The Chartist Movement (4)
Home Up History of Chartism Reviews Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]


CHAPTER IX

THE CONVENTION AT BIRMINGHAM
(1839)


A STRANGE event upset the Chartist calculations early in May 1839.  The Whig Government of Lord Melbourne had at no time possessed a sound working majority.  In a division upon the question of suspending the constitution of Jamaica in consequence of the evil treatment of the negro freedmen by the white oligarchy, the Government majority dwindled to five, and on the following day, May 7, Melbourne decided to resign.  This unlucky event put an end for the moment to all ideas of presenting the National Petition, as there was no prospect of a hearing for it.  It made a bad impression, too, that the House of Commons should apparently be so concerned with the affairs of Jamaica as to bring about a change of Government at so critical a time.  The Convention was compelled to face the prospect of another long wait for the decisive moment at which political agitation might pass into armed insurrection.  The delegates were of course far from unanimous either as to the necessity or as to the precise moment for the employment of force.  Some were opposed to force altogether, others were for waiting until the Petition was definitely rejected, and yet others, convinced that the Petition was useless, were for an immediate appeal to arms.

    The Convention had not been unimpressed by the preparations of the Government to resist any insurrectionary movement.  Without going as far as Place, who believed that all the proceedings of the Convention about this time were dictated by a cowardly fear of prison, the biggest braggarts like O'Connor being the most arrant of cowards,[311] we may well agree that none of the delegates wanted to go out of their way to get themselves arrested.  They wanted to keep their forces together if there was to be an outbreak, and the seizure of the delegates would either provoke a leaderless insurrection or put a stop to the whole agitation, at least for the time being.  Neither of these alternatives was pleasant to contemplate.  The delegates, therefore, felt themselves unsafe in London, almost under the eyes of Government and the already efficient Metropolitan Police.  The debates in the Convention had not escaped the notice of the Home Secretary, who especially asked for reports of the proceedings there.[312]

    In the Metropolis the Chartists had totally failed to get together a real following.  An effort to organise agitation in London had been made by the Convention, but it did not accomplish much.  Long and loud were the complaints about the apathy of the Londoners "because they had more wages than the men of the North."[313]  A meeting addressed by Pitkeithly and Smart at Rotherhithe on March 28 drew only fifty or sixty persons, and Pitkeithly complained that he had only to call a meeting in the North and he would crowd a room six times as large as the present one.[314]  The notion that the populace of London would play in a Chartist Revolution the part of the Paris folk in the French Revolution, if it were ever entertained, was hopelessly impossible.  In London the Convention, in spite of its exertions, was never more than an interesting phenomenon.

    The thought was natural, therefore, to withdraw from London to some place where there was a greater following and a greater immunity from arrest.  Birmingham was the town selected.  The delegates believed that the Convention could combine preparation with propaganda, and Birmingham, the half-way house to the North and to South Wales, was naturally the first stopping-place for a movable People's Parliament.

    Birmingham Chartism had undergone a change since the collapse of the Attwood party.  The moderate middle-class element had seceded and left the leadership in the hands of working men.  Collins still preserved a tolerable following,[315] but he was overshadowed by a noisier party led by Brown, Powell, Donaldson, and Fussell.  Brown, Powell, and Donaldson were elected delegates in the place of Douglas, Hadley, and Salt, whilst Fussell stayed in Birmingham to agitate.  Since the end of March the behaviour of the Chartists had become more and more provocative.[316]  The Bull Ring, a triangular space in the centre of the town, and a gateway into the poorer quarters, was crowded day after day with excited meetings, and the tone of the speeches became more and more inflammatory.  The shopkeepers in the High Street were half ruined by the stoppage of their business.  The Mayor [317] professed to believe that there was no danger of any serious disturbances, but the manager of the Bank of England branch feared for his strongboxes.[318]  A letter from Fussell to Brown, dated May 7, describes the excitement in Birmingham.  The Bull Ring is daily beset by crowds "waiting to hear the result of the Petition."  All the week no work has been done, and Fussell has addressed the crowds during the day-time "to preserve the peace."  The soldiers are all under arms and the Riot Act has been read "to exasperate the people . . . And Depend upon it no stone shall be left unturned by Mee for the Purpose of keeping up the excitement."  "I shall continue my exertions though the Workhouse be My Doom."  He urges Brown, who no doubt kept him informed of the course of events in the Convention, to use all his force to get the Convention to transfer its sittings to Birmingham "as this was their battlefield and the men of Birmingham their forces."[319]  The next day, however, the magistrates of the town forbade meetings in the Bull Ring and also meetings of any sort where seditious and inflammatory language was used.  On the 9th MacDouall and a certain James Duke, of Ashton-under-Lyne, were in Birmingham ordering a score of muskets and bayonets to be sent to the latter's home at Ashton, and promising an order for several hundred more if these were approved.[320]

    These indications suggest strongly that the "movement party," both in the Convention and in Birmingham, desired the removal to that town because they thought it a better base of operations for the intended outbreak.  The supposed weakness of the newly created municipal body, which included a large sprinkling of the ex-leaders of Birmingham Chartism, the supposed strength of the physical force Chartists, and the existence of large stores of munitions of war, encouraged the hope that a successful beginning might be made there.  When, on May 8, O'Connor for the second time moved the transference of the Convention, a majority of three to one was in favour.  O'Connor said that the advent of a Tory Government would make it dangerous to stay in London, whereas at Birmingham they would be safe.  Lovett voted with the majority, Hetherington, Cleave, Hartwell, Sankey, and Halley with the minority.  Cleave, Sankey, and Halley entered a very strong protest against the removal, and had it recorded in the minutes.  Cleave and Halley said they would quit the Convention altogether, but changed their minds, whilst Sankey wobbled again and struck out his signature from the protest.[321]  George Rogers, another London delegate, withdrew also.  He was treasurer to the Convention.  He wanted to know what character the Convention would assume, now that the Petition was disposed of, for he would sign no cheques, except for a petitioning body.  He wanted to know what the Whit-week meetings were for.  Anticipating no satisfactory answer, he resigned.[322]  Thus the moderate party was rapidly disappearing.

    The sittings in London were terminated by proceedings which showed how far the Government's measures had taken effect upon the delegates.  On May 6 Lowery had moved an "Address to the People" of a moderate character.  This was rejected and replaced by an Address compiled by O'Brien, who said it was intended to urge the people to take arms without saying so in as many words.  The gist of the Address was as follows: The first duty of the people was to obey the law, for a premature violation of it would ruin the cause.  Their oppressors were trying to provoke such an outbreak through spies and traitors; they had already induced incautious persons in Lancashire to practise training and drilling in contravention of the Six Acts; they were arming the rich against the poor.  The only way to avoid these schemes and plots was to be rigidly law-abiding, to avoid spies and traitors, to keep their arms bright at home, but not to attend meetings with them, and to be prepared with those arms to resist attempts to suppress their peaceful agitation with physical violence.[323]

    It is significant of the wavering attitude of some at least of the delegates towards the use of force that, on Carpenter's motion, the crucial words "with those arms" were deleted.  Place says that the debate was very excited.  Burns and Halley, the Scottish delegates, opposed the Address altogether.  Burns said that so far from being in a majority, they were only a minority of the nation.  (He was met with cries of "We are ten to one.")   He answered that he was glad to hear it.  They had only to show that they were in such a majority and there would be no need to talk of arms.[324]  Many of the delegates spoke very boastfully of the strength of their following.  With this ambiguous address, and the completion of the arrangements for the great Whit-week campaign, the Convention quitted London.

    It reached Birmingham on May 13.  There was apparently no great excitement and no meetings were held in the Bull Ring.  So far the Convention's injunctions regarding the strict observation of the law were effective.  The delegates evidently heaved a sigh of relief on quitting London, which O'Connor said was "the most damnable of all places for bad air"; the members had come to Birmingham "to recruit their health."[325]  The Convention was welcomed by an address from the Radicals of Duddeston-cum-Nechells, a suburb of Birmingham.  Its authors "hail with heartfelt and boundless joy the auspicious hour which has given to the millions of our brethren in political bondage a mighty Congress, solemnly elected by the people, to assert and win our natural and imprescriptable [sic] rights and franchises," and invoke "upon your gigantic labours the blessing of that Providence at whose breath every oppressor shall be swept from off the land."[326]

    Once arrived in Birmingham, the Convention took up a vigorous line of action.  It treated the preparations of the Government as a signal for hostilities, and issued what may be regarded as a declaration of war.  This was the fiery document styled "The Manifesto of the General Convention of Industrious Classes," which ran as follows:―


    Countrymen and fellow-bondsmen!  The fiat of our privileged oppressors has gone forth, that the millions must be kept in subjection!  The mask of CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY is thrown for ever aside and the form of Despotism stands hideously before us: for let it be no longer disguised, THE GOVERNMENT OF ENGLAND IS A DESPOTISM AND HER INDUSTRIOUS MILLIONS SLAVES.

    Fellow-countrymen, our stalwart ancestors boasted of rights which the simplicity of their laws made clear and their bravery protected: but we their degenerate children have patiently yielded to one infringement after another till the last vestige of RIGHT has been lost in the MYSTICISM of legislation, and the armed force of the country transferred to soldiers and policemen.


    Then follows an appeal to "rouse from your political slumbers."  The Convention would lead.  The Petition would be rejected and "we may now be prepared for the worst."


    Men and women of Britain, will you tamely submit to the insult?  Will you submit to incessant toil from birth till death, to give in tax and plunder, out of every twelve hours' labour, the proceeds of hours to support your idle and insolent oppressors?  Will you much longer submit to see the greatest blessings of mechanical art converted into the greatest curses of social life? to see children forced to compete with their parents, wives with their husbands, and the whole of society morally and physically degraded to support the aristocracies of wealth and title?  Will you thus allow your wives and daughters to be degraded; your children to be nursed in misery, stultified by toil, and become the victims of the vice our corrupt institutions have engendered?  Will you permit the stroke of affliction, the misfortunes of poverty, or the infirmities of age to be branded and punished as crimes, and give our selfish oppressors an excuse for rending asunder man and wife, parent and child, and continue passive observers till you and yours become the victims?


    Unless freedom was attained, revolution must follow and ruin and destruction would be the result.  The middle class had betrayed the people, Whigs and Tories alike were hostile.  Nevertheless the people must not be tempted to commence the struggle which the Government was preparing to wage.  "We have resolved to obtain our rights peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must."

    Then followed a list of "ulterior measures" to be adopted in the event of the rejection of the Petition.  This list had been drawn up by a committee from the multitude of suggestions made from time to time by the delegates and others.  Most of them were expedients which had been proposed in the height of the Reform Bill struggle eight years before.  At every Chartist meeting until July 1, the following questions were to be submitted:


1.    Whether Chartists will be prepared, AT THE REQUEST OF THE CONVENTION, to withdraw all sums of money they may INDIVIDUALLY OR COLLECTIVELY have placed in savings banks, etc., and whether at the same time they will be prepared immediately to convert their paper money into gold and silver?

2.    Whether, IF THE CONVENTION SHALL DETERMINE THAT A SACRED MONTH WILL BE NECESSARY to prepare the millions to secure the Charter of their political salvation, they will FIRMLY resolve to abstain from their labours during that period, as well as from the use of all intoxicating drinks?

3.    Whether, if asked, they would refuse payment of rents, rates, and taxes?

4.    Whether, according to their old constitutional rights, they have prepared themselves with the arms of freemen to defend the laws and constitutional privileges their ancestors bequeathed to them?

5.    Whether they will support Chartist candidates at the General Election?

6.    Whether they will deal exclusively with shopkeepers known to be Chartists?

7.    Whether they will resist all counter and rival agitations?

8.    Whether they will refuse to read hostile newspapers?

9.    Whether they will OBEY ALL THE JUST AND CONSTITUTIONAL REQUESTS OF THE MAJORITY OF THE CONVENTION?[327]


    These "suggestions" betray great perplexity on the part of the Convention.  Compared with the incisive character of the prefatory address, they make an almost ridiculous impression.  They rest largely upon the ill-founded assumption that the Chartist enthusiasts were everywhere a majority amongst the working people.  They follow the tendency already noted, to place the responsibility for extreme measures and their consequences upon the shoulders of the rank and file instead of the leaders.  Behind all, there seems to lie a hope that these suggestions, by bringing the more reckless and unthinking Chartists face to face with stern realities, might have a sobering effect and put an end to the possibility of conflict altogether.  The appeal to arms now takes a secondary place and the economic weapons, the general strike, a run on the banks, and boycotting, are put into the first place.

    The manifesto and the "ulterior measures" were not adopted without great division of opinion.  Lovett and Harney were its chief defenders — a curious alliance.  Lovett thought it was the most honest and courageous step to take.  The Convention ought not to go on postponing the decision; it ought to give a lead to its followers even at the cost of some sacrifice.  Harney was sure it would precipitate the long-wished-for conflict.[328]  There was strong opposition from Halley, Cleave, Whittle, and others.  Most curious was the attitude of O'Connor and O'Brien.  O'Connor spoke very doubtfully in favour of the address, whilst O'Brien thought the Convention ought to make sure of its ground before publishing the manifesto.  They ought to be certain of the unanimous support of all Chartists before proceeding with it.  Perhaps nothing reflects more the wavering courage of the Convention than the request (No. 9) that Chartists should obey the decisions of the majority.  They feared that the personal influence of minority delegates would suffice to tear away large bodies of Chartists and put an end to unity.  That O'Brien and O'Connor should be forsaking the paths of violence and precipitancy was more significant still.

    On the 16th it was decided, on the proposition of Marsden and O'Connor, that any serious step on the part of the Government to arrest the delegates should be the signal for the adoption of the "ulterior measures."  Yet Vincent had been arrested the week before!  On the motion of O'Brien and O'Connor solemn warnings were issued with regard to the parading of arms in public, and to the avoidance of disorder at public meetings.  Chairmen were to dissolve meetings on the first sign of tumult.[329]  Thus timorously and cautiously did the Convention enter upon the great Whitsuntide campaign which was to indicate whether they could safely proceed to defy Government and society.  After three days' sittings in Birmingham, the Convention adjourned until July 1.

    By this time the civil and military authorities had the situation well in hand, though panic and terror were by no means diminished.  Everywhere special constables were being sworn in — at Bradford, for instance, to the number of 1835 [330] ― and armed associations sprang up in threatened areas.  The Yeomanry was called up in the rural districts.  Magistrates were beginning to arrest individual  Chartists, whenever they felt safe in so doing.  Many were so arrested in Lancashire.[331]  A dozen members of the London Democratic Association were seized with arms in their hands.[332]  There was a riot towards the end of April at Llanidloes.  Hetherington, who had visited the district shortly before the outbreak, reported that Llanidloes and Newtown (Montgomery) were filled with armed Chartists.  As a result of the outbreak a number of Chartists were arrested.  At Derby, Strutt, the famous threadmaker, fortified his mills with cannon and had a troop of horse in readiness.[333]

    It had been generally understood that May 6, the day originally intended for the presentation of the petition, would be the critical day, the commencement of the insurrection.  In Lancashire, Monmouthshire, and elsewhere the excitement, terror, and panic rose to a climax during the first week of May.  On the 4th, Colonel Wemyss, in command at Manchester, reported: "Two Magistrates from Ashton-under-Lyne came into Manchester this forenoon seemingly in great alarm, and made a requisition for troops.  I immediately put a squadron, a gun, and four companies of the 20th Regiment in march on the Ashton Road."  It turned out that the magistrates had arrested four Chartists, but the mob had prevented them from sending their prisoners to Manchester.[334]  The sending of a force of all three arms in such a case shows how great the tension seems to have been.  The Manchester magistrates were not so alarmed as their neighbours in the smaller towns, owing to the presence of Wemyss and his garrison, but they sent in disquieting reports as to the accumulation of arms and the prevalence of drilling.  There was a second outbreak at Llanidloes on May 7.  One of the delegates for Birmingham, Powell, was arrested.[335]  At Monmouth a riot was barely avoided on the arrival of Vincent and Edwards, who had been arrested on the 7th.  The Convention sent down Frost to provide legal assistance, and it was probably his personal influence alone which prevented a premature outbreak.[336]

    May 6, however, passed without serious events, and attention was concentrated on the Whitsuntide campaign.  Napier, in his headquarters at Nottingham, was keeping the situation well in hand, though alarming reports reached him from all quarters.  It seems clear from his reports that many of the Chartist rank and file were under the impression that the great Whitsuntide demonstrations were to be of a much more business-like character than the mere discussion of possible "ulterior measures."  A fragment of a torn letter was put into his hands, which suggested that ideas of barricades and street warfare were about, and that Whit Monday was the day appointed to begin.  At Stone, in Staffordshire, barricades were actually erected.[337]  A handbill circulated in Manchester runs thus:


    Dear brothers!  Now are the times to try men's souls!  Are your arms ready?  Have you plenty of powder and shot?  Have you screwed up your courage to the sticking place?  Do you intend to be freemen or slaves?  Are you inclined to hope for a fair day's wages for a fair day's work?  Ask yourselves these questions and remember that your safety depends on your own right arms.  How long are you going to allow your mothers, your wives, your sweethearts, and your children to be for ever -toiling for other people's benefit?  Nothing can convince tyrants of their folly but gunpowder and steel, SO PUT YOUR TRUST IN GOD, MY BOYS, AND KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY . . . Be ready then to nourish the tree of liberty with the BLOOD OF TYRANTS  . . . Now or never is your time: be sure you do not neglect your arms, and when you do strike do not let it be with sticks or stones, but LET THE BLOOD OF ALL YOU SUSPECT moisten the soil of your native land.


         Let England's sons then prime her guns
             And save each good man's daughter,
         In tyrants' blood baptize your sons
             And every villain slaughter.
By pike and sword your freedom strive to gain
Or make one bloody Moscow of old England's plain.[338]


    As Whitsuntide drew near, Napier became more and more confident that the Chartists would not accomplish much in the way of carrying out their threats.  On May 15 he wrote:


    The Chartists hardly know what they are at.  The people want food and think O'Connor will get it for them: and O'Connor wants to keep the agitation alive because he sells weekly 60,000 copies of the Northern Whig [sic].  While this lasts he will try to prevent an outbreak.  No premeditated outbreak will occur, I think, whilst our imposing force furnishes an excuse for delay: and delay will injure their cause because the deputies are paid and the people are growing weary of the physical-force men.


    The second part of this statement shows a better appreciation of the situation than the first.  Later on, Napier writes that the orders of the Convention to avoid parading arms at public meetings was due to "funk."


    They [the leaders] saw they would be obliged to lead their pike-men in the field, and knowing Demosthenes did not like fighting, they as orators think it not derogatory to follow his example.[339]


    The Whitsun demonstrations were carried through peacefully and quietly, but the panic amongst the magistracy and propertied folk was as great as ever.  The chief demonstrations were at Huddersfield and Manchester, and meetings of some importance took place at Newcastle-on-Tyne, Monmouth, Bolton, and Sheffield.  At Huddersfield O'Connor was the chief attraction, but the magistrates there said the affair was poor compared with the previous demonstrations.  At Manchester, on May 25, a crowd, whose number varies from twenty thousand, according to the Times, to half a million, according to the Chartist papers, marched to Kersal Moor to hear O'Connor, Dr. Fletcher, Dr. Taylor, and some local orators.  The meeting was wholly peaceable.

    Napier was apparently very much afraid of an outbreak in Manchester and took very peculiar precautions.  He heard that the Chartists had five brass cannon, and purposed desperate things under the lead of Taylor, who had come down from Glasgow.  He thereupon gave a private artillery exhibition to a few Chartist leaders with whom he was acquainted.[340]  He also sent a message to the responsible persons to tell them "how impossible it would be to feed and move 300,000 men; that, armed, starving, and interspersed with villains, they must commit horrid excesses; that I would never allow them to charge me with their pikes, or even march ten miles, without mauling them with cannon and musketry and charging them with cavalry, when they dispersed to seek food; finally, that the country would rise on them and they would be destroyed in three days."[341]

    These measures doubtless damped much of the warlike ardour of the Chartist leaders.  Napier and Wemyss went in person to the Kersal Moor demonstration.  His troops had been strengthened by the 10th Regiment from Liverpool, and he had promised the magistrates to arrest any one who preached treason after the meeting had dispersed.  Napier's estimate that the meeting was thirty or thirty-five thousand strong, we may take to be fairly correct, but he says that not five hundred of this crowd were seriously bent on mischief.


    Wemyss addressed a few of the people in high Tory oratory and argued with a drunken old pensioner, fiercely radical and devilish sharp: in ten minutes one-eighth of the whole crowd collected round Wemyss and cheered him.[342]


    The speeches, delivered by the official Chartist orators at this meeting, consisted largely of eulogies of Henry Hunt and the Peterloo martyrs.  Resolutions condemning the delegates who resigned from the Convention were passed, as well as resolutions approving the programme of "ulterior measures."  At Newcastle-on-Tyne, however, where Harney, Dr. Taylor, other advocates of extreme measures were the speakers, the speeches were censored by the chairman.  James Craig spoke of agitating the bricks and mortar, Harney of marching on London, Taylor and Lowery of the advantages of a general strike of colliers.[343]  Generally speaking, however, the Whitsuntide campaign gave the authorities little real ground for uneasiness, though the panic, generated by the frequent assemblies of Chartists and the wild rumours which were abroad, was in no way abated.

    The campaign was continued throughout June 1839, but there was increasing evidence of disaffection in the Chartist ranks.  On May 15 James Craig of Ayr quitted the Convention with leave of absence.  He had been regarded as a stalwart and promising leader, but apparently he had lost his nerve.  He fell into a sordid squabble with his former constituents about his salary as delegate, and the Chartist body in that neighbourhood was split into fragments.[344]  R. J. Richardson resigned towards the end of May because his Manchester supporters were either unable or unwilling to pay him the five pounds weekly which had been promised as his salary.  Apparently a rival, Christopher Dean by name, had been preferred to him.[345]  Halley, the Scottish delegate, who had always been so powerful an advocate of sober measures, took advantage of the adjournment of the Convention to sever his connection with it, for which, curiously enough, he was denounced in person by Richardson himself.[346]  Not only resignations but arrests thinned the ranks of the Convention.  About the beginning of June Carrier of Trowbridge was arrested, and on the 8th MacDouall.  The latter was committed on the charge of attending a seditious meeting at Hyde towards the end of April, when he had advised his audience to make use of arms if soldiers were called out, sentiments which were greeted with pistol-shots.  MacDouall thereupon squabbled with his Ashton constituents, seemingly because he was suspected of desiring that part of the fund raised for Stephens's trial should be applied to his own defence.[347]  He also quitted the Convention.

    The effect of these resignations ought not to be exaggerated.  They did not imply entire withdrawal from the movement, for Richardson, Ryder, and MacDouall continued to be very active leaders.  In fact the two latter probably resigned because they felt that they could be of much more use in the country than in the Convention.  On the other hand, the constant local dissensions, of which more and more is heard from this time onward, could not but have a bad effect upon the unity which was requisite for any effective action.  It was frequently reported that the more timid were openly withdrawing from the movement.  In the Convention the steady shrinkage had a depressing effect, and the wavering which characterised its earlier proceedings was emphasised in the later.  It was finally left to accident and the restlessness of the remaining members to precipitate a crisis.

    The Convention met again on July 1 at Birmingham.  The next day it was decided to migrate, on July 10, once more to London,[348] a very curious move which is excused, though not at all explained, by the fact that Attwood's motion upon the prayer of the Petition was down for the 12th.  On July 3 and 4 the party of violence, led by Dr. Taylor and MacDouall (whose resignation does not seem to have taken effect), began to advocate an early decision upon the adoption of ulterior measures, basing their arguments upon the evidence of readiness supplied by the meetings during the past six weeks.  Craig alone seriously questioned the preparedness of their followers, and finally abandoned the Convention.  After some very irresolute proceedings, it was decided to put into force the milder of the "ulterior measures," the run on banks, exclusive dealing, the newspaper boycott, and so on, at an early date.  The question of a general strike was held over until the fate of the Petition was known.  In the minds of the movement party the strike was synonymous with insurrection, for they refused to listen to Lovett's argument [349] that a strike fund should be formed, preferring Benbow's vague but unmistakable reference to the "cattle upon a thousand hills" [350] as the most suitable strike fund.

    The action about which the Convention was debating was precipitated by events which took place in Birmingham on July 4.  The return of the Convention had raised the excitement in that town to fever heat.  The magistrates had forbidden meetings in the Bull Ring since the beginning of May, [351] and the Chartists had been meeting at Holloway Head, not many minutes' walk away.  With the increasing excitement the Bull Ring was again invaded, despite the prohibition.  The magistrates therefore sent for a detachment of the Metropolitan Police.  The Mayor, William Scholefield, with two other magistrates, proceeded to London and brought back sixty constables.[352]  This was on July 4.  On arriving at Birmingham about eight o'clock in the evening, they found a meeting in full swing in the Bull Ring.  As if to make the earliest use of their new weapon, the magistrates ordered the police to disperse the meeting, which was perhaps a thousand strong.  The struggle which ensued was bloody and indecisive until soldiers were brought up.  Many of the crowd were armed in various ways, and ten policemen were seriously wounded and taken to hospital.  Some dozen armed and unarmed Chartists were arrested on the spot.  The magistrates wrote off at once for a further draft of Metropolitan Police, and forty were sent next day.  Meanwhile the crowd had reassembled in the Bull Ring, and towards midnight, in spite of the efforts of Dr. Taylor and MacDouall (whose presence was not likely to suggest peaceful behaviour) to dissuade them, the infuriated body began to pull down the wall surrounding St. Martin's Church, which stands at the lower end of the Bull Ring, to use the stones as missiles or for a barricade.  The police came up again and arrested the two delegates with seventeen other Chartists.  The next morning, Friday, the magistrates mobilised some hundreds of tradesmen as special constables, but nevertheless excited crowds continued to assemble, especially round the Golden Lion Hotel, where the Convention was sitting.  The magistrates released MacDouall upon examination, but not Taylor.[353]

    These events produced a situation in which Lovett was supreme.  Where personal sacrifice was required, Lovett's courage was beyond question.  In the excited and half-terrified Convention he brought forward a series of strong resolutions condemning the magistrates of Birmingham.


    That this Convention is of opinion that a wanton, flagrant, and unjust outrage has been made upon the people of Birmingham, by a bloodthirsty and unconstitutional force from London, acting under the authority of men who, [354] when out of office, sanctioned and took part in the meetings of the people, and now, when they share in the public plunder, seek to keep the people in social and political degradation.  That the people of Birmingham are the best judges of their own right to meet in the Bull Ring or elsewhere, have their own feelings to consult respecting the outrage given, and are the best judges of their own power and resources to obtain justice.  That the summary and despotic arrest of Dr. Taylor, our respected colleague, affords another convincing proof of the absence of all justice in England and clearly shows that there is no security for life, liberty or property till the people have some control over the laws they are called upon to obey.


    These resolutions were carried without opposition, and it was further decided to have five hundred copies of them placarded throughout the town.  Characteristically enough, Lovett insisted that his own signature alone should be attached, so that the Convention should run no risk.  Characteristically enough, the Convention was quite willing to sacrifice him.  Lovett and Collins, who had acted as chairman at this momentous sitting, took the draft to the printer.  The placards appeared on Saturday morning, the 6th. Lovett and Collins were arrested the same day for publishing a seditious libel, hurried before the magistrates, whom Lovett upbraided as traitors to the Chartist cause, and were committed to Warwick Gaol, where they were forthwith lodged.

    This was Lovett's hour.  He knew perfectly well that the publication of his resolutions was a serious offence, but he wanted to break the law.  Against a wholesale insurrection, which might involve the sacrifice of innocent lives, the destruction of property, and the poisoning of social and political feeling, he had always raised his voice in protest.  To break a bad law by his own personal act, to vindicate the justice of his cause by his eloquence before the judges and before the world outside, and by suffering with fortitude the punishment which his action involved, to do all this was Lovett's moral force.  Thus had he resisted the ballot for the Militia in 1831; thus had the Newspaper Taxes been defied and successfully defied; thus would Lovett win the Charter.  He would be the advocate of the disfranchised before the bar of public opinion and speak where his advocacy would be most effective.  It was a noble ideal, but it was the ideal of a martyr, not of a leader of would-be insurgents.  Yet it is not questionable that Lovett accomplished more by this sacrifice for the cause of Chartism and the advance of democracy in England than all those who sneered at his moral philosophy and brandished their arms when the enemy was absent.  In the history of the first Chartist Convention there is but one cheering episode, and Lovett is its hero.
 
    The news of the events at Birmingham produced intense feeling throughout the Chartist world.  Lancashire was as usual the focus of the excitement.  On July 2, Wemyss, at Manchester, reported that one Timothy Higgins of Ashton-under-Lyne had been found in possession of twenty-seven rifles and muskets of various descriptions and three pistols.  A placard was posted at Ashton Parish Church:


    Men of Ashton, Universal Bread or Universal Blood, prepare your Dagger Torch and Guns, your Pikes and congreve matches and all march on for Bread or blood, for life or death.  Remember the cry for bread of 1,280,000 was called a ridiculous piece of machinery.[355]  O ye tyrants, think you that your Mills will stand?[356]


    On July 10 the Manchester Chartists issued a placard calling a meeting to protest against the introduction into Manchester of a DAMNABLE FOREIGN POLICE SYSTEM and to denounce the BLOODY DOINGS of the police at Birmingham.  The placard is headed in leaded type TYRANNY ! TYRANNY ! ! WORKING MEN OF MANCHESTER.

    The Convention added to the excitement by rushing through various strong resolutions regarding the immediate resort to ulterior measures.  The National Holiday or General Strike was still kept in reserve.  These resolutions were published in the form of placards.  On July 10 the Convention, now back again in London, passed a resolution of censure upon the Government for allowing the police to be used for suppressing public meetings.


    This Convention is of opinion that wherever and whenever persons, ASSEMBLED FOR JUST AND LEGAL PURPOSES and conducting themselves without riot or tumult, are so assailed by the police and others, they are justified upon every principle of law and of self-preservation in MEETING FORCE BY FORCE, EVEN TO THE SLAYING of the persons guilty of such atrocious and ferocious assaults upon their rights and persons.[357]


    The manifesto of the Convention, embodying the resolution to resort immediately to ulterior measures, appeared in Manchester, on July 12, in the shape of a placard summoning a meeting for the next day "to support the People's Parliament, and to recommend [sic] her MAJESTY to dismiss her Present Base, Brutal, and Bloody, Advisers."  The placard contains the list of ulterior measures, signed by twenty-seven of the delegates.  In heavy print are the recommendations to withdraw money from the savings banks, to run for gold, and to abstain from excisable articles.  In smaller and smaller type are the recommendations to boycott and to obtain arms, whilst a reference to the Sacred Month is scarcely legible.

    A manifesto against the paper money system was issued by the Convention about the same time.


    The corrupt system of Banking, speculating and defrauding the industrious, had its origin, has been perpetuated, and still form [sic] the greatest support of despotism, in the fraudulent bits of paper our state tricksters dignify with the name of money.  Through its instrumentality our rulers destroy freedom abroad and at home.  Our whole system has been tainted by its pestilential breath . . . It has created one set of idlers after another to prey upon the vitals of the industrious . . . It has raised up a host of defenders (who) have induced thousands to assist in upholding their corrupt system, while they are being robbed by that system of three-fourths of their labour.


    This was the O'Brien-O'Connor counterblast to Attwood's currency theories.  Within a day or two of the publication of this outburst, Attwood was using the National Petition to float his currency notions, and Lord John Russell was refuting him out of the mouths of his own petitioners.

――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER X

THE PETITION IN THE COMMONS: END OF THE CONVENTION
(1839)


ON July 12, 1839, Attwood brought forward in Parliament a motion for a committee of the whole House to take into consideration the National Petition.  Thus for the first time did the claims of the Chartists receive anything like a reasonable amount of attention from the House of Commons, and the Chartist world waited breathless to hear the result.  Attwood's speech was restrained.  A good speech it certainly was not.  It was the utterance of a crank, who was trying with admirable self-control not to intrude his peculiar ideas into a subject which offered an enormous temptation to do so.  He described the origin of the Petition and the rise of the Birmingham Union, the great distress of the operatives and the even greater distress, hidden under a mask of pride, of the manufacturer.  He suggested rather than declared outright that this distress was due "to the cruel and murderous operation which had pressed for twenty years together on the industry and honour and security of the country."  This was practically his only reference to the currency scheme.  He defended the various demands of the Charter as part of the ancient constitution of England, and warned the House against disregarding the prayer of a million operatives.  He urged the Commons to grant even part of the Petition — Household, if not Universal Suffrage, Triennial if not Annual Parliaments, to repeal the Poor Law, the Corn Law, and the Money Law.  He was convinced that the five points of the Petition must be granted, but, he added in a despondent tone, "he only wished he were equally sure they would produce the fruits that were expected from them," a remark which, if it meant anything at all, meant that from the currency scheme alone was salvation to be expected.  It was a speech which the Chartists themselves repudiated.  It was a middle-class Birmingham Union speech, not a Chartist speech.

    Fielden briefly seconded the motion.  Both he and Attwood were guilty of confusing the issues.  Both had enlarged rather upon the necessity of relieving misery than upon the question of granting civil and political rights.  Each offered his own panacea for the prevalent distress, and so turned the discussion on to side issues.  Apart from the manifest absurdity of expecting to cure the many-rooted evils of society by a single remedy, this was a bad error in tactics.  The Government spokesman was Lord John Russell, and he seized the advantage thus offered.  He attacked not the Petition and not even Attwood's speech, but the views which Attwood was known to hold.  It was an unfair attack in a way, for Attwood had scarcely mentioned his favourite theme, and his speech does not contain the word "currency" at all.  Russell spoke as one who was enjoying the opportunity of suppressing a bore, which Attwood undoubtedly was.  He turned Attwood's theories upside down — a feat which required little skill — and finally produced, to give the unfortunate man his quietus, the recently published manifesto of the Convention on the Banking and Paper Money Systems.  Attwood saw in the expansion of the Paper Currency a remedy for all social ills.  Not so the Convention, which, led by O'Brien, pronounced that "amongst the number of measures by which you have been enslaved, there is not one more oppressive than the corrupting influence of paper money."  Lord John proceeded to demonstrate the impossibility of improving the lot of the labouring classes by legislation, and consequently by universal suffrage.  He hinted that the granting of the rights demanded by the Petition would bring about the demolition of the Monarchy, of the House of Lords, and of the institutions of the country in general.

    Benjamin Disraeli followed.  His speech was the most interesting contribution to the debate.  It was an attack upon the reformed constitution, not in the Chartist sense but in the sense of an idealised Toryism.  "The origin of this movement in favour of the Charter dated from about the same time that they had passed their Reform Bill.  He was not going to entrap the House into any discussion on the merits of the constitution they had destroyed and that which had replaced it.  He had always said that he believed its character was not understood by those who assailed it, and perhaps not fully by those who defended it.  All would admit this: the old constitution had an intelligible principle, which the present one had not.  The former invested a small portion of the nation with political rights.  Those rights were entrusted to that small class on certain conditions — that they should guard the civil rights of the great multitude.  It was not even left to them as a matter of honour; society was so constituted that they were entrusted with duties which they were obliged to fulfil.  They had transferred a great part of that political power to a new class whom they had not invested with those great public duties.  Great duties could alone confer great station, and the new class, which had been invested with political station, had not been bound up with the great mass of the people by the exercise of social duties."  Disraeli's insight was not at fault.  There is no doubt that the Chartist Movement does reflect a certain decline or change in social sympathies which the economic revolutions of the two generations previous had brought about.  To this extent Disraeli was right in declaring that the Chartist Movement arose neither out of purely economic causes nor out of political causes, but out of something between the two, that is, to a lack of the lively interest taken by each class in the welfare of others, which Disraeli supposed to be the peculiar merit of pre-1832 society.  As a matter of fact, that clever orator might have been embarrassed to declare at what exact period his ideal society had existed, for the aristocracy had taken its full share in breaking down the old social bonds.  "The real cause," said Disraeli, "of this, as of all real popular movements, not stimulated by the aristocracy . . . was an apprehension on the part of the people that their civil rights were invaded.  Civil rights partook in some degree of an economical and in some degree certainly of a political character.  They conduced to the comfort, the security, and the happiness of the subject, and at the same time were invested with a degree of sentiment which mere economical considerations did not involve."  To Disraeli, therefore, civil rights consisted in the claims of the less fortunate upon the more fortunate classes of society.  These claims had been ignored, for instance, by the introduction of the New Poor Law, which, though not the cause of, was yet closely connected with, the Chartist Movement.  In the passing of that measure both sides of the House were culpable: they had "outraged the whole social duties of the State, the mainstay, the living source of the robustness of the commonwealth."  "He believed that the Tory party would yet rue the day when they did so, for they had acted contrary to principle — the principle of opposing everything like central government and favouring in every possible degree the distribution of power."  In short, Disraeli was preaching a feudal ideal, with patriarchal benevolence as the basis of social relations.  But such an ideal was impossible in those days, when an industrial working class and an industrial middle class had come into existence.  This middle class, Disraeli maintained, was the basis of the new constitution.  It had received political station "without making simultaneous advances in the exercises of the great social duties" — a charge by no means devoid of truth.  Hence it was detested by the working classes.  The trial of Chartist leaders before the Birmingham magistrates had demonstrated that.  "He was not ashamed to say, however much he disapproved of the Charter, he sympathised with the Chartists.  They formed a great body of his countrymen: nobody could doubt they laboured under great grievances, and it would indeed have been a matter of surprise, and little to the credit of that House, if Parliament had been prorogued without any notice being taken of what must always be considered a very remarkable social movement."  Disraeli concluded with a characteristically scathing denunciation of the Ministry, and gave place to the honest but prosy Hume.  His speech is well worthy of study.  Had he been possessed of constructive genius equal to his insight, Disraeli would have been a statesman indeed.  But there was in his speech too great an air of detachment; it was too objective, regarding Chartism as an interesting phenomenon of which he alone had grasped the true meaning, and not as a tremendous human convulsion involving the welfare of a million struggling and despairing beings; an affair of flesh and blood, of bread and butter, not an affair of party politics or Tory Democracy.

    Hume made a brave speech in favour of the Charter, but O'Connell declared that the Chartists had ruined the Radical cause by their insane and foolish violence, whereby they had alienated all the middle class.  Several other speakers followed, but, apart from Russell and Disraeli, scarcely any who voted against the motion took part in the discussion.  Summer days are scarcely suitable for serious debate, and members were not interested.  The ignominious fall and still more ignominious restoration of the Government had scotched political interest generally.  Hume and Attwood led 46 followers into the lobby, but five times as many — to be exact, 235 — mustered against them.  The Petition was dead, slain by the violence of its supporters, the tactlessness of its chief advocates, the inertia of conservatism, and its own inner contradictions.[358]

    The Petition was dead, but Chartism was yet alive.  The rejection of the Petition had long been foreseen, but its actual demise left the way clear for the decision on Ulterior Measures about which the Convention had boggled so long.  The delegates had now to make up their minds, and that quickly.  The excitement throughout the country was higher than ever.  The approaching trials of various leaders — Stephens, Lovett, Vincent — the constantly increasing number of arrests, both of leaders and rank and file, all helped to make the tension greater.  On the other hand, the gradual shrinkage in the Convention and the undoubted secession of moderates in the country required that some heroic decision should be taken at once, before the repute and prestige of the Convention were wholly destroyed.

    Immediately after the rejection of the motion of the 12th, Fielden and Attwood suggested that the Convention should organise another petition, which suggestion the Convention rejected forthwith, thereby breaking finally away from the Birmingham leaders — and in fact from the Anti-Poor Law leaders too.  Instead, the Convention now drew from its armoury its most potent weapon — that of the General Strike, the "National Holiday" or "Sacred Month."

    The question was brought forward on July 15, a day already fixed for the discussion.  Thirty delegates were present.  O'Brien, O'Connor, and Dr. Taylor were absent, a fact upon which Carpenter commented bitterly, for it was these men who had made the largest promises to their followers and the strongest threats to the Government.  Marsden opened the debate in favour of the strike.  Marsden was a desperately poor weaver, who had horrified his audiences with his description of the sufferings of his fellow-weavers.  A strike was nothing to him, to whom both work and play alike were synonymous with starvation.  His passionate demand for action was answered by James Taylor, the Methodist Unitarian minister of Rochdale, and Carpenter, who showed with absolute clearness how little their followers were prepared for a strike.  Their arguments were not answered.  Most of the delegates supported the strike because they did not know what else to do.  Having raised such expectations in the minds of their followers, they felt that they must do something to justify themselves.  They could not bear the thought that they had deceived themselves as well as their constituents, and so let themselves drift into a general strike without knowing in the least how it was to be conducted.  Of preparations involving funds, food, stores, they would not hear; they would live on the country like an invading army.  To them a strike was one thing, a general strike quite another thing.  Yet for a general strike of this insurrectionary description they discussed no preparations, though the complicated arrangements of an ordinary strike were simple in comparison with those requisite for such a desperate venture.  In fact, one is driven to the conclusion that the Convention delegates decided to recommend a general strike, partly because they had to decide on something and partly because they knew that it was impossible.

    After two days' discussion it was resolved by thirteen against six votes (five abstentions) to recommend the commencement of the National Holiday on August 12.  Thus the weightiest decision of the Convention was carried by one quarter of its original strength.  The next day a Committee was appointed to promulgate the decree.  Trade Unions were to be asked to co-operate.  Eight delegates, sitting in London, were given a month in which to organise a national stoppage of industry in a land where industry was stopping of its own accord, in a land where only a strike of agricultural labourers could have had much effect, in a land where men, women, and children were begging to be allowed to work even for a pittance.  As if to show how topsy-turvy its ideas had become, the Convention adopted an address urging the middle class to co-operate in this measure.

    Whilst the Convention was thus engaged, the Chartist cause received irreparable injury through a riot which took place on the 15th of July, again at Birmingham, where the presence of the London police was a source of extreme exasperation, not merely to the Chartists and the numerous enemies of the newly formed Corporation,[359] but to the majority of the Council itself.  In the early evening crowds began to assemble in the vicinity of the Warwick Road in the hope of greeting Lovett and Collins on their release on bail from Warwick Gaol.  The two heroes, however, avoided the ovation, and the disappointed crowd rushed into the Bull Ring, where the police were stationed in the Public Office.  The Public Office was attacked, and the police, having apparently learned caution, refused to retaliate without express orders.  For more than an hour the rioters were undisturbed.  They smashed the street lamps, and tore down the iron railings of the Nelson Monument which stands at the lower end of the Bull Ring.  With the weapons so obtained they began to force their way into the shops.  A tea-warehouse and an upholsterer's shop were sacked and a bonfire made of their contents; other shops shared the like fate.  There was no looting; destruction, not plunder, was the order of the day.  At a quarter to ten the London police began to act.  Their chief, assuming that the Mayor alone could authorise action, had spent over an hour in bringing him and other magistrates on to the scene of the riot.  The police, reinforced by infantry and cavalry in considerable numbers, then succeeded in dispersing the crowd, after which their energies were employed in extinguishing the fires which the rioters had started.  The two shops first attacked burned till past midnight.  What with their careless haste on July 4 and their stupidity on the 15th, the newly appointed Birmingham magistrates had made a very inauspicious start in their official careers.[360]

    Such ebullitions as these could hardly be viewed with composure by the Convention.  To control such reckless forces was a task which a Convention of Napoleons would have attempted with misgivings, and the Chartist Convention was rapidly losing its nerve.  For some time it must have been aware of a gradual secession of the moderate party amongst its followers from those who followed counsels of violence, and this schism was widened by the decision to adopt the general strike.  Hitherto this secession had been viewed in the light of a beneficial purge, the moderates being regarded (probably with no good reason) as a minority, but gradually the conviction grew that the division which existed was one which was likely to rend the whole Chartist body in pieces.  A curious example of this loss of nerve is afforded by a letter dated July 21, addressed by R. J. Richardson to the Convention.[361]  This man, the verbose, pedantic retailer of bad law, the one-time terror of moderates, and the enthusiastic advocate of arming, now regrets that he is no longer a member of the Convention, as there never was a time when prudence and caution were more requisite in its debates.  He will offer advice.  He considers the decision to hold the National Holiday undigested and ill-timed.  The Convention had not even reviewed their resources, but had relied upon false and exaggerated reports.  In the South of England there was no following.  Even in Manchester, the faithful stronghold, the Chartists could not make an effective strike; the hands were on half-time; many have petitioned to be allowed to work longer.  The employers were praying for the Convention to order a strike so as to be relieved of the necessity of locking their workpeople out altogether.  Liverpool is still less hopeful.  Neither Yorkshire nor Scotland was much better.  The National Holiday is hopeless, and would only "bring irretrievable ruin upon thousands of poor people, while the rich would not suffer in comparison."  Thus did Richardson find wisdom.

    The Convention found wisdom also.  On Monday, July 22, the Convention met to hear O'Brien's views upon the National Holiday.  He had been absent the previous week, and now moved that the decision then taken be rescinded.  In his speech he made the best of a bad job.  He had been one of the stalwarts of the physical force revolutionaries.  Now he was compelled to recognise that all the assumptions on which his former views rested were false, and it required no little courage on his part to make his confession that both he and the majority of the Convention had been deceivers and deceived.  Whilst still retaining a belief in the general strike as the ideal political weapon, O'Brien declared that the Convention was incompetent to wield it.  They were not unanimous or at full strength.  Their followers in the country were not unanimous, and therefore the strike would be a ghastly failure.  The Convention, therefore, ought not to advise so dangerous a proceeding, but leave the matter to the people, "who were the best judges after all, whether they would be able to meet the exigencies of a strike, and he would prefer that the Convention should leave the holiday to the people themselves, and at the same time tell the people that nothing but a general suspension of labour could convince their oppressors of the necessity of conceding to them their rights."  Surely a miserable exhibition of leadership!  Phrases like "pregnant with such dreadful consequences for which the Convention would be morally, if not legally, responsible" do not sound well in the mouth of one who had long been damning the consequences.  Nor was the solicitude for the followers, but for the delegates themselves, to whom prison and Botany Bay were becoming dreadful realities.

    On this the Convention proceeded to an orgy of recrimination.  One fact was clear: the delegates had grossly exaggerated their following and influence.  Now they sought to blame each other for it.  Neesom and MacDouall especially came in for abuse.  O'Connor spoke both for and against the motion in a speech of which Fletcher said be could not make head or tail.  Fletcher said that the Convention would now listen to his advice, to win the middle class to their side.  Poor Fletcher had had enough of Chartism.  He was an Anti-Poor Law man who had got into troubled waters.  Duncan said those who voted for the Holiday ought to carry it through.  Skevington and MacDouall protested against the motion as cowardly, but the former voted for it and the latter abstained.  Half a dozen delegates alone had the courage to vote against the motion, twelve voted for it, and seven were too perplexed to vote at all.  The formal result was the appointment of a Committee to take the sense of the people upon the question of a general strike; the real result was the suicide of the Convention and the temporary collapse of the whole movement.[362]

    The Committee which was thus appointed obtained a number of replies, which are preserved in the letter-book.  J. B. Smith writes from Leamington in fierce reproach.  If the holiday is begun, will the Convention be ready to control the idle workmen?  Will the strikers not assume that they have the Convention's permission to pillage and plunder?  Why had the Convention never talked of saving money for Ulterior Measures instead of talking so much about arms and force?  From Sheffield came a better report, but not encouraging.  Coventry was decidedly against the strike.  Colne reported that "the principal obstacle in the way of the holiday arises from those operatives and trades who are receiving remunerating wages for their labour, and whose apathy and indifference arise more from ignorance of their real position than an indisposition to benefit their fellow-men."  At Preston, a supposed physical force stronghold, the Chartists could do nothing to further the strike as the trade societies refused to help.  Neither Rochdale nor Middleton was decidedly favourable to a strike.  The Convention, and especially O'Connor, has forfeited all respect, and the people know not whom to trust, reports James Taylor.[363]  Richards from the Potteries sends no encouragement; Knox from Sunderland none.  Hyde, a regular Chartist arsenal, requests Deegan to withdraw his vote for the strike.  Some places which favoured a strike wanted others to give the lead.  Huddersfield and Bath protested against the abandonment, but these were isolated instances.[364]

    Two communications from the North exhibit the local divergence of views which perhaps existed in nearly every important Chartist locality towards the end of July.  On the 21st the Northern Political Union addressed a threatening manifesto to the middle classes, urging them to join the working people against the boroughmongers and aristocracy.  If the middle class allow the aristocracy to put down Chartism, the working people "would disperse in a million of incendiaries," and warehouses and homes would be swallowed up in one black ruin!  This address, which was probably the work of O'Brien, landed most of its signatories in gaol.  On the 20th Robert Knox, the delegate for Durham, published an address to the middle classes in exactly opposite terms, comparing Capital and Labour to the two halves of a bank-note, each useless without the other.  Knox said that the possession of political power by the middle class has hitherto tended to obscure this fact of mutual dependence.  These addresses were both communicated to the Government by local authorities.[365]  When leaders were so divided, it is no wonder that followers were perplexed.

    The failure of the strike policy throws an interesting light upon the status of the Chartist rank and file.  It is clear that the trade societies as a whole stood outside the Chartist movement, though many trade unionists were no doubt Chartists too.  The societies could not be induced to imperil their funds and existence at the orders of the Chartist Convention, and without the organised bodies of workmen the general strike was bound to be a fiasco.  The workmen who could be relied on to participate in the strike were precisely those whose economic weight was least effective — handloom weavers, stockingers, already unemployed workmen of all sorts.  The colliers, it is true, labouring under special grievances, might have made a very effective striking body, but they were precisely the people who preferred armed insurrection.  In fact those Chartist leaders who advocated insurrection had at least logic and consistency on their side.  Their policy was likely to be at least as successful as a strike, and they did make preparations for it.  In fact, it is hard to escape the impression that the apparent indifference, displayed towards the doings of the Convention about this time by certain of the former advocates of insurrection, was due to the fact that they were busy organising a revolt, and that the appeal of the Convention was only to a middle party amongst their followers, which had neither the wisdom to be moderate nor the courage to be rebel.
 
    The same procedure was now adopted as in the previous instance, when the Convention shirked a decision upon Ulterior Measures.  It published an address in which it congratulated itself that it had discovered the error of proposing a general strike, announced nevertheless that the project was not abandoned, and then adjourned for a month to give the delegates time and opportunity to direct the movement and complete the preparations.  There was no further meeting till the end of August.

    In this interval the great movement died away.  The local authorities, backed up by Government, made wholesale arrests of Chartists for illegal possession of arms, for attending unlawful meetings, for sedition, and for many other offences, reaching, in the case of three who were arrested at Birmingham for participation in the fight with the Metropolitan Police, to high treason, for which they were condemned to death, the sentence being commuted to transportation.  No less than a score of members of the Convention were arrested during the summer months of 1839, and a vast number of the rank and file.  Among these were Benbow,[366] the fiery old advocate of the National Holiday; Timothy Higgins of Ashton-under-Lyne, who had a regular arsenal in his cottage; and the whole of the leaders of the Manchester Political Union [367] and the Northern Political Union of Newcastle.[368]  There were several abortive attempts, especially in Lancashire, to put into force the National Holiday in spite of the official abandonment of that measure, and they led to more arrests.[369]  Wholesale trials followed.  At Liverpool some seventy or eighty Chartists were brought up together; at Lancaster, five;[370] at Devizes, twelve.  At Welshpool Lancaster, thirty thirty-one Llanidloes rioters were tried, the sentences ranging from fifteen years' transportation to merely binding over to keep the peace.[371]  At Chester Higgins, MacDouall, and Richardson were brought before the Grand Jury, which returned true bills for various charges.  Only occasionally did the Chartists make any attempts to put a stop to the course of prosecution.  A policeman who was to be a witness against Stephens was half-murdered in Ashton, [372] whilst the Loughborough magistrates were compelled to release two prominent Chartists because their followers terrorised all likely witnesses.[373]  Generally speaking, the prosecutions went on unhindered.  The Convention busied itself with a Defence Fund, and local subscriptions were set on foot for the purpose of procuring legal aid.  This appeal met with no great response.  The enthusiasts still preferred to devote their savings to the purchase of arms, whilst the others were unwilling to spend theirs on such worthless rogues as, for example, Brown, the Birmingham delegate, who, before his arrest was conspicuous for his absurd violence, and afterwards begged and prayed the Convention "not to let him be sacrificed." [374]

    Two trials at this time provoked more than ordinary interest: those of Stephens at Chester, and Lovett and Collins at Warwick.  Stephens defended himself in a speech lasting five hours.  It was a very bad defence.  In spite of the fact that he had been arrested for attending an exceedingly riotous Chartist meeting, he devoted his speech to a long denunciation of Carlile, Paine, Bentham, and Radicalism generally.  He denounced the prosecuting counsel, the Attorney-General, in set terms, and declared that he had been a victim of persecution.  Stephens cut a really bad figure, and with his trial and imprisonment he disappeared from the Chartist world, except for one brief reappearance in opposition to his former colleagues, at Nottingham in 1842.  He was sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment in Knutsford Gaol, but was transferred to Chester Castle, where he was handsomely treated.

    Very different was Lovett's defence.  He was charged with publishing a false, scandalous, and inflammatory libel.  Lovett admitted the libel and the publication, but pleaded justification.  He made no real defence, but made use of the opportunity to vindicate the principles for which he was willing to suffer imprisonment.  He had evidently prepared his speech with great care.  It was a very good speech indeed, and drew forth unstinted praise from the prosecuting counsel, who refused to believe that Lovett was a working man.  Lovett appealed to a greater tribunal than that before which he was brought to trial.  "Public opinion," he said, "is the great tribunal of justice to which the poor and the oppressed appeal when wealth and power have denied them justice, and, my lord, it is for directing public attention to a flagrant and unjust attack upon public liberty that I am brought as a criminal before you."[375]  Collins was defended by Serjeant Goulburn.  Both received the same sentence, twelve months' imprisonment.  They spent their time partly in agitating against the harshness of the prison rule, in which they achieved some success, and partly in writing their famous pamphlet on Chartism.   The spirit in which Lovett endured his imprisonment may be divined from the following passage, written to his wife on October 1, 1839:


    In your letter before last you intimated that Mr. Place was still making some exertions on our behalf.  Now, my dear girl, while I have no great partiality for being in a prison, I have no inclination to get out of it by anything that can in any way be construed into a compromise of my principles.[376]


He might have been released on giving a pledge to keep out of politics.

    These prosecutions had a very depressing effect upon the Chartist cause, and the reputation of the Convention sank lower and lower.  It had scarcely accomplished anything, and the great expectations with which it had commenced had come to nothing.  The arrest and imprisonment of so many leaders produced a feeling of helplessness which damped all enthusiasm.  From all parts of the country came reports of hopelessness, disappointment, and dissension, and when the Convention met for its last sittings at the end of August, it met merely to dissolve in ignominy.[377]  Dr. Taylor proposed the dissolution of the Convention.  He had already denounced many of his colleagues as a pack of cowards, and he now proposed to exclude them all from re-election by a self-denying ordinance.  The debate resolved itself into a fierce altercation between Dr. Taylor and Harney on the one side and O'Connor and his "tail " on the other.  The recriminations show how deep the local dissensions had gone.  Finally the motion to dissolve was carried.  The Convention then plunged into a sordid and squalid squabble about money matters.  It appears that O'Connor had been using his wealth, derived of course from the enormously increased sales of the Northern Star,[378] to buy up a following in the Convention, and even to subject the whole body to his influence by offering himself as security for various objects.  This policy he pursued until he became the absolute ruler of the Chartist world.  The accounts seem to have been kept with gross carelessness, and money voted with great laxity.  In this atmosphere of recrimination, squabble, [379] and intrigue the great Chartist Convention disappeared.  It left two Committees, one, of which O'Connor and Pitkeithly were the chief, to dispense the sum of £429, available for the Defence Fund, and another to draw up the valedictory address.  The latter produced three addresses: one fiery, dictated by Dr. Taylor; one mild, composed by O'Brien; and one compromising.  None of them was published; the Convention was to the last incapable of any decision.

――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XI

SEDITION, PRIVY CONSPIRACY, AND REBELLION
(1839-1840)


IT is hard to resist the notion that the Chartist Convention had already ceased, long before its dissolution, to be the focus of interest, at least on the part of the more thoroughgoing Chartists.[380]  Even those who believed in constitutional methods were tired of the succession of resolutions which were not carried out, and of debates which left things much as they were before.  Since the Whitsuntide campaign and the Birmingham riots, there seems to have been a notable decline in Chartist oratory and public meetings.  The moderates were tending to desert, whilst the extremists were adopting quite different methods.  Secret meetings on a considerable scale were now heard of in various places — meetings of small groups in private houses.  There had been also notable withdrawals from the Convention of leading advocates of violence.  Rider, Harney, and Frost had long ceased to take active part in its deliberations, though it was known that they were busy in various districts.  A strong propaganda of violence was being carried on, but less openly.  Cardo, Hartwell, and Dr. Taylor were conspicuous in this.  Harney was not less active.  The nervousness, not to say panic, exhibited in the latter debates of the Convention, suggests that there was some knowledge and no little apprehension of the existence of secret forces working towards violent extremes.  Wemyss at Manchester reported in July 1839 that the ostensible leaders were being pushed on from behind by others who might precipitate an outbreak in spite of the obvious unpreparedness of the nominal leaders.[381]  This has special reference to the preparations for the National Holiday, but it no doubt indicates a state of affairs which was becoming more and more general.  John Frost, the unfortunate Newport rebel, is alleged to have declared that he was compelled against his will to undertake the leadership.

    The Newport Rising was the climax of this secret preparation.  On the early morning of November 4 a body of some three thousand colliers [382] under the leadership of John Frost marched in a single column upon Newport (Monmouthshire).  In the centre of the town the head of the column was unexpectedly brought up by a small body of soldiers in the Westgate Hotel, covering the line of advance.  A few Chartists were killed and wounded, and the remainder dispersed without coming into action.

    Round this event stories and rumours of every description gathered.  On the Chartist side no reliable account has ever been published.  The matter became a subject of violent recrimination amongst the Chartists in later years, and the truth, known in the first instance to very few, was obscured by charges and counter-charges until the task of estimating the true significance of the event becomes well-nigh impossible.

    One non-Chartist account may be given first.  It comes from David Urquhart,[383] who had been in the British Diplomatic Service in Constantinople, and had thereby become a furious anti-Russia fanatic, and saw in the Chartist insurrection of 1839 one more sample of Russian intrigue.  He claimed to have derived his information from authentic Chartist sources.  In this there is truth, but his information is so coloured by his peculiar notions that the story appears quite fantastic.
 
    Urquhart begins with an account of the origin of the Chartist movement.  It was set on foot as a result of a compact between Hume and Place, in order to counteract the Anti-Poor Law agitation.  The movement quickly attracted advocates of violence, amongst whom Dr. Taylor, Harney, and one unnamed (probably Vincent) were the chief.  These, however, were not the real leaders of the conspiracy, which was organised by men of genius.  It was so marvellously designed that it betrayed the hand of past-masters in the art of secret revolution.  So excellent was the plot that no Englishman could have excogitated it.  It was of foreign origin.  It was, in fact, modelled on the Greek Hetairia, and Russian agents were at the back of it.  The chief of these agents was Beniowski, an alleged Polish refugee, who, however, was a former member of the Hetairia.  A secret insurrectionary committee of five was appointed to direct the organisation.  Cardo, Warden, Westrapp, and another, who was a high police official, were also members.  Cardo and Warden were men of the highest genius, the one a Socrates and the other a Shakespeare.

    A general rising was planned for the end of the year.  One hundred and twenty-two thousand armed and partially trained men were ready, and a Russian fleet would provide munitions.  Beniowski was to command in Wales, where apparently the main rising was to take place.  Urquhart, however, got wind of the plot in time to put a stop to it.  He convinced Cardo, Warden, and Dr. Taylor (who was to have some part in the plot) that they were the victims of a Russian agent provocateur, and persuaded them to abandon it.  Frost, however, he did not reach in time, and so could not save him.

    Feargus O'Connor was not involved in the affair at all, as he was regarded as too cowardly and unreliable.  He was only concerned with the circulation of the Northern Star.  This on the information of a member of the Convention of 1839 — perhaps Cardo.

    So much for Urquhart's story.  It forms the source of the very unsatisfactory narrative of Thomas Frost,[384] a Croydon man who came into the Chartist movement in its last stage, eight years or so after the events at Newport.  Frost appears to give much credence to Urquhart's story, but adds nothing to it.  The narrative of Gammage [385] is more circumstantial even than Urquhart's.  Gammage came into the movement about 1842, and later developed into a thoroughgoing opponent to O'Connor.  His account is published with a view to blackening O'Connor, and is based upon the revelations of one William Ashton of Barnsley.  These latter were made public in 1845[386] in the midst of fierce attacks upon O'Connor, then Chartist dictator, and purported to be damning evidence of O'Connor's treachery in connection with the affair.  There is a further account by Lovett,[387] but it is of no great value.  Lovett was in prison at the time of the rising, and his account was not published till 1876.

    All these not altogether trustworthy accounts have one thing in common, that a general rising of some kind was projected, and that the outbreak in Wales was to be the signal.  There was a committee in Birmingham and another with its headquarters at Dewsbury in Yorkshire.  The head committee was no doubt in London.  Dr. Taylor, Frost, Bussey, and Beniowski are mentioned as the chiefs of the affair. Taylor was to take the lead in the North, Bussey in Yorkshire, Frost and Beniowski in Wales.  It should be noted, however, that if we take into consideration all the accounts of this projected rising, practically no prominent and unimprisoned Chartist's name would be omitted from the list of the reputed leaders of the alleged rising.

    Of the activities of these men and of the local committees we have little or no information previous to the Newport affair.  Beniowski was a Polish refugee, and followed the not unusual career of revolutionary intrigue.  He was a fine, tall, aristocratic-looking man of considerable talent and energy.  He appears to have been a prominent member of the London Democratic Association, which was saturated with the sentiments of French revolutionaries.  He was in receipt of a pension of £3 a month from the British Government as trustee for a fund for the support of Polish refugees.  In May Lord John Russell ordered this to be stopped, on information regarding Beniowski's behaviour.[388]  Evidently the Government had been keeping him under surveillance.  All accounts assign to Beniowski one of the chief places in the plot.  Of his doings nothing is known definitely until after the Newport affair, though it is probable that he was actively engaged in the military preparations.

    Frost had been sent back into the district early in May, when the news of Vincent's arrest was known.  He was a Newport man and the leader of the local Chartists, and had been town councillor, mayor, and justice of the peace.  But early in 1839 Lord John Russell had removed him from the Commission of the Peace by reason of his seditious language at meetings.  This mild martyrdom had greatly increased his local popularity.  After the collapse of the Convention he threw all his energies into organising violent proceedings in Newport and the neighbouring coal-mining valleys of Monmouthshire.  The result was the most formidable manifestation of physical force that Chartism ever set on foot.

    The idea of a rising had been mooted early in the year, but the lack of preparation, which had scotched the general strike, had brought about a postponement.  When Vincent had been lodged in Monmouth Gaol the notion of rescuing him by force seems to have been entertained, but the evidence given at the trial suggests rather that the immediate purpose of the local rising was to give the signal to the other confederates, the rescue project remaining in the background.  One story, that the non-arrival at Birmingham of the mail-coach, which passed through Newport, was to be the signal for action in the Midlands, may well be true, for there was a committee at work in Birmingham, of which Brown, the ex-delegate, one Parkes, Smallwood, and Fussell were apparently the chiefs.  They held secret meetings, which, however, were not unknown to the police, whose agents tried in vain to obtain admission.  The Birmingham magistrates had already issued an order that all makers of munitions must deposit their stocks in the barracks.  Drilling and training were carried on, and communication was kept up in a kind of cipher.  Whenever any suspicious persons entered the meetings, a semi-religious character was imparted to the gathering.  The Chartists at Birmingham seem to have had a friend at court in one of the magistrates, who gave them warning of police activity, but they suffered greatly from the attentions of spies employed by the new police commissioner in the city.  Fussell and Harney himself remain under grave suspicion in this connection,[389] and a serious attempt was made to corrupt Parkes.

    Beyond this there is little information as to the preparations for the rising of which Frost's was to be the beginning.  The Newport affair was planned and carried out with great secrecy.  The conditions were favourable.  In the scattered and lonely colliery villages amongst the hills the hand of authority was almost unknown, and it was easy to preserve secrecy.  It was known that the available military force was small.  There was a tiny detachment at Newport, a larger body, two companies, at Abergavenny, about eighteen miles — a day's march — away, and a still larger force at Newtown in Montgomeryshire, which, by reason of its remoteness, was quite out of relation to the South Welsh movement.  Armed associations had been formed at Newport under the suggestion of Lord John Russell.  All things considered, the military and civil force was not such as could have offered much resistance to a carefully planned attack.  The affair was planned with a certain modicum of military technique.  Reconnaissance of a sort was made, and outposts were stationed to arrest strangers and prevent news from reaching the town.  So good were the preparations that no precise information appears to have filtered through until the Chartists were actually assembling for the march, on the evening of November 3.  The chief rendezvous was the mining village of Risca, on the Ebbw, six miles north-west of Newport.  It was intended to occupy the town during the night, hold up the mails, thus giving the signal to the other districts, and then to march on Monmouth to release Vincent.  The force which is said to have assembled was much larger than the authorities expected.  One part was apparently told off block all exits from the town and to hold off reinforcements and relief, whilst the other smaller body, variously estimated at one to ten thousand strong, marched into the town.  Thomas Phillips, the energetic Mayor of Newport, who took a prominent part in the fighting, says the Chartists were organised in sections of ten under a section commander, and the marching column occupied a mile of road — perhaps 3000 men, as untrained troops would straggle in marching.  Perhaps the Morning Chronicle's estimate of a thousand is the best.  Such a force would be ample to overpower what was then a small town with a garrison of twenty-eight soldiers.

    Night operations are naturally the most difficult of military undertakings, and even with trained forces the utmost care is required to avoid loss of direction, delays, noise which will betray, and to ensure the exact co-ordination of the various parts of the scheme.  This affair was naturally bungled.  A brewer named Brough relates his experiences.  He was seized by a patrol on the Pontypool road at half-past nine on Sunday evening, November 3 and marched about for eight hours until Frost ordered his release.  There was much marching and counter-marching; some detachments had marched all night; and a great deal of time was wasted.  Instead of reaching Newport at 2 A.M., it was nine o'clock and broad daylight when the column attained its objective.  The authorities had been warned of the assembling of armed bodies in the hills by the arrival in the town of terrified refugees who escaped the Chartist sentries.  It was the same at Abergavenny, where there was no little panic.  At Newport the troops had been lodged in the Westgate Hotel, fronting the main street and covering the Chartist advance.  As the insurgents debouched opposite the hotel there was a fierce burst of musketry.  The colliers made a stand, but were at a disadvantage against troops under cover.  Some managed even to enter the hotel by a passage way, but after a short engagement the Chartists fled, leaving fourteen dead and some fifty wounded, of whom ten died shortly after.  One hundred and twenty-five persons were arrested, including Frost, Zephaniah Williams, and William Jones, the chief leaders.  Twenty-nine of these were committed for trial, all but eight on a charge of high treason.  A Special Commission was issued to try them, and the trial commenced on December 10 at Monmouth.  No question of the law's delays here.

    So ended the Newport Rising, and with it collapsed, for the time being, all the other preparations for insurrection.  The attention of the Chartist world was now concentrated upon the probable fate of Frost and his fellow-prisoners.  Feargus O'Connor exerted himself to procure funds for the defence, and engaged Sir Frederick Pollock and Fitzroy Kelly, both men of considerable eminence, on behalf of Frost.  He gave a week's profits of his paper to the fund, and swore to save the life of his colleague at all hazards.  On the other hand, it appears that the idea of rescuing Frost and the others by an armed insurrection was quickly taken up, and preparations on an even wider scale were set on foot.  A great revival of Chartist activity followed.  Everywhere meetings were held, either to protest against the prosecution of the Newport rioters on the ground that the rising was the work of agents provocateurs, or to collect funds, or to concert plans of rescue.  A kind of Convention met to organise the Frost rescue movement, but it accomplished nothing.  The secret organisations flourished and grew apace.

    From various evidence it seems that O'Connor was, perhaps on the strength of his promise to save Frost's life, regarded as the leader of this second insurrectionary movement.  He was at least expected to provide funds.  But O'Connor's conduct at this juncture was, to say the least, very unsatisfactory.  It may safely be said that O'Connor was never at any time prepared to imperil either his life or his reputation by engaging in any armed enterprise.  By great dexterity, and by means of a month's visit to Ireland paid at this exceptionally dangerous moment, he managed to be the last of the earlier Chartist leaders to come under the ban of the law.  There is every reason to believe he was suspected by the physical force extremists before the Newport affair,[390] and it is very probable that he was deliberately prevented from taking an active part in it.  He afterwards denied all knowledge of it, which is absurd on the face of it, as Gammage argues.[391]  Lovett declares that O'Connor put a stop to the affair except in Newport, and this is confirmed by William Ashton, who says that O'Connor could have stopped Frost's rising too, but preferred to sacrifice him out of jealousy.[392]  This is scarcely to be believed, though O'Connor was not incapable of unscrupulous methods of eliminating rivals.

    At any rate, O'Connor took this opportunity of quitting the country.  He was engaged to lecture and agitate in Lancashire from October 7 to 12, but on October 2 he wrote to cancel this engagement on the ground that he was going to found Radical Associations in Ireland, and to array the people of Cork against the aristocracy in view of the next General Election.[393]  He arrived in Dublin on October 6, [394] and was back in Leeds on November 6, two days after the events at Newport.  On a later occasion he said that he went to Ireland to raise money on his property there.[395]  Both versions appear equally unsatisfactory, and even if O'Connor was not really implicated in the plot, he must remain under the gravest suspicion of having run away and allowed his friends to engage in a futile and dangerous enterprise which a word from him could have stopped.[396]

    Meanwhile preparations were going on for a second rising to take place in the event of Frost's condemnation.  The Newport authorities were on the alert.  About ten days after the rising, the presence of Beniowski, Cardo, and Taylor in the district was known or suspected.  Cardo was actually arrested outside the Westgate Hotel on November 15, and his papers searched.  He declared that "he did not believe that Mr. Frost headed the mob, and attributed the outbreak to Russian agency."  So reports the Mayor — a curious corroboration of part of Urquhart's story from an apparently independent source, although Cardo may have picked up the idea from hearing Urquhart lecture in the course of a strenuous tour in the winter of 1839-40.  When sending Cardo away by the mail on the 16th, the Mayor observed a stranger who was said to be Dr. John Taylor.  The Mayor requested the Government to send down somebody who knew Beniowski by sight.  He received an anonymous letter alleging that Beniowski had been sent with 138 lbs. of ball cartridge from London via Bristol.  Three men were arrested on suspicion, but apparently no further proceedings were taken.[397]

    About the same time the Bradford magistrates report secret proceedings.  They managed to corrupt a Chartist, and obtained information of the intended rising.  On December 17 they received a long report, probably through this channel.  The rising was to take place on the 27th.  A secret Convention would meet in London on the 19th and give the signal.  There had been a meeting in Manchester the previous week, in which Taylor was the leading spirit.  The soldiery were to be harassed by systematic incendiarism, and an attempt was to be made to assassinate the judges on their way to the trials at Monmouth.[398]

    The Birmingham secret meetings continued, and there, too, there was talk of organising incendiarism.  A memorandum describing the organisation is amongst the Home Office papers.  The Chartist body there numbers some three or four hundred organised in lodges.  The members are carefully selected.  Each lodge is headed by a captain, who is a member of the General Committee.  This body meets at private houses — a different one in each case.  A password is given, and all precautions against surprise by the police are taken.  It was intended to have a general rising in case of Frost's conviction.  Some Chartists talked of proclaiming a republic [399] whilst others declared that, if Frost were not released, the Queen's marriage would not take place.[400]

    Similar reports of secret organisations of Chartists emanate from Loughborough and the hosiery villages in the neighbourhood.  There the organisation in sections of ten, which seems to have been the general model, was in full swing.  The project of a general rising was entertained, and the Newport men were blamed for being so hasty and premature.  A similar organisation existed in London.  If Phillips's report on the Monmouthshire Chartists is to be believed, this organisation in sections was for both military and administrative purposes.

    In London the Chartist preparations were reported assiduously by spies and informants of various descriptions.  One Robert T. Edwards, who was in the employ of Hetherington at 126 Strand, and, therefore, had opportunity of seeing and hearing what was going on, furnished information calculated to implicate all the Chartist leaders in the Newport affair, and warned the Government to keep an eye on the Bradford Chartists, and especially Pitkeithly.  This, by the way, is almost the sole mention of Pitkeithly in this connection.[401]  An anonymous informant made considerable revelations about the middle of November.  He speaks of a council of three as directing the plot (a Bradford report speaks also of a council of three in London), and says, "Their Ame is to fire property, the shiping in the River and Docks, to kidnap the principal men of the State."  "They have several thousands of fire arms to the account of Feargus O'Connor: the democratic association meet nightly at Mr. Williams (Baker) Brick Lane Spitalfields where they receive daily communications from Wales.  Major Beniwisk (sic) went down to survey the country."  The informer attended a meeting of over 300 "delegates" at the Trades Hall, Abbey Street, Spitalfields, where Cardo, Neesom, Beniowski, Williams the baker, and others addressed the audience with "very inspireing and highly dangerous language."  This letter is dated the same day that saw Cardo hustled out of Newport by the Mayor, and must refer to some date considerably earlier, if it is true at all.  This meeting appointed a Committee to raise funds which were to be handed over to the "Council of War."  £500 was promised by Feargus O'Connor.  A rising on the day previous to that fixed for Frost's execution was planned for London, Manchester, and Newcastle.  A further report speaks of secret meetings at which members of the Convention are expected to be present.  The Chartists (in London?) are 18,000 strong.[402]

    A report, dated November 12, was received by Wemyss at Manchester from Halifax.[403]  The magistrates there say that the Chartists are continuing to meet, but in private houses.  At one of these meetings a well-known leader was ordered to Communicate with the local leaders as to the best means of "going to work, and to do it in better fashion than it had been done in Wales, where they consider it to have been badly mismanaged."  Bradford is the objective of the would-be insurgents.  Wemyss further reports meetings of similar character at Bolton, Todmorden, Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne, Burnley, and Bury.  The Ashton Chartists are known to have been in touch with the Newport leaders.  He also relates that Feargus O'Connor was in Manchester at the time of the Newport rising, [404] and this is not impossible, as he may have stopped there on his way from Ireland to Leeds, which he reached, as we have seen, two days after the Newport failure.  On December 22 Wemyss declares that there were very persistent rumours of a projected rising on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border for the end of the month.  So serious was the news from Bradford that Napier went there in person.  Bury is another centre specially mentioned in this connection, and another letter from Wemyss suggests that Fielden's mill at Todmorden was an important place of meeting.  In spite of all these rumours, however, Wemyss reports that the general impression was that nothing would happen.[405]

    And this is in fact the general impression made by all the secret reports, papers, and informations.  Without going into the question as to how far these doings were prompted by agents provocateurs, it may be safely said that there was some real intention of doing something desperate in connection with the trial of Frost, but that the lukewarmness generated by the failure at Newport, the suspicions which were abroad as to the trustworthiness of the leaders, the presence of spies, and the wariness of the authorities, combined to cause the whole business to peter out in a rather ridiculous fashion!  In the controversy which raged between O'Connor and his detractors in 1845, neither side denied the existence of a plot of some sort.  O'Connor even mentioned that Dr. Taylor fitted out a vessel to waylay the convict-ship conveying Frost to Australia.  Another story, related by Lovett, attributes the collapse of the plot to the cowardice of Bussey, who shortly afterwards fled to America.  There was a plot and it came to nothing.

    Two rather curious reports of Chartist doings in Manchester may be cited.[406]  A Chartist committee of eight met on December 16, a police agent being concealed in the vicinity.  They were discussing the collection of subscriptions for Frost, and the whole tenour of the proceedings was one of depression and distrust.  The balance sheet was read to the accompaniment of quarrelsome discussion, for scarcely anything had been collected.  Another report relates that one member of the Manchester Chartist Council declared that not one in twenty of those who attended the meeting addressed by O'Connor and Cardo to raise funds for Frost, would be sorry if Frost were hanged.  At Birmingham the Chartists could scarcely raise a penny for this purpose.  One report shows that of £2:17:4½ had been incurred to raise a subscription on of £2:16:9, so that, as a speaker put it, Frost owed them 7½d.  There was a quarrel with Cardo on December 31.[407]  Cardo was accused of being in the pay of foreign and Tory agents, a charge to which he refused to reply.  This charge, at least as regards Tory agency, was true.  Cardo was apparently not a man of good character.  Place thought him dishonest.[408]  Cardo, Warden, Richards, Lowery, and others appear during 1840 as the paid agents of an anti-Russian, anti-Palmerston committee of which Attwood's brother and David Urquhart were the chiefs, facts which give still more colour to the latter's narrative of the Chartist plottings.[409]  At Carlisle Cardo repeated his assertion that Frost was betrayed by Russian agents.  As regards the rest of Urquhart's story, it may be admitted that he was correctly informed as to the nature of the plot which came partially to a head at Newport, and probably, too, the fantastic designs [410] which he describes may actually have been entertained.  Apparently, too, he did win over Cardo and Warden and even others to his peculiar views, Cardo in fact within a short time of the rising.  But whether the rising was so marvellously planned, and whether Cardo and Warden had the important rτles which he described, may well be doubted.  These details were probably thrown in to justify Urquhart, who was a bit of a megalomaniac, in assuming the title of "the tamer of the English Democracy."[411]

    Meanwhile the trial of Frost and his companions began.  On December 14 the Grand Jury found a true bill for high treason, and the trial was fixed for the 31st.  Geach, a relative of Frost and a solicitor, prepared the case for the defending counsel.  Geach was a man of dishonest character, and does not seem to have managed the case too well.  He was in constant touch with O'Connor, who was supplying funds, and was even mentioned in connection with the proposed attempt to rescue Frost.

    The unfortunate prisoners in Monmouth Gaol had no illusions as to their fate.  Frost made over all his property to his wife (they had started inn-keeping) to avoid the confiscation which follows condemnation for high treason.  On December 21 Geach transmitted a very pathetic petition from the prisoners, affirming that they "never entertained any feeling or spirit of hostility against your Majesty's sacred person, rights, or immunities, nor against the Constitution of your Majesty's realms as by law established."  They beg for pecuniary assistance to enable them to employ counsel.  There are twenty-two signatures, and sixteen sign with a cross.  Frost's name is the last; the hand of Zephaniah Williams is that of an educated man.  The petition was refused, like some hundreds of others to the same purpose.[412]  On January 16 sentence of death by drawing, hanging, and quartering was passed on the three chiefs, Frost, Williams, and Jones.  A technical objection caused an appeal to the Court of Exchequer Chamber, which quashed it on the 28th.  Four days later the sentence was commuted to transportation for life to Botany Bay, and by the end of February the hapless rebels were on their way to exile.

    There were, after all, one or two small outbreaks in the interval between Frost's condemnation and the passing of the sentence.  On the night of January 11 a number of Chartists attacked the police at Sheffield, and a large quantity of arms, ammunition, hand-grenades, fire-balls were seized from them.  At Dewsbury on the same night the Chartists assembled and made signals by means of shots and fire-balloons.  These were answered from Birstall and Heckmondwike, but nothing further took place.  A similar affair occurred at Bradford, and in London preparations were made against extensive incendiarism.  At Sheffield a number of Chartists were arrested and arraigned on a charge of high treason.  It was stated that they intended to seize and hold the Town Hall, and that a similar attempt was to be made at Nottingham.[413]  On January 16 a meeting of Chartists in Bethnal Green was rounded up by the police, and Neesom, Williams the baker, and others were arrested.  Beniowski escaped.  This meeting was an armed assembly, and Ashton afterwards declared that it was part of the intended rising in London.[414]

    After this came another period of trials and imprisonments.[415]  In March 1840 Richardson, O'Brien, W. V. Jackson and others were tried at Liverpool and sentenced to imprisonment — O'Brien and Jackson to eighteen months, and Richardson to nine months.  At Monmouth Vincent was condemned to a second imprisonment of a year.  Holberry and the Sheffield Chartists were tried at York for conspiracy (not for high treason) and condemned to various terms of imprisonment.  At York, too, Feargus O'Connor was tried for a newspaper libel.  He called, or proposed to call, fifty witnesses to prove that he had never advocated physical force, though it does not appear that this point was at all material to the question.  He was condemned to eighteen months' imprisonment, but actually served only ten, being released on account of bad health.  From the gaol he contrived to smuggle out letters to the Northern Star, and his account of his sufferings there brought him unbounded sympathy.  W. P. Roberts and Carrier were sentenced at Devizes in May to two years' imprisonment, and in July the two Sunderland leaders, Williams and Binns, were sentenced to six months' imprisonment at Durham Assizes.  Many of the important leaders were thus accounted for.  Frost, O'Connor, O'Brien, Lovett, Collins, Stephens, Richardson, Bellow, Roberts, Vincent were all in durance.  Dr. Taylor was still at large, but was hurrying himself by his excesses to the grave, which received him in 1841.  Bussey and Deegan fled overseas.  Cardo and Warden were lost to the cause.  Lowery ceased to take a very prominent part in the movement.  Marsden, Harney, Rider, MacDouall — all prominent advocates of armed revolt — were still at large and lived to fight, or talk of fighting, another day.  The Scottish Chartists in general took no part in these later proceedings, and pledged themselves at a Conference, held at Edinburgh in September 1839, to pursue the agitation only by peaceable and constitutional methods.[416]  They never again entered into a thoroughgoing co-operation with the English Chartists.  Nor did Wales play a prominent part in the movement after the fearful day of Newport.  In fact, Chartism never again attained the extent and dimensions it possessed in 1839.  It degenerated into sects and factions, deriving their importance from sources which were not within themselves.

    Sufficient, it is hoped, has been said in the course of the narrative as to the causes which brought the first phase of Chartism from so promising a beginning to so futile an end.  In spite of the appearance of unity which the movement exhibited at the beginning of the year 1839, Chartism was then far less of a homogeneous thing than at any time in its career.  It never again included such heterogeneous elements.  The movement in 1839 was a tumultuous upheaval of a composite and wholly unorganised mass.  It was a disease of the body politic rather than the growth of a new member of it.  The various sections of Chartism had been brought together upon the common but negative basis of protest against things as they were, but the positive fundamentals of unity were lacking.  The protest against the Poor Law Amendment Act, the protest against the existing currency theory, and the vaguer but much more violent protest against poverty and economic oppression, had all been swallowed up in the general but doctrinaire protest against political exclusion and monopoly, and it was under the last standard that the Chartist legions marched.  But the fundamental differences of outlook remained.  One section, and that the largest, had been brought up on a strong diet of unreasoning sentimentalism by Stephens and Oastler, and hungry and starving men had long been inured to insurrectionary suggestion by Vincent, O'Connor, O'Brien, and other demagogues.  The rude, half-barbarian ignorance of the miners and colliers in the North of England and in South Wales, and the famishing desperation of the poor weavers and stockingers, made these men very susceptible to such inflammatory teaching.  They fell nominally under the leadership of intellectuals like Lovett and his friends, and of impractical fanatics like Attwood.  Both Lovett and Attwood had come forward to build up organised parties, but Lovett had a permanent and Attwood only a temporary purpose.  Both ideals came to grief through the dog-like attachment of the great mass of their nominal followers to their own local leaders — Harney, Bussey, Frost, Fletcher, MacDouall, O'Connor, and the rest.  This destroyed all real organisation, for the organisation was concentrated in the persons of the leaders.[417]  This was the "leadership" which Lovett so strongly condemned.  The fidelity of the rank and file was at once the strength and weakness of the movement.  It was given to good and bad leaders with equal indiscriminateness, and produced an unprecedented amount of self-deception, which later so cruelly avenged itself.

    These diversities of aims and outlook made effective co-operation in revolutionary action impossible.  They were, in fact, the same fundamental divergencies of policy which had been, as we have seen, reflected in the Convention, which swayed constantly between the two extremes of French revolutionary [418] and English middle-class conceptions of political agitation.  One section was for armed insurrection, and looked upon the Convention as a provisional government — a Committee of Public Safety in posse; another conceived it as a great agitating body, like the Anti-Corn Law League conferences; another, of which O'Connor was typical, was content to use the threats of the one and the methods of the other.  To Lovett the Convention must have been a great tragedy — a long torture which his imprisonment brought to a welcome end.  The futile boastings of would-be Marats and self-styled Robespierres, and the cowardly shufflings of irresolute babblers, who feared imprisonment more than they respected their own principles, must have thoroughly sickened him.  It is not to be supposed that the delegates were generally cowards and rogues.  The majority were quite sincere men, who in good faith had thoroughly deceived themselves and their followers, but who had not the moral courage to face the real facts, when they were finally undeceived, nor the mental dexterity of O'Brien and O'Connor to withdraw themselves from a false position without loss of prestige.  On every material point the would-be insurrectionary leaders were wrong: they underestimated the strength of the Government and the influence of the middle classes, strengthened as these were by the upper strata of working people; they underrated the military forces Opposed to them; but most of all, they attributed to English people that thoroughgoing lawlessness which bad been inculcated in the French by generations of arbitrary government.  For even Stephens thought it wrong to overturn a Government by arms, though it was right to oppose a bad law.  According to O'Brien it was right to knock a policeman on the head, but wrong to destroy property.

    Thus in most of the delegates excitement and a new-found popularity amongst unreasoning followers produced exaggerated expectations and unbounded self-esteem; experience brought disillusionment and shifty shufflings which robbed the Convention of its following long before it dissolved.  Abandoning their leaders, the more desperate followers embarked upon projects of futile violence, ending in the imprisonment, transportation, and death of nearly 500 men.[419]

――――♦――――

[Next Page]
 

NOTES

Chapter IX


311.  Additions MSS. 27,821, pp. 113-14.

312.  Home Office, 40 (44), Metropolis.  Pencil note on back of letter, date May 3: " I wish to have account of proceedings of the Convention itself."

313.  Home Office, 40 (44), Metropolis.

314Ibid.

315.  A strong protest was received by the Committee against the election of Brown and his colleagues, Charter, April 28, 1839.

316.  A speech of March 28, probably by Brown: "We know the use of barricades. We know how to make use of the lanes and alleys. We know the use of broken glass bottles. We know the use of aqua fortis," etc.

317.  William Scholefield.

318.  Home Office, 40 (49), Birmingham.

319.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 414.

320.  Home Office, 40 (49).  Sworn deposition of gunmaker at Birmingham.

321.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 432.

322Ibid. 34,245, A, p. 410.

323Charter, May 12, 1839.

324.  Additional MSS. 27,821, pp. 126-8.

325Ibid. 27,821, p. 170.

326Ibid 34,245, A, p. 442.

327Charter, May 19, 1839, p. 258.

328.  Place says Harney opposed the Address on this very ground (Additional MSS. 27,821, p. 175), but I prefer my own reading of the matter.

329Charter, May 19, 1839.

330Ibid. May 26, 1839.

331Ibid. May 12, 1839.

332London Dispatch, May 12, 1839.

333Charter, April 28, 1839.

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

335Charter, May 12, 1839.

336.  Additional MSS. 27,821, p. 133.

337.  Napier ii. 12, 27.

338.  Napier, ii. 29.

339Ibid. ii. 27, 38, 34.

340.  Napier, ii. 40.

341Ibid. ii. 43.

342Ibid. ii. 39-43.

343Northern Liberator, May 25, 1839.

344Northern Star, September 7, 1839.  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 447; B, pp. 36, 58.

345.  Dean's credentials: "Stephens Squair (i.e. Stevenson Square, Manchester).  We the men of Manchester in Public assembled have Duly elected Cristipher Dean, Operative stone Mason, as a fitt and proper person to Represent us in the People's Convention.  Sign in be halfe of the meating. William Rushton, Chairman."  Additional MSS. 34,245, A, p. 201, April 4.

346London Dispatch, July 7, 1839.

347Charter, June 16, 1839; July 7, 1839.  See also curious account in Manchester Guardian, June 29, 1839.

348.  Moir Proposed this: said they ought to be at hand to take every advantage of the embarrassments of the Government and of the Bank of England.

349.  Additional MSS. 27,821, p. 283.

350.  See his Grand National Holiday, 1831.

351.  Additional MSS. 27,821, p. 112.

352.  Hansard, 3rd ser. xlix. 86.

353.  The meeting was undoubtedly illegal.  First, because it had been forbidden to hold meetings in the Bull Ring, which was a narrow and confined space, bounded by rows of shops.  Meetings there, unless small, were very detrimental to business in the shops.  Second, because the meeting was attended by armed men.  But there is no doubt that the magistrates acted very hurriedly and recklessly.  They did not read the Riot Act or give any warning before attempting to disperse the meeting.  Scholefield, the Mayor, said he had always been received with groans on passing the Bull Ring, and he was probably angry and timorous.  There were only twenty street-keepers, and six or seven constables in Birmingham itself before the new police force was organised.  See also Charter, July 7, 1839.

354.   The reference is, of course, to the Attwood-Muntz-Scholefield body.

355.  A reference to the huge bobbin on which the National Petition was wound.

356.  Napier reports (ii. 62) in the House of Commons that at Wigton the magistrates were horrified to discover that the persons they had appointed as special constables had arms and "would soon settle your forty soldiers, if they are saucy."  Of this period he relates thus: "Alarm! Trumpets! Magistrates in a fuss! Troops! Troops! Troops! North, South, East, West!  I screech at these applications like a gate, swinging on rusty hinges, and swear!  Lord, how they make me swear!

357.  Placard at Bolton, Home Office, 40, 44.

358.  Hansard, 3rd ser. xlix. 220-78.

359.  In some newly incorporated towns, like Bolton, Manchester, Birmingham, there was a strong conservative faction which had opposed incorporation, and thwarted the new municipal bodies to the utmost of its power.  The Chartists received much countenance from this factious body, especially in the matter of opposing the introduction of a police force.  These facts help to explain the weakness of the borough councils at times like this.

360.  Hansard, 3rd ser. Xlix. 447.

361.  Additional MSS. 34,215, B, p. 53.

362.   London Dispatch, July 28, 1839; Charter, July 28, 1839.

363.  O'Connor had written an article in the Northern Star, July 27, dissuading Chartists from the strike policy.

364.  Additional MSS. 34,245. B, pp 38, 110, 119, 123, 125, etc.

365.  Home Office, 40 (51) and (46).

366Northern Liberator, August 17, 1839.

367Manchester Guardian, August 3.

368Northern Liberator, August 3, 1839.

369Manchester Guardian, August 14, 1839.

370Northern Liberator, November 16 1839.

371.  Charter, July 21, p. 415.

372Manchester Guardian, Julys 10, 1839.

373.  Home Office, 40 (44), July 25.

374.  Additional MSS. 34,245, B, pp. 61-2, 68.

375.  Trial, published by Hetherington. (Manchester Free Library, H. 154.)

376.  Place Coll., Hendon, vol. lv. p. 72.

377.  Lowery on September 5 reported his mission to Ireland, which was a total failure, ascribed to O'Connell's influence.

378.  1838: average sales per week, 10,900; February-May 1839: average, 48,000 — a fact which gives colour to belief that O'Connor deliberately prolonged the Convention so as to keep up circulation.  O'Connor proposed (Northern Star, September 21, 1839) to pay for another Convention out of own pocket.

379.  A curious feature of these squabbles was that Fletcher, an Anti-Poor Law stalwart, declared that the Charter had been put forward by the supporters of the hated Act to capture the Anti-Poor Law agitation (Northern Star, October 19, 1839).  He even hinted at Government agency.



Chapter XI


380.   The Scottish Chartists had wholly withdrawn from the English movement as early as August, when a Scottish delegate assembly drew up the plan of a separate organisation.  Chartist Circular, preface.

381.  Home office, 40 (43); Manchester Guardian, July 30.

382.  Estimates of the number vary extraordinarily.  The affair, it must be remembered, took place in the dark.

383Diplomatic Review, July 1873.

384Forty Years' Recollections, London. 1880, pp. 102 et seq.

385History of the Chartist Movement, 1854, pp. 282 et seq.

386Northern Star, May 3, 1845.

387Life and Struggles, pp. 239-40.

388.  Home office, 40 (44), Metropolis.

389.  There is in the Home Office papers a letter from the Birmingham police commissioner which throws much suspicion on Harney.  When Harney was charged at Birmingham with sedition, no evidence was offered, and he was discharged! (Northern Liberator, April 11, 1840).

390.  Parkes at Birmingham expressed his suspicions on October 30 (Home Office, 40 (49), Birmingham).

391History, ed. 1854, p. 282 et seq.

392Northern Star, May 3, 1845.

393Ibid. October 5, 1839.

394Ibid. November 9, 1839: account of his trip.

395Ibid. May 3, 1845.

396.  Cf. Lowery's statement in Gammage, ed. 1854, p. 287.

397.  Home Office, 40 (45), Monmouth. November 16, 17, 18, 19.

398Ibid. 40 (51), Yorks.

399Ibid. 40 (49), Birmingham.

400.  Trial of Ayre (Northern Liberator, January 31, 1840).

401.  Home Office, 40 (44), Metropolis.

402Ibid.

403Ibid. 40 (43), Manchester.

404.  Home Office, 40 (43), Manchester. Is it possible that the Irish visit was merely a blind?

405Ibid. 40 (43), Manchester.

406Ibid.

407.  Home Office, 40 (49), Birmingham.

408Northern Liberator, February 21, 1840.

409Ibid. October 31, 1840.  This paper gives most information about Urquhart campaign.

410.  Except the Russian fleet!

411Diplomatic Review, July 1873.

412.  Home Office, 40 (45), Monmouth.

413Northern Liberator, January 18, 1840; January 24, 1840.

414.  Gammage, 1854, pp. 186 et seq.; Northern Star, May 3, 1845.

415Ibid. 1854, pp. 186 et seq.

416Northern Liberator, September 21, 1839.

417.   This is shown by the complete collapse of the movement in 1840 when the leaders were in prison.

418.  This without prejudice to the question whether these methods were not largely the invention of the middle class.

419Lovett, Life and Struggles, p. 238: 443 persons were in prison alone for political offences in 1837-40.  According to Rosenblatt's useful tables in his Social and Economic Aspects of the Chartist Movement, pp. 205-6 (Columbia University Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law, vol. lxxiii. 2, 1916), there were 543 individual convictions between January 1, 1839 and June 1840.  The distribution of these, emphasised in Mr. Rosenblatt's table, is interesting.



[Next Page]

 


 

[Home] [Up] [History of Chartism] [Reviews] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk