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					Parliamentary Reform
 The Peterloo Massacre

   Two historical accounts
         Background – early 19th century
•   Effects of the French Revolution – calls for a liberal society
    in Britain with universal suffrage, the secret ballot, annual
    elections and equal electoral districts amongst the Radical
    demands
•   Growing support led to a crackdown on Radical activities
    by the British Government of the day
•   Prime Minister Lord Liverpool increased taxation on the
    radical press, and later suspended Habeas Corpus (the
    legal right of all to protection from unfair detention)
•   In 1817 Britain endured economic recession -
    unemployment, a bad harvest and high prices produced
    riots, demonstrations and a growth in the radical
    Hampden Club movement. Liverpool's government
    reacted by suspending Habeas Corpus, banning meetings
    of over fifty people and instructing magistrates to arrest
    everyone suspected of spreading seditious libel
•   These actions severely hampered the campaign for
    parliamentary reform. However, as soon as Parliament
    decided to restore Habeas Corpus there was an
    immediate revival in the radical demands
                                                                     ‘A Free Born Englishman’ (1819) – George
                                                                     Cruickshank
  Background – The Meeting at St. Peter’s Field

• In March 1819 several leading Manchester radicals formed the
  Manchester Patriotic Union Society
• The main objective of this organisation was to achieve parliamentary
  reform, and during the summer of 1819 it decided to invite famous
  radicals such as Major Cartwright, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt and Richard Carlile
  to speak at a public meeting in Manchester on 16th August
• Cartwright was unable to attend but Hunt and Carlile agreed and the
  meeting was arranged to take place at St. Peter's Field, Manchester, on
  16th August 1819 with one of the largest ever attendances of a public
  meeting expected
• Upon hearing about the size and radical nature of the meeting, the local
  magistrates, led by William Hulton, feared a riot, and ordered substantial
  numbers of infantry, cavalry and even artillery, as well as all of
  Manchester’s police force of the day, to be present
                                        Events
•   Accounts of the 16th August differ considerably between official and radical reports, with
    both putting bias on their own reports to fit with their own political aims
•   The events which led to the ‘massacre’ are widely believed to have unfolded due to a number
    of reasons:
      The magistrates, present nearby , became alarmed at the growing crowd – Hulton later
         claimed there were over 50,000 people present (some estimate it at 80,000)
      Despite the lack of any signs of trouble, Hulton decided to send in the police presence to
         clear a path through the crowd to the stage at the front
      By the time the speakers arrived at around 1.30 the crowd seemed large enough for
         Hulton to declare ‘the whole town in danger’, so the local Yeomanry cavalry were sent
         into the crowd to arrest the speakers and organisers of the meeting
      Meeting opposition from the crowd, the cavalry began to cut through with sabres to
         reach the leaders. Once this had happened, they cut down the banners of the crowd,
         and crowd opposition to this was perceived by Hulton as an assault
      This is when most believe the ‘massacre’ began, causing from 5-11 deaths (estimates
         vary), with around 500 injured
      Remembered as ‘Peterloo’, after it was likened in the radical press to the slaughter of
         the French at Waterloo, thus portraying the government as bloodthirsty and now
         turning on their own people to satisfy this
Print of the Peterloo Massacre published by Richard Carlile
        ‘On the Peterloo Massacre, 1819’
•   First person account by Samuel Bamford (1788-1872) from his book Passage in the Life
    of a Radical (1843)
•   Bamford was a Manchester silk weaver and an active radical
•   Bamford's account of the Peterloo Massacre became one of the most important
    sources of evidence for historians of the event. After the massacre several men,
    including Bamford, were arrested and charged with “assembling with unlawful banners
    at an unlawful meeting for the purpose of inciting discontent”. He served 1 year in jail
•   The account speaks of how Sir Francis Burdett's motion for reform had been ‘negatived
    in the House of Commons’ in June 1819, and how ‘numerous meetings followed in
    various parts of the country’, such as the Spa Field Riots in London
•   Talking about the parade through the town, Bamford describes how the front men
    ‘were placed in two rows of six each, with each a branch of laurel held presented in his
    hand, as a token of amity and peace’, and how banners were held with inscriptions of
    “Unity and Strength”, “Liberty and Fraternity”, “Parliaments Annual” and “Suffrage
    Universal” to show the aims of the gathering
•   He continues :“I reminded them that they were going to attend the most important
    meeting that had ever been held for Parliamentary Reform, and hoped their conduct
    would be marked by a steadiness and seriousness befitting the occasion... as would cast
    shame upon their enemies, who always represented the reformers as a rabble”
                ‘On the Peterloo Massacre’ continued
•   Talks of how he told his following “to keep...as quiet as possible; for if they began to retaliate,
    the least disturbance might serve as a pretext for dispersing the meeting”. Also, he states that
    “no sticks, nor weapons of any description, would be allowed to be carried in the ranks.” This
    repeats the peaceful nature of the meeting
•   “I had thought it not improbable that they...would meet us with a civil and military escort;
    would read the Riot Act...and warn us from proceeding...that we should then have nothing to
    do but turn back and hold a meeting in our town”
•   On the field itself he states that “we had got to nearly the outside of the crowd, when a
    strange murmur arose towards the church...I stood on tip-toe...and saw a party of cavalry in
    blue and white uniform come trotting, sword in hand”
•   “On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood
    it...They shouted... waving their sabres over their heads...then...striking spur into their steeds,
    they dashed forward and began cutting the people”
•   “Many females appeared as the crowd opened...Their cries were heart-rending, and would,
    one supposed, have disarmed any resentment: but their appeals were in vain. Women, maids,
    and tender youths, were indiscriminately sabred or trampled”
•   This source shows the brutality of the authorities in the face of protest; the introduction to
    the document states that “The "Peterloo Massacre" was followed by ten years of reactionary
    government, with restrictions on the press and other repressive legislation”, which we know
    to have been true up until the Great Reform Act of 1832
            ‘The Peterloo Massacre, 1819’
•   Anonymous first person account used by historian Charles W. Colby in Selections from
    the Sources of English History, B.C. 55 - A.D. 1832 (1920)
•   Source introduction by Colby states – “The French Revolution postponed in England
    many reforms...Radicalism was associated in the public mind with a French origin that
    killed it politically. After Waterloo the tide turned and agitators gained a hearing. The
    landed interests wished to maintain the late war prices, and the artisan population
    desired cheap bread. Hence discontent, oratory, and riots which resulted in the loss of
    life.” Different view to Bamford – economic not political issue
•   On ‘Peterloo’ he adds that “The troops charged and killed several persons, to the
    intense indignation of radical sympathisers in every part of the island” – as a historian a
    century later tells us of the uniting effect this event had on the radicals
•   The source itself describes the crowd: “These persons bore two banners, surmounted
    with caps of liberty, and bearing the inscriptions: "No Corn Laws," "Annual
    Parliaments," "Universal Suffrage," "Vote By Ballot "”
•   It also confirms that “A band of special constables assumed a position on the field
    without resistance”, and speculates that “The congregated multitude now amounted to
    a number roundly computed at 80,000”
•   Also observes that Hunt “had not proceeded far, when the appearance of the yeomanry
    cavalry advancing toward the area in a brisk trot, excited a panic in the outskirts”
•   “The orator had just resumed his speech, when the cavalry dashed into the crowd,
    making for the cart on which the speakers were placed. The multitude made no
    resistance, they fell back on all sides.” This supports Bamford’s view that the meeting
    was peaceful in nature
This poster entitled Manchester Heroes was published in 1819
      ‘The Peterloo Massacre’ Continued
•   The document goes on to confirm the arrests of key leaders, such as Hunt, and the
    escape of some “others against whom there were warrants” in the crowd
•   The military were then told to “"Have at their flags!" and they dashed down not only
    those in the cart, but the others in the field; cutting right and left to get at
    them....people began running in all directions; from this moment the yeomanry lost all
    command of temper”
•   The resulting ‘massacre’ is portrayed: “numbers were trampled under the feet of men
    and horses; many, both men and women, were cut down by sabres; several, and a
    peace officer and a female in the number, slain on the spot”
•   The author believed that “The whole number of persons injured amounted to between
    three and four hundred”, and remarked that “in less than ten minutes the ground was
    entirely cleared of its former occupants”
•   The account ends by adding that “The town was brought into a tolerably quiet state
    before night, military patrols being stationed at the end of almost every street” – this
    shows the fear of the authorities despite their heavy-handed reaction to the meeting
•   Like Bamford’s account, this source shows the reality of a situation in which peaceful
    protest for Parliamentary Reform was met with needless force which resulted in the
    deaths of several innocent people
The memorial plaque found today at the site
                           Conclusions
• These two eyewitness accounts show the practical consequences of the
  unwillingness of the British government of the early nineteenth century
  under Lord Liverpool to so much as entertain thoughts of Parliamentary
  Reform
• This is testified to by the letters received by Hulton and other Manchester
  magistrates from the Home Secretary of the day, Viscount Sidmouth,
  congratulating them on the action they had taken, despite the reports of
  several deaths
• The passing of the Six Acts soon after also attempted to make sure reform
  meetings like the one at St. Peter's Field did not happen again
• The Whig opposition opposed these measures as being a suppression of
  popular rights and liberties
• However, questionable as to whether ‘Peterloo’ would have brought about
  any Parliamentary Reform at all had the Whigs been in power in 1819,
  given that it took future governments four separate occasions (1832,
  1867, 1884, and 1918) to fulfil the aims of ‘Peterloo’

				
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