urged its Currency Scheme, suggested action by Order in Council as being more expeditious than by bill, and came away satisfied that Melbourne was a convert.  Attwood was re-elected to Parliament, on the monetary question, as he thought.  The activities of the Union were extended into the neighbourhood of Birmingham and societies were formed to spread the Attwood gospel.[196]  In this connection Place made the famous sally, noted by Mr. Graham Wallas.  "Adhesion meant submission to Mr. Attwood and his absurd currency proposal, which few understood and all who did condemned."  The London Working Men's Association, which was acting demurely in alliance with the Radical group in the Commons, made offer of alliance with the Birmingham Union in the cause of Universal Suffrage.  The offer was not publicly accepted, as the communication came under the Corresponding Societies' Acts, and was therefore unlawful.[197]

    In the autumn when Parliament reassembled the currency campaign began afresh but culminated, it is to be feared, in a total defeat on November 2, 1837.  A deputation led by Attwood harangued Melbourne and Spring Rice, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for two hours, but unfortunately for their success the speakers had the most diverse opinions upon the remedy to be adopted, and as all the members of the deputation spoke, it is not surprising to know that Melbourne was not prepared to act upon such discordant advice.[198]  The deputation went back to Birmingham to report progress.  The difference of opinion widened.  Some were for continuing the currency campaign; others under P. H. Muntz, Hadley, and Salt were for shelving it in favour of Universal Suffrage.  On November 7 P. H. Muntz brought forward a resolution to that effect, and carried it in spite of opposition and some uproar.[199]  This decision saved the situation and the Union for the time being by securing a wider working-class support for it, but it piled up difficulties for the future.  A movement in favour of Universal Suffrage could not long remain tied to the apron-strings of the Birmingham Union, as was fondly hoped, and the currency question still remained to be solved.  Douglas compromised by inserting an Attwoodite clause into the National Petition of 1838, which clause was contumeliously rejected by the Convention in 1839.

    Meanwhile the resolution of November 7 had unexpectedly large results.  Lord John Russell had roused the ire of Radicals by his "finality" declaration.  On the 28th Douglas carried a resolution of protest in the Council of the Union, and on December 7 the Union called upon all Radicals to unite in an attempt to procure the reform which Lord John had declared impossible.  This was an appeal to Cæsar with a vengeance.  The Radicals of Great Britain were mainly amongst the working classes, and in rousing them to political action the Birmingham Union had stirred up a giant which was destined to turn and rend it.  The first response to the appeal was made by the London Working Men's Association, and these two organisations began to agitate on a much larger scale.  Political excitement was growing.  The accession of Queen Victoria was expected to have great and good things in store for the working people.  Meanwhile distress and unemployment increased.  The population of the North of England began to become restive.  Stephens and Oastler were active and had recently acquired an accession of agitating violence in O'Connor and the Northern Star, and in A. H. Beaumont and the Northern Liberator.  It was a bad time to appeal to working-class feelings.  The better sort of working people were angry over their 1832 disappointment, dismayed by their Trade Union failure of 1834, and saw in the prosecution of the Glasgow Cotton Spinners a declaration of the Government's hostility to their legitimate aspirations; whilst the poorer operatives in the domestic industries were horrified at the deterrent Poor Law Administration.  Fiery sentimentalists, like Oastler and Stephens, found it easy to rouse such a population to fury.  Even in normal times it was an unruly people.  From 1830 onwards order was only maintained in Manchester by military force.[200]  It was to this stormy ocean that Attwood and his friends proposed to entrust their frail currency bark.  An early shipwreck awaited it.

    The Birmingham Union now entered upon a dazzling phase of activity.  Its leaders fancied themselves as victorious generals, once more leading the legions of industrious patriots into the legislative citadel, as they fondly supposed had been the case in 1831-32.  They would set up their standard in the Midlands and call all working men into it.  They anticipated that their massed battalions would overawe Melbourne as easily as Wellington or Lyndhurst.  They were moral force men, but they fancied that moral force meant only a display of the potentialities of physical force.  Edmonds spoke darkly about the substantial thing behind moral force which produced the impression upon rulers.[201]  Attwood, carried away by excitement and disappointment, on December 19, 1837, denounced the Radicals in the House for their unspeakable dullness in remaining unconvinced by his Currency eloquence, and voted them a doggèd, stupid, obstinate set of fellows from whom the people had really nothing good to expect.  He was for extreme measures and substituted Universal Suffrage for Household Suffrage in his political creed.  He would get two million followers — a force to which Government must bow.[202]

    This speech and its programme provided the raw material for the National Petition, as it came to be called.  The meeting of June 19 had decided upon a petition in favour of Radical reform, and the document itself was drawn up by R. K. Douglas.  The Petition in its final shape demanded Repeal of Peel's Act of 1819 and of the Corn Laws; and the amended political reforms mentioned by Attwood in December.

    Agitation began in the immediate neighbourhood of Birmingham and was pursued for some three months.  In March 1838, a great step forward was taken, and it was decided to send a missionary to Glasgow.[203]  That town, in common with most of the other industrial centres, was labouring under severe depression.  In the immediate neighbourhood there were thousands of handloom weavers whose distress was chronic during normal times and acute during the depression.

    The operatives in the factories had been terrified by the prosecution of their leaders.  In general there was plenty of combustible material for an agitator.  The Birmingham Union sent Collins as their emissary.  His business was to bring over the discontented of Glasgow to the Attwoodite standard, and to persuade them to organise an agitation on the same lines as at Birmingham.  Collins did his work effectively, and his enthusiastic reports gladdened the hearts of the Birmingham leaders, who, we are assured by an unfriendly witness, badly needed the stimulus.[204]  From this time onward the monster petition idea gathered support and substance.  At Birmingham there was jubilation to excess.  Men began to think in millions, but while Douglas moderately hoped for two million supporters, Salt was admonished by P. H. Muntz to expect six millions.  So confident were the leaders of ultimate success that they already began to talk of coercing Government by "ulterior measures," [205] assuming already that the millions who were to sign the Petition would be effective political warriors instead of what they for the most part were — non-combatants who hoped the Birmingham people would win.  This assumption that all sympathisers are as zealous and determined as their leaders, is common to all enthusiasts, and explains much that seems the height of folly in the subsequent developments of the movement.  But the confusion of signatories and supporters was common to all Chartists for a long time.

    Collins acted the part of an Attwoodite John the Baptist with great efficiency, and in May the time was ripe for the Messiah himself to appear in Glasgow.  On April 24 Collins's mission culminated in a conference of trades at Glasgow which resolved to call a monster meeting on May 21, and to invite a deputation from Birmingham.[206]  This was duly reported by Collins to headquarters, and the Birmingham leaders made an enthusiastic response.  At a monster meeting on May 14 a deputation was appointed, consisting of Attwood, Joshua Scholefield, P. H. Muntz, Hadley, Edmonds, Salt, and Douglas.  To this meeting was presented a draft petition which was to be sent to Glasgow for adoption there.  This was the first public appearance of the National Petition.[207]

    The Glasgow Demonstration was an immense success.  It was believed that one hundred and fifty thousand Radicals, marshalled under thirty-eight banners, took part.  Besides Attwood and his friends, there were other speakers, including James M'Nish, the hero of the Cotton Spinners' trial, and two delegates, Murphy and Dr. Wade, from the London Working Men's Association.  These last named presented to the meeting the "People's Charter." [208]

    This meeting, therefore, brought the beginning of an organised "national" movement a step nearer.  It still remained to cultivate the other fields of discontent in the North of England and in Wales.  Glasgow, Birmingham, and London were now apparently brought into line.  The Birmingham Petition and the London Charter were both made public.  What was equally important, plans for future agitation and organisation were suggested.  Attwood made two remarkable propositions — the summoning of a National Convention to concentrate the Radical strength, and a General Strike of all the industries — masters and men together, in order to humble the common enemy, the Government.  It was to be a modern secession to the Sacred Mount, peaceful, complete, and effective.  Unfortunately for Attwood, he had been long since forestalled in the idea of a General Strike, and by men of less peaceable natures.

    From Glasgow the deputation went on a tour in Scotland as far north as Perth, visiting Edinburgh, Kilmarnock, Stirling, Dundee, Cupar, Dunfermline, Elderslie (Renfrew), accompanied occasionally by Dr. Wade.[209]  It returned in great triumph to Birmingham, leaving Collins to work his way slowly through the North of England where he made acquaintance with J. R. Stephens, whose methods and language horrified him.[210]  He popularised the National Petition in the industrial districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire some time before the People's Charter obtained a footing there.  Meetings began to be held in June and July [211] in support of the Petition, whilst the first mention in the Northern Star of the Charter is on July 16 in connection with a meeting at Dewsbury.  The idea of a Convention took hold of popular imagination.  On July 17 the Birmingham Union held a meeting at which the plan of a Convention took practical form, and the results of its deliberations were made public.  It was to be called the General Convention of the Industrious Classes, and was to consist of not more than forty-nine members.  No delegate was to be elected as the representative of any organised body, or by any Organisation, but elections must be made in meetings called with every legal formality and open to the public at large.  These precautions were necessary in view of the laws against Corresponding Societies.  The Birmingham people would lead the way at a meeting on August 6, at which their delegates would be elected, [212] and the People's Charter and National Petition adopted.

    The meeting on August 6, 1838, at Newhall Hill is the official beginning of the Chartist Movement, that is, of the union of all working-class Radicals in one movement.  Besides the Birmingham leaders, there were present Feargus O'Connor and R. J. Richardson, representing Yorkshire and Lancashire respectively; Wade, Henry Vincent, and Henry Hetherington, representing the London Working Men's Association; Purdie and Moir, representing Scotland.  A crowd of 200,000 people lined the side of the hill at the foot of which the hustings were placed.  To those on the platform the crowd presented a wonderful sight, and the enthusiasm generated by the presence of so vast an assembly was immense.  Attwood was the principal figure.  It was perhaps the climax of his Radical career, and he improved the occasion with a speech which lasted, on a moderate computation, two and a quarter hours, in which he reviewed the whole case against the Government and looked forward to a sure and speedy victory.  The ultimate goal was the abolition of the Corn Laws, the Money Laws, and the Poor Law of 1831, and a reform of the Factory System.  P. H. Muntz appealed for an abandonment of all sectional movements in favour of Petition and Charter.  These were enthusiastically adopted, and the meeting proceeded to an election of delegates to the Convention.  No less than eight were appointed, all the Union leaders being elected except Attwood, who, as Member of Parliament, would help the cause there.  These delegates were authorised to take charge of the arrangements for the summoning of the Convention and the circulation of the Petition.

    Thus a great general working-class movement began its career.  For the next three years the forces of working-class discontent, of popular aspirations and enthusiasms were concentrated as they had never been concentrated before under the standards of the National Petition and the People's Charter.  The Attwoodites were intoxicated with the unexpectedly large success of their schemes and contemplated with satisfaction their future progress towards a sure and certain victory.  But the Birmingham Union died in giving birth to the Chartist Movement.

    For a time all went well.  The election of delegates was carried out in all parts of the country during September and the following months.[213]  Nevertheless from this time forward the Birmingham Union lost hold upon the Movement, and when the Convention met leadership was already gone from their delegates.  The Union itself began to collapse and it was the Convention which dealt the final blow.

    This downfall was due to a combination of forces working both within and without the Union.  In the first place the Birmingham Political Union was an anachronism, a resurrection from the days before militant Owenism had inculcated the idea of a class war.  It was a body whose rank and file were working people and whose leaders were middle-class men.  As such it was opposed to the prevailing tendency amongst working people.  The London Working Men's Association was founded with the idea of excluding any but bona fide artisans, and though it in practice was prepared to co-operate with middle-class people, it made no concealment of the fact that it held such co-operation to imply no subordination.  The London working men would accept no terms but equal alliance.  They had drunk deep of the liquor of O'Brienism and, in the somewhat limited social philosophy at their disposal, identified the middle class with the capitalist employing class, whose elimination was one of the principal articles of their creed.  The working men of the North, who had suffered more personally from the evils they denounced, held the same views, but in a cruder and more violent form than did the skilled artisans of London.  Neither section, however, believed that the interests of middle class and working class could possibly be identical, or that a middle-class leader was to be trusted.  The mere fact that a middle-class leader was zealous for a particular object was a guarantee that that object was not one for which working men should strive.

    There are early hints that the London Working Men's Association was not inclined to allow the Birmingham leaders or their programme to take first place in the national movement.  The presence of Dr. Wade at Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Birmingham was very significant.  Wade had been a member of the old Birmingham Union in 1832, and had created a storm by advocating the formation of a Working Men's Union on the ground that middle-class leadership could not possibly be satisfactory to working men.  Middle-class people would invariably be attracted by speculative bubble schemes which would depreciate labour.[214]  He used the language of militant Owenism of which he, Vicar of Warwick as he was, was a prop and pillar.  He was in fact a Christian Socialist of an early generation and a pronounced type.  He was active in various purely Owenite societies in London and a member of the semi-Owenite National Union of the Working-Classes.  For his temerity the Birmingham Union proposed to exclude him, and it is probable that the old leaders of the new Union were not pleased to be haunted by his presence and his continual thrusting forward of the Charter.[215]  The London W.M.A. had other reasons for suspecting the Attwoodites besides class prejudice.  They did not like the Currency Scheme.  O'Brien, who borrowed some currency lore from Attwood, thought his plans unsound and said so.

    The Currency Scheme was in truth a great source of weakness.  The Attwoodites had obtained popular support by promising immediate benefit for both master and man from the adoption of their scheme.  When the political programme was added, a body of supporters was obtained who were far more concerned for the vote than for paper money.  Place indeed did not hesitate to ascribe the collapse, not only of the Birmingham Union, but also of the whole movement, to the Currency Scheme.  Attwood and his lieutenants, he declared, were not at all eager for the Petition and Charter, and started the movement for Universal Suffrage as a means of intimidating Government to accept the Currency notion.  Hence they were always ready to let it drop.  This conduct played into the hands of the violent leaders.[216]  Place further maintained that the Attwoodites themselves considered with some misgiving the possibility that a Parliament, elected by Universal Suffrage, might not care to legislate about the Currency, either because the question was not understood or because a remedy could not be devised to suit all opinions.[217]  This is certainly a damaging statement, for if Attwood and Douglas felt that the nation as a whole would reject their panacea, it is easily conceivable that their enthusiasm for Radical reform would evaporate.  But Place adds to his indictment.  He declares that, having come to the conclusion that the Currency Scheme would not meet with universal approval or be universally comprehended, they smuggled it into the National Petition, hoping that their "tacking" would be unnoticed in the popular enthusiasm.[218]  With all respect to Place as a shrewd politician and a contemporary observer, it must be confessed that he proves too much.  He later on praises Douglas for his caution and moderation,[219] and it is permissible to hope, therefore, that Douglas was not such a reckless trickster as this sort of conduct implies.  Furthermore, there was a sufficient fund of currency ideas in popular circles to make a project of currency reform seem less criminally absurd than Place thought it was.[220]  The currency question was not res judicata by any means, and even Peel's currency theories could be called into question by reputable authority in the next generation.

    Apart from class hatred and currency schemes, the Birmingham Union incurred the hostility of many of its new disciples by its moderation.  It was this more than anything else that ruined the Union and eliminated it from the movement.  When Attwood and his colleagues transformed a more or less local and harmless currency agitation into a national political movement, they found that they were not the only agitators in the field, and that their reputation was as nothing amongst those whom they aspired to lead, compared with that of mob-orators like Stephens, Vincent, or O'Connor.  Hence from the very beginning they figured as generals of brigade rather than as commanders-in-chief.  Throughout the whole Chartist array there was no commander-in-chief — no one with the authority of a Cobden or the capacity for organisation of a George Wilson.  The immediate cause of rupture between the northern extremists and the Birmingham Union, which occurred in November-December 1838, was the fiery campaign of J. R. Stephens, to whom the People's Charter seemed to give renewed fire and eloquence.  From the beginning of September Chartist meetings, often by torchlight,[221] began to be held in Lancashire and Yorkshire, at which Stephens was a regular speaker.  On October 29 there were violent speeches at a torchlight meeting at Bolton, where delegates were elected to the Convention.  On the following day Douglas made a grave speech on the subject to the Union.  Salt specifically denounced O'Connor, who had talked moral force to Salt and violence in Lancashire.[222]  This was, in fact, O'Connor's practice.  He varied his tone according to his audience, like a true demagogue.  Salt thought O'Connor was playing them false.

    In any case O'Connor aided considerably.  On September 8 the Northern Star published an article headed "The National Guards of Paris have petitioned for an Extension of the Suffrage, and they have done it with Arms in their hands."  On October 18 he was present at the great meeting at Peep Green, Bradford, and made vaguely suggestive remarks upon tyrannicides whilst his lieutenant, Bussey, advised the audience to get rifles.[223]

    O'Connor attended the meeting at Preston on November 5 at which Marsden was elected delegate.  He made a speech in which he declared that the power of kings was only maintained by "physical force."  The Government would not dare to use physical force against them as at Peterloo because they (the Government) knew that the wadding of the first discharge would set fire to Preston.  That was not threatening language but soothing language, intended to prevent the Whigs from firing the first shot.  At the same meeting James Whittle referred to the authors of the New Poor Law in terms of Psalm 109.  Technically O'Connor's speech was not an appeal to violence, but it was calculated to familiarise his audience with suggestions of an unpeaceable character.  On the following day at Manchester he said he was for peace, "but if peace giveth not law, then I am for war to the knife."  O'Connor seldom made direct and unqualified declarations.[224]  The next day at Manchester O'Connor pooh-poohed Douglas's idea that three years' agitation would be required to secure the Charter.  Why wait three years? if the Charter was good it was good in 1839 as in 1842.  Would delay serve their cause?  Would not the agitation evaporate? [225]

    Meanwhile the agitation waxed fast and furious.  Stephens made a speech at Norwich so violent that the Northern Star expurgated it.[226]  Douglas obtained an account and declared to the Birmingham Union that something must be done as Stephens was elected a delegate to the Convention.  The Birmingham people were beginning to regret their precipitancy in admitting such roaring lions into peaceful currency pastures.

    At the weekly meeting of the Union on November 13 there was an unexpected visitor.  It was O'Connor, who, following his usual custom, entered when proceedings were in full swing in order to concentrate all attention upon himself.[227]  He had come to defend himself against the calumnies of Salt and Douglas.  He had been charged with traitorously preaching physical force, and had gone so far as to declare that on September 29, 1839, all moral agitation must come to an end and other measures be taken, if the Charter were not by that time obtained.  O'Connor, who made a very ingenious defence, had had some legal training.  He pointed out, amongst other things, that it was quite necessary to fix a limit to peaceful agitation because the people would become impatient and the agitation would gradually die away.[228]  This was probably a true statement of the attitude of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Chartists at least, but it augured badly for the soundness of the Chartist cause and the discipline of its zealots.  O'Connor scored, too, by pointing out that the Birmingham leaders had sinned also in the matter of violent language.  That was true.  The real difference between Birmingham and the northern Chartists was that the Birmingham leaders regarded a display of numbers — of "physical force" — as a useful background to lend reality to their views, but the northern people looked upon physical force as the whole picture.

    A week later O'Connor appeared again before the Union, evoking cheers and sympathy by pretending to be on his trial before the honest working men of Birmingham.  Meanwhile Stephens was breathing fire and slaughter with undiminished vigour.  On November 12 he attended a meeting at Wigan and denounced the London and Birmingham leaders as old women.[229]  He probably felt, what many of his followers later on openly said, that the Charter-Petition agitation would smother the Anti-Poor Law Movement in which he was so absorbed.  In view of this language, the meeting of November 20 at Birmingham was exciting and stormy.  The Union was divided between Salt and O'Connor.  Muntz was hissed.  The meeting was adjourned.[230]  The attack on O'Connor was renewed in the Birmingham Journal of November 24, in which Douglas roundly declared that, whatever O'Connor's party said and professed, their real programme was ILLEGALITY, DISORDER, and CIVIL WAR.[231]

    There was a final conference on November 28, O'Connor again attending.  The meeting was awaited with much misgiving.  Apparently the Birmingham leaders were not unanimous as to the course to be pursued with respect to their unruly ally.  Some were for repudiating him, which was perhaps the most honourable course.  Others were for conciliation, thinking that a repudiation of O'Connor would remove the northern counties, and perhaps Scotland too, from the agitation.  At the same time O'Connor, seeing the wide possibilities before a great national agitation, and knowing how popular the Petition-Charter programme was becoming, was prepared to make concessions to the nominal leaders of the movement.  The result was that the meeting passed off with a restoration of harmony, both sides giving the soft answers that turn away wrath.  Douglas and Salt spoke with absurd adulation of the Irish demagogue.  Salt apologised.  O'Connor was gracious.  George Edmonds, who wanted to get rid of O'Connor at any price, tried to pin him down to an explicit repudiation of force, but O'Connor shuffled and the meeting was in his favour.  Collins suggested a middle course which did not bind O'Connor to a repudiation of Stephens and all his ways.  This was accepted and the meeting broke up, the Birmingham leaders fancying that they had at last muzzled their inconvenient rival.  But the impression left by a study of these proceedings is rather that O'Connor had undermined the authority of the leaders in their own Union, especially amongst the working people over whom no one could so easily acquire influence as he.  He no doubt relied upon his blarneying capacity when he invited himself into the Union meeting on November 6.  If he did, his confidence was justified by the outcome.[232]

    Nevertheless O'Connor's conduct was for a time distinctly moderated after this event.  At Bury be addressed a torchlight meeting on December 8.  This was "the most remarkable" of the torchlight meetings.  It was held in defiance of Fielden's warning that the Government was prepared to prosecute the conveners of and participators in such gatherings.  The speeches, O'Connor's included, were apparently milder than usual.  A week later he repudiated physical force in the Northern Star.  He did not prevent the insertion in the same paper of a letter from O'Connell denouncing himself, Oastler, and Stephens by name.  It seemed as if harmony were completely restored, but it was a very delusive peace which reigned, and equally short-lived.



NOTE ON ATTWOOD'S CURRENCY THEORIES


    That these were really deserving of the ridicule heaped upon them by Place will be evident to the attentive reader of the reprint of Attwood's article of 1822 in the Birmingham Journal of May 5, 1832.  The source of all social evils was the resumption of cash payments in 1819, which made debts, contracted previous to 1819 in an inflated currency, payable in a restricted currency, and thus enhanced the burdens of debtors.  The argument runs thus:

    In 1791 Currency and Prices were in a normal state.  From thence till 1797 the Currency became depreciated and prices rose owing to the creation of £5 Bank of England notes, the extension of other note issues, and the growing burden of taxes and loans.  By 1797 currency was depreciated 50 per cent.  Not only paper but gold too was depreciated, the latter, as Cobbett showed, by sympathy.  From 1797 onwards, by reason of the Bank Restriction, there was a further rise in the prices of property and labour of from 50 to 70 per cent, making 100 per cent or 120 per cent in all.  Thus the loans and obligations contracted between 1797 and 1819 were contracted in a currency which possessed only one half the value it had before the war.  This applied both to public and private contracts, to industrial debts as well as to the rents of farms.  Furthermore the high taxation during the war was only possible through the inflation of the currency, since the high prices reduced the actual value absorbed by the taxation (e.g. a tax of 40s. was discharged by goods worth only 20s.).

    Public obligations contracted during the war amounted to 1247 millions, private obligations to 1245 millions, making roughly 2500 millions.  Government by removing the Bank Restriction practically doubled these obligations, making them 5000 millions.  This measure was the measure of a body of creditors; hence their eagerness to double the burden of their debtors.  Had Parliament been a body of debtors it would have halved the burden of debtors.  A body composed of both would do what reason and justice required — coin ten old mint shillings into one pound sterling.  Even this measure would leave prices double those of 1791.

In this treatise confusion and error are so confounded as to make it difficult to know which fallacy to handle first. One or two errors of mathematics may be tackled first. He says before 1797 the currency was depreciated 50 per cent. Later on he says this 50 per cent rise of prices was increased another 50 or 70 per cent. A 50 per cent depreciation of currency is not the same as a 50 per cent rise of prices which he assumes is the case, but a 100 per cent rise. This error curiously enough is avoided a few lines further on, where he makes a rise of 100 per cent or 120 per cent in prices equivalent to a depreciation of currency by one half (unless, of course, this statement is a lucky shot which was really aimed at the wrong target but hit the right one).

    Finally the highest percentage of depreciation of paper as expressed in gold between 1797 and 1819 was not more than 25 per cent, equivalent to a rise in prices of goods as expressed in paper money of 33 per cent.  One may feel sure that for the most part contracts would be made with the requisite reservations on this point, and hardship would be more nominal than real on the return to cash payments.

    The soundness of Attwood's economics may be deduced from the fact that he assumed that it was a matter of no consequence whether prices rose through development of trade — i.e. of demand — or through depreciation of the currency.  It was a distinction without a difference, he thought.

――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER VII

THE PEOPLE'S PARLIAMENT
(1838-1839)


THERE is something mysterious about the facility with which the Anti-Poor Law Agitation passed over into Chartism, with whose objects it had apparently nothing in common.  During the summer of 1838, meetings, called to protest against the Poor Law Amendment Act, found themselves listening to speeches in favour of the Charter and assenting to resolutions in support of the National Petition.  Some explanations may be hazarded.  In the first place, the Anti-Poor Law Agitation had come to a crisis.  It had prevented the Act from being enforced, with the result that, during the greater part of the period of trade depression (1836-42), out-relief was paid as usual.  Thus the leaders had to face the question — whether to be content with this achievement or to go on agitating until the Act was repealed.  The latter alternative, in view of Stephens's exhortations, might involve armed insurrection, unless — here was the crux of the matter — a national agitation, on the lines suggested by Birmingham and London, succeeded in putting political power into the hands of the people.  Then the peaceful repeal of the Act would be easy.  This reasoning will explain the eagerness of the northern leaders to justify to the Chartist Convention the possession of arms, and their immediate resort to arms and drilling as soon as the National Petition was rejected.  The Northerners probably looked upon the Birmingham and London men as potential reinforcements in the event of extreme action.  The Birmingham proposals for joint action would be welcome, both from this point of view and from the existing lack of organisation in the North — a defect which would be remedied by the creation of a central body like the proposed Convention.  One last point may be hinted at.  In November 1838 O'Connor at a meeting at Manchester said it was necessary to put a period to agitation, lest the enthusiasm should evaporate.[233]  Perhaps we shall not be wrong in assuming that enthusiasm for Poor Law repeal had already begun to evaporate, and to be replaced by discontent of another description.

    However that may be, the growth of distress and privation during the year 1838 tended inevitably to weld the agitations together.  Scotland was agitated by the prosecution of the Glasgow cotton-spinners, whose fate recalled the immortal Dorchester Labourers of '34.  In South Wales, where the mining districts presented an unequalled field for agitation, the eloquence of Henry Vincent, backed by John Frost, a tradesman of Newport and a J.P. [Ed. ― Justice of the Peace] to boot, had an enormous effect.  Vincent explained to the ignorant and half-barbarous miners how that they were despoiled of a large proportion of the wages, which they earned at such risk to themselves, for the purpose of supporting in idleness and luxury a degraded and despotic aristocracy.  This explanation of the long familiar evils of truck and mining royalties naturally raised the Welshmen to an incredible pitch of indignation.  It was the sole burden of Vincent's oratory, but, as a well-known authority has said,[234] repetition of an assertion without attempt at proof or demonstration is the one essential of mob-oratory, and Vincent possessed a faculty of infinite variation upon one theme.  South Wales was also to have, in 1843, its own peculiar form of rebelliousness in the curious "Rebecca riots," directed mainly against the payment of road tolls.  Men, dressed as women, obeying the orders of a mysterious "mother Rebecca," smashed toll-bars and defied discovery.  It was alleged that a lawyer, Hugh Williams of Carmarthen, was the instigator.  He passed, like all other local agitators, into the Chartist ranks.

    The Charter was put forward in May, and the Petition in August 1838.  The former was distributed throughout the Working Men's Associations, and the latter was formally published at the great Birmingham meeting of August 6.[235]  From this moment the excitement began to rise to fever heat.  At scores of meetings the Petition and Charter were adopted with immense enthusiasm.  This was especially the case in the North.  Everybody was carried away by the fire and fervour of the movement.  The speeches became more and more inflammable and exulting.  It is from this period that the gems of Stephens and O'Connor are derived.  Attwood was in the seventh heaven, and even the less enthusiastic leaders of the London Working Men's Association began to imagine that the day of redemption was at last about to dawn.  All the leaders were, in fact, overjoyed at the amazing response to their propaganda and allowed themselves the wildest prophecies as to future successes.  Douglas's assurance that they would achieve success in three years was regarded as insane caution.  Enthusiasm centred mainly in the election of the Convention from which the most extravagant results were expected.

    The spirit in which the Northerners approached the crisis may be inferred from the speeches and events connected with the series of mass meetings which began to be held during the summer and autumn of 1838.  The earlier meetings were called to adopt some sort of organisation.  Thus a Manchester Political Union and a Great Northern Union at Leeds, comprising between them the country on both sides the Pennines, came into existence.  The Poor Law Amendment Act has already sunk into the background.  The Manchester Union proclaimed its abhorrence of violent language and physical force, but its first great demonstration on Kersal Moor, on September 24, was graced by the presence of Stephens, O'Connor, and others who were advocates of violent courses.  This demonstration was one of the most remarkable of all Chartist meetings.  The Leeds Times thought there were a quarter of a million people present, which is scarcely credible.  There was an immense array of speakers, representing all parts of the Chartist world.  The dominant note was struck by Stephens, who declared that the Charter was not a political question but a knife and fork question: not a matter of ballot-boxes but of bread and butter.  This tone sounded throughout all the subsequent babble about arming or not arming, about natural rights and legal rights, which filled up the debates of the Convention.  For Chartism was in these manufacturing areas a cry of distress, the shout of men, women, and children drowning in deep waters, rather than the reasoned logical creed of Lovett, or the fanatical money-mongering theories of Attwood.  Impatience, engendered by fireless grates and breakfastless tables, was the driving force of much northern Chartism.

    The Manchester demonstration was one of a series arranged to elect the delegates to the Convention.  These delegates had to be elected by public meeting and not by definite organisations.  Otherwise the Convention would become in the eyes of the law a political society with branches, which was illegal under the infamous Acts of 1819.  The day following the Kersal Moor meeting, a similar demonstration took place at Sheffield, Ebenezer Elliott being in the chair.  Sheffield definitely and Manchester largely [236] were not strongly moved by the oratorical fireworks of Stephens and O'Connor.  The speeches at Sheffield were conspicuously mild.  Elliott declared that the objects the people had in view were, "Free Trade, Universal Peace, Freedom in Religion, and Education for all."  Another speaker placed the Repeal of the Corn Laws in the forefront of his programme, followed by "a thoroughly efficient system of Education for all," "good diet for the people and plenty of it," and " facilities for the formation of Co-operative Communities."  A huge demonstration at Bradford took place on October 18.  Hartshead Moor was like a fair, a hundred huts being erected for the sale of food and drink.  The Chartists declared that half a million people were present: a soberer estimate divides that number by ten.  It was a fiery meeting.  Everybody talked about arms, O'Connor upon the virtues of tyrannicide.

    Similar meetings took place in practically every important manufacturing town between Glasgow, London, and Bristol, and the election of delegates proceeded rapidly.  In October meetings were held for the purpose of collecting the funds destined for the support of the Convention.  But the joy experienced at this rapid progress was clouded by apprehensions, for which a terrifying change in the character of the northern meetings was responsible.  In October meetings began to be held at night in the murky glare of hundreds of torches, in various parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, on the pretext that the factory-owners objected to meetings during working hours, whereby much time was lost.  The psychological effects of large crowds and excited speakers were emphasised by the eerie surroundings; it was but a short step from torchlight meetings to factory burning.  The authorities were pardonably anxious and tried to put a stop to these meetings.  But their action only increased the temperature of the speeches, which became inflammatory beyond words.  Such meetings were held at Bolton, Bradford, Oldham, Rochdale, and Bury during October, November, and December.  The arrest of Stephens at the end of December seems to have put a stop to them.

    The increasing violence of the propaganda in Lancashire and Yorkshire began to instil misgiving and terror into the more moderate Chartists in London, Birmingham, and Scotland.  Suggestive and inciting articles began to appear in the Northern Star.  On September 8 a notice in capitals appeared: "The National Guards of Paris have petitioned for an extension of the Suffrage, and they have done it with arms in their hands."[237]  O'Brien was contributing inflammatory articles also.  At Preston, on November 5, O'Connor talked about physical force without cease.  He assured his hearers that the Government would not use force against their force because "they know that the wadding of the first discharge would set fire to Preston." [238]

    Very soon the breach between the preachers of violence and the preachers of peaceful agitation was already complete, and a campaign of denunciation had begun.  O'Connor scoffed at the "moral philosophers," [239] Stephens denounced the Birmingham leaders as "old women," whilst younger and more reckless leaders, like Harney, who was to represent Newcastle-on-Tyne, loudly proclaimed their lack of confidence in such things as Conventions.[240]  The crisis came early in December.  The Edinburgh Chartists had passed a series of resolutions condemning violent language and repudiating physical force.  These "moral force" resolutions called forth a torrent of denunciation from O'Connor, Harney, Dr. John Taylor, and others.  A furious controversy followed.  Various Chartist bodies threatened to go to pieces on the question.  There were fiery meetings in London and Newcastle to deal with the matter, and controversy of a highly personal description followed.[241]  On January 8 O'Connor went to Edinburgh to undo the effect of the resolutions, and on the 9th he persuaded a Glasgow meeting to rescind the resolutions, whereupon Edinburgh denounced Glasgow as "impertinent."  A furious meeting at Renfrew, where John Taylor and a minister named Brewster were opposed, lasted till three in the morning [242]  What Birmingham thought of all these proceedings on the part of O'Connor had better be left to the imagination.  The excitement was raised still higher by the news that Stephens had been arrested at Manchester on a charge of seditious speaking and lodged in New Bailey gaol.  The Ashton followers of Stephens had long ago threatened with dire punishment the men who should dare to lay hands on their hero, [243] but they for the present contented themselves with threats and efforts to procure arms.  Stephens was released on bail after a few days' confinement and was at liberty for some months.  He was compelled to moderate his language for fear of damaging his case.  Meanwhile a subscription was opened to conduct his defence.[244]  It raised over £1000.  The conduct of the northern agitation fell more completely into O'Connor's hands.

    In spite of the dissension, the excitement, and the confusion, the organisation of the movement proceeded.  The signing of the Petition and the collection of the "Rent" (an idea borrowed from O'Connell) went on merrily, and informal meetings of delegates took place at Manchester, Birmingham, and Bury with a view to clearing the way for the Convention.  The month of January passed in comparative harmony, whether the result of Stephen's arrest following upon other evidences of the Government's watchfulness, or the consequence of suppressed excitement, is difficult to say.  All attention was concentrated upon the 4th of February, when the Convention was to meet.  Doubt and desperation, disquiet and uncertainty, struggled with hope and confidence for the souls of thousands of working men during the first five breathless weeks of the New Year.  Was the New Year to bring the hoped-for reform or the half-dreaded insurrection?

    The Convention met on February 4, 1839, at the British Hotel, Cockspur Street, Charing Cross.[245]  It consisted, nominally, of some fifty-three members, but as several did not attend, its effective strength was less than the forty-nine required to avoid the consequences of the Act of 1819, which placed certain restrictions upon the holding of adjourned meetings.  It turned out, however, that the Convention was a legal assembly and was never in danger of prosecution under the Act mentioned.  London was represented by seven members of the Working Men's Association, including Lovett, Cleave, Hetherington, and O'Brien, and by one William Cardo, a shoemaker of Marylebone.  In addition the Association had "lent" Vincent to Hull and Cheltenham, and William Carpenter to Bolton.  Similarly the London Democratic Association found places for Harney and Neesom, its chiefs, at Newcastle and Bristol.  Thus London furnished a quarter of the whole assembly.[246]  Birmingham sent five representatives out of the original eight, including Collins, Douglas, Salt, and Hadley.  From the North of England came a score, including O'Connor, MacDouall, who sat for Ashton-under-Lyne in place of Stephens, R. J. Richardson, who represented Manchester, Ryder, Bussey, Pitkeithly, who were the beginning of an O'Connor "tail," and Richard Marsden, a handloom weaver from Preston.  Scotland had eight representatives.  Wales had two, Jones of Newtown in Montgomery and John Frost of Newport.  Three from the hosiery districts, including Dr. A. S. Wade, Vicar of Warwick, and half a dozen from scattered towns like Hull and Bristol made up the tale.  Only one agricultural area was represented, and that by courtesy only, and not by virtue of Chartist zeal.  It was Dorset, which sent George Loveless, one of the famous labourers of '34.  He never took his seat.

    Nearly one-half the assembly belonged to the non-artisan classes.  Some, like O'Connor and John Taylor, were sheer demagogues; others, such as O'Brien and Carpenter, were doctrinaire social revolutionaries.  The Birmingham delegates, except Collins, were prosperous fellows who had drifted into political agitation.  Hadley was an Alderman of Birmingham and a warden of St. Martin's Church in the Bull Ring.  Douglas was the editor of the Birmingham Journal, and Salt was a lamp manufacturer on a considerable scale.  Wade was a kind of Christian Socialist, a predecessor of Charles Kingsley.  James Taylor was a Methodist Unitarian preacher who lived at Rochdale, and preached on a Methodist Unitarian circuit in East Lancashire.  There were several medical men, inspired, no doubt, by similar motives, several booksellers, a lawyer, [247] and a publican or two.

    Many Chartists, seeking after the event to explain the misfortune which attended the career of this assembly, attributed its failure to this large sprinkling of middle-class folk, but it must be said that the divisions and dissensions which ruined the Convention cannot be traced to the class divisions which prevailed.  On the main points at issue the working men were divided as well as the "middle-class men."  Place remarks that the class-war teaching was sufficient to frighten off the middle class as a body from the movement, but not sufficient to induce working men to elect leaders of their own kind to conduct their affairs.[248]  It was a sober, black-coated, middle-aged body which met on February 4, 1839.[249]  Harney, MacDouall, Vincent, and John Taylor were the youngest, as they were the most fiery, of the delegates.  Neesom and Richards [250] were already in their sixties, and quite a number were beyond fifty.  Many of the delegates were married men with families already grown up.  Truly not a very revolutionary-looking assembly.

    On the same day there also met the first great Anti-Corn Law League Conference and the Imperial Parliament — three vastly different political assemblies almost within a stone's throw of each other.  It was the portentous beginning of a triangular struggle which all but transformed the political and social character of the United Kingdom.  The gage of battle was thrown by the successive rejection in Parliament of motions for Parliamentary Reform and for the Repeal of the Corn Laws.  A ten years' war followed.

    The first meetings of the Convention were purely formal.  R. K. Douglas of Birmingham, who had had in hand the arrangements for the Convention, the Petition, and the "National Rent," acted for the time as chairman.  It was decided to appoint a chairman daily in rotation.  Lovett was of course appointed secretary, though O'Brien objected on the ground that he was "not in agreement with the men of the North as to the methods by which the Charter was to be obtained."  The question as to the payment of delegates was left to the "constituencies" and their representatives for settlement.  Douglas presented a report upon the Petition and the amount of rent subscribed and then vacated the chair in favour of Craig of Ayrshire, the first regular chairman.

    Many signs testify to the enormous enthusiasm and extravagant hopes which the Convention called into being.  From all parts of the country addresses flowed in.[251]  Some were read to the delegates amid scenes of the greatest joy.  Newspaper articles dilated upon the great event. [252]  Petitions were addressed to the Convention in legal form, as if to be presented to the House of Commons,[253] whereby the delegates were immensely flattered.  Most significant of all was the large amount of National Rent which was subscribed.  By March 7, £1350 had been received — more than enough to cover expenses.   Small and poverty-stricken districts subscribed incredibly large sums, deeming no sacrifice too great for the purchase of their own and their children's freedom.  The hosiery village of Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, subscribed £20, whilst Leeds, the home of the Northern Star, subscribed but five.[254]  This tremendous enthusiasm gave the delegates a very exaggerated conception of their powers and abilities and influenced their deliberations very unfavourably at times, whilst their failure to rise to the heights demanded of them transformed excessive optimism into the most dismal disillusionment.

    The effects of this exaggerated self-esteem were visible when the vital question was raised — what was the purpose and competence of the Convention?  It was brought forward on Tuesday, February 5, by J. P. Cobbett, but was shelved for the time being.  The question was raised again on the 14th and this time it came to a discussion.  The question at issue was, Is the Convention a petitioning and agitating body only, or is it a working-class Parliament, with the same authority over the working class as the Parliament at Westminster over the whole nation?  Is it entitled to defy the law or even to use force to encompass its purposes?  Cobbett upheld the first of these views and brought forward a series of resolutions declaring that the Convention was called merely to superintend the Petition, that it ought to sit no longer than was requisite for that purpose, and that it was not competent to decide upon any subsequent measures, especially anything that involved law-breaking, and so to bind its constituents to defy the law.[255]  The majority was clearly opposed to this view.  On the previous day O'Connor had declared that the Convention would not be sitting if the people thought they could do no more than petition.  This probably represents the view of the majority, at any rate of the working-class delegates, who regarded themselves as bound to make the Charter into law by any means whatsoever.  MacDouall declared that if the Convention was not to proceed to ulterior measures, he would go home at once.  A few delegates, led away by the revolutionary atmosphere attaching to the name of Convention, even dreamed of permanent sittings and Committees of Public Safety.  The resolutions were rejected by thirty-six votes against six.  Cobbett thereupon quitted the Convention.  This was the first of many defections.[256]

    How exaggerated a notion some of the delegates had of their own importance appears from the motion, passed on the 13th on the proposition of O'Brien, that the House of Commons be invited to meet the Convention at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the 27th of February to disabuse the minds of the members of that House as to the character and intentions of the Convention.[257]  Delegates wrote "M.C." after their names after the fashion of "M.P."  They imagined that they had sufficient influence to meet the House of Commons on equal if not superior terms.  They repeatedly argued that they had been elected by a much greater number of voters than those who sent men to Westminster, consequently they were entitled to at least as great a share of power as Parliament.

    There was for the time being considerable hesitation about specifying the exact means to be adopted in the event of the rejection of the Petition by the Commons, but as the Petition was not yet presented there was no immediate need of a decision on that point.  Meanwhile a declaration of war upon the Anti-Corn Law League and all its ways was proclaimed.  This is one of the few questions upon which complete unanimity was displayed.  O'Brien was the chief advocate of this policy, and made a speech in his best and most virulent style.[258]

    Following this the Convention busied itself with the discussion of its procedure and rules.  A week was thus spent, at the end of which a pamphlet was issued bearing the title "Rules and Regulations of the General Convention of the Industrious Classes, elected by the Radical Reformers of Great Britain and Ireland in Public Meetings assembled, to watch over the National Petition and obtain by all legal and constitutional means the Act to provide for the just representation of the People, entitled the 'People's Charter.'"  The detailed rules bear out the title.  In this document the Convention becomes a peaceful agitating body; there is no mention of anything else.

    Despite this official avowal of law-abiding intentions, the advocates of violent courses were becoming more and more conspicuous.  They were aided by doleful reports about the Petition, which made success by peaceful agitation seem very remote indeed.  The Birmingham delegates had not attended the Convention since the opening of the session, excusing themselves on various pretexts.  A letter from Salt, dated February 17, relates that he has just heard with great concern that there is no probability that the Petition will have more than 600,000 signatures.  "In this case we can no longer call it a 'National Petition.'  The assumption on which we have proceeded proved false: our position is entirely changed, and I have not yet any very definite idea of the measures it will become our duty to adopt." [259]  The Birmingham Journal followed this with the suggestion that the Convention should dissolve until the Petition became more largely signed.[260]  This was ill news indeed and came as a great shock to the sanguine spirits of the Convention.  More serious still perhaps was the obvious fact that the Birmingham delegates had lost their nerve and were preparing to abandon the whole business.  The Convention, which had hoped to present the Petition before the end of February, and so provoke an early decision upon the question of further measures, was compelled to postpone the event for two months.  Finally May 5 was fixed as the day for the presentation of the Petition.  The Convention was thus required to nurse the excitement and enthusiasm of its followers for nine weeks longer, without committing itself too far.  This was no easy task, but more difficult still was the preservation of unanimity within the Convention itself.

    Early in March dissension began to grow threatening.  On the 2nd the London Democratic Association, a violent and reckless body, held a meeting at which Harney, Ryder, and Marsden were the chief speakers.  Inflammatory speeches were the order of the day.  The Convention was denounced for its delays and its cowardice, and three resolutions were carried and then communicated to the Convention itself.


    That if the Convention did its duty, the Charter would be law in less than a month: that there should be no delay in presenting the Petition: and that all acts of injustice and oppression should be met by resistance.


    These resolutions caused an immense hubbub in the Convention, which spent three whole days in discussing the conduct of its three traitorous delegates, who narrowly escaped expulsion.  It is significant that the three outspoken advocates of violence found only three other supporters within the whole convention.  One of these was Frost, the future rebel of Newport.[261]

    Though the majority of the Convention was unwilling to avow a policy of violence, individual members were not so timid in the use of threats.  The policy adopted by many of the northern delegates, especially O'Connor and his followers, was to adopt an official caution in the Convention and reserve their violence for public meetings.  Thus whilst on the 7th of March Harney and his colleagues were officially condemned, nevertheless on the 16th several members of the majority on that occasion joined Harney in a carnival of denunciation which had as its scene a public meeting at the Crown and Anchor Tavern.  This meeting produced some significant speeches.  Sankey, a doctor from Edinburgh, moved a resolution declaring that the Convention had a right to adopt any means whatsoever in order to carry the Charter, and that every meeting had a right to censure or approve any act of the Convention.  Mere petitioning would not carry the Charter, which would be rejected, however many signatures it had, unless they were "the signatures of millions of fighting men who will not allow any aristocracy, oligarchy, landlords, cotton lords, money lords, or any lords to tyrannise over them longer."  Rogers, a mild-mannered tobacconist, spoke of signing the Petition in red, but hoped they would achieve their object without bloodshed.  O'Connor spoke in the same sense as Sankey.  Millions of petitions would not dislodge a troop of dragoons.  He warned the delegates that they would have a duty imposed upon them by the people after the Petition was presented.  There would be martyrs.  If the Convention should separate without doing something to secure the Charter, the people would know how to deal with the Convention, Harney wound up the evening by declaring that by the end of the year they would have universal suffrage or death.[262]

    If this meeting was intended to scare away from the Convention all the moderates, it was not unsuccessful, as the sequel showed.  It was followed by a furious debate in the Convention on the 18th, dealing with the Rural Police Bill then before Parliament.[263]  A long series of tirades was brought to a climax by Dr. Fletcher of Bury.  "He would not recommend the use of daggers against a Rural Police, but he would recommend every man to have a loaded bludgeon as nearly like that of the policeman's as possible; and if any of these soldiers of the Government, for soldiers they would really be, should strike him, to strike again, and in a manner that a second blow should not be required. . . . If resistance was necessary to oppose the Rural Police Bill, resistance there would be."

    The next day, the 19th of March, the Morning Chronicle published accounts both of the meeting of the 16th and of the debate of the 18th.  Fletcher was apparently horrified to realise how terrific his speech looked in cold print, and denounced the paper for having garbled it.  The same paper printed a letter from Wade, dissociating himself from the sentiments expressed on the previous Saturday.  Nevertheless from the Rural Police the discussion drifted on to the question of arming.  As a justification, the Convention ordered the collection of certain articles in the Morning Chronicle.  After the Bristol Riots of 1831, that journal [264] advocated the arming of respectable householders to defend life and property in such crises.  Although this measure was not without justification in the pre-constabulary days, the Convention regarded it as on a par with its own proposed resistance to the introduction of police.  When, however, the articles were collected, they were, on O'Connor's suggestion, put on one side.[265]

    So the weeks passed without any decisive event.  The Petition was not presented, and two months had gone.  Constituencies were paying their delegates [266] and were looking anxiously for some return for their sacrifices.  "Had we not been buoyed up," wrote the poor folk of Sutton-in-Ashfield, thinking of their £20, "by the hope that our sufferings would ere long have been ameliorated by the adoption of the People's Charter, the people would ere now have been driven to desperation."[267]  We can well believe Place when he declares that the general tone of the Chartists during March showed a certain loss of confidence, or at least reaction from over-sanguine expectations.[268]  They had expected a much more rapid march of events, but the Convention, partly through its own better knowledge, partly through its disunion, and partly through inexperience and lack of real leaders, had been induced to postpone the crisis.  Events over which the Convention had no control produced further delays, and the Petition was only laid before Parliament on June 14, while the discussion on it did not take place until July 12.  It was like postponing a declaration of war for six months.  The army began to lose heart and the enemy grew stronger.  This was just what O'Connor had prophesied and Harney dreaded.

    Nothing perhaps contributed more to damp the original enthusiasm of the Convention than the revelation that, so far from being a dominant majority in the nation, Chartists were only a struggling party.  This revelation was made by the reports of some of the fifteen missionaries, sent out at the end of February to agitate the districts not yet attacked by Chartism.  On March 8 Salt reports from Birmingham.  He has visited Willenhall, Stourbridge, Bilston, and Kenilworth, the three former in the heart of the Black Country, and has not even been able to get together a meeting.  Wolverhampton, Darlaston, West Bromwich are little better.  But Salt was not a good missionary.  He had an eye to his lamp factory all the time.  He notes that the middle-class folk are standing aloof, and thinks that without the aid of a few middle-class men, who have leisure to instruct, nothing can be done for a long period.[269]  This to a body which is full of bitter anti-middle-class feeling!  When Salt and Hadley reported thus to the Birmingham Union, they were but ill received.[270]

    From the south-west came reports from Duncan, Lowery, and Vincent. The two former were in Cornwall.


    We find that to do good we will have to go over each place twice, for the People have never heard of the agitation and know nothing of political principles; it is all uphill work.  Were we not going to it neck or nothing, we should never get a meeting; the trades-people are afraid to move and the working men want drilling before entering the ranks.[271]


    Moir and Cardo had similar experiences in Devonshire.[272]  Vincent was nearly murdered by a mob at Devizes.  This was a specially severe blow, considering Vincent's hitherto unbounded popularity and success as an agitator.  At the head of a procession Vincent had entered the ancient borough-town and mounted a waggon in the market-place.  According to Vincent's account, Lancers, Yeomanry, and special police were mobilised to do honour to the event.  Hardly had he mounted the waggon than a horn was blown and a volley of stones hurled.  Vincent was knocked clean out of the waggon by a stone which struck him on the head.  A body of bludgeon-men stormed the waggon and in a moment the market-place was a scene of riot.  The Chartist banners were captured and recaptured, and Vincent, with Roberts [273] and Carrier, was with difficulty rescued by the special constables.  An hour later a mob assembled in front of their lodging and threatened to burn them out.  The High Sheriff intervened and had them escorted out of the town by the constabulary and others.  The mob rushed the escort and seriously mauled the three unfortunates, so that Vincent collapsed and had to be carried off in a gig.[274]

    From Sheffield came a request that a delegate be sent to rouse the workers there.  Very little success, the communication adds, had followed attempts to further the Chartist cause in Sheffield, but greater things were expected if the Convention sent a delegate.  It was emphatically stipulated that a moral force man be sent.[275]  It was reported that Leeds had only just commenced to take part in the agitation.[276]

    One of these missionary reports deserves reproduction here it is from old John Richards, agitating in the Potteries, dated March 22, 1839.


    I arrived in the Potteries on Wednesday night.  The Council of the Union were assembled and received me with hearty and Deafening Cheers as soon as order was Again restored.  Thursday Night was Appointed for me to Address A Meeting, and I Assure A more Enthusiastic meeting never Assembled.  I stated the object of the Council of the pottery political Union in sending for me home to be to Compleat the Agitation in the Potteries and to Extend it to the Neighbouring Towns.  Attended the following places.  Last week Tunstal on Monday, Lane End on Tuesday, Burslem on Wednesday, Stoke on Thursday, Congleton on Saturday, Sandbatch on Monday.[277] Open-air meeting at one o'clock, Tuesday Night Fenton; Wednesday night Leek.  At Congleton Sandbatch and Leek have formed political Unions formed Committees and Set them to work to obtain Signatures and Collect National Rent and I hope with a good prospect of Success . . . As regards the Condition of the different towns I have visited, I can only say that poverty destitution and Its accompanying feature Squalid Misery form the principal feature.  At Leek and Sandbatch I found the Inhabitants fully Convinced that everything was wrong and yet Ignorant of the Means to Cure the evils . . . to these people I pointed out that the root and cause of the privations of the Sons of Labour lay in the want of the Franchise.  This was news to them. . . . At Leek I found the workmen reduced to the Lowest degree possible for Human nature to endure.  Many were the Men who publickly Stated that with fifteen hours Labour per Day the Utmost they could earn was from 7 to 8 Shillings per Week.  I do not wonder that men thus Situate Should make use of Strong language.  Rather do I wonder that they keep in any bounds, but this I do Say that If something be not Speedily done to give a greater Plenty to the working Man, Something of A very fearful Import must follow.  Nor will It be possible for me, let me do my Utmost, to keep that Peace you know I so much long to be kept by the Operatives of England . . . Shall have to Visit those places ere I see you.  Shall Impress on them the Motto Peace Law Order, but I fear all will be of no avail, this being the Language used in those places — Better to die by the Sword than perish with Hunger.[278]


    More powerfully than by the none too encouraging reports of the missionaries was the Convention disturbed by a series of resignations.  On March 28 Dr. Wade resigned.  He was opposed to the continual talk about arms.  A few days later the Birmingham delegates all resigned.  The meeting at the Crown and Anchor was the immediate cause of their withdrawal, as it showed that the Convention was ready to "peril the success of Radical Reform on an appeal to the last and worst weapon of the tyrant and oppressor." [279]  The Convention spent some hours in denouncing the conduct of the Birmingham people.  The latter had indeed played an ignominious part in the movement.  They had gone into it, hoping to launch their currency scheme upon the rising popular tide.  They had expected rapid success.  Instead, they found that leadership had passed out of their hands and that success was remote.  They had talked vaguely about physical force, but shrank from associating with the men who were really determined to use it.  They therefore pleaded business reasons for not attending the Convention (which, it is true, was likely to take up far more time than they could spare without deserting their business altogether, as Cobden did) and at a favourable opportunity withdrew altogether from a movement whose course filled them with apprehension.  Collins manfully defended them against their enemies in the Convention, some of whom had apparently been stirring up opposition to Douglas, Salt, and Hadley in Birmingham itself.  The consequence was that the Chartist cause in that city fell into the hands of a reckless and unscrupulous crew, a fact which later turned out very disastrously.[280]

    On April 9 the Convention plunged into a discussion upon the right of the people to possess arms.  R. J. Richardson of Manchester, who had a taste for antiquarian research, introduced the question in an interminable oration loaded with citations of every conceivable description.  He moved for a committee to inquire into the existing state of the law upon the subject.  The debate which followed reached the very climax of futility, and exhibited a hopeless division amongst the delegates.  Sankey, who had distinguished himself at the Crown and Anchor by his bold words, now betrayed a strong disposition to eat them.  Amid the fog of discussion the practical good sense of the Scotsman, Halley, sounds strangely welcome.  What, he wanted to know, was the practical value of the resolution?  Were they going to prepare for a campaign?  Had they a large enough following in the country?  To these questions no answer was vouchsafed, for none could be given.  Nobody knew why the discussion was opened, and only half a dozen moderates like Halley, and two or three firebrands like Harney, had courage to commit themselves to any definite views at all.  This debate especially deserved the censure passed by the London Dispatch that the Convention was more concerned to show how clever it was than to further the cause with good suggestions and sound measures.[281]  The discussion ended in a declaration of the Convention's opinion that it was lawful to possess arms.  It had the effect of encouraging the collection of arms in various parts of the country, a proceeding which did not escape the notice of the Government. [282]

    On April 18 Wood of Bolton resigned, having become a Poor Law Guardian, to the great horror of his constituents.  Clearly the Anti-Poor Law excitement was subsiding.  He delivered a Parthian shot at the Convention by informing his people that if they wanted a physical force revolution they must elect a different Convention.  On the 22nd, Matthew, one of the Scottish delegates, resigned also.

    A resolution was introduced by O'Connor on the 22nd, suspending all missionary work and requiring the attendance of all delegates till the Petition was presented.  Place says this was dictated by a fear that Government was preparing to pounce upon the missionaries,[283] a view which Vincent's arrest early in May serves to support, but it was also due in part to the diminishing attendances of the remaining delegates.  O'Connor's speech was another example of indirect terrorism, intended to scare away the remaining moderates.  He denounced those who had resigned as "deserters," and declared that the lukewarmness of certain delegates would only cause a greater impatience on the part of those who, being without breakfasts and dinners, were anxious that the Convention should show them how they were to be had.  It was useless for the Convention to sit there philosophising.  The delegates would have to act or their constituents would think they were enjoying themselves on their salaries.  When the Petition was rejected, as it would be, they would have to declare a permanent sitting [284] and invite the country to address the Convention in order that they might consider in what way they could best carry out the objects of their just cause.  Unless the Convention brought itself morally into collision with other authorities, it would do nothing to show its own importance.

    He then proceeded to hint that the middle-class folk in the Convention were the cause of its lukewarmness.  He talked vaguely of a general strike as an alternative to physical or moral force.  The operatives would "meet the cannon with the shuttle and present the web to the musket."  O'Connor knew none but cotton and woollen weavers.  He finally denounced moral philosophers as the bane of their cause, and declared that the delegates who had deserted were paltry cowards.

    This speech indicates an important change of attitude of the Convention on the vital question of "ulterior measures," i.e. measures to be adopted after the Petition was rejected.  May 5 was very near, and the Convention would have to have some definite measures with which to face its followers in the country.  But some delegates were definitely opposed to any appeal to arms; others who had been valiant in speech were none too pleased to find that they might have to vindicate their valour in conflict with soldiers and police; others who might be perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves had scruples against sacrificing others also; yet others were anxious to make better preparations before provoking an outbreak.  Amidst this clash of opinion, one course seemed to recommend itself to the delegates — the least admirable course of all.  Already it had been decided to hold a series of mass meetings during Whit-week.  It was now decided to leave to the Chartists in mass meeting assembled the decision which the Convention had not will enough to take for itself.  As Bussey, a reputed firebrand from the West Riding, remarked, it was dangerous for the Convention to be ahead of the opinion of its constituents.  This was the result of the deliberations on the 22nd and 23rd.[285]  The following day was spent in excited recrimination between the extremists on both sides, and no business was done.

    On May 7 the Convention completed the first stage of its work by handing over to Attwood and Fielden, who were to present it, the great Petition.  It contained 1,200,000 signatures.  It was rolled upon a huge bobbin-like structure and placed upon a cart.  The Convention marched two abreast as escort, and delivered it at Attwood's house.  This consummation had not been accomplished without an eleventh-hour hitch.  Attwood and Fielden had demanded that the Convention should pass a resolution condemning violent language and physical force.  This produced an excited debate in the Convention, and the resolution was not passed.  Apparently the matter was compromised, but Attwood had still another scruple.  He objected to the Charter on the ground that it would give two hundred representatives to Ireland out of six hundred, which he considered too great a proportion.  However, the Petition was deposited at his house and he was left in charge, scruples and all.

    The Petition had long since ceased to be the focus of Chartist thoughts and hopes.  Very few delegates continued to express the opinion that it might be seriously considered by the Commons, and even they cherished the hope against their better knowledge.  The Convention devoted itself to the consideration of "ulterior measures."  Soon after the Petition was handed over to Attwood, the Convention quitted London for Birmingham after a session of three months.  With the arrival in Birmingham a new phase of the movement began, in which the evils of dissension, recklessness, and lack of proper leadership worked themselves out to a dismal and ignominious end.

    It must be confessed that the Convention had not accomplished great things.  Considering the exertions made, the Petition had not been very extensively signed.  Though 1,200,000 looks a respectable figure enough, yet it compares unfavourably with the later Petition of 1842.[286]  Through the missionaries the Convention had accomplished something.  In fact, this was the most hopeful and successful side of its work, but it was not developed enough.  The truth is that the leadership of the movement was never thoroughly in the hands of the Convention.  The latter was being driven by the excitement and impatience of its followers.  The longer it delayed, the greater grew the pressure from behind, until the Convention was wrecked by forces which it could no longer control.

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CHAPTER VIII

THE GOVERNMENT PREPARES FOR ACTION
(1839)


THROUGHOUT the manufacturing and mining districts an atmosphere of excitement and terror was spreading during the early months of 1839.  Poverty and scarcity grew.  A very bad harvest in the previous year increased the price of bare necessaries of life to thousands who in time of good harvests were scarce able to live, whilst the dislocation of trade reduced wages and increased unemployment.  The streets of many a Lancashire town were filled with pale, gloomy, desperate, half-famished weavers.  The workhouses were besieged (for the New Poor Law was yet in abeyance), though many a stubborn operative preferred to starve in silence.  There is," wrote a sympathetic observer [287] later in the year, "among the manufacturing poor, a stern look of discontent, of hatred to all who are rich, a total absence of merry faces: a sallow tinge and dirty skins tell of suffering and brooding over change.  Yet often have I talked with scowling-visaged fellows till the ruffian went from their faces, making them smile and at ease: this tells me that their looks of sad and deep thought are not natural.  Poor fellows."[288]  "It looks as if the falling of an Empire were beginning," wrote the same noble soldier in the early days of 1839.

    In truth the aspect of Great Britain in these days was sufficiently terrifying.  From Bristol to Edinburgh and from Glasgow to Hull rumours of arms, riots, conspiracies, and insurrections grew with the passing of the weeks.  Crowded meetings applauded violent orations, threats and terrorism were abroad.  Magistrates trembled and peaceful citizens felt that they were living on a social volcano.  The frail bonds of social sympathy were snapped, and class stood over against class as if a civil war were impending.

    The acquisition of arms by the more desperate of the manufacturing and mining folk must have begun before the meeting of the Convention.[289]  A letter from the Loughborough magistrates, dated January 30, relates that the framework knitters, under the influence of Stephens, are making enormous sacrifices out of their terribly small wages for the purchase of arms and for the support of their two representatives in the Convention.[290]  Stephens's arrest must have given a considerable impetus to the collection of weapons of war.  From this time onwards similar reports were received almost daily by the Government from magistrates, officials, and private persons of all descriptions.  "Better to die by the sword than perish with hunger" was the prevalent feeling.  The Mayor of Newcastle reports in February that arms are being collected in that district.[291]  In March it was stated that the colliers and foundry-men in the Newport and Merthyr districts were forming clubs, which organised the purchase of arms through hawkers.  Thomas Phillips, the Mayor of Newport, who played a great part in the suppression of the rising which took place later in the year, relates that meetings are frequently held in the public-houses in the remote colliery districts when neither civil nor military authority is available.


    The missionaries attend at public-houses or beershops where a party has been assembled.  The missionary expounds to them the grievances under which they labour, tells them that half their earnings is taken from them in taxes: that these taxes are spent in supporting their rulers in idleness and profligacy: that their employers are tyrants who acquire wealth by their labour: that the great men around them possess property to which they are not entitled.[292]


    This sounds very much like a résumé of Vincent's doctrines,[293] as reported by the Crown witness at his trial.  The manager of the Pontypool Ironworks went about in fear of death, and had once escaped a mauling only by putting on female costume.[294]

    From Halifax in April came a report that much drilling and collection of arms was going on amongst the handloom weavers, who were reduced to such desperation as to resolve to better themselves at the expense of the community.[295]  Bradford and Barnsley magistrates reported in similar terms about the same time.[296]  At Halifax a book about barricade and street fighting, and the method of facing cavalry with the pike, written by an Italian revolutionary named Macerone, was circulated.[297]  Pikes, manufactured out of old files stuck into a handle, or acquired in some similarly inexpensive fashion, were the favourite weapon, though not a few Chartists obtained muskets.  These martial preparations were carried on even in the remote districts of Scotland, as far as Aberdeen, though the little weaving towns, like Barrie's "Thrums,"[298] were the chief centres of excitement.

    Frequent and tumultuous public meetings increased the excitement.  Delegates of the Convention, who there expressed themselves cautiously and vaguely on the subject of arms and physical force, were less reticent whilst addressing their friends and followers in the country.  Vincent set the whole of South Wales ablaze, and when he was at last arrested early in May, every one held his breath in terror of the inevitable insurrection.  No work was done in Newport on the day the news arrived.  In Lancashire the various agitators and delegates used the most extreme language.  William Benbow was the most outspoken of these advocates of armed revolution.  He was a cobbler of Manchester, now about sixty years old.  He had lived through the desperate days of Hampden Clubs and the Six Acts.  He had been a friend of Sam Bamford of Middleton and William Cobbett.[299]  In 1816, if we are to trust Henry Hunt, Benbow had been denounced by a Government spy for manufacturing pikes in view of a projected rising.  He was also the author of a pamphlet advocating the general strike as a political weapon.  A thoroughgoing, hardened revolutionary, Benbow had in no wise been discouraged by the experiences of his earlier days.  We have seen him as a leader in the Anti-Poor Law agitation [300] and he came forward now with greater enthusiasm than ever.  He travelled all over Lancashire preaching his doctrine of strikes and insurrection.  At a meeting in Manchester he spoke, we are told, "like a mad thing." [301]  MacDouall, O'Brien, Richardson, and a host of others spoke of nothing but arms.  MacDouall urged his hearers at Hyde to prepare themselves for the struggle, whereupon some one in the crowd fired off a pistol.[302]  At other meetings, too, pistol shots took the place of applause.  What was true of Lancashire and South Wales was true also of every important manufacturing area, for everywhere the magistrates were terror-struck.  To what extent arming and drilling were actually carried on it is of course difficult to say.  The wildest tales were about.  Three hundred thousand Lancashire men would march at the signal of the Convention.[303]  The arms in the Tower of London could easily be seized and distributed.  Untold thousands of Welsh colliers were ready to move.  That these rumours were exaggerated goes without saying.  More significant, however, is the fact that the most sanguine advocates of violent courses in the Convention had themselves to confess that they had grossly overestimated their following and their influence in the country.

    These proceedings were not in the least hidden from the Government.  Perhaps the Chartists did not intend that they should be, for with many it was an article of faith that moral force backed by a display of physical force would accomplish the surrender of the House of Commons.  It was thus possible for many delegates, in the Convention and elsewhere, to advocate the possession of arms without being in the least desirous of using them.  Thus the drilling went on with no great attempt at concealment.  The Government was well informed as to the state of affairs.  From magistrates, town clerks, mayors, officials, and private persons hundreds of reports were received, relating to all parts of the country.  With this information before him, Lord John Russell, the Home Secretary of the Melbourne Administration, was able to act wisely and tactfully.

    The wisest and most tactful step was the appointment of Major-General Sir Charles J. Napier to the command of the Northern District in April 1839.  Napier, the future conqueror of Sind, was perhaps the most brilliant officer of the school of Wellington, but apart from that he was a true gentleman, and a wise and kindly ruler of men.  His journal, which forms an important source of our information for this troublous period, reveals a man of the most admirable character.  His soldierly qualities were only exceeded by his sympathy with the unfortunate men whose wild projects it was his duty to frustrate.  In politics he sympathised with the Liberals and with the Conservatives of the school of Lord Ashley, who was trying with increasing success to voice the claims of the poorer classes upon the attention of the State and of Society.  No better choice could have been made by Lord John Russell, who, though steadfastly opposed to the claims of the Charter and the National Petition, was scarcely less sympathetic and forbearing in his conduct at this crisis than Napier himself, although far more nervous.

    The Government in fact handled this difficult situation in an excellent fashion.[304]  On the one hand it was not unaware of the nature of the insurrectionary movement, and it was already taking steps to grapple scientifically with the problem of social discontent.  The manifold careful inquiries which were made during this and the succeeding years [305] are sufficient witness at least to a desire to do something for these less fortunate members of society.  On the other hand the insurrectionary movement was a fact, and Government was bound to protect lives and property against threatening destruction.  The difficulty was that there was no police force to speak of outside the London area, and the larger and smaller manufacturing towns were therefore compelled to rely upon military protection in times of riot.  Thus Bradford (Yorkshire) with a population of 66,000 had a police force of about half a dozen.[306]  Neither Manchester nor Birmingham had a properly organised force until the summer of 1839.  Most of the smaller towns had no civil force at all.  Under these circumstances the use of military force was inevitable, but neither Napier nor the Home Secretary was prepared to allow it to be used as recklessly as at Peterloo.  Much of their energy was in fact devoted to soothing terrified magistrates and manufacturers who wanted to garrison every town and every factory like a fortress, and to let loose the soldiery upon the slightest provocation.

    Napier proceeded therefore very cautiously.  He found himself in command of between five and six thousand men and eighteen guns.  This was a far from sufficient force unless very carefully used.  It was scattered all over the northern counties, sometimes in very small units, such as half companies and less.  At Halifax, for instance, forty-two soldiers were billeted in as many houses.[307]  Napier at once proceeded to concentrate his forces at what he held to be the decisive points.  His headquarters were for the time being at Nottingham.  Newcastle-on-Tyne, Leeds, Hull, and Manchester were the strategic points.  In the Newcastle area he had 900 men; in the Lancashire area, 2800; in Yorkshire, 1000.[308]  Manchester was regarded by Napier as the centre of the insurrectionary movement, and he kept one of his best officers, Colonel Wemyss, constantly there, with a force which at one time must have amounted to 2000 men with some guns.  This concentration, he notes with relief, was completed by May 1.  Napier exerted himself to provide barracks of some sort in every town where the soldiers were posted, as he was afraid that they would be cut off or tampered with if they were left in billets.  The provision of barracks was a constant stipulation whenever magistrates applied to him.

    In one other district where the Chartists were particularly threatening, namely Monmouthshire, Lord John Russell ordered up troops.  This was at the end of April.  The troops were to be sent from Sussex or Wiltshire.[309]

    It was generally supposed that the day on which the petition was presented would be the day of the outbreak.  All the preparations, therefore, were made against the 6th of May, the date originally fixed.  On May 3 the Government issued a proclamation against persons who "have of late unlawfully assembled together for the purpose of practising military exercise, movements, and evolutions," and against persons who "have lately assembled and met together, many of them armed with bludgeons or other offensive weapons, and have by their exciting to breach of the peace, and by their riotous proceedings, caused great alarm to our subjects."  Magistrates are to take all measures to suppress such unlawful assemblies.  This proclamation was followed by a letter from the Home Secretary, authorising the formation of a civic force for the protection of life and property where such was held to be in danger.  Government would supply arms to such bodies on application through the proper channels.[310]

    Whether this proposal to arm one body of inhabitants against the others was wholly wise may well be doubted.  In many districts it would amount to the arming of the richer against the poorer classes, and give the struggle the aspect of a social war.  That the proposal was not only made but often carried into practice shows already the degree of terror and bitterness which had entered into social relationships.  But in the absence of a regular police force it was perhaps the best course of action, unless a very free use were made of the soldiery, which was perhaps still less advisable.  The Government was very cautious in supplying these volunteer bodies with arms.  Firearms were very seldom issued, cutlasses being supplied instead.

    Thus the two parties made their preparations, the Government cautiously and tactfully, the Chartists noisily and perplexedly.  Whether there would be an outbreak of civil war depended largely upon the action of Napier and the Convention.  To the latter we must therefore turn again.

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NOTES.

Chapter VI


188.   Additional MSS. 27,819, p. 75.

189.  Charter, March 3, 1839, p. 81.

190.  Additional MSS. 27,819, p. 75.

191.  Ibid. 27,819. pp. 79-84.

192.  Ibid. 27.819. p. 94.

193Ibid. 27.819, p. 99.

194.  This is demonstrated in my opinion by the was able ease with which O'Connor was able to undermine the Influence of the Attwood group in December 1838.  Place was hostile to the Currency Scheme, and ridiculed the Attwoodites mercilessly.  He charges them with intending to smuggle the Currency scheme into the Chartist Programme without obtaining the assent of the Chartists or even of the working men (ibid. pp. 134-8).

195.  Additional MSS. 27,819, p. 111.

196.  Ibid. 27,819, pp. 114-16.  Place suggests that the Currency notion was thrust on them.

197.  Perhaps the Birmingham people were not sorry, as they did not want equal alliance but preponderant influence .

198.  Additional MSS. 27,819, pp, 127 et seq.; on the authority of the Birmingham Journal.

199.  Additional MSS. 27,819, pp. 145-8.

200.  J. P. Kay, Working Classes in Manchester, 1832.

201.  Additional MSS. 27,819, p. 149.

202Ibid. 27,819, p. 162.

203Ibid. 27,820, p. 68.

204.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 76.

205Ibid. 27,820, p. 73,

206Ibid. 27,820, p. 78.

207Ibid. 27,820, pp. 82, 89.

208.  Additional MSS. 27,820, pp. 109-119.

209.  Northern Star, June 2, 1838.

210.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 141.

211.  E.g. Leeds, June 5; Oldham, July 1.

212.  Northern Star, August 4, 1838.

213.  Place, Additional MSS. 27,820, gives notices of thirty-eight meetings between August 6 and December 18, of which fourteen elected delegates.

214.  Additional MSS. 27,796, pp. 333-4.

215.  Atwood said later that he never saw the Charter till the meeting of August 6, and had no time to examine it or he would not have supported it.

216.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 2.

217.  Ibid. 27,820, p. 41.

218.  Additional MSS. 27,820, pp. 132-8.

219.  Ibid. 27,820, p. 274.

220.  Cobbett had agitated the question: see also 1834, Comm. on Handloom Weavers, qq. 973 et seq. 5560-66.  This committee made some vague statements on the question in the report, p. xv.

221E.g. at Bolton, Bradford, Rochdale, Oldham, Bury.

222.  Additional MSS. 27,820, Pp. 272-4. Northern Star, November 17, 1838.

223.  Additional MS. 27,820, p. 260.

224Ibid. 27,820, p. 287.

225Ibid. 27,820, p. 292.

226.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 295.

227.  O'Connor was uninvited.  His habit of intruding where he was not required was a cause of immense friction, as he was seldom content to be passive, and sometimes diverted meetings to purposes for which they were never intended.

228.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 304. Northern Star, November 17.

229Northern Star, November 17.

230Northern Star, November 24.

231.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 324.

232Ibid. 27,820, pp. 327-41.



Chapter VII
 

233.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 292.

234.  Le Bon.

235.  Its terms had already been made public two months before.

236.  Manchester itself was not unlike London, possessing a strong middle class, e.g. Cobden, and a class of superior artisans who shared middle-class Radical views. But Manchester itself was sometimes swamped by the influx from the smaller towns, which were unanimously Chartist.

237.  The Padiham Chartists had a banner with the motto, "Sell thy gar ment and buy a sword" (Northern Star, October 27, 1838). [Much on this page is repetition of p. 111.]

238.  Additional MSS. 27,820, p. 287.

239Ibid. 27,820, p. 292.

240Ibid. 27, 821, p. 5.

241Northern Liberator, January 19, 1839.

242.  Additional MSS. 27,821, pp. 13-16.

243Northern Star, October 27, 1838.

244Northern Liberator, January 19, 1839.

245.  After two days its meetings were transferred to Bolt Court, Fleet Street, "in the Hall of the Ancient and Honourable Lumber Troop" (Life and Struggles, p. 201; Gammage, p. 105).  See the contemporary description of it by the French féministe, Flora Tristan, quoted in Dolléans, i. 286-7.  Where not otherwise noted the authority for the debates in the first Convention is the Charter newspaper.

246.  It was a matter of £ s. d.  Delegates who lived in London cost less than those sent to London.

247.  James P. Cobbett, son of the great William.

248.  Additional MSS. 27,822, p. 83.

249Northern Star, November 2, 1839.

250.  Of the Potteries.

251.  Letter-Book of Convention, Additional MSS. 34,245, A and B.

252E.g. The Charter, February 10, 1839.

253.  Additional MSS. 34,245, pp. 27 and 103.

254Ibid. 34,245, A, p. 84.

255Charter, February 10 and 17, 1839.

256Charter, February 17, 1839.

257Ibid. October 17, 1839. Additional MSS. 27,821, p. 33.

258Charter, February 17, 1839.

259.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, pp. 41-2.

260Ibid. 27,821, p. 40.

261Charter, March 10, 1839.

262Morning Chronicle, March 19, 1839; Charter, March 24, 1839.

263.  The opposition to this Bill was due largely to the belief that the police were intended to enforce the New Poor Law as well as to provide additional soldiery against a possible insurrection.  The speakers mostly had the example of France before their eyes, the police being suspected of being nothing but spies and informers.

264.  November 1831.

265Charter, March 31, 1839.

266E.g. Craig was paid £6 a week (Northern Star, September 7, 1839).  The two Manchester delegates were promised £5 a week each, but did not get so much.

267.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 84, March 1.

268Ibid. 27,821, p. 58.

269Ibid. 34,245, A, p. 107.4

270Ibid. 27,821, pp. 65-9.

271Ibid. 34,245, A, p. 120, also p. 148.

272.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 128, B, p. 33.

273.  W. P. Roberts, later the "miners' attorney-general." Webb, History of Trade Unionism, pp. 164-6.

274.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 228.

275Ibid. 34,245, A, p. 188, April 2.

276Ibid. p. 198, April 3.

277.  A report of March 28 states that Richards had to cover all these distances on foot.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 173.

278.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 147.  The punctuation of the original has been slightly amended to make the meaning clear.

279Charter, March 31, 1839 ; April 7, 1839.

280Charter, April 14, 1839.

281.  May 19, 1839.

282.  The Aberdeen Chartists wrote to Dr. Taylor, asking whether the constitutional maxims quoted in the debate applied also to Scotland, as they had passed a resolution in favour of arming (Additional MSS. 34,245, A, P. 260).

283Ibid. 27,821, p. 93.

284.  An improvement of an earlier passage in the speech in which O'Connor suggested that they should sit till the funds were exhausted.

285Charter, April 28, 1839.

286.  Richard Carlile in a pamphlet preserved in Home Office Papers (4043), p. 8, says that the Petition of 1839 compared very badly with that of 1817.



Chapter VIII


287.  General Sir Charles Napier.

288.  W. F. P. Napier, Life and Opinions of Sir C. J. Napier, ii. 77 (September 24, 1839).

289.  Stephens said on November 4, 1838, at Hyde that the burial clubs were Purchasing arms; at this meeting pistols were discharged.

290.  Home Office, 40 (44), Leicester.

291Ibid. (46), Newcastle-on-Tyne.

292Ibid. (43), Monmouth.

293Ibid. (45), Monmouth.

294Ibid.

295.  Home Office, 40 (43), Manchester.

296Ibid. (51), Yorkshire.

297.  Napier, ii. 16.

298The Little Minister.  "Thrums" is Kirriemuir in Forfarshire.

299Northern Star, April 2, 1842.

300.  Compare above, p. 91.

301Manchester Times, April 27, 1839.

302Manchester Guardian, June 12, 1839.  Meeting on April 22.

303.  Napier, ii. 43.

304.  Russell had refused to put down Chartist meetings on the ground that freedom of speech must be preserved (Hansard, 3rd ser., xlix. 455).

305.  See above, especially Chapter II.

306.  Home Office, 40 (51), Yorks.

307.  Napier, H. 16.

308Ibid. ii. 19-22.

309.  Home Office, 40 (45).  Pencil note on back of letter dated April 30.

310Northern Liberator, May 11 and 18, 1839.



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